Thursday, 18 July 2013



Calvin's Comments on John 12:37 - 41 stated and analysed: 

But though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him: That the saying of Esaias the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed? Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them. These things said Esaias, when he saw his glory, and spake of him.  (John 12:37-41)

JOHN CALVIN: 37. And though he had done so many signs. That no man may be disturbed or perplexed at seeing that Christ was despised by the Jews, the Evangelist removes this offence, by showing that he was supported by clear and undoubted testimonies, which proved that credit was due to him and to his doctrine; but that the blind did not behold the glory and power of God, which were openly displayed in his miracles. First, therefore, we ought to believe that it was not owing to Christ that the Jews did not place confidence in him, because by many miracles he abundantly testified who he was, and that it was therefore unjust and highly unreasonable that their unbelief should diminish his authority. But as this very circumstance might lead many persons to anxious and perplexing inquiry how the Jews came to be so stupid, that the power of God, though visible, produced no effect upon them, John proceeds further, and shows that faith does not proceed from the ordinary faculties of men, but is an uncommon and extraordinary gift of God, and that this was anciently predicted concerning Christ, that very few would believe the Gospel.
MY COMMENT: Calvin here acknowledges, in line with common Evangelical belief, that saving faith is the gift of God. Note that he also rebuked the Jews for having no confidence in him and attributed their unbelief to being so stupid. This is standard fare in Calvin in general and especially in this commentary on John's gospel where we are faced with the unbelief of the sinner again and again. Calvin never departed from this proportioning of blame. In previous chapters, Calvin has made statements such as these:

"He again reproaches them that it is nothing but their own malice that hinders them from becoming partakers of the life offered in the Scriptures; for when he says that they will not, he imputes the cause of their ignorance and blindness to wickedness and obstinacy. And, indeed, since he offered himself to them so graciously, they must have been willfully blind; but when they  intentionally fled from the light, and even desired to extinguish the sun by the darkness of theirunbelief, Christ justly reproves them with greater severity." (John 5:40)

In his Institutes, where he deals more at length on the doctrine of reprobation, he is very careful to give a clear pastoral application to it all when he writes:

"Accordingly, we should contemplate the evident cause of condemnation in the corrupt nature of humanity—which is closer to us—rather than seek a hidden and utterly incomprehensible cause in God’s predestination." (Institutes 3:23:8)

JOHN CALVIN: 38. That the saying of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled.  John does not mean that the prediction laid a necessity on the Jews; for Isaiah (Isaiah 53:1; Romans 10:16) uttered nothing but what the Lord revealed to him from the secret treasures of his purpose. Indeed, it must have happened, though the prophet had not spoken of it; but as men would not have known what should take place, if God had not testified by the mouth of the prophet, the Evangelist places before our eyes in the prediction, as in a mirror, what would otherwise have appeared to men obscure and almost incredible.

: Calvin again closes up a potential loophole for those who argue for the excusing of the sinner. Isaiah writing that few would believe did not necessitate the Jews being part of the unbelievers. No man find excuse in any of these verses.

JOHN CALVIN: Lord, who hath believed? This sentence contains two clauses. In the former, Isaiah, having begun to speak of Christ, fore-seeing that all that he proclaims concerning Christ, and all that shall afterwards be made known by the Apostles, will be generally rejected by the Jews, exclaims, as if in astonishment at something strange and monstrous, Lord, who shall believe our report, or, our speech?

MY COMMENT: Far from being acceptable behaviour or excusable in any way, Calvin sees the unbelief of these Jews as being a cause of astonishment because it is strange and monstrous.

JOHN CALVIN: To whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed? In this second clause he assigns the reason why they are few; and that reason is, that men do not attain it by their own strength, and God does not illuminate all without distinction, but bestows the  grace of his Holy Spirit on very few, And if among the Jews the obstinate unbelief of many ought not to have been an obstacle to believers, though they were few in number, the same argument ought to persuade us, at the present day, not to be ashamed of the Gospel, though it has few disciples. But we ought first to observe the reason which is added, that what makes men believers is not their own sagacity, but the revelation of God. The word arm, it is well known, denotes power. The prophet declares that the arm of God, which is contained in the doctrine of the Gospel, lies hid until it is revealed, and at the same time testifies that all are not indiscriminately partakers of thisrevelation. Hence it follows, that many are left in their blindness destitute of inward light, because hearing they do not hear, Matthew 13:13.)

MY COMMENT: Although Calvin tells us that one reason why few believe is that God only grants faith to few, yet he does not tender these words as an excuse to the unbeliever. In almost the same breath, he still refers to the "obstinate unbelief of many" and speaks of the many being "left in their blindness" because "hearing they do not hear."

JOHN CALVIN: 39. Therefore they could not believe. This is somewhat more harsh; because, if the words be taken in their natural meaning, the way was shut up against the Jews, and the power of believing was taken from them, because the prediction of the prophet adjudged them to blindness, before they determined what choice they should make. I reply, there is no absurdity in this, if nothing could happen different from what God had foreseen. But it ought to be observed, that the mere foreknowledge of God is not in itself the cause of events; though, in this passage, we ought to consider not so much the foreknowledge of God as his justice and vengeance. For God declares not what he beholds from heaven that men will do, but what He himself will do; and that is, that he will strike wicked men with giddiness and stupidity, and thus will take vengeance on their obstinate wickedness. In this passage he points out the nearer and inferior cause why God intends that his word, which is in its own nature salutary and quickening, shall be destructive and deadly to the Jews. It is because they deserved it by their obstinate wickedness.
MY COMMENT: Calvin shows here that God intervened in the life of these people. Note, these people are not helpless neutrals who have been caught up in something not of their own making. God does not deal with them on that basis, but rather on the basis that, as Calvin distinctly notes, that they are "wicked"and therefore are stricken with "giddiness and stupidity" which Calvin sees as "vengeance on their obstinate wickedness" and very clearly points out that such is "deserved." This action of God is therefore judicial. The fault, once more, lies entirely with the sinner and not with God. If the word of God which is, of its own nature, salutary and life giving becomes destructive and deadly to the Jews, then it is because they have turned it so to their own destruction. Calvin can hardly be clearer in this passage than he is.

JOHN CALVIN: This punishment it was impossible for them to escape, because God had once decreed to give them over to a reprobate mind, and to change the light of his word, so as to make it darkness to them. For this latter prediction differs from the former in this respect, that in the former passage the prophet testifies that none believe but those whom God, of his free grace, enlightens for his own good pleasure, the reason of which does not appear; for since all are equally ruined, God, of his mere good pleasure, distinguishes from others those whom he thinks fit to distinguish. But, in the latter passage, he speaks of the hardness by which God has punished the wickedness of an ungrateful people. They who do not attend to these steps mistake and confound passages of Scripture, which are quite different from each other.

MY COMMENT: We ought to point out here that God making someone reprobate does not make them sinners. This is a common mistake among those who fail to understand the tenets of Calvinism. Reprobation merely treats people as sinners. It does not make them so. In these paragraphs, Calvin expounds how all men are equally ruined by sin and how it is only by the free electing grace of God that some are saved while others are left in their sinful to the just deserts of their obstinate wickedness. Again, reprobation does not make them obstinate or wicked. It finds them so and leaves them so, both as they desire and deserve and that to God's glory.

JOHN CALVIN: 40. He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart. The passage is taken from Isaiah 6:9, where the Lord forewarns the prophet, that the labour which he spends in instructing will lead to no other result than to make the people worse. First then he says, Go, and tell this people, Hearing, hear and do not hear; as if he had said, “I send thee to speak to the deaf.” He afterwards adds, Harden the heart of this people, &c. By these words he means, that he intends to make his word a punishment to the reprobate, that it may render them more thoroughly blind, and that their blindness may be plunged in deeper darkness. It is indeed a dreadful judgment of God, when He overwhelms men by the light of doctrine, in such a manner as to deprive them of all understanding; and when, even by means of that which is their only light, he brings darkness upon them.

MY COMMENT: Note again how careful Calvin is with his language. God brings the punishment to the reprobate and not the other way round i.e. it is judicial and so deserved. To reinforce this, Calvin does not describe the hardening of the reprobate as "indeed a dreadful action of God" but more specifically, as a terrible judgement of God. When Calvin says that God deprives the reprobate of "all understanding" -  he means that God withheld it from them - something which He was under no obligation to impart, especially when they abused what understanding they had.

JOHN CALVIN: But it ought to be observed, that it is accidental to the word of God, that it blinds men; for nothing can be more inconsistent than that there should be no difference between truth and falsehood, that the bread of life should become a deadly poison, and that medicine should aggravate a disease. But this must be ascribed to the wickedness of men, which turns life into death. It ought also to be observed, that sometimes the Lord, by himself, blinds the minds of men, by depriving them of judgment and understanding; sometimes by Satan and false prophets, when he maddens them by their impostures; sometimes. too by his ministers, when the doctrine of salvation is injurious and deadly to them. But provided that prophets labor faithfully in the work of instruction, and commit to the Lord the result of their labor, though they may not succeed to their wish, they ought not to give way or despond. Let them rather be satisfied with knowing that God approves of their labor, though it be useless to men’ and that even the savor of doctrine, which wicked men render deadly to themselves, is good and pleasant to God, as Paul testifies, (2 Corinthians 2:15.)
MY COMMENT: In the last paragraph, Calvin points out how the excessive use of the word of God itself  becomes harmful to the reprobate. Here, he qualifies this somewhat before any one thinks that the word of God has poisous qualities. This is not so, hence the use of the word "accidental." The word of God is designed to bring men to faith in Christ. If it becomes a deadly poison, then Calvin bluntly points out that it is the wickedness of men that makes it so. It is man's sin that turns the word of life into a poison and therefore the blame can never be laid at the door of God. Rather, "wicked men render [it] deadly to themselves. When Calvin says that God "by Himself" blinds men, again (as in the previous paragraphs) it is a judicial and therefore deserved blindness and not something visited on otherwise neutral individuals. Sometimes, God uses Satan and false prophets to do the work. Other times, God uses "his ministers" (by which I would take it that God uses his own [godly] ministers) to accomplish this judicial work when they faithfully bring the word of God, if only to the deserved destruction of the reprobate.

JOHN CALVIN: The heart is sometimes in Scripture put for the seat of the affections; but here, as in many other passages, it denotes what is called the intellectual part of the soul. To the same purpose Moses speaks: God hath not given you a heart to understand, (Deuteronomy 29:4.) Lest they should see with their eyes. Let us remember that the prophet speaks of unbelievers who had already rejected the grace of God. It is certain that all would continue to be such by nature, if the Lord did not form to obedience to him those whom he has elected. At first, therefore, the condition of men is equal and alike, but when reprobate men have, of their own accord, and by their own wickedness, rebelled against God, they subject themselves to this vengeance, by which, being given up to a reprobate mind, they continually rush forward more and more to their own destruction. It is their own fault, therefore, if God does not choose to convert them, because they were the cause of their own despair. We are briefly instructed also, by these words of the prophet, what is the beginning of our conversion to God. It is when he enlightens the hearts, which must have been turned away from him, so long as they were held by the darkness of Satan; but, on the contrary, such is the power of Divine light, that it attracts us to itself, and forms us to the image of God.

MY COMMENT: This is one of Calvin's most powerful statements on this whole matter. Indeed, it needs little comment from me here. It is hardly cryptic:

"Let us remember that the prophet speaks of unbelievers who had already rejected the grace of God."

"...but when reprobate men have, of their own accord, and by their own wickedness, rebelled against God, they subject themselves to this vengeance, by which, being given up to a reprobate mind, they continually rush forward more and more to their own destruction"

"It is their own fault..."
Where can any guilty sinner complain? No one rejects Christ for him or forces him to reject the Saviour. It is all of his own doing and he can find no refuge anywhere for his wicked deeds.
JOHN CALVIN: And I should heal them. He next adds the fruit of conversion, that is, healing. By this word the prophet means the blessing of God and a prosperous condition, and likewise deliverance from all the miseries which spring from the wrath of God. Now, if this happens to the reprobate, contrary to the nature of the word, we ought to attend to the contrast implied in the, opposite use of it; namely, that the purpose for which the word of God is preached is, to enlighten us in the true knowledge of God, to turn us to God, and reconcile us to him, that we may be happy and blessed.
MY COMMENT: The chief and natural design of the word of God (which is a lamp unto our path etc) is to give light. Earlier on, Calvin said that if the giving of light proved to be deadly to the reprobate, it was "accidental" i.e. a kind of spin off, for which the reprobate was entirely responsible. It is the reprobate who damns his own soul.

This paragraph deals more with the benefits of the word to the elect and only refers to the reprobate by way of comparison.

JOHN CALVIN: 41. These things spoke Jesus. Lest readers should think that this prediction was inappropriately quoted, John expressly states, that the prophet was not sent as a teacher to a single age, but, on the contrary, that the glory of Christ was exhibited to him, that he might be a witness of those things which should take place under his reign. Now the Evangelist takes for granted, that Isaiah saw the glory of Christ; and hence he infers, that Isaiah accommodates his instruction to the future state of Christ’s kingdom.

MY COMMENT: Here, Calvin points out how John closes up a potential loophole by pointing out that these words of Isaiah, quoted by Christ, would not last for a single generation, but come into the play in every age. Therefore these words are today relevant to us today.


Hence let us learn that we ought to receive Christ without delay, while he is still present with us, that the opportunity of enjoying him may not pass away from us; for if the door be once shut, it will be vain for us to try to open it. Seek the Lord, says Isaiah, while he may be found; call upon him, while he is near, (Isaiah 55:6.) We ought therefore to go to God early, while the time of his good pleasure lasts, as the prophet speaks, (Isaiah 49:8;) for we know not how long God will bear with our negligence. In these words, where I am, you cannot come, he employs the present tense instead of the future, where I shall be, you shall not be able to come.” (Comments on John 8:34)




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