(THAT IS, CALUMNY III.)
THE SINS WHICH ARE COMMITTED, ARE COMMITTED NOT ONLY BY THE PERMISSION, BUT EVEN BY THE WILL OF GOD. FOR IT IS FRIVOLOUS TO MAKE ANY DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE PERMISSION OF GOD AND THE WILL OF GOD, AS FAR AS SIN IS CONCERNED. THEY WHO ATTEMPT TO MAKE THIS DIFFERENCE MERELY ATTEMPT TO GAIN GOD OVER BY FLATTERY.
C A L U M N I A T O R'S
OBSERVATIONS AND STATEMENTS ON
Concerning the difference between the will and the permission of God the arguments of your opponents are these: Calvin (they say) professes that he is a prophet of God; but we say that Calvin is a prophet of the devil. Now one of these assertions must be false; both parties cannot speak the truth. If Calvin is a prophet of God, we lie; but if Calvin is a prophet of the devil, then he lies, for he asserts that he is a prophet of God. But suppose (by the will of God!) that both positions are true; that is, if God wills that Calvin should say that he is a prophet of God, while we say that Calvin is a prophet of the devil; it follows that contradiction is a will which is impossible. For if God wills that which is falser He does not will that which is true. And again, if God wills that which is true, He does not will that which is false. From which it will follow that if God wills that the one party should speak the truth, it must be contrary to His will that the other party should lie. But the one party certainly does lie. Therefore, the one party lies by the permission, but not by the will, of God. Hence, the next consequence is that there is a difference even in God Himself, for there is a discrepancy between His permission and His will.
Your adversaries adduce, moreover, many conspicuous examples of this discrepancy between the will of God and His permission, especially from Ezekiel xx., where God, after He had reproved His people very fully and severely for not obeying His commandments, at last concludes with these words: "Go ye; serve ye every one his idols, and hereafter also, if ye will not hearken unto Me" (Ezek. xx. 39). As if God had said, "I permit you to serve your own lusts, since ye will not obey My, precepts." And this, indeed, seems to be exactly the same as that which He had said in the former part of the same chapter: "Because they despise My statutes, therefore I gave them also statutes that were not good" (vers. 24, 25). Now God did not in reality, we are assured, give unto the Israelites statutes that were not, in themselves, good, for all the statutes of God are good. But because they despised the good precepts of God, He forsook them; and they being thus forsaken of God, fell away into evil statutes, just as that prodigal son, being forsaken by his father, or rather having forsaken his father, fell into luxury and every evil. Thus also Paul teaches that because men did not love the truth, God sent upon them strong delusions, that they might believe a lie. Of the same description also seems to be that passage of Amos iv.: "Go ye to Bethel, and transgress, for this liketh you" (vers. 4, 5). So it is also in the present day (as in the case of thyself and thy disciples). As men would not obey God, who saith that He hateth sin, therefore God hath permitted spirits of delusion such as yours to exist, who teach that God willeth sin, that they who would not obey the truth might be left to obey a lie.
Your opponents adduce that passage from Zechariah, where God says He was angry with the nations that were at ease, because, when He was lightly angry with the Israelites, they helped forward the calamity; that is, they afflicted the Israelites more grievously than the anger of the Lord against them required or could endure. This was, therefore, done by the permission, not by the will, of God. They produce also a similar example from the prophet Obed, who reproves the people of Israel because they oppressed the people of Judah more heavily than the anger of the Lord required. They bring forward also the example of the prodigal son, concerning whom, if thou sayest that he ran into riotous living by the will of his father, it will be the greatest possible absurdity. The son, therefore, thus acted by the permission of the father. In the same way also thy opponents affirm that the wicked are prodigal sons of God, and that they sin, not by the will, but by the permission of God. They refer, moreover, to that saying of Christ, "And ye, will ye also go away?"
Christ most certainly did not will that they should go away, but He permitted them so to do. They argue, finally, from the nature of common sense, which dictates that there must be a difference between willing and permitting. And they affirm that it was according to common sense that Christ taught Divine things; and that if thou take away common sense from His teaching all His parables must fall at once, for it is by common sense that those parables are to be judged of and understood.
OF JOHN CALVIN TO
AND TO CALUMNIATOR'S STATEMENTS. &C.
This THIRD ARTICLE shows, equally with the preceding, how greedily and to what extent you feed on calumnies. If you did wish thus fiercely to gnaw my doctrine, why did you not, at least, cite my words honestly? In the vast cause now before us, I affirm that to make a difference between the permission and the will of God is, indeed, "frivolous." But you interpose a witty and clever argument as you imagine, though it is an empty sophism. If all things are done by the will of God, God (you assert) wills things which are contrary in nature and in principle, which is proved (you maintain) by saying that I really am a prophet of the devil, while I affirm that I am a true servant of God. This appearance of contradiction is that which dazzles and blinds your eyes. But God Himself, who well knoweth in Himself how it is that He willeth that same thing in one sense which is contrary to His will in another, pays no regard whatever to your dullness of understanding and stupidity. As of ten as God called forth the true prophets, He most certainly willed that they should contend zealously and earnestly in declaring the doctrine of the law. Upon this there secretly rose up false prophets, who strove to overthrow that doctrine. That there should be a conflict, therefore, between the true and false prophets was inevitable. But God did not therefore contend with or contradict Himself, though He willed that both these true and these false prophets should come forth. You obtrude upon me the long-suffering of God. But God, on the other hand, declares that no false prophets arise, but those whom He ordains to be such, either to prove the faith of His own people, or to blind the unbelieving. "If there arise among you a false prophet (saith Moses), your God proveth you by that prophet" (Deut. xii. 1, 3). Now you, by a most perverse and preposterous comment, transfer to some other that which Moses ascribes expressly to God. Therefore, either deny at once that God searches the hearts of His people, or else admit that which is the evident and indubitable truth: that false prophets are instruments of God, by which He proves, as by a touchstone, that of which He will have Himself acknowledged to be the author. But Ezekiel sets this forth still more clearly and remarkably: "And if the prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the Lord have deceived that prophet, and I will stretch out My hand upon him, and will destroy him from the midst of My people Israel " (Ezek. xiv. 9).
You would have us to rest content with the permission of God only. But God, by His prophet, asserts that His will and His hand are in the whole matter as the moving cause. Now just consider, then, which of the two is the more worthy to be believed, God, who by His Spirit, the only fountain of truth, thus, speaks concerning Himself; or you, prating about His hidden and unsearchable mysteries out of the worthless knowledge of your own carnal brain? What! when God calls in Satan for His purposes, as the instrument of His vengeance, and openly gives him commandment to go and deceive the prophets of Ahab, does this positive command differ nothing from a mere permission? The voice of God contains in it no ambiguity whatever, "Who (saith God) will go and deceive Ahab for me?" Nor does God command Satan in any obscure manner "Go thou and be a lying spirit in the mouths of all his prophets" (1 Kings xxii.). Now I wish to know from you whether the doing a thing is the same as the permitting it to be done? When David had secretly abused the wife of another man, God declares that He will cause all David's wives to be dragged forth, to make an example of the same disgraceful sin openly in the sight of the sun. God does not say, "I will permit it to be done," but "I will do it." But you, in your wondrous defence of God (as you think), would aid Him by your fallacious help in thrusting forward your imaginary permission! How very differently does David think and act! He, while revolving in his mind the fearful judgment of God, exclaims. "I was dumb, because Thou didst it!" In like manner Job blesses God, and confesses that he was plundered by the robbers, not only through the permission, but by the will and act of God; for he plainly affirms "that it was the Lord who gave, and that it was the Lord who took away," what He had Himself given. If, upon your authority, giving and receiving are to be understood in the same way as willing and permitting, riches so considered are not blessings actually bestowed of God, but they fall into our hands at random by the permission of God. But if you and your foul band should continue thus to cry out against God until dooms-day, He will nevertheless, in due time, fully justify and vindicate Himself. But as for us, we will adore with all reverence those mysteries which so far surpass our comprehension, until the brightness of their full knowledge shall shine forth upon us in that day when He, who is now seen "through a glass darkly," shall be seen by us "face to face." "Then (saith Augustine) shall He be seen in the brightest light of understanding that which the godly now hold fast in faith. How sure, certain, immutable and all-efficacious, is the will of God! How many things He can do which He yet wills not to be done; but that He wills nothing which He cannot do!"
With reference, however, to the present ARTICLE, I will answer you from the mouth of the same godly writer. "These (saith he) are the mighty works of the Lord; exquisitely perfect according to every bent of His will. And so perfect in exquisite wisdom, that when both the angelic and the human natures had sinned?that is, had done, not what God willed, but what each nature willed, even by a like will, in each creature?it came to pass that what God, as the Creator, willed not, He Himself accomplished according as He had willed; thus blessedly using, as the God of perfect goodness even evils to the damnation of those whom He had righteously predestinated unto punishment, and to the salvation of those whom He had mercifully predestinated unto grace. For, as far as these transgressing natures were themselves concerned, they did that which God willed not but with respect to the Omnipotence of God, they could by no means have done what they did without it, nor without its concernment therein. For by the very act of their doing that which was contrary to the will of God, they were themselves thereby fulfilling the will of God. Wherefore. these mighty works of God, exquisitely perfect, according to every bent of His will, are such that, in a wonderful and ineffable way, that is not done without the will of God which is even done contrary to His will, because it could not be done at all, unless He permitted it to be done; and yet, He does not permit unwillingly, but willingly. Nor, as the God of goodness, would He permit a thing to be done evilly, unless, as the God of Omnipotence, He could work good even out of the evil done."
As to the testimonies of the Scripture which you adduce, they have no more to do with the present mighty question and cause, than oil has to do with wine to make a mixture, or to dilute the one with the other. God, speaking to the Jews by the prophet Ezekiel, and addressing them as disobedient, says: "Go ye; worship every man his own idols." This, I openly profess, is not the voice of God commanding or exhorting, but of God rejecting an impious mixture of worship?a worship by which the Jews had profaned His sanctuary. Now what else can you conclude from this passage, but that God sometimes permits that to be which He disapproves and condemns? As if it were not evident to all that God sometimes commands and sometimes permits by the same forms of expression. God says in the Law, "Six days shalt thou labour." Here is a permission. For sanctifying every seventh day to Himself He leaves the other six free to men. In a manner somewhat different also He permitted of old divorce to the Jews, which He nevertheless by no means approved. In the present case, recorded by the prophet Ezekiel. He gives up the double-minded and the pertidious to idols, because He will not suffer His name to be polluted. But how is it that you have forgotten, here, that all this is wrought by the "Secret Providence of God," by which He ordains and turns to the accomplishment of His own purposes all the movements and tumults of the world, according to His own will? Moreover, corrupting vainly and ignorantly as you do that other passage (Ezekiel xx. 24, 25), you evince how everything sacred is disregarded by an impure and profane person like yourself. The words of God are, "Because they despised My statutes. I gave them precepts that were not good." Here you trifle by observing that when they were forsaken of God they fell into idolatry. But God undoubtedly means that the Jews were given over to the Chaldeans into slavery, and that the Chaldeans, who were idolaters, were oppressing them by their tyrannical laws.
But our question now is, whether God merely permitted the Jews to be thus dragged into exile by the Chaldeans, or whether He used the latter as rods, chosen by Himself, wherewith to scourge the Jews for their sins? For if you will still make the doctrine of mere permission a pretext, you might as well commit all the prophets to the flames at once, who at one time declare that Satan was sent by God to deceive, and at another that the Chaldeans or Assyrians were sent by God to destroy; and who, at the same time, assert that God "hissed for" the Egyptians, that He might use their might in punishing His people, and at another that the Assyrians were His hired soldiers; that Nebuchadnezzar was His servant in plundering Egypt, and that the Assyrians were the "axe" in His hand and the "rods" of His anger in utterly devastating Judaea. I do not multiply, as I might do, kindred examples, lest I should exceed all moderate bounds of proof (Isa. x. 5.).
Nor is your inebriated audacity the less manifest, where you would vainly make it appear that God's sending "strong delusions" on the unbelieving, that they might believe a lie, means that He permits false teachers to exist; and that, as He permitted the prodigal son to fall into riotous living when he had deserted his father, so He permits His prodigals to fall into error and delusion when they forsake Him. And when you spout forth all this folly, you imagine that your readers are so blind that they do not see things to be quite otherwise in the words of Paul, where he says, "God shall send upon them strong delusions, that they might believe a lie" (2 Thess. ii. 11). But it is no marvel whatever that he should prate thus, at will and at random, who imagines that there are no judgments of God at all, or who does not know what the judgment means, or holds it in perfect contempt if he does. For no man who is not insane would say that a judge had no hand in the judgment of the wicked, or that he would sit down in unconcern and leave others to perform that duty which belonged properly to himself alone.
You attempt, however, by your barking, either to frighten me or to provoke me, when you say that by the permission of God spirits of error and delusion exist, who teach that God wills sin. But as this same reproach was cast in the teeth of the apostle Paul himself, why should I grieve or complain at being a partaker of the same reproach with him? You adduce a passage from the prophet Zechariah, where the nations are described as punishing God's people beyond the extent which His wrath required Are you, then, really such a simpleton as not to believe that there was protection enough in God to prevent this excess of His people's affliction by their enemies, and to have made their punishment less, had He been pleased, or had He willed so to do? You reply that the words of the prophet intimate this excess of punishment. But you must be twice or thrice dipped in stupidity, if you perceive not that God tries the patience of His people in a marvellous manner by the severest proofs, sometimes in one way and sometimes in another, and that He is often, at the same time, offended by the insolence of their enemies, where He sees them become too much elated with their victories, and when they insult and cruelly use the conquered. Nay, your foolish comments and reasonings fall to the ground of their own accord, directly militating against and mutually destroying each other. For the truth and fact must be, either that God positively commanded those profane nations, or He merely permitted them, to gently chastise His people. If you reply that He commanded them to do so, I then obtain the conclusion that, though these neighbouring enemies were, without cause, afflictive to the miserable exiles who dwelt with them, yet, that they would have been without blame if they had not exceeded due bounds in their cruel treatment of them as the conquered and as captives. For who would attribute that to them as iniquity which they had done at God's command?
But you are labouring all the time to establish a difference between the permission of God and His command, thus making it appear that though God commanded their enemies to inflict punishment on His people, yet it was by His permission only that they exceeded all due bounds in the punishment they inflicted. In this same way of reasoning the Israelites also were deserving of censure, for they also afflicted their brethren of Judah more severely than the wrath of God against them (according to your reasoning) required. But your insanity blinds you so far as to cause you to assert that they would have been free from all guilt and blame if they had been moderate in their vexation of their brethren. For I have to bring you back again and again to this point: that the Israelites sinned, not only because (by the permission of God as thou imaginest) they exercised too great severity towards their brethren, but because they took up arms against them at all. You, however, hesitate not to declare that there was no sin in their commencing war against their brethren, because God was angry with the people of Judah, and Himself armed the Israelites, that they might execute His vengeance upon them at His own command. Whereas I maintain that the Israelites sinned in a twofold sense: first, because they had themselves no intent or desire to do the will of God, although they were really the instruments of His vengeance; and secondly, because their atrocity itself proves that they were destitute of all sense of equity. Nay, at the very outset you betray your shameless ignorance in your pretending that men, as far as they are themselves concerned, err and fall by the permission of God. Whereas, such a representation of the sacred matter is impious and profane. It is making God to give permission to men to do evil in reference to their own actions, as considered in themselves; while the reality and truth are, that God severely prohibits and solemnly forbids the doing of anything that is contrary to His commands. But why God of His will permits men to do wrong; nay, why God by His secret decree gives men over to evil, whom He nevertheless commands to continue in the right way; it becomes our sobriety and modesty of mind to remain willingly ignorant. To search into this profound secret insolently as you do is rashness, audacity and madness!
How cleverly and appropriately you interpret that passage where Christ (as you make it appear) permits His disciples to go away (John vi. 67), learn from the following reality of the case. When Christ, referring to those who had gone away, turns to His disciples and says to them, "Will ye also go away?" He is positively exhorting them to persevere and continue with Him. For, asking them in grief whether they also would go away, He puts, as it were, a gentle rein upon them to prevent them from falling away with apostates. And is this, I pray you, the manner in which you convert all such forms of speech as these into permissions? Common sense does, I acknowledge, at first sight, take to command to be one thing, and to permit to be another. But the fact is, that this difference, or this sameness, is not the real question at issue. The question between us is, whether God, in unconcern and inactivity, merely observes, as an uninterested, unconcerned and idle spectator, all the things that are done upon earth; or whether, from His all-high throne, He rules, overrules and governs by His Divine command, every single action of the sons of men? Or, if the term permission gives you so much satisfaction and pleasure, answer me this question: Does God permit things to be done willingly or unwillingly? That God permits unwillingly is positively denied by Psalm cxv. 3: "The Lord hath done whatsoever He willed" (or, "whatsoever He hath pleased"). If, therefore, God permits willingly, to represent Him as sitting on His throne as a mere unconcerned and unengaged spectator, is utterly profane. Wherefore it follows that God determines and rules by His counsel whatsoever He wills to be done. But you are for bringing, with child's talk, this sublime mystery of God down to the rule and measure of common sense!
And as to your objecting and arguing, on the other hand, that Christ so taught all the Divine lessons of His teaching, as to accommodate Himself to the capacity of people of common sense; Christ Himself flatly denies this, and convicts you at once both of lying and of impudence in the matter. Hear you not Christ Himself declaring that He spoke in "parables," to the very end, that the common people, or people in general, "might hear, and yet not understand"? It is, indeed, quite true that the Holy Spirit does, for our sakes, everywhere speak in a certain manner, as a nurse would speak to children; but this is a widely different matter from representing, as you do, that common sense is a capable and competent judge of those profound doctrines, which exceed in their incomprehensibility the capacity of angels. Paul proclaims aloud that "the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, neither can he know them (1 Cor. ii. 14). He therefore admonishes all those to become fools, and to resign all their own wisdom, who would profit in the heavenly school. In a word, God everywhere vindicates to Himself as His own all true light of understanding. Indeed, both days and volumes would fail me, if I were to attempt the accumulation of those testimonies of Scripture which condemn common sense as perfect darkness, for they are numberless, and they all declare that light can be obtained from heaven alone, and that whosoever would be wise in the things of God, and of his own salvation, must renounce all his own wisdom, how much human light soever it may contain. I will content myself, therefore, with one example only. God willed not that the doctrine of the Gospel should be preached unto the Gentiles, and He withheld it from them even until the coming of Christ. And therefore it is, that the apostle calls the Gospel "the mystery that was hidden from ages;" nay, that was unknown to the angels themselves in heaven (Col. i. 26; 1 Peter i. 12).
Notwithstanding such testimonies as these, however, you will persist in thrusting upon us the sufficiency of common sense, which, by its own natural will and judgment, subverts this very doctrine of the apostle altogether. For you will grant nothing to be even probable, but that of which common sense may be the estimator, arbiter and judge. Whereas the prophet, when speaking of the secret Providence of God, exclaims, "O Lord, how great are Thy works! and Thy thoughts are very deep " (Psalm xcii. 5) But you, on the contrary, deny that anything is divine but that which you can measure by the rule of your own reason. What becomes, then, of the remonstrance of the apostle, when he is discussing the mighty question now before us? Why doth he make the appeal, "Nay but who art thou, O man?" And again, what meaneth his wonder and admiration, "O the depth!" "How unsearchable," etc., etc.? The apostle commands us to wonder and be astonished, because. whenever we come to the incomprehensible counsel of God, all mortal senses and powers fail before it. Whilst you, all the time, will admit nothing that you cannot see with your own natural eyes!