* Excerpted and adapted, with permission, from Sermons on Election & Reprobation by John Calvin, Old Paths Publications, 1 Bittersweet Path, Willow Street, PA.
Rebekah knew that of her, howsoever it should be, should come that blessed seed who had been promised. See in brief the whole that is here rehearsed. But all would be dark, if it were not declared particularly. Let us note here then, that they that are called into the church do not always remain there, as we have seen a notable example in Ishmael, who was the eldest son of Abraham. Notwithstanding, he was banished from the family. And this was not of the riches of the world, nor of those possessions that Abraham had. For Abraham was rich in cattle, in gold and silver, but he had not one foot of land. This heritage therefore—to what had it respect? Even to the spiritual promise, that is to say, that God had chosen the seed of Abraham, which was as much to say, that this shall be a people that shall be dedicated to my service. And those who shall come of them will I receive and accept for my children, to the end that I may gather them into everlasting life.
Mark then how Ishmael with his birthright is cast from the hope of life. And it remaineth only to Isaac. Even so is it herein concerning Esau and Jacob. For both of these were descended of Abraham. Yea they were twins. Their mother bare them in one belly. Yet one is received, and the other rejected; one is chosen, and the other refused.
So then we see that they who for a time have place in the church, and bear the title of the faithful and of the children of God, may well be so accounted before men, but they are not written in the book of life. God knoweth them not, nor avoucheth them for His. Hereby we are admonished not proudly to vaunt ourselves, nor to be drunken with sottish presumption, when God shall show us this favor, to bring us into His church. But let us walk in purity, and labor to make sure our election, and to have the testimony thereof in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, and not to trust only to the outward title and appearance, which we may pretend before the world.
Moreover we are taught a far greater thing. And that is, in the first place, that albeit God had established His covenant with Abraham, yet notwithstanding He would declare that this was not all, to have made offer of His grace, but that it behooved that He chose according to His liberty such as He thought good, and that the rest should remain in their cursed state. Therefore saint Paul allegeth this place to apply it to the secret election of God, through which, before the foundation of the world, He chose those as seemed good unto Him.
Now this is a very high and profound matter, but when it shall be further declared, everyone may make his profit of it, so that we be attentive unto it. And for the remnant, let us receive that which the Holy Scriptures show unto us, with sobriety, and let us not desire to be wiser than is lawful for us. But let us rest in that which God shall speak unto us, and moreover let us be humble, not to reply against Him, nor to bring forth our fantasies before Him, as though we would plead against God. But acknowledging that His judgments are bottomless, let us not search farther therein than is permitted unto us.
It is very true that this will be hard for us to digest if we bring in our own judgment, as there are a great sort of fanatical heads that cannot abide this doctrine. For it seemeth good to them to reply against God. But what profit they thereby in the end? We have alleged that herein we must bring with us a humility, for to reverence that which is hidden from us. Indeed saint Paul hath well showed us this by his example. For instead of disputing the matter, he crieth out: O how wonderful are the judgments of God?
Behold saint Paul, who was altogether amazed. He found himself astonished, he who had been lifted up above the heavens, he who had seen the secrets of God that were not lawful for man to utter. Saint Paul, who was (as a man would say) a companion of angels, was found in this case to marvel, and to be altogether confounded.
What shall become of these Scullions who have scarcely licked with the tip of their tongue one word of the law and gospel, and yet nevertheless would go beyond saint Paul? Yet men shall find this pride in very many. But for our part let us return to that which is here showed us. O man, who art thou? When therefore we will make comparison betwixt God and us: who is God? within what compass shall we enclose Him? Shall it be within the compass of our brain? And we have scarcely half an ounce of wit, and in the meantime God, who closes His fist to hold the whole world as a grain of dust (as Isaiah the prophet saith) and is comprehended neither in heaven nor in the earth, who hath an infinite power, and infinite justice and wisdom, and hath incomprehensible counsels—and yet for all that we must come to make Him subject to our foolish fantasy.
And whereto will this grow? Moreover, who are we? Men, saith saint Paul. By which word he meaneth that we are nothing at all—as if he should say, must it be that thou presume so much, as to dare to inquire of the bottomless secrets of God, seeing thou art nothing but clay and dung? And again, what is thy understanding? Thou art full of sin and iniquity, thou art a poor blind one: and yet thou wilt that God shall make an account to thee? And wilt thou conclude, that if thou find not that which He doeth good and reasonable, that thou mayest accuse Him? And must He needs hold up His hand at thy bar?
Now let us mark this admonition in the first place, and let us know that our Lord Jesus Christ teacheth us that we cannot do amiss to hearken and open our ears, to inquire and search after what it hath pleased Him we should know. But let us take heed that we go not beyond it. For there is no rage so great and outrageous as when we will know more than God doth show us. Moreover, we shall have spun a fair thread if we apply all our senses and all our studies thereto. This shall be always to enwrap us so much the more in a labyrinth and maze, unless we have the direction of God to show us the way.
Let us therefore keep this purpose: that is to say, to hearken to that which God doth propound unto us. And as soon as He shall once shut His mouth, let us have all our understandings locked up and captive, and let us not enterprise to know more than that He shall have pronounced unto us.