John Calvin on Colossians 1:20

 

John Calvin (1509-1564) on Colossians 1:20

 

In Calvin’s commentary on Colossians 1:20, while explaining the words “both upon earth and in heaven,” he says:

 

. . . I prefer to understand this as referring to angels and men ; and as to the latter, there is no difficulty as to their having need of a peace-maker in the sight of God. As to angels, however, there is a question not easy of solution. For what occasion is there for reconciliation, where there is no discord or hatred?[1]

 

Calvin acknowledges but denies the view that angels have been “brought into agreement with men.”[2] He recognizes that the reconciliation of men assumes a previous alienation from God due to sin and guilt. This implies that whatever the reconciliation of angels involves, it must be different from the reconciliation of men. Explaining his own view, he says:

 

Between God and angels the state of the matter is very different, for there was there no revolt, no sin, and consequently no separation. It was, however, necessary that angels, also, should be made to be at peace with God, for, being creatures, they were not beyond the risk of falling, had they not been confirmed by the grace of Christ. This, however, is of no small importance for the perpetuity of peace with God, to have a fixed standing in righteousness, so as to have no longer any fear of fall or revolt. Farther, in that very obedience which they render to God, there is not such absolute perfection as to give satisfaction to God in every respect, and without the need of pardon. And this beyond all doubt is what is meant by the statement in Job iv. 18, He will find fault in his angels. For if it is explained as referring to the devil, what mighty thing were it? But the Spirit declares there, that the greatest purity is vile, if it is brought into comparison with the righteousness of God. We must, therefore, conclude, that there is not on the part of angels so much righteousness as would suffice for their being fully joined to God. They have, therefore, need of a peace-maker, through whose grace they may wholly cleave to God. Hence it is with propriety that Paul declare that the grace of Christ does not reside among mankind alone, and on the other hand makes it common also to angels. Nor is there any injustice done to angels, in sending them to a Mediator, that they may, through his kindness, have a well-grounded peace with God.

Should any one, on the pretext of the universality of the expression, move a question in reference to devils, whether Christ be their peace-maker also? I answer, No, not even of wicked men : though I confess that there is a difference, inasmuch as the benefit of redemption is offered to the latter, but not to the former.[3]

 

Calvin is speaking of the elect angels. As creatures, created mutable, they were not confirmed in their holy and righteous state simply by not participating in the sin and fall of other angels. Something more than creation and something more than not sinning when others did is needed for their confirmation in holiness, or as Calvin says, “a fixed standing in righteousness.” The something more is the grace of confirmation in holiness, which is “a fixed standing in righteousness.” How do the elect angels go from being created holy but mutable to being immutably holy? Calvin would tell us, “by the grace of Christ.” Christ perfects angelic nature.

 

[1] Calvin, Colossians, 155.

[2] Calvin, Colossians, 155.

[3] Calvin, Colossians, 156-57.