Friday, December 21, 2007

Calvin's Institutes: Election and Reprobation

I have finally gotten to the section of Calvin's Institutes dealing with the topic of Election and Reprobation, being found in Chapters XXI-XXIV in Book Three of Calvin's Institutes (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, tr. by Henry Beveridge, Eerdmans, Vol. 2, pp. 202-258).

Contrary to what some people may say, Calvin did not seem apologetic or terrified of the doctrine of election and reprobation. Those who say so probably are relying on secondary sources which distort Calvin's message. Neither is Calvin apologetic about the doctrine of reprobation, as if it were a pity that the reprobates are not saved. Here are some excerpts from Calvin's Institutes to that regard:

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. Everything, therefore, delivered in Scripture on the subject of predestination, we must beware of keeping from the faithful lest we seem eithern 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. (Chapt. XXI, p. 205)

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 predestined to life or to death. (Chapt XXI, p. 206)

If election precedes that divie grace by which we are made fit to obtain immortal life, what can God find in us to induce Him to elect us? What I mean is still more clearly explained in another passage: God, says he, "hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we might be holy andwithout blame before Him in love: having predestined us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will" (Eph. i: 4,5). Here he opposes the good pleasure of God to our merits of every description.

... By saying that they were elected before the foundation of the word, He takes away all reference to worth. For what ground of distinction was there between persons who existed not, and persons who were afterwards like them to exist in Adam? But if they were elected in Christ, it follows not only that each was elected on some extrinsic ground, but that some were placed on a different footing from others, since we see that all are not members or Christ. In the additional statement that they were elected that they might be holy [Rom. 8:29], the apostle openly refutes the error of those who deduce election from prescience [philosophical foreknowledge], since he declares that whatever virtue appears in men is the result of election. Then, if a higher cause is asked, Paul answers that God so predestined, and predestined according to the good pleasure of His will. By these words, he overturns all the grounds of election which men imagine to exist in themselves. (Chapt XXII, p. 214)

... "For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election mightstand, not of works, but of Him that calleth; it was said unto her [Rebecca[, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated" (Rom. ix. 11-13). If foreknowledge had anything to do with this distinction of the brothers, the mention of time would have been out of place. Granting that Jacob was elected for a worth to be obtained by future virtues, to what end did Paul say that he was not yet born? Nor would there have been any occasion for adding that as yet he has done no good, because the answer was always ready, that nothing is hid from God, and that therefore the piety of Jacob was present before Him. If works procure favour, a value ought to have been put upon them before Jacob was born, just as if he has been of full age. But in explaining the difficulty, the Apostle goes on to show, that the adoption of Jacob proceeded not on works but on the calling of God. (Chapt. XXII, p. 216)

We come now to the reprobate, to whom the Apostle at the same time refers (Rom. ix. 13). For as Jacob, who as yet had merited nothing by any good works, is assumed into favour; so Esau, while as yet unpolluted by any crime, is hated. If we turn over our view to works, we do injustice to the Aspotle, as if he has failed to see the very thing which is clear to us. Moreover, there is complete proof of his not having seen it, since he expressly insists that when as yet they had done neither good nor evil, the one was elected, the other rejected, in order to prove that the foundation of divine predestination is not in works. Then after starting the objection, Is God unjust? instead of employing what would have been the surest and plainest defense of his wickedness — he is contented with a different solution — viz, that the reprobate are expressly raise up, in order that the glory of God may thereby be displayed. At last, he concludes that God hath mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth (Rom. ix. 18). You see how he refers both to the mere pleasure of God Therefore, if we cannot assign any reason for his bestowing mercy on his people, but just that it so pleases him, neither can we have any reason for his reprobating other but His will. When God is said to visit in mercy or harden whom He will, men are reminded that they are not to seek for any cause beyond His will. (Chapt. XXII, p. 223-224)

We have already been told that hardening is not less under the immediate hand of God than mercy. (Chapt XXIII, p. 226)

Therefore, when it is asked, why the Lord did so, we must answer, Because He pleased. But if you prceed farther to ask why he pleased, you ask for something greater and more sublime than the will of God, and nothing such can be found. (Chapt. XXIII, p. 227)

Accordngly, when we are accosted in such terms as there, Why did God from the first predestine some to death, when, as they were yet in existence, they could not have merited sentence of death? let us by way of reply ask in our turn, Wha do you imagine that God owes to man, if he is not pleased to estimate him by his own nature? As we are all vitiated by sin, we cannot but be hateful to God, and that not from tyrannical cruelty, but the strictest justice. But if all whom the Lord predestne to death are naturally liable to sentence of death, of what injustice, pray, do they complain? ... If all are taken from a corrupt mass, it is not strange that all are subject to condemnation. (Chapt. XXIII, p. 228)

Here they recur to the distinction between will and permission, the object being to prove that the wicked perish only by the permission, but not the will of God. But why do we say that He permits, but just because he wills? ... as if God has not determined what He wished the condition of the chief of his creatures to be. I will not hesistate, therefore, simply to confess with Augustine that the will of God is necessity, and that everything is necessary whch Hs has willed; just as those things will certainly happen which He has foreseen (August. de Gen. ad Lit., Lib. vi. cap. 15) (Chapt. XXIII, p. 232)

First, the sense in which Scripture declares that God is not an acceptor of persons, is different from that which they suppose: since the term person means not man, but those things which, when conspicuous in a man, either procure favou, grace, and dignity, or, on the contrary, produce hatred, contempt, and disgrace. ... It is asked, how is it happens that of two, between whom there is no difference of merit, God in His election adopts the one, and passes by the other? I in my turn, ask, Is there anything in him who is adopted to incline to God towards him? If it must be confessed that there is nothing, it will follow, that God looks not to the man, but is influenced entirely by His own goodness to do him good. Therefore, when God elects one and reject another, it is oweing not to any respect to the individual, but entirely to His own mercy, which is free to dislay and exert itself when and where He pleases. ... so far is God in the exercise of His favour from showing any respect to persons. (Chapt. XXIII, p. 234)

Christ, then, is the mirror in which we ought, and in which, without deception, we may contemplate our election. For since it is into His body that the Father has decreed to ingraft those whom from eternity He wished to be His, that He may regard as sons all whom He acknowledges to be His members, if we are in communion with Christ, we have proof sufficiently clear and strong that we are written in the Book of Life. (Chapt. XXIV, p. 244)

For while we maintain that none perish without deserving it, and that is 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 cavilling. The Supreme Disposer then makes way for His own predestination, when depriving those who He has reprobated of the communication of His light, He leaves them in blindness. (Chapt. XXIV, p. 251)

[John Calvin, Institutes, Bold added, Red lettering indicate added clarification texts]

On p. 205, it can be seen that Calvin thought that the doctrine of Election is not to be kept hidden from God's people. Echoing 2 Tim. 3:16-17, he thought it neccessary to teach these doctrines, adding that not to do so would deprive God's peole of blessings, and that would accuse the Spirit of revealing what should not be revealed. Following that, in p. 206, Calvin states the doctrine of double predestination, stating that God has both predestine people to life and others to death. Further on in p. 232, Calvin states that it is ridiculous to state that reprobation is bare permission, as if God was not in control of it somehow. And in p. 226, Calvin sumarized this argument by stating that God is personally involved in Election and Reprobation.

With regards to election, in p. 214, Calvin showed from Scripture that Election is not basd on any foreseen merit, since in Rom. 8:29 we are told that we are elected/ predestined to be holy, therefore all virtue must come because we are elected, not the other way round. Summarizing this part, in p. 227, Calvin teaches that the reason why we are elected to eternal life is that God is pleased to do so.

Along the same vein, in p. 216, 223-224, Calvin showed how the apostle Paul handled the opposition to the doctrine of election and reprobation. In Rom. 9, instead of saying that Esau was hated and reprobated because of his evil, Paul seemingly went off in a tangent by stating that the reprobate are raised up for the expression of the glory of God. From the mention of the mention of time and the emphasis on the babies (Jacob and Esu) being not yet born, yet one was loved and the other hated, Calvin showed that only an election and reprobation not based on works or anything in the person makes sense, otherwise the mention of time is out of place.

Now, although Calvin taught reprobation, he never taught that God actively make people reprobates. In p. 228 and 251, Calvn states that the reprobates deserve their punishment, that they are naturally liable to sentence of death and that they are already blind, thus God did not make people who are God lovers into God haters. This has always been a strawman made up by Arminians, Pelagians and Semi-Pelagians. The decree of Reprobation is indeed personal, since God wills it, yet He wills it in such a manner, passively, that the reprobates were already God haters and thus God did not make them sinners, only to leave them to their sin.

In answer to the objection that such a doctrine would make God a respector of persons, contrary to God's express command in Jas. 2:1 not to do such a thing and thus God would be seen to violate His own law, Calvin shows in p. 234 how this actually means, within its context, that this refers to things about the person which make them differ, of which the context makes it plain that this is what the apostle James was saying all along. However, God is truly not a respector of person even in election and reprobation, since the reason why he elects one and not the other is not based on anything within the person, but purely because of His good pleasure, and hence God does not contradict Himself.

Lastly, Calvin in p. 244 shows that we should not be enquiring into whether we are elected or not. Since Christians are elected into Christ, the question that we should be asking ourselves is whether we are in Christ. If we are elected, we would be in Christ, and therefore knowing that we are in communion with Christ will answer the former question. As such, those who make much regarding whether they are elected or not fail to understand the doctrine of Election fully, to their spiritual detriment.

In the next installment, we would carry on with looking into three texts which Calvin tackled, which all synergists abuse in an attempt to refute the doctrine of election and reprobation; namely Ez. 18:23 and 1 Tim. 2:4, and also 2 Peter 3:9.

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