Sermons on Election and Reprobation by John Calvin (Audubon, NJ: Old Paths Publications, 1996). The excerpt is published with permission from Old Paths.
… and Rebekah his wife conceived.
And the children struggled together within her; and she said, If it be so, why am I thus? And she went to inquire of the Lord.
And the Lord said unto her, Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger.
It is a thing that much troubleth men’s spirits, when they see the estate of the world so confused, that the most part do manifestly despite God, and it seemeth that they have conspired with the devil, to the end to give over themselves to all mischief. For this is thought a thing greatly against reason, that GOD should create men to destroy them. Wherefore then is it, that he suffereth the greatest number so to fall? If it be said that this ought to be imputed not to God, but to those that of their own accord throw themselves so to perdition, yet this maketh no whit to the appeasing of those troubles, that we may conceive: For could not God remedy it? Why is it then that he doeth it not? They that allege a simple permission, that God layeth the bridle upon every man’s neck, and that everyone guideth himself according to his own free will: yet they cannot well undo this knot: to wit, why God hath not created men of another sort: and therefore he hath suffered that they should be so weak, yea and inclined to evil and corruption: and seeing that he knew their infirmity, wherefore is it, that he doth not help them and provide them some remedy? This therefore is to entangle ourselves in great torments and troubles. But it behooveth that we go yet farther: For it is certain (as the Scripture declareth) that there is nothing which doth not perish, saving that which God preserveth through his mere goodness and free bounty. But now, how cometh it to pass, that God chooseth only the tenth or the hundredth part of men, and leaveth all the rest, knowing well that they are swallowed up in hell and lost? Wherefore doth he not reach out his hand to help them, yea why hath he ordained them to destruction, as the Scripture speaketh? …
… it is certain, that as he hath answered to our mother Rebecca, that which he knew to be expedient: So the Scripture likewise will not deceive us in this point: for it pronounceth clearly and manifestly, that God hath chosen us in Jesus Christ before the creation of the world, according to his good pleasure, the which he hath purposed in himself. There needs no gloss: behold God speaketh after this sort, that the most rude and ignorant may know, what there is contained therein. God then hath chosen us (saith Saint Paul) and hereby he showeth that he hath discerned us from those which perish. And mark how his mercy towards us hath the greater glory. For what letted [prevented] that we should not remain in the same perdition that others did, but that God was merciful unto us, without any desert of ours?
But the better to express all, Saint Paul saith, that he did choose us in Jesus Christ: it followeth then that this is out of our persons. If we had been chosen in ourselves, God should have found some matter in us to have been induced to love us, and to have been inclined to have called us to salvation. But what? We are chosen without ourselves: that is to say: God had no regard to that we were or might be, but our election is founded in Jesus Christ. And moreover, he yet giveth a more ample declaration: that is, according to his good purpose, which he had determined in himself: it is certain that all that is according to the purpose of man, is manifestly excluded: and again when he saith in himself: this is to admonish us, that if we would know the cause why: it is as if we would make an Anatomy of God, and go even into his heart and sound all his secrets. And can we do this? What overweening [high opinion] is this? So then, when we shall suffer ourselves to be taughtof God, it is certain, that he will answer us, in such sort, as shall be necessary for us, concerning that which belongeth to our salvation: and namely we shall know that which surmounteth all man’s understanding, how the one sort are elected, and the other rejected, and why the one have no doctrine, as the Papists and other infidels, whom God leaveth as poor blind ones, and why the other are enlightened through the Gospel. And farther, concerning those to whom the Gospel is preached, the one receive it with obedience, and they are touched therewith to the quick, and persevere in it to the end: and the other remain blockish, or rather will be full of outrage, to strive against God: or else will be fickle and give themselves over to all iniquity, throwing off the yoke, when they shall be brought into the good way. And from whence cometh this diversity? We must come to this fountain that the holy Scripture showeth us: that is, that the like grace hath not been showed to all. So then, behold our true wisdom that is, that we be God’s good scholars: and we shall then be his scholars, when we seek to know nothing, but that he knoweth to be good and expedient for our salvation: and when we shall rest there, and learn to bring into captivity all our senses, and to keep an hard hand upon them. Then (say I) if we shall speak of the secret election of God, how he hath predestinated those whom he would to salvation, and how he hath cast off others: we shall never be troubled. And why so? because we having inquired of God’s will, we will conclude, that we must keep ourselves to that which he showeth us, and to that which the Scripture importeth, where he hath given us sufficient testimony of that which he knoweth to be good for us. Finally, there are so many testimonies of Scripture, to certify us of this doctrine that it must needs be, that all they that cannot rest there, must be as it were impoisoned [poisoned] of satan, and that they have conceived the spirit of venom, of pride and rebellion, to the end not to be ordered under the will of God: and that, to be short, they would despite all doctrine and instruction, and close up their eyes against the full light, and have their ears stopped, albeit God hath spoken loud and clearly, and that they have occasion to content themselves so much the more. To heap up all the testimonies, is not needful: but this is sufficient that we have had a sum, yea most evident as I have already briefly showed.
Again we have also, whereof to bless God and to comfort ourselves in him, when we know rightly to apply this doctrine as it behooveth. For instead that these fanatical and light brains, who would seem to be so subtle and sharp in fighting against God, and against his truth, instead that they search how they may gainsay him, we must mark how God doth satisfy us, and to what end he directeth this doctrine and to what purpose he would have it serve us, that is: to know that we are elected, and not all. For in the first place, when we see, that we cannot receive the Gospel, unless it be by the special gift of God, this serveth to make us so much the more to magnify his goodness towards us, and to see his just judgment against the reprobate, when he depriveth them of this doctrine: as we see in the Papacy, that men are as brute beasts, who err and wander through deserts, without keeping way or path. Now concerning us, we have sure testimony, which ought so much the more to stir us up to esteem this singular grace towards us. And also when we see some that have deaf ears, although it be daily declared unto them familiarly, and that which is requisite for their salvation be (as I may say) chawed unto them, they continue always in their estate: or rather they are not a whit touched, and they pass not to give over themselves to all licentiousness of life, as it were in despite of God: When we see this, it is certain, that our Lord hath so much the more bound us unto him, for that it hath pleased him to make us feel his goodness, and that we have taken such a taste of the hope of salvation which he hath propounded unto us: that we have renounced the world and whatsoever weakness there be in us, howsoever we are full of vices and corruption, nevertheless we hate the evil that is in us, and we delight in that which is good. When then we have this: it is certain, that if we be not harder than iron and steel, we ought to have all rebellion shivered and broken: and that we be inflamed with the love of God, and have our mouth open to bless and praise that so excellent and magnificent grace, which he hath showed towards us. See then the mark that the Scripture setteth before us….
… Mark then, the sum of that we have to learn: that is, when God declareth unto us his eternal election, and that he hath given us such a testimony, that we cannot doubt thereof: when he hath showed us that this is our benefit and salvation: and so that we take not too much liberty, to wrangle against him, and to enter in crooked and overthwart disputations, that then the whole shall profit us. For it is certain, that this is the true rejoicing of the faithful, to be instructed concerning this election of God. Moreover: when we see the wicked to cast forth their cavils against God, and their slanders to pervert all, and to bring this doctrine into hatred, let us not think it strange: for it must needs be that they declare themselves to [be] reprobates. I have said, that we must rest ourselves in the everlasting counsel of God, whereby he hath chosen some, and cast off others. If now the reprobate come to fight against the truth of God, it is no new thing: For they are appointed to this, and it must needs be that they declare themselves to be such as they are: and we must call to mind that sentence of Ose the which is put in the end of this Book: “The ways of the Lord are good and right” (Hosea 14:9): also “The righteous will walk in them, but the wicked shall fall therein.” Now he addeth also: “Who is wise that will understand this?” The Prophet showeth that when we speak of the judgments of God, it behooveth that we have a special wisdom to receive them: and shall this wisdom be found in all our brains? that is far off. So then it behooveth that we have a wisdom given us by the mere mercy of God.