Skip to content

John Calvin on Ezekiel 18:23, 31-32 and 33:11: Relevant Comments

February 7, 2008



1) We must here beware of mingling together things which are totally different–as widely different from each other as heaven is distant from the earth. God, in coming down to us by his word, and addressing his invitations to all men without exception, disappoints nobody. All who sincerely come to him are received, and find from actual experience that they were not called in vain. At the same time, we are to trace to the fountain of the secret electing purpose of God this difference, that the word enters into the heart of some, while others only hear the sound of it. And yet there is no inconsistency in his complaining, as it were, with tears, of our folly when we do not obey him. In the invitations which he addresses to us by the external word, he shows himself to be a father; and why may he not also be understood as still representing himself under the image of a father in using this form of complaint? In Ezekiel 18:32, he declares with the strictest regard to truth, “I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth,” provided in the interpretation of the passage we candidly and dispassionately take into view the whole scope of it. God has no pleasure in the death of a sinner: How? because he would have all men turned to himself. But it is abundantly evident, that men by their own free-will cannot turn to God, until he first change their stony hearts into hearts of flesh: yea, this renovation, as Augustine judiciously observes, is a work surpassing that of the creation itself. Now what hinders God from bending and framing the hearts of all men equally in submission to him? Here modesty and sobriety must be observed, that instead of presuming to intrude into his incomprehensible decrees, we may rest contented with the revelation which he has made of his will in his word. There is the justest ground for saying that he wills the salvation of those to whom that language is addressed, (Isaiah 21:12,) “Come unto me, and be ye converted.” In the second part of the verse before us, we have defined what it is to hear God. To assent to what he speaks would not be enough; for hypocrites will grant at once that whatever proceeds from his mouth is true, and will affect to listen just as if an ass should bend its ears. But the clause is intended to teach us that we can only be said to hear God, when we submit ourselves to his authority. Calvin, Psalm 81:13.

2) He confirms the same sentiment in other words, that God desires nothing more earnestly than that those who were perishing and rushing to destruction should return into the way of safety. And for this reason not only is the Gospel spread abroad in the world, but God wished to bear witness through all ages how inclined he is to pity. For although the heathen were destitute of the law and the prophets, yet they were always endued with some taste of this doctrine. Truly enough they were suffocated by many errors: but we shall always find that they were induced by a secret impulse to seek for pardon, because this sense was in some way born with them, that God is to be appeased by all who seek him. Besides, God bore witness to it more clearly in the law and the prophets. In the Gospel we hear how familiarly he addresses us when he promises us pardon. (Luke 1:78.) And this is the knowledge of salvation, to embrace his mercy which he offers us in Christ. It follows, then, that what the Prophet now says is very true, that God wills not the death of a sinner, because he meets him of his own accord, and is not only prepared to receive all who fly to his pity, but he calls them towards him with a loud voice, when he sees how they are alienated from all hope of safety. But the manner must be noticed in which God wishes all to be saved, namely, when they turn themselves from their ways. God thus does not so wish all men to be saved as to renounce the difference between good and evil; but repentance, as we have said, must precede pardon. How, then, does God wish all men to be saved? By the Spirit’s condemning the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment at this day, by the Gospel, as he did formerly by the law and the prophets. (John 16:8.) God makes manifest to mankind their great misery, that they may betake themselves to him: he wounds that he may cure, and slays that he may give life. 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. If any one again objects–this is making God act with duplicity, the answer is ready, that God always wishes the same thing, though by different ways, and in a manner inscrutable to us. Although, therefore, God’s will is simple, yet great variety is involved in it, as far as our senses are concerned. Besides, it is not surprising that our eyes should be blinded by intense light, so that we cannot certainly judge how God wishes all to be saved, and yet has devoted all the reprobate to eternal destruction, and wishes them to perish. While we look now through a glass darkly, we should be content with the measure of our own intelligence. (1 Corinthians 13:12.) When we shall be like God, and see him face to face, then what is now obscure will then become plain. But since captious men torture this and similar passages, it will be needful to refute them shortly, since it can be done without trouble.

God is said not to wish the death of a sinner. How so? since he wishes all to be converted. Now we must see how God wishes all to be converted; for repentance is surely his peculiar gift: as it is his office to create men, so it is his province to renew them, and restore his image within them. For this reason we are said to be his workmanship, that is, his fashioning. (Ephesians 2:10.) Since, therefore, repentance is a kind of second creation, it follows that it is not in man’s power; and if it is equally in God’s power to convert men as well as to create them, it follows that the reprobate are not converted, because God does not wish their conversion; for if he wished it he could do it: and hence it appears that he does not wish it. But again they argue foolishly, since God does not wish all to be converted, he is himself deceptive, and nothing can be certainly stated concerning his paternal benevolence. But this knot is easily untied; for he does not leave us in suspense when he says, that he wishes all to be saved. Why so? for if no one repents without finding God propitious, then this sentence is filled up. But we must remark that God puts on a twofold character: for he here wishes to be taken at his word. As I have already said, the Prophet does not here dispute with subtlety about his incomprehensible plans, but wishes to keep our attention close to God’s word. Now, what are the contents of this word? The law, the prophets, and the gospel. Now all are called to repentance, and the hope of salvation is promised them when they repent. This is true, since God rejects no returning sinner: he pardons all without exception: meanwhile, this will of God which he sets forth in his word does not prevent him from decreeing before the world was created what he would do with every individual: and as I have now said, the Prophet only shows here, that when we have been converted we need not doubt that God immediately meets us and shows himself propitious. The remainder tomorrow. Calvin Ezekiel 18:23.

3) Ezekiel again exhorts the people to leave off complaining, and to acknowledge that there is no remedy for their evils but to be reconciled to God. But that cannot be done unless they repent. For God was not hostile to them in vain; nor did he, after the manner of men, persecute with hatred the innocent, and those who did not deserve it. Hence it was necessary to seek God’s pardon suppliantly. Ezekiel had already touched upon this, but he now confirms it more at length. He says, therefore, that they not only lost their labor, but increased the flame of God’s wrath by striving with him, and complaining that they were unworthily treated by him: cast forth, says he, your iniquities from you. He shows that the cause of all evils is within themselves: so that they have no excuse. But he afterwards expresses more clearly that they were entirely imbued with contempt of God, impiety, and depraved desires. For if he had only spoken of outward wickedness, the reproof would have been partial, and therefore lighter; but after he commanded them to bid farewell to their sins, he adds, make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. He requires, therefore, from them a thorough renewal, so that they should not only conform their life to the rule of the law, but should fear God sincerely, since no one can produce good fruit but from a living root. Outward works, then, are the fruits of repentance, which must spring from some root; and this is the inward affection of the heart. What is added is to refute their impiety, for they wished their destruction to be ascribed to God. Here God takes up the character of a mourner, saying, Why will ye die, O house of Israel? while the next verse confirms this more clearly. Calvin Ezekiel 18:31.

4)We see, therefore, how God throws off that false reproach from himself with which the children of Israel taunted him, saying, that they perished by his immoderate rigor, and could find no reason for his severity against them. He announces, on the other hand, that the cause of death rested with themselves; and then he points out the remedy, that they should amend their life, not only in outward appearance, but in sincerity of heart: and at the same time he testifies of his willingness to be entreated; nay, he meets them of his own accord, if they only repent heartily and unfeignedly. We now understand the Prophet’s meaning. We said, that we are admonished in this way, that if we desire to return to God we must begin at the beginning, namely, renewal of the heart and spirit; because, as Jeremiah says, he looks for truth and integrity, and does not value outward disguises. (Jeremiah 5:3.) But it may seem absurd for God to exhort the Israelites to form their hearts anew: and men badly trained in the Scriptures erect their crests under the pretense of this passage, as if it were in the power of man’s free will to convert himself. They exclaim, therefore, either that God here exhorts his people deceitfully, or else that when alienated from him we can by our own movement repent, and return into the way. But the whole Scripture openly refutes this. It is not in vain that the saints so often pray that God would renew them; (Psalm 51:12, and very often elsewhere;) for it would be a feigned and a lying prayer, if newness of heart were not his gift. If any one requests of God what he is persuaded that he has already, and by his own inherent virtue, does he not trifle with God? But nothing occurs more frequently than this mode of entreaty. Since therefore, the saints pray to God to renew them, they doubtless confess that to be his peculiar gift; and unless he moves his hand, they have no strength remaining, so that they can never rise from the ground. Besides, in many passages God claims the renewal of the heart as peculiar to himself. We noticed that remarkable passage in the eleventh chapter of this Prophet, (Ezekiel 11:19,) he will repeat the same in the thirty-sixth chapter, (Ezekiel 36:26, 27;) and we know what Jeremiah says in his thirty-first chapter, (Jeremiah 31:33.) But Scripture is everywhere full of testimonies of this kind, so that it would be superfluous to heap together many passages; nay, if any one denies that regeneration is a gift of the Holy Spirit, he will tear up by the roots all the principles of piety. We have said that regeneration is like another creation; and if we compare it with the first creation, it far surpasses it. For it is much better for us to be made children of God, and reformed after his image within us, than to be created mortal: for we are born children of wrath, corrupt and degenerate; (Ephesians 2:3;) since all integrity was lost when God’s image was removed. We see, then, the nature of our first creation; but when God re-fashions us, we are not only born sons of Adam, but we are the brothers of angels, and members of Christ; and this our second life consists in rectitude, justice, and the light of true intelligence.

We now see that if it had been in man’s free will to convert himself, much more would be ascribed to him than to God, because, as we have said, it was much more valuable to be created sons of God than of Adam. It ought, then, to be beyond all controversy with the pious that men cannot rise again when they are fallen, and turn of themselves when alienated from God; but this is the peculiar gift of the Holy Spirit. And the sophists, who in all ways endeavor to obscure God’s grace, confess that half the act of conversion is in the power of the Holy Spirit: for they do not say that we are simply and totally converted by the motion of our own free will, but they imagine a concurrence of grace with free will, and of free will with grace. Thus they foolishly represent us as cooperating with God: they confess, indeed, that God’s grace goes before and follows; and they seem to themselves very liberal towards God when they acknowledge this twofold grace in man’s conversion. But God is not content with that partition, since he is deprived of half his right: for he does not say that he would assist men to renew themselves and to repent; but he attributes the work to himself entirely: I will give you a new heart and a new spirit. (Ezekiel 36:26.) If it is his to give, it follows that the slightest portion of it cannot be transferred to man without diminishing something from his right. But they object that the following precept is not in vain, that men should make for themselves a new heart. Now their deception arises through ignorance, from their judging of the powers of men by the commands of God; but the inference is incorrect, as we have said elsewhere: for when God teaches what is right, he does not think of what we are able to do, but only shows us what we ought to do. When, therefore, the power of our free will is estimated by the precepts of God, we make a great mistake, because God exacts from us the strict discharge of our duty, just as if our power of obedience was not defective. We are not absolved from our obligation because we cannot pay it; for God holds us bound to himself, although we are in every way deficient.

They object again, God then deludes men when he says, make yourselves a new heart. I answer, we must always consider to what purpose God thus speaks, namely, that men convicted of sin may cease to throw the blame on any one else, as they often endeavor to do; for nothing is more natural than to transfer the cause of our condemnation away from ourselves, that we may seem just, and God appear unjust. Since, then, such depravity reigns among men, hence the Holy Spirit demands from us what all acknowledge they ought to pay: and if we do not pay it, still we are bound to do so, and thus all strife and complaint should cease. Thus, as it concerns the elect, when God shows them their duty, and they acknowledge that they cannot discharge it, they fly to the aid of the Holy Spirit, so that the outward exhortation becomes a kind of instrument which God uses to confer the grace of his Spirit. For although he gratuitously goes before us, and does not need outward channels, yet he desires exhortations to be useful to this end. Since, therefore, this doctrine stirs up the elect to deliver themselves up to be ruled by the Holy Spirit, we see how it becomes fruitful to us. Whence it follows, that God does not delude or deceive us when he exhorts each of us to form his heart and his spirit afresh. In fine, Ezekiel wished by these words to show that pardon would be prepared for the Israelites if they seriously repented, and showed its effects through their whole life. That was most true, because the elect did not embrace this doctrine in vain, when at the same time God worked in them by his Spirit, and so turned them to himself. But the reprobate, though they do not cease to murmur, yet they are rendered ashamed, since all excuse has been removed, and they must perish through their own fault, since they willingly remained in their wickedness, and by self-indulgence they cherished the old man within themselves,–a fountain of all injustice. Whenever such passages occur, let us remember that celebrated prayer of Augustine: grant us what you command, and command what you wish, (Epist. 24;) for otherwise, if God should lay upon us the slightest burden, we should be unable to bear it. Besides, our strength will be sufficient to fulfill his requirements, if only he supply it, and we are not so foolish as to think anything comprehended in his precepts which he has not granted to us; because, as I have said before, nothing is more perverse than to measure the angelic righteousness of the law by our strength. By the word heart, I understand him to mean the seat of all the affections; and by spirit, the intellectual part of the soul. The heart is often taken for the reason and intelligence; but when these two words are joined together, the spirit relates to the mind, and so it is the intellectual faculty of the soul; but the heart is taken for the will, or the seat of all the affections. Hence we see how very corrupt the Israelites were, since they could not be otherwise reconciled to God, unless by being renewed in both heart and mind. Hence also we my gather the general doctrine, that nothing in us is sound and perfect, and hence all entire renovation is necessary that we may please God.

The subjoined phrase, why will ye die, O house of Israel? suggests many questions. Here unskillful men think that God speculates on what men will do, and that the salvation or destruction of each depends on themselves, as if God had determined nothing concerning us before the foundation of the world. Hence they set him at naught, since they fancy that he is held in suspense and doubt as to the future end of every one, and that he is not so anxious for our salvation, as to wish all to be saved, but leaves it in the power of every one to perish or to be saved as he pleases. But as I have said, this would reduce God to a specter. But we have no need of a long dispute, because Scripture everywhere declares with sufficient clearness that God has determined what shall happen to us: for he chose his own people before the foundation of the world and passed by others. (Ephesians 1:4.) Nothing is clearer than this doctrine; for if there had been no predestination on God’s part, there had been no deity, since he would be forced into order as if he were one of us: nay, men are to a certain extent provident, whenever God allows some sparks of his image to shine forth in them. If, therefore, the very smallest drop of foresight in men is laid hold of, how great must it be in the fountain itself? Insipid indeed is the comment, to fancy that God remains doubtful and waiting for what will happen to individuals, as if it were in their own power either to attain to salvation or to perish. But the Prophets words are plain, for God testifies with grief that he willeth not the death of a mortal. I answer, that there is no absurdity, as we said before, in God’s undertaking a twofold character, not that he is two-faced himself, as those profane dogs blurt out against us, but because his counsels are incomprehensible by us. This indeed ought to be fixed, that before the foundation of the world we were predestinated either to life or death. Now because we cannot ascend to that height, it is needful for God to conform himself to our ignorance, and to descend in some way to us since we cannot ascend to him. When Scripture so often says that God has heard, and inquires, no one is offended: all pass over those forms of speech securely, and confess them adopted from human language. (Genesis 16:11, and often.) Very often, I say, God transfers to himself the properties of man, and this is admitted universally without either offense or controversy. Although this manner of speaking is rather harsh: God came to see, (Genesis 11:5,) when he announces that he came to inquire about things openly known; it is easily excused, since nothing is less in accordance with his nature: for the solution is at hand, namely, that God speaks metaphorically, and adapts his speech to the convenience of men. Now why will not the same reasoning avail in the present case? for with respect to the law and the whole teaching of the prophets, God announces his wish that all should be saved. And surely we consider the tendency of the heavenly teaching, we shall find that all are promiscuously called to salvation. For the law was a way of life, as Moses testifies, This is the way, walk you in it: again, Whosoever has done those things shall live in them: and, again, This is your life. (Deuteronomy 30:15, 19; Deuteronomy 32:47; Leviticus 18:5; Isaiah 30:21.) Then of his own accord God offers himself as merciful to his ancient people, so that this heavenly teaching ought to be life-giving. But what is the Gospel? It is God’s power unto salvation to every believer, says Paul. (Romans 1:16.) Therefore God delighteth not in the death of him who dieth, if he repent at his teaching. But if we wish to penetrate to his incomprehensible counsel, this will be another objection: Oh! but in this way God is chargeable with duplicity;–but I have denied this, though he takes up a twofold character, because this was necessary for our comprehension. Meanwhile Ezekiel announces this very truly as far as doctrine is concerned, that God wills not the death of him that perishes: for the explanation follows directly afterwards, be you converted and live. Why does not God delight in the death of him who perishes? Because he invites all to repentance and rejects no one. Since this is so, it follows that he is not delighted by the death of him who perishes: hence there is nothing in this passage doubtful or thorny, and we should also hold that we are led aside by speculations too deep for us. For God does not wish us to inquire into his secret. Counsels: His secrets are with himself, says Moses, (Deuteronomy 29:29,) but this book for ourselves and our children. Moses there distinguishes between the hidden counsel of God, (which if we desire to investigate too curiously we shall tread on a profound abyss,)and the teaching delivered to us. Hence let us leave to God his own secrets, and exercise ourselves as far as we can in the law, in which God’s will is made plain to us and to our children. Now let us go on. Calvin Ezekiel 18:32.

5) 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, (Ezekiel 18:32). Calvin, Amos 5:4.


1) In the first place, he that hath made that writing, were it Sebastian Castalio or some such like: to show that God hath created all the world to be saved, he allegeth that he laboreth to draw unto him all that went astray: the which I confess in respect of the doctrine of faith and repentance, the

which he propoundeth to all in general: be it to draw his elect unto him, or to make other inexcusable. God then calleth everyone to repentance and promiseth all those that return unto him, to receive them to mercy. But this meaneth not that he toucheth to the quick by his holy spirit, all those to whom he speaketh: as it is said by Isaiah in the fifty-third chapter, His arm is not revealed to all those that hear. (Isaiah 53:1) To which agreeth the sentence of our Lord Jesus Christ, None can come unto me, except my father draw him. (John 6:44) And the holy scripture showeth throughout, that conversion is a special gift of God. And indeed the place of Ezechiel, (Ezekiel 18:32; Ezekiel 33:11) whereof this troublecoast maketh his buckler, very well confirmeth my saying. For the Prophet having said, that God will not have pleasure in the death of a sinner, addeth, but rather will that he return and live. Whereby he signifieth that God biddeth and exhorteth all which are gone astray to return to the right way. But not that indeed he leadeth them all to himself by the power of his spirit. The which he promiseth not, but to a certain number, which appeareth as well in the thirty-first chapter of Jeremy, (Jeremiah 31) as in the thirty-seventh of Ezechiel and in the eleventh (Ezekiel 11; Ezekiel 37) and throughout the whole scripture. Calvin, “An answer to Certain Slanders,” in Sermons on Election and Reprobation.


1) For, however, you may deny that it was good for men to be created under this law, by which his fall was immediately to corrupt the whole world, yet God declares that this arrangement was pleasing to himself, and therefore most upright. That you may the better understand the meaning of Moses, he is not asserting how just or upright man was; but to quell your barking, he teaches that the constitution established by God in regard to man, could not be surpassed in rectitude. Accordingly, although in speaking of each of God’s works, he declares that God saw what he had made, and they were every one good, he does not affirm any such thing of man in particular; but to the narrative of his creation, he only adds in general, “whatever God made was very good,” under which declaration, it is unquestionable, we must comprehend what Solomon teaches, that the wicked are created for the day of evil. The sum is; though man by nature was good, this rectitude, which was frail and fading, was not inconsistent with the divine predestination, which doomed him to perish for his own sin, who, considering merely the purity of his nature, nay the excellence with which he was adorned, had been created for happiness. And therefore you falsely and foolishly infer that he was created to perish though good; when it is manifest he fell by his own infirmity, and did not perish till he became obnoxious to a just condemnation. That these two things are mutually harmonious, we shall see more clearly by-and-bye. You object that God does not desire the death of the sinner. But mark what follows in the prophet, the invitation of all to repentance. Pardon, therefore, is offered to all who return. Now we must ascertain, whether the conversion which God requires, depends: on every man’s free will, or whether it is the special gift of God. In so far then, as all are invited to repent, the prophet properly denies that the death of the sinner is desired. But the reason why he does not convert all, is hid with himself. Calvin, The Secret Providence of God, 27-28.

2) VIII.2. God’s will that all be saved All this Pighius contradicts, adducing the opinion of Paul (I Tim 2.4): God wills all to be saved. That He does not will the death of a sinner is to be believed on His own oath where He says by the prophet: As I live, I do not will the death of a sinner, but rather that he may be converted and live (Ezek 18.23, 33.1 I). But I contend that, as the prophet is exhorting to penitence, it is no wonder that he pronounces God willing that all be saved. But the mutual relation between threats and promises shows such forms of speech to be conditional. To the Ninevites, as also to the kings of Gerar and Egypt, God declared that He would do what He was not going to do. Since by repentance they averted the punishment promised to them, it is evident that it was not firmly decreed unless they remained obstinate. Yet the denunciation had been positive, as if it were an irrevocable decree. But after terrifying and humbling them with the sense of His wrath, though not to the point of despair, He cheers them with the hope of pardon, that they might feel there was room for remedy. So again with the promises which invite all men to salvation. They do not simply and positively declare what God has decreed in His secret counsel but what He is prepared to do for all who are brought to faith and repentance. But, it is alleged, we thereby ascribe a double will to God, whereas He is not variable and not the least shadow of turning falls upon Him. What is this, says Pighius, but to mock men, if God professes to will what He does not will? But if in fairness the two are read together: I will that the sinner turn and live, the calumny is dissolved I without bother. God demands conversion from us; wherever He finds it, a man is not disappointed of the promised reward of life. Hence God is said to will life, as also repentance. But the latter He wills, because He invites all to it by His word. Now this is not contradictory of His secret counsel, by which He determined to convert none but His elect. He cannot rightly on this account be thought variable, because as lawgiver He illuminates all with the external doctrine of life, in this first sense calling all men to life. But in the other sense, He brings to life whom He will, as Father regenerating by the Spirit only His sons Calvin, The Eternal Predestination of God, 105-106.

3) But that I should not vainly fatigue my readers by repetition, I propose to take up a few matters out of many. I have shown above in what sense God wills not the death of a sinner, when willing that all should be converted and live. For when He exhorts men to repentance and offers pardon to the converted, this is common to all. But He deems His own children worthy of the privilege of having their stony hearts made hearts of flesh. Kor do I concede to the monk that these words are spoken vainly into the air, so long as the Lord leaves the wicked convicted in their sins and inexcusable, but so works in His elect that the hidden doctrine becomes effectual in their hearts by virtue of the Spirit as it sounds in their ears. Nor is there any reason why that common falsehood should distress anyone, which suggests that God mocks at men by exhorting them to walk when their feet are tied. For He does them no injury in demanding nothing but what they owe. Unless of course the bankrupt with nothing with which to pay may boast, in derision of his creditor, that all is discharged. But I will not pursue further a strife which cannot be resolved, except by the conscience of each man. God commands the ears of His people to tremble at the voice of His prophet (Is 6.9). That their hearts may be touched? Rather that they be hardened. That those who hear may repent? Rather that the already lost may perish twice over. Calvin, The Eternal Predestination of God, 153.

4) But what necessity constrains him to make the dispensation of grace equal [for all]? It is on the pretext that God declares that he does not will the death of one who dies, but that he should return and live. But if we interpret this according to [Pighius’s] views why then does he die whom God wills not to die? For it is written: But God is in heaven; he has done whatever he willed. Here certainly is the Gordian knot,'” if you take that saying of Ezekiel, that God does not will the death of him who dies, to refer to his secret plan. For that reason it must be understood in the way that Augustine also explained it in many places: God leaves nothing undone which would lead to people being led back into the way of salvation if only they were in a healthy condition. As for the fact that they do not return when they are called, it is only the disease of their own wickedness which stands in their way? So God wills that the dying should live (so far as it is right for us to judge his will) in that he helps man by all [kinds of] support, lest he should be able to complain that anything other than his own guilt stood in his way. But meanwhile God’s secret plan, by which he passes over one and chooses another, remains his own, and one should not inquire too curiously into it if one does not want to be overwhelmed by [God’s] glory. If Pighius grasped this, he would not hold so tenaciously to that false axiom about the equal distribution of grace. For after he has finished his speech, he finally descends to this conclusion, namely to assert with the Pelagians that “God’s grace is given to us according to our merit, so that he may be with us; indeed our merit lies in this: that we are with God” (Augustine Grace and Free Choice 5). Our whole position, on the other hand, comes back to this statement of Augustine: “Those to whom it is not given either do not will, or they do not fulfil what they will; but those to whom it is given will in such a way that they do fulfil it” (ibid., ch. 4). Calvin, The Bondage and Liberation of the Will, 198-199.


1) Scriptural passages that seem to prove the opposite of the stated doctrine Ezekiel 33:11

But our opponents are in the habit of quoting in opposition a few Scripture passages in which God seems to deny that the wicked perish by his ordination, except in so far as by their clamorous protests they of their own accord bring death upon themselves. Let us therefore briefly explain these passages and prove that they do not conflict with the foregoing opinion. A passage of Ezekiel’s is brought forward, that “God does not will the death of the wicked but wills that the wicked turn back and live” [Ezekiel 33:11 p.]. If it pleases God to extend this to the whole human race, why does he not encourage to repentance the very many whose minds are more amenable to obedience than the minds of those who grow harder and harder at his daily invitations? Among the people of Nineveh [cf. Matthew 12:41] and of Sodom, as Christ testifies, the preaching of the gospel and miracles would have accomplished more than in Judea [Matthew 11:23]. If God wills that all be saved, how does it come to pass that he does not open the door of repentance to the miserable men who would be better prepared to receive grace? Hence we may see that this passage is violently twisted if the will of God, mentioned by the prophet, is opposed to His eternal plan, by which He has distinguished the elect from the reprobate. Now if we are seeking the prophet’s true meaning, it is that he would bring the hope of pardon to the penitent only. The gist of it is that God is without doubt ready to forgive, as soon as the sinner is converted. Therefore, in so far as God wills the sinner’s repentance, he does not will his death. But experience teaches that God wills the repentance of those whom he invites to himself, in such a way that he does not touch the hearts of all. Yet it is not on that account to be said that he acts deceitfully, for even though only his outward call renders inexcusable those who hear it and do not obey, still it is truly considered evidence of God’s grace, by which he reconciles men to himself. Let us therefore regard the prophet’s instruction that the death of the sinner is not pleasing to God as designed to assure believers that God is ready to pardon them as soon as they are touched by repentance but to make the wicked feel that their transgression is doubled because they do not respond to God’s great kindness and goodness. God’s mercy will always, accordingly, go to meet repentance, but all the prophets and all the apostles, as well as Ezekiel himself, clearly teach to whom repentance is given. Calvin, Institutes, 3.24.15.

2) But I do not want to begin a never-ending enumeration. For the prophets are full of promises of this kind, which offer mercy to a people though they be covered with infinite crimes. What graver iniquity is there than rebellion? For it is called divorce between God and the church; yet it is outstripped by God’s goodness? “What man is there” (he says through Jeremiah) “who, if his wife prostitute her body to adulterers, can bear to return to her embrace? By your fornications all your ways are polluted, O Judah; the earth has been filled with your filthy loves. Return yet to me and I will receive you” [Jeremiah 3:1 p., cf. Vg.]. “Return, you who turn away, I shall not avert my face from you, for I am holy, and I will not be angry forever” [Jeremiah 3:12, Vg.]. Surely, there can be no other feeling in him who affirms that he does not desire the death of the sinner, but rather that he be converted and live [Ezekiel 18:23, 32; 33:11]. Calvin, Institutes, 4.1.25.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: