Section II



But whose eyes, I pray you, will this mortal be able so to pierce or tear out as to prevent them from seeing his absurdities? Why does Paul so particularly say that the children had done neither good nor evil? but that he might do away with all respect of merit in them? Why? but that he might positively affirm that God drew His reasons from no other source than from His own mind and will when He pronounced so different a judgment on the twin brothers? I well know how common a scape-way this supposed respect of merit, present or future, in the mind of God is. But I would first of all ask this question, If Esau and Jacob had been left to the course of their common nature, what greater amount of good works would God have found in the latter than in the former? Most decidedly the hardness of a stony heart in both would have rejected salvation when offered. But (says Pighius) a flexible heart was given to both of them, that they might be able to embrace the offered grace; but the one was willing to do what, by his free will, he could do; the other refused to do it." As if the apostle were testifying that the unwillingness and refusal of Esau were also given of God! And as if God did not promise to cause His Israel to walk in His commandments!

According to the judgment of Pighius, however, John loudly denies that God gives us the "power to become the sons of God." Now this crazy fellow is, first of all, utterly out in taking power " to mean faculty or ability, whereas it rather signifies a worthiness of, or right or title to, honour. But he betrays a more than gross stupidity when he passes over, as with his eyes shut, the cause of this "power," so clearly described by the Evangelist, who declares that those become the sons of God who receive Christ; and he asserts, directly afterwards, "that these are born, not of flesh, nor of blood, but of God." God, therefore, deems those worthy the honour of adoption who believe in His Son, but whom He had before begotten by His Spirit; that is, those whom He had formed for Himself to be His sons, those He at length openly declares to be such. For if faith makes us the sons of God, the next step of consideration is, Where does faith come from? Who gives us that? It is the fruit of the seed of the Spirit, by which God begets again to a newness of life.

In a word, most true is that which Augustine testifies: "That the redeemed are distinguished from the children of perdition by grace alone, which redeemed ones that common mass of original corruption would have gathered to the same perdition but for the free grace of God. Whence it follows, that the grace of God to be preached is that by which He makes men His elect not that by which He finds them such." And this the same holy father continually inculcates. To this it may be added, If God foresees anything in His elect, for which He separates them from the reprobate, it would have been quite senseless in the apostle to have argued that it was "not of works, but of Him that calleth," because God had said, "The elder shall serve the younger," when the children were not yet born. Wherefore, this vain attempt to solve the difficulty of God's eternal predestination by introducing the idea of His foreseeing works and merits in the future lives of the elect is openly insulting to the Apostle Paul and to his divine testimony. Paul concludes that no respect of works existed in God's election of His people, because He preferred Jacob to his brother before they were born, and before they had done "either good or evil." But these opponents of election, to make good their doctrine, that those were chosen of God whom some mark of goodness distinguished from the reprobate, would make it appear that God foresaw what disposition there would be in each person to receive or to reject offered grace. And suppose the apostle's expression, "not having done either good or evil," be received by these men; yet God, by their doctrine, will still be electing according to works, because His election will depend on future works foreseen by Him. But since the apostle takes that for a confessed fact, which is wholly disbelieved by these excellent theologians, that all men are alike unworthy, and the nature of all equally corrupt, he securely concludes that God elected those whom He did elect from His own goodwill and purpose, not because He foresaw they would he obedient children to Him. The apostle, moreover, is deeply considering what the nature of men would be without the election of God. But these men are dreaming of what good God foresaw in man, which good never could have existed unless He Himself had wrought it.

Although these things are in themselves abundantly clear, yet the context of the apostle leads us much deeper still into this holy matter. It thus proceeds: "What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God?" Now, either this supposed objection is introduced without any reason whatever, or else the doctrine of Paul gives no place for works foreseen. For what suspicion of injustice can possibly be conceived where God offers grace equally to all, and permits those who become worthy of it to enjoy it? In a word, when these objectors place the cause of election or reprobation in the works of men's coming lives, they seem to escape and to solve, quite to their own satisfaction, this very question which Paul supposes them to put in objection. Whence it is fully evident that the apostle was not instructed in this new wisdom. For, be it so, that the apostle introduces these men quarrelling with the justice of God quite out of place, and without any colour of reason. Let us mark the manner in which he repels the objection he supposes to be made: "God forbid! For He saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy; and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion."

Nothing, that I see, will be more appropriate than my using here the words of Augustine in explanation of this passage: "It is marvellous (saith he) to observe into what gulphs our adversaries precipitate themselves to avoid the nets of truth, when they find themselves hemmed in by these mighty straits. They say that God hated the one of these children and loved the other, when not yet born, because He foresaw what the works of their future lives would be. What a wonder is it that this acute view of the mind of God in the mighty matter should quite escape the apostle! He saw no such thing, no such easy solution of the difficulty as the view of his adversaries intended. His answer implies that the matter was not so brief, so plain, so evidently true; so absolutely clear, as these opponents imagined. For when he had put forth so stupendous a matter for our meditation as this, how it could be rightly said concerning two children not yet born, nor having done either good or evil, that God loved the one and hated the other; he briefly and solemnly adds, 'What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Now here was the place to introduce the interpretation invented by our adversaries: 'Because, 'God foresaw their future works.' The apostle, however, does nothing of the kind. On the contrary, that no one might dare to boast of the merits of his works, he commends the grace of God alone by the introduction of that all-conclusive word of God to Moses: 'For He saith to Moses; I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.' Where are merits now? Where are works either past or future, either fulfilled or to be fulfilled, as by the power or strength of free-will? Does not the apostle openly declare his mind in commendation of free grace only?" Thus far have I considered the words of Augustine.

But suppose for a moment that the apostle had introduced no such argument as that concerning the two sons of Isaac. (And, indeed, if the solution is so plain and satisfactory, that God made the difference between the two children from a respect to their future works, why should the apostle have entangled himself deeper and asserted that the cause of the difference made rested in the will of God alone?) Yet God had, at the first, in His conversation with Moses, claimed to Himself the free right of exercising His mercy as, and towards whom, He pleased. And this He did, that no one might dare to prescribe a law for His actions. He then openly declared that He would take out of the whole multitude of the people whom He would, and would deliver them; and all were alike covenant-breakers. He did not say that His choice of them should depend on themselves; that if He should find any worthy of pardon He would be merciful to such. But He positively declared that He would be the Master, Lord and Arbiter, of His own mercy; that He would spare whom He would spare, as being bound by no necessity to choose either one or another. And the apostle next infers that which of necessity follows from the above declaration of God to Moses: that "it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy." For if the salvation of men depends on the mercy of God alone, and if God saves none but those whom He chose by His own secret good pleasure, there can absolutely be nothing left for men to do, will, or determine, in the matter of salvation.

Now Pighius explains the solemn case thus: that salvation is not due to any endeavour of ours, nor to any works of ours, for this reason, because God freely calls us to that salvation. He amuses himself with his opinions quite securely, imagining that he can by one word of his easily do away with the whole doctrine of the apostle at once. Whereas Paul's conclusion is derived thus: because God elects those whom He saves by His own absolute good pleasure, and not from any difference of works in their lives from the works and lives of others; therefore, "It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy;" thus making the whole turn on the mercy of God alone. But Pighius thinks that he has made a clean escape when he talks about grace being extended to all, whereas it is due to no one. And when he says that those become partakers of grace whom the Lord finds well disposed and obedient to Him, he is forced at last to fall back on this acknowledgment, that both the "willing" and the "running" do indeed avail something; but that since they are not sufficient of themselves, the palm must, indeed, be given to the mercy of God.

All these absurdities the same Augustine refutes most admirably: "If (says he) Moses therefore says, 'It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy," because it proceeds from both ?that is, both from the will of man and the mercy of God ?this is the same as saying, The will of man alone is not sufficient, unless the mercy of God be added to it; nor is the mercy of God alone sufficient without the addition of the will of man. Moreover, if no Christian man dares say, It is not of God that showeth mercy, but of man that willeth, it evidently follows that we must understand that it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, in order that the whole glory may be ascribed to God, who prepares the will of man, when made good, to be aided by Him, and who aids it when thus prepared. More absurd still, therefore, is the cunning device of certain ones, who spin out of these important questions a conclusion that there is a kind of concurrence, or half-way meeting, between the mercy of God and the endeavours of man. As if Paul meant that men can do very little by running unless assisted by the grace of God! Whereas, the apostle reduces all things else to nothing that he may give empty and whole place to the mercy of God. For whence is the beginning of all right running? Can anyone, of himself, go to meet God? Can he do it, until led and directed by the Holy Spirit?

Here, again, let me adopt the language of Augustine. "There are daily drawn unto Christ (says he) those who were His enemies. No one can come unto Me (says Christ), except My Father draw him.' He does not say 'lead him,' as if the will of man, in some way, preceded; for who is drawn that is already willing to go? But he that is chosen of God is drawn in a wonderful way by Him, who knoweth how to work in the hearts of men. Not that they may be made to believe against their wills, or unwillingly, but that they may be made willing who before were unwilling. Hence we see that a man's eternal election of God is proved by this subsequent 'running'; yet so proved, that God's mercy alone (which lifts up those that are down, and brings back the wandering into the way; nay, which raises the dead to life, and calleth things to be which are not) hath the pre-eminence."

We have next to consider the remaining members of the apostle's sentence concerning the reprobate. Of these Paul brings before us Pharaoh as the most signal instance. For God Himself thus speaks of him, by Moses: "And in very deed, for this cause have I raised thee up, for to show in thee My power." This passage the apostle has faithfully rendered, giving, as it were, word for word, thus: "Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might show My power in thee." The verb used is HIPHIL, derived from the root AMAD, which signifies "to stand." Pharaoh, therefore, is declared to be put forth openly and prominently as one whom God might make a memorable example of His power. Now whence (or from what state or condition) did God receive Pharaoh, in order that He might place him in that position? Pighius would have it that God sustained him by His power for a time when deserving of death. Suppose I should permit him to take refuge under such a cover of escape; he is still entangled and held fast in the fact that God, leaving Pharaoh to his own will and inclination, destined him to destruction.

If Pighius be anxious here to dwell upon the long-suffering of God, I fully agree with him; this fact, nevertheless, remains fixed and unaltered, that the reprobate are set apart, in the purpose of God, for the very end, that in them God might show forth His power. And that the longsuffering of God is, in the present instance, far removed from the apostle's mind and argument is evidenced from his immediate inference, when he observes "Whom He will He hardeneth." He would not have added this unless, under the expression "raised thee up,'' he had meant to comprehend that purpose of God by which Pharaoh was ordained to magnify by his obstinancy the redemption of God's people Israel. For if anyone should say that Pharaoh's being "raised up" signified his being raised from above to the summit of kingly honour, that indeed is some part, but not the whole, of the matter. For the LXX. Greek interpreters have here used the same expression as that by which they render the verb HIPHIL, derived from the radical KUM, "to arise." Moreover, God is said to "raise up" that which he causes by an outstretched arm, as it were, to accomplish the end He has ordained. The Scripture here principally looks at the beginning, or first-cause, of that which it is recording, that it may ascribe the whole to God alone. In this same manner God is also said to "raise up" prophets and ministers of salvation, that no man might claim any of these things to himself on the ground of his own industry. Therefore, the meaning of Moses has been faithfully expressed by the term, "raised up," if you will but so receive it; nor did Paul receive it otherwise. And most certainly the expression "raised up" comprehends, not less distinctly than summarily, what he had touched upon both concerning the elect and the reprobate, since he is claiming for God the right and the power to have mercy on whom He will, and to harden whom he will, according to His own pleasure and purpose. The apostle therefore maintains that the right of hardening and of showing mercy is in the power of God alone, and that no law can be imposed on Him as a rule for His works, because no law or rule can be thought of better, greater, or more just, than His own will!

But as some formerly would have it that the apostle is here introducing the wicked railing against God, Pighius also flees to this refuge. And suppose this be granted to him, the knot is by no means untied then. For, in the first place, the apostle does not move a question about nothing. And, in the next place, his answer is such that he admits the objection of the adversaries to be true. And what does Pighius get by such shuffling as this? He only proves by such quibbles that his cause is a bad one. But who will be found to cede to him what he asks, when he thus violently sunders, on the one hand, things thus immediately connected together, and, on the other, binds into one bundle things manifestly separate and distinct? After the apostle had shown that God had made a distinction between the elect and the reprobate by His incomprehensible will, he draws in the same context this inference: "For He hath mercy on whom He will have mercy; and whom He will He hardeneth." To which he immediately subjoins, "Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth He yet find fault?" When Paul thus makes the persons speaking evidently plain and distinct, who would not rather attend to Paul's own words than to any extraneous comments upon them? Augustine here also, as in many other instances, most wisely observes, "It signifies but little in whose person you receive that to be spoken, which the apostle, by his answer, implies to be true. If the objection had been fake, it is not very likely that the apostle would have been silent had the cause of the adversaries been so good, so clear, and so plausible. For if it be false that God hardens whom He will, this knot, so insolvable by all human intellect, might have been settled by the apostle in one word."

Pighius, under this view of the matter, pretends that the apostle declined to give a plain and pointed answer, because he did not deem impudent persons worthy of being conversed with; that they might rather learn to think humbly, than proudly to require a reason for the works of God. Just as we elsewhere read (says he) that the Jews, who asked Christ by what authority He did His works, were repelled by a like question only. But the words of Paul himself stand directly against such a supposition, for he afterwards curbs the insolence of all those who indulge an audacious curiosity in scrutinizing the secrets of God. He maintains, however, while so doing, the fact that the reprobate are vessels of the wrath of God, in whom He shows His power.

Augustine, therefore, reasons far differently from Pighius, and much more accurately, where he argues: "When Paul had supposed the question to be put, 'Why doth He yet find fault?' does he reply, That which thou hast said, O man, is false? No such thing. His answer is, 'Who art thou, O man, that repliest against God?'" What Augustine says elsewhere is worthy of notice. "Paul (observes he) does not break off the discourse of the adversaries by a severe reproof when they are contending against God with profane petulance, as if the justice of God required a solemn defence, but he expresses himself in the way which he thought most expedient. Certain foolish persons consider that the apostle failed in his reply on this occasion, and that having no reason to give, he merely repressed the audacity of the opponents. But the apostle's words have inconceivable weight. 'Who art thou, O man?' In such questions as these the apostle throws a man back into the consideration of what he is, and what is the capacity of his mind. This is a mighty reason rendered, in a few words indeed, but in great reality. For who that understands not this appeal of the apostle can reply to God? And who that understands it can find anything to reply?

Wherefore (says Augustine elsewhere), "If these arguments of Paul have any weight with us as men, let us also gravely listen to the apostle when he appeals to us, directly afterwards, in those striking words, 'Who art thou, O man?' etc. For although God did not create the sins of men, who but God did create the natures of men themselves? which are, in themselves, undoubtedly good, but from which there were destined to proceed evils and sins, according to the pleasure of His will, and, in many, such sins as would be visited with eternal punishment. If it be asked, Why did God create such natures? The reply is, Because He willed to create them. Why did He so will? 'Who art thou, O man, that repliest against God?' If vain reasoners have anything more to say, behold! a reason is here rendered to man! A reason sufficient for him, and all that is due to him, if indeed he will receive even this, who is disposed to contend for the liberty of his own will, while he is himself under the bondage of his own infirmity. But if a depraved desire to quarrel with God still frets anyone, let such an one (saith Augustine) speak and hear as becometh man: 'Who art thou, O man?' But let him hear and not despise. And if anyone be a despiser, let him believe himself to be 'hardened of God,' that he may despise. If anyone despise not, let him believe that he is gifted and aided of God that he might not despise. But let the one believe that he is hardened according to his desert; the other, that he is helped according to grace." And what the desert of man is Augustine had before shown in these words, "Every sinner is inexcusable, either on account of his original sin and sinful nature, or else from the additional act of his own will, whether he knew that he was sinning, or knew it not; whether he had a. judgment of what is right, or had it not. For ignorance itself, in those who will not understand, is undoubtedly sin; and in those who cannot understand ignorance is the punishment of sin."

But let the testimony of Augustine now aid us no farther. Ponder with me, readers, this momentous matter itself by itself. Paul comparing, as he here does, man with God, shows that the counsel of God, in electing and reprobating men, is without doubt more profound and more deeply concealed than the human mind can penetrate. Wherefore, O man, consider (as the apostle adviseth thee) who and what thou art, and concede more to God than the measure and compass of thine own nature. But suppose we give place, for a moment, to the philosophizing of Pighius: that the condition of all men is equal, except in those who deprive themselves of eternal life, who, nevertheless, were elected even as others. What would there be here obscure or difficult of solution? What would there be that common sense could not receive? What that natural judgment could not make clear? But when you hear of a mystery surpassing all human understanding, you may at once conclude that all solutions of men, derived from common natural judgment, and which might avail in a profane court of justice, are frivolous and vain. Here, however, Pighius attempts to meet us with the remark that those are never repulsed of God, nor sent away in doubt, who humbly keep their minds in subjection; that, therefore, those who thus contend against God are the refractory and haughty only; and that such contention is found in none others. To this assertion I will assent without difficulty, on condition that Pighius confess, on his part, that the apostle condemns of impious pride all who measure the justice of God by their own comprehension. But that God may obtain the praise of His justice, He must, according to the judgment of Pighius, render a plain reason for everything He does. Whereas, our rule of modesty ought to be, that where God's reason for His works lies hidden, we should nevertheless believe Him to be just.

Now the son of Sirach is not ashamed to extol God with the praise that, as a potter, He separates and distinguishes vessels according to His will; and that men are also as clay in the hands of God who forms them, and who renders to them accordingly as He has decreed. For krivsi", in this passage, if you compare it with what has preceded, cannot signify anything else than the good pleasure of the workman, or potter. Nor do we want to seek an interpreter beyond the apostle himself, who, under the same figure, openly rebukes the audacity of all who require of God a reason for His works. Shall the clay (demands the apostle) say unto the potter, Why hast thou made me thus?" He, therefore, will truly confine himself to the moderation of the apostle, who, holding the will of God, though hidden, to be the highest justice, gives to Him the free power of destroying or saving whom He will. How much soever therefore Pighius may twist himself in twisting the words of the apostle, he cannot make this similitude apply otherwise, in the present instance, than the apostle had applied it, who introduces it to show that God fashions and forms by His own right all men to whatever destiny He pleases and wills.

If this, at first appearance, should seem to anyone out of the way or unintelligible, let him hear a farther admonition of the admirable Augustine: "If (says he) beasts could speak, and should quarrel with their Maker because He had not made them men like us, there is not one of us who would not, in a moment, fly into a rage with them. What, then, do we think of ourselves? Who or what are we that we should contend with God for having made each of us what we are? That man is most certainly mad who will not ascribe to God a far greater and higher excellency than that which he and the human race possess above the beasts of the earth. What remains, then, but that the sheep of God's flock quietly and peacefully submit themselves unto Him?" This would be far more becoming than, after the example of Pighius, to make men the potters instead of God, and to leave each one to shape out his destiny by his own virtue.

But Pighius says, "What is here obscure is elsewhere made plain. As the furnace proves the vessels of the potter, so does temptation prove the just." This is true. But from this he concludes that, therefore, if a just man shall he constant in faith and piety, he will be a vessel unto honour; but if he fail, through want of courage and constancy, he will be a vessel unto dishonour. And since, according to his account, each one by his own will, assisted by Divine grace (which is common, he says, to all men, and prepared for all men), at length perseveres, he concludes that we are made vessels unto honour by our invincible fortitude. Now, I will not stop to observe how absurdly Pighius here confounds together two entirely different things ?the forming of the vessel, and the proving of the vessel when formed ?I would merely remark that God's proving His own people by various trials and temptations does not at all alter, or interfere with, His predestination of them by His eternal will and counsel before they were born. Nor does it alter His forming them, from all eternity, such as He willed them to be afterwards in time. Nor does that passage of Paul in any way support these views of Pighius, where the apostle says, "If a man, therefore, shall purify himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour." Paul is not here shewing in what way men, extricated and cleansed from their filth, are made vessels unto honour; but how the faithful, who are already chosen and called, become adapted for the pure uses of God. And now, observe what an exact harmony there is between the mind of Pighius and the mind of the apostle! Pighius' words are: "What is here obscure in the apostle. he elsewhere renders quite plain ?why and how it is that God makes some vessels to honour and not others. Thus, in order that Jacob might be a vessel of mercy, his soul had purified itself, on which account he was deservedly made a vessel unto honour; and it was thus that God, having a respect unto this self-purification, which He foreknew, loved and chose the patriarch before he was born."

So Pighius. Now hear Paul. He, on the contrary, when exhorting the faithful thus to purify themselves, in order to lay a "foundation" for this doctrine, prefaces it by saying, "The Lord knoweth them that are His." In the same way he elsewhere exhorts the people of God to holiness, by arguing: "For we are His workmanship, created unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." Paul, therefore, who, with all soberness of mind, glories in being a wise master-builder, lays the foundation of all salvation in the free grace of God alone. Pighius, on the contrary, begins his building from the earth's plain surface, without any foundation at all. And, in the same way, when handling that passage of Jeremiah, (chap. xix. 11), he consumes a multitude of words to no purpose whatever. The prophet is not, in that passage, describing the origin of our formation, but he is asserting and maintaining God's rightful power in breaking to pieces and destroying vessels already formed and finished. The mind and intent of the apostle, therefore, in his use of this similitude, are to be carefully observed and held fast ?that God, the Maker of men, forms out of the same lump in His hands one vessel, or man, to honour, and another to dishonour, according to His sovereign and absolute will. For He freely chooses some to life who are not yet born, leaving others to their own destruction, which destruction all men by nature equally deserve. And when Pighius holds that God's election of grace has no reference to, or connection with, His hatred of the reprobate, I maintain that reference and connection to be a truth. Inasmuch as the just severity of God answers, in equal and common cause, to that free love with which He embraces His elect.

The apostle then arrives at this conclusion: "What if God, willing to shew His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had afore prepared unto glory?" This forms no ground or reason (means the apostle) that anyone should question God, or contend with Him. Pighius here (as those like him are wont to do) seizes upon the word longsuffering. Nay, he dwells on that word with a lofty boast bordering on ferocity, as if God hardened not the elect otherwise than by parental indulgence, as it were. "God (says he) makes men vessels unto dishonour in no other way than by kindly enduring them while they are abusing His longsuffering, and treasuring up for themselves wrath against a day of wrath." What, then, becomes of the difference which God made between the two brothers before they were born? If we are to believe Pighius, this difference was made because God foresaw what the hardness of Esau's heart would be. How is it, then, that the election of grace is so distinctly manifest in the case of Jacob, when Esau stood in the same grade and position with Jacob until he excluded himself from the number of the children and family of Isaac? But this shifting and shuffling of Pighius is so utterly refuted by one very short sentence of the apostle Paul, that it is quite needless to go any farther to fetch arguments for refutation. In what sense the Hebrews use the terms "vessels" and "instruments" everyone knows who has the least acquaintance with the Scripture. Wherever we hear of "instruments," we shall also find God concerned as the Author and Overruler of the whole that is done, while His hand directs the whole. And why are men called "vessels " of wrath? but because God shews towards such His righteous severity which He abstains from shewing towards others? And why are they made "vessels of wrath?" Paul tells us: That God might, in them, "shew forth His wrath and make His power known." The apostle says that they were "fitted to destruction." When? and how? but from their first origin and primitive nature. For the nature of the whole human race was corrupted in the person of Adam. Not that the still higher and deeper purpose of God did not precede the whole. But it was from this fountain that the curse of God commenced its operation. From this source began, in effect, the destruction of the human race. Correspondently, the apostle testifies that God had "afore prepared" the "vessels of mercy" unto glory.

Now if this being "afore prepared unto glory" is peculiar and special to the elect, it evidently follows that the rest, the non-elect, were equally "fitted to destruction," because, being left to their own nature, they were thereby devoted already to certain destruction. That they were "fitted to destruction" by their own wickedness is an idea so silly that it needs no notice. It is indeed true that the reprobate procure to themselves the wrath of God, and that they daily hasten on the falling of its weight upon their own heads. But it must be confessed by all that the apostle is here treating of that difference made between the elect and the reprobate, which proceeds from the alone secret will and purpose of God. Paul says also, that the "riches" of God's "grace" are made known on the "vessels of mercy "; while, on the contrary, the "vessels of wrath" rush on to destruction. Most certainly nothing is here heard of Pighius' absurd prating?that grace is the same towards all, but that the goodness of God is the more brightly illustrated by His enduring the vessels of wrath while He suffers them to come to their own end. But with respect to God's longsuffering, the solution of its operation is perfectly plain. It is immediately connected with His power. God does not only permit a thing to be done, or to continue, by His longsuffering, but He rules and overrules what is done by His almighty power.

Nor on any other grounds than these can that inviolable engagement of God stand, where He says, "I the Lord thy God am a jealous God; merciful to a thousand generations, but a severe avenger unto the third and fourth generation." This compact, I say, cannot stand, unless the Lord by His own will decree to whom He will show the mercy, and whom He will suffer to remain devoted to eternal death. He extends His grace (He declares) even unto a thousand generations. Now I would ask, Does God regard the children of the godly according to their own merits when He continues the grace that was shown to their fathers themselves, upon no other grounds than because He had promised that he would do so? To Abraham, who had deserved no such favour, God freely binds Himself in faithfulness that He (God), for the patriarch's sake, will be a God to his posterity. Hence that solemn appeal to God after the patriarch's death: "Remember, Lord, Thy servant Abraham" (Deut. ix. 27). Here most certainly is made a choice of men, and a distinction between them; and that, not according to the merits of each, but according to the covenant made with their fathers. Not that all the posterity of Abraham, which descends from him according to the flesh, possess this privilege; but the faith and salvation of all those only who out of the seed of Abraham are chosen unto eternal life ought to be referred to this promise.

Exactly the same is the nature of that vengeance which God takes even upon the third and fourth generation. As to what some allege, that all who sin are punished from age to age, each one in his day and order, that is a more than frivolous subterfuge. In this manner the Pelagians of old, finding that they could not disentangle themselves from the nets of those testimonies of Scripture which make it evident that all men sinned in Adam, fell a cavilling at the truth, and hatched the doctrine that all the posterity of Adam sinned by imitation of him, not through a total corruption of nature derived from him. And as godly teachers then attacked them, truly maintaining that all were actually condemned on account of the sin and guilt of Adam, from which sin and guilt the grace of Christ alone frees them; so, in the present case, that the antithesis and parallels may agree with, and respond to, each other, it of necessity follows that God avenges in the persons of the children the sins which He condemned in their fathers. Nor can many other passages of the Scripture be otherwise explained, where God declares that He "recompenses the iniquity of the fathers into the bosom of their children after them." In vain do the opponents bring against us that passage of Ezekiel, "The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father: the soul that sinneth, it shall die;" because it forms one particular part of God's vengeance on sin, when He leaves men void and destitute of His Spirit. For being thus left destitute, each one bears the consequences of his own sin. Wherefore, the children are said to bear the sins of their forefathers, and not "undeservedly" (as the profane poet would intimate), because they are guilty on the very ground that, being (as the apostle says) the children of wrath, being thus left to their own natural will and inclination, and being from their origin the heirs of eternal death, they can do nothing but augment, in a perpetual and uninterrupted course, their own destruction.

We may here most opportunely explain that passage of Isaiah, which the Holy Ghost has been pleased to repeat with a particular application six times over in the New Testament. The Prophet Isaiah is sent forth with a commission of prodigious awfulness, as it at first appears: "Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed." The prophet being here represented as the minister of blindness, arises confessedly from the nature of the office he had to execute and from the effects by which, it was certain, it would be followed. Our great question lies in the cause of that blindness. It will be also confessed to be a deserved punishment, inflicted on that ungrateful and rebellious people, that light to them should become darkness. And there had, moreover, preceded in them a malicious and obstinate unbelief, which fully deserved to be visited with such a recompense. But as the prophet testifies that there was a certain select number on whom salvation shone from the preaching of the Word of God, the question to be solved is, Did those favoured ones escape the horrible judgment which lay upon the rest by any virtue of their own, or were they held safe and secure in the hand of God?

And a weightier question still presses itself upon us: How it came to pass that, out of that great multitude, some repented, while the disease of others remained incurable ?

If anyone should weigh this in the balance of human judgment, he would decide that the cause of the difference was in the men themselves. But God will not suffer us to stop here. He declares that all those who do not follow the stream of the common ruin are saved by His grace. Whether or not repentance is His own work ought not to he brought into controversy. So evidently true is that which Augustine says: "Those whom the Lord wills to be converted, He converts Himself; who not only makes willing ones out of them who were unwilling, but makes also sheep out of wolves and martyrs out of persecutors, transforming them by His all-powerful grace." If the wickedness of man be still urged as the cause of the difference between the elect and the non-elect, this wickedness might indeed be made to appear more powerful than that grace of God which He shows towards His elect, if that solemn truth did not stand in the way of such an argument: "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy!" But Paul's interpretation of the passage of Isaiah before us leaves no doubt whatever remaining. For after he had said that the election of God was determined and fixed, he adds, "But the rest were blinded, that that might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet," etc.

I grant that this blindness in the Jews was voluntary, and I freely acknowledge their sin therein. But I perceive who they are whom Paul excepts from this blindness; they are those whom it pleased God to choose out of the rest. But why did He choose some rather than others? Let no one be offended, then, that He still chooses, from time to time, some and not others; and let as, like Paul, except these chosen ones from the general mass of those who are blinded. Nor let us ask the reason why God makes the difference. For, as Paul says, it is not becoming man to contend with God. The same apostle, when speaking elsewhere to the Jews, from whose virulent malice he had so severely suffered, says: "Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers, saying, Go unto this people, and say, Hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive." (Acts xxviii. 25, 26). He charges their sin home upon them, accordingly as they fully deserved. Some persons will here erroneously and ignorantly conclude that the cause and beginning of this obduracy in the Jews was their malicious wickedness. Just as if there were no deeper and more occult cause of the wickedness itself, namely, the original corruption of nature! And as if they did not remain sunk in this corruption because, being reprobated by the secret counsel of God before they were born, they were left undelivered!

Now let us listen to the Evangelist John. He will be no ambiguous interpreter of this same passage of the prophet Isaiah. "But though (says John) Jesus had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on Him, that the saying of Esaias the prophet might be fulfilled which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed? Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart," etc. Now, most certainly John does not here give us to understand that the Jews were prevented from believing by their sinfulness. For though this be quite true in one sense, yet the cause of their not believing must be traced to a far higher source. The secret and eternal purpose and counsel of God must be viewed as the original cause of their blindness and unbelief. It perplexed, in no small degree, the ignorant and the weak, when they heard that there was no place for Christ among the people of God (for the Jews were such). John explains the reason by showing that none believe save those to whom it is given, and that there are few to whom God reveals His arm. This other prophecy concerning "the arm of the Lord," the Evangelist weaves into his argument to prove the same great truth. And his words have a momentous weight. He says, "There/ore, they could not believe." Wherefore, let men torture themselves as long as they will with reasoning, the cause of the difference made?why God does not reveal His arm equally to all?lies hidden in His own eternal decree. The whole of the Evangelist's argument amounts evidently to this: that faith is a special gift, and that the wisdom of Christ is too high and too deep to come within the compass of man's understanding. The unbelief of the world, therefore, ought not to astonish us, if even the wisest and most acute of men fail to believe. Hence, unless we would elude the plain and confessed meaning of the Evangelist, that few receive the Gospel, we must fully conclude that the cause is the will of God; and that the outward sound of that Gospel strikes the ear in vain until God is pleased to touch by it the heart within.

A different occasion for citing this passage of Isaiah presents itself to the other three evangelists while they are each recording the life and ministry of our Lord. In Matthew, our Saviour separates and distinguishes His disciples from the common mass of men. He declares that it was given to them (His disciples) to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but that He spoke to others in parables, that hearing, they might hear and not understand, that the saying of Isaiah might be fulfilled. Now I am willing to confess that those to whom Christ spoke parabolically were unworthy, in themselves, of greater light. But, on the other hand, I would wish to ask, what greater merit, in themselves, had the apostles to be freely admitted into familiarity with Christ? into which familiarity Christ did freely admit them. Here the antithesis is clearly established, that grace was freely conferred on few, when it might have been with justice denied equally to all. For shall we say that the apostles procured for themselves, by their own merits, that which the Lord declares was freely "given" to them? Nor are we to pass by without particular remark that the Saviour terms the things which He taught them "mysteries." And most certainly there is nothing in the whole circle of spiritual doctrine which does not far surpass the capacity of man and confound its utmost reach. No explanation by words, therefore, however lucid, will suffice to make the mysteries of the kingdom of God understood, unless the Holy Spirit, at the same time, teach within. But Christ would have His disciples to magnify it, as a precious pledge of the favour of God toward them, that He honoured them above the common mass of men in blessing them with the external means of teaching. Though He was, all the while, gradually leading them to that high and singular privilege which distinguishes "friends" from "servants," as John hath it (John xv. 15): "Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of My Father I have made known unto you." These friends are thus taught from above to the very end, that they might understand those things which are beyond all natural comprehension. Hence it was that Christ, on such occasions as these, so frequently uttered that loud appeal, "He that hath ears to hear let him hear." By which expression Christ not only distinguished attentive from inattentive hearers, but He implied also that all are deaf save those whose ears God is pleased to bore that they may hear, which divine blessing David magnifies in the name of the whole Church of God (Psalm xl. 6): "Sacrifice and offering Thou didst not desire; mine ears hast Thou opened."

But I will proceed no farther with discussing the several portions of God's Word relative to this divine and deep matter. Let this summary suffice: if we admit the same Spirit of God, who spoke by the apostles, to be an interpreter of the prophet Isaiah, we must also acknowledge that that secret and incomprehensible judgment of God which blinds the greater part of mankind, "that seeing, they may see and not perceive," etc., is to be adored while it does so. Here let human reasonings of every kind that can possibly present themselves to our minds cease for ever. For if we confine our, reflections to men, apart from the grace and eternal purpose of God, the first thing that will strike us is that God gives freely to those that ask Him, and that others sink and die under their need, for which they do not seek a remedy. But if we have not in our mind and understanding that which Augustine saith, "That the nature of the Divine goodness is not only to open to those that knock, but also to cause them to knock and ask;" unless, I say, we understand this, we shall never know the real need under which we labour.

If we come to the help, universal experience proves that all do not comprehend that power of the Holy Spirit, by which everything is done that ought to be done. Let no one deceive himself by vain self-flattery. Those who come to Christ were before sons of God in His divine heart, while they were, in themselves, His enemies. And because they were pre-ordained unto eternal life, they were therefore given unto Christ. Hence the faithful admonition of Augustine: "Let those who thus come to Christ remember that they are 'vessels' of grace, not of merit. For grace is to them all merit! Nor let us delight in any other knowledge than that which begins and ends in admiration! Let those deride us who will, if God but give His nod of assent from heaven to our stupidity (as men think), and if angels do but applaud it!"

Return to the Home Page Return to the Main Highway 

Go to Section III Go to Section II

Return to the Predestination Index Return to the Predestination Index

Return to Calvin's Calvinism Index Return to Calvin's Calvinism Index


Go to the Resource Page