Calvin’s Ethics -- By: Frank Hugh Foster

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 037:145 (Jan 1880)
Article: Calvin’s Ethics
Author: Frank Hugh Foster


Calvin’s Ethics

An Abstract From The German Of Lic. Theol. P. Lobstein, Univ. Strasburg

Rev. Frank H. Foster

[Prefatory Note.— The tract of which the following Article is an abstract is styled “A Contribution to the History of Christian Ethics.”1 It is furnished with copious notes, including both quotations from Calvin’s writing and numerous references to them, in substantiation of the author’s positions. It would therefore afford valuable aid in the prosecution of further researches upon this subject.

The subject of ethics as viewed by German scholars, and treated in this Essay, does not correspond to what we call moral philosophy. Ethics are viewed as a part of systematic theology, and are derived from the Scriptures. “The science of morals,” says Tholuck (Encyclopaedia, Bib. Sac, Vol. 1:p. 189), “is the representation of a Christian life as it is regulated by doctrinal faith.” Ethics as viewed by our author explain how the Christian life, originating in the divine election, develops itself, what is its law, what its fruits, what its aim. This may be styled a practical way of treating the subject, and may be employed as a source of homiletical material. But the question, In what does virtue consist? or, What principle entering into an act makes it virtuous? is never fairly raised, and never explicitly answered. It would be a valuable service to philosophy if some one would subject Calvin’s works to an examination with a view to obtaining his answer to this question, and thus do scientifically what our author does practically.]

The great activity which the new theology has displayed in the department of Christian ethics has not extended to the history of that department. For this little has been done, and it still remains far behind the history of doctrines. Even the preliminary work is not yet done, and there is need of special and thorough investigations among the original authorities, for only in this way can a complete and practical exhibition of the history be rendered possible. Such is the contribution to the history of Protestant ethics which the following essay would make. With the exception of isolated remarks, nothing has yet been written upon the fundamental principles of Calvin’s ethics. That such an investigation will profit us, it is hoped the following pages will show. Certainly it ought to be profitable to gain a clear idea of the ethical principles of a man who through the moral character of his theology and his church polity exercises so significant an influence, and who has so ineffaceably stamped his own individuality upon his followers.

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