Saturday, 12 October 2013


John Calvin
Note: I want you to stick with me on this important subject which will cover 4 posts overall.  Many who criticise Calvin on these things have never read his actual comments (usually following in what Spurgeon called the "imaginations of their own brain") or latch upon some isolated quote snatched from a third and biased source. In these posts, we will go back to the original source. 


 Did John Calvin teach double predestination? If so, what did he mean by it? Did Calvin condemn to Hell people who ought not to be there? Or (worse still) attribute such a thing to the One whose nature is Love? Read below for the answers to these important questions. First we will give the appropriate verses from Romans 9, then Calvin's comments in black in the left hand column with my analysis of Calvin's thought in dark blue in the right hand column.

 This immediate page (part 1) concerns Romans 9:10-13

* Part 4 concerns Romans 9:22-24 
SCRIPTURE: And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated. (Romans 9:10-13)

10. And not only, etc. There are in this chapter some broken sentences, such as this is, — But Rebecca also, who had conceived by one, our father Isaac; for he leaves off in the middle, before he comes to the principal  verb. The meaning, however, is, that the difference as to the possession of  the promise may not only be seen in the children of Abraham, but that there is a much more evident example in Jacob and Esau: for in the former instance some might allege that their condition was unequal, the one being the son of an handmaid; but these were of the same mother, and were even twins: yet one was rejected, and the other was chosen by the Lord. It is hence clear, that the fulfilment of the promise does not take place in all thechildren of the flesh indiscriminately.

And as Paul refers to the persons to whom God made known his purpose, I prefer to regard a masculine pronoun to be understood, rather than a neuter, as Erasmus has done: for the meaning is, that God’s special election had not been revealed only to Abraham, but also to Rebecca, when she brought forth her twins.

I do not discern anything to be of a controversial nature, needing to be explained, in these  words of Calvin.
11. For when the children, etc. He now begins to ascend higher, even to show the cause of this difference, which he teaches us is nowhere else to be found except in the election of God. He had indeed before briefly noticed, that there was a difference between the natural children of Abraham, that though all were adopted by circumcision into a participation of the covenant, yet the grace of God was not effectual in them all; and hence that they, who enjoy the favor of God, are the children of the promise. But how it thus happened, he has been either silent or has obscurely hinted. Now indeed he openly ascribes the whole cause to the election of God, and that gratuitous, and in no way depending on men; so that in the salvation of the godly nothing higher (nihil superius) must be sought than the goodness of God, and nothing higher in the perdition of the reprobate than his just severity.

Calvin here clearly traces the cause of the difference being made between Jacob and Esau to nowhere else than the election of God. Before any one jumps in with both feet, it ought to be said that God chose to save Jacob, not according to his (Jacob's) own goodness, but according to His (God's) goodness. The elect are not not being said to be any better than the reprobate when this choice is being made. True, they are referred to here as the "godly" but this is after they have been saved. They are not viewed as being godly when election took place. They only became godly as a result of election.

The reprobate has always been viewed as a sinner and this is the basis if which God deals with him. Thus being left to perdition is attributed to God's "just severity" - note the judicious use of the adjective. It is not "unjust severity" which it would be if God was dealing with neutrals, but just. Esau ultimately went to Hell because He was a guilty sinner. Nothing more, nothing less and nothing else.

Then the first proposition is, — “As the blessing of the covenant separates the Israelitic nation from all other people, so the election of God makes a distinction between men in that nation, while he predestinates some to salvation, and others to eternal condenmation.”

The second proposition is, — “There is no other basis for this election than the goodness of God alone, and also since the fall of Adam, his mercy; which embraces whom he pleases, without any regard whatever to their works.”

The third is, — “The Lord in his gratuitous election is free and exempt from the necessity of imparting’ equally the same grace to all; but, on the contrary, he passes by whom he wills, and whom he wills he chooses.”
Read these three prepositions of Calvin very carefully. Don't let those words, "predestinated others to eternal condemnation" frighten you. Calvin is careful to include the fall of Adam into the equation to preserve the fundamentally just idea that men are dealt with as guilty sinners. Remember, if there was no election unto salvation, then there would still be condemnation, because all men would still reap the just reward of their sins.  We ought to rejoice that God has ordained to save some, even if He refrains from choosing to save all.  Neither can you oblige God to extend His grace to all, because words like "oblige" and "grace" can never be mentioned in the same breath.  There is nothing in these propositions that send men to Hell except their chosen sins. 

All these things Paul briefly includes in one sentence: he then goes on to other things. Moreover, by these words, When the children had not yet been born, nor had done any good or evil, he shows, that God in making a difference could not have had any regard to works, for they were not yet done. Now they who argue on the other side, and say, that this is no reason why the election of God should not make a difference between men according to the merits of works, for God foresees who those are who by future works would be worthy or unworthy of his grace, are not more clear-sighted than Paul, but stumble at a principle in theology, which ought to be well known to all Christians, namely, that God can see nothing in the corrupt nature of man, such as was in Esau and Jacob, to induce him to manifest his favor.

The difference of which Paul speaks here (and Calvin by explanation) is why God decided to save one of the guilty ones and not the other. The issue is not why God chose to damn Esau. As said above (and always)damnation is always attributed to sin.

Since both Jacob and Esau were viewed as guilty sinners, we are investigating why Jacob was chosen and Esau was left, when both were equally guilty. God could have chose them both or rightly (because of sin) damned them both. But He chose to save one (Jacob) and purely on the basis of grace alone. Since both twins were viewed as sinners, then the difference could not have been made on the basis of sin, for both were equally guilty.

When therefore he says, that neither of them had then done any good or evil, what he took as granted must also be added, — that they were both the children of Adam, by nature sinful, and endued with no particle of righteousness. I do not dwell thus long on explaining these things, because the meaning of the Apostle is obscure; but as the Sophists, being not content with his plain sense, endeavour to evade it by frivolous distinctions, I wished to show, that Paul was by no means ignorant of those things which they allege.

Calvin here in the clearest of terms shows that they were being dealt with as sinners. How VITAL it is to grasp this - otherwise you miss the main thrust of the argument and load Calvin with awful doctrines which he never preached or published.

It may further be said, that though that corruption alone, which is diffused through the whole race of man, is sufficient, before it breaks out, as they say, into action, for condemnation, and hence it follows, that Esau was justly rejected, for he was naturally a child of wrath, it was yet necessary, lest any doubt should remain, as though his condition became worse through any vice or fault, that sins no less than virtues should be excluded. It is indeed true, that the proximate cause of reprobation is the curse we all inherit from Adam; yet, that we may learn to acquiesce in the bare and simple good pleasure of God, Paul withdraws us from this view, until he has established this doctrine, — That God has a sufficiently just reason for electing and for reprobating, in his own will.

Calvin is careful to get it all down in writing again that corruption alone  is sufficient for condemnation and that Esau's sinful condition became worse and that the approximate cause of reprobation is found in the curse we all inherit from Adam. Note these words.

Although they are true words, yet Calvin argues that Paul did not argue for them strongly here at this time. This doesn't mean that they did not stand. They were merely withdrawn from view, because Paul wanted to establish the truth of God's sovereignty that God had sufficient reason (which he descibes again as just) in His own will and in this soverign and  just will, Paul wants us to acquiesce. 

That the purpose of God according to election, etc. He speaks of the gratuitous election of God almost in every instance. If works had any place, he ought to have said, — “That his reward might stand through works ;” but he mentions the purpose of God, which is included, so to speak, in his own good pleasure alone. And that no ground of dispute might remain on the subject,, he has removed all doubt by adding another clause, according to election, and then a third, not through works, but through him who calls.

Let us now then apply our minds more closely to this passage: Since the purpose of God according to election is established in this way, — that before the brothers were born, and had done either good or evil, one was rejected and the other chosen; it hence follows, that when any one ascribes the cause of the difference to their works, he thereby subverts the purpose of God. Now, by adding, not through works, but through him who calls, he means, not on account of works, but of the calling only; for he wishes to exclude works altogether. We have then the whole stability of our election inclosed in the purpose of God alone: here merits avail nothing, as they issue in nothing but death; no worthiness is regarded, for there is none; but the goodness of God reigns alone. False then is the dogma, and contrary to God’s word, — -that God elects or rejects, as he foresees each to be worthy or unworthy of his favor.

Again, you must bear in mind, that Calvin is NOT dealing here with the cause of condemnation. This is always sin. and never changes.  I must introduce a fundamental comment from Calvin's Institutes where he states this to be the case. I quote:

"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)

Calvin here is dealing (as Paul is) with the reason why God chose guilty Jacob to be saved from his sins and chose to leave guilty Esau in his sins.

As above, the reason cannot be sin because they were both sinners. It certainly wasn't meritorious works, because neither, as sinners, could produce them.  The reason for the choice then which guilty sinner would undeservedly live and which guilty sinner would deservedly die lay therefore solely in the will of God Himself.
12. The elder shall serve the younger. See how the Lord makes a difference between the sons of Isaac, while they were as yet in their mother’s womb; for this was the heavenly answer, by which it appeared that God designed to show to the younger peculiar favor, which he denied to the elder.

Though this indeed had reference to the right of primogeniture, yet in this, as the symbol of something greater, was manifested the will of God: and that this was the case we may easily perceive, when we consider what little benefit, according to the flesh, Jacob derived from his primogeniture.For he was, on its account, exposed to great danger; and to avoid this danger, he was obliged to quit his home and his country, and was unkindly treated in his exile: when he returned, he tremblingly, and in doubt of his life, prostrated himself at the feet of his brother, humbly asked forgiveness for his offence, and lived through the indulgence shown to him. Where was his dominion over his brother, from whom he was constrained to seek by entreaty his life? There was then something greater than the primogeniture promised in the answer given by the Lord.
Calvin answers the charge that this passage relates only to the earthly inheritance, arguing that it also relates to something greater i.e. eternal salvation from sin. 

13. As it is written, Jacob I loved, etc. He confirms, by a still stronger testimony, how much the heavenly answer, given to Rebecca, availed to his present purpose, that is, that the spiritual condition of both was intimated by the dominion of Jacob and servitude of Esau, and also that .Jacob obtained this favor through the kindness of God, and not through his own merit. Then this testimony of the prophet shows the reason why the Lord conferred on Jacob the primogeniture: and it is taken from the first, chapter of Malachi, where the Lord, reproaching the Jews for their ingratitude, mentions his former kindness to them, — “I have loved you,” he says; and then he refers to the origin of his love, — “Was not Esau the brother of Jacob?” as though he said, — “What privilege had he, that I should prefer him to his brother? None whatever. It was indeed an equal right, except that by the law of nature the younger ought to have served the elder; I yet chose the one, and rejected the other; and I was thus led by my mercy alone, and by no worthiness as to works. I therefore chose you for my people, that I might show the same kindness to the seed of Jacob; but I rejected the Edomites, the progeny of Esau. Ye are then so much the worse, inasmuch as the remembrance of so great a favor cannot stimulate you to adore my majesty.”  Now, though earthly blessings are there recorded, which God had conferred on the Israelites, it is not yet right to view them but as symbols of his benevolence: for where the wrath of God is, there death follows; but where his love is, there is life.
Calvin gives us nothing controversial here.  At the end of the paragraph, he mentions that death always follows on the wrath of God and that God's love leads to life. The death that comes from wrath is always deserved and earned, Calvin's own comments on Romans 6:23 makes this clear: 

It will however be more simple to render the word “wages,” for surely death is a sufficiently ample reward to the wicked.

Thus far then, to recap, we have nowhere seen where Calvin, as often alleged, has attributed damnation to anyone for any other cause other than sin. 

This immediate page (part 1) concerns Romans 9:10-13

* Part 4 concerns Romans 9:22-24

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