Yes, John Calvin DID Preach Double Predestination

John Calvin Double Predestination Election Institutes

Well I finally got around to it – I am reading through some of the Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin. I say “some” because the complete work spans more than 1500 pages and deals with some of the most weighty and complex theological issues known to mankind. I have chosen for now to plod my way through the most controversial aspects of Calvin’s writings; the topics of predestination and election.

Most of my friends who call themselves Calvinists are eager to disassociate themselves from the doctrine of “double predestination”. They state that God has predestined some to eternal life, but they assure me that He would never send people to hell. People get there on their own, I am told. And what did Calvin teach? I ask. Usually, I receive some sort of vague answer – like how Calvin’s writings are difficult to understand or how misunderstood he is by other denominations. Ok, I get that. He was an intellectual giant – but what did he say about double predestination and if you don’t know exactly, then why do you call yourself a Calvinist?

So I decided to have a look for myself. Surprisingly, The Institutes of the Christian Religion are not so difficult to read or comprehend, despite the complexity of the topics discussed.

Calvin begins his discourse on the doctrine of predestination and election in Chapter 21 of Book 3 of his Institutes. If one just reads the title of this chapter and nothing else, he or she quickly ascertains Calvin’s view on double predestination – for the chapter is titled “OF THE ETERNAL ELECTION, BY WHICH GOD HAS PREDESTINATED SOME TO SALVATION, AND OTHERS TO DESTRUCTION.” That’s pretty clear, is it not?

But in case you still doubt his position, allow me to share with you this excerpt from Section 5 in Chapter 21:

All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestinated to life or to death.

He goes on to address the “arrogant” and “blasphemous” objections which are leveled at his view of predestination. And there are plenty of such objections. In typical Calvin style, he does not back down nor does he attempt to soften his message. God ordains some people to heaven and some people to hell, end of story.

“If that is what Calvin truly taught,” a Calvinist friend told me recently, “then I shouldn’t call myself a Calvinist. That’s not what I believe.”

There is no doubt that Calvin fully subscribed to the doctrine of double predestination. He invented it! Maybe it’s time for some Calvinists to revisit these Institutes of his and reevaluate their desire to affix this label on themselves.

Reference:

Calvin, John. Institutes of Christian religion. Trans. Henry Beveridge, Esq. 1599. Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Nov. 1999. 20 Sept. 2001 <http://www.ccel.org/c/calvin/institutes/institutes.html>.

11 thoughts on “Yes, John Calvin DID Preach Double Predestination

  1. Predestination and free choice are not hard to understand and vindicate when looked at from God’s perspective…they are not mutually exclusive…..in eternity, both are absolutely true….we have free choice in God’s eternal plan but he knows the end from the beginning….

    1. Thanks WM Craven, for your comment. I have heard predestination and free choice described before as “the twin truths”. After all, they are both present in the Bible. I am not convinced, however, that double predestination is a Biblical concept.

  2. Romans 9:22 – What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?

    God did indeed predestine everything, because He causes everything to happen. However, it is due to man’s own sin that they are predestined to Hell.

    Anyways, ‘double predestination’ is just 2 buzz words, and it’s just a different way of describing the same thing as single predestination.

    1. I disagree. Most Christians that I know believe in single predestination – where God does elect some to salvation but in no way sends others to hell. Double predestination is where God actively elects some to salvation and sends others to hell. There is a big difference between the two, is there not?

      1. No, there is absolutely no difference and the reason is simple.

        If God (allegedly) chose to save a relative few out of the mass of lost humanity — let’s say 1 in 100 — then the 99 that He chooses not to elect are automatically consigned to the Lake of Fire BY HIS CHOICE NOT TO ELECT THEM.

        Given the doctrine of omniscience, which means He knows everything and everyone, the logic is unassailable: the reprobation of the 99 would be just as much a choice on His part as election. It cannot be otherwise.

        Even Calvin admitted reprobation is true:

        “All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestinated to life or to death.”

    1. Hi CJ. Thank you for the suggestion. I was not aware that Aquinas wrote much about predestination although given that he wrote about everything else, I guess I should not be surprised 🙂

  3. It is always difficult to see this subject being discussed when the basic understanding of the problems of translation has not been cleared up first. If one is unaware that God never used the word “eternal”, or any word denoting endless anything in the Scriptures, then clear illumination will not be gotten. God’s intention in recording His word in the Greek language is not an insignificant detail that believers can afford to ignore. He chose a particular point in time to commission His Son, the Logos, when Greek was the universal language. His words are refined like silver, seven times, and reliance upon English translations without also consulting the Greek on matters as serious as “eternal damnation” is a sure way to perpetuate erroneous doctrines. Words like everlasting, eternal, never ending, for ever and ever, do not exist in the Original Manuscripts, and are the fruit of philosophy mixed in with religious superstitions. The word “aion” and its derivatives do not, in any case, denote endless anything. Any discussion based upon error only leads to more of the same.

  4. Calvin in his Institutes stated; “Those therefore whom God passes by he reprobates, and that for no other cause but because HE IS PLEASED TO EXCLUDE THEM from the inheritance which he predestines to his children.”
    Scripture however says: FOR I TAKE NO PLEASURE IN THE DEATH OF ANYONE declares the Lord, so turn and live. Ezek. 18:23,32; 33:11
    1 Tim 2:3-4 God … desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
    Is. 45:22 Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the Earth

    1. I know the following is extremely long, but I wrote it out of a sincere desire to clarify the misconceptions I’ve seen in both the article and the comments. So if you are open to understand our actual views, please read this! We’re all Christians here!

      You yourself cannot accept that God’s desire that no wicked man perishes means what you’re saying because God allows people to die. If God knows which people are going to wind up in hell (which we must all believe if God is omniscient), and He has full power to prevent people from dying, which doesn’t violate free will in any sense (see Job 14:5; Acts 17:25-26; Psalm 31:15, 68:20, 139:16; Isaiah 38:5; Daniel 5:23) then not one single person prepared to perish into hell would actually die. Neither would God have proclaimed the curse that brought an almost (a few people never did die after all) absolute inevitability of death to our bodies to be enacted. (Genesis 3:19-23) If God’s desire to not see one wicked man perish is God’s prime motive, then not one man who has destined himself to hell by refusal of the Gospel would die. However, we know that this is not the case as God actually does sentence people to hell after they live a life in willful and unceasing rebellion. So we must accept that there is nuance to God’s desire that no wicked man perish and that it is ultimately subject to other aspects of God’s will. You might say to me that God must ultimately choose to let these people die. But why? If God has the power of life and death in His hands, then why condemn anyone to eternity in hell? Why didn’t He show unfathomable mercy upon these souls by allowing them to live forever with the much more preferable and pleasant corruption of this present earth when compared to the eternal misery and suffering of hell? If God’s ultimate aim for the wicked is that they don’t perish, then they wouldn’t. You mischaracterize Calvinist doctrine (and Calvin to my knowledge) by making it seem as if we believe God is just as active in the predestination of the reprobate (those who God ultimately knows will never accept His offer of salvation) as He is with those He predestines unto salvation (the elect). No Calvinist believes this! You mistake Calvin’s use of “ordains” as being no different than “forces.” (I will address what we define ordain as later) We say that God has decided to grant to a portion of mankind an effectual grace which leads to salvation. However, God withholds this grace from the rest. You say, “that’s not fair!” Is God obligated to grant mercy to everyone if He grants it to one? What do you think it means when the Apostle writes, “For He [God] says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” (Romans 9:15) Or when he writes a few verses later: “So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.” (Romans 9:18). If we are to accept these verses for their plain meaning, then we must never say anything that infers that God is obligated to show mercy to everyone. I do not care when others disagree with Calvinism, but it truly does anger me when it is mischaracterized. When Calvinists teach double predestination, we do not mean to say that God is just as active in bringing the reprobate to damnation as He is in bringing the elect to salvation. Anyone who says this is completely wrong and his views should be condemned. Instead, we say that God has sovereignly decided who He purposes to bring to salvation through effectual grace, and who to pass over by withholding this grace. All men apart from God’s grace are destined for hell (we must all believe this) out of their own doing. So when God purposes to bestow grace upon a portion, who are we to cry foul? We all deserve eternity in hell; it is out of divine mercy that God has decided to not give us all what we deserve! So then, we say that God is active/positive (that is He actively bestows grace) in His predestination to salvation, but He is passive/negative (that is He does no causal action) in his predestination of the reprobate. The predestination of the reprobate was, is, and always will be on the basis of their own doing, not God’s. That is what double predestination means! Now let’s turn to the use of “ordains.” What we mean by ordain is nothing controversial at all. Ordain simply means that God has either passively allowed or actively caused an action or reality to occur. God is sovereign over all things, and therefore, God has ordained all things. (If one thing happens which God has not ordained, then there is something over which God is not sovereign which is impossible) God ordained sin to occur in the sense that He passively allowed (without interference) the fall of Adam and Eve as well as Satan himself. Conversely, God has ordained the salvation of the elect via the active bestowment of grace.

      I hope all of this serves to clarify the issue as it is my true hope that we stop dividing the Church over something that truly shouldn’t be controversial. We should leave our knives at the door in these debates and simply agree to disagree on our interpretations, but at the same time, recognize that there are biblical merits to both views (which there truly are).

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