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Commentary On Romans by Jean Calvin

Romans 9:14-18

14. What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.

14. Quid ergo dicemus? num in-justitia est apud Deum? Absit:

15. For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.

15. Moses enim dicit, Miserebor cujus miserebor, et miserebor quem miseratus fuero.

16. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.

16. Ergo non volentis neque cur-rentis, sed miserentis est Dei.

17. For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth.

17. Dieit enim Scriptura Phara-oni, In hoc ipsum excitavi te, ut os-tendam in te potentiam meam, et ut praedicetur nomen meum in universa terra.

18. Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.

18. Ergo cujus vult miseretur, et quem vult indurat.

14. What then shall we say? etc. The flesh cannot hear of this wisdom of God without being instantly disturbed by numberless questions, and without attempting in a manner to call God to an account. We hence find that the Apostle, whenever he treats of some high mystery, obviates the many absurdities by which he knew the minds of men would be otherwise possessed; for when men hear anything of what Scripture teaches respecting predestination, they are especially entangled with very many impediments.

The predestination of God is indeed in reality a labyrinth, from which the mind of man can by no means extricate itself: but so unreasonable is the curiosity of man, that the more perilous the examination of a subject is, the more boldly he proceeds; so that when predestination is discussed, as he cannot restrain himself within due limits, he immediately, through his rashness, plunges himself, as it were, into the depth of the sea. What remedy then is there for the godly? Must they avoid every thought of predestination? By no means: for as the Holy Spirit has taught us nothing but what it behoves us to know, the knowledge of this would no doubt be useful, provided it be confined to the word of God. Let this then be our sacred rule, to seek to know nothing concerning it, except what Scripture teaches us: when the Lord closes his holy mouth, let us also stop the way, that we may not go farther. But as we are men, to whom foolish questions naturally occur, let us hear from Paul how they are to be met.

Is there unrighteousness with God? Monstrous surely is the madness of the human mind, that it is more disposed to charge God with unrighteousness than to blame itself for blindness. Paul indeed had no wish to go out of his way to find out things by which he might confound his readers; but he took up as it were from what was common the wicked suggestion, which immediately enters the minds of many, when they hear that God determines respecting every individual according to his own will. It is indeed, as the flesh imagines, a kind of injustice, that God should pass by one and show regard to another.

In order to remove this difficulty, Paul divides his subject into two parts; in the, former of which he speaks of the elect, and in the latter of the reprobate; and in the one he would have us to contemplate the mercy of God, and in the other to acknowledge his righteous judgment. His first reply is, that the thought that there is injustice with God deserves to be abhorred, and then he shows that with regard to the two parties, there can be none.

But before we proceed further, we may observe that this very objection clearly proves, that inasmuch as God elects some and passes by others, the cause is not to be found in anything else but in his own purpose; for if the difference had been based on works, Paul would have to no purpose mentioned this question respecting the unrighteousness of God, no suspicion could have been entertained concerning it if God dealt with every one according to his merit. It may also, in the second place, be noticed, that though he saw that this doctrine could not be touched without exciting instant clamours and dreadful blasphemies, he yet freely and openly brought it forward; nay, he does not conceal how much occasion for murmuring and clamour is given to us, when we hear that before men are born their lot is assigned to each by the secret will of God; and yet, notwithstanding all this, he proceeds, and without any subterfuges, declares what he had learned from the Holy Spirit. It hence follows, that their fancies are by no means to be endured, who aim to appear wiser than the Holy Spirit, in removing and pacifying offences. That they may not criminate God, they ought honestly to confess that the salvation or the perdition of men depends on his free election. Were they to restrain their minds from unholy curiosity, and to bridle their tongues from immoderate liberty, their modesty and sobriety would be deserving of approbation; but to put a restraint on the Holy Spirit and on Paul, what audacity it is! Let then such magnanimity ever prevail in the Church of God, as that godly teachers may not be ashamed to make an honest profession of the true doctrine, however hated it may be, and also to refute whatever calumnies the ungodly may bring forward.

15. For he saith to Moses, etc. With regard to the elect, God cannot be charged with any unrighteousness; for according to his good pleasure he favors them with mercy: and yet even in this case the flesh finds reasons for murmuring, for it cannot concede to God the right of showing favor to one and not to another, except the cause be made evident. As then it seems unreasonable that some should without merit be preferred to others, the petulancy of men quarrels with God, as though he deferred to persons more than what is right. Let us now see how Paul defends the righteousness of God.

In the first place, he does by no means conceal or hide what he saw would be disliked, but proceeds to maintain it with inflexible firmness. And in the second place, he labours not to seek out reasons to soften its asperity, but considers it enough to check vile barkings by the testimonies of Scripture.

It may indeed appear a frigid defence that God is not unjust, because he is merciful to whom he pleases; but as God regards his own authority alone as abundantly sufficient, so that he needs the defence of none, Paul thought it enough to appoint him the vindicator of his own right. Now Paul brings forward here the answer which Moses received from the Lord, when he prayed for the salvation of the whole people, |I will show mercy,| was God's answer, |on whom I will show mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.| By this oracle the Lord declared that he is a debtor to none of mankind, and that whatever he gives is a gratuitous benefit, and then that his kindness is free, so that he can confer it on whom he pleases; and lastly, that no cause higher than his own will can be thought of, why he does good and shows favor to some men but not to all. The words indeed mean as much as though he had said, |From him to whom I have once purposed to show mercy, I will never take it away; and with perpetual kindness will I follow him to whom I have determined to be kind.| And thus he assigns the highest reason for imparting grace, even his own voluntary purpose, and also intimates that he has designed his mercy peculiarly for some; for it is a way of speaking which excludes all outward causes, as when we claim to ourselves the free power of acting, we say, |I will do what I mean to do.| The relative pronoun also expressly intimates, that mercy is not to all indiscriminately. His freedom is taken away from God, when his election is bound to external causes.

The only true cause of salvation is expressed in the two words used by Moses. The first is chnn, chenen, which means to favor or to show kindness freely and bountifully; the other is rchm, rechem, which is to be treated with mercy. Thus is confirmed what Paul intended, that the mercy of God, being gratuitous, is under no restraint, but turns wherever it pleases.

16. It is not then of him who wills, etc. From the testimony adduced he draws this inference, that beyond all controversy our election is not to be ascribed to our diligence, nor to our striving, nor to our efforts, but that it is wholly to be referred to the counsel of God. That none of you may think that they who are elected are elected because they are deserving, or because they had in any way procured for themselves the favor of God, or, in short, because they had in them a particle of worthiness by which God might be moved, take simply this view of the matter, that it is neither by our will nor efforts, (for he has put running for striving or endeavour,) that we are counted among the elect, but that it wholly depends on the divine goodness, which of itself chooses those who neither will, nor strive, nor even think of such a thing. And they who reason from this passage, that there is in us some power to strive, but that it effects nothing of itself unless assisted by God's mercy, maintain what is absurd; for the Apostle shows not what is in us, but excludes all our efforts. It is therefore a mere sophistry to say that we will and run, because Paul denies that it is of him who wills or runs, since he meant nothing else than that neither willing nor running can do anything.

They are, however, to be condemned who remain secure and idle on the pretence of giving place to the grace of God; for though nothing is done by their own striving, yet that effort which is influenced by God is not ineffectual. These things, then, are not said that we may quench the Spirit of God, while kindling sparks within us, by our waywardness and sloth; but that we may understand that everything we have is from him, and that we may hence learn to ask all things of him, to hope for all things from him, and to ascribe all things to him, while we are prosecuting the work of our salvation with fear and trembling.

Pelagius has attempted by another sophistical and worthless cavil to evade this declaration of Paul, that it is not only of him who wills and runs, because the mercy of God assists. But Augustine, not less solidly than acutely, thus refuted him, |If the will of man is denied to be the cause of election, because it is not the sole cause, but only in part; so also we may say that it is not of mercy but of him who wills and runs, for where there is a mutual cooperation, there ought to be a reciprocal commendation: but unquestionably the latter sentiment falls through its own absurdity.| Let us then feel assured that the salvation of those whom God is pleased to save, is thus ascribed to his mercy, that nothing may remain to the contrivance of man.

Nor is there much more colour for what some advance, who think that these things are said in the person of the ungodly; for how can it be right to turn passages of Scripture in which the justice of God is asserted, for the purpose of reproaching him with tyranny? and then is it probable that Paul, when the refutation was at hand and easy, would have suffered the Scripture to be treated with gross mockery? But such subterfuges have they laid hold on, who absurdly measured this incomparable mystery of God by their own judgment. To their delicate and tender ears this doctrine was more grating than that they could think it worthy of an Apostle. But they ought rather to have bent their own stubbornness to the obedience of the Spirit, that they might not surrender themselves up to their gross inventions.

17. For the Scripture saith, etc. He comes now to the second part, the rejection of the ungodly, and as there seems to be something more unreasonable in this, he endeavours to make it more fully evident, how God, in rejecting whom he wills, is not only irreprehensible, but also wonderful in his wisdom and justice. He then takes his proof from Exodus 9:16, where the Lord declares that it was he who raised up Pharaoh for this end, that while he obstinately strove to resist the power of God, he might, by being overcome and subdued, afford a proof how invincible the arm of God is; to bear which, much less to resist it, no human power is able. See then the example which the Lord designed to exhibit in Pharaoh!

There are here two things to be considered, -- the predestination of Pharaoh to ruin, which is to be referred to the past and yet the hidden counsel of God, -- and then, the design of this, which was to make known the name of God; and on this does Paul primarily dwell: for if this hardening was of such a kind, that on its account the name of God deserved to be made known, it is an impious thing, according to evidence derived from the contrary effect, to charge him with any unrighteousness.

But as many interpreters, striving to modify this passage, pervert it, we must first observe, that for the word, |I have raised,| or stirred up, (excitavi,) the Hebrew is, |I have appointed,| (constitui,) by which it appears, that God, designing to show, that the contumacy of Pharaoh would not prevent him to deliver his people, not only affirms, that his fury had been foreseen by him, and that he had prepared means for restraining it, but that he had also thus designedly ordained it, and indeed for this end, -- that he might exhibit a more illustrious evidence of his own power. Absurdly then do some render this passage, -- that Pharaoh was preserved for a time; for his beginning is what is spoken of here. For, seeing many things from various quarters happen to men, which retard their purposes and impede the course of their actions, God says, that Pharaoh proceeded from him, and that his condition was by himself assigned to him: and with this view agrees the verb, I have raised up. But that no one may imagine, that Pharaoh was moved from above by some kind of common and indiscriminate impulse, to rush headlong into that madness, the special cause, or end, is mentioned; as though it had been said, -- that God not only knew what Pharaoh would do, but also designedly ordained him for this purpose. It hence follows, that it is in vain to contend with him, as though he were bound to give a reason; for he of himself comes forth before us, and anticipates the objection, by declaring, that the reprobate, through whom he designs his name to be made known, proceed from the hidden fountain of his providence.

18. To whom he wills then he showeth mercy, etc. Here follows the conclusion of both parts; which can by no means be understood as being the language of any other but of the Apostle; for he immediately addresses an opponent, and adduces what might have been objected by an opposite party. There is therefore no doubt but that Paul, as we have already reminded you, speaks these things in his own person, namely, that God, according to his own will, favors with mercy them whom he pleases, and unsheathes the severity of his judgment against whomsoever it seemeth him good. That our mind may be satisfied with the difference which exists between the elect and the reprobate, and may not inquire for any cause higher than the divine will, his purpose was to convince us of this -- that it seems good to God to illuminate some that they may be saved, and to blind others that they may perish: for we ought particularly to notice these words, to whom he wills, and, whom he wills: beyond this he allows us not to proceed.

But the word hardens, when applied to God in Scripture, means not only permission, (as some washy moderators would have it,) but also the operation of the wrath of God: for all those external things, which lead to the blinding of the reprobate, are the instruments of his wrath; and Satan himself, who works inwardly with great power, is so far his minister, that he acts not, but by his command. Then that frivolous evasion, which the schoolmen have recourse to respecting foreknowledge, falls to the ground: for Paul teaches us, that the ruin of the wicked is not only foreseen by the Lord, but also ordained by his counsel and his will; and Solomon teaches as the same thing, -- that not only the destruction of the wicked is foreknown, but that the wicked themselves have been created for this very end -- that they may perish. (Proverbs 16:4.)

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