Calvin on Election

By | June 12, 2012

John Calvin, “A Treatise of the Eternal Predestination of God” pages 7-10

I would, in the first place, entreat my readers carefully to bear in memory the admonition which I there offer (Calvin is referring to his “Institutes”): that this great subject(election) is not, as many imagine, a mere thorny and noisy disputation, nor a speculation which wearies the minds of men without any profit; but a solid discussion eminently adapted to the service of the godly, because it builds us up soundly in the faith, trains us to humility, and lifts us up into an admiration of the unbounded goodness of God towards us, while it elevates us to praise this goodness in our highest strains. For there is not a more effectual means of building up faith than the giving our open ears to the election of God which the Holy Spirit seals upon our heart while we hear, shewing us that it stands in the eternal and immutable goodwill of God towards us; and that, therefore, it cannot be moved or altered by any storms of the world, by any assaults of Satan, by any changes, or by any fluctuations or weaknesses of the flesh. For our salvation is then sure to us, when we find the cause of it in the breast of God. Thus, when we lay hold of life in Christ, made manifest to our faith, the same faith being still our leader and guide, our sight is permitted to penetrate much farther, and to see from what source that life proceeded. Our confidence of salvation is rooted in Christ, and rests on the promises of the Gospel. But it is no weak prop to our confidence, when we are brought to believe in Christ, to hear that all was originally given to us of God, and that we were as much ordained to faith in Christ before the foundation of the world, as we were chosen to the inheritance of eternal life in Christ.

Hence, therefore, arises the impregnable and insubvertible security of the saints. The Father, who gave us to the Son as His peculiar treasure, is stronger than all who oppose us; and He will not suffer us to be plucked out of His hand. What a cause for humility then in the saints of God when they see such a difference of condition made in those who are, by nature, all alike! Wherever the sons of God turn their eyes, they behold such wonderful instances of blindness, ignorance and insensibility, as fill them with horror; while they, in the midst of such darkness, have received Divine illumination, and know it, and feel it, to be so. How (say they) is it that some, under the clear light, continue in darkness and blindness? Who makes this difference? One thing they know by their own experience, that whereas their eyes were also once closed, they are now opened. Another thing is also certain, that those who willingly remain ignorant of any difference between them and others, have never yet learned to render unto God the glory due to Him for making that difference.

Now no one doubts that humility lies at the bottom of all true religion, and is the mother of all virtues. But how shall he be humble who will not hear of the original sin and misery from which he has been delivered? And who, by extending the saving mercy of God to all, without difference, lessens, as much as in him lies, the glory of that mercy? Those most certainly are the farthest from glorifying the grace of God, according to its greatness, who declare that it is indeed common to all men; but that it rests effectually in him, because they have embraced it by faith. The cause of faith itself, however, they would keep buried all the time out of sight, which is this: that the children of God who are chosen to be sons are afterwards blessed with the spirit of adoption. Now, what kind of gratitude is that in me if, being endowed with so pre-eminent a benefit, I consider myself no greater a debtor than he who hath not received one hundredth part of it? Wherefore, if, to praise the goodness of God worthily, it is necessary to bear in mind how much we are indebted to Him, those are malignant towards Him and rob Him of His glory who reject and will not endure the doctrine of eternal election, which being buried out of sight, one half of the grace of God must of necessity vanish with it.

Let those roar at us who will. We will ever brighten forth, with all our power of language, the doctrine which we hold concerning the free election of God, seeing that it is only by it that the faithful can understand how great that goodness of God is which effectually called them to salvation. I merely give the great doctrine of election a slight touch here, lest anyone, by avoiding a subject so necessary for him to know, should afterwards feel what loss his neglect has caused him.

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