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VII Election and Predestination



Malachi — introduction.

Next comes the book of Malachi. Many imagine him to have been an angel, for we know that an angel is called mala’k in Hebrew. But it is easy to see what an absurdity that idea is. At that time, God did not send angels to announce his oracles, but used the regular ministry of men. And since the i, yod, is added at the end of the name, as is usual in proper names, we may conclude that Malachi was the man’s name. But I readily admit that there may have been a reason for the name which today escapes us. I am more ready to agree with others who say that he was Ezra and that Malachi is a second name given him because God had called him for a splendid and magnificent work.

But whatever the fact may be, he was certainly one of the prophets and we can assume with reason that he was the last. In the end of the book he urges the people to stand fast in the pure teaching of the law; and this he does because thereafter God was not to continue sending a succession of prophets as he had done before. . . . Now I come to his words:

The burden of the word of the Lord to Israel by the hand of Malachi. Mal. 1:1.

Those who explain massa’ as simply another word for prophecy are mistaken, as I have said elsewhere. Not every prophecy is called a burden. Further, whenever the word is used, some impending judgment of God follows, and it is clear enough from Jeremiah (23:36) that the word was generally detested. Godless people, when they wanted to insult the prophets, used to say as a common proverb, “This is a burden,” 289implying that you could expect nothing from prophets but threats and terrors; that it was better to shut one’s ears and to avoid all prophecies as omens of evil. Malachi’s teaching is properly called a burden, because, as I have said and explained more fully elsewhere, it was necessary to summon the people to God’s judgment court, on account of the infamy which was once again rampant and had to be stopped. Therefore he says that God’s judgment is upon them. . . .

Hand, as we have seen, means service. It means that this teaching is from God, with Malachi as the intermediary. The prophet is bringing nothing of his own; he is faithfully reporting as God, the author [of the prophecy], has commanded him.

I loved you, saith the Lord. And you said, How didst thou love us? Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? saith the Lord. And I loved Jacob, and Esau I held in hatred. . . . A son honoreth his father, and a servant his master. And if I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? saith the Lord of hosts. Mal. 1:2–6. (Calvin’s wording).

I am compelled to read all these verses together because otherwise the meaning of the passage would not be clear. God is here remonstrating with a perverse and ungrateful people who doubly deny him his right since they neither love him nor fear him. He rightly claims the name and position of both Father and Lord. When the Jews show him no reverence, he reproaches them for denying him a father’s right; and when there is no fear of him, he accuses them again because they do not recognize him as Lord, although they cannot elude his authority. But before he comes to the accusation, he shows that he is both Lord and Father. And above all he shows that he is a father, in that he has loved them freely. . . .

God could have appealed to the Jews on other grounds. Even if he did not love them, they were bound to him by his sovereignty. However, here God is not speaking of his universal love toward the whole human race. He is reproaching the Jews because, having been freely adopted by him as a holy and special people, they had forgotten his honor and despised him and had paid no heed to his teaching. When, therefore, God says that he loved the Jews, we can see that in this way he wants to convict them of ingratitude because they have spurned the singular favor by which he had honored them alone, rather than to convince them of his universal Kingdom to which all men are subject.


God could have said to them: “I created you and I am your father who feeds you. The sun shines daily upon you and the earth bears its fruits. In fact I hold you bound to me by the innumerable benefits I confer upon you by my kindness.” God could have dealt with them in that way; but as I have already pointed out, he preferred to bring before them the free adoption of Abraham’s seed. The disloyalty of the Jews was all the more intolerable because they were rejecting an incomparable favor. For God had raised them above all nations not because of any merit or worth of their own, but because he was pleased to do so.

The prophet begins by saying that God loved the Jews in order to make them realize that their scorn for God’s teaching was the worst possible response to his love. This is the first point.

Next, it is obvious that he is indirectly reproaching their ingratitude when he makes them say, How didst thou love us? With this God implies, “If you should say, or rather, should ask, In what way have I loved you? my answer is, Truly in that I set aside Esau and chose your father Jacob, although they were brothers. . . .” We see, as I mentioned above, that the prophet reminds the Jews of the free covenant to leave them no excuse for their wickedness in repaying God so badly for his special grace toward them.

He does not accuse them because they were created like the rest of mankind, or because God has given them the light of his sun, and provided them with food out of the ground. He says that if they have been set above other peoples, it is not by their own merit but because God had seen fit to choose their father, Jacob. The prophet could have named Abraham; but since Jacob and Esau were both descended from Abraham, with whom God had made his covenant, God’s gracious favor was the more conspicuous in Jacob. First, God chose Abraham alone, and put the other families of mankind aside. Then, out of this one family whom God had adopted, one man was chosen and the other rejected.

The point is not merely that Esau and Jacob were brothers. We must notice other facts which the prophet does not state because everybody knew them. . . . All the Jews knew that Esau was the first-born, and that it was contrary to nature for Jacob to obtain the first-born’s right. . . . But Jacob was divinely chosen and his brother, the first-born, was rejected.

If we seek the reason for this, we shall not find it in a difference of root or origin. The two men were brothers; and 291even before they came out of their mother’s womb, God had already declared by oracle that Jacob would be the greater of the two. So we see that the primary source of every good we find in the descendants of Abraham was derived solely from the free love of God. Indeed Moses says often, Not because you excelled other nations, or were more numerous, did God honor you with so many kindnesses, but because he loved your fathers (Deut. 7:7). The Jews were continually warned not to look for the reason for their adoption elsewhere than in God’s free favor. He had seen fit to choose them; this alone was the source of their security.

After having briefly recalled the benefits which should have filled the Jews with shame, the prophet comes to his main point, which is, as I said above, that God declares himself defrauded of his right in two ways: the Jews neither revere him as Father nor fear him as Lord. He could indeed, by right of creation, call himself both Father and Lord, but I have already explained that he refers rather to their adoption because God’s grace is the more striking when he out of all mankind chooses some few to be his own people. . . . Those whom he honors with such an election he binds to himself with a most holy chain; and if they desert him, there is no excuse whatever for their treachery.

Since we now understand the prophet’s purpose and the aim of the whole reproof, it remains to adapt his teaching to our own use. We are not descendants of Abraham or of Jacob, according to the flesh; but God has given us sure evidence of his adoption, which singles us out from other peoples whom we in no way excel. Clearly, then, if we do not respond to God’s call, we are found no less guilty than the Jews. I am touching on this briefly now, to point out that this teaching has no less importance for us today than it did for the Jews at that time.

Although the method of our adoption differs from that which affected one seed or one family, it is true of us as it was of them that we are raised above others not by our own worth but because God has freely chosen us for his people. Since he has so chosen us, we belong to him, more especially because he has bought us by the blood of his Son. By granting us participation in his inestimable grace through the gospel, he has made us both sons and servants. Therefore, unless we honor him as Father and fear him as Lord, the same (and no less) ingratitude will be found in us as was found in that ancient people.


Today I dealt with the main points of this passage in a summary way; tomorrow I shall speak of election, as the text itself requires. It was necessary to discuss first the prophet’s purpose, which I have done. Next I will treat single topics more fully so far as necessary.


Grant, Almighty God, who hast not only given us life in common with all men in this world, but hast also separated us and illuminated us by the Sun of Righteousness, thine only-begotten Son, in order to lead us into the inheritance of eternal salvation, grant I beseech thee that since we have been rescued from the darkness of death, we may ever attend to that heavenly light by which thou guidest and invitest us to thyself. May we walk as children of light, and never wander from our holy calling, but continually go forward in it, until we shall at length reach the goal which thou hast set before us, so that we may put off the uncleanness of the flesh and be transformed into that ineffable glory of which we have now the image in thine only-begotten Son. Amen.

Yesterday we explained the purpose of Malachi the prophet. . . . But to appreciate the justice of his remonstrance, first, we must consider under what obligation we are to God, because he created us as men, in his own image and likeness, for he could equally well have created dogs and donkeys instead of men. We know that Adam was made of the earth as were the other animals, and therefore as to body there was no real difference between men and the dumb beasts. God is said to have breathed the breath of life into men, but we should not take this as the Manichaeans dream about it, as though men receive their souls by way of transplantation. (By using this word, they teach that the human soul is of the substance of God.) Moses on the contrary means that the human soul was created out of nothing. We are born by generation, but our origin is clay. Still, there is something special in us, a creation from nothing which is the soul. We see, therefore, that we differ from the beasts only because God by his gracious favor willed to create us men. Therefore, if we do not worship him, he has every right to charge us with ingratitude, since we were created in his image for this very purpose.

This passage, however, has to do with the special favor of 293God in taking the seed of Abraham to himself. As the Song of Moses declares, All peoples belong to God; and yet he has thrown a rope and separated Israel for himself (Deut. 32:9).9090Calvin’s paraphrase bears little verbal resemblance to anything in Deut., ch. 32, although the main point is made in the Song. With the whole earth under his dominion, he pleased to choose one family as his own.

If we look for a reason for this, we shall not find it in men. All men alike were created out of the earth, and all had souls created from nothing put into their bodies. If this be so, we see that when God gives precedence to one race over others, the distinction among them must have its source in his gracious favor. . . . The prophet speaks here of the third step in election by which God set apart a branch of Abraham’s descendants. But we must keep in mind the first step, by which mankind was bound to God in a special way, because while he could have created them donkeys and dogs, he chose to form them after his own image. The second step was his choice of the race of Abraham, although his power extended over all peoples without exception. . . . In the third stage, to which Malachi refers, we must note that, having promised to be the God of Abraham and his seed, God distinguished also between the sons of Abraham, rejecting some, taking others for his own. This is emphasized by Paul in the ninth chapter of Romans. . . .

Now upon the third step follows a fourth. From the sons of Jacob, God chose whom he would, and rejected others. The Scripture is full of statements like the words of Moses (Deut. 9:6), “I did not choose you from other nations because of your virtue, for I knew that you were a rebellious people, stiff-necked and obstinate.” Even while God knew the perverse spirit of this people, he chose to reveal in them an example of his wonderful kindness. Therefore, we must not look for the cause of their adoption outside of God.

But if the election of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was a free act of God, we must conclude that the individuals whom God singles out from the whole body are freely chosen. And so I come to the fourth step. . . . For when many who are descended from Jacob according to the flesh are rejected no less than Esau, it is clear that when God elects individual men his choice is governed by his free favor and pure compassion. This is the line of argument which the apostle follows in the letter to the Romans.

It seems harsh to many to think that God chooses some and 294rejects others, and does not consider men’s worth, that by his own free will he chooses whom he pleases and moreover rejects others. But what is this scruple except a desire to call God to order and subject him to their judgment? We must return to the first step. If it is unreasonable for God to choose one of two men and reject the other, how can we defend God’s justice in creating a donkey and a man — if it needs defense? For as I said the bodies of donkeys and men come from the same clay. And all of a donkey’s strength and energy he possesses because he was so created by the secret life-giving power of God. As for man’s soul, although it is immortal, it is also a creation from nothing. Now let these good critics explain what wrong they think is done to God, and how he is slandered by the statement that the salvation of men depends on God’s will to reject some and choose others. For, if they wish to satisfy human judgment, they have the same problem in the universal election of men and beasts at their creation.

As we have said, there is no real difference among men, except in their hidden election. Some theologians would make foreknowledge the mother of election, and that very foolishly and childishly. They say that some men are chosen and others rejected by God, because God, from whom nothing is hidden, foresees of what sort each man will be. But I ask, Whence comes virtue to one and vice to the other? If they say, “From free will,” surely creation was before free will. This is one point. Besides, we know that all men were created alike in the person of Adam. . . . And what does this mean except that the condition of all who come from the one root is the same?

I am not discussing “special gifts.” I admit that if our nature had not been corrupted and we all had the same assurance of blessedness, we would be endowed with a variety of gifts. . . . But since in Adam all are sinners, deserving of eternal death, it is obvious that nothing but sin will be found in men. Therefore, God’s foreknowledge cannot be the reason of our election, because when God [looks into the future and] surveys all mankind, he will find them all, from the first to the last, under the same curse. So we see how foolishly triflers prattle when they ascribe to mere naked foreknowledge what must be founded on God’s good pleasure. . . .

When Moses prays to God not to break his covenant with Abraham, God answers, “I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” What does he mean? He means that the reason for God’s keeping some for himself and rejecting 295others is to be sought nowhere but in God himself. When he says, “I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion,” the repetition may seem empty and dull; but it is in reality emphatic. . . . The reason for compassion is compassion itself.

At that time, Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, O Father, so it seemed good in thy sight. Matt. 11:25–26.

It is certain that he gave thanks to the Father on their behalf and for their sakes, so that they might not be offended because the church appears so lowly and mean. We are always looking for splendor, and nothing seems more absurd than that the Heavenly Kingdom of the Son of God, the glory of which is celebrated with such magnificence by the prophets, should consist of the dregs and nobodies of low-class peoples. And surely it is an amazing counsel of God that when he had the whole earth in his hands he chose his people out of the contemptible folk, rather than out of the upper classes who might have brought the name of Christ greater credit through their own excellencies. But here Christ sets his disciples apart from the proud, from the high and mighty, so that they will not dare to despise the mean and obscure condition of the church with which he himself is well pleased and happy. Besides, in order to suppress more effectively the curiosity which is constantly creeping into people’s minds, he goes beyond the realm of cause and effect, and contemplates the secret judgments of God, in order to lead others to wonder at them with him. Even though God’s judgment shows him certainly to be of a mind quite different from our own, our pride is nonetheless insanely blind if we cry out against God’s judgment while Christ who is our Head bows his head to it and adores it. But let us consider further the statement, I acknowledge to thee, O Father. With these words, he testifies to his acquiescence in the decree of the Father, which accords so ill with the mind of man. There is here a hidden contrast between the praise which he renders to God and the malicious calumnies, and even the insolent barkings, of the world. It is clear that he glorifies the Father, because even though he is the Lord of the whole world, he has preferred babies and simple folk to those who are wise. Now, in this context, it is not without significance that he calls the Father the Lord of heaven and earth. In this way he declares that 296the distinction between the wise who act as blind men, and the uncouth and ignorant who embrace the mysteries of the gospel, depends on nothing else than the will of God. There are many other passages of this kind, where God shows that those who attain salvation are the ones whom he himself has chosen freely; for he is the Creator and Fashioner of the world, and all nations are his own.

This verse is impressive in two respects. The fact that not all receive the gospel is not due to the impotence of God, who could readily make all creatures submit to his empire. Secondly, that some arrive at faith, while others remain stupefied and obstinate, is due to his free election. He draws some to himself and passes others by; and in so doing, he himself distinguishes among men, whose situation by nature is the same. It is for his own glory that he elects little children rather than the wise. The flesh is much too zealous to set itself up. If clever and learned men were to have an advantage, then everybody would assume that faith is acquired by human skill, or industry, or knowledge. There is no other way in which the mercy of God can stand out more clearly than in God’s way of choosing; for thus it becomes evident that men come to God empty-handed. Therefore, it is right that the wisdom of men should be overthrown; because in this way it will not obscure the glory of God’s grace.

But someone will ask, Whom does Christ call the wise, and whom, little children? Experience teaches us clearly that not all those who are ignoramuses and uncultivated men receive the light and believe; and not all who are prudent or literate are left to their blindness. Therefore, they who are here called prudent and wise are those who, inflated with the devil’s own arrogance, cannot bear to hear Christ speaking to them from his own height. And yet, as we are taught by the example of Paul whose fierce zeal was overcome by Christ, it is not always the case that God reprobates those who have too high an opinion of themselves. And when we go down and look at the uncultivated crowd, we find that the majority of them are poisonously mean, and left for destruction together with those who are great men and noble. . . . Christ is the master of the humble, and the first principle of faith is, “Let none be wise in his own eyes.” But what matters is not the willingness of men to become like children. Rather, Christ’s discourse enlarges upon the grace of the Father, who does not disdain to go down to the weak, and to pull the paupers out of their filth. . . .

Even so, Father. These words remove every excuse for the 297kind of unlawful nosiness which always pleases us. Nothing is more difficult for God than to draw out of us an unquestioning acceptance of his will as rational and just. He teaches us often that his judgments are a deep abyss; and still we are impetuous enough to plunge headlong into its depths. And when anything does not suit us, we growl and murmur against him; and many break out in open blasphemy. Against all this, God has laid down the rule that we accept whatever pleases him as right. Sober wisdom is precisely this, that one good pleasure of God is more than a thousand reasons. Christ certainly could have brought out many reasons for the distinctions God makes among the people. But, satisfied with God’s good pleasure, he did not search further into God’s calling children rather than others to salvation; nor did he ask why God wills to fill his Kingdom with these sheep and nobodies. It is evident from this that people rage against Christ himself when they raise a hue and cry upon hearing that by the will of God some are freely chosen and others are rejected; they do it because they cannot bear to let God have his way.

Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. Matt. 25:34.

. . . Christ does not invite the believers to possess the Kingdom as though they were fit for it by their own merits. He says explicitly that it shall be given to the heirs (of God’s promise). He has also another purpose in saying these words. Since the life of the godly is nothing but an exile full of sorrow and misery, so that the earth itself can hardly bear them; since they are hard pressed by want, and are covered with shame and other afflictions — the Lord testifies to them of a Kingdom all ready for them, so that with fortified and buoyant spirit, they may be able to overcome these odds against them. For it is no common inducement to patience that men be persuaded with certainty that they are not walking in vain. Therefore, if our souls are not to be cast down by the pride of the godless in which they now exult before our face; if our hope is not to be turned into despair by the troubles we undergo — we must always keep in mind our inheritance in heaven, which depends not upon doubtful contingencies, but was prepared for us by God before we were born. This I say to each one of the elect, for it is he whom Christ calls the blessed of the Father. It is no contradiction that here we read from the foundation of the world, and elsewhere, before the 298creation of heaven and earth. Here Christ is not fixing the exact time when the eternal inheritance was destined for the sons of God. He rather calls us back to the Fatherly care and protection of God which embraced us before we were even born; he confirms the certainty of our hope by reminding us that all the turbulent agitations of this world shall not have the force to make our lives sway and come down in ruins.

What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it; and the rest are blinded. Rom. 11:7.

Since the elect alone by God’s grace are drawn away from destruction, it follows that those who are not elected, in the nature of the case, remain in their blindness. With regard to the rejected, Paul means that those who are left aside by God have the principle of their ruin and damnation from themselves. The Scriptural proofs which he puts together, from not one but several places, when examined in their proper context, do not seem to serve his purpose; for in all these passages, the scourges of God, such as blindness and hardening, are visited upon those who are already wicked. Paul, on the other hand, is trying in this place to prove that the blinded are not those who deserve it through their wickedness, but those who have been rejected of God before the creation of the world.

Let us untie this knot briefly as follows: the source of wickedness which in itself provokes the wrath of God is in the perversity of natures which God has left alone. Therefore, it is not without reason that, according to Paul, such natures proceed from the eternal rejection of God as fruit from the tree or a river from its source. It is true that the godless are punished by God justly with blindness because they are wicked. But if we look for the source of their ruin, we must ultimately come to this, that being cursed by God, all that they do, say, or intend, only furthers and increases their curse. Yet, the cause of eternal rejection is so hidden that there is nothing left for us to do but to be amazed at the incomprehensible mind of God, as will appear finally from the conclusion of this passage. It is stupid, as soon as an immediate cause is mentioned, to make this an excuse for trying to deny the ultimate cause which is hidden from our view; as though, because God condemns the corrupt and depraved seed of Adam, and then repays individuals with the reward of their crimes, according to their deserts, God had not freely ordained, before the Fall of Adam, what seemed good to him for the whole human race.


What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith. Rom. 9:30.

Nothing seemed more absurd and less congruous [with justice] than that the Gentiles, who cared nothing for righteousness and wallowed in the debauchery of the flesh, should have been called to partake in salvation and obtain righteousness, and that the Jews, on the contrary, who gave themselves wholeheartedly to doing the works prescribed by the law, should have been deprived of every reward due to the righteous. Paul states this amazing paradox boldly so that he may temper its bitterness with the reason he gives for it: namely, that the righteousness which the Gentiles acquired was by faith, which depends not upon human worth but upon the mercy of God. The zeal with which the Jews plied the law was preposterous, because they sought to be justified by their works; they strove after what no man can attain. What is more, they stumbled at Christ, who alone opened the way by which we obtain righteousness.

In the first part of this verse, the apostle intended to exalt the marvelous grace of God; he looks for the reason behind the call of the Gentiles nowhere except in that God deigned to embrace those who were unworthy of his favor. He speaks particularly of that righteousness without which there is no salvation. But by saying that this righteousness consists in faith, he means that the righteousness of the Gentiles is effected by the free act of God which reconciles them to him. For, if anyone fancies that their own faith prepared the Gentiles for regeneration by the Spirit, he is far from what Paul is talking about. It could not have been true that they had attained what they did not even seek after, unless God had freely taken hold of them while they themselves were lost and wandering, unless God had offered them a righteousness which they could neither have pursued nor practiced, because they were ignorant of it. Whence it must be noticed that the Gentiles were made fit for righteousness by faith, because God had anticipated their faith with his grace. And if it is by faith that they first aspired after righteousness, it was by faith also that they followed it. Thus faith itself was an element in grace.

Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if thy mighty works, which have been done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. Matt. 11:21.


Since Tyre and Sidon, being nearby, were infamous for their godlessness, their pride, debauchery, and other vices, Christ draws this comparison between their works and those of the Jews, so as to pierce more deeply into the hearts of his countrymen. There was not one among the latter who did not blame the people of Tyre and Sidon for their wicked contempt of God. Therefore, Christ intensified his curse greatly when he said that there was more hope for repentance in those godless places than in Judea itself.

However, to avoid thorny questions about the secret judgments of God, let us hold that this discourse of our Lord is intended to apply to the common mentality of men. By comparing the people of Bethsaida and their neighbors with those of Tyre and Sidon, he is not arguing that God foresaw what these or those would do; he is simply stating what the latter would have done, so far as one can see from the facts of the case. The corrupt ways of their cities and their unbridled profligacies could be explained as due to ignorance, because they had not heard the voice of God, and no miracles had been performed to bring them to their senses. On the other hand, the cities of Galilee which Christ upbraids had shown a more than iron obstinacy, which had led the people to witness a multitude of miracles without learning anything from them. In short, the words of Christ mean nothing except that, in malice and incurable contempt of God, Tyre and Sidon were surpassed by Bethsaida and Chorazin.

And yet, we are in no position to bring a case against God, because, neglecting some from whom more might have been hoped for, he revealed his power among those who were worse and altogether hopeless. God is just when he destines for perdition those who are not worthy of his mercy. Who is to blame God with injustice, because he withholds his Word from some and allows them to perish, whereas he seeks others out in various ways and calls them to repentance to make the latter all the more inexcusable? Therefore, knowing our weakness, let us learn to contemplate this high matter with reverence. We must not tolerate in the least the pride and ill-humor of those who cannot bring themselves to pay the tribute of praise to God’s righteousness, except in so far as their mind can grasp it, who spurn with disdain those mysteries which they should in justice adore, because the reason for them is not obvious.

For the Scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have 301I raised thee up, that I might show my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout the earth. Rom. 9:17.

Now he comes to the second part, which is the rejection of the ungodly. Since this seems to be quite absurd, the apostle not only tries to make it plainer than ever that God is without blame in his willing to reject (reprobando), but also shows the excellence of his wisdom and justice. Therefore, he makes use of the witness of Ex. 9:16, where the Lord asserts that it was he who had stirred up Pharaoh and that his purpose in so doing was to give evidence of his invincible arm, which he did when he overcame and overthrew Pharaoh, who was obstinate enough to make a great show of resisting the power of God. There is no power of man which can stand up under the power of God, much less break it down. God used Pharaoh as an example.

Wherefore, there are two things to be considered: first, the predestination of Pharaoh to destruction, which must be referred to the just but hidden counsel of God; and secondly, its purpose, which was to declare the name of God. It is the latter that Paul wants primarily to bring out. If God’s purpose in hardening Pharaoh’s heart was to declare his name, it is wicked to construe this work of God as unjust. Considering its purpose, it was quite the contrary.

Since many interpreters pervert this passage by trying to soften it, let us notice in the first place that the Hebrew word for stir up means appoint. God wanted to show that in spite of Pharaoh’s obstinate resistance, He would make his people free: not only that He had foreseen the Pharaoh’s obduracy and was ready with the means of restraining it, but that He himself had ordained it, with the purpose of establishing a shining evidence of his own power. . . .

But let no one imagine that the Pharaoh acted by an ordinary and indefinite prodding from God. We must keep in mind the particular reason and purpose in this matter. This verse means that God not only knew what Pharaoh would do, but also destined his deed for the special use of declaring God’s glory. It follows that it is futile to quarrel with him, as though he were bound to give a reason for his ways. In fact, he presents himself to us and, anticipating our objection, declares that the reprobate appear by his providence, so that by them he may glorify his name among the people.

For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counselor? Rom. 11:34.


Therefore, since we are utterly incapable of exploring the secrets of God with our own faculties, we are admitted to a certain and clear knowledge of them by the grace of the Holy Spirit. And if we are to follow his guidance, where he puts us there we ought to stop and there as it were put down our foot. And if anyone sets out to know more than God has revealed, he shall be overwhelmed by the infinite brightness of his inaccessible light. We must be sure to bear in mind the distinction I made above, between God’s secret counsel and the will of God revealed in Scripture. Although the doctrine of Scripture is too high for human ingenuity, still believers are not excluded from access to it when they follow the guidance of the Spirit with sobriety and reverence. But the secret counsel of God is something else. It is so deep and so high that no exploration can attain to it.

For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; in so much that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Matt. 24:24.

This is added to fill the faithful with fear, and so to make them more watchful and on their guard. For, when false prophets are given unbridled freedom and allowed to flourish, and when they are even given power enough to deceive, the careless are readily caught in the net of their frauds. Christ therefore calls and arouses his disciples to stay at their posts. Besides, he admonishes them not to be troubled when they see the strange spectacle of many all around abducted into error. As he invites them to be watchful, so that Satan may not come upon them in their sleep, he adds ample ground for confidence and peace by promising them that by the help and protection of God they shall be safe against all the snares of Satan. Therefore, no matter how weak and slippery the condition of the godly, here they shall find a firm support upon which to stand, for it is not possible that those who have the Son of God as their faithful protector should fall away from salvation. It is not that they have at their disposal arms enough to resist the armaments of Satan, but rather that they are Christ’s sheep, whom no one shall be able to snatch away from his hands (John 10:28). But we are not to forget that the stability of our salvation is not in us but in the secret election of God.


And this is the will of him that sent me. . . . John 6:40.

303Having said that he had a mandate from the Father to watch over our salvation, Jesus now sets down the way of salvation, which is obedience to the gospel of Christ. He had touched on this earlier; now he explains what he had left obscure. Since God wills that his elect should be saved by faith, and ratifies and executes his eternal decree in this manner, anyone who is not content with Christ, and pries into eternal predestination, takes it upon himself to be saved apart from God’s counsel. Divine election is in itself hidden and secret. The Lord reveals it to us in the calling with which he honors us.

Those who seek their or others’ salvation in the labyrinth of predestination, while they move out of the way of faith set before them, are insane, by such absurd speculation, they even try to do away with the power and effect of predestination. For, if God elected us for faith, take away faith, and election itself is mutilated. It is in fact wicked to break up the continuity and order of God’s counsel, with its beginning and its end. Moreover, since election carries calling with itself and is inseparable from it, and since it is by calling us that God makes faith in Christ effective in us, our call should be to us sufficient evidence of our salvation as though it were his seal cut into us. For the witness of the Spirit is none other than the sealing of our adoption. Therefore faith is strong enough proof of God’s eternal predestination. It is a sacrilege to inquire further, because he who refuses simply to accept the testimony of the Holy Spirit, offers him insult with injury.

According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love, having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. Eph. 1:4–6.

The ground and first cause of our calling, as well as of all the good things we receive from God, the apostle presents as the eternal election of God. Therefore, if anyone asks why God has called us to share in the gospel, why he honors us with so many blessings every day, why he opens heaven itself before us, we must always come back to this same principle: that clearly, before the foundation of the world, he has elected us. But, from the time of election itself, we gather that it is free. For, how could we have possessed worth, or how could there have been merit in us, before the world itself was created? It is a childish 304cavil devised by sophistry to say, “We were not chosen because we were worthy, but because God foresaw that we would be worthy!” For we are all lost in Adam. Unless God himself had by his election redeemed us from ruin, there would have been nothing but ruin to foresee. . . .

In the second place, he confirms that our election is free by adding in Christ. For if we are chosen in Christ, the reason for our election is outside of us; that is, our Heavenly Father has included us in the body of Christ, not because he saw that we are worthy of it, but by the favor of adoption. For, if as he says we are chosen in Christ, it follows that we in ourselves are unworthy of our election.

That we should be holy. Here he considers the proximate, not the ultimate, purpose of election. For it is not absurd that the same thing should have two objectives. For instance, the purpose of a building is that it be a house. But this is the proximate purpose: the ultimate purpose is that it be used as a home. We touch upon this in passing because Paul speaks constantly of another purpose, which is the glory of God. There is no contradiction here. Our sanctification is subordinate to the highest end of election, that is, the glory of God. Moreover, this leads us to conclude that sanctity, innocence, and every virtue among men, is the fruit of election. Therefore once again, with this phrase [as he has chosen us], Paul expressly sets aside every thought of merit. If God foresaw something in us worthy of election, Paul would have said the contrary of what we read in this place; which is, in effect, that a holy and innocent life comes from the election of God. For, how does it happen that some men live a godly life in the fear of the Lord, and others prostitute themselves to all manner of wickedness? Certainly, if we are to believe Paul, there is no other reason for this except that the latter follow their own disposition, whereas the others are elected for holiness. Surely, the cause does not come after the effect! Therefore, as Paul testifies, election, which is the cause of good works, does not depend upon men.

Besides, this verse means that election does not give men any occasion for license. Impious people blaspheme, saying; “Let us live as we please. We are safe. For, if we are elect, it is impossible that we should perish.” But Paul protests that it is vicious to separate the holiness of life from the grace of election; because those whom God elects, he also calls and justifies. On the other hand, the long-standing inference made from this 305verse, by Catharists, Celestines, and Donatists,9191   Catharists (Cathari) was a name given to members of various heretical sects of the Middle Ages, including the Albigenses and the Bogomils. They were dualistic and ascetic and in many ways resembled the earlier Manichaeans. Their leaders were known as the Perfect, who were supposedly free from all the sins of the flesh and had become the dwelling of the Holy Spirit.
   The Donatists were a schismatic church originating in North Africa at the time of the Diocletian persecution. They believed that the sacraments valid only when administered by clergy who had remained wholly faithful to their trust.

   Celestines. Calvin probably meant not the Benedictine Order founded by Pope Celestine V in 1294, but an extreme group of the Spiritual Franciscans, who took the name in gratitude for the permission to live as hermits given them by the same pope. They were persecuted after his abdication and continued under the ban of the Roman church until 1466.

   All three groups assumed the possibility of perfection in this life.
that we can be perfect in this life, is without any weight whatever. Perfection is the goal toward which we strive throughout the course of our lives, and do not attain until the race is done. Where are the men who abhor the doctrine of predestination and run away from it as from a dreadful labyrinth, who consider it not only useless but downright harmful? [Let them come forward!] On the contrary, no other part of our doctrine is more useful, provided we treat it in a judicious and sober way, as does Paul, whose use of it invites us to consider the infinite goodness of God and moves us to gratitude. This, therefore, is the true fountain from which we are to draw the knowledge of the mercy of God. Even if men should evade all other arguments, election shuts their mouths, so that they neither dare nor can claim anything for themselves. But let us remember for what purpose Paul here argues about predestination, so that we may not dispute from other points of view, and thus fall into dangerous errors. . . .

Who has predestined us. What follows is a further and greater commendation of the grace of God. We have already said why it was that Paul impressed so zealously upon the Ephesians the gratuity of their adoption, and the eternal election which preceded it. Since there is in truth no other place in which the mercy of God is declared with such magnificence, we must begin with a close look at this passage. Here the apostle presents us with three causes of our salvation, and he soon after adds a fourth; the efficient cause is the good pleasure of the will of God; the material cause9292Aristotle’s classification of causes. See note 1, Chapter V. is Christ; the final cause is the 306praise of God’s grace. Let us now see what he says of each of these.

To the first belongs the following complex of ideas: God in himself, by the good pleasure of his will, has predestined us for adoption, and has, by his grace, received us to his favor. In the word predestine we must again notice the sequence. We did not exist when we were predestined; hence, our merit also was nonexistent! Therefore, the cause of our salvation could not have been from us, but was from God alone. Paul, still not satisfied, adds in himself, which in Greek is εἰς αὐτὸν and means the same as ἐν αὐτῷ. By this he means that God did not look for a cause outside himself, but predestined us because it was his will to do it. But this is still clearer from what follows: according to the good pleasure of his will. The word will would have been enough for Paul’s purpose; it is the word he used habitually to contrast the will of God with all other causes by which men commonly think they can induce God to act. But to avoid all ambiguity, he adds good pleasure, which expressly sets aside all notion of merit. Therefore, in choosing us, the Lord does not consider what kind of people we are, neither is he reconciled to us because of our worth. The only ground of our reconciliation is his eternal good pleasure by which he predestines us (for holiness). Why then are the sophists not ashamed of confusing matters with alien considerations, when Paul forbids with such zeal any concern except for God’s good pleasure? . . .

Meanwhile, he presents Christ, whom he calls “the beloved,” as the material cause of eternal election as well as of the love now revealed in him. Thus we are to know that the love of God is poured out upon us through Christ; for he is well beloved, so that he may reconcile us to God. And immediately Paul adds the highest and ultimate purpose of election, which is that we glorify God by praising his wonderful grace toward us. Anyone, therefore, who obscures the glory of God, puts himself in the position of striving to subvert the eternal purpose of God. . . .

We know that all things work together for good in them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he did also predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the first-born among many brethren. Moreover, whom he did predestinate, them he also called; and whom he called, them he also justified; and whom he justified, he also glorified. Rom. 8:28–30.

Now we know. From the preceding he now concludes that the bitter things of this life, far from hindering our salvation, rather 307help us on our way. It is no objection that Paul uses the illative particle (δὲ, autem), because it is nothing new for him to use adverbs in a confusing way. In any case, with this conclusion, he anticipates an objection. The sensibility of the flesh cries out, saying that God does not hear our cry and troubles keep forever coming the same old way. This is what concerns the apostle. He says that, even though God does not do away with the troubles of his people as soon as they occur, he does not really forsake them. He has a wonderful way of turning the hardship they experience into a means of their salvation. If anyone prefers to read this sentence by itself, as a new argument, taking Paul to mean that we must not be troubled and bitter about hardships which in fact are helps toward our salvation, I do not object. However, there is nothing obscure about Paul’s meaning. Even though the elect and the reprobate are liable without distinction to the same evils, there is a great difference between the sufferings of the two; for, by means of afflictions, God trains the faithful and oversees their salvation.

But we must recognize that here Paul is speaking only of adversities. What he is saying is that, whatever comes to believers, even if it be harm as the world sees it, God intervenes in their behalf; and the outcome shows that it was useful for them. Even though it is true, as Augustine says, that by the guiding providence of God even the sins of believers, instead of harming them, serve rather the purpose of their salvation — this has nothing to do with this passage, which concerns rather the cross. . . .

To them who according to his purpose. This phrase seems to be added as a correction, in order to keep one from thinking that the good fruit which the faithful gather from their adversities is due to any merit in their love for God. For we know that when it comes to salvation, men are all too inclined to begin with themselves, and to fancy that they have gone ahead of God’s grace with preparations of their own. This is why Paul teaches that those whom he calls true worshipers of God have already been elected by him. Surely this is why the sequence in this passage is brought to our attention. We are to know that all things which issue in the salvation of the saints depend upon the free election of God as their first cause. Certainly, Paul intends to show that believers do not love God before they are called by him, as in another place he points out that the Galatians were known of God before they knew him (Gal. 4:9). Indeed, for Paul it is true that afflictions further the salvation of none 308except those who love God. But equally true is the statement of John that we begin to love God only when he precedes us with his own unmerited love. . . .

The word purpose clearly excludes everything that might be imagined as devised among men. Thus Paul denies that the causes of our election can be sought anywhere except in the hidden good pleasure of God. This is even clearer in the first chapter of Ephesians and the first of 2 Timothy, where the contrast between God’s purpose and the righteousness of man is expressly and clearly stated. However, no doubt when Paul here says explicitly that our salvation is founded upon the election of God, he does so in order to go on to the next point, which he adds immediately: namely, that our sufferings which conform us to Christ have been obviously appointed for us by the same heavenly decree as our election, so that our salvation might be connected necessarily with carrying the cross.

For whom he had foreknown. He then shows, by the sequence in election, that all the sufferings of the faithful are nothing but the way in which they are led to conform to Christ; and he has already testified that such conformity is essential to the Christian life. Therefore, we are not to be sorrowful, or to suffer with heavy hearts or in bitterness, unless we would despise the election of the Lord by which we have been foreordained for life, or unless we cannot bear to have in us the image of the Son of God which prepares us for his heavenly glory. The foreknowledge of God, therefore, which Paul mentions here, is not a mere knowing beforehand, as some ignorant people imagine in their stupid way. It is rather the act of adoption, by which God has always distinguished his children from those who are reprobate. In this same sense, Peter says that believers have been elected for the sanctification of the Spirit according to the foreknowledge of God. Whence, those mentioned above reason foolishly when they infer that God has elected those whom he foresaw as worthy of his grace. Peter does not flatter the believers, as though each one of them owed his election to his own merit. On the contrary, by recalling them to the eternal counsel of God, he denies that they are worthy of God’s grace. So, Paul here repeats with other words what he had said about God’s purpose elsewhere. It follows that God’s knowing the elect rests upon his own good pleasure, because he foreknew nothing outside of himself which led him to will the adoption of sons. He marked some for election according to his own good pleasure.


The verb προορίζειν, which some translate as to predestinate, must be understood in the context of this passage. Paul means no more and no less than that, by God’s arrangement, those who are adopted must bear the image of Christ, that they must conform to the image of Christ, and not merely to Christ. In this way he teaches that in Christ God has put before us a living and visible example, who must be imitated by all God’s children. In short then, free adoption in which our salvation consists is inseparable from that other decree which demands that we carry the cross [of Christ]; because no one who does not first conform to the only-begotten Son of God can inherit the heavenly life. . . .

And those whom he has predestined (praefinivit), them he has also called. He now proceeds step by step to establish with a clearer argument the truth that, if we are to be saved, we must conform to the humiliation of Christ. He teaches us that our call, and our justification, and finally our glory, are bound up with our association with the cross and cannot by any means be separated from it.

To make sure that the reader understands the mind of the apostle better, it is well to repeat and remind him of what I have stated before: that the word predestinate refers not to election but to that decree or purpose of God by which he has ordained that his own bear the cross. In teaching that they are now actually called, he brings out that God has not kept his purpose concerning them hidden in his own hands, but has rather laid it open that they may submit to the rule imposed upon them with a calm and good-tempered spirit. For, calling is here distinguished from hidden election as coming after it. Now, someone may object that a man cannot ascertain for himself what destiny God has appointed for him. The apostle answers that God himself has testified openly concerning his secret counsel through our call. This testimony of God is given truly not only through external preaching, but also through the accompanying power of the Spirit. Here we have to do with the elect, whom God does not so much compel with an outward voice as draw to himself from within.

Justification may rightly be extended to the uninterrupted continuance of God’s grace, from our calling to our death. But since, throughout the epistle, Paul uses this word for the free imputation of righteousness, there is no necessity for turning aside from this meaning of it. The real purpose of Paul is to show that we stand to gain much more through suffering than 310by avoidance of it. For what is more to be desired than that by reconciliation with God our miseries should not any longer signify a curse, or lead us to destruction?

Therefore, he adds immediately that those who at the present time are weighed down by the cross shall be glorified, that they shall lose nothing by the bitter trials they now suffer. Although so far our Head alone is glorified, we already discern in him somewhat the inheritance of life eternal; his glory brings us such assurance of our own coming glory that it is right to regard our hope as the equivalent of a present possession.

We may add that Paul, following the Hebrew style, puts his verbs in the past tense instead of the present. But certainly there is no doubt that he is speaking of a continued action. What he means is: those whom God now exercises under the cross, according to his purpose, are at the same time called and justified, in the hope of salvation; even while they are humiliated, they suffer no loss of glory. Even though their present miseries disfigure their glory in the sight of the world, yet before God and the angels it shines without diminution.

Who hath saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, but is now made manifest by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ. . . . 2 Tim. 1:9–10.

This gift of grace, of which Paul reminds us, is nothing other than the predestination by which we are adopted to become sons of God. With regard to this matter, I have wanted to bring to the attention of my readers that often God is said to give his grace when we perceive its effect. But here Paul is speaking of it [grace] as God has had it from the beginning. . . .

But is now made manifest. Notice how properly he ties up the faith we have through the gospel with the secret election of God, and assigns to each its proper place. Now, God calls us through the gospel because he has set himself to the purpose of saving us, not suddenly and without forethought, but from the beginning in eternity. And now Christ has appeared for our salvation, not because he has just received the power to save us, but because before the foundation of the world this grace had been bestowed upon him for our sakes; but this we know by faith. The apostle is wise to connect the gospel with the most ancient promises of God; otherwise it would be treated with contempt as a novelty. But someone will say: “Was grace concealed from the fathers who lived under the law? For if it is 311revealed only with the coming of Christ, it follows that formerly it was hidden.” I reply that Paul is speaking of the full revelation of the grace upon which depended also the faith of the fathers. Therefore, nothing is detracted from them. Hence Abel, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and all the godly, obtained the same salvation with us, because they put their trust in this manifestation [in Christ]. Therefore, when he says that grace appeared to us with the revelation of Christ, he does not exclude the fathers from communion with that grace, because their faith made them partakers with us of this same appearance. For Christ was yesterday as he is today (Heb. 13:8). But he did not manifest himself, by his death and resurrection, before the time appointed by the Father. The faith of the fathers was turned toward this manifestation, as is also ours, as to the one common pledge and fulfillment of salvation.

In the hope of eternal life (or, according to the hope) which God, who cannot lie, promised before the times of the ages (ante tempora saecularia). Titus 1:2. (Calvin’s wording.)

Which God promised. Because Augustine understood eternity as prior to the temporal ages, he troubled himself a great deal about the eternity of times, and finally explained eternal times as preceding all antiquity.

Although I do not reject this exposition, when I weigh everything properly, I am forced to take a different view of the matter: that eternal life was promised to men many ages ago not only for those who lived at that time, but for our generation as well. It was not only for Abraham that God said: “All the nations shall be blessed in thy seed” (Gen. 22:18); it was also for all those who came after. And this is not inconsistent with the first chapter of 2 Timothy where, in another sense, salvation is said to have been given “before the times of the ages” (pro tempera saecularia). Nonetheless the word means the same thing in both places. Now, since the Greek word αἰών means the series of times which follow one another from the beginning till the end of the world, we understand Paul to say in the letter to Timothy that salvation was given or ordained for the elect of God before the times began to flow. But in this place we have to do with God’s promise. Here all ages is intended not to take us beyond the creation of the world, but to tell us that many ages have gone by since the premise of our salvation.

If anyone prefers, in short, the times of the ages may be taken to mean the ages themselves. Since salvation was given by the 312eternal election of God before it was promised, in the passage in Timothy it is said to have been given before all ages; then the word “all” is implicit. But here, “the times of the ages” means nothing but that the promise is older than the long succession of the ages, because it began forthwith at the creation of the world. In the same sense, Paul teaches in Rom. 1:2 that the gospel which was to be published with the resurrection o Christ from the dead, had been promised by the prophets is the Scriptures. . . .

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