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5 In the Words of John Calvin

Given that John Calvin’s theology is based on a combination of Scripture, the experience of his heart, and the writings of Augustine, we can begin to understand why his writings are so full of contradictions. Before proceeding further, let us consider John Calvin’s argument of second causes in his own words. It is clear that John Calvin is himself confused regarding this issue. His writings are filled with contradictions that are never fully explained. Nevertheless, today’s Calvinists expect the reader to simply accept his writings as true regardless of whether his statements are Biblical, sensible, or logical.

 

God has Predetermined Everything:

“We also note that we should consider the creation of the world so that we may realize that everything is subject to God and ruled by his will and that when the world has done what it may, nothing happens other than what God decrees.”[1] (emphasis added)

 

“First, the eternal predestination of God, by which before the fall of Adam He decreed what should take place concerning the whole human race and every individual, was fixed and determined.”[2] (emphasis added)

 

“God had no doubt decreed before the foundation of the world what He would do with every one of us and had assigned to everyone by His secret counsel his part in life.”[3] (emphasis added)

 

“[I]nasmuch as God elects some and passes by others, the cause is not to be found in anything else but in his own purpose … before men are born their lot is assigned to each of them by the secret will of God … the salvation or the perdition of men depends on His free election.”[4] (emphasis added)

 

 

God’s Predestination Is According to His Secret Will:

“Let him, therefore, who would beware of such unbelief, always bear in mind, that there is no random power, or agency, or motion in the creatures, who are so governed by the secret counsel of God, that nothing happens but what he has knowingly and willingly decreed.”[5] (emphasis added)

 

“When [Augustine] uses the term permission, the meaning which he attaches to it will best appear from a single passage (De Trinity. lib. 3 cap. 4), where he proves that the will of God is the supreme and primary cause of all things, because nothing happens without his order or permission.”[6] (emphasis added)

 

“But when they call to mind that the devil, and the whole train of the ungodly, are, in all directions, held in by the hand of God as with a bridle, so that they can neither conceive any mischief, nor plan what they have conceived, nor how much soever they may have planned, move a single finger to perpetrate, unless in so far as [God] permits, nay, unless in so far as he commands; that they are not only bound by his fetters, but are even forced to do him service,—when the godly think of all these things they have ample sources of consolation.”[7] (emphasis added)

 

 

Denies that God is the Author of Evil: 

“First, it must be observed that the will of God is the cause of all things that happen in the world; and yet God is not the author of evil.”[8] (emphasis added)

 

 

Affirms that God is the Author of Evil:

“It is easy to conclude how foolish and frail is the support of divine justice by the suggestion that evils come to be not by His will, but merely by His permission. Of course, so far as they are evils … I admit they are not pleasing to God. But it is quite frivolous refuge to say that God otiosely [idly] permits them, when Scripture shows Him not only willing but the author of them.”[9] (emphasis added)

 

 

Recognizes the Apparent Paradox:

“For myself, I take another principle: Whatever things are done wrongly and unjustly by man, these very things are the right and just works of God. This may seem paradoxical at first sight to some …”[10] (emphasis added)

 

 

Establishes Secondary Causes with Man:

“Further what I said before is to be remembered, that since God manifests His power through means and inferior causes, it is not to be separated from them.”[11] (emphasis added)

 

 

Establishes Primary Causes with God:

“But where it is a matter of men’s counsels, wills, endeavours, and exertions, there is greater difficulty in seeing how the providence of God rules here too, so that nothing happens but by His assent and that men can deliberately do nothing unless He inspire it.”[12] (emphasis added)

 

“Indeed, the ungodly pride themselves on being competent to effect their wishes. But the facts show in the end that by them, unconsciously and unwillingly, what was divinely ordained is implemented.”[13] (emphasis added)

 

“For the man who honestly and soberly reflects on these things, there can be no doubt that the will of God is the chief and principal cause of all things.”[14] (emphasis added)

 

“But of all the things which happen, the first cause is to be understood to be His will, because He so governs the natures created by Him, as to determine all the counsels and the actions of men to the end decreed by Him.”[15] (emphasis added)

 

 

Concedes that which God Permits, He Authors:

“But it is quite frivolous refuge to say that God otiosely permits them, when Scripture shows Him not only willing but the author of them.”[16] (emphasis added)

 

 

Faces the Dilemma:

“But the objection is not yet resolved, that if all things are done by the will of God, and men contrive nothing except by His will and ordination, then God is the author of all evils.”[17] (emphasis added)

 

“They again object, Were not men predestinated by the ordination of God to that corruption which is now held forth as the cause of condemnation? If so, when they perish in their corruptions they do nothing else than suffer punishment for that calamity, into which, by the predestination of God, Adam fell, and dragged all his posterity headlong with him. Is not he, therefore, unjust in thus cruelly mocking his creatures? I admit that by the will of God all the sons of Adam fell into that state of wretchedness in which they are now involved; and this is just what I said at the first, that we must always return to the mere pleasure of the divine will, the cause of which is hidden in himself. But it does not forthwith follow that God lies open to this charge.”[18] (emphasis added)

 

“Thinking that the difficulty here may be resolved by a single word, some are foolish enough serenely to overlook what occasions the greatest ambiguity; namely, how God may be free of guilt in doing the very thing that He condemns in Satan and the reprobate and which is to be condemned by men.”[19] (emphasis added)

 

“We learn that nothing happens but what seems good to God. How then is God to be exempted from the blame to which Satan with his instruments is liable?”[20] (emphasis added)

 

 

Calvin’s Answer to the Dilemma:

“What I have maintained about the diversity of causes must not be forgotten: the proximate cause is one thing, the remote cause another.”[21] (emphasis added)

 

“Certain shameless and illiberal people charge us with calumny by maintaining that God is made the author of sin, if His will is made first cause of all that happens. For what man wickedly perpetrates, incited by ambition or avarice or lust or some other depraved motive, since God does it by his hand with a righteous though perhaps hidden purpose—this cannot be equated with the term sin.”[22] (emphasis added)

 

Must we then impute the guilt of sin to God, or invent a double will for Him so that He falls out with Himself? I have shown that He wills the same as the criminal and the wicked, but in a different way. So now it is to be maintained that there is diversity of kinds while He wills in the same way, so that out of the variety which perplexes us a harmony may be beautifully contrived.”[23] (emphasis added)

 

 

Calvin’s Admission:

“But how it was ordained by the foreknowledge and decree of God what man’s future was without God being implicated as associate in the fault as the author and approver of transgression, is clearly a secret so much excelling the insight of the human mind, that I am not ashamed to confess ignorance.”[24] (emphasis added)

 

John Calvin struggled to defend his argument because it is inherently contradictory. Did you notice that he flatly denied the charge that God is the author of sin only to later affirm it? Even on a philosophical basis, Calvin was unable to truly support his own argument. The argument of second causes simply fails both philosophically and Scripturally.


  1. Calvin, Acts, 66.
  2. Calvin, Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, 121.
  3. Calvin, Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries, 20.
  4. Calvin, Calvin’s Bible Commentaries, 262–263.
  5. Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book I, Ch. 16, Sect. 3.
  6. Ibid, Book I, Ch. 16, Sect. 8.
  7. Ibid, Book I, Ch. 17, Sect. 11.
  8. Calvin, Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, 169.
  9. Ibid, 176.
  10. Ibid, 169.
  11. Ibid, 170.
  12. Ibid, 171–172.
  13. Ibid, 173.
  14. Ibid, 177.
  15. Ibid, 178.
  16. Ibid, 176.
  17. Ibid, 179.
  18. Calvin, The Institutes of Christian Religion, Book III, Ch. 23, Sect. 4.
  19. Calvin, Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, 179.
  20. Ibid, 180.
  21. Ibid, 181.
  22. Ibid.
  23. Ibid, 184.
  24. Ibid, 124.

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In the Words of John Calvin Copyright © 2011 by Timothy Zebell. All Rights Reserved.

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