Indeed, Calvin teaches emphatically that the deepest reason why the gospel is a savor of death unto death is that the Lord does not attempt to save them. How numerous are the passages in Calvin’s Calvinism in which the reformer emphasizes the sovereignly particular character of the mercy of the Lord as bestowed upon the elect and withheld from the reprobate. It is true that these passages appear in that part of Calvin’s Calvinism which stresses Divine predestination, and to quote these passages at length would lead us too far upstream, inasmuch as we are treating the doctrine of sin. Even so, however, to call attention to the teaching of Common Grace in the writings of Calvin and to the teaching of Common Grace as set forth in the Three Points of 1924 and surely repudiated by Calvin can be of interest to our readers. Permit us, then, to quote one more passage from Calvin’s Calvinism. We could call attention to what Calvin has to say in his interpretation of Ezekiel 33:11, Matt. 23:37 and I Tim. 2:4. But let this quotation suffice (incidentally, Calvin also treats at length a passage such as Romans 9), page 81:
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 believes 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, “Therefore, 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.
In this connection, we may note that Calvin does speak of a revealed and hidden will of God, and that this revealed will wills the salvation of all who come under the preaching of the gospel. Yet, we must try to understand Calvin here. It is striking that Calvin here is opposing a certain Pighius, a defender of the free will, exactly because Pighius teaches that God would save all though the preaching of the gospel. We read on page 65 of Calvin’s Calvinism:
Now Pighuis 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.
Moreover, on page 153 of this same book Calvin writes that Pighius teaches the following:
After this, Pighius, like a wild beast escaped from his cage, rushes forth, bounding over all fences in his way, uttering such sentiments as these: “The mercy of God is extended to every one, for God wishes all men to be saved; and for that end He stands and knocks at the door of our heart, desiring to enter. Therefore, those were elected before the foundation of the world, by whom He foreknew He should be received. But God hardens no one, excepting by His forbearance, in the same manner as too fond parents ruin their children by excessive indulgence.
We do well, to understand what Calvin writes about the revealed will of God, to bear in mind that he is opposing this teaching of Pighius. That God, in His revealed will, wills the salvation of all, must always be understood in connection with the external calling, and this external calling always rests upon a condition. Repeatedly Calvin declares that the hidden will of God is the unchangeable origin of all things, and that God did not merely permit the destruction of the ungodly but that He willed it. And then Calvin means the universal calling, when he treats God’s revealed will; that this universal calling invites all men, without exception, to salvation; that this will of God must never be explained as in any sense in conflict with God’s hidden will, but that he invites all men upon a certain condition, namely faith; and that the Lord witnesses to all men that he who believes shall be saved. In other words, the Lord, when inviting all men to salvation through the preaching of the gospel, calling all men unto salvation, declares, sets forth the truth that He saves only those who believe. This is plain from Calvin’s explanation of Ezek. 33:11, according to III, 24, 15:
But as objections are frequently raised from some passages of Scripture, in which God seems to deny that the destruction of the wicked is caused by His decree, but that, in opposition to His remonstrances, they voluntarily bring ruin upon themselves,—let us show by a brief explication that they are not at all inconsistent with the foregoing doctrine. A passage is produced from Ezekiel, where God says, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.” If this is to be extended to all mankind, why does he not urge many to repentance, whose minds are more flexible to obedience than those of others, who grow more and more .callous to his daily invitations? Among the inhabitants of Nineveh and Sodom, Christ Himself declares that His evangelical preaching and miracles would have brought forth more fruit than in Judea. How is it, then, if God will have all men to be saved, that He opens not the gate of repentance to those miserable men who would be more ready to receive the favor? Hence we perceive it to be a violent perversion of the passage, if the will of God, mentioned by the prophet, be set in opposition to His eternal counsel, by which He has distinguished the elect from the reprobate. Now, if we inquire the genuine sense of the prophet, his only meaning is to inspire the penitent with hopes of pardon. And this is the sum, that it is beyond a doubt that God is ready to pardon sinners immediately on their conversion. Therefore He wills not their death, inasmuch as He wills their repentance. But experience teaches, that He does not will the repentance of those whom He externally calls, in such a manner as to affect all their hearts. Nor should He on this account be charged with acting deceitfully; for, though His external call only renders those who hear without obeying it inexcusable, yet it is justly esteemed the testimony of God’s grace, by which He reconciles men to Himself. Let us observe, therefore, the design of the prophet in saying that God has no pleasure in the death of a sinner; it is to assure the pious of God’s readiness to pardon them immediately on their repentance, and to show the impious the aggravation of their sin in rejecting such great compassion and kindness of God. Repentance, therefore, will always be met by Divine mercy; but on whom repentance is bestowed, we are clearly taught by Ezekiel himself, as well as by all the prophets and apostles.
Note, please, in the above quotation, how carefully Calvin maintains the unchangeable counsel of God, also in his explanation of Ezekiel 33:11, and that he emphasizes the particular character of the call of God as it is directed to men through the preaching of the gospel. If the Lord would have all men to be saved, why, asks Calvin, does the Lord not provide all men with the opportunity of repentance by having His gospel preached to all men. And the reformer declares the same thought in his explanation of I Tim. 2:4. Indeed, in this explanation of Ezek. 33:11 Calvin identifies God’s revealed will with the external calling; that this calling must be explained out of God’s hidden will, and that, in this external calling, which comes to all who hear the gospel without distinction, God does not will the salvation of all, but merely proclaims what is pleasing to Him, namely that the repentant does not perish but is saved. Calvin teaches that it is God’s purpose to assure the pious of their salvation, and never does Calvin teach that a certain favor of God goes out to the wicked in the preaching of the gospel.
Common Grace, as expressed in the Second Point, speaks of a restraint of sin by the Holy Spirit, within the life of the individual sinner. In contrast, Calvin teaches in his Institutes that there is such a restraint of God only in connection with his outward deeds, although we may add that the reformer speaks only very seldom of God’s restraining power in relation to the sinner.
Point Three teaches that God, without renewing the heart, works in man by His Holy Spirit, enabling him to do good before God; the natural man does not always perform that which is evil in the sight of the Lord. This conception is in violent conflict with all the writings of Calvin. It would require too much space and time to quote all the passages of Calvin relative this matter. We will have opportunity to call attention to a few of these passages in our following article, but we may certainly declare at this time that the noted reformer was surely not in sympathy with the view which sets forth the “good that sinners do.”