JOHN CALVIN ON ROMANS 9 (Part 3)
Did John Calvin teach double predestination? If so, what did he mean by it? Did Calvin condemn to Hell people who ought not to be there? Or (worse still) attribute such a thing to the One whose nature is Love? Read below for the answers to these important questions. First we will give the appropriate verses from Romans 9, then Calvin's comments in black in the left hand column with my analysis of Calvin's thought in dark blue in the right hand column.
SCRIPTURE: (Romans 9:19-21) Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?
|CALVIN'S COMMENTS||MY ANALYSIS|
19. Thou wilt then say, etc. Here indeed the flesh especially storms, that is, when it hears that they who perish have been destined by the will of God to destruction. Hence the Apostle adopts again the words of an opponent; for he saw that the mouths of the ungodly could not be restrained from boldly clamouring against the righteousness of God: and he very fitly expresses their mind; for being not content with defending themselves, they make God guilty instead of themselves; and then, after having devolved on him the blame of their own condemnation, they become indignant against his great power. They are indeed constrained to yield; but they storm, because they cannot resist; and ascribing dominion to him, they in a manner charge him with tyranny. In the same manner the Sophists in their schools foolishly dispute on what they call his absolute justice, as though forgetful of his own righteousness, he would try the power of his authority by throwing all things into confusion. Thus then speak the ungodly in this passage, — “What cause has he to be angry with us? Since he has formed us such as we are, since he leads us at his will where he pleases, what else does he in destroying us but punish his own work in us? For it is not in our power to contend with him; how much soever we may resist, he will yet have the upper hand. Then unjust will be his judgment, if he condemns us; and unrestrainable is the power which he now employs towards us.” What does Paul say to these things?
|This is one of the clearest statements yet as to where Calvin places the blame of the condemnation of the reprobate. He accuses those who wonder how then can God find fault, of making God guilty instead of themselves and of devolving unto God the blame of their own condemnation. These are significant words and should not be lost in the overall picture.|
|20. But, O man! who art thou? etc. As it is a participle in Greek, we may read what follows in the present tense, who disputest, or contendest, or strivest in opposition to God; for it is expressed in Greek according to this meaning, — "Who art thou who enterest into a dispute with God?” But there is not much difference in the sense? In this first answer, he does nothing else but beat down impious blasphemy by an argument taken from the condition of man: he will presently subjoin another, by which hewill clear the righteousness of God from all blame.||Paul's first reply (according to Calvin) is to remind the objectors "their condition" i.e. men. We might further add that they are not only flesh and blood, but sinful flesh and blood at that.|
|It is indeed evident that no cause is adduced higher than the will of God. Since there was a ready answer, that the difference depends on just reasons, why did not Paul adopt such a brief reply? But he placed the will of God in the highest rank for this reason, — that it alone may suffice us for all other causes. No doubt, if the objection had been false, that God according to his own will rejects those whom he honors not with his favor, and chooses those whom he gratuitously loves, a refutation would not have been neglected by Paul. The ungodly object and say, that men are exempted from blame, if the will of God holds the first place in their salvation, or in their perdition. Does Paul deny this? Nay, by his answer he confirms it, that is, that God determines concerning men, as it seems good to him, and that, men in vain and madly rise up to contend with God; for he assigns, by his own right, whatever lot he pleases to what he forms. But they who say that Paul, wanting reason, had recourse to reproof, cast a grievous calumny on the Holy Spirit: for the things calculated to vindicate God’s justice, and ready at hand, he was at first unwilling’ to adduce, for they could not have been comprehended; yea, he so modifies his second reason, that he does not undertake a full defence, but in such a manner as to give a sufficient demonstration of God’s justice, if it be considered by us with devout humility and reverence.||Another significant statement from Calvin. He admits that Paul "does not undertake a full defence". Sometimes we might wish that Calvin had said certain things at certain times (such as he would say anyway elsewhere). Well, he is in good company because Paul might have done so as well, but decided rather to stick to his guns on the Sovereignty of God matter. Here, he rightly ties it in with God's justice and righteousness and allows that to be sufficient, but only if we approach the subject with considered and devout humility and reverence.|
|He reminds man of what is especially meet for him to remember, that is, of his own condition; as though he had said, — "Since thou art man, thou ownest thyself to be dust and ashes; why then doest thou contend with the Lord about that which thou art not able to understand?” In a word, the Apostle did not bring forward what might have been said, but what is suitable to our ignorance. Proud men clamour, because Paul, admitting that men are rejected or chosen by the secret counsel of God, alleges no cause; as though the Spirit of God were silent for want of reason, and not rather, that by his silence he reminds us, that a mystery which our minds cannot, comprehend ought to be reverently adored, and that he thus checks the wantonness of human curiosity. Let us then know, that God does for no other reason refrain from speaking, but that he sees that we cannot contain his immense wisdom in our small measure; and thus regarding ourweakness, he leads us to moderation and sobriety.||Again, Calvin points out that Paul (nay! the Spirit of God) refrained from bringing forth every last argument. While Paul has alleged no cause, yet it is only here in this particular passage and (to remind you) Calvin did in v19 when he clearly alleged that man tried to shift the blame from himself to God.|
|Does what is formed? etc. We see that Paul dwells continually on this, — that the will of God, though its reason is hid from us, is to be counted just; for he shows that he is deprived of his right, if he is not at liberty to determine what he sees meet concerning his creatures. This seems unpleasant to the ears of many. There are also those who pretend that God is exposed to great reproach were such a power ascribed to him, as though they in their fastidiousness were better divines than Paul, who has laid down this as the rule of humility to the faithful, that they are to admire the sovereignty of God, and not to estimate it by their own judgment. But he represses this arrogance of contending with God by a most apt similitude, in which he seems to have alluded to Isaiah 45:9, rather than to Jeremiah 18:6; for nothing else is taught us by Jeremiah, than that Israel was in the hand of the Lord, so that he could for his sins wholly break him in pieces, as a potter the earthen vessel. But Isaiah ascends higher, “Woe to him,” he says, “who speaks against his maker;” that is, the pot that contends with the former of the clay; “shall the clay say to its former, what doest thou?” etc. And surely there is no reason for a mortal man to think himself better than earthen vessel, when he compares himself with God. We are not however to be over-particular in applying this testimony to our present subject, since Paul only meant to allude to the words of the Prophet, in order that the similitude might have more weight.||
Calvin here points out that Paul does not teach that the sovereignty of God has no reason, but that the reason is hidden from us and counted just. Of course, the issue here is not why the sinner is condemned. The Bible teaches us that condemnation is the result of sin. The issue is why God chose to save some sinners and leave the rest. That's where it starts to get deep.
Furthermore Calvin sees that Jeremiah 18:6 taught that the hand of the Lord could break Israel "for his sins" but points out that Paul chose to go higher and root his answer in the sovereignty of God allusion from Isaiah 45:9
|21. Has not the worker of the clay? etc. The reason why what is formed ought not to contend with its former, is, that the former does nothing but what he has a right to do. By the word power, he means not that the maker has strength to do according to his will, but that this privilege rightly and justly belongs to him. For he intends not to claim for God any arbitrarypower but what ought to be justly ascribed to him.||More significant words from Calvin. Calvin does not hold that God has arbitrary power and nothing else, but what He has(and exercises) is always just.|
And further, bear this in mind, — that as the potter takes away nothing from the clay, whatever form he may give it; so God takes away nothing from man, in whatever condition he may create him. Only this is to be remembered, that God is deprived of a portion of his honor, except such an authority over men be conceded to him as to constitute him the arbitrator of life and death.
|More significant words. Just as the potter takes nothing away from the clay, neither does God take anything away from man. Let us not think that the reprobate loses any rights that he should have, much less any righteousness. God deals with the human race as sinners and reserves to Himself to justly arbitrate (see previous paragraph) over the matters of life and death i.e. God is the Supreme Judge - the One to Whom pertains all the matters of life.|
* Part 1 concerns Romans 9:10-13
* Part 2 concerns Romans 9:14-18
* Part 4 concerns Romans 9:22-23
* Part 2 concerns Romans 9:14-18
* Part 4 concerns Romans 9:22-23