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Calvin and the Election of the Jews

February 21, 2008

I am now reading through Calvin’s Sermons on Acts. Here is an interesting snippet:

Because many people have no regard for God and are in this world like wild animals, without hope of salvation and without godliness, Peter in particular, wishing to bring the Jews to our Lord Jesus Christ, capitalizes on the fact that they belong to a house God chose and elected from among all others because they were descended from the lineage of Jacob. And since our Lord called himself the God of Abraham, of Isaac and Jacob, he also called the Jews into his fellowship and tried to establish them among the number of his children and heirs. That is why Peter reminded them of their lineage, so they might know that the Messiah’s salvation, promised in the law, was for them. Yet he tells them that in vain do they boast of belonging to that lineage if they do not receive the benefit offered to them. John Calvin, Sermons on Acts of the Apostles, (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2008), 13.

As I find more from this work, I will post them here.

I thought I had blogged these other quotations. It looks like, though, that I have not. Here are some other interesting comments from Calvin:

Sermons:

1) See here, I pray you, the election of God, whereby he putteth such difference between the lineage of Abraham and all the rest of the world, that he made the same lineage his church of purpose, that the signs of his favor and of his covenant should remain there, and that his name should be called upon there, so as he offered the promises of salvation to them that descended of the same race and lineage… Lo, here, I say, a general election that belonged to all the children of Abraham, and yet was that grace to be confirmed by faith but in a part of them. …Now then, God’s general election which extended to the whole people was not sufficient, but it behooved every man to be partaker of it in his own peculiar behalf. And how was that to be done? By faith. …Lo, here, the double election of God. The one extendeth to the whole people, because circumcision was given indifferently to all, both small and great, and the promises likewise were common. But yet for all that, God was fain to add a second grace, by touching the hearts of his chosen, namely of such as he listed to reserve to himself, and those came unto him, and he made them to receive the benefit that was offered them. Calvin, Sermons on Deuteronomy, Sermon 72, Deuteronomy. 10:15-17, p., 439.

commentaries:

1) They allege that the dignity of Esau is transferred to his younger brother, lest he should glory in the flesh; inasmuch as a new promise is here given to the latter. I confess there is some force in what they say; but I contend that they omit the principal point in the case, by explaining the difference here stated, of the external vocation. But unless they intend to make the covenant of God of none effect, they must concede that Esau and Jacob were alike partakers of the external calling; whence it appears, that they to whom a common vocation had been granted, were separated by the secret counsel of God. The nature and object of Paul’s argument is well known. For when the Jews, inflated with the title of the Church, rejected the Gospel, the faith of the simple was shaken, by the consideration that it was improbable that Christ, and the salvation promised through him, could possibly be rejected by an elect people, a holy nation, and the genuine sons of God. Here, therefore, Paul contends that not all who descend from Jacob, according to the flesh, are true Israelites, because God, of his own good pleasure, may choose whom he will, as heirs of eternal salvation. Who does not see that Paul descends from a general to a particular adoption, in order to teach us, that not all who occupy a place in the Church are to be accounted as true members of the Church? It is certain that he openly excludes from the rank of children those to whom (he elsewhere says) pertaineth the adoption; whence it is assuredly gathered, that in proof of this position, he adduces the testimony of Moses, who declares that God chose certain from among the sons of Abraham to himself, in whom he might render the grace of adoption firm and efficacious. How, therefore, shall we reconcile Paul with Moses? I answer, although the Lord separates the whole seed of Jacob from the race of Esau, it was done with a view to the Church, which was included in the posterity of Jacob. And, doubtless, the general election of the people had reference to this end, that God might have a Church separated from the rest of the world. What absurdity, then, is there in supposing that Paul applies to special election the words of Moses, by which it is predicted that the Church shall spring from the seed of Jacob? And an instance in point was exhibited in the condition of the heads themselves of these two nations. For Jacob was not only called by the external voice of the Lord, but, while his brother was passed by, he was chosen an heir of life. That good pleasure of God, which Moses commends in the person of Jacob alone, Paul properly extends further: and lest any one should suppose, that after the two nations had been rendered distinct by this oracle, the election should pertain indiscriminately to all the sons of Jacob, Paul brings, on the opposite side, another oracle, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy; where we see a certain number severed from the promiscuous race of Jacob’s sons, in the salvation of whom the special election of God might triumph. Calvin, Genesis 25:23.

2) We have already mentioned the sense in which God claims a right in the sons of his people, not as members of the Church properly speaking, but as adopted by God. And here again we must hold what Paul says, that all the progeny of Abraham were not lawful sons, since a difference must be made between sons of the flesh and sons of promise. (Romans 9:7, 8.) This is as yet partially obscure, but it may be shortly explained. We may remark that there was a twofold election of God: since speaking generally, he chose the whole family of Abraham. For circumcision was common to all, being the symbol and seal of adoption: since when God wished all the sons of Abraham to be circumcised from the least to the greatest, he at the same time chose them as his sons: this was one kind of adoption or election. But the other was secret, because God took to himself out of that multitude those whom he wished: and these are sons of promise, these are remnants of gratuitous favor, as Paul says. (Romans 11:8.) This distinction, therefore, now takes away all doubt, since the Prophet speaks of the unbelievers and the profane who had departed from the worship of God. For this their unbelief was a complete abdication. It is true, then, that as far as themselves were concerned, they were strangers, and so God’s secret election did not flourish in them, but yet they were God’s people, as far as relates to external profession. If any one objects that this circumcision was useless, and hence their election without the slightest effect, the answer is at hand: God by his singular kindness honored those miserable ones by opening a way of approach for them to the hope of life and salvation by the outward testimonies of adoption. Then as to their being at the same time strangers, that happened through their own fault. Hence we may shortly hold, that the Jews were naturally accursed through being Adam’s seed: but by supernatural and singular privilege, they were exempt and free from the curse: since circumcision was a testimony of the adoption by which God had consecrated them to himself: hence they were holy; and as to their being impure, it could not, as we have said, abolish God’s covenant.  Calvin, Ezekiel 16:21.

3) As for instance, whenever we read that God had repudiated his own people, it is certain, as Paul says, that the calling of God is without repentance, (Romans 11:29:) nor does he declare this only of the secret election of each, but also of that general election, by which God had set apart the race of Abraham from the rest of the nations. At the same time many of Abraham’s children were reprobates, as he instances in the case of Esau and of others: yet the election of God was unchangeable; and hence it was that there remained still some hope as to that people, that God would at length gather to himself a Church from the Jews as well as from the Gentiles, so that those who were then separated might be hereafter united together. Calvin,  Zechariah 1:17.

4) There was another, a general election; for he received his whole seed into his faith, and offered to all his covenant. At the same time, they were not all regenerated, they were not all gifted with the Spirit of adoption. This general election was not then efficacious in all. Solved now is the matter in debate, that no one of the elect shall perish; for the whole people were not elected in a special manner; but God knew whom he had chosen out of that people; and them he endued, as we have said, with the Spirit of adoption, and supplied with his own grace, that they might never fall away. Others were indeed chosen in a certain way, that is, God offered to them the covenant of salvation; but yet through their ingratitude they caused God to reject them, and to disown them as children.  Calvin,  Hosea 12:3-5, Introductory Comments.

5) And yet it followeth not thereupon (which these knaves do odiously object) that the grace of God is tied to the carnal seed; because, though the promise of life came by inheritance to the posterity of Abraham, yet many were deprived by their unbelief. Therefore faith is the cause, that of a great multitude only a few are counted children. And that is the double election whereof I spake before. The one common to the whole nation alike; because the first adoption of God containeth the whole family of Abraham. The other, which is restrained unto the secret counsel of God, and is at length  established by faith, that it may be confirmed to men. Calvin,  Acts 13:32.

6) 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.

Institutes:

1) It is easy to explain why the general election of a people is not always firm and effectual: to those with whom God makes a covenant, he does not at once give the spirit of regeneration that would enable them to persevere in the covenant to the very end. Rather, the outward change, without the working of inner grace, which might have availed to keep them, is intermediate between the rejection of mankind and the election of a meager number of the godly. Calvin, Institutes, 3.21.7.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. December 24, 2009 3:24 am

    This was very interesting. Can you tell me if Calvin in the last paragraph believes this to be true of all who are God’s elect? Does he comment on 2 Thessalonians 2:13 (New International Version)
    But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you[a] to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. I have been wondering if our calling and election is sure only after we are saved? Thank you, Doylene

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