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Commentary On Zechariah Malachi by Jean Calvin

Lecture One Hundred and Seventieth

We saw yesterday what the object of Malachi was in reminding the Jews that they were loved and chosen by God; it was, that he might the more amplify their ingratitude for having rendered such an unworthy reward for so great a favor of God: as he had preferred them to all other nations, he had justly bound them to perpetual obedience; but they had shaken off the yoke, and having despised God had given themselves up again to many corruptions, as we have yesterday stated. But I reminded you at the same time, that the Prophet refers not here to those benefits with which God favors indiscriminately all mankind, but brings forward the adoption by which he had set apart the seed of Abraham as his peculiar people.

But that it may appear more fully how just this expostulation was, let us first observe, that it is one kind of obligation that God has created us men in his image and after his likeness; for he might have created us dogs and asses, and not men. Adam, we know, was taken from the earth, as other animals were: then as to the body there is no difference between men and other creatures. When it is said that God breathed into man the breath of life, we ought not to dream as the Manicheans do, that man's soul is by traduction; for so they say, affirming that man's soul is from the substance of the Deity; but Moses on the contrary understands that man's soul was created from nothing. We are born by generation, and yet our origin is clay; and the chief thing in us, the soul, is created from nothing. We hence see that we differ from animals because God was pleased to create us men. He therefore will justly charge us with ingratitude, if we do not serve him; for it was for this end he created us in his own image.

But there is here mentioned a special favor -- that the Lord took to himself the seed of Abraham, as it is said in the song of Moses, that all nations are God's, but that he had cast his line to set apart Israel for himself. (Deuteronomy 32:9.) Though then the whole world was under God's government, it was yet his will to choose one family. If the cause be enquired, it is not to be found in men; for all were created from the earth, and souls were implanted in their bodies created from nothing. Since it was so, we see that the difference arose from the fountain of gratuitous favor -- that God preferred one race to the rest; and as we stated yesterday, Moses often repeats this -- that the Jews were not chosen because they were more excellent than other nations, but because God gratuitously loved their fathers. (Deuteronomy 7:7.) By love he means gratuitous favor.

Malachi then does not consider here that the Jews had been chosen before other nations on the ground of their own merit; for if he granted this, they might have objected and said -- |Why dost thou remind us that God has favored us more than other nations, since he deemed us worthy, and rewarded our merit?| But the Prophet takes it as admitted, according to what I have already said, that the Jews were by nature like other nations, so that their different condition did not proceed from themselves, or from their own worthiness, but from the gratuitous love of God.

A third step is also to be noticed here; for God selected a part only from the very race of Abraham, as Esau and Jacob were brothers, and Esau was first according to the order of nature, for he was the first-born; and yet God rejected him, and appointed the favor of election to be in the posterity of Jacob. This third step then was election.

These things ought to be carefully considered. Men are peculiarly bound to God, because he might have created them asses and dogs, and not men; but it has pleased him to form them in his own image. The second step is, that he chose the race of Abraham, when his empire extended over all nations without exception: for how was it that God chose to be the father and savior of one people only, when the whole world was under his authority? Here shines forth, as I have already said, his gratuitous favor; and in addition to the testimonies of Moses, it is often said in the Psalms that God loved the fathers, that he did to them what he had not done to other nations, that he made known his judgments to them. (Psalm 147:19.) There are many passages in which God commemorates his favor to the Jews, because it pleased him to distinguish them from other nations, while yet the condition of all by nature was wholly the same. Now the third step which Malachi mentions ought to be carefully noticed -- that God not only promised to be a God to Abraham and to his seed, but also made a difference between the very sons of Abraham, so as to reject some and to choose others; and it is on this point that Paul dwells in the ninth chapter to the Romans; Romans 9:1-33 for he says, that not all who are of Israel-that is, who derive their origin from him -- are true and legitimate Israelites, but those who are called. For it was Paul's object to refute the Jews, for they boasted that they were a holy people, though they wilfully rejected Christ and his gospel. For when the apostles proved that the Redeemer promised had been sent, the proud answer in the mouth of the Jews was this -- |Are not we the Church of God? but we do not acknowledge this Christ whom ye would thrust upon us.| As then the Jews, through this false pretense, despised the favor of God, and sought to trample Christ as it were under foot, Paul repels this arrogance, and shows that they excelled not the nations, except by virtue of a gratuitous adoption, and that this adoption was to be so extended to the whole race of Abraham as yet to be confined to a certain number.

In the same manner do the Papists act in the present day. As they estimate faith by external tokens, they haughtily object to us, and say that they are the Church; as though a general promise were sufficient without the Spirit, who is justly called the Spirit of adoption, by whom God seals it within, even in our hearts.

Now Paul adds evidences of the fact, and brings forward the instance of Jacob and Esau. Of the twin brothers, one, he says, was chosen, and the other passed by; and yet both were the sons of Abraham. It then follows that there is a third step in election, as I have already stated. Now from this third proceeds a fourth -- that God takes some of the sons of Jacob, whom he has chosen before the foundation of the world, and others he rejects; and of this fact Paul adduces a sure proof, or assigns an evident reason: God preferred Jacob to his brother, the first-born, but not on account of any merit: if then the free mercy of God availed so much in the election of Jacob, it follows that the same still prevails with regard to his posterity. If it be again asked, whence comes it that some are faithful and others are reprobate, the answer is, because it so pleases God. Hence Paul ascends higher and says, that before they were born, and had done neither good nor evil, it was said, the elder shall serve the younger; and then he brings forward this prophecy-Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.|

If then we wisely consider the whole passage, we shall find what I have stated -- that from the third step we may proceed to a fourth, and that is, that from the sons of Jacob God chose whom he pleased and rejected others; for when he chose Jacob, God was not bound to him any more than he was before. The same promise was indeed repeated to Jacob, which had been given to Abraham; but from Abraham proceeded Ishmael, who was rejected, we know, from God's Church; and the same was the case with the other sons of Abraham. Isaac was alone chosen. But Isaac, the father of Esau and Jacob, was not able at his own pleasure to retain them both; but here the free and hidden election of God appeared, so that Esau was rejected, and Jacob remained as the legitimate heir to the divine favor.

We now then more fully understand what the Prophet means: he does not charge the Jews with having shaken off every fear of that God, in whose image they had been created; but he enhances their ingratitude, because they gave no response to the free adoption of God, for they had been chosen from all other nations, and not only this, but they had been separated again from the very race of Abraham, and this was their second election. Another thing must also be added respecting their gratuitous election; for the reproof of the Prophet would not have been received, except God in his adoption had regard only to his own favor; for if we grant that either Jacob or Abraham had merited anything, what the Prophet says, Was not Esau Jacob's brother? would not have availed. An answer might have been readily given, |He was indeed his brother, but his virtue being meritorious set him before his brother.| But the Prophet here presses this point on the Jews -- that having been bound by so many benefits, they yet were become as it were spurious; for they had degenerated from the favor which God had conferred on them. We hence see that by these words of the Prophet it is sufficiently proved -- that Abraham had been chosen by God in preference to all other nations, Isaac in preference to his brother Ishmael, and Jacob in preference to Esau.

And Scripture is full of proofs on the subject, and experience also sufficiently demonstrates the truth. Moses says, that it was not by their own virtue that they excelled other nations, for they were a rebellious and a stiff-necked people. Though God then knew the perverse character of that nation, it yet pleased him to make them an example of his wonderful goodness. There is therefore no reason for us to seek any other cause for adoption except the will of God. And since the election of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was gratuitous, it follows that each one is freely chosen whom God separates from the whole body; and thus we come to the fourth step; for what is said here, that Jacob was chosen, ought not to be confined to his person, but what he had in common with his posterity. Jacob then was chosen -- for what purpose? that his children might be God's holy and peculiar people. Now if we consider his whole offspring, we shall find that all who descended from Jacob were not legitimate Israelites, for the greatest part of them were rejected. As then many who derived their origin from Jacob, were not less reprobate than Esau, it follows that God's free favor and gratuitous mercy prevails as to individuals: and this is the subject which Paul discusses in the ninth chapter to the Romans.

It seems hard to many, that God should choose some and not all, and that he should regard no worthiness, but of his own free will choose whom he pleases, and reject others. But whence comes this objection, except that they wish to restrain God and subject him to their own judgment? But we must come to the principle to which I have referred. If it seems unreasonable to them that one of two should be chosen and the other rejected, how can they defend the justice of God (if need there be of their apology) with regard to an ass and man? for as I have said, they both proceeded, both asses and men, from the same lump as to their bodies. Every vigor and strength in the ass has been created by the hidden power of God: and as to the soul of man, though its essence is immortal, it has yet been created from nothing. Now, then, let these wise censors answer for God in this case, whom they think to be exposed to many calumnies, when we say that men's salvation depends on his will, so that he rejects some and chooses others.

But as to general election, there is the same difficulty to satisfy the judgment of men: for as we have already said, there is no difference between men but what arises from hidden election. They indeed imagine in this case a foreknowledge as the mother of election: but the notion is extremely foolish and puerile. They then say, that some are elected by God and some are rejected, because God, to whom nothing is hid, foresees what every one will be. But I now ask, Whence is it that one is virtuous, while another is vicious? If they say, from free-will, doubtless creation is anterior to free-will: this is one thing. Then we know that in Adam all men were created alike; for how is it that we are all exposed to eternal death, and that the vengeance of God extends over us all, and at this day prevails through the whole world? How is this, except that the condition of us all originally is one and the same? It follows then, that if Adam stood upright, all men would be alike in their integrity. I do not now speak of special gifts: for there would have been, I allow, a difference of endowments had nature remained perfect; but as to eternal life the condition of all would have been the same. Now after the fall of Adam we are all lost. What can then be more foolish and absurd than to imagine that there is some virtue in man by which he excels others, since we are all equally accursed in the person of Adam? For who hath made thee to excel, saith Paul? He proves that there is no excellency in man, except what proceeds from the bounty of God only, and as I have stated, the reason is quite manifest.

For either original sin does not belong to all men, or God cannot foresee that this man will be just and that man unjust. Why? All are naturally reprobate in Adam and liable to eternal death, and the reason is evident, for nothing is found in men but sin. The foreknowledge of God then cannot be the cause of our election, for by looking on the whole race of man, he finds them all under a curse from the least to the greatest.

We see then how foolishly do they talk and prattle who ascribe to mere and naked prescience what ought to be ascribed to the good pleasure of God. That God made himself known to the race of Abraham, that he designed to deposit his law with the Israelites -- all this was his peculiar favor, and no other reason can be assigned for it except gratuitous adoption. God then favored the children of Abraham with this privilege, because it so pleased him: for if we say that they were worthy, and by their virtue rendered themselves deserving, the Holy Spirit does in the first place everywhere speak against us, and in the second place experience and facts, for the obstinacy of that people was extraordinary. But we ought to be satisfied with the authority of Scripture, since God makes known and illustrates his favor by this instance -- that he loved Abraham and his children, that is, that he was favorable to the Jews through his own goodness only, and this is what we shall hereafter see still more clearly. Let this then remain as a fixed principle -- that the cause of our election is nothing else but the mere favor of God. If we seek a cause apart from God, when we enquire about our election, we shall wander in a labyrinth.

That the same principle holds as to individuals, I have already proved. It ought indeed to be sufficient for us, that Paul passes from the person of Jacob to individuals among his posterity. For he adduces as it wet e an instance in the two brothers, in order to convince us that no one is chosen on account of his own virtue, but according to the good pleasure of God: nor was it necessary to state these circumstances -- that one was chosen when the brothers were not yet born, and when they had not done either good or evils that it was not through works but through him who called, except he meant to prove this, that it is in God's power to choose whom he wills and to reject whom he wills. But as Augustine reminds us, nothing can be imagined more absurd than that notion, with which many are pleased, that God has foreknown what men will be, for Paul excludes such foreknowledge as the cause which he infers, that it was not owing to works but to him who called, that God preferred the one to the other, for neither of them, while in their mother's womb, had done either good or evil.

Paul brings also a confirmation from another declaration of Moses, |I will pity whom I will pity, and mercy will I show to whom I will be merciful. |By these words God clearly declares that it was in his power to reject whom he pleased of the seed of Jacob, and to choose whom he pleased. What then he had before said respecting one man, God now applies to the whole seed, for he speaks not there of foreign nations, but of that holy and chosen people. When God threatened with ruin all the children of Abraham, Moses humbly deprecated this, lest he should annul his own covenant: God answered him, |I will pity whom I will pity,| -- what does this mean? that there is no other cause why God retains some for himself and rejects others, than his own will. The repetition may seem superfluous and frigid, |I will pity whom I will pity,| but it is very emphatical; as though he had said, |I might have chosen for myself another from the world and not Abraham, but I have according to my own good pleasure adopted him; and Ishmael might have been as dear to me as Isaac, but it has been my will that the blessing should rest on Isaac; when he also had begotten two children, I repudiated the first born and choose Jacob, and now from the posterity of Jacob I will choose for myself whom I please, for there is to be found no other cause but my will, I will then pity whom I will pity, and mercy will I show to whom I will be merciful.'| If then in this case men will contend with God, and would know why he chooses this rather than that man, the answer he gives is, that the cause is to be found in his mercy alone, for he is bound to no one.

We now see how the folly of those vanishes away who would have foreknowledge to be the cause of election; and also that they who murmur against God, are sufficiently refuted by this reason, that it is in his power either to choose or to reject, inasmuch as he is under obligations to none.

As to reprobation, the cause of it is sufficiently manifest in the fall of Adam, for, as we have said, we all fell with him. It must still be observed, that the election of God is anterior to Adam's fall; and that hence all we who are rescued from the common ruin have been chosen in Christ before the creation of the world, but that others justly perish though they had not been lost in Adam; because God appointed Christ the head of his Church, in order that we might be saved in him, not all, but those who have been chosen.

And with regard to the proof, it is not necessary here to bring together the mass of passages found in scripture, for this would be endless. But there are, however, some remarkable passages, by which it is sufficiently evident that some are chosen from the whole world as well as from the race of Abraham, according to God's good pleasure only, and that others are rejected, and that there is no other cause to be found but his will; for our election is hid in the eternal and secret counsel of God, and founded on Christ, and reprobation is also hid in the judgment of God. Now if we wish to penetrate into this mystery, we must know that it is a great and unfathomable abyss: here all our ideas vanish away. In the meantime, however, God does not lose his liberty to choose and reject whom he pleases.

With regard to election, the ninth chapter to the Romans (Romans 9:1) ought to be sufficient, or rather the three chapters, for Paul pursues the same argument to the end of the eleventh chapter, and then exclaims that the riches of God's wisdom and goodness are incomprehensible, and that his judgments are untraceable. He speaks also of the elect in the first chapter to the Ephesians; Ephesians 1:1 and the sum of what he says is, that all the faithful had been chosen in Christ before the creation of the world, and through the good pleasure of God only, in order that he might show in them the glory of his goodness.

By no refinements can they escape who attempt to darken this truth; for Paul very clearly and briefly declares that the whole world has not been chosen, but the faithful, who are afterwards favored with the Spirit of adoption: and thus sufficiently is that fancy refuted, that the election of God ought to be connected with his promises. I wonder that men of learning, endued with judgment and versed in scripture, so frigidly pass over the subject, and that they are not at least moved when they see that they give to many the occasion of foolishly going astray, and that some take hence the opportunity to calumniate. We must, however, declare what this passage requires -- that those are very unwise who seek to subvert or overthrow the eternal election of God by this contrivance -- that God addresses all men generally, |Come unto me| -- |I am your Father.| Since God then offers his grace to all by the external preaching of his word, they will have it that all are elected: but Paul says, that we are believers, because we have been elected. If then it be asked, why some obstinately reject the grace of God, and others embrace it in the spirit of meekness, Paul assigns the reason, and it is this -- because God illuminates those who believe, inasmuch as he has chosen them before the creation of the world. It then follows that God so speaks generally, as that the efficacy of the doctrine still depends on his secret good pleasure; for whence is faith, but from his peculiar favor? and why does he not communicate his grace to all? even because he has not chosen all. We see that Paul thus proceeds step b,y step, that he might teach us that faith emanates from the fountain of free election; and he raises up election into the highest eminence to show that it is not right to inquire into its cause. Thus much about election.

As to reprobation, I know that many greatly dislike this doctrine -- that some are rejected, and that yet no cause can be found in themselves why they thus remain disapproved by God. But there is here need of docility and of a meek spirit, to which Paul also exhorts us, when he says,

|O man, who art thou who answerest against God?|
(Romans 9:20.)

For were it lawful to investigate the cause, surely Paul, who had been taken up to the third heaven, might have showed us the way; but he is here silent and drives us away from the indulgence of a bold and an over curious spirit. Since the Holy Spirit by the mouth of Paul restrains the presumption of men, that they may not dare to go beyond this step -- that God hardens whom he wills and rejects whom he wills, why do men leap beyond this, except they wilfully seek to carry on war with God? and yet they pretend modesty, and under this pretext they seek to bury the doctrine of election; we ought, they say, to speak soberly of mysteries. This last sentence I allow fully; but what is our sobriety but our docility? that is, when we embrace what God declares in his word, and never allow ourselves to investigate more than what he teaches us. But they would extinguish God's word; nay, they dare openly to pronounce blasphemies against God, and to find fault with the Spirit, who has spoken by the prophets and the apostles.

We indeed see that there are many devils who preach modesty, when their object is to suppress the light and this chief doctrine, the main basis of our salvation; and they extort wicked edicts from the ignorant and the slumbering, as though it were in the power of men, by babbling about things unknown, and by barbarously mixing all things together, to thrust God as it were from his celestial throne. This is horribly monstrous, and ought to be detested by all; for it would be better that all the empires of the world should be swallowed up in the lowest depths, than that mortal creatures should raise themselves up as it were into heaven, and attempt to penetrate into the secret things of God. But, however, when the whole world either assail this doctrine by barking, or seek to subvert it by threats and terrors, or when all in various ways manifest their rage, and when they roll thunders who seem to themselves to be very powerful, it behoves us to hold fast this doctrine, that God alone is the author of our salvation, because he has been pleased freely to elect us, and also that he possesses power over all the human race, so that some, according to his will, are elected and some are rejected, and that he ever acts justly, and holds secret the cause both of election and of reprobation. But it is no wonder that we are so blind, for we are stupid by nature, nay, blind altogether; and were we angels, it would be still our duty reverently to regard the manifold wisdom of God, which no human minds, no, not even angelic minds, can fully comprehend. Other things we must defer.

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