OF THE PASTORS OF THE CHURCH OF CHRIST AT GENEVA, CONCERNING "THE ETERNAL PREDESTINATION OF GOD," BY WHICH HE HAS CHOSEN SOME MEN UNTO SALVATION, WHILE HE HAS LEFT OTHERS TO THEIR OWN DESTRUCTION, AND ALSO THEIR CONSENT CONCERNING "THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD,"* BY WHICH HE GOVERNS HUMAN AFFAIRS, SET FORTH
By JOHN CALVIN.
The Pastors of the Church of Christ at Geneva pray that God would grant to those most excellent Men, their supreme Lords, and to the Syndics and Senate Of Geneva, a just and holy administration of the State, and all happy prosperity and success
THE same motive which impelled us to write this book, most excellent Sirs, constrained us also to dedicate it to you, that it might go forth under your name and auspices.1 The free election of God, by which He adopts unto Himself whom He will out of the lost generation of men, has been hitherto publicly declared by us, in this city, with all reverence, sobriety and sincerity, and has been peacefully received by the people. But now, Satan, the father of all strifes, has subtlely introduced, by means of a certain worthless person, a wide spreading error, and has attempted to root out our doctrine, which is drawn from the pure Word of God, and to shake the faith of the people. But since this hungry hunter after vain glory wishes to gain notoriety out of the very flames of the temple of God, lest he should catch that reward of his unholy audacity for which he has laid his nets, let his name be buried under our silence, while we leave it purposely unmentioned.
But since the trouble which this vain mortal endeavoured to cause us, reaches unto you also, it is but just that you should partake of the blessed fruit which God brings out of it. And as we have ever found you strenuous and hearty defenders of our holy cause, we have felt it to be our duty to testify, with all our ability, our gratitude. The performance of this our duty will also plainly testify what that doctrine is which you have protected by your favour and authority. And although it becomes neither the rulers of the State, nor the ministers of Christ, to be too anxious about rumours and tumults; and though all insidious revilings (which are generally lost, by degrees, in the noise they make) should be despised, both by rulers and ministers of Christ, with fortitude and an exalted mind; yet it is of the utmost importance that the great reality of the matter concerned should ever be kept in the hands, and (as engraven on public tablets) before the eyes, of all, that the plain statement of it may condemn and stop the false tongues of the foolish, the vain, or the wicked, and, at the same time, repress the frivolous whispers of the people in general.
There was spread abroad in many places a rumour that this vain person was severely bound in prison, whereas he was perfectly free, and flying about the city openly every day. And with what malignity some virulent ones imagined and stated that we wished him to be put to death, you are yourselves our best witnesses.2 To refute such calumnies until they shall have vanished by contempt and tranquil magnanimity, is the becoming duty of gravity and prudence.
On the other hand, however, lest some unstable ones should be moved, of whom serious care must be taken, to set forth plainly before all the real state of the case and cause at issue is no less expedient than a solemn duty on our part. For iniquity, unless it be resolutely met, makes its creeping way (as saith Paul) 'like a canker" (2 Tim. ii. 17). Now this Defence, which we offer to all the godly, will, we hope, be a strong and effectual remedy to those who are healable, and will serve also as a wholesome antidote to the sound and the whole. And the subject itself is one to which the children of God should devote their most studious attention, that they become not ignorant of their heavenly birth and origin. For some fools, because the Gospel is called " the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth," would blot out under this pretext the election of God; whereas it ought to have entered into the minds of such to think from whence faith comes! Now the Scripture everywhere proclaimeth aloud that God giveth to His Son those that were ever His, that He calleth those whom He hath chosen, and that those whom He hath adopted for sons He begetteth by His Spirit; and finally, that the men whom He has taught within, and to whom His "arm is revealed," believe. Wherefore, whosoever shall hold faith to be the earnest and pledge of adoption, will assuredly confess that it flows from Divine election as its eternal source. And yet the knowledge of salvation is not to be sought from the secret counsel of God. Life is set before us in Christ, who not only makes Himself known, but presents Himself to our enjoyment in the Gospel. Into this mirror let the eye of our faith ever fixedly look. Nor let it ever desire to penetrate where access to its sight is not given.
Since this is the right way; let the children of God walk therein, lest by winging their flight higher than is lawful, they plunge themselves into a labyrinth deeper than they would wish to find themselves in. But as there is none other gate of the kingdom of heaven than faith in Christ, as contained in the promises of the Gospel openly set before us; so it must be the greatest ignorance not to acknowledge that the eyes of our minds are opened of God Himself, for He chose us unto faith in Christ before we were conceived in the womb. And yet, that the object of this impure and abandoned one was not only to blot out all knowledge of God's election from the minds of men, but to overturn His power also, is clearly manifest from those mad dreams of his, which ye possess in your public records, written with his own hand; wherein he asserts that faith does not depend on election, but that rather election stands in faith, and that none remain in blindness on account of the in-born corruption of nature, seeing that all men are rightly enlightened of God; and that we do a great injustice to God when we declare that those are passed by of Him whom He deigns not to illumine by His Spirit.
This worthless being also maintains that all men, generally and equally, are "drawn" of God; and that there is no difference, except where resistance begins it; and that when God promises that He will make "hearts of flesh" out of "hearts of stone," nothing else is meant than the making us capable of receiving the grace of God; and that this capability, or the being made capable, extends without distinction to the whole human race, whereas the Scripture most clearly affirms that this is the peculiar privilege of the Church of God.
As to the Providence of God, by which the world is ruled, this ought ever to be confessed and held fast by all the godly: that there is no reason why men should make God a sharer in their sins, or in any way involve Him with themselves in a participation of their fault. But since the Scripture teaches that the reprobate are also instruments of the wrath of God, by some of whom He instructs the faithful unto patience, and on others of whom, as His enemies, He inflicts the punishments they deserve; this profane trifler contends that no act of God is just, but that for which there lies a plain reason before our eyes. Thus, doing away with all difference between remote and proximate and immediate causes he will not allow the severe afflictions laid on Job to be considered the work of God, lest He should be made equally guilty with the devil, and the Chaldean and Sabean plunderers.
Now the reason why, passing by this fellow in silence, we enter into the battle with the other two, Albertus Pighius and Georgius the Sicilian, is, as we will explain to you, two-fold. This ignorant plagiary could bring forth nothing but what he obtained from these sources, and so would make what was bad in them worse and worse. To contend with him, therefore, would have been a contest cold and bootless. Let our readers be content with one proof. With what cavils Pighius and Georgius would darken the first chapter of Paul to the Ephesians has been shewn in its proper place. They, indeed, were ignorant and disgusting; but the folly of this worthless being is fouler still, who blushed not to babble his nonsense in your Senate and venerable assembly; and not only so, but dared to defend with pertinacity what he had thus blattered in folly. For he maintained that Paul was not speaking in the above place concerning the common salvation of the godly, but shewing only that himself and his fellow-labourers were elected to the apostolic office. To disprove so futile a figment would be but a moment's work, seeing it is still fresh in your memories. But if any are willing to put themselves under such a teacher as this, they must be content to learn a miserable theology indeed, which would deprive nearly all men of a confidence in eternal life; for, according to it, the apostles alone could be partakers of Divine adoption, could alone be reconciled to Christ, could alone be blessed, could alone be joined to the company of the saints. But the place and time for the refutation of the vain figment in question was where and when it occurred. To refute so insipid an animal by a published book would not perhaps be so desirable and agreeable; for you are not ignorant how conceited he is, nor needs it be a matter of wonder that a man, who could throw off his monk's cowl and immediately transform himself into a physician, should be a person of such consummate audacity! But to nauseate many, by pleasing him with an "answer of folly, according to his folly" (Prov. xxvi. 4), would be somewhat foreign to my usual carefulness. And farther, since those two characters are known and professed enemies of the Gospel; and one of them, by attacking Calvin by name, has proclaimed war with us and this Church, it has seemed to us much better that the poison of the impious doctrine which has been spread abroad in their published books, should be purged away altogether, than that their absurdities should be farther propagated, which had much better remain buried out of knowledge; while it would, moreover, be tiresome to utterly wear out the ears of men, which have been so long fatigued and tormented with these superfluous contentions.
May God grant, noble and excellent Sirs, that (as ye have hitherto done with the highest praise) ye may go on unto the end to defend, by your unwearied faith and authority, the pure doctrine of the Gospel of Christ, which is attacked on every side by the angry violence of the world; and that ye may never cease to receive under your protecting care all the godly who flee to your protection; so that your city may ever be a sanctuary devoted to God and a faithful asylum for the members of Christ, remaining immovable amid these horrid tumults. Thus shall ye ever find Him to be an everlasting Guardian of your safety; for whatever dwelling-place of man is dedicated to Him, shall abide safe under His power and shall never fall!
January 1st, 1552.
* This portion of the CONSENT, concerning "the Providence of God," which originally formed a Conclusion to the present Treatise, is transferred by the Translator, to the "Second Part" of "CALVIN'S CALVINISM" and made to constitute a PREFACE, by John Calvin, to that Work. An arrangement which, it is considered, will be deemed appropriate; and in peculiar harmony with the subject of the "Second Part," or Second Volume; which is "A DEFENCE of the SECRET PROVIDENCE of GOD;" by John Calvin.
1. This testimony of esteem and love for their principal Pastor CALVIN, and of value for his ministerial service, as their representative, in the following Treatise (I Thess. v.13), are lasting honours to the Church of Christ, at Geneva: while the manifestation of their scriptural and prayerful subjection to "the powers that be," is a bright crown upon the genuineness of their religious profession. as disciples of Christ. (Rom. xiii. I; Titus iii. I; Pet. ii. 13 to 17.)
2. The person to whom allusion is here made, is Servetus, the crafty and angry enemy of the Truth, and of Calvin, its faithful defender: of whose being put to death Calvin is falsely reported to have been the prominent adviser, as leading Pastor of the Genevan Church. The truth of which rumour is, in this Dedicatory Preface, most solemnly denied and the whole Senate of Geneva is appealed to, in confirmation of the veracity of the denial. (See last paragraph of preceding page.)
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