Tag Archives: Election

Week 33 of 50 in the Institutes: The Right and Wrong Way of Seeking Assurance

In 3.24.4 Calvin describes the great peril a soul hazards when seeking assurance “outside the way” (McNeill-Battles rendering), or “out of the proper way” (Beveridge) by seeking to inquire into the secret things of God:

Among the temptations with which Satan assaults believers, none is greater or more perilous, than when disquieting them with doubts as to their election, he at the same time stimulates them with a depraved desire of inquiring after it out of the proper way.  By inquiring out of the proper way, I mean when puny man endeavors to penetrate to the hidden recesses of the divine wisdom, and goes back even to the remotest eternity, in order that he may understand what final determination God has made with regard to him. In this way he plunges headlong into an immense abyss, involves himself in numberless inextricable snares, and buries himself in the thickest darkness. For it is right that the stupidity of the human mind should be punished with fearful destruction, whenever it attempts to rise in its own strength to the height of divine wisdom. And this temptation is the more fatal, that it is the temptation to which of all others almost all of us are most prone. For there is scarcely a mind in which the thought does not sometimes rise, Whence your salvation but from the election of God? But what proof have you of your election? When once this thought has taken possession of any individual, it keeps him perpetually miserable, subjects him to dire torment, or throws him into a state of complete stupor. I cannot wish a stronger proof of the depraved ideas, which men of this description form of predestination, than experience itself furnishes, since the mind cannot be infected by a more pestilential error than that which disturbs the conscience, and deprives it of peace and tranquillity in regard to God. Therefore, as we dread shipwreck, we must avoid this rock, which is fatal to every one who strikes upon it.

Instead of seeking to pry into the secret things of God, Calvin counsels his readers to seek assurance in Christ alone by resting on the promises found in Him (3.24.5), that is, the revealed things:

For though a belief of our election animates us to involve God, yet when we frame our prayers, it were preposterous to obtrude it upon God, or to stipulate in this way, “O Lord, if I am elected, hear me.” He would have us to rest satisfied with his promises, and not to inquire elsewhere whether or not he is disposed to hear us. We shall thus be disentangled from many snares, if we know how to make a right use of what is rightly written; but let us not inconsiderately wrest it to purposes different from that to which it ought to be confined.

By a right use and reliance upon the promises of God to receive all who come to him for mercy, the believer may safely navigate the perilous waters of predestination and find comfort and consolation therein, knowing that salvation is of the Lord:

And though the discussion of predestination is regarded as a perilous sea, yet in sailing over it the navigation is calm and safe, nay pleasant, provided we do not voluntarily court danger. For as a fatal abyss engulfs those who, to be assured of their election, pry into the eternal counsel of God without the word, yet those who investigate it rightly, and in the order in which it is exhibited in the word, reap from it rich fruits of consolation.The_calm_after_the_storm_-_Port_Lincoln_-_South_Australia_(Explored)

Links to Reformation 21 blogs through the Institutes:

Aug. 17: 3:24.1 – 3.24.5

Aug. 18: 3.24.6 – 3.24.11

Aug. 19: 3.24.12 – 3.24.17

Aug. 20: 3.25.1 – 3.25.3

Aug. 21: 3.25.4 – 3.25.6

Leave a comment

Filed under Calvin's Institutes

Week 32 of 50 in the Institutes: Objections Against Election In Calvin’s Day and Ours

In 3.23 of the Institutes, Calvin responds to five objections to the doctrine of election which were common in his day, but by no means unique to it.  Just this morning, for instance, someone asked me about the doctrine of double-predestination, or reprobation, passing along some objections he had received from an acquaintance who dismissed the doctrine out of hand.

Calvin himself took a lot of flak in his day for his teaching on predestination, in no small measure due to misperceptions about his views.  Jerome Bolsec (d. 1584) contended that Calvin’s doctrine made God the blame for sin’s entrance in the world.  Bolsec’s zeal in opposing Calvin and other ministers on the subject wound up getting him banned from Geneva by the city council.  When Jean Trolliet later picked up where Bolsec left off, the city council read the Institutes for itself and concluded that Calvin’s views were fully biblical (try to imagine a government body doing that today!).  [Source: Herman J. Selderhuis, John Calvin: A Pilgrim’s Life (Downer’s Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2009), 192]

So before rejecting Calvin’s views on predestination, the prudent course is to give him a full hearing, because he was a careful student of Scripture.

Right off the bat even before responding to the usual objections, Calvin addressed the repugnancy, common in his day and ours, of the whole concept of reprobation, or double predestination.  Calvin had the insight to recognize that the bone of contention was not really with reprobation itself, but rather with the doctrine of election and a misguided attempt to rescue God from a charge of inequity.  But as Calvin noted, for there can be no election without reprobation (3.23.1):

Many professing a desire to defend the Deity from an invidious charge admit the doctrine of election, but deny that any one is reprobated. This they do ignorantly and childishly since there could be no election without its opposite reprobation. God is said to set apart those whom he adopts for salvation. It were most absurd to say, that he admits others fortuitously, or that they by their industry acquire what election alone confers on a few. Those, therefore, whom God passes by he reprobates, and that for no other cause but because he is pleased to exclude them from the inheritance which he predestines to his children. Nor is it possible to tolerate the petulance of men, in refusing to be restrained by the word of God, in regard to his incomprehensible counsel, which even angels adore.

Calvin went on to say, in light of Romans 9:22-23, that: it by no means follows, that he transfers the preparation for destruction to any other cause than the secret counsel of God.” 

And now we consider the objections to the doctrine of election, common then and now (a Reader’s Digest summary version):

Objection #1: The doctrine of election makes God a tyrant.
Answer: The Lord’s will is the cause of all things, God is just toward the reprobate, and God’s hidden decrees are not to be searched out, but marveled at in obedience.

Objection #2: The doctrine of election takes guilt and responsibility away from man.
Answer: The reprobate want an excuse for sinning, and seek to find such an excuse in the secret counsel of God, but their sin springs from their own nature, and they are hence accountable and guilty before God.

Objection #3: The doctrine of election leads to the view that God shows partiality.
Answer: The fact that God chooses one and rejects another arises not from regard for the man (i.e., his riches, power, pedigree, etc.) but solely from His own mercy.

Objection #4: The doctrine of election destroys all zeal for an upright life.
Answer: The goal of election is holiness, and so it ought to arouse and goad a person to set his mind on holiness rather than use it for an excuse for doing evil, or nothing at all.

Objection #5: The doctrine of election makes all admonitions meaningless.
Answer: Scripture teaches both man’s responsibility and God’s sovereignty, and rightly preaching the gospel must include both.

The more things change, the more they stay the same, eh?

Links to Reformation 21 blogs through the Institutes:

Aug. 10: 3:22.4 – 3.22.7

Aug. 11: 3.22.8 – 3.22.11

Aug. 12: 3.23.1 – 3.23.5

Aug. 13: 3.23.6 – 3.23.10

Aug. 14: 3.23.11 – 3.23.14
(Skipped – no blog entry)

Leave a comment

Filed under Calvin's Institutes

Week 31 of 50 in the Institutes: Ministers Wiser Than God?

In blog 116 on the Reformation 21 Blogging Through the Institutes (sections 3.7.8 – 3.8.3), Sinclair Ferguson noted (week 24 of our trek):

“The Institutes almost demand multiple readings. Not only because the work is so rich in doctrinal perspective, but also because it is, in fact, full of striking ‘one-liners.’”

This week is no exception.  When dealing with the alleged peril in teaching the doctrine of predestination, Calvin observed (3.21.4):

Those, however, who are so cautious and timid, that they would bury all mention of predestination in order that it may not trouble weak minds, with what color, pray, will they cloak their arrogance, when they indirectly charge God with a want of due consideration, in not having foreseen a danger for which they imagine that they prudently provide? Whoever, therefore, throws obloquy on the doctrine of predestination, openly brings a charge against God, as having inconsiderately allowed something to escape from him which is injurious to the Church.

Apparently Calvin encountered ministers in his day who were also wiser than God, in that they considered it best not to teach predestination and election lest such doctrines confuse people.  In so doing, they are wiser than God, because He forgot to omit them from Scripture!  Sadly, many today do indeed skip over these doctrines, as you may know from personal experience as well.

After I had graduated from seminary, my wife and I were visiting our old home church one Sunday morning.  The senior pastor had been preaching through the book of Romans.  It so happened that the Sunday we visited he had finished preaching through Romans 8.  We were expecting to hear a sermon from Romans 9, but to our surprise, the minister announced that he would be skipping Romans 9 entirely and proceeded to preach from Romans 10!  So much for preaching the full counsel of God!

A Reformed Baptist minister I know once related something that happened in Sunday school at a church plant early in his ministry.  A family visiting that day attended Sunday school, and the teacher was reading through Romans 9 in a modern translation.  Since it didn’t have all of the thee’s and thou’s of the KJV, the father of this visiting family was hearing and actually following (apparently for the first time ever) Paul’s line of argument, which begs the question about fairness in regard to election.  When the teacher came to Romans 9:19 (“You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’” ESV), the father of this visiting family stood up and exclaimed: “You’re blaspheming the Scriptures!”  The Sunday school teacher calmly replied, “I’m just reading the Scriptures!”  But it was too late.  They had already yanked their kids out of class and were making a beeline for the front door.

And here is a great one-liner (in bold) as to how to tread with true wisdom here:

Only I wish it to be received as a general rule, that the secret things of God are not to be scrutinized, and that those which he has revealed are not to be overlooked, lest we may, on the one hand, be chargeable with curiosity, and, on the other, with ingratitude. For it has been shrewdly observed by Augustine, that we can safely follow Scripture, which walks softly, as with a mother’s step, in accommodation to our weakness.

Links to Reformation 21 blogs through the Institutes:

Aug. 3: 3.20.43– 3.20.44

Aug. 4: 3.20.45 – 3.20.47

Aug. 5: 3.20.48 – 3.21.1

Aug. 6: 3.21.2 – 3.21.5

Aug. 7: 3.21.6 – 3.22.3

Leave a comment

Filed under Calvin's Institutes