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Calvin’s Doctrine of the Grace of God

September 19, 2007

God’s non-electing grace and favour to men:

Sermons:

1) This we have to make upon what S. Paul says, That God is the saviour of all men. And chiefly of the faithful. It us a reason taken of the that that we see before our eyes, that God maintains all creatures, although they be not so precious to him as his children which he has adopted. For this word Saviour, is not taken here in his proper and nearest signification, as they call it, in the respect of everlasting salvation which God promises his elect, but for a deliverer and defender. Now we see, that God defends the very Infidels, as it is said, that he makes his Sun shine upon the good and the evil [Matt. 5:45]: and we see that all are fed by his goodness, all are delivered out of many dangers. And thus he is called here a Saviour of men, not in respect of the spiritual salvation of souls, but because he maintains all creatures. Even so it is said that he saves the very beasts, that is to say, that he keeps them [Pal 56:6].

If our Lord caused not the grass to grow for the food of beasts in what case where there? Yea. And though there be nourishment for beasts, yet they cannot live, unless God give them strength from heaven, as it is said in the hundred & fourth Psalm, that so soon as God takes away his spirit, all things decay: and again, when he pours out his virtue, all the earth is renewed with creatures, and that they gather strength. Thus is our Lord a Saviour of all men, to wit, because his goodness stretches even to the veriest varlets that are farthest from him, & deserve to have no acquaintance with him, but should rather be cut off from amongst the creatures of God, and utterly case away: and yet we see how God stretches out his grace even so far, for the life that is given them is a witness of his goodness. And therefore seeing God has so great care over them, that are (as it were) strangers to him, what shall we think of ourselves that are of his household? Not that we are better or more excellent then they which are cast away, but it proceeds wholly of his free mercy, in that he reconciles himself unto us in our Lord Jesus Christ, when he called us to the knowledge of the Gospel, & then he ratified and sealed his goodwill to us, insomuch that we cannot but be persuaded that he is our father, and takes us for his children. And therefore, seeing we see that he nourishes them which are far off from him, let us go and hid ourselves under his wings, for when he takes us into his protection, he shows that he will be a father to us.

Shall we think then that he has cast us off and that we are so best on all sides with miseries, that we shall not be delivered in the end? Shall we not look for a good & happy issue, of the goodness of our God, seeing we see and behold it stretches out to even the wicked and brute beasts? Calvin, Sermons on 1 Timothy, Sermon 33, 4:9-11, pp., 403-404.

2) Moreover, if they that fail of ignorance are justly condemned of God, as we can not, but know it: yea, everyone for his own part, what shall we think then God has lightened us, and has shown us the way of salvation, and then we shut our eyes? Yea, and be so mischievous, when we have received grace, that when God calls us to one side, we go clean contrary: what horrible condemnation may we look for? And let us beware, because God has plucked us out of that unbelief wherein we were, and has lightened us with the faith of the Gospel. Calvin, Sermons on 1 Timothy, Sermon 6, 5:12-13, p., 75.

Commentaries:

1) I, however, understand Moses to have spoken expressly concerning these arts, as having been invented in the family of Cain, for the purpose of showing that he was not so accursed by the Lord but that he would still scatter some excellent gifts among his posterity; for it is probable, that the genius of others was in the meantime not inactive; but that there were, among the sons of Adam, industrious and skillful men, who exercised their diligence in the invention and cultivation of arts. Moses, however, expressly celebrates the remaining benediction of God on that race, which otherwise would have been deemed void and barren of all good. Let us then know, that the sons of Cain, though deprived of the Spirit of regeneration, were yet endued with gifts of no despicable kind; just as the experience of all ages teaches us how widely the rays of divine light have shone on unbelieving nations, for the benefit of the present life; and we see, at the present time, that the excellent gifts of the Spirit are diffused through the whole human race. Moreover, the liberal arts and sciences have descended to us from the heathen. We are, indeed, compelled to acknowledge that we have received astronomy, and the other parts of philosophy, medicines and the order of civil government, from them. Nor is it to be doubted, that God has thus liberally enriched them with excellent favors that their impiety might have the less excuse. But, while we admire the riches of his favor which he has bestowed on them, let us still value far more highly that grace of regeneration with which he peculiarly sanctifies his elect unto himself. Calvin, Gen 4:20.

2) For, since the fall of Adam had brought disgrace upon all his posterity, God restores those, whom He separates as His own, so that their condition may be better than that of all other nations. At the same time it must be remarked, that this grace of renewal is effaced in many who have afterwards profaned it. Consequently the Church is called God’s work and creation, in two senses, i.e., generally with respect to its outward calling, and specially with respect to spiritual regeneration, as far as regards the elect; for the covenant of grace is common to hypocrites and true believers. On this ground all whom God gathers into His Church, are indiscriminately said to be renewed and regenerated: but the internal renovation belongs to believers only; whom Paul, therefore, calls God’s “workmanship, created unto good works, which God hath prepared, etc.” (Ephesians 2:10.). Calvin, Deut 32:6.

3) He confirms the foregoing decree by a reference to the nature of God Himself; for the vile and abject condition of those with whom we have to do, causes us to injure them the more wantonly, because they seem to be altogether deserted. But God declares that their unhappy lot is no obstacle to His administering succor to them; inasmuch as He has no regard to persons. By the word person is meant either splendor, or obscurity, and outward appearance, as it is commonly called, as we gather from many passages. In short, God distinguishes Himself from men, who are carried away by outward appearance, to hold the rich in honor, and the poor in contempt; to favor the beautiful or the eloquent, and to despise the unseemly. “Prosopolephia” is, therefore, an unjust judgment, which diverts us from the cause itself, when our minds are prejudiced by what ought not to be taken into account. Therefore Christ teaches us that a judgement is righteous, which is not founded upon the appearance, (John 7:23;) since truth and justice never prevail, except when we attend to the case itself. It follows that the contemptible are not afflicted with impunity, for although they may be destitute of human aid, God, who sitteth on high, “hath respect unto the lowly.” (Psalm 138:6.) As regards strangers, God proves that he cares for them, because He is gracious in preserving them and clothing them; and then a special reason is again adduced, that the Israelites, when they were formerly sojourners in Egypt, had need of the compassion of others. Calvin, Deut. 10:17-19.

4) The Psalmist teaches us, in the first place, that human affairs are not regulated by the fickle and uncertain wheel of fortune, but that we must observe the judgments of God in the different vicissitudes which occur in the world, and which men imagine happen by chance. Consequently, adversity and all the ills which mankind endure, as shipwrecks, famines, banishments, diseases, and disasters in war, are to be regarded as so many tokens of God’s displeasure, by which he summons them, on account of their sins, before his judicial throne. But prosperity, and the happy issue of events, ought also to be attributed to his grace, in order that he may always receive the praise which he deserves, that of being a merciful Father, and an impartial Judge. About the close of the psalm, he inveighs against those ungodly men who will not acknowledge God’s hand, amid such palpable demonstrations of his providence. Calvin, Ps 107 [opening remarks].

5) It is unnecessary to allude here to the sarcastic retort of the ancient buffoon, who, on entering a temple, and beholding a number of tablets which several merchants had suspended there as memorials of their having escaped shipwreck, through the kind interposition of the gods, smartly and facetiously remarked, “But the deaths of those who have been drowned are not enumerated, the number of which is innumerable.” Perhaps he might have some just cause for scoffing in this manner at such idols. But even if a hundredfold more were drowned in the sea than safely reach the harbour, this does not in the least degree detract from the glory of the goodness of God, who, while he is merciful, is at the same time also just, so that the dispensing of the one does not interfere with the exercise of the other. The same observation applies to travelers that stray from the path, and wander up and down in the desert. If many of them perish for hunger and thirst, if many are devoured by wild animals, if many die from cold, these are nothing else than so many tokens of the judgments of God, which he designs for our consideration. From which we infer that the same thing would happen to all men, were it not the will of God to save a portion of them; and thus interposing as a judge between them, he preserves some for the sake of showing his mercy, and pours out his judgments upon others to declare his justice. The prophet, therefore, very properly adds, that by the hand of God they were led into the right way, where they may find a suitable place for lodging; and consequently he exhorts them to render thanks to God for this manifestation of his goodness. And with the view of enhancing the loving-kindness of God, he connects his wondrous works with his mercy; as if he should say, in this kind interposition, God’s grace is too manifest, either to be unperceived or unacknowledged by all; and for those who have been the subjects of such a remarkable deliverance, to remain silent regarding it, would be nothing less than an impious attempt to suppress the wonderful doings of God, an attempt equally vain with that of endeavoring to trample under their feet the light of the sun. For what else can be said of us, seeing that our natural instinct drives us to God for help, when we are in perplexity and peril; and when, after being rescued, we forthwith forget him, who will deny that his glory is, as it were, obscured by our wickedness and ingratitude? Calvin, Ps 107:6.

6) Besides, the word vineyard, and a vineyard so carefully cultivated, suggests an implied contrast; for so much the more highly ought we to value the acts of God’s kindness, when they are not of an ordinary description, but tokens of his peculiar regard. Other blessings are indiscriminately bestowed, such as, that he maketh the sun to shine on the evil as well as on the good, (Matthew 5:45,) and supplies them with what is necessary for food and clothing. But how much more highly ought we to esteem that covenant of grace into which he has entered with us, by which he makes the light of the Gospel to shine on us; for his own people are its peculiar objects! That care and diligence, therefore, which the Lord continually manifests in cultivating our minds deserves our most earnest consideration. Calvin, Isaiah 5:2.

7) “The wicked man will obtain favor.” Isaiah contrasts this statement with the former. He had said that the godly, even when they are afflicted, or see others afflicted, still rely on the love of God, and trust in him. But now he declares, on the other hand, that the wicked cannot be brought in any way to love God, though he endeavor, by every sort of kindness, to draw and gain them over; and that, whatever aspect the Lord assume towards them, they do not become better.

This verse appears, at first view, to contradict the former, in which the Prophet said, that the justice of God is acknowledged in the earth, when he executes his judgments, and shews that he is the Judge, and punishes the transgressions of men; while he says here that the wicked cannot in any way be led or persuaded to worship God, and that they are so far from being made better by the chastisements, that even acts of kindness make them worse. The good effect of chastisements certainly does not appear in all; for wicked men do not at all profit by them, as we see in Pharaoh, whom chastisements and scourges rendered more obstinate. (Exodus 7:13.) But although he spoke indiscriminately about “the inhabitants of the earth,” yet he strictly included none but God’s elect, with whom indeed even some hypocrites share the profit that is gained; for sometimes, though reluctantly, they are moved by reverence for God, and are restrained by the dread of punishments. but as the Prophet here describes sincere repentance, by “the inhabitants of the earth” he means only the children of God. Some view it as a question, “Shall favor be shewn to the wicked?” or, “Why should the wicked man obtain favor?” as if the Prophet insinuated that they do not deserve that God should deal gently with them. But I choose rather to explain it thus, “Whatever may be the acts of kindness by which God draws the wicked, they will never learn to act uprightly.” The Prophet therefore has limited the statement made in the former verse. In the land of upright actions he will deal unjustly. This is added in order to shew more strongly the baseness of this ingratitude. It was a sufficiently heinous offense that they abused the acts of God’s kindness, and by means of them became more rebellious Calvin, Isaiah 26:10.1

8) “That ye may be the children of your Father who is in heaven.” When he expressly declares, that no man will be a child of God, unless he loves those who hate him, who shall dare to say, that we are not bound to observe this doctrine? The statement amounts to this, “Whoever shall wish to be accounted a Christian, let him love his enemies.” It is truly horrible and monstrous, that the world should have been covered with such thick darkness, for three or four centuries, as not to see that it is an express command, and that every one who neglects it is struck out of the number of the children of God. It ought to be observed that, when the example of God is held out for our imitation, this does not imply, that it would be becoming in us to do whatever God does. He frequently punishes the wicked, and drives the wicked out of the world. In this respect, he does not desire us to imitate him: for the judgment of the world, which is his prerogative, does not belong to us. But it is his will, that we should imitate his fatherly goodness and liberality. This was perceived, not only by heathen philosophers, but by some wicked despisers of godliness, who have made this open confession, that in nothing do men resemble God more than in doing good. In short, Christ assures us, that this will be a mark of our adoption, if we are kind to the unthankful and evil. And yet you are not to understand, that our liberality makes us the children of God: but the same Spirit, who is the witness, (Romans 8:16,) earnest, (Ephesians 1:14,) and seal, (Ephesians 4:30,) of our free adoption, corrects the wicked affections of the flesh, which are opposed to charity. Christ therefore proves from the effect, that none are the children of God, but those who resemble him in gentleness and kindness. Luke says, and you shall be the children of the Highest. Not that any man acquires this honor for himself, or begins to be a child of God, when he loves his enemies; but because, when it is intended to excite us to do what is right, Scripture frequently employs this manner of speaking, and represents as a reward the free gifts of God. The reason is, he looks at the design of our calling, which is, that, in consequence of the likeness of God having been formed anew in us, we may live a devout and holy life. He maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust. He quotes two instances of the divine kindness toward us, which are not only well known to us, but common to all: and this very participation excites us the more powerfully to act in a similar manner towards each other, though, by a synecdoche [Footnote 1], he includes a vast number of other favors.

[Footnote 1] “Combien qu’il comprend sous ces deux d’autres infinis tesmoignages, par une figure dont nous avons souvent parle, nommee Synecdoche.” “Though, under these two, he includes innumerable other testimonies, by a figure, of which we have frequently spoken, called Synecdoche.” Calvin, Matthew 5:45.

9) That God indeed favors none but the elect alone with the Spirit of regeneration, and that by this they are distinguished from the reprobate; for they are renewed after his image and receive the earnest of the Spirit in hope of the future inheritance, and by the same Spirit the Gospel is sealed in their hearts. But I cannot admit that all this is any reason why he should not grant the reprobate also some taste of his grace, why he should not irradiate their minds with some sparks of his light, why he should not give them some perception of his goodness, and in some sort engrave his word on their hearts. Otherwise, where would be the temporal faith mentioned by Mark 4:17? There is therefore some knowledge even in the reprobate, which afterwards vanishes away, either because it did not strike roots sufficiently deep, or because it withers, being choked up. Calvin, Hebrews 6:5.

10) “But a certain fearful looking for, etc.” He means the torment of an evil conscience which the ungodly feel, who not only have no grace, but who also know that having tasted grace they have lost it forever through their own fault; such must not only be pricked and bitten, but also tormented and lacerated in a dreadful manner. Hence it is that they war rebelliously against God, for they cannot endure so strict a Judge. They indeed try in every way to remove the sense of God’s wrath, but all in vain; for when God allows them a short respite, he soon draws them before his tribunal, and harasses them with the torments which they especially shun. Calvin, Heb 10:27.

11) Who has trodden under foot the Son of God, etc. There is this likeness between apostates under the Law and under the Gospel, that both perish without mercy; but the kind of death is different; for the Apostle denounces on the despisers of Christ not only the deaths of the body, but eternal perdition. And therefore he says that a sorer punishment awaits them. And he designates the desertion of Christianity by three things; for he says that thus the Son of God is trodden under foot, that his blood is counted an unholy thing, and that despite is done to the Spirit of grace. Now, it is a more heinous thing to tread under foot than to despise or reject; and the dignity of Christ is far different from that of Moses; and further, he does not simply set the Gospel in opposition to the Law, but the person of Christ and of the Holy Spirit to the person of Moses. The blood of the covenant, etc. He enhances ingratitude by a comparison with the benefits. It is the greatest indignity to count the blood of Christ unholy, by which our holiness is effected; this is done by those who depart from the faith. For our faith looks not on the naked doctrine, but on the blood by which our salvation has been ratified. He calls it the blood of the covenant, because then only were the promises made sure to us when this pledge was added. But he points out the manner of this confirmation by saying that we are sanctified; for the blood shed would avail us nothing, except we were sprinkled with it by the Holy Spirit; and hence come our expiation and sanctification. The apostle at the same time alludes to the ancient rite of sprinkling, which availed not to real sanctification, but was only its shadow or image. The Spirit of grace. He calls it the Spirit of grace from the effects produced; for it is by the Spirit and through his influence that we receive the grace offered to us in Christ. For he it is who enlightens our minds by faith, who seals the adoption of God on our hearts, who regenerates us unto newness of life, who grafts us into the body of Christ, that he may live in us and we in him. He is therefore rightly called the Spirit of grace, by whom Christ becomes ours with all his blessings. But to do despite to him, or to treat him with scorn, by whom we are endowed with so many benefits, is an impiety extremely wicked. Hence learn that all who willfully render useless his grace, by which they had been favored, act disdainfully towards the Spirit of God. It is therefore no wonder that God so severely visits blasphemies of this kind; it is no wonder that he shows himself inexorable towards those who tread under foot Christ the Mediator, who alone reconciles us to himself; it is no wonder that he closes up the way of salvation against those who spurn the Holy Spirit, the only true guide. Calvin, Hebrews 10:29.

Tracts:

1) There are sons of God who do not yet appear so to us, but now do so to God; and there are those who, on account of some arrogated or temporal grace, are called so by us, but are not so to God. Calvin, Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, trans., by J.K. Ried, p., 66.2

Institutes:

1) MAN AS THE LOFTIEST PROOF OF DIVINE WISDOM

Certain philosophers, accordingly, long ago not ineptly called man a microcosm because he is a rare example of God’s power, goodness, and wisdom, and contains within himself enough miracles to occupy our minds, if only we are not irked at paying attention to them. Paul, having stated that the blind can find God by feeling after him, immediately adds that he ought not to be sought afar off [Acts 17:27]. For each one undoubtedly feels within the heavenly grace that quickens him. Indeed, if there is no need to go outside ourselves to comprehend God, what pardon will the indolence of that man deserve who is loath to descend within himself to find God? For the same reason, David, when he has briefly praised the admirable name and glory of God, which shine everywhere, immediately exclaims: “What is man that thou art mindful of him?” [Psalm 8:4]. Likewise, “Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings thou hast established strength.” [Psalm 8:2.] Indeed, he not only declares that a clear mirror of God’s works is in humankind, but that infants, while they nurse at their mothers’ breasts, have tongues so eloquent to preach his glory that there is no need at all of other orators. Consequently, also, he does not hesitate to bring their infant speech into the debate, as if they were thoroughly instructed, to refute the madness of those who might desire to extinguish God’s name in favor of their own devilish pride. Consequently, too, there comes in that which Paul quotes from Aratus, that we are God’s offspring [Acts 17:28], because by adorning us with such great excellence he testifies that he is our Father. In the same way the secular poets, out of a common feeling and, as it were, at the dictation of experience, called him “the Father of men.” Indeed, no one gives himself freely and willingly to God’s service unless, having tasted his fatherly love, he is drawn to love and worship him in return. Calvin Institutes 1.5.3.

2) FAITH EVEN AMONG THE REPROBATE

I know that to attribute faith to the reprobate seems hard to some, when Paul declares it the result of election [cf 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5]. Yet this difficulty is easily solved. For though only those predestined to salvation receive the light of faith and truly feel the power of the gospel, yet experience shows that the reprobate are sometimes affected by almost the same feeling as the elect, so that even in their own judgment they do not in any way differ from the elect [cf. Acts 13:48]. Therefore it is not at all absurd that the apostle should attribute to them a taste of the heavenly gifts [Hebrews 6:4-6] and Christ, faith for a time [Luke 8:13]; not because they firmly grasp the force of spiritual grace and the sure light of faith, but because the Lord, to render them more convicted and inexcusable, steals into their minds to the extent that his goodness may be tasted without the Spirit of adoption. Suppose someone objects that then nothing more remains to believers to assure themselves of their adoption. I reply: although there is a great likeness and affinity between God’s elect and those who are given a transitory faith, yet only in the elect does that confidence flourish which Paul extols, that they loudly proclaim Abba, Father [Galatians 4:6; cf. Romans 8:15]. Therefore, as God regenerates only the elect with incorruptible seed forever [1 Peter 1:23] so that the seed of life sown in their hearts may never perish, thus he firmly seals the gift of his adoption in them that it may be steady and sure. But this does not at all hinder that lower working of the Spirit from taking its course even in the reprobate. In the meantime, believers are taught to examine themselves carefully and humbly, lest the confidence of the flesh creep in and replace assurance of faith. Besides this, the reprobate never receive anything but a confused awareness of grace, so that they grasp a shadow rather than the firm body of it. For the Spirit, strictly speaking, seals forgiveness of sins in the elect alone, so that they apply it by special faith to their own use. Yet the reprobate are justly said to believe that God is merciful toward them, for they receive the gift of reconciliation, although confusedly and not distinctly enough. Not that they are partakers of the same faith or regeneration with the children of God, but because they seem, under a cloak of hypocrisy, to have a beginning of faith in common with the latter. And I do not deny that God illumines their minds enough for them to recognize his grace; but he so distinguishes that awareness from the exclusive testimony he gives to his elect that they do not attain the full effect and fruition thereof. He does not show himself merciful to them, to the extent of truly snatching them from death and receiving them into his keeping, but only manifests to them his mercy for the time being. Only his elect does he account worthy of receiving the living root of faith so that they may endure to the end [Matthew 24:13]. Thus is that objection answered: if God truly shows his grace, this fact is forever established. For nothing prevents God from illumining some with a momentary awareness of his grace, which afterward vanishes. Calvin, Institutes 3.2.11.

Grace withdrawn:

1) We see then that he was a man [Alexander] that did as it were swim between two waters. Which would gladly be counted for a Christian, but yet would strike his top sail, and please the world. But God can not abide such dissembling. And mark therefore how he became blind in the end, and that God deprived him of that grace which he had given him before. Calvin, Sermons on 1 Timothy, Sermon 9, 5:19-19, p., 113.

Grace annulled:

sermons:

1) For it is so far off, that if we have done well a season, that that should cool us, that our former life should be as good as a spur to us, to prick us forward, to acknowledge daily the graces that God has bestowed upon us: and when we have employed them well, this ought to stir us up to well doing, that god frames us for himself, and having framed us so well, we must be an example to others: especially they that are of any name in the church, and have many eyes upon them, it is to the end that which they should not over throw that which they have built, otherwise they shall have an horrible vengeance of God fall upon them, if they turn away from the goodness that God had done them, and make no effect the grace which they had recieved. Calvin, Sermons on 1 Timothy, Sermon 50, 6:12-14, p., 605.

Grace offered to all:

1) “As by the offense of one we were made (constitute) sinners; so the righteousness of Christ is efficacious to justify us. He does not say the righteousness–dikaiosune, but the justification–dikaioma, of Christ, in order to remind us that he was not as an individual just for himself, but that the righteousness with which he was endued reached farther, in order that, by conferring this gift, he might enrich the faithful. He makes this favor [Latin: Gratiam.] common to all, because it is propounded to all, and not because it is in reality extended to all; for though Christ suffered for the sins of the whole world, and is offered through God’s benignity indiscriminately to all, yet all do not receive him. Calvin, Romans 5:18.

2) We read everywhere that He diffuses life only to members of His. And whoever will not allow that to be grafted into His body is a special gift has never read attentively the Epistle to the Ephesians. From this follows also a third thing: the virtue of Christ belongs only to the sons of God. Even those opposed to me will concede that the universality of the grace of Christ is not better judged than from the preaching of the Gospel. But the solution of the difficulty lies in seeing how the doctrine of the Gospel offers salvation to all. That it is salvific for all I do not deny. But the question is whether the Lord in His counsel here destines salvation equally for all. All are equally called to penitence and faith; the same mediator is set forth for all to reconcile them to the Father–so much is evident. But it is equally evident that nothing can be perceived except by faith, that Paul’s word should be fulfilled: the Gospel s the power of God for salvation to all that believe (Rom I. 16). But what can it be for others but a savour of death to death? as he elsewhere says (I1 Cor 2.16).  Calvin, Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, trans., by J.K. Ried, p., 103.

Grace refused:

sermons

1) Let us run unto God, and let our baptism guide us thither. For (as I said) there our Lord shows us, that he will not fail us in anything. Bit herewithall let us mark on the other side, tat the [bare] receiving of baptism is nothing. When we shall have received the visible sign, whereto will it serve us, but to our greater condemnation, if we have not the effect of it also? And that shall be laid to our charge. If we find any default, we must condemn our own unbelief better then we do. And now S. Paul attributes the power of our renewment and regeneration, to this washing that he speaks of: how be it, he speaks to the faithful, which thrust not God’s grace away, but open their mouths, that he may fill them, according as we be exhorted to do in the Psalm [Psal. 81:11]. And therefore let us mark well, that the unbelievers are like a stopped pot. God pours his gifts upon them, but they receive them not. For they be so fast stopped, that they is no entering into them, or else they be as hard as rocks. It may rain a whole day upon a rock, and yet the rock will be never the wetter within, because it is too hard. Even so it is with all those that refuse God’s grace. Calvin, Sermons on Titus, Sermon 16, 3:4-7, p., 1232.

Common grace:3

commentaries:

1) The answer to all this is in no way difficult. Princes are called by this name on account of a particular circumstance; as to Israel, the common grace of election is thus denoted; angels are called the sons of God as having a certain resemblance to him, because they are celestial spirits and possess some portion of divinity in their blessed immortality. But when David without any addition calls himself as the type of Christ the Son of God, he denotes something peculiar and more excellent than the honor given to angels or to princes, or even to all Israel. Calvin, Hebrews 1:5.

2) First, the word consider, is important, for it intimates that singular attention is required, as he cannot be disregarded with impunity, and that at the same time the true knowledge of Christ is sufficient to dissipate the darkness of all errors. And to encourage them the more to pursue this study, he reminds them of their calling; as though he had said, “God favored you with no common grace when He called you into his kingdom; it now remains that you have your eyes fixed on Christ as your leader in the way.” For the calling of the godly cannot be otherwise confirmed than by a thorough surrender of themselves to Christ. We ought not therefore to regard this as said only to the Jews, but that it is a general truth addressed to all who desire to come into the kingdom of God; they ought sedulously to attend to Christ, for he is the sole instructor of our faith, and has confirmed it by the sacrifice of himself; for confession, or profession, is to be taken here for faith, as thought he had said, that the faith we profess is vain and of no avail, unless Christ be its object. Calvin, Hebrews 3:1.

3) Therefore, we must not deny but that the Samaritans, who had put on Christ, indeed, in baptism, had also his Spirit given them; and surely Luke speaketh not in this place of the common grace of the Spirit, whereby God doth regenerate us, that we may be his children, but of those singular gifts wherewith God would have certain endued at the beginning of the gospel to beautify Christ’s kingdom. Thus must the words of John be understood, that the disciples had not the Spirit given them as yet, forasmuch as Christ was yet conversant in the world; not that they were altogether destitute of the Spirit, seeing that they had from the same both faith, and a godly desire to follow Christ; but because they were not furnished with those excellent gifts, wherein appeared afterwards greater glory of Christ’s kingdom. Calvin, Acts 8:16.

Tracts:

1) When (in the Institutes) I say that the law lays down what we should do, so that we should ask the Lord urgently for the power to obey, (Pighius) says this is right, since we are acknowledging that both the fact that we exist and the fact that we are alive derive from the Lord. But (I reply) we exist and move in one sense as human beings and in another as the sons of God. The former grace is the common possession of everyone, but the latter is granted specially to the elect. The former is in a certain way implanted in our nature, but the latter is given to man as a supernatural gift, so that he may cease to be what he was and begin to be what he had not yet become. Secondly, (Pighius) tries to find in my words the appearance of a contradiction. Who, he says, will pray to be given grace, which no one desires before he has it? I for my part acknowledge that the Spirit of prayer is given by God, and if I kept silent, Paul would sufficiently prove it, when he bears witness that faith is the mother of prayer. But in the meantime this does not in the least prevent God from also applying the outward instrument of instruction :like a goad, so as to accomplish his work in man in his usual way. If Pighius grasped this, he would at last make an end of disputing. ohn Calvin, The Bondage and Liberation of the Will, 167

Common restraining grace

1) GOD’S GRACE SOMETIMES RESTRAINS WHERE IT DOES NOT CLEANSE

Almost the same question that was previously answered now confronts us anew. In every age there have been persons who,  guided by nature, have striven toward virtue throughout life.  I have nothing to say against them even if many lapses can be noted in their moral conduct. For they have by the very zeal of their honesty given proof that there was some purity in their nature. Although in discussing merit of works we shall deal more fully with what value such virtues have in God’s sight, we must nevertheless speak of it also at this point, inasmuch as it is necessary for the unfolding of the present argument. These examples, accordingly, seem to warn us against adjudging man’s nature wholly corrupted, because some men have by its prompting not only excelled in remarkable deeds, but conducted themselves most honorably throughout life. But here it ought to occur to us that amid this corruption of nature there is some place for God’s grace; not such grace as to cleanse it, but to restrain it inwardly. For if the Lord gave loose rein to the mind of each man to run riot in his lusts, there would doubtless be no one who would not show that, in fact, every evil thing for which Paul condemns all nature is most truly to be met in himself [Psalm 14:3; Romans 3:12]. What then? Do you count yourself exempt from the number of those whose “feet are swift to shed blood” [Romans 3:15], whose hands are fouled with robberies and murders, “whose throats are like open graves, whose tongues deceive, whose lips are envenomed” [Romans 3:13]; whose works are useless, wicked, rotten, deadly; whose hearts are without God; whose inmost parts, depravities; whose eyes are set upon stratagems; whose minds are eager to revile—to sum up, whose every part stands ready to commit infinite wickedness Romans 3:10-18]? If every soul is subject to such abominations as the apostle boldly declares, we surely see what would happen if the Lord were to permit human lust to wander according to its own inclination. No mad beast would rage as unrestrainedly; no river, however swift and violent, burst so madly into flood. In his elect the Lord cures these diseases in a way that we shall soon explain. Others he merely restrains by throwing a bridle over them only that they may not break loose, inasmuch as he foresees their control to be expedient to preserve all that is. Hence some are restrained by shame from breaking out into many kinds of foulness, others by the fear of the law—even though they do not, for the most part, hide their impurity. Still others, because they consider an honest manner of life profitable, in some measure aspire to it. Others rise above the common lot, in order by their excellence to keep the rest obedient to them. Thus God by his providence bridles perversity of nature, that it may not break forth into action; but he does not purge it within. Calvin, Institutes, 2.3.3.

Universal Grace:

1) When Ezekiel gives the name “water” to the Holy Spirit, he at the same time calls it “clean water,” with a view to leansing. (Ezekiel 36:25.) Isaiah will afterwards call the Spirit “waters,” but for a different reason, that is, because by the secret moisture of his power he quickens souls. But these words of the Prophet have a wider signification, because he does not speak merely of the Spirit of regeneration, but alludes to the universal grace which is spread over all the creatures, and which is mentioned in Psalm 105:30, “Send forth thy Spirit, and they shall be created, and he will renew the face of the earth.” As David declares in that passage that every part of the world is enlivened, so far as God imparts to it secret vigor, and next ascribes to God might and power, by which, whenever he thinks fit, he suddenly revives the ruinous condition of heaven and earth, so now for the same reason Isaiah gives the appellation “water” to the sudden renewal of the Church; as if he had said that the restoration of the Church is at God’s disposal, as much as when he fertilizes by dew or rain the barren and almost parched lands. Calvin, Isaiah 44:3.

Special grace:4

commentaries

1) If he had remained upright, he would have transmitted to all his children what he had received: but now we read that Seth, as well as the rest, was defiled; because Adams who had fallen from his original state, could beget none but such as were like himself. If any one should object that Seth with his family had been elected by the special grace of God: the answer is easy and obvious; namely, that a supernatural remedy does not prevent carnal generation from participating in the corruption of sin. Calvin, Genesis 5:3.

2) In these words he annexes the effect to its cause, in order that the special grace of God, of which an example is given in the birth of Isaac, might be the more perceptible. If he had barely said, that the Lord had respect unto Sarah, when she brought forth a son; some other cause might have been sought for. Calvin, Genesis 21:1.

3) There are many ways in which God is said to be present with men. He is present with his elects whom he governs by the special grace of his Spirit; he is present also, sometimes, as it respects external life, not only with his elect, but also with strangers, in granting them some signal benediction: as Moses, in this place, commends the extraordinary grace by which the Lord declares that his promise is not void, since he pursues Ishmael with favor, because he was the son of Abraham. Calvin, Genesis 21:20.

4) There is no question but that Moses applies this epithet to God in connection with the present matter; as if he desired to induce God to preserve His own work, just as a potter spares the vessels formed by himself. To the same effect is the prayer of Isaiah: “But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand. Be not wroth very sore,” (Isaiah 64:8, 9:) for hence he alleges a reason why God should relent, and be inclined to mercy. There is this difference, that Isaiah refers to that special grace wherewith God had embraced His people, whereas Moses carries his address further, viz., to the general grace of creation. It is of little importance whether we choose to expound this with reference to all animals, or only to the human race, since Moses merely prays that, since God is the Creator and Maker of the world, He should not destroy the men whom He has formed, but rather have pity upon them, as being His work. In passing, however, we may infer from this passage, that all (men) have their separate souls, for God is not said to have inspired all flesh with life, but to have created their spirits. Hence the monstrous delusion of the Manicheans is refuted, that our souls are so infused by the transmission of the Spirit of God, as that there should still be only one spirit. But if it be preferred to include the animals, we must mark the grades of distinction between the spirit of man and the spirit of a dog or an ass. It is, however, more fitting to restrict it to men. Calvin Numbers, 16:23.

5) But this sin, as I have already said, belongs to all the ungodly; for where God’s Spirit does not reign, there is no humility, and men ever swell with inward pride, until God thoroughly cleanse them. It is then necessary that God should empty us by his special grace, that we may not be filled with this satanic pride, which is innate, and which cannot by any means be shaken off by us, until the Lord regenerates us by his Spirit. And this may be seen es specially in all the kings of this world. They indeed confess that kings rule through God’s grace; and then when they gain any victory, supplications are made, vows are paid. Calvin, Habakkuk 1:16.

6) Then he proposed this end to induce Nebuchadnezzar to repent, as he required many blows for this purpose, according to the old proverb about the fool who can never be recalled to a sound mind without suffering calamity. Thus King Nebuchadnezzar ought to be beaten with stripes, to render him submissive to God, as he never profited by any holy admonition or any heavenly oracle. God does not treat; all in this way. Hence we have here a special example of his clemency, which provides for the punishment inflicted on King Nebuchadnezzar, being both useful and profitable. For the reprobate are more and more hardened against God, and are ever stirred up and. It was an act, then, of special grace, when Nebuchadnezzar was chastised for the time by the hand of God, to cause his repentance and his owning God’s entire sway over the whole world. Calvin, Daniel, 4:28-32.

institutes:

1) Under man’s free counsel they commonly class those intermediate things which obviously do not pertain to God’s Kingdom; but they refer true righteousness to God’s special grace and spiritual regeneration. To show this, the author of the work The Calling of the Gentiles enumerates three kinds of will: first, the sensual; second, the psychic; third, the spiritual. With the first two, he teaches, man is freely endowed; the last is the work of the Holy Spirit in man. We shall discuss in its proper place whether this is true. Now I intend briefly to weigh, not to refute, the statements of others. Hence, it happens that when the church fathers are discussing free will, they first inquire, not into its importance for civil or external actions, but into what promotes obedience to the divine law. Although I grant this latter question is the main one, I do not think the former ought to be completely neglected. I hope I shall render a very good account of my own opinion. Calvin, Institutes, 2.2.5.

2) If this be admitted, it will be indisputable that free will is not sufficient to enable man to do good works, unless he be helped by grace, indeed by special grace, which only the elect receive through regeneration. For I do not tarry over those fanatics who babble that grace is equally and indiscriminately distributed. Calvin, Institutes, 2.2.6.

3) To sum up: We see among all mankind that reason is proper to our nature; it distinguishes us from brute beasts, just as they by possessing feeling differ from inanimate things. Now, because some are born fools or stupid, that defect does not obscure the general grace of God. Rather, we are warned by that spectacle that we ought to ascribe what is left in us to God’s kindness. For if he had not spared us, our fall would have entailed the destruction of our whole nature. Some men excel in keenness; others are superior in judgment; still others have a readier wit to learn this or that art. In this variety God commends his grace to us, lest anyone should claim as his own what flowed from the sheer bounty of God. For why is one person more excellent than another? Is it not to display in common nature God’s special grace which, in passing many by, declares itself bound to none? Besides this, God inspires special activities, in accordance with each man’s calling. Many examples of this occur in The Book of Judges, where it is said that “the Spirit of the Lord took possession” of those men whom he had called to rule the people [Judges 6:34]. In short, in every extraordinary event there is some particular impulsion. For this reason, Saul was followed by the brave men “whose hearts God had touched” [1 Samuel 10:26]. And when Saul’s consecration as king was foretold, Samuel said: “Then the Spirit of the Lord will come mightily upon you, and you shall be another man” [1 Samuel 10:6]. And this was extended to the whole course of government, as is said afterward of David: “The Spirit of the Lord came upon him from that day forward” [1 Samuel 16:13]. The same thing is taught elsewhere with respect to particular actions. Even in Homer, men are said to excel in natural ability not only as Jupiter has bestowed it upon each, but “as he leads them day by day.” And surely experience shows that, when those who were once especially ingenious and skilled are struck dumb, men’s minds are in God’s hand and under his will, so that he rules them at every moment. For this reason it is said: “He takes understanding away from the prudent [cf. Job 12:20] and makes them wander in trackless wastes” [Job 12:24; cf. Psalm 207:40]. Still, we see in this diversity some remaining traces of the image of God, which distinguish the entire human race from the other creatures. Calvin, Institutes 2.2.17.

4) Nevertheless the problem has not yet been resolved. For either we must make Camillus equal to Catiline, or we shall have in Camillus an example proving that nature, if carefully cultivated, is not utterly devoid of goodness. Indeed, I admit that the endowments resplendent in Camillus were gifts of God and seem rightly commendable if judged in themselves. But how will these serve as proofs of natural goodness in him? Must we not hark back to his mind and reason thus: if a natural man excelled in such moral integrity, undoubtedly human nature did not lack the ability to cultivate virtue? Yet what if the mind had been wicked and crooked, and had followed anything but uprightness? And there is no doubt that it was such, if you grant that Camillus was a natural man. What power for good will you attribute to human nature in this respect, if in the loftiest appearance of integrity, it is always found to be impelled toward corruption? Therefore as you will not commend a man for virtue when his vices impress you under the appearance of virtues, so you will not attribute to the human will the capability of seeking after the right so long as the will remains set in its own perversity. Here, however, is the surest and easiest solution to this question: these are not common gifts of nature, but special graces of God, which he bestows variously and in a certain measure upon men otherwise wicked. For this reason, we are not afraid, in common parlance, to call this man wellborn, that one depraved in nature. Yet we do not hesitate to include both under the universal condition of human depravity; but we point out what special grace the Lord has bestowed upon the one, while not deigning to bestow it upon the other. When he wished to put Saul over the kingdom he “formed him as a new man” [1 Samuel 10:6 p.]. This is the reason why Plato, alluding to the Homeric legend, says that kings’ sons are born with some distinguishing mark. For God, in providing for the human race, often endows with a heroic nature those destined to command. From this workshop have come forth the qualities of great leaders celebrated in histories. Private individuals are to be judged in the same way. But because, however excellent anyone has been, his own ambition always pushes him on—a blemish with which all virtues are so sullied that before God they lose all favor—anything in profane men that appears praiseworthy must be considered worthless. Besides, where there is no zeal to glorify God, the chief part of uprightness is absent; a zeal of which all those whom he has not regenerated by his Spirit are devoid. There is good reason for the statement in Isaiah, that “the spirit of the fear of God rests” upon Christ [Isaiah 11:2 p.]. By this we are taught that all estranged from Christ lack “the fear of God,” which “is the beginning of wisdom” [Psalm 111:10 p.]. As for the virtues that deceive us with their vain show, they shall have their praise in the political assembly and in common renown among men; but before the heavenly judgment seat they shall be of no value to acquire righteousness. Calvin, Institutes, 2.3.4.

6) Even though we have touched upon the matter above, we have not yet explained what freedom man may possess in actions that are of themselves neither righteous nor corrupt, and look toward the physical rather than the spiritual life. In such things some have conceded him free choice, more (I suspect) because they would not argue about a matter of no great importance than because they wanted to assert positively the very thing they grant. I admit that those who think they have no power to justify themselves hold to the main point necessary to know for salvation. Yet I do not think this part ought to be neglected: to recognize that whenever we are prompted to choose something to our advantage, whenever the will inclines to this, or conversely when. ever our mind and heart shun anything that would otherwise be harmful—this is of the Lord’s special grace. Institutes 2.4.6.

7) Now, through the condition of our nature, and by the lust aroused after the Fall, we, except for those whom God has released through special grace, are doubly subject to women’s society. Let each man, then, see what has been given to him. Virginity, I agree, is a virtue not to be despised. However, it is denied to some and granted to others only for a time. Hence, those who are troubled with incontinence and cannot prevail in the struggle should turn to matrimony to help them preserve chastity in the degree of their calling. Calvin, Institutes, 2.8.42.

Calvin on specific verses:

Matthew 5:45:

sermons

1) Thus we see why Saint Paul says here, “That the use of meats is good and clean, to the faithful only.” True it is, that a man might ask a question here, wether the wicked and the reprobate do not use God’s good creatures, seeing it is said, that he makes his sun shine upon the good and upon the evil? We see by experience, that oftentimes the wicked have greater abundance of God’s blessings, then the faithful have. But these are two divers matters, God’s gifts, and the means to receive them. When God suffers us to use his grace, it is for his part pure and holy: but on ours, it is defiled, unless we have this cleanness which I spoke of. And therefore although the wicked enjoy God’s benefits, yea in such abundance that they spew them up again, yet notwithstanding they leave not to defile them, as much as in them lies. Calvin, Sermons on 1 Timothy, Sermon 30, 4:1-5.

Commentaries:

1) “That ye may be the children of your Father who is in heaven.” When he expressly declares, that no man will be a child of God, unless he loves those who hate him, who shall dare to say, that we are not bound to observe this doctrine? The statement amounts to this, “Whoever shall wish to be accounted a Christian, let him love his enemies.” It is truly horrible and monstrous, that the world should have been covered with such thick darkness, for three or four centuries, as not to see that it is an express command, and that every one who neglects it is struck out of the number of the children of God. It ought to be observed that, when the example of God is held out for our imitation, this does not imply, that it would be becoming in us to do whatever God does. He frequently punishes the wicked, and drives the wicked out of the world. In this respect, he does not desire us to imitate him: for the judgment of the world, which is his prerogative, does not belong to us. But it is his will, that we should imitate his fatherly goodness and liberality. This was perceived, not only by heathen philosophers, but by some wicked despisers of godliness, who have made this open confession, that in nothing do men resemble God more than in doing good. In short, Christ assures us, that this will be a mark of our adoption, if we are kind to the unthankful and evil. And yet you are not to understand, that our liberality makes us the children of God: but the same Spirit, who is the witness, (Romans 8:16,) earnest, (Ephesians 1:14,) and seal, (Ephesians 4:30,) of our free adoption, corrects the wicked affections of the flesh, which are opposed to charity. Christ therefore proves from the effect, that none are the children of God, but those who resemble him in gentleness and kindness. Luke says, and you shall be the children of the Highest. Not that any man acquires this honor for himself, or begins to be a child of God, when he loves his enemies; but because, when it is intended to excite us to do what is right, Scripture frequently employs this manner of speaking, and represents as a reward the free gifts of God. The reason is, he looks at the design of our calling, which is, that, in consequence of the likeness of God having been formed anew in us, we may live a devout and holy life. He maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust. He quotes two instances of the divine kindness toward us, which are not only well known to us, but common to all: and this very participation excites us the more powerfully to act in a similar manner towards each other, though, by a synecdoche [Footnote 1], he includes a vast number of other favors.

[Footnote 1] “Combien qu’il comprend sous ces deux d’autres infinis tesmoignages, par une figure dont nous avons souvent parle, nommee Synecdoche.” “Though, under these two, he includes innumerable other testimonies, by a figure, of which we have frequently spoken, called Synecdoche.” Calvin, Matthew 5:45.

[To be continued]


1What is important to note here is that Calvin uses the term kindness to express the Hebrew word Grace.

2This sentence is entirely left out by Cole in his translation of this same work, Calvin’s Calvinism, p., 42.

3As will be seen in the following comments, Calvin has no fixed meaning for the terms common grace and special grace.

4Calvin references special grace with election many times. For our purposes here, I only list a few quotations.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. CalvinandCalvinism permalink*
    March 13, 2008 8:27 am

    UPDATE: I have added an entry in the Calvin file on Common Grace. See under “Common Grace” Tracts, entry #1. The quotation is from his Tract on the Bondage and Liberation of the Will.

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