Calvin, Institutes, Vol.3, Part 30
(... continued from part 29)

    10. For the elect are brought by calling into the fold of 
Christ, not from the very womb, nor all at the same time, but 
according as God sees it meet to dispense his grace. Before they are 
gathered to the supreme Shepherd they wander dispersed in a common 
desert, and in no respect differ from others, except that by the 
special mercy of God they are kept from rushing to final 
destruction. Therefore, if you look to themselves, you will see the 
offspring of Adam giving token of the common corruption of the mass. 
That they proceed not to extreme and desperate impiety is not owing 
to any innate goodness in them, but because the eye of God watches 
for their safety, and his hand is stretched over them. Those who 
dream of some seed of election implanted in their hearts from their 
birth, by the agency of which they are ever inclined to piety and 
the fear of God, are not supported by the authority of Scripture, 
but refuted by experience. They, indeed, produce a few examples to 
prove that the elect before they were enlightened were not aliens 
from religion; for instance, that Paul led an unblemished life 
during his Pharisaism, that Cornelius was accepted for his prayers 
and alms, and so forth, (Phil. 3: 5; Acts 10: 2.) The case of Paul 
we admit, but we hold that they are in error as to Cornelius; for it 
appears that he was already enlightened and regenerated, so that all 
which he wanted was a clear revelation of the Gospel. But what are 
they to extract from these few examples? Is it that all the elect 
were always endued with the spirit of piety? Just as well might any 
one, after pointing to the integrity of Aristides, Socrates, 
Xenocrates, Scipio, Curios, Camillus, and others, (see Book 2, c. 4, 
sec. 4,) infer that all who are left in the blindness of idolatry 
are studious of virtue and holiness. Nay, even Scripture is plainly 
opposed to them in more passages than one. The description which 
Paul gives of the state of the Ephesians before regeneration shows 
not one grain of this seed. His words are, "You has he quickened, 
who were dead in trespasses and sins; wherein in time past ye walked 
according to the course of this world, according to the prince of 
the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of 
disobedience: among whom also we all had our conversation in times 
past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh 
and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as 
others," (Eph. 2: 1-3.) And again, "At that time ye were without 
Christ," "having no hope, and without God in the world," (Eph. 2: 
12.) Again, "Ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the 
Lord: walk as children of light," (Eph. 5: 8.) But perhaps they will 
insist that in this last passage reference is made to that ignorance 
of the true God, in which they deny not that the elect lived before 
they were called. Though this is grossly inconsistent with the 
Apostle's inference, that they were no longer to lie or steal, (Eph. 
4: 28.) What answer will they give to other passages; such as that 
in which, after declaring to the Corinthians that "neither 
fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor 
abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor 
drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom 
of God," he immediately adds, "Such were some of you: but ye are 
washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of 
the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God"? (1 Cor. 6: 9-11.) 
Again he says to the Romans, "As ye have yielded your members 
servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now 
yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness. For when 
ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness. What 
fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed?" (Rom. 
6: 19-21.) 
    11. Say, then, what seed of election germinated in those who, 
contaminated in various ways during their whole lives, indulged as 
with desperate wickedness in every kind of abomination? Had Paul 
meant to express this view, he ought to have shown how much they 
then owed to the kindness of God, by which they had been preserved 
from falling into such pollution. Thus, too, Peter ought to have 
exhorted his countrymen to gratitude for a perpetual seed of 
election. On the contrary, his admonition is, "The time past of our 
life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles," (1 
Pet. 4: 3.) What if we come to examples? Was there any germ of 
righteousness in Rahab the harlot before she believed? (Josh. 2: 4;) 
in Manasseh when Jerusalem was dyed and almost deluged with the 
blood of the prophets? (2 Kings 23: 16;) in the thief who only with 
his last breath thought of repentance? (Luke 23: 42.) Have done, 
then, with those arguments which curious men of themselves rashly 
devise without any authority from Scripture. But let us hold fast 
what Scripture states viz., that "All we like sheep have gone 
astray, we have turned every one to his own way," (Isa. 53: 6;) that 
is to perdition. In this gulf of perdition God leaves those whom he 
has determined one day to deliver until his own time arrive; he only 
preserves them from plunging into irremediable blasphemy. 
    12. As the Lord by the efficacy of his calling accomplishes 
towards his elect the salvation to which he had by his eternal 
counsel destined them, so he has judgments against the reprobate, by 
which he executes his counsel concerning them. Those, therefore, 
whom he has created for dishonor during life and destruction at 
death, that they may be vessels of wrath and examples of severity, 
in bringing to their doom, he at one time deprives of the means of 
hearing his word, at another by the preaching of it blinds and 
stupefies them the more. The examples of the former case are 
innumerable, but let us select one of the most remarkable of all. 
Before the advent of Christ, about four thousand years passed away, 
during which he hid the light of saving doctrine from all nations. 
If any one answer, that he did not put them in possession of the 
great blessing, because he judged them unworthy, then their 
posterity will be in no respect more worthy. Of this in addition to 
experience, Malachi is a sufficient witness; for while charging them 
with mixed unbelief and blasphemy, he yet declares that the Redeemer 
will come. Why then is he given to the latter rather than to the 
former? They will in vain torment themselves in seeking for a deeper 
cause than the secret and inscrutable counsel of God. And there is 
no occasion to fear lest some disciple of Porphyry with impunity 
arraign the justice of God, while we say nothing in its defense. For 
while we maintain that none perish without deserving it, and that it 
is owing to the free goodness of God that some are delivered, enough 
has been said for the display of his glory; there is not the least 
occasion for our caviling. The supreme Disposer then makes way for 
his own predestination, when depriving those whom he has reprobated 
of the communication of his light, he leaves them in blindness. 
Every day furnishes instances of the latter case, and many of them 
are set before us in Scripture. Among a hundred to whom the same 
discourse is delivered, twenty, perhaps, receive it with the prompt 
obedience of faith; the others set no value upon it, or deride, or 
spurn, or abominate it. If it is said that this diversity is owing 
to the malice and perversity of the latter, the answer is not 
satisfactory: for the same wickedness would possess the minds of the 
former, did not God in his goodness correct it. And hence we will 
always be entangled until we call in the aid of Paul's question, 
"Who maketh thee to differ?" (1 Cor. 4: 7,) intimating that some 
excel others, not by their own virtue, but by the mere favour of 
    13. Why, then, while bestowing grace on the one, does he pass 
by the other? In regard to the former, Luke gives the reason, 
Because they "were ordained to eternal life," (Acts 13: 48.) What, 
then, shall we think of the latter, but that they are vessels of 
wrath unto dishonor? Wherefore, let us not decline to say with 
Augustine, "God could change the will of the wicked into good, 
because he is omnipotent. Clearly he could. Why, then, does he not 
do it? Because he is unwilling. Why he is unwilling remains with 
himself," (August. de Genes. ad Lit. Lib. 2.) We should not attempt 
to be wise above what is meet, and it is much better to take 
Augustine's explanation, than to quibble with Chrysostom, "that he 
draws him who is willing, and stretching forth his hand," (Chrysost. 
Hom. de Convers. Pauli,) lest the difference should seem to lie in 
the judgment of God, and not in the mere will of man. So far is it, 
indeed, from being placed in the mere will of man, that we may add, 
that even the pious, and those who fear God, need this special 
inspiration of the Spirit. Lydia, a seller of purple, feared God, 
and yet it was necessary that her heart should be opened, that she 
might attend to the doctrine of Paul, and profit in it, (Acts 16: 
14.) This was not said of one woman only but to teach us that all 
progress in piety is the secret work of the Spirit. Nor can it be 
questioned, that God sends his word to many whose blindness he is 
pleased to aggravate. For why does he order so many messages to be 
taken to Pharaoh? Was it because he hoped that he might be softened 
by the repetition? Nay, before he began he both knew and had 
foretold the result: "The Lord said unto Moses, When thou goest to 
return into Egypt see that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh, 
which I have put in thine hand: but I will harden his heart, that he 
will not let the people go," (Exod. 4: 21.) So when he raises up 
Ezekiel, he forewarns him, "I send thee to the children of Israel, 
to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me." "Be not afraid 
of their words." "Thou dwellest in the midst of a rebellious house, 
which has eyes to see, and see not; they have ears to hear, and hear 
not," (Ezek. 2: 3, 6; 12: 2.) Thus he foretells to Jeremiah that the 
effect of his doctrine would be, "to root out, and pull down, and to 
destroy," (Jer. 1: 10.) But the prophecy of Isaiah presses still 
more closely; for he is thus commissioned by the Lord, "Go and tell 
this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not, and see ye indeed 
but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their 
ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and 
hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert 
and be healed," (Isa. 6: 9,10.) Here he directs his voice to them, 
but it is that they may turn a deafer ear; he kindles a light, but 
it is that they may become more blind; he produces a doctrine, but 
it is that they may be more stupid; he employs a remedy, but it is 
that they may not be cured. And John, referring to this prophecy, 
declares that the Jews could not believe the doctrine of Christ, 
because this curse from God lay upon them. It is also 
incontrovertible, that to those whom God is not pleased to illumine, 
he delivers his doctrine wrapt up in enigmas, so that they may not 
profit by it, but be given over to greater blindness. Hence our 
Savior declares that the parables in which he had spoken to the 
multitude he expounded to the Apostles only, "because it is given 
unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them 
it is not given," (Matth. 13: 1l.) What, you will ask, does our Lord 
mean, by teaching those by whom he is careful not to be understood? 
Consider where the fault lies, and then cease to ask. How obscure 
soever the word may be, there is always sufficient light in it to 
convince the consciences of the ungodly. 
    14. It now remains to see why the Lord acts in the manner in 
which it is plain that he does. If the answer be given, that it is 
because men deserve this by their impiety, wickedness, and 
ingratitude, it is indeed well and truly said; but still, because it 
does not yet appear what the cause of the difference is, why some 
are turned to obedience, and others remain obdurate we must, in 
discussing it, pass to the passage from Moses, on which Paul has 
commented, namely, "Even for this same purpose have I raised thee 
up, that I might show my power in thee, and that my name might be 
declared throughout all the earth," (Rom. 9: 17.) The refusal of the 
reprobate to obey the word of God when manifested to them, will be 
properly ascribed to the malice and depravity of their hearts, 
provided it be at the same time added that they were adjudged to 
this depravity, because they were raised up by the just but 
inscrutable judgment of God, to show forth his glory by their 
condemnation. In like manner, when it is said of the sons of Eli, 
that they would not listen to salutary admonitions "because the Lord 
would slay them," (1 Sam. 2: 25,) it is not denied that their 
stubbornness was the result of their own iniquity; but it is at the 
same time stated why they were left to their stubbornness, when the 
Lord might have softened their hearts: namely, because his immutable 
decree had once for all doomed them to destruction. Hence the words 
of John, "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 has believed our report?" (John 
12: 37, 38;) for though he does not exculpate their perverseness, he 
is satisfied with the reason that the grace of God is insipid to 
men, until the Holy Spirit gives it its savor. And Christ, in 
quoting the prophecy of Isaiah, "They shall be all taught of God," 
(John 6: 45,) designs only to show that the Jews were reprobates and 
aliens from the Church, because they would not be taught: and gives 
no other reason than that the promise of God does not belong to 
them. Confirmatory of this are the words of Paul, "Christ crucified" 
was "unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks 
foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, 
Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God," (1 Cor. 1: 23.) For 
after mentioning the usual result wherever the gospel is preached, 
that it exasperates some, and is despised by others, he says, that 
it is precious to them only who are called. A little before he had 
given them the name of believers, but he was unwilling to refuse the 
proper rank to divine grace, which precedes faith; or rather, he 
added the second term by way of correction, that those who had 
embraced the gospel might ascribe the merit of their faith to the 
calling of God. Thus, also, he shortly after shows that they were 
elected by God. When the wicked hear these things, they complain 
that God abuses his inordinate power; to make cruel sport with the 
miseries of his creatures. But let us, who know that all men are 
liable on so many grounds to the judgment of God, that they cannot 
answer for one in a thousand of their transgressions, (Job 9: 3,) 
confess that the reprobate suffer nothing which is not accordant 
with the most perfect justice. When unable clearly to ascertain the 
reason, let us not decline to be somewhat in ignorance in regard to 
the depths of the divine wisdom. 
    15. But since an objection is often founded on a few passages 
of Scripture, in which God seems to deny that the wicked perish 
through his ordination, except in so far as they spontaneously bring 
death upon themselves in opposition to his warning, let us briefly 
explain these passages, and demonstrate that they are not adverse to 
the above view. One of the passages adduced is, "have I any pleasure 
at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord God; and not that 
he should return from his ways and live?" (Ezek. 18: 23.) If we are 
to extend this to the whole human race, why are not the very many 
whose minds might be more easily bent to obey urged to repentance, 
rather than those who by his invitations become daily more and more 
hardened? Our Lord declares that the preaching of the gospel and 
miracles would have produced more fruit among the people of Nineveh 
and Sodom than in Judea, (Matth. 13: 23.) How comes its then, that 
if God would have all to be saved he does not open a door of 
repentance for the wretched, who would more readily have received 
grace? Hence we may see that the passage is violently wrested, if 
the will of God, which the prophet mentions, is opposed to his 
eternal counsel, by which he separated the elect from the reprobate. 
Now, if the genuine meaning of the prophet is inquired into, it will 
be found that he only means to give the hope of pardon to them who 
repent. The sum is, that God is undoubtedly ready to pardon whenever 
the sinner turns. Therefore, he does not will his death, in so far 
as he wills repentance. But experience shows that this will, for the 
repentance of those whom he invites to himself, is not such as to 
make him touch all their hearts. Still, it cannot be said that he 
acts deceitfully; for though the external word only renders, those 
who hear its and do not obey it, inexcusable, it is still truly 
regarded as an evidence of the grace by which he reconciles men to 
himself. Let us therefore hold the doctrine of the prophet, that God 
has no pleasure in the death of the sinner; that the godly may feel 
confident that whenever they repent God is ready to pardon them; and 
that the wicked may feel that their guilt is doubled, when they 
respond not to the great mercy and condescension of God. The mercy 
of God, therefore will ever be ready to meet the penitent; but all 
the prophets, and apostles, and Ezekiel himself, clearly tell us who 
they are to whom repentance is given. 
    16. The second passage adduced is that in which Paul says that 
"God will have all men to be saved," (1 Tim. 2: 4.) Though the 
reason here differs from the former, they have somewhat in common. I 
answer, first, That the mode in which God thus wills is plain from 
the context; for Paul connects two things, a will to be saved, and 
to come to the knowledge of the truth. If by this they will have it 
to be fixed by the eternal counsel of God that they are to receive 
the doctrine of salvation, what is meant by Moses in these words, 
"What nation is there so great, who has God so nigh unto them?" 
(Deut. 4: 7.) How comes it that many nations are deprived of that 
light of the Gospel which others enjoy? How comes it that the pure 
knowledge of the doctrine of godliness has never reached some, and 
others have scarcely tasted some obscure rudiments of it? It will 
now be easy to extract the purport of Paul's statement. He had 
commanded Timothy that prayers should be regularly offered up in the 
church for kings and princes; but as it seemed somewhat absurd that 
prayer should be offered up for a class of men who were almost 
hopeless, (all of them being not only aliens from the body of 
Christ, but doing their utmost to overthrow his kingdom,) he adds, 
that it was acceptable to God, who will have all men to be saved. By 
this he assuredly means nothing more than that the way of salvation 
was not shut against any order of men; that, on the contrary, he had 
manifested his mercy in such a way, that he would have none debarred 
from it. Other passages do not declare what God has, in his secret 
judgment, determined with regard to all, but declare that pardon is 
prepared for all sinners who only turn to seek after it. For if they 
persist in urging the words, "God has concluded all in unbelief, 
that he might have mercy upon all," (Rom. 11: 32,) I will, on the 
contrary, urge what is elsewhere written, "Our God is in the 
heavens: he has done whatsoever he has pleased," (Ps. 115: 3.) we 
must, therefore, expound the passage so as to reconcile it with 
another, I "will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will 
show mercy on whom I will show mercy," (Exod. 33: 19.) He who 
selects those whom he is to visit in mercy does not impart it to 
all. But since it clearly appears that he is there speaking not of 
individuals, but of orders of men, let us have done with a longer 
discussion. At the same time, we ought to observe, that Paul does 
not assert what God does always, everywhere, and in all 
circumstances, but leaves it free to him to make kings and 
magistrates partakers of heavenly doctrine, though in their 
blindness they rage against it. A stronger objection seems to be 
founded on the passage in Peter; the Lord is "not willing that any 
should perish, but that all should come to repentance," (2 Pet. 3: 
9.) But the solution of the difficulty is to be found in the second 
branch of the sentence, for his will that they should come to 
repentance cannot be used in any other sense than that which is 
uniformly employed. Conversion is undoubtedly in the hand of God, 
whether he designs to convert all can be learned from himself, when 
he promises that he will give some a heart of flesh, and leave to 
others a heart of stone, (Ezek. 36: 26.) It is true, that if he were 
not disposed to receive those who implore his mercy, it could not 
have been said, "Turn ye unto me, saith the Lord of Hosts, and I 
will turn unto you, saith the Lord of Hosts," (Zech. 1: 3;) but I 
hold that no man approaches God unless previously influenced from 
above. And if repentance were placed at the will of man, Paul would 
not say, "If God per adventure will give them repentance," (2 Tim. 
2: 25.) Nay, did not God at the very time when he is verbally 
exhorting all to repentance, influence the elect by the secret 
movement of his Spirit, Jeremiah would not say, "Turn thou me, and I 
shall be turned; for thou art the Lord my God. Surely after that I 
was turned, I repented," (Jer. 31: 18.) 
    17. But if it is so, (you will say,) little faith can be put in 
the Gospel promises, which, in testifying concerning the will of 
God, declare that he wills what is contrary to his inviolable 
decree. Not at all; for however universal the promises of salvation 
may be, there is no discrepancy between them and the predestination 
of the reprobate, provided we attend to their effect. We know that 
the promises are effectual only when we receive them in faith, but, 
on the contrary, when faith is made void, the promise is of no 
effect. If this is the nature of the promises, let us now see 
whether there be any inconsistency between the two things, viz., 
that God, by an eternal decree, fixed the number of those whom he is 
pleased to embrace in love, and on whom he is pleased to display his 
wrath, and that he offers salvation indiscriminately to all. I hold 
that they are perfectly consistent, for all that is meant by the 
promise is, just that his mercy is offered to all who desire and 
implore it, and this none do, save those whom he has enlightened. 
Moreover, he enlightens those whom he has predestinated to 
salvation. Thus the truth of the promises remains firm and unshaken, 
so that it cannot be said there is any disagreement between the 
eternal election of God and the testimony of his grace which he 
offers to believers. But why does he mention all men? Namely that 
the consciences of the righteous may rest the more secure when they 
understand that there is no difference between sinners, provided 
they have faith, and that the ungodly may not be able to allege that 
they have not an asylum to which they may retake themselves from the 
bondage of sin, while they ungratefully reject the offer which is 
made to them. Therefore, since by the Gospel the mercy of God is 
offered to both, it is faith, in other words, the illumination of 
God, which distinguishes between the righteous and the wicked, the 
former feeling the efficacy of the Gospel, the latter obtaining no 
benefit from it. Illumination itself has eternal election for its 
    Another passage quoted is the lamentation of our Savior, "O 
Jerusalem Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered thy children 
together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and 
ye would not!" (Matth. 23: 37;) but it gives them no support. I 
admit that here Christ speaks not only in the character of man, but 
upbraids them with having, in every age, rejected his grace. But 
this will of God, of which we speak, must be defined. For it is well 
known what exertions the Lord made to retain that people, and how 
perversely from the highest to the lowest they followed their own 
wayward desires, and refused to be gathered together. But it does 
not follow that by the wickedness of men the counsel of God was 
frustrated. They object that nothing is less accordant with the 
nature of God than that he should have a double will. This I 
concede, provided they are sound interpreters. But why do they not 
attend to the many passages in which God clothes himself with human 
affections, and descends beneath his proper majesty? He says, "I 
have spread out my hands all the day unto a rebellious people," 
(Isa. 65: 1,) exerting himself early and late to bring them back. 
Were they to apply these qualities without regarding the figure, 
many unnecessary disputes would arise which are quashed by the 
simple solution, that what is human is here transferred to God. 
Indeed, the solution which we have given elsewhere (see Book 1, c. 
18, sec. 3; and Book 3, c. 20, sec. 43) is amply sufficient, viz., 
that though to our apprehension the will of God is manifold, yet he 
does not in himself will opposites, but, according to his manifold 
wisdom, (so Paul styles it, Eph. 3: 10,) transcends our senses, 
until such time as it shall be given us to know how he mysteriously 
wills what now seems to be adverse to his will. They also amuse 
themselves with the cavil, that since God is the Father of all, it 
is unjust to discard any one before he has by his misconduct merited 
such a punishment. As if the kindness of God did not extend even to 
dogs and swine. But if we confine our view to the human race, let 
them tell why God selected one people for himself and became their 
father, and why, from that one people, he plucked only a small 
number as if they were the flower. But those who thus charge God are 
so blinded by their love of evil speaking, that they consider not 
that as God "maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good," 
(Matth. 5: 45,) so the inheritance is treasured up for a few to whom 
it shall one day be said, "Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit 
the kingdom," &c., (Matth. 25: 34.) They object, moreover, that God 
does not hate any of the things which he has made. This I concede, 
but it does not affect the doctrine which I maintain, that the 
reprobate are hateful to God, and that with perfect justice, since 
those destitute of his Spirit cannot produce any thing that does not 
deserve cursing. They add, that there is no distinction of Jew and 
Gentile, and that, therefore, the grace of God is held forth to all 
indiscriminately: true, provided they admit (as Paul declares) that 
God calls as well Jews as Gentiles, according to his good pleasure, 
without being astricted to any. This disposes of their gloss upon 
another passage, "God has concluded all in unbelief, that he might 
have mercy upon all," (Rom. 11: 32;) in other words, he wills that 
all who are saved should ascribe their salvation to his mercy, 
although the blessing of salvation is not common to all. Finally, 
after all that has been adduced on this side and on that, let it be 
our conclusion to feel overawed with Paul at the great depth, and if 
petulant tongues will still murmur, let us not be ashamed to join in 
his exclamation, "Nay, but, O man, who art thou that replies against 
God?" (Rom. 9: 20.) Truly does Augustine maintain that it is 
perverse to measure divine by the standard of human justice, (De 
Praedest. et Gra. c. 2.) 

Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol. 3, Part 30

(continued in part 31...)

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