On the Calvin anniversary.
The Catholic Church and the tyranny of the Papacy.
/ Institutio IV,5,13
Of the appendages to the doctrine of
reparation through works, namely of indulgences. / Institutio III,5,1
Of the appendages to the doctrine of reparation
through works, namely of purgatory. / Institutio III,5,6
Of eternal election, whereby God has predetermined
some to salvation and others to damnation. / Institutio III,21,1
The true election of human beings by God, according to
Is God responsible for the dropping of the atom
bomb on Japan in the Second World War?
On the occasion of the 500th birthday of Johannes Calvin (7.10.1509 -
5.27.1564), the theologian and great reformer of the church, this year will see celebratory events,
exhibitions and lectures throughout Europe. This will stimulate much interest, of course, in Calvin’s
great work, the Institutio christianae religionis (Instruction in the Christian Religion) and
in its importance for the European Reformation.
(See also Institutio: “Inmstruction in the
Christian Religion.” / (German))
The “Institutio”, as Calvin’s work is familiarly known, was completed by
Calvin on 23 August 1535 and to begin with consisted of just six chapters. In March 1536 it was
printed and published by the Basel printer Thomas Platter. In the time up to 1559 the Institutio was
continually expanded. Eventually running to four books and eighty chapters, it became a massive
compendium of the Christian faith as understood by the Reform movement, and was translated into
French first of all, and then many other languages.
While it is possible to read up about Calvin’s life on the internet and in many published books, it is of course exceedingly hard to describe or form an assessment of a magnum opus on this scale. So I would like here to cast light on just a few of those important statements of Calvin’s which have had a powerful influence on the Christian faith over the last 450 years, and which have repeatedly called forth responses of agreement or disagreement.
A great part of his writing, understandably, is concerned with the false doctrine of the Catholic Church and the deplorable conditions prevailing in that church at the time, e.g. the sale of indulgences, transubstantiation, auricular confession and the papacy as such. Calvin knew that the Popes of preceding centuries ‒ especially in the period from the 11th to the 13th century ‒ had often had great power over the princes of Europe, and had not only appointed but had even “head-hunted” kings and emperors. They had conducted predatory expeditions with their armies and carried on wars of conquest. They committed fornication and then placed their sons as bishops in the Catholic Church. They used the sale of indulgences to take money out of the pockets of the poor. Finally and above all, they built St. Peter’s in Rome with money from the sale of indulgences. This means that the biggest Catholic Church in the world is built on lies and deceit. And when you look at the statues of the saints and altars to Mary which are worshiped by Catholics in this church, you can recognize that it is actually a temple to idols.
Against this background, we can also understand the following passage from The Tyranny of the Papacy, from Book 4 of Calvin’s Institutio:
(Texts enclosed in a black frame are quoted from visitors to the site or other authors.)
IV,5,13 If someone now carefully considers and investigates the entire power of
church government as it exists nowadays under the papacy, he will find that there has never been
a den of robbers where the robbers raged more willfully without law or measure. In any case
everything in this church is so dissimilar from that which was instituted by Christ, indeed
alien to it, there is such an extreme falling away from the old institutions and customs of the
church, the life that is lived here presents such a contradiction with nature and reason, that
we can hardly do Christ any greater dishonor than that of using his name as a pretext for the
defense of such a disorderly regiment. “We,” they say, “are the pillars of the church, the
highest authorities in religion, we are the deputies of Christ, the heads of the faithful; for
the full authority of the apostles has descended through the ordained succession (of the
bishops) to us.” They boast continually with trivialities of this kind ‒ as if they were
talking to senseless blocks!
But every time when they harp on about this, I ask them again what they have in common with the apostles. For here it is not a matter of an inherited dignity, which could be conferred on a person in sleep, but rather of the office of preaching, which they try by all means at their disposal to avoid. And similarly, when we declare that their regime is the tyranny of the Antichrist, they always protest that it is that honorable “hierarchy” of theirs which has so often been praised by great and holy men.
As if the holy fathers, when they gave high praise to the church hierarchy or the spiritual regiment as it had come down to them from the apostles, could ever have dreamed of this malformed chaos filled with desolation, where the bishops are either in most cases uneducated asses who do not even know the first and most basic elements of the faith, or else they are children fresh from the wet nurse; where, when there are some few who are somewhat more learned ‒ though this is rarely the case ‒ they see the office of bishop as nothing but a title of pomp and worldly glory; where the chief representatives of the churches have as little thought for feeding their flocks as the cobbler thinks of plowing, and where everything has been so tangled into a more than Babylonian confusion that no intact trace of the institutions of the church fathers can any longer anywhere be made out.
Johannes Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion - Book IV: How God invites and receives us to community with Christ / (German)
Although the situation in the Catholic Church of today shows considerable changes in
practice (there are no wars of conquest, no predatory expeditions ‒ no military ones at
least), the trade in indulgences is still a standard practice, even if no longer practiced for cash.
Pope Pius XII, for example, gave a radio address to the people of Portugal on 31 October 1942, on
the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the apparitions in Fatima, concluding with a prayer of
“Queen of the holy rosary, help of Christians, refuge of the human
race, conqueror in all God’s battles! Imploringly we throw ourselves before your throne. We come
filled with confidence that we will obtain mercy, grace and true help in our afflictions. We do not
have confidence in our deserts, but only in the infinite goodness of your motherly heart. To you and
your immaculate heart we entrust ourselves and dedicate ourselves in this fateful hour of human
history. (...) Grant the world peace from weapons, and peace in men’s souls. (...) So also we
dedicate ourselves for ever to you, to your immaculate heart, O mother and queen of the world.”
This prayer of dedication was published in the Kirchlicher Anzeiger für die
Diözese Aachen und Köln [Church Gazette for the Dioceses of Aix and Cologne] of 1.15.1943, with
the following comment: “The Holy Father has been pleased to grant an indulgence of three years
to those faithful who perform this prayer in the spirit of devotion; those who pray it every day
will receive a plenary indulgence under the usual conditions, which can be obtained once in
Other large parts of the false Catholic doctrine ‒ transubstantiation, purgatory, the infallibility of the pope, service to idols (with the worship of Mary and the saints) etc. etc. ‒ still continue to be in force. The above arguments of Calvin’s (though not the vituperative style) come right from the soul of any Bible-believing Christian of our day as well, and the same is the case with the following criticism of the sale of indulgences.
(Texts enclosed in a black frame are quoted from visitors to the site or other authors.)
III,5,1 This doctrine of reparation through works now also gives rise to the
practice of indulgences. You see, where we are lacking the ability to provide such satisfaction,
this can be supplemented, according to the blabber of the Roman church, by means of indulgences.
Yes, they go so far in their madness that they define the indulgence as a distribution of the
merits of Christ and the martyrs, which the Pope carries out with his bulls. Now it must be said
that the representatives of this view rather need a dose of hellebore (thought effective for the
treatment of madness at the time, F.H.) than they might be thought deserving to hear proofs, so
it is hardly worth taking the trouble to work for the refutation of such idiotic errors; the
edifice of error has already been breached by so many battering rams, that it is beginning to
grow old and fall into dilapidation of its own accord.
All the same, a short refutation may be beneficial for some inexperienced persons, and so I will not shrink from giving it here. We can really say that if indulgences have managed to stay with us for so long, if their unbridled and wild excess has succeeded in remaining unpunished, this truly can be a demonstration to us of the deep night of error in which the human race has been sunk for several centuries. People saw how they were made fools of by the Pope and the bearers of his bulls, openly and without concealment; they saw how avaricious haggling was carried on with their soul’s salvation, they perceived how their eternal happiness was priced at a few cents, but nothing was to be had for free ‒ they could see with their own eyes how, under false pretences like these, people were swindled out of their offerings, which were then contemptuously dissipated in adultery and procuration and sumptuous banquets; they knew well that the most puffed up preachers of indulgences were at the same time the worst despisers of indulgences, they saw how this monster raged and became crazier and more headstrong from day to day and became ever more abandoned, and how there was just no end to these doings, no, it was just a matter of more and more cash, more dimes being charmed out of people’s pockets!
All this they saw ‒ but all the same they received the indulgence with the greatest reverence, they worshiped it, they bought it! And those who saw a bit more clearly than the rest still thought that it was just a pious form of deceit, whereby one might allow oneself to be deceived, but still derive some benefit! But now that the world has finally allowed itself to become a little wiser, indulgences have grown cold ‒ they are positively turning to ice, as a preliminary to their fading away altogether.
Johannes Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion - Book III: Of the appendages to the doctrine of reparation through works, namely of indulgences and of purgatory. / (German)
While this massive deceit of the trade in indulgences could finally no longer be
kept up in the Catholic Church, thanks to the Enlightenment and the resistance of pious church
communities, money is still being taken out of people’s pockets in a different way (e.g. with
masses for the souls of the dead). And the foundation of these deceptions, namely the doctrine of
purgatory, remains Catholic doctrine to the present day.
(Texts enclosed in a black frame are quoted from visitors to the site or other authors.)
III,5,6 Nor should the Romans be able to cause us any difficulty with their
purgatory, for that has already been struck with the same ax, destroyed, and completely and
utterly overthrown. Now there are people who think one should turn a blind eye in this matter,
think it better to leave the mention of purgatory to one side, because ‒ as they go on to
say ‒ it gives rise to a lot of acrid controversy but very little edification. I cannot
find myself in agreement with such people. Certainly I too would think it advisable to pass over
this blabber if it did bring such serious consequences in its train.
But this purgatory is built up of so many blasphemies and is being supported with new ones every day, it causes many serious stumbling blocks and so here we are by no means able to exercise restraint. We might still have been able to overlook for a time the fact that the doctrine of purgatory has been thought up in a meddlesome and audacious way, without there being any support for it in the Word of God; that when it comes to purgatory, credit has been given to who knows what kind of “revelations” effected by the art of Satan; that to support these, a great many scriptural passages have been quite stupidly stood on their head! And that even though the Lord does not tolerate that human audacity should meddle in this way with the hidden abysses of his judgments, when he has strictly forbidden it ‒ ignoring his words in Deut. 18,11 prohibiting research into the true state of the dead, and although he does not tolerate his Word being so shamelessly besmirched!
But even if we ourselves allow that it might have been possible for a while to put up with all this as a matter of no very great consequence, to remain silent on such a matter does become a very dangerous thing as soon as the attempt is made to find atonement for our sins anywhere else but in the blood of Christ, and when the reparation is transferred to someone else! So we must exercise our voice, our throat and our lungs to the uttermost and shout it out at the top of our voices ‒ purgatory is an invention of Satan and leads to ruin, it makes vanity of the cross of Christ, it inflicts unbearable shame on the mercy of God, it shakes our faith and overthrows it! For what is the Romish doctrine of purgatory other than a reparation that the souls of the dead must perform for their sins after they are dead?
So if the mad idea that we should have to endure punishments in reparation has been destroyed, purgatory too has been destroyed root and branch! But if, based on our preceding elaborations, it has become more than clear that the blood of Christ is the only reparation for the sins of the faithful, the only expiation, the only cleansing ‒ what else remains to be said, other than that purgatory is no more than a fearful blasphemy against Christ? Here I leave out of account the many outrages with which people have sought to defend it in our day, as well as the stumbling blocks it gives rise to in religion and the many other things which we have seen to break forth from such a fount of godlessness -
Johannes Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion - Book III: Of the appendages to the doctrine of reparation through works, namely of indulgences and purgatory / (German)
The idea of purgatory goes back to Pope Gregory the Great in the 6th century:
“We have to believe that for certain small sins there is still a
purificatory fire appointed before the Judgment, because the eternal truth tells us that if someone
speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him ‘either in this age or in the age to
come’. We can infer from this statement that some sins can be pardoned in this world, others in
Gregory incorporated purgatory in the system of his “salvation machine”, as a
result of which it acquired major social, cultural and historical importance, until the time of the
Reformation at any rate.
Consequently the practice of confession experienced a massive uplift at the start of the 11th century, and brought the Catholic system of indulgences to its apogee. By payment of the sum necessary to secure an indulgence, people could buy their way out of hundreds, thousands or even millions of years (!) of punishment in purgatorial fire.
Even as recently as the year 1992 (!) Pope John Paul II, in giving his approval to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, refers to the above passage from Gregory the Great by way of explanation of this doctrine.
(Texts enclosed in a black frame are quoted from visitors to the site or other authors.)
III,21,1 But the covenant of life is not preached to all men alike, and it does
not meet with the same reception in all circumstances with all who hear it preached. This
difference highlights the wonderful sovereignty of God’s judgment. For there cannot be any
doubt that this difference in nature also serves for the judgment of God’s eternal election.
But it is perfectly evident now that it is just as a result of a nod on God’s part that some have salvation offered to them without any action of their own, whereas others find this salvation denied to them - so we are at once faced here with major difficult questions, which cannot be resolved in any way unless the devout form a clear inward conception of the things they need to know about election and predestination. (...)
We will never in any way come to a sufficiently clear conviction of the fact that our salvation flows to us from the fountainhead of the undeserved mercy of God, until God’s eternal election has been made known to us; for this glorifies God’s grace through the fact of inequality, whereby he does not, after all, accept all human beings as children without distinction and encourage them all to hope for blessedness, but gives salvation to some while denying it to others. It is plain to see how ignorance of this fundamental principle diminishes God’s honor and undermines true humility.
Johannes Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion - Book III: Of eternal election, whereby God has predetermined some to salvation and others to damnation. / (German)
As Calvin states in this passage, quite rightly, “we are at once faced here with
major difficult questions”. And he is quite correct when he writes “that our salvation flows to
us from the fountainhead of the undeserved mercy of God”, but this mercy is not “God’s eternal
election”, as he goes on to say, but rather the acceptance of the redeeming sacrifice of our Lord
and Savior Jesus Christ. Calvin’s doctrine of election not only converts the justice of God into
injustice, the injustice of determining some for eternal life and others for eternal damnation,
quite arbitrarily and without any action on the part of the individual ‒ but at the same time,
faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and acceptance of his redeeming sacrifice for our sins becomes
completely irrelevant, because, after all, the result of this supposed predetermination by God is
that the one group are elect and saved whatever they do, while the other group can do what they like
but will still have no chance of being saved.
With a view to nipping any objections in the bud, Calvin then postulates that “ignorance of this fundamental principle diminishes God’s honor and undermines true humility”. Anyone who dares to examine his thesis minutely and get to grips with it in the light of Scripture finds himself accused of arrogance and shamelessness:
“He (the critic, i.e.) cannot be restrained by any kind of bar from
running off on forbidden bypaths and trying to penetrate heights above his own station; if it is
possible, he will not leave God any secrets that he does not search and rummage through. We see how
many people repeatedly fall into this kind of arrogance and shamelessness, even when they are
persons of good character in other respects.” (Institutio
We cannot help being reminded here of some leaders of sects of our own day, who
likewise write off any criticism or denial of their false doctrine as “blasphemy”. But we do not
wish here to concern ourselves with Calvin’s well known abusive tirades, but rather to analyze his
doctrine and endeavor to come to a well grounded judgment of what is true and what is false in his
theory, and why. But for this we need to look at statements that are more detailed than the global
pronouncements quoted above.
In the following passage Calvin’s formulation of his thesis is more specific and precise ‒ even if he still fails to supply biblical references ‒ so that it becomes possible for us to follow his train of thought.
(Texts enclosed in a black frame are quoted from visitors to the site or other authors.)
III,21,5 As a global concept, no one who wishes to enjoy a reputation for piety
will dare to argue with predestination ‒ whereby God accepts some as his children and
encourages them to hope for eternal life, while handing over the others to eternal death
‒ no, but they wrap it up in a load of clever qualifications ‒ most of all those who
take God’s foreknowledge (praescientia) as its cause and origin.
Now we too attribute both aspects to God, but we declare it to be wrong to subordinate the one aspect to the other. If we attribute foreknowledge to God, we mean by this that everything has constantly been before his eyes and will remain so for all time; for God’s knowledge, then, there is no future and no past, but everything is present ‒ and present in such a way that he does not just imagine it on the basis of thoughts and images (in the same way as things recur to our minds when a memory has left its trace on our senses), he actually sees and registers these things as objects that are standing before him. This foreknowledge, now, extends to the entire circle of the world and all its creatures.
But by predetermination we understand God’s eternal ordinance, whereby he resolved within himself what should become of each individual human being in accordance with his will! This is because human beings are not all created for the same destination ‒ some are assigned from the beginning to eternal life, the others to eternal damnation. So as the individual is created to the one or the other end, so we can say that he is “predetermined” to life or to death..
Johannes Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion - Book III: Predestination, whereby God has given over some to salvation and others to death. / (German)
Let us point out, first of all, that Calvin here gives us a quite outstandingly
successful description of God’s omniscience (foreknowledge). But we also notice two things about
these statements. Calvin had already had violent discussions with critics of his doctrine (“clever
qualifications ... of those who take God’s foreknowledge (praescientia) as its cause and
origin”), who had evidently refuted the absolutely arbitrary election by God postulated by Calvin,
and refuted it in the light of Scripture. But actually this proof based on God’s foreknowledge or
omniscience is the only possible scriptural option for confirming a doctrine like this ‒
though with an important difference from Calvin’s understanding in terms of one important detail.
(We will discuss this interpretation based on God’s omniscience later on).
And because Calvin had evidently realized that from this point of view his thesis was incorrect, but was unwilling to admit to his mistake, he simply asserts that predestination (predetermination) is “God’s eternal ordinance, whereby he resolved within himself what should become of each individual human being in accordance with his will!” ‒ Never mind that we cannot find any reference whatever in the Bible to this ordinance, or to this resolve on the part of God ‒ Calvin is clearly the only person who knows about it. But of course he fails to mention this, nor does he give us any relevant scriptural references.
Here, sad to say, is an error in biblical interpretation which has probably escaped the notice of all the commentators. The important thing is that the argument should be conducted on the basis of Scripture, and the error put right. If this has not occurred in Calvin’s case, that may represent a failing on his part, but is not yet actually all that dangerous, as other commentators can detect and correct the error at some time in future. What, however, is absolutely deserving of condemnation is the way in which Calvin ‒ prophylactically, so to speak ‒ endeavors to gag any critics of his doctrine, by branding them outright as arrogant and shameless for diminishing the honor of God and undermining true humility. In this way he puts a stop to further research ‒ he himself, in fact, is the one lacking in humility, the one who subordinates the honor of God to his own honor.
But since in the following centuries the argument based on God’s omniscience in this connection has gained continually in strength, Calvin’s followers too have adopted this biblical proof of the doctrine of predestination. Not however in its entirety, for then they would have had to give up the doctrine altogether. Whether they overlooked or ignored the consequence, which we will discuss in more detail below, need not be decided here. But it is probable that Calvin himself took this biblical approach as a starting point and then failed to realize the crucial issue involved, so that in arguing with critics of his doctrine he was later obliged to drop this interpretation completely, simply setting up in its place the bare assertion that his understanding of the matter was the will of God and to contradict it was blasphemy.
Since Calvin’s time, different versions of his doctrine have also been developed ‒ so that for purposes of distinction we finally find Calvin’s original doctrine described as “double predestination”, because it states that God both preordains a part of humanity to eternal salvation and preordains the rest to eternal damnation. This is defined today as follows:
“Predestination is defined as ‘God’s eternal decree whereby all
creatures are predetermined to eternal life or death’, and what is known as ‘double
predestination’ is described as follows: ‘God determines or elects on the basis of his
eternal decrees the one group of human beings to eternal blessedness and condemns the other group to
eternal damnation.’” (Donald McKim)
Here again, of course, we fail to find any mention of any scriptural passage where
these “eternal decrees” can be found and read about.
In the 20th century, Karl Barth then engaged with the dilemma of the doctrine of election, which sets out on the one hand to preach the justice of God, but on the other converts this very justice into injustice. Barth interprets double predestination in a new sense. He rejects the election of human beings by God, putting in place of this Christ as both the elect and the rejected. For him it is not a matter of God’s dual decision to save the one group and to pass over the other. Rather it is first of all a matter of God’s self-predestination to be a gracious God, and secondly of the predestination of humanity to be elect and redeemed by God (William Stacy Johnson).
To be elect or to be rejected ‒ for Barth these are not first and foremost attributes relating to human beings, but rather to God: God is in Jesus Christ both as the God who elects and as the human being who is elect; so predestination, for Barth, is in the first instance always divine predestination, Christ is the elect and also the rejected. In him we are elect, so there cannot be any opposition of elect and rejected humanity. According to Karl Barth, predestination can then have a double effect on the Christian congregation: on the one hand it dissolves all fears and doubts in respect of a person’s own status as elect, on the other it removes all grounds for any kind of arrogant exclusiveness, any ostracism of “the other” ‒ since as things actually are, there are no others, because we all stand together in the presence of Christ.
This interpretation by Karl Barth does draw the sting of Calvin’s doctrine of
predestination; at the same time it changes it so drastically that we have to see it as a different
variant altogether ‒ one, too, in which that part of Calvin’s interpretation that is
actually correct has been somewhat obscured. So let us return now to Calvin’s doctrine with a view
to examining to what extent it can be confirmed on the basis of Scripture.
As already mentioned earlier, Calvin may well have been not altogether unaware of this approach based on the foreknowledge or omniscience of God. He puts it like this:
“If we attribute foreknowledge to God, we mean by this that everything
has constantly been before his eyes and will remain so for all time; for God’s knowledge, then,
there is no future and no past, but everything is present ‒ and present in such a way that he
does not just imagine it on the basis of thoughts and images (in the same way as things recur to our
minds when a memory has left its trace on our senses), he actually sees and registers these things
as objects that are standing before him. This foreknowledge, now, extends to the entire circle of
the world and all its creatures.” III. 21,5
And although Calvin ‒ as he states above ‒ completely rejects the interpretation of his doctrine on the basis of God’s foreknowledge, this explanation is entirely in accord with that scriptural passage most frequently used today as a justification for the doctrine of predestination:
As He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world.
Eph 1,3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has
blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 1,4 just as He chose
us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before
Him. In love 1,5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself,
according to the kind intention of His will, 1,6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which
He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. Eph 1, 3- 6;
Paul tells the Ephesians here that God has chosen human beings and predestined them to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ. So there is no way of getting around it: it will hardly be possible to find a clearer biblical demonstration of the doctrine (the correct doctrine, that is) of election. Why Calvin rejects it, though, is a thing that we will see presently. ‒ Paul then specifies in the Epistle to the Romans just what he means by “predestined”:
For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son.
Rom 8,28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for
good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. 8,29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the
image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; Rom 8,28-29;
And here we come to the crucial issue. Paul explains to the Romans which human
beings are the ones whom God has predestined: they are those whom God has foreknown, in his
Advocates of predestination here tend to favor Luther’s translation. The Elberfeld Bible reads “Denn die er vorher erkannt hat ..." ‒ “those whom He foreknew”, or “recognized in advance”. Luther on the other hand renders the Greek text of Rom 8,29 as “Denn die er zuvor ausersehen hat... " ‒ “those whom he selected” or “picked out”. Wolfgang Nestvogel makes use of this in his sermon to BEG-Hannover [the Confessional Evangelical Congregation of Hanover] on 5.22.2005:
“Paul tells us: those whom God has picked out ‒ selected, that
is ‒ have also been predestined by him to be conformed to the image of his Son. And then he
goes on to say in Rom 8,30, These whom he predestined, he also called.”
But when we compare this with the Greek (see Nestle-Aland) and all other
international translations, it is easy to demonstrate that the translation of Romans chapter 8,
verse 29, in Luther’s Bible is plainly wrong. The Greek verb in the original corresponding to the
supposed “picked out, selected” is proegno. Pro is a prefix and means “before”.
The syllable gno occurs in the following words, for example: gnomo = knower, gnoriso
= to recognize, gnoripso = recognizable, gnosis = knowledge. So the correct
translation of this passage must be: “whom he foreknew”, as the Elberfeld Bible and all
international Bibles give it, and not “whom he previously picked out” in the highly tendentious
and incorrect wording of Luther’s version.
It is a similar situation with 1Pet 1,2, where Luther again gives “ausersehen”, “picked out”, while the Elberfeld Bible rightly reads “nach Vorkenntnis Gottes”, exactly rendered in the American versions as “according to the foreknowledge of God”.
Having now cleared this up, we arrive at a quite different meaning to Paul’s statement in Rom 8,29: God has not predetermined those whom he has “picked out”, but rather in his omniscience (prescience, foreknowledge) has recognized those human beings from before the foundation of the world who would, in their lives on earth, confess allegiance to him and to his Son. For if God has recognized these people in his omniscience, this “recognition” must after all necessarily have been preceded by a search procedure. And for a search procedure you need to have a search criterion. And just this search criterion of God’s was the decision to believe on the part of every human being in his or her life, and the love of such persons for God and his Son.
Before the beginning of the world God sought out, recognized and selected or predetermined for eternal life all those people who in the course of their lives would make a decision for him, and wrote their names in the Book of Life (Phil 4:3). These people are the property of God and they are also the ones whom the Father has given to the Son (Jn 17:24). We find further confirmation, incidentally, in the first Epistle of Peter of the connection between this previous recognition or foreknowledge of God and the subsequent election and predetermination, based on that foreknowledge, of people for eternal life:
Peter, to those who reside as aliens, who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.
1Pet 1,1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who reside as
aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen
1,2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the
Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in the
fullest measure. 1Pet 1, 1- 2;
So here we have sound biblical proof of the fact that God has not just predetermined
some people quite arbitrarily for eternal life and others for eternal damnation; rather, as we are
also told repeatedly by our Lord Jesus Christ, it is the decision to believe in the life of every
individual that is exclusively important in determining whether that individual shall enter into
eternal life or not.
Jn 3,36 "He who believes in the Son has eternal life;
but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."
Jn 11,25 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life; he
who believes in Me will live even if he dies, 11,26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me
will never die. Do you believe this?" Jn 11,25-26;
Jn 12,44 And Jesus cried out and said, "He who believes
in Me, does not believe in Me but in Him who sent Me. Jn 12,44;
Jn 12,46 "I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone
who believes in Me will not remain in darkness. 12,47 "If anyone hears My sayings and does
not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. Jn
Jn 3,14 "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so
must the Son of Man be lifted up; 3,15 so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal
life. 3,16 "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever
believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. Jn 3,14-16;
In these passages we have a repeated and unmistakable indication from our Lord Jesus
Christ: “Whoever believes in me will have eternal life”. So nobody is excluded. Everyone
who believes is saved. The completely wrong view of advocates of predestination, whereby God has
ordained a part of humanity to eternal life and the rest to eternal damnation, is purely and simply
attributable to superficial study of the Bible, or perhaps ‒ which would be still worse
‒ to a deliberate reinterpretation, so as to have grounds for that “arrogant exclusiveness”
and “ostracism of the other”, in Barth’s words quoted above, which Barth’s understanding of
double predestination was actually designed to prevent.
And when Wolfgang Nestvogel then states in his sermon:
“God elected quite specific human beings as his children. (...)
God, in his sovereign freedom, has selected individual people for the purpose of belonging to
him. (...) God predetermined you before the foundation of the world.”
‒ we must oppose to him what is said in the Bible, in all its clarity:
God desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
1Tim 2,3 This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior,
2,4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 2,5 For
there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 2,6 who gave
Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time. 1Tim 2, 3- 6;
Through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men.
Rom 5,18 So then as through one transgression there resulted
condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification
of life to all men. Rom 5,18;
And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.
1Jn 2,1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that
you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the
righteous; 2,2 and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but
also for those of the whole world. 1Jn 2, 1- 2;
So God did not elect “quite specific human beings” and “individual people”
for eternal life while condemning the rest to eternal damnation ‒ it is rather the case that
God wants all human beings to be saved. And the redeeming sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ on the
cross did not happen as atonement for some bunch of the “elect” but as atonement for the sins of
the whole world ‒ of all human beings, that is, who have made their decision for Christ and
accepted his redeeming sacrifice for their sins.
So when John MacArthur, another well known advocate of predestination, writes as follows, we find it completely incomprehensible:
“The highest expression of the love of God for sinful humanity is to
be seen in the fact that before the foundation of the world God directs his love to certain unworthy
sinners, and has elected them for salvation.” (“Lampen ohne Öl” [”The Gospel According to
Jesus”] by John F. MacArthur, p. 117. Published by CLV - Christliche Literatur-Verbreitung e.V.,
The highest expression of the love of God is and remains the offering of his Son on the cross for the sins of the world. That, and nothing else.
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son.
Jn 3,16 "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only
begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. Jn 3,16;
Now the attempt has also been made by the advocates of predestination to present
this acceptance of the redeeming sacrifice of Christ as an act of justification through works, and
to condemn it for this reason. The scriptural passage referred to in support of this view is Eph
For by grace you have been saved through faith.
Eph 2,8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not
of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 2,9 not as a result of works, so that no one may
boast. Eph 2, 8- 9;
As I repeatedly endeavor to point out, we must read and analyze the text of a
scriptural passage in its entirety. With the words “For by grace you have been saved through faith”,
Paul is placing the main emphasis on God’s grace towards us human beings through the redeeming
sacrifice of his Son Jesus Christ on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. By “grace” Paul
means the God-given opportunity for the sinner personally to accept this grace and this very work of
redemption by the Son of God, and to be justified by God as a result. That implies however,
quite plainly, that this faith is not found automatically in the human heart ‒ rather, the
individual human being must first accept this faith, explicitly and personally ‒ just as, for
example, a beggar accepts a gift so that it comes into his possession.
So we must accept this grace of God in the redeeming sacrifice of his Son for our sins, accept it in faith. There is no justification through any kind of works, salvation is just the gift of God ‒ giving no one any call to boast.
Him God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith for the remission of sins.
Rom 3,22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ
for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 3,23 for all have sinned and fall
short of the glory of God, 3,24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which
is in Christ Jesus; 3,25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith.
This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins
previously committed; 3,26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so
that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Rom 3,22-26;
And just as a beggar cannot boast that his “acceptance” of a charitable donation
amounts to any kind of performance on his part ‒ since, after all, he has just taken what was
held out to him ‒ so too the sinner who accepts the gift of God in the redeeming sacrifice of
his Son cannot attribute to himself any kind of desert. It is like the situation at a wedding, when
the bride says that she will marry the bridegroom. The “Yes” she utters is not a performance by
which the bridegroom could be purchased, or through which the bride might be supposed to have earned
the bridegroom’s love. But one thing is quite certain: just as the beggar who does not accept the
gift does not come to possess it, so too the wedding cannot be accomplished if the bride does not
give her assent.
Now of course there are cultures in which the bride and bridegroom are “elected” while still children, or even married while they are still children. In cultures of this kind people would find it incomprehensible if someone were to ask whether the bride and bridegroom had made a decision for each other. In such cultures this kind of decision is strictly ruled out ‒ everything is determined by the parents’ expectations. And that, now, is exactly analogous to the predestinatarians’ understanding of the way in which they come to believe. They rule out any thought of a decision by the individual human being to believe in Jesus Christ, claiming that God has elected only some quite specific people ‒ themselves, that is ‒ to come to faith.
So the consequence of this view is also very easy to recognize. Just as the beggar fails to come to possession of the gift if he does not accept it, and as the bride is not married to the bridegroom unless she gives her “Yes”, so too all those people who think they have already been chosen by God, and thus do not have to make their own decision to have faith in Jesus Christ, have failed to accept God’s offer of salvation and the forgiveness of their sins. They are comparable with the bride who has refused to give her assent at the wedding, but then lives in the belief that she is married to the bridegroom just the same. ‒ A deceptive belief indeed!
Finally, the following interpretation of Rom 8,29 by Wolfgang Nestvogel gives us a very exact view of the difference between the doctrine of predestination and true biblical teaching. Mr. Nestvogel preaches as follows:
“And Paul says(...): The reason why you belong to Jesus Christ, the
reason why you have been converted, converted from your former life, is because almighty God in his
sovereign power elected and predetermined you for this.” - (false predestination)
But when we look to see what Paul actually writes in Rom 8,29, we find something
Rom 8,29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to
become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; Rom
Here, in actual fact, what Paul is saying is this:
Almighty God, in his omniscience, foreknew even before the foundation of the world that you would convert and would decide for Jesus Christ, and for this reason predetermined you for eternal life with him and wrote your name in the Book of Life. (true predestination)
As we can see, this biblical interpretation is roughly half way between Calvin’s
understanding of the matter and most current attempts to refute his doctrine ‒ those, that is,
that basically deny any kind of election. The Bible does say that there is an election of human
beings by God ‒ and it actually happens before the foundation of the world! But God has not
elected human beings in a random or arbitrary manner ‒ rather, in his foreknowledge, he has
sought out and recognized those who would convert to Jesus Christ and has predetermined them
to eternal life.
And here we can also clarify some of those biblical passages which the Calvinists advance as a proof of election. For example Rom 9,11-12:
For though the twins were not yet bornn it was said to her, "the older will serve the younger."
Rom 9,9 For this is the word of promise: "At this time I will
come, and Sarah shall have a son." 9,10 And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when
she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; 9,11 for though the twins were not yet born
and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would
stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, 9,12 it was said to her, "the
older will serve the younger." 9,13 Just as it is written, "Jacob I loved, but Esau
I hated." Rom 9, 9-13;
Of course when it comes to Esau and Jacob, God already knew before the foundation of
the world how they were going to decide in the course of their lives ‒ that Esau would become
godless, despise his birthright and sell it for a lentil stew, and that Jacob would come to believe
in God and would love God. We even find here the proof that God always leaves human beings free to
make their own decisions. If God could make it possible for Sarah, at 90 years of age, to bear a son
to the centenarian Abraham (in the previous verse, Rom 9,9; cf. Gen 18,10; 21,1-2), then of course
it would also have been possible for him to arrange the birth of the twins in such a way that Jacob
would come out of his mother’s womb as the first-born. If it were a matter here of an arbitrary
election of Jacob by God, this is just what would have been the obvious course. But God actually
avoided doing this so as to allow justice to take its course, and to allow the two brothers complete
freedom of decision ‒ even if it meant accepting the fact that Jacob and his mother Rebecca
would have to deceive the dying Isaac (Gen 27).
And in the same way we can also refute the assertion of the Calvinists that Paul confirms predestination, four verses further on in Rom 9,17, when he writes that God has raised up Pharaoh for damnation.
For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate my power in you.
Rom 9,17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "for this very
purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed
througout the whole earth." Rom 9,17;
But if we look at the translation of the Old Testament Hebrew original, in Ex 9,16,
what we find is this:
But, indeed, for this reason I have allowed you to remain, in order to show you My power.
Ex 9,15 "For if by now I had put forth My hand and struck you and
your people with pestilence, you would then have been cut off from the earth. 9,16 "But,
indeed, for this reason I have allowed you to remain, in order to show you My power and in order to
proclaim My name through all the earth. Ex 9,15-16;
And Martin Buber too gives a similar rendering in his translation from the Hebrew:
“Yet even for this purpose I allow you to remain: for
the purpose of letting you see my power, and so that my name may be proclaimed everywhere on the
Here God says that he has allowed Pharaoh to remain during the six previous
plagues, so that the world may recognize that he is God and no one is like him. So Pharaoh would
have had all the time in the world ‒ as well as every reason ‒ to convert to God and to
let the Israelites leave Egypt. And yet he decided against it. So finally he and his people would
have to die. But God knew that too in his foreknowledge, right from the foundation of the world.
Even if Mr. Nestvogel confirms God’s foreknowledge in his exposition (see also the above prophecy in Rom 9,12), so documenting the fact that in the eyes of God the behavior of every individual throughout his or her entire life is present, he still does not believe that the decision of the individual is the crucial factor in God’s election but rather insists that God has chosen quite specific human beings and individual people as his children, in a quite arbitrary way and without any action on their part:
God elected quite specific human beings as his children. (...) God, in
his sovereign freedom, has selected individual people for the purpose of belonging to him. (...) God
predetermined you before the foundation of the world.”
As we can see, the doctrine of predestination inverts cause and effect, and does not
hesitate to attribute arbitrariness and injustice to the perfectly just God under the pretext of “sovereign
freedom”. So it is hardly surprising either when this false doctrine gives rise to unbelievable
consequences. A while ago, for instance, an advocate of this doctrine wrote to me that in his view
there just are people who are the elect ‒ the wheat ‒ and the others are the “tares”.
And neither the one group nor the other can do anything to change their fate. “Wheat remains
wheat, and tares remain tares,” as he wrote.
We can generally recognize the advocates of false predestination by the fact that they speak of the “sovereignty” or the “sovereign freedom” of God. So that they will not have to declare openly that in their doctrine it is a pure act of arbitrary will whereby God sends some people to eternal life and other to damnation without any action on their part, they designate it as the “sovereignty” of God. This is as much as to say that God does not judge justly, but simply does what he wants. ‒ Now of course, in actual fact, God is almighty and could do anything he wants. But our God is also a God of absolute justice. And this justice governs the omnipotence of God. Omnipotence without absolute justice would be absolutely arbitrary.
But the advocates of false predestination are clearly unable to perceive this consequence. From their point of view it is unthinkable that someone who possesses sovereignty should, in this state of sovereign freedom, practice self-restriction for the sake of justice. This Calvinist mentality of the unrestricted exercise of power is also to be found in the dictators of this world, like Hitler, Stalin, Mao and many others.
So the sovereignty of God ‒ if we choose to speak in this way ‒ consists in his absolute justice. For the Lord our God is righteous in all his deeds. He does not show partiality, but treats all alike.
For the LORD our God is righteous with respect to all His deeds which He has done.
Dan 9,14 "Therefore the LORD has kept the calamity in store and
brought it on us; for the LORD our God is righteous with respect to all His deeds which He has
done, but we have not obeyed His voice. Dan 9,14;
For the LORD your God is the God of gods who does not show partiality nor take a bribe.
Deut 10,17 "For the LORD your God is the God of gods and the
Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality
nor take a bribe. 10,18 "He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His
love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. Deut 10,17-18;
Righteous and true are Your ways, King of the nations!
Rev 15,3 And they sang the song of Moses, the bond-servant of God, and
the song of the Lamb, saying, "Great and marvelous are Your works, O Lord God, the Almighty; Righteous
and true are Your ways, King of the nations! Rev 15, 3;
Ascribe greatness to our God! His work is perfect, For all His ways are just; A God without injustice.
Deut 32,3 "For I proclaim the name of the LORD; Ascribe greatness
to our God! 32,4 "The Rock! His work is perfect, For all His ways are just; A God of
faithfulness and without injustice, Righteous and upright is He. Deut 32, 3- 4;
Make ready the way of the Liord, make His paths straight, the crooked will become straight.
Lk 3,4 as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet,
"the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘make ready the way of the Liord, make His
paths straight. 3,5 ‘every ravine will be filled, and every mountain and hill will be
brought low; the crooked will become straight, and the rough roads smooth; 3,6 and all flesh
will see the salvation of God.’" Lk 3, 4- 6;
This absolute righteousness of God evidently goes so far that even the conveyance of
his person, on his throne on earth, can only be effected in a straight path, as the prophet Ezekiel
was able to observe both on the river Kebar and in Jerusalem. ‒ God does not go by crooked
paths or travel by oblique routes ‒ not even when it is a matter of the conveyance of his own
(See also Discourse 72: “The throne
and the rightousness of God.”)
(See also Excursus 11: “The throne of God.”)
Now whereas we human beings can hardly have a glimmer of God in his omnipotence and
omniscience, we can recognize a trace of his nature in his justice. For the justice of God cannot be
a mystery for us human beings ‒ otherwise, after all, it would not be recognized as such. So
God’s righteousness is always necessarily based on two criteria: on the one hand the behavior of
the person who is to be assessed, and on the other hand God as judge, who assesses this behavior in
the light of his commandments. And this judgment must be known to the person in question and must
also be comprehensible for the person from an objective point of view. Secret or inexplicable
judgments would not be an instance of justice, but would rather represent arbitrary will. It would
be the same attitude that we are able to observe in corrupt or indeed despotic rulers.
The justice of God, then, is not a “hidden decree” as Calvin supposes. Even if all other properties of God remain mysterious, God’s justice must be something that human beings can understand, otherwise it would fail of its object. And so we can recognize from the Bible that God in his judgment only exercises absolute justice. Only the right path is valid. Any deviation from it leads to condemnation. So it is impossible for human beings to achieve righteousness in the eyes of God by their own efforts. We have nothing to set against God’s justice but the grace of God in his Son Jesus Christ, and Christ’s redeeming sacrifice on the cross for our sins.
Who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, according to His grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity.
2Tim 1,8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of
me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, 1,9 who
has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to
His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity. 2Tim 1,
In his omniscience, God has sought out and recognized ‒ before the foundation
of the world ‒ all those people who will come to faith in him and his Son in the course of
their lives. These are the people whom he has predetermined for eternal life, and whose names he has
written in the book of life.
Rev 3,5 ‘He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and
I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father
and before His angels. Rev 3, 5;
Rev 13,8 All who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose
name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has
been slain. Rev 13, 8;
Rev 21,27 and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination
and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of
life. Rev 21,27;
When God’s Son then became a man on earth in order to satisfy the justice of God and perform his redeeming sacrifice on the cross for the sins of all human beings, it was those people elected by God because of their faith whom the Father gave to his Son. They are the ones whom the Lord describes as his sheep.
Even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life.
Jn 17,1 Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He
said, "Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, 17,2 even
as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give
eternal life. 17,3 "This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God,
and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. Jn 17, 1- 3;
I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world.
Jn 17,6 "I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave
Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. 17,7
"Now they have come to know that everything You have given Me is from You; 17,8 for the words
which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came
forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me. 9 "I ask on their behalf; I do not ask
on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours; Jn 17, 6- 9;
Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me.
Jn 17,24 "Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given
Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved
Me before the foundation of the world. Jn 17,24;
My sheep hear My voice - My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all;.
Jn 10,27 "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they
follow Me; 10,28 and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch
them out of My hand. 10,29 "My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all;
and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 10,30 "I and the Father are
one." Jn 10,27-30;
But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep.
Jn 10,24 The Jews then gathered around Him, and were saying to Him,
"How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly." 10,25
Jesus answered them, "I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s
name, these testify of Me. 10,26 "But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep.
At the same time it must be said that these people whose names have been entered by
God in the book of life may still be blotted out of it again.
May they be blotted out of the book of life And may they not be recorded with the righteous.
Ps 69,26 For they have persecuted him whom You Yourself have smitten,
And they tell of the pain of those whom You have wounded. 69,27 Add iniquity to their iniquity, And
may they not come into Your righteousness. 69,28 May they be blotted out of the book of life And
may they not be recorded with the righteous. Ps 69,26-28;
Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book.
Ex 32,31 Then Moses returned to the LORD, and said, "Alas, this
people has committed a great sin, and they have made a god of gold for themselves. 32 "But now,
if You will, forgive their sin ‒ and if not, please blot me out from Your book which You
have written!" 33 The LORD said to Moses, "Whoever has sinned against Me, I will
blot him out of My book. Ex 32,31-33;
Those who have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance.
Hbr 6,4 For in the case of those who have once been enlightened
and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, 6,5 and
have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6,6 and then have fallen
away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the
Son of God and put Him to open shame. Heb 6, 4- 6;
So any of those people who have confessed Jesus Christ ‒ those going by the
false name of “born again” Christians ‒ and who yet had fallen away from the true faith,
will be blotted out of the book of life again. And these people who have been blotted out of the
book of life ‒ those Christians who have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit and yet have
fallen away from the faith ‒ cannot be renewed again to repentance either.
(See also Discourse 85: “True and false rebirth.”)
Finally I would like to refer to another argument which the Calvinists favor and which they bring forward to prove the correctness of their doctrine of predestination. Here is a comment along these lines, from a believer in predestination who visited Immanuel.at but wishes to remain anonymous:
“Imagine you had been born in Japan (Hiroshima) in 1940. And just 5
years later for the first time you start wondering about the point of life and the existence of God.
But just at that moment, the bomb drops. Too late. The boy in Japan hasn’t had any say in where
and when he would be born. He didn’t seek out his parents, and didn’t contribute to the idea of
the atom bomb in any way. And he didn’t have any friends who could have explained to him the
necessity of conversion before the bomb fell. Only he hasn’t chosen that either. But if he didn’t
choose this for himself, who did? Coincidence? Did he just have bad luck? Or did God know that this
boy was never going to convert? Well?”
Quite apart from the fact that it is very unlikely that a five year old child would
be having thoughts about the purpose of life, we can detect in this statement the false ‒ and
dangerous! ‒ Calvinist view. What is being claimed here is that this boy had to die because
God knew that he was never going to convert, so this might equally give the impression that this boy
was guilty of his own death.
But this impression is deceptive. Just as God compels no one to conversion, so too he does not let anyone die who refuses to convert. The attempt is being made here to ascribe responsibility to God for the dropping of the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the Americans. But those who are truly responsible for the death of hundreds of thousands of people are the American bomber crews who pressed the button, in full awareness of the consequences, and so dropped the bombs. They are the real mass murderers.
But now to answer the question whether this five year old boy would actually have converted in later life if he had not been murdered. We could take the following consideration as a starting point. If God in his omniscience, before the beginning of the world, has sought out, recognized and elected or predetermined for eternal life all those people who would decide for him in the course of their lives (this is the correct biblical doctrine of predestination), he must also have recognized in his omniscience how all those people would have decided who were fated to die early. And so this boy too will be judged in accordance with what he would have decided if he had died a natural death.
But the argument of the anonymous commentator is not just completely wrong from a biblical point of view ‒ which is what we have been presenting in detail in this Discourse ‒ but it is also and above all wrong from the point of view of the Calvinist doctrine of predestination itself. For if we take another look at the definition of this confession of faith, we find the following statement:
“Predestination is defined as ‘God’s eternal decree whereby all
creatures are predetermined to eternal life or death’, and what is known as ‘double
predestination’ is described as follows: ‘God determines or elects on the basis of his
eternal decrees the one group of human beings to eternal blessedness and condemns the other group to
eternal damnation.’” (Donald McKim)
So in the view of this doctrine of predestination (which is biblically incorrect!),
it is God who has determined through his “eternal decrees” that this boy would never
convert. And the argument we find in the above comments ‒ “And he didn’t have any friends
who could have explained to him the necessity of conversion before the bomb fell” ‒ does
sound just a little bit “holier than thou”. Because according to the Calvinist view it would not
have helped the boy in the slightest if somebody had told him something about the need of being
converted. As one of the non-elect, he had absolutely no chance of making a decision either for or
against conversion ‒ seeing that, as this anonymous commentator writes at another point, “The
fact is, at all events, that the tares were and remain tares, and the same is true of the wheat.”
If we now consider the statement in the above comments that the boy had to die because God knew that he would never convert, the consequence of this view is that all people who are healthy, successful and prosperous must be God’s elect, while all the others, who are sick, poor or insignificant must have been condemned ‒ supposedly by God’s will ‒ to damnation.
The fatal aspect of this point of view, however, is that all those people ‒ even in our immediate personal circle(!) ‒ who contract an incurable illness, suffer a car accident or fall victim to some other catastrophe, are automatically to be seen as non-elect (as “tares”, in the description of the above commentator) and perhaps even to be treated as such. So we can only wish this man that nobody in his family, let alone he himself, may ever become sick or lose their lives in an accident.
(See also Discourse 69: “Predestination and the
(See also Discourse 83: “Do we not have
to decide for Chjrist, in order to be saved?”)
As we can see from the extracts from his works quoted earlier, Calvin criticizes all
people who think differently from him, and he is not sparing in his judgments. Here he very often
abandons the path of objectively based argument and goes off into abuse and condemnation. He
himself, on the other hand, reacts to criticisms in a highly emotional way. Especially when it is a
matter of those who do not share or actually contradict his false doctrine of predestination ‒
all such people he describes as heretics and recalcitrant spirits, indeed he even goes so far as to
assert that the questioning of his doctrine is tantamount to blasphemy Institutio
III,21,4 (German, last sentence)
He likes quoting the “fathers of the church” and does so frequently, especially Augustine, seeing that Augustine too taught a doctrine of election. If Augustine also advocated the doctrine of purgatory, this evidently was less disturbing to Calvin, even though he himself at other times quite rightly condemned this false Catholic teaching (see above). In his argument for election Calvin goes to great lengths to leave out all those countless biblical passages which tell us that human beings must first accept faith in Jesus Christ before they can be saved.
Calvin’s doctrine of predestination has been rejected by various Reformed theologians in different countries. For example, the doctrine of predestination has not been adopted at all in the Heidelberg Catechism, which relates to Calvin in many other respects. By contrast with Calvin’s own time, when only a few people disseminated this doctrine of his apart from his “disciples” Farel, Beze and Knox, we find very well known preachers and pastors in our own day, like Wolfgang Nestvogel for instance (see above, and also Discourse 69), Jens Grapow (see also Discourse 84) in German speaking countries, and John F. MacArthur (see also Diskurs 85) and James I. Packer (see also Discourse 69) in English speaking countries, who promulgate this false doctrine in the congregation and from the pulpit.
Calvin’s activities in Geneva led repeatedly to the expulsion, or even the
execution, of people who believed differently from himself. Against this background, the question
what personal part Calvin had in these persecutions has been a matter of heated controversy ever
since Calvin’s own time. His defenders point to the fact that Calvin was not a member of any of
the responsible committees which passed these judgments. In addition, some statements of Calvin’s
have come down to us in which he gives testimony of his having made efforts to alleviate the
penalties imposed. His accusers on the other hand, like Stefan Zweig in his book “Castellio gegen
Calvin” [“Castellio Versus Calvin”], point to council minutes and sermon transcripts which
have come down to us and where we find evidence that Calvin, who frequently gave his opinion to the
various council committees empowered to pass judgment, expressed himself orally and in writing as
vehemently in favor of the persecution and condemnation of persons who thought differently, and even
threatened council members with excommunication in his Sunday sermons if they did not vote the way
he wanted them to. (Wikipedia)
In the case of Calvin’s most celebrated victim ‒ the Spanish doctor and theologian Miguel Servet, handed over on being discovered by Calvin to the secular authorities, and burned at the stake in 1553 ‒ not only was there a personal antipathy between Calvin and Servet, there were also theological and political factors that played a part in the latter’s condemnation. At the instance of Calvin Servet was executed, after having been tortured for days, at Geneva on 27 October 1553. As he refused to recant, he was “roasted on a slow fire” and died in unspeakable torment at the stake. Calvin’s role in the trial was that of the expert who convicted Servet of heresy, based on his deviant opinions on the doctrine of the Trinity. The secular authorities of Geneva were afraid of political difficulties ensuing if they were to allow a non-trinitarian confession of belief, though they had also turned down an extradition request from Vienne. This was why they were inclined to harshness, and they were strengthened in their stand by the statements of opinion they had requested and received from other Reformed cities. Calvin himself later said in his defense that he had spoken in favor of beheading as a punishment for Servet, rather than burning at the stake. But there is no doubt that he was entirely convinced that Servet’s condemnation was in itself justified.
After Servet’s death Calvin immediately applied all his efforts to the persecution and annihilation of Sebastian Castellio, whose pamphlet in defense of Servet had denounced the killing of a human being for his or her faith as a violation of the principles of the gospel. Castellio, who had previously been one of Calvin’s supporters, openly reproached him for being power crazed, abusing power and betraying the very principles he had himself formulated in his commentary on Seneca’s De Clementia. In the sequel Calvin denounced Castellio as a “vulgar wood-thief” and induced his religious underlings in the other Protestant cities of the Swiss federation to issue an order preventing the “traitor” and “arch heretic” from printing or publishing. Reduced to poverty and crushed by Calvin’s persecutions, which continued for years, Castellio died just a few weeks before the start of yet another legal proceeding instituted against him by Calvin ‒ so “escaping from the clutches of his opponent by the help of God”..
Based on the statement in Exodus, “You shall not allow a sorceress to live”, Calvin approved the persecution and execution of supposed witches, urging that “witches” should be unmasked and remorselessly “exterminated”. In his sermons on the First Book of Samuel, he therefore criticized those who were against the burning of witches and demanded that they should be ostracized from society as contemners of God’s Word. We have a particularly good documentary record of Calvin’s attitude in the witch trials of Peney. Calvin believed that for three years men and women in Geneva had been spreading the plague by their magic arts, lent credence to the confessions extracted from them under torture and held their subsequent revocations to be false. In 1545, in the space of a few months, 34 of these unfortunates were burned, after frightful sufferings, in front of all those houses which they were supposed to have magically infected with the plague.