Week 23 of 50 in the Institutes: Love Covers a Multitude of Sins

Tomorrow’s reading assignment begins with a wonderful exegetical insight courtesy of Calvin on Proverbs 10:12: “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all transgressions.” (NASB)  In the New Testament, Peter quoted this proverb as follows: “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Pet. 4:8, NASB)

If I can put it succinctly, Calvin used this proverb (correcting a misunderstanding in his day) to make the point that God doesn’t need our good works, but men certainly do!  In addition, love for others is proof of a right relationship with God, but not the means of attaining a right standing with God (3.4.36):

In like manner, Solomon says, that love covers a multitude of sins; not, however, with God, but among men. For the whole verse stands thus, “Hatred stirreth up strifes; but love covereth all sins,” (Prov. 10:12).  Here, after his manner, he contrasts the evils produced by hatred with the fruits of charity, in this sense, Those who hate are incessantly biting, carping at, upbraiding, lacerating each other, making every thing a fault; but those who love mutually conceal each other’s faults, wink at many, forgive many: not that the one approves the vices of the other, but tolerates and cures by admonishing, rather than exasperates by assailing. That the passage is quoted by Peter (1 Pet. 4:8) in the same sense we cannot doubt, unless we would charge him with corrupting or craftily wresting Scripture. When it is said, that “by mercy and truth iniquity is purged,” (Prov. 16:6), the meaning is, not that by them compensation is made to the Lord, so that he being thus satisfied remits the punishment which he would otherwise have exacted; but intimation is made after the familiar manner of Scripture, that those who, forsaking their vices and iniquities turn to the Lord in truth and piety, will find him propitious: as if he had said, that the wrath of God is calmed, and his judgment is at rest, whenever we rest from our wickedness.

Those acquainted with Calvin only by caricature may be very surprised to discover such lines ever flowed from Calvin’s pen!  In a similar vein when commenting on Gal. 6:3 (“For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” NASB), Calvin admonished (bold emphasis added):

First, then, he declares that we are nothing, by which he means, that we have nothing of our own of which we have a right to boast, but are destitute of every thing good: so that all our glorying is mere vanity. Secondly, he infers that they who claim something as their own deceive themselves. Now, since nothing excites our indignation more than that others should impose upon us, it argues the height of folly that we should willingly impose upon ourselves. This consideration will render us much more candid to others. Whence proceeds fierce insult or haughty sternness, but from this, that every one exalts himself in his own estimation, and proudly despises others? Let arrogance be removed, and we shall all discover the greatest modesty in our conduct towards each other.

So if any people should exhibit humility and love, it should be those who espouse the doctrines of grace.  Yet sadly, these virtues are rare today, as John Owen noted to be the case in his own day, a century after Calvin.  In An Exposition Upon Psalm 130, Owen touched upon the duty to forgive others being an express condition of our being forgiven by God and described the comeliness of this duty (bold emphases added):

Observe that this duty is such as that there is nothing more comely, useful, or honourable unto, or praiseworthy in, any, than a due performance of it. To be morose, implacable, inexorable, revengeful, is one of the greatest degeneracies of human nature. And no men are commonly, even in this world, more branded with real infamy and dishonour, amongst wise and good men, than those who are of such a frame, and do act accordingly. To remember injuries, to retain a sense of wrongs, to watch for opportunities of revenge, to hate and be maliciously perverse, is to represent the image of the devil unto the world in its proper colours; he is the great enemy and self-avenger. On the other side, no grace, no virtue, no duty, no ornament of the mind or conversation of man, is in itself so lovely, so comely, so praiseworthy, or so useful unto mankind, as are meekness, readiness to forgive, and pardon. This is that principally which renders a man a good man, for whom one would even dare to die. And I am sorry to add that this grace or duty is recommended by its rarity. It is little found amongst the children of men. The consideration of the defect of men herein, as in those other fundamental duties of the gospel, — in self-denial, readiness for the cross, and forsaking the world, — is an evidence, if not of how little sincerity there is in the world, yet at least it is of how little growing and thriving there is amongst professors.

May the rarity of this grace decrease as love abounds all the more.

Links to Reformation 21 blogs through the Institutes:

Note: Dr. Derek Thomas did the blogs for this week’s assignments, and the section breaks of his articles vary somewhat from the daily reading schedule (section references in parentheses correspond with linked blogs).

June 8: 3.4.36 – 3.5.2

June 9: 3.5.3 – 3.5.8

June 10: 3.5.9 – 3.6.1 (3.5.9 – 3.5.10)

June 11: 3.6.2 – 3.7.2 (3.6.1 – 3.6.5)

June 12: 3.7.3– 3.7.7 (3.7.1 – 3.7.7)


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