Calvin and the Development of Covenant Theology

Dr. Peter Lillback, President of Westminster Theological Seminary, in Philadelphia, Pa., Senior Minister of Proclamation Presbyterian Church, in Bryn Mawr, PA, and President of the Providence Forum, talked with the panel of Christ the Center about his book The Binding of God: Calvin’s Role in the Development of Covenant Theology, published in the Texts & Studies in Reformation & Post-Reformation Thought series by Baker Book House. Dr. Lillback has contributed numerous articles to various publications and journals, and is the author of George Washington’s Sacred Fire and Wall of Misconception. Dr Lillback has set out to offer an objective reading of John Calvin in regard to his view of “covenant” and the role that it plays in theology. The Binding of God is a significant contribution to the understanding of the covenant concept in church history.


  • Peter Lillback
  • Jim Cassidy
  • Nick Batzig
  • Camden Bucey


Bullinger, Heinrich. De Testamento seu foedere Dei unico & aeterno. Tiguri: In aedibus Christoph. Frosch, 1534.

Lillback, Peter. The binding of God : Calvin’s role in the development of covenant theology. Grand Rapids Mich. ;Carlisle Cumbria [England]: Baker Academic ;;Paternoster, 2001.

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Christ the Center focuses on Reformed Christian theology. In each episode a group of informed panelists discusses important issues in order to encourage critical thinking and a better understanding of Reformed doctrine with a view toward godly living. Browse more episodes from this program or subscribe to the podcast feed.

Michael Lynch

11 years ago

First, let me say thanks for CTC. I love listening to it every week. With that said, I may have misunderstood Dr. Lilliback when he said, “Calvin would argue: Never look at your holiness for the basis of your assurance.”

If he means that, according to Calvin, “ultimately” one is to ground there assurance on the objective promises of God then I have no problem with the statement. If, however, he meant that Calvin did not teach that the fruits of sanctification do not (or are not to) strengthen or help our assurance then I find that to be inaccurate.

Here is the quote by Calvin I am thinking of:

“A conscience so founded, erected, and established is established also in the consideration of works, so far, that is, as these are testimonies of God dwelling and ruling in us. Inasmuch, therefore, as this reliance upon works has no place unless you first cast the whole confidence of your mind upon God’s mercy, it ought not to seem contrary to that upon works, we mean only this: that the Christian mind may not be turned back to the merit of works as to a help toward salvation but should rely wholly on the free promise of righteousness. But we do not forbid him from undergirding and strengthening this faith by signs of the divine benevolence toward him. For if, when all the gifts God has bestowed upon us are called to mind, they are like rays of the divine countenance by which we are illumined to contemplate that supreme light of goodness; much more is this true of the grace of good works, which shows that the Spirit of adoption has been given to us” (3.14.18).

Note the words “founded” “erected” and “established”!

Ferguson, in a lecture he gave, persuasively argues concerning this quote:

“The interesting thing here to me is that already in Calvin you begin to see the deep-seatedness of his under-girding Trinitarian theology; that assurance is brought to the believer by the Father’s fatherly benevolence toward him through Jesus Christ who is worth a thousand testimonies, but also in the power of the Holy Spirit, not only with respect to the Holy Spirit’s witness to Christ, but with respect to his witness to the power of Christ to save in the fruit of his ministry; that is to say, the good works that the Christian believer does. And at the end of the day, we might say for Calvin that to give no place to good works in the “package deal” of assurance would be to cut off glorifying the Holy Spirit for the nature of his ministry in the believer.” Blessed Assurance and Bickering Theologians (lecture)

Whereas Lillback says that to “look at our good works [he uses the word holiness] for assurance would be to cheapen the work of Christ,” Sinclair says the exact opposite…namely, for the believer NOT to look at what the Holy Spirit does in the believer’s life in producing good works is to cheapen the ministry of the Spirit!!!!

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10 years ago

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9 years ago

This is not a discussion for everyone. There are some very weighty theological nuances addressed, and the discussion assumes the listener has some grasp of the historical positions regarding soteriology and Covenant theology. You could certainly learn some things here, but just be forewarned, you might do a lot of head scratching. It certainly pushed me into new territory — all in all not a bad thing.

Calvin and the Development of Covenant Theology | Westminster Theological Seminary

5 years ago

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