Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Calvin on How Far to Speculate on Predestination

James, good morning. I need a reference for a quote from Calvin. He said something like, "Where God has stopped speaking, we should also stop speaking." In other words, don't try to pry into areas where God has not revealed any information. Where can I find this quote from Calvin? Thanks.

See Calvin's comment on Romans 9:14

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.


Carrie said...

Wise and insightful words from Calvin.

Constantine said...

Hi James,

It is very interesting the consistency with which Mssr. Calvin taught. If I may, here are three excerpts from the Institutes that line up nicely with the one you extracted from his commentaries:

Let it, therefore, be our first principle that to desire any other knowledge of predestination than that which is expounded by the word of God, is no less infatuated than to walk where there is no path, or to seek light in darkness. Let us not be ashamed to be ignorant in a matter in which ignorance is learning. Rather let us willingly abstain from the search after knowledge, to which it is both foolish as well as perilous, and even fatal to aspire. Institutes III.2.2

The best rule of sobriety is, not only in learning to follow wherever God leads, but also when he makes an end of teaching, to cease also from wishing to be wise. III.21.3

Only I wish it to be received as a general rule, that the secret things of God are not to be scrutinized, and that those which he has revealed are not to be overlooked, lest we may, on the one hand, be chargeable with curiosity, and, on the other, with ingratitude. III.21.4

I think, perhaps the second is the most succinct.


John Stebbe said...

Boy, whoever asked that question must be a very spiritual and intelligent person. Probably very good looking as well. :-)

I asked the question of James because I was in a friendly debate with a Lutheran who accused Calvinists of trying to pry into the secret things of God. I knew Calvin had responded to that charge, but I could not find the quote. But I was pretty confident that James could find it. So thanks, James.

And thanks to Constantine as well. It's good to know that Calvin repeated himself on this topic.

I am making a file for quotes like this. Here's a similar statement from the Synod of Dort, Article 12:

“The elect in due time, though in various degrees and in different measures, attain the assurance of this their eternal and unchangeable election, *not by inquisitively prying into the secret and deep things of God,* but by observing in themselves, with a spiritual joy and holy pleasure, the infallible fruits of election pointed out in the Word of God such as a true faith in Christ, filial fear, a godly sorrow for sin, a hungering and thirsting after righteousness, etc.”

James Swan said...

John see also my latest paper, linked on my sidebar- Luther's Calvinism?


See VI. Avoiding speculation on Predestination



John Stebbe said...

James, thank you for the link to your paper. As a Reformed believer who read "Bondage of the Will" a couple of years ago, at times it seemed as if you were writing about me personally.

I think you hit the nail on the head when you wrote, "To avoid any subject revealed in Scripture is to avoid truth, and that which God has given to us."

This paper looks like something a seminary student might produce. Are you working on a degree?

James Swan said...

This paper looks like something a seminary student might produce. Are you working on a degree?

Something like that.

For the Lutheran perspective on all of this stuff about Calvinism, the best treatment I've ever read is:

Becker, Siegbert W. The Foolishness of God: The Place of Reason in the Theology of Martin Luther. Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 1999

I've had this book for a number of years. Brigitte recently forwarded over an Amazon link to this book, and while a new copy was around $250, used copies were affordable. This book is a good investment for anyone researching this issue.