Calvin, Institutes, Vol.3, Part 26
(... continued from part 25)
Chapter 21. 
21. Of the eternal election, by which God has predestinated some to 
salvation, and others to destruction. 
    The divisions of this chapter are, - I. The necessity and 
utility of the doctrine of eternal Election explained. Excessive 
curiosity restrained, sec. l, 2. II. Explanation to those who 
through false modesty shun the doctrine of Predestination, sec. 3, 
4. III. The orthodox doctrine expounded. 
l. The doctrine of Election and Predestination. It is useful, 
    necessary, and most sweet. Ignorance of it impairs the glory of 
    God, plucks up humility by the roots, begets and fosters pride. 
    The doctrine establishes the certainty of salvation, peace of 
    conscience, and the true origin of the Church. Answer to two 
    classes of men: 1. The curious. 
2. A sentiment of Augustine confirmed by an admonition of our Savior 
    and a passage of Solomon. 
3. An answer to a second class, viz., those who are unwilling that 
    the doctrine should be adverted to. An objection founded on a 
    passage of Solomon, solved by the words of Moses. 
4. A second objection, viz., That this doctrine is a stumbling-block 
    to the profane. Answer 1. The same may be said of many other 
    heads of doctrine. 2. The truth of God will always defend 
    itself. Third objection, viz., That this doctrine is dangerous 
    even to believers. Answer 1. The same objection made to 
    Augustine. 2. We must not despise anything that God has 
    revealed. Arrogance and blasphemy of such objections. 
5. Certain cavils against the doctrine. 1. Prescience regarded as 
    the cause of predestination. Prescience and predestination 
    explained. Not prescience, but the good pleasure of God the 
    cause of predestination. This apparent from the gratuitous 
    election of the posterity of Abraham and the rejection of all 
6. Even of the posterity of Abraham some elected and others rejected 
    by special grace. 
7. The Apostle shows that the same thing has been done in regard to 
    individuals under the Christian dispensation. 
    1. The covenant of life is not preached equally to all, and 
among those to whom it is preached, does not always meet with the 
same reception. This diversity displays the unsearchable depth of 
the divine judgment, and is without doubt subordinate to God's 
purpose of eternal election. But if it is plainly owing to the mere 
pleasure of God that salvation is spontaneously offered to some, 
while others have no access to it, great and difficult questions 
immediately arise, questions which are inexplicable, when just views 
are not entertained concerning election and predestination. To many 
this seems a perplexing subject, because they deem it most 
incongruous that of the great body of mankind some should be 
predestinated to salvation, and others to destruction. How 
ceaselessly they entangle themselves will appear as we proceed. We 
may add, that in the very obscurity which deters them, we may see 
not only the utility of this doctrine, but also its most pleasant 
fruits. We shall never feel persuaded as we ought that our salvation 
flows from the free mercy of God as its fountain, until we are made 
acquainted with his eternal election, the grace of God being 
illustrated by the contrast, viz., that he does not adopt all 
promiscuously to the hope of salvation, but gives to some what he 
denies to others. It is plain how greatly ignorance of this 
principle detracts from the glory of God, and impairs true humility. 
But though thus necessary to be known, Paul declares that it cannot 
be known unless God, throwing works entirely out of view, elect 
those whom he has predestined. His words are, "Even so then at this 
present time also, there is a remnant according to the election of 
grace. And if by grace, then it is no more of works: otherwise grace 
is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: 
otherwise work is no more work," (Rom. 11: 6.) If to make it appear 
that our salvation flows entirely from the good mercy of God, we 
must be carried back to the origin of election, then those who would 
extinguish it, wickedly do as much as in them lies to obscure what 
they ought most loudly to extol, and pluck up humility by the very 
roots. Paul clearly declares that it is only when the salvation of a 
remnant is ascribed to gratuitous election, we arrive at the 
knowledge that God saves whom he wills of his mere good pleasure, 
and does not pay a debt, a debt which never can be due. Those who 
preclude access, and would not have any one to obtain a taste of 
this doctrine, are equally unjust to God and men, there being no 
other means of humbling us as we ought, or making us feel how much 
we are bound to him. Nor, indeed, have we elsewhere any sure ground 
of confidence. This we say on the authority of Christ, who, to 
deliver us from all fear, and render us invincible amid our many 
dangers, snares and mortal conflicts, promises safety to all that 
the Father has taken under his protection, (John 10: 26.) From this 
we infer, that all who know not that they are the peculiar people of 
God, must be wretched from perpetual trepidation, and that those 
therefore, who, by overlooking the three advantages which we have 
noted, would destroy the very foundation of our safety, consult ill 
for themselves and for all the faithful. What? Do we not here find 
the very origin of the Church, which, as Bernard rightly teaches, 
(Serm. in Cantic.) could not be found or recognized among the 
creatures, because it lies hid (in both cases wondrously) within the 
lap of blessed predestination, and the mass of wretched 
    But before I enter on the subject, I have some remarks to 
address to two classes of men. The subject of predestination, which 
in itself is attended with considerable difficulty is rendered very 
perplexed and hence perilous by human curiosity, which cannot be 
restrained from wandering into forbidden paths and climbing to the 
clouds determined if it can that none of the secret things of God 
shall remain unexplored. When we see many, some of them in other 
respects not bad men, every where rushing into this audacity and 
wickedness, it is necessary to remind them of the course of duty in 
this matter. First, then, when they inquire into predestination, let 
then remember that they are penetrating into the recesses of the 
divine wisdom, where he who rushes forward securely and confidently, 
instead of satisfying his curiosity will enter in inextricable 
labyrinth. For it is not right that man should with impunity pry 
into things which the Lord has been pleased to conceal within 
himself, and scan that sublime eternal wisdom which it is his 
pleasure that we should not apprehend but adore, that therein also 
his perfections may appear. Those secrets of his will, which he has 
seen it meet to manifest, are revealed in his word - revealed in so 
far as he knew to be conducive to our interest and welfare. 
    2. "We have come into the way of faith," says Augustine: "let 
us constantly adhere to it. It leads to the chambers of the king, in 
which are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. For our 
Lord Jesus Christ did not speak invidiously to his great and most 
select disciples when he said, 'I have yet many things to say unto 
you, but ye cannot bear them now,' (John 16: 12.) We must walk, 
advance, increase, that our hearts may be able to comprehend those 
things which they cannot now comprehend. But if the last day shall 
find us making progress, we shall there learn what here we could 
not," (August. Hom. in Joann.) If we give due weight to the 
consideration, that the word of the Lord is the only way which can 
conduct us to the investigation of whatever it is lawful for us to 
hold with regard to him - is the only light which can enable us to 
discern what we ought to see with regard to him, it will curb and 
restrain all presumption. For it will show us that the moment we go 
beyond the bounds of the word we are out of the course, in darkness, 
and must every now and then stumble, go astray, and fall. Let it, 
therefore, be our first principle that to desire any other knowledge 
of predestination than that which is expounded by the word of God, 
is no less infatuated than to walk where there is no path, or to 
seek light in darkness. Let us not be ashamed to be ignorant in a 
matter in which ignorance is learning. Rather let us willingly 
abstain from the search after knowledge, to which it is both foolish 
as well as perilous, and even fatal to aspire. If an unrestrained 
imagination urges us, our proper course is to oppose it with these 
words, "It is not good to eat much honey: so for men to search their 
own glory is not glory," (Prov. 25: 27.) There is good reason to 
dread a presumption which can only plunge us headlong into ruin. 
    3. There are others who, when they would cure this disease, 
recommend that the subject of predestination should scarcely if ever 
be mentioned, and tell us to shun every question concerning it as we 
would a rock. Although their moderation is justly commendable in 
thinking that such mysteries should be treated with moderation, yet 
because they keep too far within the proper measure, they have 
little influence over the human mind, which does not readily allow 
itself to be curbed. Therefore, in order to keep the legitimate 
course in this matter, we must return to the word of God, in which 
we are furnished with the right rule of understanding. For Scripture 
is the school of the Holy Spirit, in which as nothing useful and 
necessary to be known has been omitted, so nothing is taught but 
what it is of importance to know. Every thing, therefore delivered 
in Scripture on the subject of predestination, we must beware of 
keeping from the faithful, lest we seem either maliciously to 
deprive them of the blessing of God, or to accuse and scoff at the 
Spirit, as having divulged what ought on any account to be 
suppressed. Let us, I say, allow the Christian to unlock his mind 
and ears to all the words of God which are addressed to him, 
provided he do it with this moderation, viz., that whenever the Lord 
shuts his sacred mouth, he also desists from inquiry. The best rule 
of sobriety is, not only in learning to follow wherever God leads, 
but also when he makes an end of teaching, to cease also from 
wishing to be wise. The danger which they dread is not so great that 
we ought on account of it to turn away our minds from the oracles of 
God. There is a celebrated saying of Solomon, "It is the glory of 
God to conceal a thing," (Prov. 25: 2.) But since both piety and 
common sense dictate that this is not to be understood of every 
thing, we must look for a distinction, lest under the pretence of 
modesty and sobriety we be satisfied with a brutish ignorance. This 
is clearly expressed by Moses in a few words, "The secret things 
belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed 
belong unto us, and to our children for ever," (Deut. 29: 29.) We 
see how he exhorts the people to study the doctrine of the law in 
accordance with a heavenly decree, because God has been pleased to 
promulgate it, while he at the same time confines them within these 
boundaries, for the simple reason that it is not lawful for men to 
pry into the secret things of God. 
    4. I admit that profane men lay hold of the subject of 
predestination to carp, or cavil, or snarl, or scoff. But if their 
petulance frightens us, it will be necessary to conceal all the 
principal articles of faith, because they and their fellows leave 
scarcely one of them unassailed with blasphemy. A rebellious spirit 
will display itself no less insolently when it hears that there are 
three persons in the divine essence, than when it hears that God 
when he created man foresaw every thing that was to happen to him. 
Nor will they abstain from their jeers when told that little more 
than five thousand years have elapsed since the creation of the 
world. For they will ask, Why did the power of God slumber so long 
in idleness? In short, nothing can be stated that they will not 
assail with derision. To quell their blasphemies, must we say 
nothing concerning the divinity of the Son and Spirit? Must the 
creation of the world be passed over in silence? No! The truth of 
God is too powerful, both here and everywhere, to dread the slanders 
of the ungodly, as Augustine powerfully maintains in his treatise, 
De Bono Perseverantiae, (cap. 14 - 20.) For we see that the false 
apostles were unable, by defaming and accusing the true doctrine of 
Paul, to make him ashamed of it. There is nothing in the allegation 
that the whole subject is fraught with danger to pious minds, as 
tending to destroy exhortation, shake faith, disturb and dispirit 
the heart. Augustine disguises not that on these grounds he was 
often charged with preaching the doctrine of predestination too 
freely, but, as it was easy for him to do, he abundantly refutes the 
charge. As a great variety of absurd objections are here stated, we 
have thought it best to dispose of each of them in its proper place, 
(see chap. 23.) Only I wish it to be received as a general rule, 
that the secret things of God are not to be scrutinized, and that 
those which he has revealed are not to be overlooked, lest we may, 
on the one hand, be chargeable with curiosity, and, on the other, 
with ingratitude. For it has been shrewdly observed by Augustine, 
(de Genesi ad Literam, Lib. 5,) that we can safely follow Scripture, 
which walks softly, as with a mother's step, in accommodation to our 
weakness. Those, however, who are so cautious and timid, that they 
would bury all mention of predestination in order that it may not 
trouble weak minds, with what color, pray, will they cloak their 
arrogance, when they indirectly charge God with a want of due 
consideration, in not having foreseen a danger for which they 
imagine that they prudently provide? Whoever, therefore, throws 
obloquy on the doctrine of predestination, openly brings a charge 
against God, as having inconsiderately allowed something to escape 
from him which is injurious to the Church. 
    5. The predestination by which God adopts some to the hope of 
life, and adjudges others to eternal death, no man who would be 
thought pious ventures simply to deny; but it is greatly caviled at, 
especially by those who make prescience its cause. We, indeed, 
ascribe both prescience and predestination to God; but we say, that 
it is absurd to make the latter subordinate to the former, (see 
chap. 22 sec. 1.) When we attribute prescience to God, we mean that 
all things always were, and ever continue, under his eye; that to 
his knowledge there is no past or future, but all things are 
present, and indeed so present, that it is not merely the idea of 
them that is before him, (as those objects are which we retain in 
our memory,) but that he truly sees and contemplates them as 
actually under his immediate inspection. This prescience extends to 
the whole circuit of the world, and to all creatures. By 
predestination we mean the eternal decree of God, by which he 
determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to 
every man. All are not created on equal terms, but some are 
preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, 
accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these 
ends, we say that he has been predestinated to life or to death. 
This God has testified, not only in the case of single individuals; 
he has also given a specimen of it in the whole posterity of 
Abraham, to make it plain that the future condition of each nation 
lives entirely at his disposal: "When the Most High divided to the 
nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he 
set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children 
of Israel. For the Lord's portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of 
his inheritance," (Deut. 32: 8, 9.) The separation is before the 
eyes of all; in the person of Abraham, as in a withered stock, one 
people is specially chosen, while the others are rejected; but the 
cause does not appear, except that Moses, to deprive posterity of 
any handle for glorying, tells them that their superiority was owing 
entirely to the free love of God. The cause which he assigns for 
their deliverance is, "Because he loved thy fathers, therefore he 
chose their seed after them," (Deut. 4: 37;) or more explicitly in 
another chapter, "The Lord did not set his love upon you, nor choose 
you, because you were more in number than any people: for ye were 
the fewest of all people: but because the Lord loved you," (Deut. 7: 
7, 8.) He repeatedly makes the same intimations, "Behold, the 
heaven, and the heaven of heavens is the Lord's thy God, the earth 
also, with all that therein is. Only the Lord had a delight in thy 
fathers to love them, and he chose their seed after them," (Deut. 
10: 14, 15.) Again, in another passage, holiness is enjoined upon 
them, because they have been chosen to be a peculiar people; while 
in another, love is declared to be the cause of their protection, 
(Deut. 23: 5.) This, too, believers with one voice proclaim, "He 
shall choose our inheritance for us, the excellency of Jacob, whom 
he loved," (Ps. 47: 4.) The endowments with which God had adorned 
them, they all ascribe to gratuitous love, not only because they 
knew that they had not obtained them by any merit, but that not even 
was the holy patriarch endued with a virtue that could procure such 
distinguished honor for himself and his posterity. And the more 
completely to crush all pride, he upbraids them with having merited 
nothing of the kind, seeing they were a rebellious and stiff-necked 
people, (Deut. 9: 6.) Often, also, do the prophets remind the Jews 
of this election by way of disparagement and opprobrium, because 
they had shamefully revolted from it. Be this as it may, let those 
who would ascribe the election of God to human worth or merit come 
forward. When they see that one nation is preferred to all others, 
when they hear that it was no feeling of respect that induced God to 
show more favor to a small and ignoble body, nay, even to the wicked 
and rebellious, will they plead against him for having chosen to 
give such a manifestation of mercy? But neither will their 
obstreperous words hinder his work, nor will their invectives, like 
stones thrown against heaven, strike or hurt his righteousness; nay, 
rather they will fall back on their own heads. To this principle of 
a free covenant, moreover, the Israelites are recalled whenever 
thanks are to be returned to God, or their hopes of the future to be 
animated. "The Lord he is God," says the Psalmist; "it is he that 
has made us, and not we ourselves: we are his people, and the sheep 
of his pasture," (Ps. 100: 3; 95: 7.) The negation which is added, 
"not we ourselves," is not superfluous, to teach us that God is not 
only the author of all the good qualities in which men excel, but 
that they originate in himself, there being nothing in them worthy 
of so much honor. In the following words also they are enjoined to 
rest satisfied with the mere good pleasure of God: "O ye seed of 
Abraham, his servant; ye children of Jacob, his chosen," (Ps. 105: 
6.) And after an enumeration of the continual mercies of God as 
fruits of election, the conclusion is, that he acted thus kindly 
because he remembered his covenant. With this doctrine accords the 
song of the whole Church, "They got not the land in possession by 
their own sword, neither did their own arm save them; but thy right 
hand, and thine arm, and the light of thy countenance, because thou 
hadst a favor unto them," (Ps. 44: 3.) It is to be observed, that 
when the land is mentioned, it is a visible symbol of the secret 
election in which adoption is comprehended. To like gratitude David 
elsewhere exhorts the people, "Blessed is the nation whose God is 
the Lord, and the people whom he has chosen for his own 
inheritance," (Ps. 33: 12.) Samuel thus animates their hopes, "The 
Lord will not forsake his people for his great name's sake: because 
it has pleased the Lord to make you his people," (1 Sam. 12: 22.) 
And when David's faith is assailed, how does he arm himself for the 
battle? "Blessed is the man whom thou choosest, and causes to 
approach unto thee, that he may dwell in thy courts," (Ps. 65: 4.) 
But as the hidden election of God was confirmed both by a first and 
second election, and by other intermediate mercies, Isaiah thus 
applies the terms "The Lord will have mercy on Jacob, and will yet 
choose Israel," (Isa. 14: 1.) Referring to a future period, the 
gathering together of the dispersion, who seemed to have been 
abandoned, he says, that it will be a sign of a firm and stable 
election, notwithstanding of the apparent abandonment. When it is 
elsewhere said, "I have chosen thee, and not cast thee away," (Isa. 
41: 9,) the continual course of his great liberality is ascribed to 
paternal kindness. This is stated more explicitly in Zechariah by 
the angel, the Lord "shall choose Jerusalem again," as if the 
severity of his chastisements had amounted to reprobation, or the 
captivity had been an interruption of election, which, however, 
remains inviolable, though the signs of it do not always appear. 
    6. We must add a second step of a more limited nature, or one 
in which the grace of God was displayed in a more special form, when 
of the same family of Abraham God rejected some, and by keeping 
others within his Church showed that he retained them among his 
sons. At first Ishmael had obtained the same rank with his brother 
Isaac, because the spiritual covenant was equally sealed in him by 
the symbol of circumcision. He is first cut off, then Esau, at last 
an innumerable multitude, almost the whole of Israel. In Isaac was 
the seed called. The same calling held good in the case of Jacob. 
God gave a similar example in the rejection of Saul. This is also 
celebrated in the psalm, "Moreover he refused the tabernacle of 
Joseph, and chose not the tribe of Ephraim: but chose the tribe of 
Judah," (Ps. 78: 67, 68.) This the sacred history sometimes repeats 
that the secret grace of God may be more admirably displayed in that 
change. I admit that it was by their own fault Ishmael, Esau, and 
others, fell from their adoption; for the condition annexed was, 
that they should faithfully keep the covenant of God, whereas they 
perfidiously violated it. The singular kindness of God consisted in 
this, that he had been pleased to prefer them to other nations; as 
it is said in the psalm, "He has not dealt so with any nation: and 
as for his judgments, they have not known them," (Ps. 147: 20.) But 
I had good reason for saying that two steps are here to be observed; 
for in the election of the whole nation, God had already shown that 
in the exercise of his mere liberality he was under no law but was 
free, so that he was by no means to be restricted to an equal 
division of grace, its very inequality proving it to be gratuitous. 
Accordingly, Malachi enlarges on the ingratitude of Israel, in that 
being not only selected from the whole human race, but set 
peculiarly apart from a sacred household; they perfidiously and 
impiously spurn God their beneficent parent. "Was not Esau Jacob's 
brother? saith the Lord: yet I loved Jacob, and I hated Esau," (Mal. 
1: 2, 3.) For God takes it for granted, that as both were the sons 
of a holy father, and successors of the covenant, in short, branches 
from a sacred root, the sons of Jacob were under no ordinary 
obligation for having been admitted to that dignity; but when by the 
rejection of Esau the first born, their progenitor though inferior 
in birth was made heir, he charges them with double ingratitude, in 
not being restrained by a double tie. 
    7. Although it is now sufficiently plain that God by his secret 
counsel chooses whom he will while he rejects others, his gratuitous 
election has only been partially explained until we come to the case 
of single individuals, to whom God not only offers salvation, but so 
assigns it, that the certainty of the result remains not dubious or 
suspended. These are considered as belonging to that one seed of 
which Paul makes mention, (Rom. 9: 8; Gal. 3: 16, &c.) For although 
adoption was deposited in the hand of Abraham, yet as many of his 
posterity were cut off as rotten members, in order that election may 
stand and be effectual, it is necessary to ascend to the head in 
whom the heavenly Father has connected his elect with each other, 
and bound them to himself by an indissoluble tie. Thus in the 
adoption of the family of Abraham, God gave them a liberal display 
of favor which he has denied to others; but in the members of Christ 
there is a far more excellent display of grace, because those 
ingrafted into him as their head never fail to obtain salvation. 
Hence Paul skillfully argues from the passage of Malachi which I 
quoted, (Rom. 9: 13; Mal. 1: 2,) that when God, after making a 
covenant of eternal life, invites any people to himself, a special 
mode of election is in part understood, so that he does not with 
promiscuous grace effectually elect all of them. The words, "Jacob 
have I loved," refer to the whole progeny of the patriarch, which 
the prophet there opposes to the posterity of Esau. But there is 
nothing in this repugnant to the fact, that in the person of one man 
is set before us a specimen of election, which cannot fail of 
accomplishing its object. It is not without cause Paul observes, 
that these are called a remnants (Rom. 9: 27; 11: 5;) because 
experience shows that of the general body many fall away and are 
lost, so that often a small portion only remains. The reason why the 
general election of the people is not always firmly ratified, 
readily presents itself, viz., that on those with whom God makes the 
covenant, he does not immediately bestow the Spirit of regeneration, 
by whose power they persevere in the covenant even to the end. The 
external invitation, without the internal efficacy of grace which 
would have the effect of retaining them, holds a kind of middle 
place between the rejection of the human race and the election of a 
small number of believers. The whole people of Israel are called the 
Lord's inheritance, and yet there were many foreigners among them. 
Still, because the covenant which God had made to be their Father 
and Redeemer was not altogether null, he has respect to that free 
favor rather than to the perfidious defection of many; even by them 
his truth was not abolished, since by preserving some residue to 
himself, it appeared that his calling was without repentance. When 
God ever and anon gathered his Church from among the sons of Abraham 
rather than from profane nations, he had respect to his covenant, 
which, when violated by the great body, he restricted to a few, that 
it might not entirely fail. In short, that common adoption of the 
seed of Abraham was a kind of visible image of a greater benefit 
which God deigned to bestow on some out of many. This is the reason 
why Paul so carefully distinguishes between the sons of Abraham 
according to the flesh and the spiritual sons who are called after 
the example of Isaac. Not that simply to be a son of Abraham was a 
vain or useless privilege, (this could not be said without insult to 
the covenant,) but that the immutable counsel of God, by which he 
predestinated to himself whomsoever he would, was alone effectual 
for their salvation. But until the proper view is made clear by the 
production of passages of Scripture, I advise my readers not to 
prejudge the question. We say, then, that Scripture clearly proves 
this much, that God by his eternal and immutable counsel determined 
once for all those whom it was his pleasure one day to admit to 
salvation, and those whom, on the other hand, it was his pleasure to 
doom to destruction. We maintain that this counsel, as regards the 
elect, is founded on his free mercy, without any respect to human 
worth, while those whom he dooms to destruction are excluded from 
access to life by a just and blameless, but at the same time 
incomprehensible judgment. In regard to the elect, we regard calling 
as the evidence of election, and justification as another symbol of 
its manifestation, until it is fully accomplished by the attainment 
of glory. But as the Lord seals his elect by calling and 
justification, so by excluding the reprobate either from the 
knowledge of his name or the sanctification of his Spirit, he by 
these marks in a manner discloses the judgment which awaits them. I 
will here omit many of the fictions which foolish men have devised 
to overthrow predestination. There is no need of refuting objections 
which the moment they are produced abundantly betray their 
hollowness. I will dwell only on those points which either form the 
subject of dispute among the learned, or may occasion any difficulty 
to the simple, or may be employed by impiety as specious pretexts 
for assailing the justice of God. 

Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol. 3, Part 26

(continued in part 27...)

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