16 October, 2016

Predestination in Calvin, Beza, and Later Reformed Theology

Prof. Herman C. Hanko

[Originally published in the Protestant Reformed Theological Journal, Vol. 10, No. 2 (April, 1977)]

On February 10 of this year, our Seminary went to Calvin Seminary to hear a lecture delivered by Rev. Philip C. Holtrop entitled, “Predestination in Calvin, Beza, and the Later Reformed Orthodoxy.” While there were many historical inaccuracies and theological mistakes in this paper which Rev. Holtrop delivered for the student body and professors of Calvin Seminary, there is especially one incorrect view presented in this paper which is worthy of treatment in this Journal article. The reason why this subject is of importance and interest is that it is not only, more or less, a mistaken notion held more widely than by Holtrop, but it is also a view which is used as a basis for a denial of sovereign and double predestination within Reformed circles.

The general view set forth in Holtrop’s paper is this. Calvin’s doctrine of predestination was essentially correct. But Theodore Beza, Calvin’s successor in the Academy in Geneva, reconstructed Calvin’s entire view of predestination and introduced into it a scholastic and supralapsarian construction. This view, according to Holtrop, dominated Reformed theology from the time of Beza through the Synod of Dordt and post-Dordt theologians until the present. It is only in more recent times that several theologians from Reformed circles, including particularly Berkouwer and James Daane, have once again returned to the original ideas set forth by Calvin. And, therefore, the great need of the hour is to return once again to the ideas on predestination set forth by Calvin and to revise and revitalize Reformed theology along his lines.

It might be well to quote specifically from a copy of the speech distributed beforehand in order to demonstrate the precise position which Holtrop takes. In the early part of the paper Holtrop points out that while Calvin was predominantly under the influence of the ancient Greek philosopher Plato, his successor, Beza, was more under the influence of Aristotle. He writes:

Calvin stands within the sphere of platonic and not aristotelian thinking. That point is important in view of the shift of accent from Plato to Aristotle already in the first generation of his successors. In my judgment the structure of Beza’s thinking (modified Aristotelian) is more determinative for the character of later Reformed Orthodoxy than the structure of Calvin’s thinking (modified Platonism).   (p. 2)

On page 3, Holtrop writes:

We see an "aristotelian" standpoint in later Reformed Orthodoxy (Scholasticism) where strong accent is put on logical system, and predestination, e.g., is regarded as the “cause” of everything that happens in the world

… It is fascinating to see that in the history of theology the “platonists” have more room for feeling, human passions, emotions, joy and sorrow, than the “Aristotelians.”

Thus, Calvin’s theology is warm, living, vital, energetic, in contrast to the more systematic and “intellectual” theologies of Reformed Orthodoxy (Beza, Peter Martyr, Zanchi, etc.)

Thus Holtrop writes:

When we compare Calvin and later Reformed Orthodoxy we see two profoundly different ways of doing theology (no matter how much the latter may have thought it was a continuation of the former). Elsewhere I have referred to these as relational and essentialist theologies (Reformed Journal, January 1976, pp. 14 ff.) and have tried to spell out some implications for rethinking and redoing our Reformed heritage (cf. Calvin Theological Journal, April 1976, pp. 91 ff.).   (p.4)

Apart from the fact that Holtrop flies in the face of all historical evidence when he characterizes Calvinism as Platonic and Beza’s theology as Aristotelian, the fact of the matter is that both of these Reformers would have risen in righteous indignation at the very thought that their theologies were influenced by pagan philosophers and were not derived from the Holy Scriptures. It is not our intention however, to go into this aspect of the paper, as incorrect as it may be.

It was Beza, however, according to Holtrop, who spoiled the essentially correct emphasis which Calvin made on the doctrine of predestination. And it was Beza who influenced all subsequent Reformed theology.

The influence of Beza on Puritan America would make a worthy study; yet the effects of his predestination theology were especially felt, for the next centuries, in the scholarly orthodox theology that emerged particularly in the Netherlands. The Canons of Dordt can only be seen against the backdrop of his theology, and the fact that Dordt influenced every Reformed creed that followed prompts us to say that the whole history of Calvinism is significantly illumined when we fasten attention on the doctrine of predestination and the restructuring of Calvin’s theology in Beza.

There is a wide agreement that Beza’s lasting impact on the later development of Calvinism lies in his (re)interpretation of Calvin’s doctrine of predestination.   (p. 5)

Holtrop then lists some theologians who in his judgment support this contention. Among those listed are Berkouwer and James Daane of whom Holtrop writes: “Daane rightly located a shift from soteriological to decretal theology in the predestination thinking of Beza, recognizing that other thinkers are also important.”   (p. 6)

Holtrop goes on to say:

Dordt shows the spirit of Genevan Aristotelianism at work; but what happened at Dordt and ensuing controversies was international Calvinism in action. Beza gave direction to these controversies. Arminius reacted primarily against the Bezan influence in Reformed theology which he perceived, quite rightly, as different from Calvin.   (p. 6)

It almost seems here as if Holtrop takes the position that Arminius himself was in basic agreement with Calvin, and that the error of his thinking which was condemned by the Synod of Dordt was an error only in the light of Beza’s corruption of Calvin’s basically correct doctrine of predestination. However this may be, this is called by Holtrop, “decretal theology.” Thus he writes:

Thus, decretal theology, as it comes to be seen in Reformed Orthodoxy, begins at this point; the absolute pre-historical decree of God now comes to be seen as a necessary ontological base for everything that happens (deductive theology), and everything that happens, or exists, is now seen in terms of the essence of God (immutability; mercy and justice, love and hate seen in aesthetic balance). If the doctrine of predestination is the “crown of soteriology” for Calvin, it is the main structure for all theology in Beza.

In that theology the point of departure is the hidden counsel of God, not the actualized relation of God and man, the revelation-and-faith correlate, or man before the face of God. What God has decreed is inviolately executed in history: that means, for Beza, that we must take our standpoint in God and His decree. Predestination in Calvin is a support for the assurance of salvation; hence he looks from sanctification to predestination (observe position of treatment in 1559 Institutes). Calvin’s view is a view of man to God. But in Beza’s theology that relation is reversed: looking for God’s predestination of man’s sanctification he remained preoccupied with predestination for his entire life.   (p. 6)

Because Beza corrupted Calvin’s view of predestination, this view, according to Holtrop, was challenged by Arminius and Uytenbogaert. This resulted in the controversy which led up to the Synod of Dordt. But at the Synod of Dordt the view of Beza triumphed. “The Synod dealt severely with Arminius, and though decretal theology won the day the situation was such that practically everybody lost.” (pp. 6, 7) The result of this was that the views of Beza influenced all subsequent Reformed theology.

It is a little bit difficult to know exactly what Holtrop views as Calvin’s teachings on predestination. He emphasizes the fact that Calvin treated predestination in connection with soteriology, and that in fact in Calvin’s 1559 edition of the Institutes he deliberately changed the place of treatment of predestination to include it under soteriology because his view of predestination was different from that of subsequent Reformed theology. Holtrop emphasizes the fact that Calvin insists that “the doctrine of election is wrongly seen if it does not produce ‘very sweet fruit’ and ‘benefits’; and because we have been chosen to the end ‘that we may lead a holy and blameless life.’” He writes further:

Calvin placed his chapters on election where he did because Scripture places its chapters on election in the context of soteriology; and certain significant consequencescomfort, doxology, holiness, humility, piety, and a remarkable desire to preach the gospel to all menare drawn from that placement. Those consequences would not follow election if he treated election in abstraction, apart from soteriology, under the heading of God.   (p. 8)

He writes further:

Thus, to say that Calvin treats predestination at the end of the third book of the Institutes is to say something that Calvin wants to say, and to indicate that Beza treats predestination at the beginning of the doctrine of God is to indicate that he made a choice which Calvin, for good reason, did not make. Calvin’s main interest in the doctrine of predestination is a soteriological interest of God-in-us and God-through-us, and thus he is not caught in abstract speculations that virtually controlled the later infra and supra debates …

Calvin wants neither an abstract doctrine based on some past decree nor an abstract doctrine based on some future threat but rather a doctrine of election open to the soteriological moment of the present.   (p. 8)

While it is not altogether clear, Holtrop seems to take the position that Calvin’s doctrine of predestination is a doctrine which differs widely from the predestination as set forth by the Synod of Dordt, subsequent Reformed theologians, and Reformed believers up until the present. And because he quotes Berkouwer and Daane sympathetically, one is almost driven to the conclusion that Holtrop means to say that Calvin repudiated the doctrine of double predestination altogether. That is, in Holtrop’s judgment, Calvin repudiated reprobation as it is set forth in our Canons and repudiated unconditional election as it has been maintained by Reformed theology.

This becomes clearer when Holtrop emphasizes so strongly that Beza’s supralapsarian conception of predestination was a departure from Calvin’s view and was a scholastic, Aristotelian, and therefore Scripturally incorrect presentation of the entire subject. Thus he writes:

Beza wants his doctrine to be one of “equal ultimacy”the results of hardening are as much a work of God as the results of faith; eternal death is as much decreed by God as eternal life; there is no disjunction in the mode of decree and election and reprobation both redound to the glory of God. Everything is seen as the unravelling of God’s decree.

This becomes all the clearer when Holtrop presents on p. 12 a comparison of the views of both Calvin and Beza. While we need not quote all that Holtrop writes in this connection, a couple of points are worth noticing. According to Holtrop, Calvin teaches that election must never be divorced from the practical, existential arena of here and now; while in contrast to this, Beza teaches that “the God Who elects is the God Who had formed His plan before the foundation of the world.” Further, according to Holtrop, Calvin teaches that the end of predestination “is that we may obtain salvation by the favor of God”; while Beza on the other hand teaches that “the end of predestination is that God may be glorified by realizing His own purpose with the world.” Calvin’s main interest in predestination is “God-in-us and God-through-us”; Beza’s main interest in predestination is “an interest in God-to-us or God-using-us.” Calvin escapes the infra-supra debate; while Beza adopts a strong supralapsarian position. For Calvin it is possible to preach election because Calvin speaks of rejection solely as an act of God in time and history; while Beza denies that human response in time and history have any significance. According to Holtrop, Calvin teaches that rejection is always related to preceding sin (this is the doctrine of conditional reprobation emphatically rejected by the Synod of Dordt and by all Reformed theology, and something which Calvin by no stretch of the imagination ever taught, H.H.), while Beza taught that “the sin of the non-elect is related to God’s decree of reprobation,” a position which makes it difficult to deny that God is the author of sin. Calvin denies that one is obliged to speak of election and reprobation simultaneously and in the same manner; while Beza virtually accepts this “symmetry.”

In summary, Holtrop writes:

Beza strongly emphasizes that our election is ‘before the foundation of the world.’ No doubt he felt he was true to Calvin’s intentions, but in fact he restructured Calvin’s theology. Reformed Orthodoxy is basically decretal theology, whether mild or rigid; we see that, for example, in Gomarus, Maccovius, Voetius, Turretin, Kuyper, Bavinck, Hoeksema, L. Berkhof, and Van Til.

Although this restructuring of Calvin’s theology by Beza was the cause of the infra and supra debates which characterized Reformed theology from the time of Beza until the present, nevertheless, in Holtrop’s view, “both these views are expressions of decretal theologyand precisely that is the problem. For as Daane has written (The Freedom of God), decretal theology is abstract and finally unpreachable.” (p. 15)

And so the Synod of Dort basically departed from the position of Calvin and adopted the predestinarian views of Beza.

The spirit of the Canons cannot be apprized until we observe the accent away from abstraction and toward the election of God revealed in Jesus Christ. Given their historical background, the Canons look rather good: there is little mention of an abstract decree and where we find that concept (I, 6, 15) it strikes us as strange. We can sum up the results of Dordt in the following two statements. (1) The central importance of predestination, as seen by Beza, was now ecclesiastically sanctioned and recognized; it was virtually canonized as the fundamental tenet of Reformed Orthodoxy. (2) Within that decretal framework, the Synod tried to steer a course away from speculation and determinism. We might wish that Dordt had rejected the whole decretal methodology or essentialist theology, but given the historical circumstances that would be asking too much. Dordt reminds us that every confession and church council must be seen within an historical context. (p. 15)

And so it has been in all subsequent Reformed theology. Almost never has it happened that the true views of Calvin have been set forth by theologians either within the Dutch Reformed or the Presbyterian tradition. It is only at present, with the works of Berkouwer and Daane primarily, that the opportunity has presented itself to return to the true views of Calvin and to do away with all the “decretal theology” of post-Calvinism. And Holtrop ends his paper with the plea to do exactly this.   

*      *      *      *      *      *      *

The first question which we face is the question of whether Holtrop’s presentation of the views of Calvin is correct. And in connection with that question we must face the question whether or not Beza at best restructured Calvin’s doctrine of predestination and at worst repudiated Calvin altogether. And these two questions in turn bring up the question of whether or not it is true that subsequent Reformed theology from the time of Beza through the present, including the Synod of Dort, abstracted the doctrine of predestination from soteriology, Christian comfort, and Godly piety. We shall take a look at all these questions.

The first question then concerns Calvin’s views of predestination. Before we look at Calvin’s views on predestination in detail, a few remarks are in order. In the first place the question is not whether Calvin linked
predestination to Christian comfort and Godly piety. Everyone who has read Calvin knows that this is true. The question is however, whether because of the fact that Calvin linked his doctrine of predestination with Christian comfort and Godly piety, he failed to teach a sovereign and double predestination. It seems to be the position of Holtrop, especially if one takes his paper in its entirety, that this is indeed Holtrop’s position. In the second place, it is striking that just about the sole proof for this position of Holtrop in his interpretation of Calvin is the fact that Calvin treats the doctrine of predestination under soteriology, after his treatment of prayer, and prior to his treatment of the truth of the resurrection from the dead. One looks in vain in the paper for additional proof for Holtrop’s contention. In the third place, it is also interesting that by means of this Holtrop leaves the impression as if this is the only place in all the Institutes where Calvin taught the doctrine of predestination. It is this latter point which, in my judgment, is so important. It is not my purpose at the moment to answer the question of why Calvin treats the doctrine of predestination in connection with soteriology. We shall have to look at this a little bit more in detail a little later. But Holtrop seems to emphasize the fact that this is the only place in Calvin’s Institutes where Calvin treats the doctrine of predestination; and that because of the fact that he treats predestination in this connection, Calvin does not believe in a double and sovereign work of predestination. It was this contention of Holtrop which forced me back to the Institutes once again. And this journey back to the Institutes was extremely enlightening.

A rereading of the Institutes can only leave one with the following impressions: 1) There is not a single doctrine of the Christian faith which Calvin treats in all of his Institutes which he treats apart from the truth of sovereign predestination. In connection with every single subject Calvin brings in the truth of both election and reprobation. 2) It is impossible to read a single page of the Institutes without taking into account the fact that the truth of predestination is presupposed and assumed in everything that Calvin writes. It is impossible to understand anything which Calvin says in any part of the Institutes without realizing it is written in the context of and presupposing the truth of sovereign and double predestination. 3) So strongly does Calvin teach the doctrine of sovereign and double predestination that many outstanding Reformed theologians, and even enemies of Calvin’s view of predestination have taken the position that Calvin was indeed himself a supralapsarian. Philip Schaff, an enemy of the doctrine of predestination, writes in his History of the Christian Church (Vol. VIII, pp. 545, 546):

The dogma of a double predestination is the cornerstone of the Calvinistic system, and demands special consideration.

Calvin made the eternal election of God, Luther made the temporal justification by faith, the article of the standing or falling church, and the source of strength and peace in the battle of life. They agreed in teaching salvation by free grace, and personal assurance of salvation by a living faith in Christ and His gospel. But the former went back to the ultimate root in a pre-mundane unchangeable decree of God; the latter looked at the practical effect of saving grace upon the individual conscience.

Bavinck also takes the position in his Gereformeerde Dogmatiek, Vol. II, p. 374 (third edition), that Calvin was supralapsarian. He writes:

Therefore all three Reformers came to the so-called supralapsarian conception of the doctrine of predestination, following which the two decrees of election and reprobation are to be considered as acts of God’s sovereignty preceding those which concern the fall, sin, and redemption in Christ.

Bavinck writes further on page 399:

And also supralapsarians have not come to their conception by philosophical thinking, but they set it forth because they considered it more in agreement with Holy Scripture. Just as Augustine came to his doctrine of predestination by a study of Paul, so the doctrine of Scripture concerning sin led Calvin to his, supralapsarianism. (translations are mine.)

However this may be, it is interesting to read Calvin himself. I have included in this paper a large number of quotes from Calvin’s Institutes not only to show that prior to his treatment of the doctrine of predestination,
Calvin repeatedly mentions it, but to show too, that his teaching concerning predestination throughout the Institutes is in keeping with all Reformed theology. I have included in this paper only those quotes from the Institutes which appear before his actual treatment of the subject. I have done this in order to show that even though Calvin treated predestination in connection with soteriology, the whole of his Institutes from the very beginning are filled with his doctrine on this matter.

It is impossible to read Calvin, especially in his Institutes, without coming to the conviction that Calvin deals with the doctrine of predestination in connection with every subject. In fact, it is impossible to understand Calvin in any part of his writings without understanding that he writes from the viewpoint of sovereign and double predestination. There is almost no page in the Institutes which does not have in it some reference to the truth of election and reprobation. While the terms themselves may not always be specifically mentioned, the truth as such is clearly stated and presupposed. (All quotations in this paper are taken from the translation of John Allen, published by the Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company in 1949)

Already in chapter 5 where Calvin treats, “The Knowledge of God Conspicuous in the Formation and Continual Government of the World,” Calvin writes in paragraph 7:

For He so regulates His providence in the government of human society, that, while He exhibits, in innumerable ways, His benignity and beneficence to all, He likewise declares, by evident and daily indications, His clemency to the pious, and His severity to the wicked and ungodly.

It is evident already from this quote that Calvin presupposes a sovereign distinction between those whom he calls the pious and those whom he calls the wicked and the ungodly. It is in this connection and in this same paragraph that he speaks also of the sovereignty of God’s mercy.

So, also, what ample occasion He supplies us for the consideration of His mercy, while, with unweary benignity, He pursues the miserable, calling them back to Himself with more than paternal indulgence, till His beneficence overcomes their depravity!

In the next paragraph Calvin speaks of the impious as being reprobate:

To this end the Psalmist, mentioning that God, in desperate cases, suddenly and wonderfully succors, beyond all expectation, those who are miserable and ready to perish … the Psalmist, I say, having proposed such examples as these, infers from them that what are accounted fortuitous accidents, are so many proofs of His heavenly providence, especially of His paternal clemency; and that hence the pious have cause to rejoice, while the mouths of the impious and reprobate are stopped.

In Calvin’s treatment of the doctrine of Holy Scripture, Calvin repeatedly stresses that the true knowledge of the Scriptures is given only to the elect.

In chapter VII, par. 5 he writes:

Only let it be known here, that that alone is true faith which the Spirit of God seals in our hearts. And with this one reason every reader of modesty and docility will be satisfied: Isaiah predicts that “all the children” of the renovated church “shall be taught of God.” (Isaiah 54:13) Herein God deigns to confer a singular privilege on His elect, whom He distinguishes from the rest of mankind … If God hath determined that this treasury of wisdom shall be reserved for His children, it is neither surprising nor absurd, that we see so much 'ignorance and stupidity among the vulgar herd of mankind … Whenever, therefore, we are disturbed at the paucity of believers, let us, on the other hand, remember that none, but those to whom it was given, have any apprehension of the mysteries of God.

After treating the doctrines of the Trinity, the divinity of Christ and the Holy Spirit, etc., Calvin, in Chapter XIV treats “The True God Clearly Distinguished in the Scripture from All Fictitious Ones by the Creation of the World.” In this chapter in par. 6, in speaking of the angels, Calvin writes:

In these passages God shows that He delegates to His angels the protection of those whom He has undertaken to preserve.

Still talking of this same subject, Calvin, in par. 12, writes:
Therefore, whatever is said concerning the ministry of angels let us direct it to this end, that, overcoming all diffidence, our hope in God may be more firmly established. For the Lord has provided these guards for us, that we may not be terrified by a multitude of enemies, as though they could prevail in opposition to His assistance, but may have recourse to these sentiments expressed by Elisha, “There are more for us than against us.”

It is impossible to explain these passages in any other way than from the viewpoint of Calvin’s doctrine of predestination.

In fact, Calvin applies the doctrine of predestination even to the angelic world. In par. 16 of the same chapter he writes:

And Paul, mentioning the elect angels, without doubt passively implies that there are reprobate ones.

It is in connection with his discussion of the evil angels that Calvin repeatedly speaks of the sovereign control of God even over them.

According to these particular examples, Paul declares generally, that the blinding of unbelievers is the work of God, (II Thessalonians 2:9, 11) whereby he had before called it the operation of Satan. It appears, then, that Satan is subject to the power of God, and so governed by His control, that he is compelled to render obedience to Him … This depravity stimulates him to attempt those things which he thinks the most opposed to God. But since God holds him tied and bound with the bridle of His power, he executes only those things which are divinely permitted; and thus, whether he will or not, he obeys his Creator, being constrained to fulfill any service to which He impels him.   (par. 17)

While God directs the courses of unclean spirits hither and thither at His pleasure, He regulates this government in such a manner, that they exercise the faithful with fighting, attack them in ambuscades, harass them with incursions, push them in battles, and frequently fatigue them, throw them into confusion, terrify them, and sometimes wound them, yet never conquer or overwhelm them; but subdue and lead captive the impious, terrorize over their souls and bodies, and abuse them like slaves by employing them in the perpetration of every enormity … But, as the promise respecting the breaking of the head of Satan belongs to Christ and all His members in common, I therefore deny that the faithful can ever be conquered or overwhelmed by him.

In this same paragraph Calvin writes:

And to this end Christ by His death overcame Satan, who had the power of death, and triumphed over all his forces, that they might not be able to hurt the church; for otherwise it would be in hourly danger of destruction. For such is our imbecility, and such the strength of his fury, how could we stand even for a moment against his various and unceasing attacks, without being supported by the victory of our Captain? Therefore God permits not Satan any power over the souls of the faithful, but abandons to his government only the impious and unbelieving, whom He designs not to number among His own flock (underscoring mine). For he is said to have the undisturbed possession of this world, till he is expelled by Christ. (John 12:31) He is said also to blind all who believe not the gospel, (II Corinthians 4:4) and to work in the children of disobedience; (Ephesians 2:2) and this justly, for all the impious are vessels of wrath. (Romans 9:26) To whom, therefore, should they be subjected, but to the minister of the Divine vengeance? Finally, they are said to be of their father the devil; (John 8:44) because, as the faithful are known to be the children of God from their bearing His image, (I John 3:10) so the impious, from the image of Satan into which they have degenerated, are properly considered as his children.

In Chapter XV Calvin treats of the creation of man in general, and, among other subjects, the question of free will. In a lengthy discussion of this subject Calvin makes clear that it is impossible to speak of a free will in fallen man in the sense of the ability to choose between the good and the bad. This was the position of all the Reformers, and Calvin is no exception. This question of the free will of man is a critical question in connection with Calvin’s later development of the doctrine of predestination, for Calvin makes it clear that, because man is without free will in the sense mentioned above, predestination can never be in any sense dependent upon the choice of man. In par. 8, e.g., Calvin writes:

But those who profess themselves to be disciples of Christ, and yet seek for free will in man, now lost and overwhelmed in spiritual ruin, in striking out a middle path between the opinions of the philosophers and the doctrine of heaven, are evidently deceived, so that they touch neither heaven nor earth.

In Chapters XVI and XVII Calvin discusses at length the doctrine of providence. This whole section on providence is replete with examples of God’s sovereign disposition among men. It is almost possible to quote at random from this chapter in proof of Calvin’s firm commitment to the doctrine of sovereign predestination; but a few examples will suffice. Chapter XVI, par. 7 we read:

Lastly, when we hear, on the one hand, that “the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and His ears are open unto their cry,” and on the other, that “the face of the Lord is against them that do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth,” (Psalm 34:15, 16) we may be assured that all creatures, above and below, are ready for His service, that He may apply them to any use that He pleases. (Underscoring mine.)

In par. 8 he writes:

By this reasoning he [the reference here is to Augustine] excludes also any contingence dependent on the human will; and immediately after more expressly asserts that we ought not to inquire for any cause of the will of God. But in what sense permission ought to be understood, whenever it is mentioned by him, will appear from one passage, where he proves that the will of God is the supreme and first cause of all things, because nothing happens but by His command or permission.

With this sentiment of Augustine Calvin agrees.

In this same section Calvin repeatedly speaks of the fact that the deeds of wicked men are also under God’s sovereign control. He writes, for example, in par. 5:

I admit more than this; even that thieves and homicides, and other malefactors, are instruments of Divine Providence, whom the Lord uses for the execution of the judgments which He has appointed.

And again in par. 6:

With respect to men, whether good or evil, he will acknowledge that their deliberations, wills, endeavors, and powers, are under His control, so that it is at His option to direct them withersoever He pleases, and to restrain them as often as He pleases.

A little farther on in this same paragraph, writing concerning the people of God, Calvin says:

What more can we desire for ourselves, if not a single hair can fall from our head, but according to His will? I speak not exclusively of the human race; but since God has chosen the church for His habitation, there is no doubt but He particularly displays His paternal care in the government of it.

In Chapter XVII, par. 2 Calvin even repudiates the idea of permission.

With respect to His secret influences, the declaration of Solomon concerning the heart of the king, that it is inclined hither or thither according to the divine will, (Proverbs 21:1) certainly extends to the whole human race, and is as much as though he had said, that whatever conceptions we form in our minds, they are directed by the secret inspiration of God. And certainly, if He did not operate internally on the human mind, there would be no propriety in asserting, that He causes “the wisdom of the wise to perish, and the understanding of the prudent to be hid; that he poureth contempt upon princes, and causes them to wander in the wilderness, where there is no way.” (Isaiah 29:14, Psalm 107:40, Ezekiel 7:26) … These passages also many persons refer to permission, as though, in abandoning the reprobate, God permitted them to be blinded by Satan. But that solution is too frivolous, since the Holy Spirit expressly declares that their blindness and infatuation are inflicted by the righteous judgment of God. He is said to have caused the obduracy of Pharaoh’s heart, and also to have aggravated it and confirmed it. Some elude the force of these expressions with a foolish cavilthat since Pharaoh himself is elsewhere said to have hardened his own heart, his own will is stated as the cause of his obduracy; as though these two things were at all incompatible with each other, that man should be actuated by God, and yet at the same time be active in himself. But I retort on them their own objection; for if hardening denotes a bare permission, Pharaoh cannot properly be charged with being the cause of his own obstinacy. Now, how weak and insipid would be such an interpretation, as though Pharaoh only permitted himself to be hardened! Besides, the Scripture cuts off all occasion for such cavils. God says, “I will harden his heart.” (Exodus 4:21) … But as we must discuss this subject again in the second book, where we shall treat of the freedom or slavery of the human will, I think I have now said, in a brief manner, as much as the occasion required. The whole may be summed up thus; that, as the will of God is said to be the cause of all things, His providence is established as the governor in all the counsels and works of men, so that it not only exerts its power in the elect, who are influenced by the Holy Spirit, but also compels the compliance of the reprobate.

In book II Calvin devotes a great deal of time to a discussion of the question of free will. He repeatedly speaks of the slavery of the will to sin. In par. 12, e.g., he writes:

So the will, being inseparable from the nature of man, is not annihilated; but it is fettered by depraved and inordinate desires, so that it cannot aspire after anything that is good.

In par. 20, referring again to election, he writes:

If we were firmly persuaded of what, indeed, ought not to be questioned, that our nature is destitute of all those things which our heavenly Father confers on His elect through the spirit of regeneration, here would be no cause of hesitation.

Continuing this theme in Chapter III, par. 5, Calvin writes:

The will, therefore, is so bound by the slavery of sin, that it cannot excite itself, much less devote itself to anything good; for such a disposition is the beginning of a conversion to God, which in the Scriptures is attributed solely to divine grace.

In par. 8 Calvin writes:

The origin of all good clearly appears, from a plain and certain reason, to be from no other than God alone; for no propensity of the will to anything good can be found in the elect. But the cause of election must not be sought in man, (underscoring mine) whence we may conclude, that man has not a good will from himself but that it proceeds from the same decree by which we were elected before the creation of the world.

After a lengthy discussion on the sovereign character of the work of salvation, Calvin repeatedly writes concerning the decrees of election and reprobation in connection with this. We quote but a few instances.

Nor does He promise by Ezekiel that He will give to the elect a new spirit, only that they may be able to walk, but that they may actually walk, in His precepts.

This is the privilege of the elect, that, being regenerated by the Spirit of God, they are led and governed by His direction.   (par. 10)

Still discussing the general subject of providence in chapter 4, Calvin writes in par. 3:

And Augustine himself, in his fifth book against Julien, contends very largely, that sins proceed not only from the permission or the prescience, but from the power of God, in order that former sins may thereby be punished. So also what they advance concerning permission is too weak to be supported. God is very frequently said to blind and harden the reprobate, and to turn, incline, and influence their hearts, as I have elsewhere more fully stated.

Now that the ministry of Satan is concerned in instigating the reprobate, whenever God directs them hither or thither by His providence, may be sufficiently proved even from one passage. [The passage referred to is I Samuel 6:14, 18:19, 19:19]   (Par. 5)

In answering objections to this doctrine, Calvin, in Chapter V, par. 5, writes concerning the operations of God in both the elect and the reprobate.

If anyone would desire a plainer answer, let him take it thus: the operations of God on His elect are twofoldinternally, by His Spirit, externally, by His Word. By His Spirit illuminating their minds and forming their hearts to the love and cultivation of righteousness, He makes them new creatures. By His Word He excites them to desire, seek, and obtain the same renovation. In both He displays the efficacy of His power, according to the mode of His dispensation. When He addresses the same word to the reprobate, though it produces not their correction, yet He makes it effectual for another purpose, that they may be confounded by the testimony of their consciences now, and be rendered more inexcusable at the day of judgment. Thus Christ, though He pronounces that “no man can come to Him, except the Father draw him,” and that the elect come when they have “heard and learned of the Father,” (John 6:44, 45) yet Himself neglects not the office of the teacher, but with His own mouth sedulously invites those who need the internal teaching of the Holy Spirit to enable them to derive any benefit from His instructions. With respect to the reprobate, Paul suggests that teaching is not useless, because it is to them “the savor of death unto death,” but “a sweet savor unto God” (II Corinthians 2:16).

It is to be expected that the same doctrine of election would appear in Calvin’s discussion of redemption through Christ in chapter VI. In par. 4 we read:

Only let this be well fixed in the mind of the reader; that the first step to piety is to know that God is our Father, to protect, govern, and support us till He gathers us into the eternal inheritance of His kingdom; that hence it is plain, as we have before asserted, that there can be no saving knowledge of God without Christ, and consequently that from the beginning of the world He has always been manifested to all the elect, that they might look to Him, and repose all their confidence in Him.

Even in connection with the treatment of the law of God in Chapter VIII, Calvin repeatedly refers in one manner or another to the doctrine of predestination. In par. 21, e.g., he writes:

For as the temporal punishments inflicted on a few wicked men are testimonies of the divine wrath against sin, and of the judgment that will hereafter be pronounced on all sinners, though many escape with impunity even to the end of their lives, so, when the Lord exhibits one example of this blessing, in manifesting His mercy and goodness to the son for the sake of his father, He affords a proof of His constant and perpetual favor to His worshippers; and when, in any one instance, He pursues the iniquity of the father in the son, He shows what a judgment awaits all the reprobate on account of their own transgression.

In Chapter XII, “The Necessity of Christ Becoming Man in Order to Fulfill the Office of Mediator,” par. 5, Calvin writes:

If anyone objects, that it is not evinced by any of these things, that the same Christ, Who has redeemed men from condemnation, could not have testified His love to them by assuming their nature, if they had remained in a state of integrity and safety, we briefly reply, that since the Spirit declares these two things, Christ’s becoming our Redeemer, and His participation of the same nature, to have been connected by the eternal decree of God, it is not right to make any further inquiry. For he who feels an eager desire to know something more, not being content with the immutable appointment of God shows himself also not to be contented with this Christ, Who has been given to us as the price of our redemption. Paul not only tells us the end of His mission, but ascending to the sublime mystery of predestination, very properly represses all the licentiousness and prurience of the human mind, by declaring, that “the Father hath chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world, and predestinated us to the adoption of children according to the good pleasure of his will, and made us accepted in his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption through his blood” (Ephesians 1:4 ff.).

In this entire section in which Calvin talks of the work of Christ, the doctrine of election is constantly presupposed and is the background against which all that Calvin writes can be understood. Repeatedly Calvin refers to “God’s people,” “the church,” “us,” “believers,” etc. I challenge anyone who reads this entire section to explain all that Calvin writes in any other way than from the viewpoint of sovereign double predestination.

In book III Calvin treats of, “The Manner of Receiving the Grace of Christ, the Benefits Which We Derive from It, and the Effects Which Follow From It.” In this book, too, the doctrine of predestination stands out sharply. In Chapter I, par. 2, we read:

And it must be remarked, that He is called the Spirit of Christ, not only because the eternal Word of God is united with the same Spirit as the Father, but also with respect to His character of Mediator; for, if He had not been endued with this power, His advent to us would have been altogether in vain. In what sense He is called “the second Adam, the Lord from heaven, a quickening spirit;” (1 Corinthians 15:45) where Paul compares the peculiar life with which the Son of God inspires His people, that they may be one with Him, to that animal life which is equally common to the reprobate.

In this same section, now dealing with faith, Calvin writes in par. 11:

I know that it appears harsh to some, when faith is attributed to the reprobate; since Paul affirms it to be the fruit of election. But this difficulty is easily solved; for though none are illuminated to faith, or truly feel the efficacy of the gospel, but such as are preordained to salvation, yet experience shows, that the reprobate are sometimes affected with emotions very similar to those of the elect, so that, in their own opinion, they in no respect differ from the elect … If anyone object that there remains, then, no further evidence by which the faithful can certainly judge of their adoption, I reply, that although there is a great similitude and affinity between the elect of God and those who are endued with a frail and transitory faith, yet the elect possess that confidence, which Paul celebrates, so as boldly to cry, “Abba, Father.” (Galatians 4:6) Therefore, as God regenerates forever the elect alone with incorruptible seed, so that the seed of life planted in their hearts never perishes, so He firmly seals within them the grace of His adoption, that it may be confirmed and ratified to their minds. But this by no means prevents that inferior operation of the Spirit from exerting itself even in the reprobate … Besides, the reprobate have only a confused perception of grace, so that they embrace the shadow rather than the substance; because the Spirit properly seals remission of sins to the elect alone, and they apply it by a special faith to their own benefit. Yet the reprobate are justly said to believe that God is propitious to them, because they receive the gift of reconciliation, though in a confused and too indistinct manner: not that they are partakers of the same faith or regeneration with the sons of God, but because they appear, under the disguise of hypocrisy, to have the principle of faith in common with them. Nor do I deny, that God so far enlightens their minds that they discover His grace; but He so distinguishes that perception from the peculiar testimony, which He gives to His elect, that they never attain any solid effect and enjoyment … but He vouchsafes to the elect alone, the living root of faith, that they may persevere even to the end.

In par. 12 Calvin writes:

Moreover, though faith is a knowledge of the benevolence of God towards us, and a certain persuasion of His veracity, yet it is not to be wondered at, that the subjects of these temporary impressions lose the sense of Divine love, which, notwithstanding its affinity to faith, is yet widely different from it. The will of God, I confess, is immutable, and His truth always consistent with itself. But I deny that the reprobate ever go so far as to penetrate to that secret revelation, which the Scripture confines to the elect … But as the persuasion of the paternal love of God is not radically fixed in the reprobate, so they love Him not reciprocally with the sincere affection of children, but are influenced by a mercenary disposition; for the spirit of love was given to Christ alone, that He might instill it into His members. And this observation of Paul certainly extends to none but the elect: “the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given unto us” (Romans 5:5).

In this same connection, Calvin speaks of the election of Jacob when he writes in par. 31:

Yet it is certain, that this desire preceeded from faith. Rebekah, having been divinely assured of the election of her son Jacob …

In discussing the relationship between election and faith, Calvin refers again to Augustine when he writes in par. 35:

And that He may more illustriously display His liberality in so eminent a gift, God deigns not to bestow it promiscuously on all, but by a singular privilege imparts it to whom He will. We have already cited testimonies to prove this point. Augustine, who is a faithful expositor of them, says, “It was in order to teach us that the act of believing is owing to the divine gift, not to human merit, that our Savior declared, “no man can come to me except the Father which hath sent me draw him”; (John 6:44) and “except it were given unto him of my Father.” (John 6:65)

It is almost tedious to pursue this subject further and to quote repeatedly from Calvin to prove the point beyond what we have already quoted. It is incredible that anyone who claims to be a student of Calvin can possibly take the position that Calvin treats the doctrine of predestination except in connection with prayer and the resurrection of the dead. Even repentance is connected with predestination in Book III, Chapter IV, par. 33, when Calvin writes:

The second distinction is, that when the reprobate are lashed by the scourges of God in this world, they already begin to suffer; His vindictive punishments; and though they will not escape with impunity for having disregarded such indications of the divine wrath, yet they are not punished in order to their repentance, but only that, from their great misery, they may prove God to be a Judge Who will inflict vengeance according to their crimes. On the contrary, the children of God are chastized, not to make satisfaction to Him for their sins, but that they may thereby be benefitted and brought to repentance.

In Chapter XIV, par. 21, Calvin connects the doctrine of predestination with the truth of justification by faith.

For this reason he sometimes deduces eternal life from works; not that the acceptance of it is to be referred to them; but because He justifies the objects of His election, that they may finally glorify them; He makes the former favor, which is a step to the succeeding one, in some sense the cause of it.

In Chapter XXI Calvin treats of eternal election, or God’s predestination of some to salvation, and of others to destruction. It is here that Calvin develops his views of sovereign double predestination in full. We need not quote from the many places following this section where Calvin treats of the church and the sacraments, to continue to show how the doctrine of predestination lies as the very root of Calvin's theology. It continues throughout to stand on the foreground.

*      *      *      *      *      *      *

From all these quotations of Calvin’s Institutes we can come to the following conclusions.

In the first place, Holtrop is completely wrong when he writes: “Calvin and Beza, both Reformed, should be seen in the light of different philosophical traditions that played upon them and conditioned their thinking.” It is simply a generalization without warrant that calvin was influenced in any respect by philosophical traditions. His theology, whatever it may be, is thoroughly Scriptural.

In the second place, it is clear from Calvin’s treatment of predestination throughout his entire Institutes that he believed firmly that there is no single point of doctrine which can be understood apart from the truth of sovereign and unconditional predestination. Regardless for the moment of what the answer to the question of the place of predestination in the Institutes is, Calvin repeatedly looks at the whole of the truth which he develops in his Institutes from the viewpoint of this doctrine which he considered to be the heart of the gospel and the truth of the Scriptures.

In the third place, Calvin’s view of predestination is that of sovereign and double predestination (including therefore both election and reprobation). That this is indeed Calvin’s view is not only clear from his treatment of predestination throughout the Institutes and from his discussion of this doctrine in Chapters XXI through XXIV, but is also emphatically clear from his pamphlet entitled A Treatise on the Eternal Predestination of God, which was written against the errors of Pighius.

In the fourth place, the fact that Calvin treated the doctrine of sovereign predestination in connection with soteriology is by no means proof of the fact that Calvin had a view of predestination which is in important respects different from that view of predestination held by subsequent Reformed theologians both in the Dutch Reformed and in the Presbyterian traditions. It must be remembered that, in general, Calvin was following the order of the Apostolic Confession in his treatment of doctrine in the Institutes. This order of treatment of doctrine would quite naturally place a discussion of predestination in connection with soteriology and the application of the blessings of salvation. This is also the method which is followed by Chapter 2 of our own precious Heidelberg Catechism where election is discussed in connection with the doctrine of the church in Lord’s Day XXI, Q. and A. 54. There can be no disagreement on the point that in treating election in connection with soteriology Calvin emphasized indeed that the doctrine of predestination is a doctrine which may not be divorced from the salvation of the church, from the comfort of believers and from the calling of all the people of God to walk a pious and Godly life. The question is not whether Calvin actually did this. Everyone admits that he did. The question is rather, did subsequent Reformed theology change this? And the answer to this question is emphatically no. Nevertheless Calvin’s treatment of sovereign predestination in this context is an abiding reminder to all those who stand in the tradition of Calvin that the doctrine of predestination may not be discussed as a cold and abstract doctrine, but must be discussed always in connection with God’s sovereign work of grace in the salvation of His church in Christ.

Did Beza change all this?

We may grant that Beza did indeed treat the doctrine of sovereign predestination in connection with the doctrine of God. We may even grant that Beza was probably more emphatic in his supralapsarianism than even Calvin was (but note that many others considered Calvin also as a supralapsarian). But is there any evidence that Beza substantially and at significant points altered the doctrine of predestination as set forth by Calvin?

It is clear from history itself that Calvin, in specifically choosing Beza as his successor, put his stamp of approval on Beza’s theology. There is no question about it that Calvin understood Beza’s theology, knew what Beza taught, and yet was not hesitant in assigning to Beza the work that still had to be done in Geneva and in its Academy. It is incredible to think that Calvin would ever have agreed to making Beza his successor if he was in any sense aware of the fact that Beza had significantly altered the doctrine of sovereign predestination. On the other hand, there is no evidence that Beza in any way felt that he was departing from the position of Calvin essentially as he set forth his views with respect to predestination. If one would listen to Holtrop, one would come to the conclusion either that Beza deliberately distorted Calvin’s view on predestination or that Beza did not understand what Calvin was teaching. The first is impossible and there is no evidence to support such a contention. There is, with respect to the second possibility, a prima facie case to be made for the fact that Beza knew Calvin much better than Holtrop.

Beza was Calvin’s intimate friend. Beza worked closely with Calvin both in the work of the ministry in Geneva and in the work of the Academy in that city. Beza himself certainly believed, and all the evidence points in this direction, that he was indeed carrying on the traditions of John Calvin. Does Holtrop standing in the twentieth century, assume that he knows Calvin’s position on predestination better than Beza did? This is an assumption that appears to be incredibly presumptuous.

Nor is there any evidence for the fact that Beza while treating the doctrine of predestination in connection with the doctrine of God, divorced predestination from the Christian’s comfort, from his calling to walk in piety, and from the work of salvation as a whole. In fact, Beza’s own confession, presents the matter quite differently. We offer here only one quote, although many could be given.

Fourthly, seeing that good works are for us the certain evidences of our faith, they also bring to us afterwards the certainty of our eternal election. For faith necessarily depends on election. Faith lays hold of Christ, by which, being justified and sanctified, we have the enjoyment of the glory to which we have been destined before the foundation of the world (Romans 8:39; Ephesians 1:3, 4). This is so much the more important because the world holds it in less esteem, as if the doctrine of particular election were a curious and incomprehensible thing. On the contrary, faith is nothing other than that by which we have the certainty that we possess life eternal; by it we know that before the foundation of the world God has destined that we should possess, through Christ, a very great salvation and a most excellent glory. This is why all that we have said of faith and of its effects would be useless if we would not add this point of eternal election as the sole foundation and support of all the assurance of Christians. (Quoted from Beza's "Confession of the Faith of Christians, Chapter XIX)

We may safely assume that Calvin and Beza were one in this key doctrine of the Reformed faith.

The same is true of subsequent Reformed theology. Holtrop is wrong when he writes: “We have seen that Reformed scholasticism (Orthodoxy: Decretal Theology) follows the methodology of Beza more than that of Calvin” (p. 18). We cannot go into this question in detail in this article, nor is that necessary. The fact of the matter is that Reformed theologians, whether infra or supralapsarian, whether treating predestination in the
locus on theology or in the locus on soteriology, have always insisted that the doctrine of predestination must be treated in connection with salvation in Christ and with the comfort of the believer.

Holtrop takes the position that the Canons of Dort, following in the tradition of Beza, were also at variance with Calvin’s view of predestination. He takes the position therefore, that the Canons separate the doctrine of predestination from the doctrine of Christian comfort. Even a cursory reading of the Canons will show how false this is. We quote a few excerpts in proof of this.

Art. 7.   This elect number, though by nature neither better nor more deserving than others, but with them involved in one common misery, God hath decreed to give to Christ, to be saved by Him and effectually to call and draw them to His communion by His Word and Spirit, to bestow upon them true faith, justification and sanctification; and having powerfully preserved them in the fellowship of his Son, finally to glorify them for the demonstration of His mercy, and for the praise of His glorious grace.

Art. 12.   The elect in due time, though in various degrees and in different measures, attain the assurance of this their eternal and unchangeable election, not by inquisitively prying into the secret and deep things of God, but by observing in themselves with a spiritual joy and holy pleasure, the infallible fruits of election pointed out in the Word of Godsuch as a true faith in Christ, filial fear, a Godly sorrow for sin, a hungering and thirsting after righteousness, etc.

Art. 13.   The sense and certainty of this election afford to the children of God additional matter for daily humiliation before Him for adoring the depth of His mercies, for cleansing themselves, and rendering grateful returns of ardent love to Him, Who first manifested so great love towards them. The consideration of this doctrine of election is so far from encouraging remissness in the observance of the divine commands, or from sinking men in carnal security, that these, in the just judgment of God, are the usual effects of rash presumption, or of idle and wanton trifling with the grace of election, in those who refuse to walk in the ways of the elect.

Art. 16.   Those who do not yet experience a lively faith in Christ, an assured confidence of soul, peace of conscience, an earnest endeavour after filial obedience, and glorying in God through Christ, efficaciously wrought in them, and do nevertheless persist in the use of the means which God hath appointed for working these graces in us, ought not to be alarmed at the mention of reprobation, nor to rank themselves among the reprobate, but diligently to persevere in the use of means, and with ardent desires, devoutly and humbly to wait for a season of richer grace.

All these quotations are taken from Chapter 1, where the doctrine of sovereign predestination is treated specifically in the Canons. In Chapter 5, where the perseverance of the saints is treated, the Canons especially concentrate on the comfort that is to be derived from the truth of sovereign election. The Canons say:

Art. 6.   But God, Who is rich in mercy, according to His unchangeable purpose of election, does not wholly withdraw the Holy Spirit from His own people, even in their melancholy falls, nor suffers them to proceed so far as to lose the grace of adoption, and forfeit the state of justification, or to commit the sin unto death; nor does he permit them to be totally deserted and to plunge themselves into everlasting destruction.

Art. 9.   Of this preservation of the elect to salvation, and of their perseverance in the faith, true believers for themselves may and do obtain assurance according to the measure of their faith, whereby they arrive at the certain persuasion, that they ever will continue true and living members of the church; and that they experience forgiveness of sins, and will at last inherit eternal life.

These and many other articles could be quoted in support of the contention that the Canons agree completely with the truth as set forth by both John Calvin and Theodore Beza. Anyone who is able to read need only read the Canons superficially to understand how far from the truth Holtrop is in his characterization of the Canons. And this is true of all genuine Reformed theology as it appears in the Reformed Confessions, in the Westminster Confession of Faith, and in all those theologians who remain faithful to Calvin and to Beza in the Reformed and Presbyterian tradition.

In the light of such obvious historical evidence, one must look elsewhere for an explanation of the thesis set forth in Holtrop’s paper. The only possible explanation which one can give which explains the position which Holtrop takes is that Holtrop, along with other theologians who claim to stand in the Reformed tradition, no longer wants the doctrine of sovereign double predestination. In an effort to justify the rejection of that doctrine which is fundamental to all Calvinism and to all the Reformed faith a totally erroneous construction is placed upon the theology of Calvin and upon all those who followed him and who stood in his tradition. When Holtrop writes at the end of his paper:

We need a renewed Reformed theology today, willing to break with decretal patterns and eager to be guided by Scripture. While there are problems in Calvin, he continues to be suggestive for those new efforts. We need a relational as opposed to essentialist theology; but relations, rightly conceived, must preserve the integrity of those essences that are related. We need a theology, Biblical and Reformed, in which faith and life, “sound doctrine” and “sound practice,” are not separated, seen in balance, or considered apart from each other. That theology should be a communal activity of professionals and non-professionals within the church.

People in Biblical, systematic, philosophical, pastoral and other fields should all make their contributions, aiding, correcting, and supporting each other.   (p. 18)

When, I say, Holtrop takes this position, it is evident that he takes this position because he is an enemy of the truth of sovereign, unconditional, double predestination. And as an enemy of sovereign, double, unconditional predestination, he is an enemy of all the Reformed faith, an enemy of Dordt, an enemy of Beza, and an enemy of John Calvin.


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