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Calvin on the free offer of the gospel (selection)

December 3, 2007

free offer

Sermons

1) For all of us have our ears stopped up, all of us have our eyes hoodwinked: yea and that more is we are death and blind, unless he have touched us, that we receive his word. And thus stands the will of God, which we have to understand after two sorts, even as holy write makes it plain unto us: not (as I said before) that God is double in himself, or that is his will is diverse and changeable. Now let us come to practice this doctrine, and let us mark first of all when the Gospel is preached unto us, that it is as much as if God reached out his hand, (as he speaks by the Prophet Isaiah) [Isai. 65:2] and said unto us, come to me. It is a matter which ought to touch us to the quick, when we see that God comes to seek us, & waits not till we come to him, but shows that he is ready to be made at one with us, although we be his deadly enemies, and seeks nothing, but to wipe out all our faults, and make us partakers of that salvation which was purchased for us by our Lord Jesus Christ… Know we moreover, that men are very faulty, when God offers them his word, and they receive it not. And surely this is partly spoken of us, to the end that all the faithful should with all humbleness glorify the grace of God towards them, and party to the end that the unbelievers and rebels should have their mouths stopped, that they might not blaspheme against God as though he had been wanting them. For we see how he calls all them to salvation, to whom his word is preached. Calvin, Sermons on 1 Timothy, Sermon 13,2:3-5, p., 158.

2) But what? We are out of taste, and beside that, we desire to be fed with filthy and loathsome meat, and instead of choosing that that God offers us, we will go and take vile and stinking meats, yea, we wittingly and willingly poison ourselves. Calvin, Sermons on 1 Timothy, Sermon 28, 4:1-2, p., 335.

3) And thus we have two degrees, the one is, that the ancient fathers showed God: yea but smally and slenderly in comparison to us, when our Lord Jesus came into the world. The son of righteousness appeared, whereby we may behold God better, and much more clearly then to the holy fathers did, for so much as he declared himself more familiarly to us. And when we say, that Jesus Christ is the lively image of God his Father, it is not in this person of man which appeared here, wherein he was conversant. He was conversant with men for a season, but it is referred to the Gospel as Saint Paul shows is in the second to the Corinthians. Therefore we must learn to behold God when it pleases him to open himself to us, which thing he does so oft as Jesus Christ is preached to us: let us know that god opens his heart to us, and shows himself there to us so far forth as is meet for our instruction. Calvin, Sermons on 1 Timothy, Sermon 52, 6:15-16, p., 629.

3) For whereas mens should have served god in peace and unity, they have been as cats and dogs together. And what was the cause of it, but only this, that the would not content themselves with the pure doctrine of the Gospel, but would needs have their own foolish lusts? God paid them for it, and to give them full measure, in the end he adds this was which Saint Paul speaks of also in this place, they were deprived of the truth. Although God had kindled the brightness of his Gospel throughout all the world, yet we see what horrible darkness the world is downed in. And who so? It is (as I said) their payment which received not the grace that was offered to them, but made themselves drunk with their own follies. Calvin, Sermons on 1 Timothy, Sermon 48, 6:3-7, p., 571.

3) Therefore woe be unto us, if we be here as venomous beasts, and come to lift up our horns against god, and say, I will not receive the good that is offered me: for what wilt thou get by it, thou cursed creature? So then Saint Paul does not here simply allege the Majesty of God, which we must be subject to, but adds this loving word beside, that God showed himself our Saviour, when he commanded his Gospel to be preached: as also he says flatly in the first to the Romans, that God would have his doctrine received with obedience. And then adds afterward, that it is with his mighty power to salvation to all that believe. Therefore when he has showed that at the beginning God sent his Apostles, & in these days has established shepherds in his Church, to procure our salvation by that means, know we, that if we are unthankful to him, and will not submit ourselves wholly to him: it will be a double condemnation to us, because we refused the good that was offered to us. Calvin… So then let us mark his word, but receive the salvation that is offered us in the gospel: for if we have this, we have an inestimable comfort, we shall not doubt but God will perfect our salvation… , Sermons on Titus, Sermon 2, 1:1-4, p., 1046 and 1047.

commentaries

1) “Why did I come?” This might be a reason assigned, that the people have not only brought upon themselves all immense mass of evils by provoking God’s anger, but have likewise, by their obstinacy, cut off the hope of obtaining pardon and salvation. But I think that God proceeds still further. After having explained that he had good reason for divorcing the people, because they had of their own accord given themselves up to bondage, when they might have been free, he adds that still it is not he who prevents them from being immediately set at liberty. As he shewed, in the former verse, that the whole blame rests with the Jews, so now he declares that it arises from their own fault that they grow old and rot in their distresses; for the Lord was ready to assist them, if they had not rejected his grace and kindness. In a word, he shows that both the beginning and the progress of the evil arise from the fault of the people, in order that he may free God from all blame, and may shew that the Jews act wickedly in accusing him as the author of evil, or in complaining that he will not assist them. First, then, the Lord says that he “came;” and why, but that he might stretch out his hand to the Jews? Whence it follows that they are justly deprived; for they would not receive his grace. Now, the Lord is said to “come,” when he gives any token of his presence. He approaches by the preaching of the Word, and he approaches also by various benefits which he bestows on us, and by the tokens which he employs for manifesting his fatherly kindness toward us. “Was there ever any people,” as Moses says, “that saw so many signs, and heard the voice of God speaking, like this people?” (Deuteronomy 4:33.) Constant invitation having been of no advantage to them, when he held out the hope of pardon and exhorted them to repentance, it is with good reason that he speaks of it as a monstrous thing, and asks why there was no man to meet him. They are therefore held to be convicted of ingratitude, because, while they ought to have sought God, they did not even choose to meet him when he came; for it is an instance of extreme ingratitude to refuse to accept the grace of God which is freely offered.

“Why did I call, and no one answered?” In the word call there is a repetition of the same statement in different words. When God “calls,” we ought to be ready and submissive; for this is the “answer” which, he complains, was refused to him; that is, we ought to yield implicitly to his word. But this expression applies strictly to the matter now in hand; because God, when he offered a termination to their distresses, was obstinately despised, as if he had spoken to the deaf and dumb. Hence he infers that on themselves lies the blame of not having been sooner delivered; and he supports this by former proofs, because he had formerly shewn to the fathers that he possessed abundance of power to assist them. Again, that they may not cavil and excuse themselves by saying that they had not obtained salvation, though they heartily desired it, he maintains, on the other hand, that the cause of the change ought to be sought somewhere else than in him, (for his power was not at all diminished,) and therefore that he would not have delayed to stretch out his hand to them in distress, if they had not wickedly refused his aid. Calvin, Isaiah 50:2.

2) Look unto me. Hitherto he addressed the Jews alone, as if to them alone salvation belonged, but now he extends his discourse farther. He invites the whole world to the hope of salvation, and at the same time brings a charge of ingratitude against all the nations, who, being devoted to their errors, purposely avoided, as it were, the light of life; for what could be more base than to reject deliberately their own salvation? He therefore commands all “to look to him,” and to the precept adds a promise, which gives it greater weight, and confirms it more than if he had made use of a bare command. And ye shall be saved. Thus we have a striking proof of the calling of the Gentiles; because the Lord, after having broken down “the partition-wall” ( Ephesians 2:14) which separated the Jews from the Gentiles, invites all without exception to come to him. Besides, we are here reminded also what is the true method of obtaining salvation; that is, when we “look to God,” and turn to him with our whole heart. Now, we must “look to him” with the eye of faith, so as to embrace the salvation which is exhibited to all through Christ; for “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him may not perish.” ( John 3:16.) For I am God. When he exhorts all the ends of the earth, he at the same time shews that all men have hitherto wandered, and have not “looked to” the true God; for where infidelity exists, there cannot be a distinct looking towards God, so as to distinguish him from empty masks. In a word, he declares that the ruin of all has been occasioned by their being driven about by their wicked inventions, and thus revolting from the true God, from the knowledge of whom certain and eternal salvation flows. The Lord therefore stretches out his hand, in order to rescue all and point out the method of obtaining salvation. Calvin Isaiah 54:22.

3) But when God invites men to himself, and approaches near them, and offers himself to them in a peculiar manner as their Father and Teacher, if they reject so remarkable a benefit, truly their ingratitude is worthy of the utmost severity. For as often as God raises up prophets for us and faithful ministers of his doctrine, let this which has just been said come into our minds: unless we embrace such a benefit, we at length shall know that a prophet has been among us, because God will exact fearful vengeance for the contempt of his great loving-kindness. Calvin, Ezekiel 2:5.

4) But as this is not in the power or will of man, we draw this evident conclusion, that God not only offers his grace in the outward preaching, but at the same time in the renewing of our hearts. Except God then recreates us a new people to himself, there is no more stability in the covenant he makes now with us than in the old which he made formerly with the fathers under the Law; for when we compare ourselves with the Israelites, we find that we are nothing better. It is, therefore, necessary that God should work inwardly and efficaciously on our hearts, that his covenant may stand firm: nay, since the knowledge of him is the special gift of the Spirit, we may with certainty conclude, that what is said here refers not only to outward preaching, but that the grace of the Spirit is also joined, by which God renews us after his own image, as we have already proved from a passage in Jeremiah: but that we may not seem to borrow from another place, we may say that it appears evident from the words of the Prophet, that there is no other bond of stability, by which the covenant of God can be strengthened and preserved, but the knowledge he conveys to us of himself; and this he conveys not only by outward teaching, but also by the illumination of our minds by his Spirit, yea, by the renewing of our hearts. Calvin, Hosea 2:19-20.

5) Amos here again exhorts the Israelites to repentance; and it was an address common to all, though the greater part, as we have said, were altogether past recovery; but it was necessary, as long as they continued a chosen people, to call them to repentance; for they had not been as yet abdicated. We further know, that the Prophets preached in order to invite some to God, and to render others inexcusable. With regard to the end and design of public teaching, it is, that all should in common be called: but God’s purpose is different; for he intends, according to his own secret counsel, to draw to himself the elect, and he designs to take away all excuse from the reprobate, that their obstinacy may be more and more apparent. We must further bear in mind, that while the people of Israel continued, the doctrine of repentance and faith was preserved among them; and the reason was that to which I have alluded, because they remained as yet in the fold of God. It is no wonder then that the Prophet gives again to the Israelites the hope of pardon, provided they repented.

Thus saith Jehovah to the house of Israel, Seek me, and ye shall live. This sentence has two clauses. In saying, Seek me, the Prophet exhorts the Israelites to return to a sane mind: and then he offers them the mercy of God, if only they sought from the heart to reconcile themselves to him. We have elsewhere said that men cannot be led to repentance, unless they believe that God will be propitious to them; for all who think him to be implacable, ever flee away from him, and dread the mention of his name. Hence, were any one through his whole life to proclaim repentance, he could effect nothing, except he were to connect with this the doctrine of faith, that is, except he were to show that God is ready to give pardon, if men only repent from the heart. These two parts, then, which ought not to be separated, the Prophet here connects together very wisely and for the best reason, when he says, Seek me, and ye shall live; intimating that the gate of mercy was still open, provided the Israelites did not persevere in their obstinacy. But, at the same time, he lays this to their charge, that they willfully perished through their own fault; for he shows that in themselves was the only hindrance, that they were not saved; for God was not only ready to receive them into favor, but also anticipated and exhorted them, and of his own free will sought reconciliation. How then was it, that the Israelites despised the salvation offered to them? This was the madness which he now charges them with; for they preferred ruin to salvation, inasmuch as they returned not to God when he so kindly invited them, Seek me, and ye shall live. The same thing is stated in another place, where it is said, that God seeketh not the death of a sinner… Calvin, Ezekiel 18:32.

But as we have already said, the Prophets spoke thus in common to all the people, but their doctrine was not to all efficacious; for the Lord inwardly attracted his elect, and others were rendered inexcusable. But still this is true, that the whole blame, that they perished, were in the children of Israel, for they refused the salvation offered to them. What indeed was the cause of their destruction, but their own obstinacy? And the root of the evil, was it not in their own hearts? Then none of them could evade the charge made against them by the Prophet, that they were the authors of their own ruin, for each of them must have been conscious of his own perverseness. Calvin, Amos 5:4-6.

6) “And you will not come to me”. He again reproaches them that it is nothing but their own malice that hinders them from becoming partakers of the life offered in the Scriptures; for when he says that they will not, he imputes the cause of their ignorance and blindness to wickedness and obstinacy. And, indeed, since he offered himself to them so graciously, they must have been willfully blind; but when they intentionally fled from the light, and even desired to extinguish the sun by the darkness of their unbelief, Christ justly reproves them with greater severity. Calvin, John 5:40.

7) It is hence evident, how foolishly some maintain, that all are indiscriminately the elect, because the doctrine of salvation is universal, and because God invites all indiscriminately to himself. But the generality of the promises does not alone and by itself make salvation common to all: on the contrary, the peculiar revelation, mentioned by the Prophet, confines it to the elect. Calvin, Romans 10:16.

8) In the second place, He has poured out His blessing by the ministry of the Gospel in order to enlighten the minds of men by faith, and thereby also instruct them to call upon His name, by which salvation is promised to all men. He has thus declared that the Gentiles are admitted to a share of the eternal inheritance. This is a noteworthy passage on the efficacy of preaching, for Paul declares that faith is produced by preaching. He has just stated that by itself preaching is profitless, but when the Lord is pleased to work, it is the instrument of His power. Calvin Romans 10:17.8

9) We now perceive, that though universal calling may not bring forth fruit, yet the faithfulness of God does not fail, inasmuch as he always preserves a Church, as long as there are elect remaining; for though God invites all people indiscriminately9 to himself, yet he does not inwardly draw any but those whom he knows to be his people, and whom he has given to his Son, and of whom also he will be the faithful keeper to the end. Calvin, Roms 11:2.

Salvation offered to all

1) We hold, then, that; God wills not the death of a sinner, since he calls all equally to repentance, and promises himself prepared to receive them if they only seriously repent. If any one should object then there is no election of God, by which he has predestinated a fixed number to salvation, the answer is at hand: the Prophet does not here speak of God’s secret counsel, but only recalls miserable men from despair, that they may apprehend the hope of pardon, and repent and embrace the offered salvation. Calvin, Eze 18:23.

2) God shews here that the Jews were become wholly irreclaimable, for they arrived at the highest pitch of impiety, when they were so daring as to reject the salvation offered to them; for what had the Prophet in view but, to extricate them from ruin? God himself by his Prophet wished to secure their safety. How great then was their ingratitude to reject God’s paternal care, and not to give ear to the Prophet who was to be a minister of salvation to them? Now as they were extremely deaf and stupid: God turns to the Gentiles. Calvin, Jeremiah 18:13.

3) He surely does not set forth the obedience of the faithful in receiving promptly and gladly the Gospel; but, on the contrary, (as though something monstrous terrified him) that the world would not believe the Gospel, when yet it offered to them salvation and eternal life. Calvin, Jeremiah 30:21.

4) Hence, were any one through his whole life to proclaim repentance, he could effect nothing, except he were to connect with this the doctrine of faith, that is, except he were to show that God is ready to give pardon, if men only repent from the heart. These two parts, then, which ought not to be separated, the Prophet here connects together very wisely and for the best reason, when he says, Seek me, and ye shall live; intimating that the gate of mercy was still open, provided the Israelites did not persevere in their obstinacy. But, at the same time, he lays this to their charge, that they willfully perished through their own fault; for he shows that in themselves was the only hindrance, that they were not saved; for God was not only ready to receive them into favor, but also anticipated and exhorted them, and of his own free will sought reconciliation. How then was it, that the Israelites despised the salvation offered to them? This was the madness which he now charges them with; for they preferred ruin to salvation, inasmuch as they returned not to God when he so kindly invited them, Seek me, and ye shall live. The same thing is stated in another place, where it is said, that God seeketh not the death of a sinner, (Ezekiel 18:32). Calvin, Amos 5:4-6.

5) Neither is there salvation in any other. He passeth from the species [salvation] unto the genus, [or more particular,] and he goeth from the corporal benefit unto perfect health, [or general.] And assuredly Christ had showed this one token of his grace, to the end he might be known to be the only author of life. We must consider this in all the benefits of God, to wit, that he is the fountain of salvation. And he meant to prick and sting the priests with this sentence, when as he saith that there is salvation in none other save only in Christ, whom they went about to put quite out of remembrance. As if he should say, that they are twice damned who did not only refuse the salvation offered them by God, but endeavor to bring the same to nought, and did take from all the people the fruit and use thereof. And although he seemeth to speak unto deaf men, yet doth he preach of the grace of Christ, if peradventure some can abide to hear; if not, that they may at least be deprived of all excuse by this testimony. Calvin, Acts 4:12.

The calling of the reprobate

institutes

1) 8. GENERAL AND SPECIAL CALLING [MATTHEW 22:2 FF.]

The statement of Christ “Many are called but few are chosen” [Matthew 22:14] is, in this manner, very badly understood. Nothing will be ambiguous if we hold fast to what ought to be clear from the foregoing: that there are two kinds of call. There is the general call, by which God invites all equally to himself through the outward preaching of the word-even those to whom he holds it out as a savor of death [cf. 2 Corinthians 2:16], and as the occasion for severer condemnation. The other kind of call is special, which he deigns for the most part to give to the believers alone, while by the inward illumination of his Spirit he causes the preached Word to dwell in their hearts. Yet sometimes he also causes those whom he illumines only for a time to partake of it; then he justly forsakes them on account of their ungratefulness and strikes them with even greater blindness. Calvin, Institutes, 3.24.8.


8MacKenzie translation.
9MacKenzie trans., “all men without distinction.”

[to be continued]

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