In defense of Nevin

In defense of Nevin May 22, 2012

In a post last week, I criticized some aspects of Nevin’s and Calvin’s sacramental theology. Jonathan Bonomo, author of Incarnation and Sacrament: The Eucharistic Controversy Between Charles Hodge and John Williamson Nevin , responded by arguing that Nevin and Calvin would both agree with my criticism. The rest of this post is from Bonomo:

I actually think Nevin would essentially agree with Leithart’s point about what is given objectively in the sacrament. As would Calvin. The quote from Calvin contra Westphal cited by Nevin (and Leithart) only tells part of the story re. the rain/rock analogy. Here’s a fuller selection from the Institutes (1559), where Calvin eventually makes the same point as that made in the citation against Westphal. But note particularly the paragraph that precedes that point, where Calvin emphasizes the fact that the gift is indeed truly given to all, and that giving is indicative of divine beneficence.

Inst . 4.17.33: “But they object that nothing of the trustworthiness of God’s promises can be diminished or fail through men’s ungratefulness. This, of course, I grant, and say that the power of the mystery remains intact, no matter how much wicked men try to their utmost to nullify it. Yet it is one thing to be offered, another thing to be received. Christ proffers this spiritual food and gives this spiritual drink to all. Some feed on them eagerly, some haughtily refuse them. Will the latter’s rejection of them cause the food and drink to lose their nature? They will say that their opinion is supported by this comparison, namely, that the flesh of Christ, although it be without taste, is nonetheless flesh. But I deny that it can be eaten without some taste of faith. Or (if we prefer to speak as Augustine does), I hold that men bear away from this Sacrament no more than they gather with the vessel of faith. Thus nothing is taken away from the Sacrament; indeed, its truth and effectiveness remain undiminished, although the wicked go away empty after outward participation in it.

“If they object again that the word—“This is my body”—loses meaning if the wicked receive corruptible bread and nothing besides, there is a ready reply: God’s will is that his truthfulness be acknowledged not in the reception itself, but in the constancy of his goodness, in that he is ready to give the unworthy what they reject, indeed, offers it freely. And this is the wholeness of the Sacrament, which the whole world cannot violate: that the flesh and blood of Christ are no less truly given to the unworthy than to God’s elect believers. At the same time, it is true, however, that, just as rain falling upon a hard rock flows off because no entrance opens into the stone, the wicked by their hardness so repel God’s grace that it does not reach them. Besides, to say that Christ may be received without faith is as inappropriate as to say that a seed may germinate in a fire.”

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