Tuesday, 29 October 2013


John Calvin

Thank you for keeping with me over this 4 post subject. I trust that it has proved helpful to you. As said in previous posts, any who criticise Calvin on these things have never read his actual comments (usually following in what Spurgeon called the "imaginations of their own brain") o rthey 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. 

SCRIPTURE: (Romans 9:22-24) What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?

22. And what, etc.
A second answer, by which he briefly shows, that though the counsel of God is in fact incomprehensible, yet his unblamable justice shines forth no less in the perdition of the reprobate than in the salvation of the elect. He does not indeed give a reason for divine election, so as to assign a cause why this man is chosen and that man rejected; for it was not meet that the things contained in the secret counsel of God should be subjected to the judgment of men; and, besides, this mystery is inexplicable. He therefore keeps us from curiously examining those things which exceed human comprehension. He yet shows, that as far as God’s predestination manifests itself, it appears perfectly just.

Our non Calvinist friends will, of course, disagree with us here. They assign a reason why the elect are elected and that reason (they say) is faith. They say: No faith = No election. We Calvinists, OTOH, say that faith is the fruit of election (and not the cause) and so  No election = No faith.  To go back to what Calvin actually writes here, apart from the obvious difference, there is nothing that is actually going to cause a non Calvinist to faint or pass out :o)
The particles, ei de, used by Paul, I take to mean, And what if? so that the whole sentence is a question; and thus the sense will be more evident: and there is here an ellipsis, when we are to consider this as being understood, — "Who then can charge him with unrighteousness, or arraign him?” for here appears nothing but the most perfect course of justice.

But if we wish fully to understand Paul, almost every word must be examined. He then argues thus, — There are vessels prepared for destruction, that is, given up and appointed to destruction: they are also vessels of wrath, that is, made and formed for this end, that they may be examples of God’s vengeance and displeasure. If the Lord bears patiently for a time with these, not destroying them at the first moment, butdeferring the judgment prepared for them, and this in order to set forth the decisions of his severity, that others may be terrified by so dreadful examples, and also to make known his power, to exhibit which he makes them in various ways to serve; and, further, that the amplitude of his mercy towards the elect may hence be more fully known and more brightly shine forth ; — what is there worthy of being reprehended in this dispensation? But that he is silent as to the reason, why they are vessels appointed to destruction, is no matter of wonder. He indeed takes it as granted, according to what has been already said, that the reason is hid in the secret and inexplorable counsel of God; whose justice it behoves us rather to adore than to scrutinize.And he has mentioned vessels, as commonly signifying instruments; for whatever is done by all creatures, is, as it were, the ministration of divine power.

For the best reason then are we, the faithful, called the vessels of mercy, whom the Lord uses as instruments for the manifestation of his mercy; and the reprobate are the vessels of wrath, because they serve to show forth the judgments of God.
The issue here is not so much that we do not know, nor can ever know, the cause of damnation. We have seen that damnation is the fruit of sin, as the Bible clearly teaches.  Calvin never taught otherwise.  For example his comments on John 3:19  (This is the condemnation etc.,) show this very clearly:
"All think it harsh that they who do not believe in Christ should be devoted to destruction. That no man may ascribe his condemnation to Christ, he shows that every man ought to impute the blame to himself. The reason is, that unbelief is a testimony of a bad conscience; and hence it is evident that it is their own wickedness which hinders unbelievers from approaching to Christ. Some think that he points out here nothing more than the mark of condemnation; but, the design of Christ is, to restrain the wickedness of men, that they may not, according to their custom, dispute or argue with God, as if he treated them unjustly, when he punishes unbelief with eternal death. He shows that such a condemnation is just, and is not liable to any reproaches, not only because those men act wickedly, who prefer darkness to light, and refuse the light which is freely offered to them, but because that hatred of the light arises only from a mind that is wicked and conscious of its guilt."   
What Calvin declares is inexplicable here (as far as human reasoning is concerned) is the reason why God chose to leave 'Sinner A' in his unbelief while granting faith to 'Sinner B' when both of them deserved nothing but wrath and damnation for sin.
While I think you need to be exceedingly careful in saying that the vessels of wrath 'were made and formed for this end'  yet no school can escape the charge. Even to take the bare foreknowledge line of the Non Calvinist does not allow him to escape. There would be no damnation unless there was sin and  we are all agree that God purposely allowed the circumstances for sin to enter into the world.  Unless He was either a knave or a fool, then we must allow that He has His reasons for allowing this and those reasons cannot in any way compromise His own glory.  

22. That he might also make known the riches of his glory,etc. I doubt not but the two particles kai ina, is an instance of a construction, where the first word is put last; (usteron pro teron) and that this clause may better unite with the former, I have rendered it, That he might also make known, etc. (Ut notas quoque faceret, etc.) It is the second reason which manifests the glory of God in the destruction of the reprobate, because the greatness of divine mercy towards the elect is hereby more clearly made known; for how do they differ from them except that they are delivered by the Lord from the same gulf of destruction? and this by no merit of their own, but through his gratuitous kindness. It cannot then be but that the infinite mercy of God towards the elect must appear increasingly worthy of praise, when we see how miserable are all they who escape not hiswrath.
Calvin here rightly points out that both there is no real difference between the elect and reprobate i.e. in and of themselves. Note that they are both headed to the same gulf of destruction (because both are equally guilty) but God has chosen to show His saving grace to the elect, while leaving the reprobate to their chosen sins. 

The word glory, which is here twice mentioned, I consider to have been used for God’s mercy, a metonymy of effect for the cause; for his chief praise or glory is in acts of kindness. So in Ephesians 1:13, after having taught us, that we have been adopted to the praise of the glory of his grace, he adds, that we are sealed by the Spirit of promise unto the praise of his glory, the word grace being left out. He wished then to show, that the elect are instruments or vessels through whom God exercises his mercy, that through them he may glorify his name. Though in the second clause he asserts more expressly that it is God who prepares the elect for glory, as he had simply said before that the reprobate are vessels prepared for destruction; there is yet no doubt but that the preparation of both is connected with the secret counsel of God. Paul might have otherwise said, that the reprobate give up or cast themselves into destruction; but he intimates here, that before they are born they are destined to their lot.

Yes, indeed, Paul might have said
'that the reprobate give up or cast themselves into destruction' but He didn't in this particular passage as it is translated in our Authorised Version. It is true that the Greek text in v22 re: the reprobate may be equally translated "prepared themselves unto destruction"  and this is, at least, the emphasis that I am happier with. However, we must face the fact that the Holy Spirit deliberately left it ambiguous and that many, if not all, of the various versions reflect this and leave it pretty much as it stands in the AV.  However, Paul (followed by Calvin) taught elsewhere that man is the author of his own damnation e.g. Romans 2:5 where the impenitent hoard up for themselves wrath. Calvin rightly observes there: "5. But according to thy hardness, etc. When we become hardened against the admonitions of the Lord, impenitence follows; and they who arc not anxious about repentance openly provoke the Lord. This is a remarkable passage: we may hence learn what I have already referred to — that the ungodly not only accumulate for themselves daily a heavier weight of God’s judgments, as long as they live here, but that the gifts of God also, which they continually enjoy, shall increase their condemnation; for an account of them all will be required: and it will then be found, that it will be justly imputed to them as an extreme wickedness, that they had been made worse through God’s bounty, by which theyought surely to have been improved."

However, this was not Paul's purpose in this particular passage, and therefore we cannot blame Calvin for keeping close to Paul's own thoughts. 

24. Whom he also called, etc. From the reasoning which he has been hitherto carrying on respecting the freedom of divine election, two things follow, — that the grace of God is not so confined to the Jewish people that it does not also flow to other nations, and diffuse itself through the whole world, — and then, that it is not even so tied to the Jews that it comes without exception to all the children of Abraham according to the flesh; for if God’s election is based on his own good pleasure alone, wherever his will turns itself, there his election exists.

Election being then established, the way is now in a manner prepared for him to proceed to those things which he designed to say respecting the calling of the Gentiles, and also respecting the rejection of the Jews; the first of which seemed strange for its novelty, and the other wholly unbecoming. As, however, the last had more in it to offend, he speaks in the first place of that which was less disliked. He says then, that the vessels of God’s mercy, whom he selects for the glory of his name, are taken from every people, from the Gentiles no less than from the Jews. But though in the relative whom the rule of grammar is not fully observed by Paul, yet his object was, by making as it were a transition, to subjoin that we are the vessels of God’s glory, who have been taken in part from the Jews and in part from the Gentiles; and he proves from the calling of God, that there is no difference between nations made in election.

For if to be descended from the Gentiles was no hinderance that God should not call us, it is evident that the Gentiles are by no means to be excluded from the kingdom of God and the covenant of eternal salvation.
There are no, as far as I can see, any controversial remarks in these words of John Calvin. 

Conclusion of the 4 part study: As far as these verses in Romans 9 are concerned, Calvin says nothing that should cause any Christian to blush. He faithfully follows Paul in his argument without deviating from either the words or the emphasis of the passage. There is more to these things than Romans 9, as can be seen from our quotes from elsewhere. Helpful pages on this site to help you evaluate the Doctrines of Grace may be found in our Calvinism Index page. We hope to extend our comments on what Calvin taught on Predestination and Reprobation with annotations such as have above. However, these studies take time. However, they will be linked from this page when complete.


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