Yesterday I started a several day long mini-series on the Calvinist version of predestination. Today I want to tackle the question – “According to John Calvin what is predestination?”
What is Predestination?
Calvin acknowledges that this doctrine has some difficulties, he says that the notion that God out of his own pleasure offers salvation to some and not to others causes “many great and difficult questions” many which seem “inexplicable” (215). However he believes that despite some of the apparent difficulties that this doctrine might have, it is a necessary doctrine and it is a biblical doctrine. Calling this doctrine a “secret thing of God” (216), it must be taught because it is found in God’s word. Since it is revealed in God’s word, God must have revealed it for a reason, namely because it “would be conducive to our interest and welfare” (216). This notion that it is a revealed “secret of God” and it must be taught is meant to answer two types of people. The first type of person is the person who attempts to figure God and his ways out. They “rush forward securely and confidently” into inquiring into the secrets of God, these people go beyond what is revealed in scripture thus they are foolish. The other type of person is the person who wants the doctrine to be rarely if ever taught. These people ignore that whatever is delivered in scripture must not be kept from the faithful (218). Both of these points lead us to see that Calvin believes that the doctrine of predestination is clearly taught in scripture.
Calvin believes that this doctrine is seen in God’s election of Abraham. He also believes that it is displayed in the election of Abraham’s family, since God rejected some and kept others even from those among Abraham’s family (220). Finally, Calvin also believes that God elects individuals to which He will offer salvation (222). For instance he cites Paul as declaring that “we were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world” (225). He also cites Paul’s letter to Timothy saying that God has called us according to his own purpose. He also makes use of John’s Gospel, to show his doctrine of election (227). Thus he believes that “Scripture clearly proves that God by his eternal and immutable counsel determined once and for all those who it was his pleasure one day to admit to salvation and…to doom to destruction” (223).
“By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every human”
So it is clear that Calvin believes that the doctrine of predestination is revealed by God in Scripture; but what is the doctrine? Calvin says that “By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every human” (220). The elect are preordained to be adopted as “sons by the heavenly Father” attaining “salvation and immortality” (3.24.5), while the reprobate are preordained to eternal damnation. Calvin makes it clear that he believes in double predestination, thus it is not only the elect that are predestined but also the reprobate. He believes that it is illogical to say that there is only election and not reprobation (230); for “whom God passes by for election he reprobates” (230).
Briefly we should note that for Calvin election is not simply foreknowledge. He believes that God foreknows the elect because he has chosen the elect, it is not the other way around (238). Calvin accuses those who subordinate foreknowledge to election of teaching election by works. The foreknowledge view states that God distinguishes between individuals based upon his foreknowledge of how much merit a person will acquire, then God elects or dooms people based upon their merits that he foresees (224). Calvin argues that this is unscriptural. To do this is to “invert Paul’s order” (225) for Paul says that we are elected to be holy, not because we are holy (225). Having seen what Calvin believes about predestination, we are in a position to see why he believes that it is not unjust, we will do this tomorrow.
(Note: All quotes come from the anthology, The Protestant Reformation edited by Hans Hildebrand.)