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  • JOHN CALVIN - SECRET PROVIDENCE -
    ARTICLE SEVENTH


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    What men do in sinning they do by the will of God, since very often the will of God is inconsistent with the precept.

    AGAINST THE SEVENTH

    On the seventh they ask if the will of God is often inconsistent with the precept, how is it possible to know when he wills, and when he does not will what he enjoins. For if Calvin say we must always do what God commands, whether he will it or not, it follows that God would sometimes have his will resisted. For if he commands me not to commit adultery and yet wills that I shall commit adultery, and yet I ought not to do so, I ought, in that case, to act contrary to his will. Now, then, when he gives this universal command to the Israelites, “Do not commit adultery,” whether does he will that all should obey him, or that some should, and others not? Here your adversaries demand some distinct reply, Calvin. If you say. that he chooses a part should commit the sin. and a part not, God will be inconsistent with himself in the same precept.

    They also allege that God is a hypocrite, if he enjoins one thing, and wills another; that he has honey in his mouth, and gall in his heart, if it is objected to them that God has two wills contrary to each other, the one open, that is to deny in his precepts; the other hid; they ask who opened that hidden will to Calvin? For if Calvin and his party know it, it is not hidden; if they are ignorant of it, why do they make assertions about a thing unknown?

    They also maintain that two contraries cannot exist together, at the same time, in one subject. But to will at once the same thing, and not to will it, are contraries. Besides, if God have two wills inconsistent with each other, it is credible that Calvin (an imitator of God of coarse.) has two wills, and that he says one thing, and thinks another. Therefore we are unwilling to believe Calvin, as a man double-tongued, double-hearted, and doublewilled.

    Again, it God, when he commands justice, wills justice, it follows, that the Devil ordering injustice, may will justice. And if God, in saying one thing, and willing another, does not sin, it follows, if any one imitate him in this he does not sin: for to imitate God is certainly not wrong. Therefore it will be lawful to exhort men in this way; — lie, say one thing, and carry another in your breasts, that ye may be like your Father, who says one thing, and wills another.

    They also ask, with which will God speaks, when he commands us to pray, “Thy will be done;” and “whosoever doeth the will of my Father, who is in heaven, the same is my brother, and my sister, and my mother.”

    So Paul, “Thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God, and knowest his will, and dost approve things that are excellent, and hast learned the law,” etc., etc. Certainly here the will of God is what the law commands, and if that will is good, whatever will is contrary must be evil. For whatever is contrary to good is evil. So in regard to the declaration of Christ, “how often would I have gathered thy children together, and ye would not;” Christ certainly speaks of his open will, which had been expressed in so many ways. Now if he had another will contrary to that, his whole life was mere hypocrisy, which is horrible even to think of.

    In fine, they say, if God enjoins what he does not will, there are not too wills, but a lie; for whoever says he wills what he does not will, lies; and to command merely in words is to lie, and not to will.

    J. CALVIN’S REPLY

    To answer the seventh is no concern of mine. Produce the passage, where I affirm that the will of God is very often contrary to the precept; for such a thing never came into my mind, even in a dream. But on the contrary I have faithfully expounded, amongst other things, how the will of God is simple and one, though between his secret counsel and his doctrine, some seeming discrepancy may appear. Whoever shall modestly and soberly submit to the omnipotent God, will easily understand, so far as the scanty measure of man’s intelligence may reach, how God, who forbids whoredom, and punished the adultery of David by the incest of Absalom, always wills one and the same thing, though in different ways. Therefore, lest the filth of your lies should cast the smallest stain on me, this may be briefly testified to the reader, that your allegations about me holding two contrary wills in God, are most wicked fictions of your own; since I everywhere teach, that the most perfect harmony subsists between God’s hidden counsel, and the outward word of his doctrine. I grant that Augustine mentions different wills; but these so harmonious with each other, that the last day will demonstrate how consistent he was in all his complicated modes of action.

    This being settled, now fight with yourself to your heart’s content “about God forbidding what he wishes to be done, or enjoining what he does not wish, and thus commanding his will to be resisted.” In all this filth I recognize nothing belonging to me. On the contrary this is the sum of my doctrine. The will of God, which is expressed in the Law, clearly proves the rectitude is approved by him, and iniquity detested. And beyond all doubt, he would not denounce punishment against evildoers, if they pleased him. Still what he is not willing should be done, and forbids any one to do, he may, nevertheless, in his own ineffable counsel, determine shall be done for a different end. If you here retort on me, that God is inconsistent with himself; I shall ask in return, does it become you to prescribe the law to him of never transcending the range of your judgment?

    Moses proclaims that God has his own secrets; while the Law reveals what it is useful for man to know. Will you suppose that nothing is lawful for God, that is not perfectly plain to you? In the book of Job after the depth of his counsel is celebrated, which swallows up all human comprehension, this clause is at length added, “Lo! these are the extremities of his ways, and how little is heard of him!” You will allow no counsel to God, that is not brought under your eye. Now you are either more than blind, or you see that when God in his word forbids you adultery, he is unwilling you should be an adulterer; and that yet in the adulteries which he condemns, he exercises his just judgments; which undoubtedly he could not do, unless both his knowledge and his will were concerned. If you would have the thing stated more briefly; he does will that adultery should not be committed, in so far as it is pollution, a violation of sacred order, in fine a transgression of the law; in so far as he employs adulteries, and other enormities in the execution of his vengeance, he certainly does not unwillingly discharge the duty of a judge. For though we will not praise the Chaldeans and Assyrians for cruelly wading through scenes of horrid slaughter yea though God himself declares, that he would be avenged on them; yet again he elsewhere informs us, that sacrifices were in this way prepared for him. Will you deny that God’s will is concerned in that which he dignifies with the honorable name of sacrifice. ( Isaiah 29 and 34. cap.; Jeremiah 46; Ezekiel 39.)

    At length then awake, and acknowledge that when men are driven headlong by depraved appetite, God in secret and ineffable ways manages his own judgments. You think the quibble subtle, when you ask; in prohibiting adultery, does God will that all should commit it, or only a part? For if I answer a part, you infer that God is inconsistent with himself. Now you have a definite answer, that God demands chastity of all, because he loves it in all; yet experience itself, though I were silent, shows different ways of willing. For if his will were equally efficacious that all should be chaste, he would without doubt render all chaste. Now as chastity is his peculiar gift, it is easy to infer that he wills differently what he enjoins in the word, from what he realizes by the Spirit of regeneration. Nor on this principle, is there any reason that your shameless tongue should upbraid God with hypocrisy; as if he had honey in his mouth, and gall in his heart. For God pretend nothing either in commanding or forbidding; but sincerely reveals his nature. And in that secret counsel by which he guides all the actions of men, you will find nothing contrary to his justice. Whoredom displeases God the author of chastity; yet the same God determined to punish David by the incestuous outrages of Absalom. Human blood he forbids to be shed, because as he follows his image with his love, so he guards it with his protection; and yet out of impious nations, he raised up executioners of the sons of Eli, because he determined to slay them. Such is the express doctrine of the sacred history. If your blindness is a hindrance to you, yet all who have eyes perceive, that it is quite consistent for God to abhor whoredom and slaughter, it, so far as they are sins, or (what comes to the same thing,) to abhor the transgression of his law in whoredom and slaughter, and yet to execute his own judgments, in taking just vengeance on the sins of men, by means of slaughter, and wickedness of every kind.

    However dexterous you may fancy your query if there is any secret will of God, how did I happen to find it out; I shall have no difficulty in answering it, provided I may be allowed to follow the Holy Spirit as my master. For if Paul testifies, that God dwells in light inaccessible; if the same apostle with good reason exclaims that his ways are incomprehensible, why may I not be allowed to admire his secret will though it be concealed from us? The wisdom of God is extolled in the book of Job, with numerous and splendid eulogiums, that mortals may learn not to measure right wisdom by their own apprehensions. Will you then ridicule all discourse about what is concealed? Or will you upbraid David with speaking foolishly of the judgments of God, when he acknowledges them to be a great deep? From all the prophets and apostles, I learn that the divine counsel is incomprehensible. I embrace what they declare with no hesitating faith. Why should this modesty be imputed to me as a fault?

    And think not to escape by saying, that I refer to examples that are not applicable; for surely I have the very same subject in hand as Paul had, when he exclaims concerning the depth of the riches of wisdom — the incomprehensible judgments, the unsearchable ways of God, in secret election or reprobation; — and yet ceases not openly to assert, that God follows whom he pleases with mercy, and dooms the rest to destruction.

    In fine, give up all fondness for your puerile dilemma, for the Scriptures assure me of the secret will of God; asserting what I have learned from them I do speak of an ascertained truth; but because I do not reach so great a height, I reverently adore with fear and trembling what is too sublime for the angels themselves. Often therefore in my writings I admonish my readers, that on this subject nothing is better than a learned ignorance; for those rave like madmen who arrogate to know more about it than is fit.

    You now perceive how confident I am about that will of God, of which the Scriptures are the witnesses; still it is secret, inasmuch as, why God wills this to come to pass, or that; and how he wills it, even the intellects of angels cannot comprehend; while your pride so far infatuates you and your fellows, as to tempt you to annihilate whatever eludes or transcends your capacity.

    Your objections about contrarieties are now sufficiently removed . You attack me indeed with this scurrility; if I am an imitator of God, you deny that any faith is due to a double-tongued, a double-hearted, and a doublewilled man; but it is too foolish to annoy me. By-and-bye you shall know what it is to imitate the Devil, by ascending on high to become like the Highest. That which alone tortures me, is the insane blasphemies wherewith you defile the sacred majesty of God, of which, however, he will himself be the avenger.

    As the will of God, which he has delivered in his law, is good, I grant that whatever is contrary to it is evil: but when you babble about the contrariety of that hidden will, by which God distinguishes between the vessels of mercy and the vessels of wrath, and freely uses both according to his pleasure, you exhale a vanity as detestable as it is false, from the foetid ditch of your ignorance. I confess Christ speaks of his open will, when he says, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered thy children together, but you would not;” he casts the same reproach on the Jews, as Moses did in his song.

    And indeed we know that God actually performed what these words imply; since the doctrine of the law, the exercises of piety, and the various benefits by which God bound that people to himself, were nothing else than the spreading of his. wings for their protection; had not their own unsubdued wildness hurried them elsewhere. When therefore Christ had tried so frequently, and in so many ways, to recall by his prophets, that perverse nation to obedience, he reasonably complains of their ingratitude.

    For in restricting your remark to the life of Christ, you display your ordinary want of skill, as if he were not the true God, who from the beginning had not ceased to spread over them the wings of his favor. Then, you infer that if he had another will, contrary to his expressed will, his whole life must have been a scene of hypocrisy; as if, forsooth, it were inconsistent to allure by invitation and benefits, and to withhold from the heart, the secret impulse of his Spirit.

    That the futility of this calumny may be more manifest: when he complains that he had been disappointed, inasmuch as the vine which he had expected to bring forth sweet fruit, had produced sour; what is your opinion about this, my worthy turner of sentences? Will you impute ignorance to him, to salve his reputation for veracity? The Jews disappointed God; therefore according to you, while sitting doubtful what would turn out, the event deceived him; as if truly a style or speaking, referring merely to the result itself; could be violently applied to the secret foreknowledge of God.

    He says elsewhere, “you will surely fear me;” and they hastened to corrupt their ways. God promises himself some fruit from the punishments inflicted; he afterwards complains that he had been deceived.

    Can you disentangle yourself from this passage likewise, only by supposing that God is bound by, and dependant on, the free will of man?

    As if it were not sufficiently clear, that for the purpose of enhancing their crime, he assumes the character of man, who says that his labor is lost, when the result does not correspond. Undoubtedly, those whom God determines efficaciously to gather to himself, he draws by his Spirit, and as this is entirely dependent on himself, he promises that he will do it.

    Therefore as many are called, who do not follow, it is perfectly certain that that mode of gathering, which Christ laments as having been fruitless and vain, must differ from the efficacious, of which mention is made elsewhere. As in Isaiah 11:12, and 58:8; 43:5; 52:12; 54:7.) “He will gather the dispersed of Judah;” and “the glory of the Lord will gather you.” Also “I will gather you from the west.”

    Again “your God will gather you;” and that because he had just before said, that God had bared his arm, to make his power conspicuous in the sight of the nations. And therefore he repeats a little after; “for a moment I have left thee, but with everlasting mercies will I gather thee.”

    What I have said of the precepts, abundantly suffices to confound your blasphemies. For though God gives no pretended commands, but seriously declares what he wishes and approves; yet it is in one way, that he wills the obedience of his elect whom he efficaciously bends to compliance; and in another that of the reprobate whom he warns by the external word, but does not see good to draw to himself. Contumacy and depravity are equally natural to all, so that none is ready and willing to assume the yoke.

    To some God promises the spirit of obedience; others are left to their own depravity. For however you may prate, the new heart is not promised indiscriminately to all; but peculiarly to the elect, that they may walk in God’s precepts. Good critic, what think you of this? When God invites the whole crowd to himself, and withholds knowingly, and willingly his Spirit from the greater part, while he draws the few by his secret influence to obey, must he on that account be condemned as guilty of falsehood?

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