[K:NWTS 24/1 (May 2009) 26-27]

Calvin on Merit and the Land of Canaan[1]

“Moses speaks here of the land of Canaan. But if men cannot deserve anything in this world in respect of transitory things, how shall they deserve everlasting life?[2] If I cannot win a little piece of ground, how shall I win a whole realm? So then, let us mark that of the things that are said here, we must gather a general doctrine, which is, that … the children of Israel were put in possession of the land that had been promised them, not for their own righteousness sake, but through free goodness” (376).

“God would have the said covenant which he made concerning the land of Canaan and the temporal succession, to be known to be of his free goodness[3]: it is much more reason that when he calls us to be heirs of his kingdom, and shows himself to be our God and Savior, his goodness should have the highest degree, and all respects of deserving be laid away[4], so as men should not imagine themselves to have I wote not power of their own to prevent God’s goodness[5]. . . . And so we have no cause to allege anything at all on our own behalf, but rather to be ashamed of ourselves, that God may only be exalted and have all praise given to him” (378).

[1]  “The 62 Sermon of John Calvin upon Deuteronomy” (Dt. 9:1-6, esp. vss. 5 and 6: “It is not through thine own righteousness or for the rightness of thy heart that thou art come to the possession of their land . . . . Know thou therefore that it is not for thine own righteousness that the Lord thy God hath given thee this good land to possess: for thou are a stiff-necked people”), The Sermons of M. Iohn Calvin upon the Fifth Booke of Moses called Deuteronomie . . . (1583; facsimile reprint Banner of Truth Trust, 1987) 376, 378; cf. the original French text in CO 26:644, 648-49. Spelling and grammar have been modernized above.

[2]Fr. mais si les hommes ne peuvent rien meriter en ce monde pour les choses caduques comment meriteront-ils la vie eternelle.

[3]  Fr. gratuit.

[4] Fr. et que tout regards de merites soyent ici abbatus.

[5] Fr. que les homes ne cuident point avoir ie ne say quoy de pouvoir prevenir la bonté de Dieu. “Prevent” here is used in the Latin (praevenio) sense of “to come before”.