The final chapters (12-17) of Book II of Calvin’s Institutes tell us about Jesus Christ: his divinity and humanity, why he was sent by the Father, and how he has fulfilled his work of redemption.
Why was it necessary for the Mediator to be both God and human? Among the lengthy answers to objections, this is explained with beautiful simplicity.
First, the Mediator needed to be human because, in order for us to be reconciled to God, it was necessary for humanity to pay the penalty for sin through death:
Accordingly, our Lord came forth as true man and took the person and the name of Adam in order to take Adam’s place in obeying the Father, to present our flesh as the price of satisfaction to God’s righteous judgment, and, in the same flesh, to pay the penalty that we had deserved (II.xii.3).
But, second, the Mediator needed to be God because ‘It was his task to swallow up death. Who but the Life could do this?’ (II.xii.2).
Putting these together,
In short, since neither as God alone could he feel death, nor as man alone could he overcome it, he coupled human nature with divine that to atone for sin he might submit the weakness of the one to death; and that, wrestling with death by the power of the other nature, he might win victory for us (II.xii.3).
The word ‘Christ’ means ‘anointed’. So, as the fulfilment of the Old Testament types, Christ comes as prophet, king and priest, ‘for we know that under the law prophets as well as priests and kings were anointed with holy oil’ (II.xv.2). As prophet,
he received anointing, not only for himself that he might carry out the office of teaching, but for his whole body that the power of the Spirit might be present in the continuing preaching of the gospel (II.xv.2).
he assures the godly of the everlasting preservation of the church, and encourages them to hope, whenever it happens to be oppressed (II.xv.3).
As priest, he is sent by God to offer a sacrifice to God, but he himself is that sacrifice.
This was because no other satisfaction adequate for our sins, and no man worthy to offer to God the only-begotten Son, could be found (II.xv.6).
The Institutes grew out of an exposition of the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. A chunk of the Creed has eventually ended up in chapter 16, covering Christ’s incarnation, suffering, death, resurrection, ascension and future return. To take one example from this, we might ask why Christ needed to die as a condemned man under Pontius Pilate. Calvin answers as follows:
Scripture first relates Christ’s condemnation before Pontius Pilate, governor of Judea, to teach us that the penalty to which we were subject had been imposed upon this righteous man. … To take away our condemnation, it was not enough for him to suffer any kind of death: to make satisfaction for our redemption a form of death had to be chosen in which he might free us both by transferring our condemnation to himself and by taking our guilt upon himself (II.xvi.5).
At the end of all this, Calvin finds himself waxing lyrical about the greatness of the salvation we have in Christ.
If we seek strength, it lies in his dominion; if purity, in his conception; if gentleness, it appears in his birth. … If we seek redemption, it lies in his passion; if acquittal, in his condemnation; if remission of the curse, in his cross; if satisfaction, in his sacrifice; if purification, in his blood; if reconciliation, in his descent into hell [i.e., the spiritual torment he faced on the cross, see II.xvi.10]; if mortification of the flesh, in his tomb; if newness of life, in his resurrection; if immortality, in the same; if inheritance of the Heavenly Kingdom, in his entrance into heaven; if protection, if security, if abundant supply of all blessings, in his Kingdom; if untroubled expectation of judgment, in the power given to him to judge. In short, since rich store of every kind of good abounds in him, let us drink our fill from this fountain, and from no other (II.xvi.19).
And so we reach the end of Book II. Having shown us God as Creator (Book I) and Redeemer (Book II), what remains for Calvin is to explore the way in which we receive the grace of Christ (Book III), and the role that the church plays in that (Book IV). So does that mean we are halfway through the Institutes? Not in terms of the page count: each successive book is longer than the previous one, so we’ve covered just over a third of the material. Plenty more to feast on … in due course!