Excerpts from Calvin's Commentaries

The purpose of this paper is to present a selection of quotations from John Calvin's commentary on Leviticus. These excerpts represent exceptional insights either on the text itself or on Christian living. John Calvin was one of the great theologians of the Protestant Reformation. All excerpts are from the Baker edition in 22 volumes and given with no modification.

"And Nadab and Abihu . . . offered strange fire before Yahweh" (Lev. 10:1)

A memorable circumstance is here recorded, from whence it appears how greatly God abominates all the sins whereby the purity of religion is corrupted. Apparently it was a light transgression to use strange fire for burning incense; and again their thoughtlessness would seem excusable, for certainly Nadab and Abihu did not wantonly or intentionally desire to pollute the sacred things, but, as if often the case in matters of novelty, when they were setting about them too eagerly, their precipitancy led them into error. The severity of the punishment, therefore, would not please those arrogant people, who do not hesitate superciliously to criticize God's judgments; but if we reflect how holy a thing God's worship is, the enormity of the punishment will by no means offend us. Besides, it was necessary that their religion should be sanctioned at its very commencement; for if God had suffered the sons of Aaron to transgress with impunity, they would have afterwards carelessly neglected the whole Law. This, therefore, was the reason of such great severity, that the priests should anxiously watch against all profanation.

"And Aaron held his peace" (Lev. 10:3)

Much is this silence of Aaron to be applauded, whereby he confessed that his sons were slain by the just judgment of God; for Moses indicates that he yielded to his admonition, and was thus restrained from complaining against God. Thus Paul teaches us that Scripture is given to teach us patience. (Rom. 15:4.) Wherefore, whenever our passions are too much excited, let us learn that this is the best remedy for quieting and repressing them, to submit ourselves to God, and to humble ourselves beneath his mighty hand. David invites us to this by his own example when he says, "I was dumb, I opened not my mouth; because thou didst it." (Ps. xxxix. 9.)

"If a woman has conceived seed . . . she shall be unclean . . . and when the days of
her purifying are fulfilled . . . she shall bring a lamb" (Lev. 12:1-5)

This ceremony had reference to two points; for, first, the Jews were reminded by it of the common corruption of our nature; and secondly, the remedy of the evil was set before them. There is little difficulty in understanding why a woman who has conceived and given birth to a child, should be pronounced unclean; viz., because the whole race of Adam is polluted and defiled, so that the woman already contracts uncleanness from the offspring which she bears in the womb, and is further contaminated by giving it birth. Hence it appears how foul and disgusting in God's sight is our condition, since at our birth, and even before it, we infect our mothers. . . . the whole race of Adam is full of contagion. Hence the error of Pelagius is clearly refuted, who denied that the sin of Adam was propagated among his descendants, and pretended that we contracted sin from our parents not by origin, but by imitation. For the mother would not be unclean if the children were pure and free from all defilements. Therefore God would by this rite teach His ancient people that all men are born accursed, and bring into the world with them a hereditary corruption which pollutes their very mothers.

"And there shall be no man in the tabernacle of the congregation when he goeth in
to make an atonement in the holy place, until he come out" (Lev. 16:17)

The driving away of all men from approaching the tabernacle during the act of atonement is a sort of punishment by temporary banishment, that they may perceive themselves to be driven from God's face, whilst the place is purified which had been defiled by their sins. This was a melancholy sight, when all these for whose sake it was erected were obliged to desert it; but in this way they were reminded that every part and particle of our salvation depends on God's mercy only, when they saw themselves excluded from the remedy designed for obtaining pardon, unless a new pardon should come to their aid, since they had fallen away from the hope of reconciliation.

"Thou shalt not curse the deaf, nor put a stumblingblock before the blind, but shalt
fear thy God" (Lev. 19:14)

Since the Law comprehends under the word murder all the wrongs whereby men are unjustly injured, that cruelty was especially to be condemned by which those wretched persons are afflicted, whose calamity ought rather to conciliate our compassion. For, if any particle of humanity exists in us, when we meet a blind man we shall be solicitous lest he should stumble or fall, and, if he goes astray, we shall stretch out our hands to him and try to bring him back into the way; we shall also spare the deaf, for to insult them is no less absurd or barbarous than to assail stones with reproaches. It is, therefore, gross brutality to increase the ills of those whom our natural sense impels us to relieve, and who are already troubled more than enough. Let us, then, learn from these words, that the weaker people are, the more secure ought they to be from all oppression or injury, and that, when we attack the defenceless, the crime of cruelty is greatly aggravated, whilst any insult against the calamitous is altogether intolerable to God.

"And Yahweh spake unto Moses, saying . . . whatsoever hath a blemish, that shall ye
not offer" (Lev. 22:17-25)

He now more clearly teaches and more copiously inculcates what he has frequently adverted to heretofore, that it is sinful to offer to God a maimed, or weak, or otherwise imperfect animal. Now this external soundness admonished the ancient people that God is served amiss when He is served by halves, since He abominates a double heart. (Prov. xi. 20.) At the same time, in this symbol was shown forth the perfect purity of that victim by which God was at length to be reconciled. We know in how great liberties the world indulges itself in the service of God; for whilst it lightly and contemptuously obtrudes mere trifling upon Him as if He were a child, it still fancies that its duty is properly discharged. Hence it is that it claims reward for any rubbish (sordibus,) and exults in mere mockeries of God, as if it were laying Him under obligation.

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