(Calvin, Institutes on the Christian Religion 1, part 16)

Chapter 18. 
18. The instrumentality of the wicked employed by God, while He 
continues free from every taint. 
This last chapter of the First Book consists of three parts: I. It 
having been said above that God bends all the reprobate, and even 
Satan himself, at his will, three objections are started. First, 
that this happens by the permission, not by the will of God. To this 
objection there is a twofold reply, the one, that angels and men, 
good and bad, do nothing but what is appointed by God; the second, 
that all movements are secretly directed to their end by the hidden 
inspiration of God, sec. 1, 2. II. A second objection is, that there 
are two contrary wills in God, if by a secret counsel he decrees 
what he openly prohibits by his law. This objection refuted, sec. 3. 
III. The third objection is, that God is made the author of all 
wickedness, when he is said not only to use the agency of the 
wicked, but also to govern their counsels and affections, and that 
therefore the wicked are unjustly punished. This objection refuted 
in the last section. 
1. The carnal mind the source of the objections which are raised 
    against the Providence of God. A primary objection, making a 
    distinction between the permission and the will of God, 
    refuted. Angels and men, good and bad, do nought but what has 
    been decreed by God. This proved by examples. 
2. All hidden movements directed to their end by the unseen but 
    righteous instigation of God. Examples, with answers to 
3. These objections originate in a spirit of pride and blasphemy. 
    Objection, that there must be two contrary wills in God, 
    refuted. Why the one simple will of God seems to us as if it 
    were manifold. 
4. Objection, that God is the author of sin, refuted by examples. 
    Augustine's answer and admonition. 
    1. From other passages, in which God is said to draw or bend 
Satan himself, and all the reprobate, to his will, a more difficult 
question arises. For the carnal mind can scarcely comprehend how, 
when acting by their means, he contracts no taint from their 
impurity, nay, how, in a common operation, he is exempt from all 
guilt, and can justly condemn his own ministers. Hence a distinction 
has been invented between doing and permitting because to many it 
seemed altogether inexplicable how Satan and all the wicked are so 
under the hand and authority of God, that he directs their malice to 
whatever end he pleases, and employs their iniquities to execute his 
judgements. The modesty of those who are thus alarmed at the 
appearance of absurdity might perhaps be excused, did they not 
endeavour to vindicate the justice of God from every semblance of 
stigma by defending an untruth. It seems absurd that man should be 
blinded by the will and command of God, and yet be forthwith 
punished for his blindness. Hence, recourse is had to the evasion 
that this is done only by the permission, and not also by the will 
of God. He himself, however, openly declaring that he does this, 
repudiates the evasion. That men do nothing save at the secret 
instigation of God, and do not discuss and deliberate on any thing 
but what he has previously decreed with himself and brings to pass 
by his secret direction, is proved by numberless clear passages of 
Scripture. What we formerly quoted from the Psalms, to the effect 
that he does whatever pleases him, certainly extends to all the 
actions of men. If God is the arbiter of peace and war, as is there 
said, and that without any exception, who will venture to say that 
men are borne along at random with a blind impulse, while He is 
unconscious or quiescent? But the matter will be made clearer by 
special examples. From the first chapter of Job we learn that Satan 
appears in the presence of God to receive his orders, just as do the 
angels who obey spontaneously. The manner and the end are different, 
but still the fact is, that he cannot attempt anything without the 
will of God. But though afterwards his power to afflict the saint 
seems to be only a bare permission, yet as the sentiment is true, 
"The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; as it pleased the Lord, 
so it has been done," we infer that God was the author of that trial 
of which Satan and wicked robbers were merely the instruments. 
Satan's aim is to drive the saint to madness by despair. The Sabeans 
cruelly and wickedly make a sudden incursion to rob another of his 
goods. Job acknowledges that he was deprived of all his property, 
and brought to poverty, because such was the pleasure of God. 
Therefore, whatever men or Satan himself devise, God holds the helm, 
and makes all their efforts contribute to the execution of his 
judgements. God wills that the perfidious Ahab should be deceived; 
the devil offers his agency for that purpose, and is sent with a 
definite command to be a lying spirit in the mouth of all the 
prophets, (2 Kings 22: 20.) If the blinding and infatuation of Ahab 
is a judgement from God, the fiction of bare permission is at an 
end; for it would be ridiculous for a judge only to permit, and not 
also to decree, what he wishes to be done at the very time that he 
commits the execution of it to his ministers. The Jews purposed to 
destroy Christ. Pilate and the soldiers indulged them in their fury; 
yet the disciples confess in solemn prayer that all the wicked did 
nothing but what the hand and counsel of God had decreed, (Acts 4: 
28,) just as Peter had previously said in his discourse, that Christ 
was delivered to death by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge 
of God, (Acts 2: 23;) in other words, that God, to whom all things 
are known from the beginning, had determined what the Jews had 
executed. He repeats the same thing elsewhere, "Those things, which 
God before had showed by the mouth of all his prophets, that Christ 
should suffer, he has so fulfilled," (Acts 4: 18.) Absalom 
incestuously defiling his father's bed, perpetrates a detestable 
crime. God, however, declares that it was his work; for the words 
are, "Thou midst it secretly, but I will do this thing before all 
Israel, and before the sun." The cruelties of the Chaldeans in Judea 
are declared by Jeremiah to be the work of God. For which reason, 
Nebuchadnezzar is called the servant of God. God frequently 
exclaims, that by his hiss, by the clang of his trumpet, by his 
authority and command, the wicked are excited to war. He calls the 
Assyrian the rod of his anger, and the axe which he wields in his 
hand. The overthrow of the city and downfall of the temple, he calls 
his own work. David, not murmuring against God, but acknowledging 
him to be a just judge, confesses that the curses of Shimei are 
uttered by his orders. "The Lord," says he, "has bidden him curse." 
Often in sacred history whatever happens is said to proceed from the 
Lord, as the revolt of the ten tribes, the death of Eli's sons, and 
very many others of a similar description. Those who have a 
tolerable acquaintance with the Scriptures see that, with a view to 
brevity, I am only producing a few out of many passages, from which 
it is perfectly clear that it is the merest trifling to substitute a 
bare permission for the providence of God, as if he sat in a 
watch-tower waiting for fortuitous events, his judgements meanwhile 
depending on the will of man. 
    2. With regard to secret movements, what Solomon says of the 
heart of a king, that it is turned hither and thither, as God sees 
meet, certainly applies to the whole human race, and has the same 
force as if he had said, that whatever we conceive in our minds is 
directed to its end by the secret inspiration of God. And certainly, 
did he not work internally in the minds of men, it could not have 
been properly said, that he takes away the lip from the true, and 
prudence from the aged - takes away the heart from the princes of 
the earth, that they wander through devious paths. To the same 
effect, we often read that men are intimidated when He fills their 
hearts with terror. Thus David left the camp of Saul while none knew 
of its because a sleep from God had fallen upon all. But nothing can 
be clearer than the many passages which declare, that he blinds the 
minds of men, and smites them with giddiness, intoxicates them with 
a spirit of stupor, renders them infatuated, and hardens their 
hearts. Even these expressions many would confine to permissions as 
if, by deserting the reprobate, he allowed them to be blinded by 
Satan. But since the Holy Spirit distinctly says, that the blindness 
and infatuation are inflicted by the just judgement of God, the 
solution is altogether inadmissible. He is said to have hardened the 
heart of Pharaoh, to have hardened it yet more, and confirmed it. 
Some evade these forms of expression by a silly cavil, because 
Pharaoh is elsewhere said to have hardened his own heart, thus 
making his will the cause of hardening it; as if the two things did 
not perfectly agree with each other, though in different senses 
viz., that man, though acted upon by God, at the same time also 
acts. But I retort the objection on those who make it. If to harden 
means only bare permission, the contumacy will not properly belong 
to Pharaoh. Now, could any thing be more feeble and insipid than to 
interpret as if Pharaoh had only allowed himself to be hardened? We 
may add, that Scripture cuts off all handle for such cavils: "I," 
saith the Lord, "will harden his heart," (Exod. 4: 21.) So also, 
Moses says of the inhabitants of the land of Canaan, that they went 
forth to battle because the Lord had hardened their hearts, (Josh. 
11: 20.) The same thing is repeated by another prophet, "He turned 
their hearts to hate his people," (Psalm 105: 25.) In like manner, 
in Isaiah, he says of the Assyrian, "I will send him against a 
hypocritical nation, and against the people of my wrath will I give 
him a charge to take the spoil, and to take the prey," (Isaiah 10: 
6;) not that he intends to teach wicked and obstinate man to obey 
spontaneously, but because he bends them to execute his judgements, 
just as if they carried their orders engraven on their minds. And 
hence it appears that they are impelled by the sure appointment of 
God. I admit, indeed, that God often acts in the reprobate by 
interposing the agency of Satan; but in such a manner, that Satan 
himself performs his part, just as he is impelled, and succeeds only 
in so far as he is permitted. The evil spirit that troubled Saul is 
said to be from the Lord, (1 Sam. 16: 14,) to intimate that Saul's 
madness was a just punishment from God. Satan is also said to blind 
the minds of those who believe not, (2 Cor. 4: 4.) But how so, 
unless that a spirit of error is sent from God himself, making those 
who refuse to obey the truth to believe a lie? According to the 
former view, it is said, "If the prophet be deceived when he has 
spoken a thing, I the Lord have deceived that prophet," (Ezek. 14: 
9.) According to the latter view, he is said to have given men over 
to a reprobate mind, (Rom. 1: 28,) because he is the special author 
of his own just vengeance; whereas Satan is only his minister, (see 
Calv. in Ps. 141: 4.) But as in the Second Book, (Chap. 4: sec. 3, 
4,) in discussing the question of man's freedom, this subject will 
again be considered, the little that has now been said seems to be 
all that the occasion requires. The sum of the whole is this, - 
since the will of God is said to be the cause of all things, all the 
counsels and actions of men must be held to be governed by his 
providence; so that he not only exerts his power in the elect, who 
are guided by the Holy Spirit, but also forces the reprobate to do 
him service. 
    3. As I have hitherto stated only what is plainly and 
unambiguously taught in Scripture, those who hesitate not to 
stigmatise what is thus taught by the sacred oracles, had better 
beware what kind of censure they employ. If, under a pretence of 
ignorance, they seek the praise of modesty, what greater arrogance 
can be imagined than to utter one word in opposition to the 
authority of God - to say, for instance, "I think otherwise," - "I 
would not have this subject touched?" But if they openly blaspheme, 
what will they gain by assaulting heaven? Such petulance, indeed, is 
not new. In all ages there have been wicked and profane men, who 
rabidly assailed this branch of doctrine. But what the Spirit 
declared of old by the mouth of David, (Ps. 51: 6,) they will feel 
by experience to be true - God will overcome when he is judged. 
David indirectly rebukes the infatuation of those whose license is 
so unbridled, that from their grovelling spot of earth they not only 
plead against God, but arrogate to themselves the right of censuring 
him. At the same time, he briefly intimates that the blasphemies 
which they belch forth against heaven, instead of reaching God, only 
illustrate his justice, when the mists of their calumnies are 
dispersed. Even our faith, because founded on the sacred word of 
God, is superior to the whole world, and is able from its height to 
look down upon such mists. 
    Their first objection - that if nothing happens without the 
will of God, he must have two contrary wills, decreeing by a secret 
counsel what he has openly forbidden in his law - is easily disposed 
of. But before I reply to it, I would again remind my readers, that 
this cavil is directed not against me, but against the Holy Spirit, 
who certainly dictated this confession to that holy man Job, "The 
Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away," when, after being plundered 
by robbers, he acknowledges that their injustice and mischief was a 
just chastisement from God. And what says the Scripture elsewhere? 
The sons of Eli "hearkened not unto the voice of their father, 
because the Lord would slay them," (1 Sam. 2: 25.) Another prophet 
also exclaims, "Our God is in the heavens: he has done whatsoever he 
has pleased," (Ps. 115: 3.) I have already shown clearly enough that 
God is the author of all those things which, according to these 
objectors, happen only by his inactive permission. He testifies that 
he creates light and darkness, forms good and evil, (Is. 45: 7;) 
that no evil happens which he has not done, (Amos 3: 6.) Let them 
tell me whether God exercises his judgements willingly or 
unwillingly. As Moses teaches that he who is accidentally killed by 
the blow of an axe, is delivered by God into the hand of him who 
smites him, (Deut. 19: 5,) so the Gospel, by the mouth of Luke, 
declares, that Herod and Pontius Pilate conspired "to do whatsoever 
thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done," (Acts 4: 
28.) And, in truth, if Christ was not crucified by the will of God, 
where is our redemption? Still, however, the will of God is not at 
variance with itself. It undergoes no change. He makes no pretence 
of not willing what he wills, but while in himself the will is one 
and undivided, to us it appears manifold, because, from the 
feebleness of our intellect, we cannot comprehend how, though after 
a different manner, he wills and wills not the very same thing. Paul 
terms the calling of the Gentiles a hidden mystery, and shortly 
after adds, that therein was manifested the manifold wisdom of God, 
(Eph. 3: 10.) Since, on account of the dullness of our sense, the 
wisdom of God seems manifold, (or, as an old interpreter rendered 
it, multiform,) are we, therefore, to dream of some variation in 
God, as if he either changed his counsel, or disagreed with himself? 
Nay, when we cannot comprehend how God can will that to be done 
which he forbids us to do, let us call to mind our imbecility, and 
remember that the light in which he dwells is not without cause 
termed inaccessible, (1 Tim. 6: 16,) because shrouded in darkness. 
Hence, all pious and modest men will readily acquiesce in the 
sentiment of Augustine: "Man sometimes with a good will wishes 
something which God does not will, as when a good son wishes his 
father to live, while God wills him to die. Again, it may happen 
that man with a bad will wishes what God wills righteously, as when 
a bad son wishes his father to die, and God also wills it. The 
former wishes what God wills not, the latter wishes what God also 
wills. And yet the filial affection of the former is more consonant 
to the good will of God, though willing differently, than the 
unnatural affection of the latter, though willing the same thing; so 
much does approbation or condemnation depend on what it is befitting 
in man, and what in God to will, and to what end the will of each 
has respect. For the things which God rightly wills, he accomplishes 
by the evil wills of bad men," - (August. Enchirid. ad Laurent. cap. 
101.) He had said a little before, (cap. 100,) that the apostate 
angels, by their revolt, and all the reprobate, as far as they 
themselves were concerned, did what God willed not; but, in regard 
to his omnipotence, it was impossible for them to do so: for, while 
they act against the will of God, his will is accomplished in them. 
Hence he exclaims, "Great is the work of God, exquisite in all he 
wills! so that, in a manner wondrous and ineffable, that is not done 
without his will which is done contrary to it, because it could not 
be done if he did not permit; nor does he permit it unwillingly, but 
willingly; nor would He who is good permit evil to be done, were he 
not omnipotent to bring good out of evil," (Augustin. in Ps. 111: 
    4. In the same way is solved, or rather spontaneously vanishes, 
another objection, viz., If God not only uses the agency of the 
wicked, but also governs their counsels and affections, he is the 
author of all their sins; and, therefore, men, in executing what God 
has decreed, are unjustly condemned, because they are obeying his 
will. Here "will" is improperly confounded with precept, though it 
is obvious, from innumerable examples, that there is the greatest 
difference between them. When Absalom defiled his father's bed, 
though God was pleased thus to avenge the adultery of David, he did 
not therefore enjoin an abandoned son to commit incest, unless, 
perhaps, in respect of David, as David himself says of Shimei's 
curses. For, while he confesses that Shimei acts by the order of 
God, he by no means commends the obedience, as if that petulant dog 
had been yielding obedience to a divine command; but, recognising in 
his tongue the scourge of God, he submits patiently to be chastised. 
Thus we must hold, that while by means of the wicked God performs 
what he had secretly decreed, they are not excusable as if they were 
obeying his precept, which of set purpose they violate according to 
their lust. 
    How these things, which men do perversely, are of God, and are 
ruled by his secret providence, is strikingly shown in the election 
of King Jeroboam, (1 Kings 12: 20,) in which the rashness and 
infatuation of the people are severely condemned for perverting the 
order sanctioned by God, and perfidiously revolting from the family 
of David. And yet we know it was God's will that Jeroboam should be 
anointed. Hence the apparent contradiction in the words of Hosea, 
(Hosea 8: 4; 13: 11,) because, while God complained that that 
kingdom was erected without his knowledge, and against his will, he 
elsewhere declares, that he had given King Jeroboam in his anger. 
How shall we reconcile the two things, - that Jeroboam's reign was 
not of God, and yet God appointed him king? In this way: The people 
could not revolt from the family of David without shaking off a yoke 
divinely imposed on them, and yet God himself was not deprived of 
the power of thus punishing the ingratitude of Solomon. We, 
therefore, see how God, while not willing treachery, with another 
view justly wills the revolt; and hence Jeroboam, by unexpectedly 
receiving the sacred unction, is urged to aspire to the kingdom. For 
this reason, the sacred history says, that God stirred up an enemy 
to deprive the son of Solomon of part of the kingdom, (1 Kings 11: 
23.) Let the reader diligently ponder both points: how, as it was 
the will of God that the people should be ruled by the hand of one 
king, their being rent into two parties was contrary to his will; 
and yet how this same will originated the revolt. For certainly, 
when Jeroboam, who had no such thought, is urged by the prophet 
verbally, and by the oil of unction, to hope for the kingdom, the 
thing was not done without the knowledge or against the will of God, 
who had expressly commanded it; and yet the rebellion of the people 
is justly condemned, because it was against the will of God that 
they revolted from the posterity of David. For this reason, it is 
afterwards added, that when Rehoboam haughtily spurned the prayers 
of the people, "the cause was from the Lord, that he might perform 
his saying, which the Lord spake by Ahijah," (I Kings 12: 15.) See 
how sacred unity was violated against the will of God, while, at the 
same time, with his will the ten tribes were alienated from the son 
of Solomon. To this might be added another similar example, viz., 
the murder of the sons of Ahab, and the extermination of his whole 
progeny by the consent, or rather the active agency, of the people. 
Jehu says truly "There shall fall unto the earth nothing of the word 
of the Lord, which the Lord spake concerning the house of Ahab: for 
the Lord has done that which he spake by his servant Elijah," (2 
Kings 10: 10.) And yet, with good reason, he upbraids the citizens 
of Samaria for having lent their assistance. "Ye be righteous: 
behold, I conspired against my master, and slew him, but who slew 
all these?" 
    If I mistake not, I have already shown clearly how the same act 
at once betrays the guilt of man, and manifests the righteousness of 
God. Modest minds will always be satisfied with Augustine's answer, 
"Since the Father delivered up the Son, Christ his own body, and 
Judas his Master, how in such a case is God just, and man guilty, 
but just because in the one act which they did, the reasons for 
which they did it are different?" (August. Ep. 48, ad Vincentium.) 
If any are not perfectly satisfied with this explanation, viz., that 
there is no concurrence between God and man, when by His righteous 
impulse man does what he ought not to do, let them give heed to what 
Augustine elsewhere observes: "Who can refrain from trembling at 
those judgements when God does according to his pleasure even in the 
hearts of the wicked, at the same time rendering to them according 
to their deeds?" (De Grat. et lib. Orbit. ad Valent. c. 20.) And 
certainly, in regard to the treachery of Judas, there is just as 
little ground to throw the blame of the crime upon God, because He 
was both pleased that his Son should be delivered up to death, and 
did deliver him, as to ascribe to Judas the praise of our 
redemption. Hence Augustine, in another place, truly observes, that 
when God makes his scrutiny, he looks not to what men could do, or 
to what they did, but to what they wished to do, thus taking account 
of their will and purpose. Those to whom this seems harsh had better 
consider how far their captiousness is entitled to any toleration, 
while, on the ground of its exceeding their capacity, they reject a 
matter which is clearly taught by Scripture, and complain of the 
enunciation of truths, which, if they were not useful to be known, 
God never would have ordered his prophets and apostles to teach. Our 
true wisdom is to embrace with meek docility, and without 
reservation, whatever the Holy Scriptures, have delivered. Those who 
indulge their petulance, a petulance manifestly directed against 
God, are undeserving of a longer refutation.

Calvin, Institutes on the Christian Religion, Volume 1
(... conclusion)

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