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THE MARROW OF CALVIN'S THEOLOGY 323 



THE MARROW OF CALVIN'S THEOLOGY^ 
WILLL^M W. FENN 

HaBTABD UNtVUESITT 

As every man has both generic and specific characteristics 
which are common to him with his kind and group, and also 
certain traits which constitute his individuaUty, so likewise every 
thoughtful man has ideas which are the intellectual staple of his 
age and race and also others which are in a peculiar sense his 
own. It does not therefore follow that these common ideas are 
untrue : on the contrary, they may be nearer the truth than those 
which are relatively unshared; or that they are unimportant, 
for, even if erroneous, they may furnish points of contact through 
which his more distinctive opinion finds its way into the popular 
mind; nevertheless, they may be disregarded in estimating his 
contribution to the history of thought. Accordingly, nothing will 
be said here of doctrines, those pertaining to Christ and the Trin- 
ity for instance, which Calvin held in substantial agreement with 
contemporary and traditional Christianity; nor shall we refer 
to theories concerning the Church, its officers and sacraments, 
which, although highly significant both at the time and as shap- 
ing subsequent ecclesiastical history, have but slight connection 
with the ideas which make up the distinctively Calvinistic system 
of theology. We shall restrict ourselves therefore to Calvin's 
system within his system, to a definite, consistent nexus of ideas, 
relating principally to sin and salvation, which are, so to speak, 
the marrow of his body of divinity. And with reference to these, 
we shall undertake to present them as they appear in the defini- 
tive edition of the Institutes, without attempting to trace their 
relations, of dependence, resemblance, or diflference, to ideas of 
his theological predecessors, like Augustine and Gottschalk, or 
contemporaries like Luther, Zwingli, Melanchthon, or Bucer; 
still less shall we essay to follow a possible process of his own 

lA lecture given in the Lowell Institute Course at Bang's Chapel, Boston, 
Feb. 1. 1909. 



324 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW 

thought through the successive editions and enlargements of the 
Institutes. These are fascinating and fruitful fields of inquiry 
but they are outside our present task. It should go without 
saying that Calvin's system, or even the marrow of it, was not 
his own in the sense that he invented it: on the contrary, he 
simply made more explicit, and carried more consistently to their 
logical conclusions, ideas which had been practically universal in 
Christian theology since the days of Paul. The system was his 
not by origination, but by vital and organic appropriation. Nor 
are we concerned here with criticism: it would indeed be profi- 
table to trace the course of the inner dialectic of the system, par- 
ticularly in its development by the New England theologians, 
and mark its "collapse" because of inability to answer its own 
questions and fulfil the ethical ideal itself had nourished, but 
at present we have to do neither with criticism nor with appre- 
ciation, but solely with exposition, and — since Calvinism is now 
almost everywhere spoken against — ^with sympathetic exposi- 
tion, which shall at least attempt to indicate why the system 
proved persuasive with so many successive generations of right- 
minded and right-hearted men. 

It is always necessary, however, if we would justly comprehend 
a man's thought to see what interests prompted it and what pur- 
poses sought fulfilment in it. Calvin's supreme task was to 
consolidate the sentiment of the Reformation into an intellect- 
ual system as firm and coherent as that of the Roman Catholi- 
cism against which it was arrayed. Manifestly, the strategic 
point of this controversy was the doctrine of redemption. Luther 
preached justification by faith as a saving power; Calvin taught 
salvation by grace as a cardinal doctrine. The former empha- 
sized a human experience, the latter the divine efiiciency, but 
both were presenting the same truth, viewed in the one case on 
the manward, in the other on the Godward side. Under Luther, 
it might have been held that the agencies of the Church were 
effectual, perhaps indispensable, to the production of faith or as 
mediating the saving grace, but Calvin sought to prove that since 
salvation is wholly and exclusively the effect of God's grace, 
exercised in accordance with his eternal decree and directly upon 
the souls of the elect, the Church has no direct and effective 



THE MARROW OF CALVIN'S THEOLOGY 325 

function with respect to salvation, nor has the individual man 
any co-operative part therein. Manifestly, if this could be 
proved, the Church would be put permanently out of commis- 
sion as a means of salvation. But, while Romanism was Calvin's 
foe in front, there was an enemy on the left flank which menaced 
the Reformed churches quite as seriously — the Anabaptists. 
With these outlaws, as they were then deemed, the Romanists 
sought to identify all the Reformed, — an identification which 
was not difficult because they actually did maintain many of the 
unacknowledged conclusions of Reformation principles logically 
developed, and consequently attracted many thorough-going 
Protestants to their guerilla-like band. Such identification was, 
however, pre-eminently dangerous because of the abhorrence 
in which Anabaptists were held by civil rulers without whose 
strong and continued support the whole Reformation movement 
would have been endangered. Indeed, the letter to King Francis 
which introduced the first edition of the Institutes, expressly 
declared that one object of the treatise was to demonstrate that 
the identification of Protestants with Anabaptists, which had 
already given occasion for persecution, was false and malicious. 
Hence, in opposing the Papacy, Calvin was obhged most care- 
fully to ward off all suspicion of Anabaptism, and at several points 
it is plain that his doctrinal line of battle was refused against 
this ever-present menace. 

This appears, for example, in his treatment of the Bible, the 
authority of which was accepted by Romanist and Protestant 
alike. The argument of the former, however, was that the 
Bible was the Church's book, produced and made canonical by 
it, and therefore resting ultimately upon its authority, and depend- 
ent upon it for true interpretation. Of course, Calvin could not 
accept this view, but it obliged him to establish the authority 
of Scripture apart from the Church. Calvin adduces the 
antiquity of the Bible, its dignity in substance and style as con- 
trasted with the humble character of its reputed authors, its 
frankness, the miracles and prophecies attesting its divine origin, 
its endurance of the assaults of enemies, and its fitness to the 
needs of Christendom, but he openly acknowledges that these 
considerations alone can never establish the convincing author- 



326 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW 

ity of Scripture. There is indeed a congruity between the Word 
and the works of God which confirms faith in the identity of 
authorship — but the revelation of God in his works is dim and 
obscure, to be read only by those who use his revelation in the 
Word as spectacles through which alone the revelations of nature 
become legible. Ultimately, therefore, Calvin rests his assurance 
of the authority of Scripture upon the secret testimony of the 
Holy Spirit in the heart of the believer. The Word, he affirms, 
will never gain full credit in the hearts of men, unless it be con- 
firmed by the internal testimony of the Spirit. To those in whom 
the Spirit abides, the Scripture exhibits as clear evidence of its 
truth as white and black things do of their color, or sweet and 
bitter things of their taste. Plainly, with this emphasis upon 
the Spirit, Calvin came dangerously near Anabaptism, and there- 
fore he guards himself against the manifest peril by emphati- 
cally declaring that the voice of the Spirit in the Word must be 
the decisive test of all alleged private revelations. The Ana- 
baptists claim direct communications from the Spirit: — ^To the 
law and the testimony! — if they speak not according to this rule 
there is no light in them. "He [the Spirit] is the author of the 
Scriptures: he cannot be mutable and inconsistent with him- 
self. He must therefore perpetually remain such as he has there 
discovered himself to be" (Inst i, 9. 2). Hence "the office 
of the Spirit ... is not to feign new and unheard of revelations, 
or to coin a new system of doctrine . . . but to seal to our minds 
the same doctrine which the Gospel delivers" (Inst, i, 9. 1). The 
function of the Spirit, then, is not to continue a progressive rev- 
elation, but solely to give inner witness to the divine certainty of 
one already given in the Word, final and complete. That is to 
say, the Spirit is invoked to prove the Scripture and then the 
Scripture becomes the criterion of the Spirit. But it should be 
observed that on this ground Calvin accepts the decisive author- 
ity of Scripture. It is true that we do not find in him the extrava- 
gances of post-reformation Scholasticism — ^he was too sane and 
knew his Bible too well for that. He is no stickler for absolute 
infallibility, but, while he acknowledges historical slips, he never 
permits minor inaccuracies to shake his faith in the substantial 
ethical and religious finality of the Bible. Yet it must be borne 



THE MARROW OF CALVIN'S THEOLOGY 327 

in mind that only the regenerate, in whom the Spirit dwells, can 
have this first-hand vital assurance: the Bible does not engender 
faith; faith attests the Bible; and faith is the fruit of the Spirit 
in the heart of man. Belief in the Bible cannot contribute to a 
man's salvation, since only the regenerate man can really and 
heartily have this belief. 

Notwithstanding the preference which Calvin has for the Word 
over the works of God, we shall find it better to approach his 
system by what, undoubtedly, he would have deemed a meaner 
way. Whether we look out upon the world or within upon 
our own hearts nothing is more certain and impressive than 
the universality of sin. Literature bears witness to the appal- 
ling fact, observation of contemporary life and the struggles 
of our own souls alike confess it. So far, then, as knowledge, 
observation, and experience establish anything, it is the world- 
wide and age-long presence and power of sin. What, then, is 
the explanation of this fact? For so universal an effect an 
equally universal cause must be sought. No cause operating 
solely upon individuals as such could produce so constant and 
uniform a result. If it be said that universal sin is due to the 
exercise of man's own will, the question arises why man's will 
universally and invariably determines itself in this particular 
way. Edwards puts the argument strikingly in his Doctrine 
of Original Sin (Pt. 1, ch. 1, sect, ix): 

K their wills are in the first place as free to Good as Evil, what is it 
to be ascribed to, that the world of mankind, consisting of so many mill- 
ions, in so many successive generations, without consultation, all agree 
to exercise their freedom in favor of evil ? . . . How comes it to pass, 
that the free will of mankind has been determined to evil, in like manner 
before the Flood, and after the Flood; under the Law and under the 
Gospel; among both Jews and Gentiles, under the Old Testament; 
and since that, among Christians, Jews, Mahometans; among Papists and 
Protestants; in those nations where dviUty, politeness, arts, and learn- 
ing most prevail, and among the negroes and Hottentots in Africa, 
the Tartars in Asia, and Indians in America, towards both the poles 
and on every side of the Globe; in greatest cities, and obscurest 
villages; in palaces, and in huts, wigwams, and cells under ground? Is 
it enough to reply. It happens so, that men everywhere and at all times 
choose thus to determine their own wills and so to make themselves sin- 
ful, as soon as ever they are capable of it, and to sin constantly as long 
as they Uve, and universally to choose never to come up half-way to their 
duty? 



328 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW 

A similar indictment is found in a well-known and often quoted 
passage in Newman's Apologia, and as Edwards infers that there 
must be a steady cause to account for so steady an effect, so New- 
man argues that the human race must be implicated in some 
terrible aboriginal calamity which has put it out of joint with 
the purposes of its Creator. To Calvin also, this conclusion 
seemed quite inevitable. For did not the Bible also testify to 
this frightful and universal fact? "All have sinned . . . there 
is none that doeth good; no, not so much as one." And the 
Bible thus recognizing the condition offers also its explanation: 
" Through one man sin entered into the world." Here, then, in the 
fall of Adam, from whom all men are descended, is the explana- 
tion of the universal fact. By his sin he lost certain gifts with 
which he had been endowed, lost them not only for himself but 
for his posterity, even as a father who squanders his estate robs 
his children of their rightful patrimony. And there was not 
only deprivation but also depravity, since, having lost his original 
divine endowment, Adam went ever deeper into sin, thus 
vitiating his nature, which in its corrupt and depraved state was 
transmitted to his offspring. If a father weakens himself by 
vice, does not his son inherit the consequences in a defiled body 
and an enfeebled will ? 

Here then is the doctrine of original sin, or of depravity, based 
on facts of observation and experience, recognized by the Bible, 
and accounted for in a perfectly intelligible way by the sin of our 
first ancestor which resulted in the loss of godlike powers and 
in the acquisition of a corrupt nature, both of which consequences 
passed through to his posterity. Calvin would have agreed with 
Newman — "The doctrine of what is theologically called orig- 
inal sin becomes to me almost as certain as that the world exists 
and as the existence of God " (Apol. c. 5). In his own emphatic 
words, " Let us hold this, then, as an undoubted truth, which no 
opposition can ever shake — ^that the mind of man is so completely 
alienated from the righteousness of God, that it conceives, desires, 
and undertakes everything that is impious, perverse, base, impure, 
and flagitious; that his heart is so thoroughly infected by the 
poison of sin, that it cannot produce anything but what is cor- 
rupt; and that if at any time men do anything apparently good. 



THE MARROW OF CALVIN'S THEOLOGY 329 

yet the mind always remains involved in hypocrisy and falla- 
cious obliquity, and the heart enslaved by its inward perverse- 
ness" (Inst, ii, 5. 19). 

Since, then, all men are sinners, all are under the wrath of God 
and liable to the penalty which he has decreed against sin. That 
penalty is death — ^physical and spiritual, temporal and eternal. 
Since, within the sphere of our observation, the temporal punish- 
ment is universally inflicted, we have every reason to believe 
that the invisible and eternal penalty also follows. And this 
indeed is inevitable, since all men come into life sinful and hence 
exposed to the just punishment of sin. The universality of 
physical death is valid symbol and sign of the universality of 
spiritual doom. It should be observed, however, that we are 
not punished as the penalty of Adam's sin: the punishment is 
solely for our own personal pollution of nature, made ours because 
of connection with our first ancestor. Unless, therefore, some way 
of salvation can be found, the sin of Adam will have plunged all 
mankind in utter and awful destruction. 

It is manifest, however, that such salvation cannot be wrought 
out by man. " Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean ? 
Not one." Upon the tree of a corrupt and depraved nature no 
good fruit can grow. On account of the depraved condition of 
man, it is impossible that he should produce any works well- 
pleasing to God. If any are to be saved, therefore, the saving 
influence must come from without. This, which is the plain 
teaching of reason, is again amply confirmed by Scripture, which 
teaches unmistakably that God has provided a way by which 
alone some out of the ruined mass of mankind are to be saved 
through the operation of his regenerating spirit. In this work 
of regeneration, God alone is active, man is wholly passive. As 
this is for Calvin the vital point of the whole discussion, he uses 
his utmost endeavors to rule out man's possible activity, even by 
way of co-operation, in the saving process. Church-membership 
does not avail, for, while the present work of the Spirit is restricted 
to those who are vrithin the circle of the visible Church, it by no 
means follows that because one belongs to the external and visi- 
ble Church he is therefore numbered among those who make up 
the Church invisible, composed only of the regenerate. Nor can 



330 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW 

what are usually called good works profit; for, if they proceed 
not from a heart purified by faith, they are not good in the sight 
of God. But surely faith is man's act and his faith co-operates 
with God's grace, making it individually effective : by no means, 
for faith is not merely an intellectual acceptance — the devils so 
believe and tremble, and remain devils still — but consists in a 
fixed reliance upon God's promises, arising from union with Christ 
which is due to the operation of the Spirit alone. Only the 
regenerate, then, can exercise true faith, which is therefore the 
effect and not the cause of regeneration. Hence "the Scripture 
uniformly proclaims it [faith] to be the gratuitous gift of God" 
(Inst, ii, 3. 8). and, inasmuch as without faith it is impossible 
to please God, it follows that, without that which his grace sup- 
plies, nothing, — no works, however good to outward seeming, — 
can win his approval. But man's repentance is surely his own: 
not at all, for true repentance is wrought only by the activity of 
the Holy Spirit. It is not a single event antecedent to regenera- 
tion: it is a process continued through life, wrought by the Spirit 
in the souls of the regenerate. With scrupulous care Calvin 
closes every loophole through which man's activity could by any 
chance, or in even the slightest degree, enter into the work of 
salvation. God's grace alone, manifest in the operation of his 
Spirit, is the sole agency of salvation. Man in his sinfulness is 
doomed and absolutely helpless. Salvation is only by God's 
grace. 

Inasmuch, however, as God alone is the effective cause of 
salvation, if some men are not saved must it not be solely because 
upon these God does not exert his saving influence? This cer- 
tainly follows, and its plain statement is Calvin's doctrine of 
election and reprobation. For it is manifest that not all men 
are saved. The Christian Church, within which alone the redemp- 
tive forces play, comprises but an infinitesimal part of the great 
multitudes who have lived upon the earth or who are living now. 
The untold millions of heathendom, men, women, children, one 
and all have swept down into hell, necessarily, since they could 
not have believed in him of whom they had not heard. Calvin 
openly commits himself to the traditional doctrine that "the 
Church is the mother of all those who have Him for their Father" 



THE MARROW OF CALVIN'S THEOLOGY 331 

{Inst, iv, 1. 1), saying in terms, " There is no other way of entrance 
into life unless we are conceived by her, born of her, nourished 
at her breast, and continually preserved under her care and gov- 
ernment " ; " Out of her bosom there can be no hope of remission 
of sins, or any salvation" (Inst, iv, 1. 4). Moreover, even in 
Christian lands the great majority die without giving evidence 
of regeneration, and these too are irremediably lost. This also 
is the testimony of Scripture, which beyond cavil speaks of an 
eternal punishment for human souls. Since, therefore, salva- 
tion is from God alone, and not all are saved, it follows that there 
are some upon whom he is pleased to exert his saving power, and 
others whom he simply leaves to their merited doom. And the 
reason for this discrimination cannot lie at all in the characters 
of those who belong to the one or the other class, for in that case 
the ultimate ground of salvation would be in man, not in God. 
Consequently the discrimination must be due to God's will alone. 
And this again the Bible teaches: "The children being not yet 
born, neither having done anything good or bad, that the purpose 
of God according to election might stand, not of works but of him 
that calleth, it was said . . . Jacob have I loved, but Esau I 
hated. . . . 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. So then it is not of him that willeth nor of him that 
runneth, but of God that hath mercy. ... So then he hath mercy 
on whom he will, and whom he will he hardeneth" (Rom. 9 11-ls). 
Could anything be plainer or more explicit? Before even the 
creation of the world, out of the innumerable multitudes of men 
yet to be born, all of whom were to fall under the penalty of eternal 
death, God arbitrarily selected some whom he determined, in 
course of time, to visit with his Spirit unto regeneration and life, 
and, by choosing these, simply passed over the rest, leaving them 
to their just deserts. "Quos deus praeterit reprobat." The 
choice was perfectly arbitrary; it was not determined by 
merit, else man would have a share in his own salvation, and 
furthermore is it not written that man is called unto holiness, 
not because of holiness? Nor is God's decree based upon his 
foreknowledge, for, since nothing can happen except by his will, 
his foreknowledge must be foreknowledge of his will. Conse- 



332 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW 

quently foreknowledge rests on decrees, decrees do not rest on fore- 
knowledge. 

Let us then put in a single paragraph this part of his system. 
All men come into the world sinful because of their race-con- 
nection with Adam; and because sinful, exposed to eternal death. 
On account of their utterly base and undone condition not one of 
them can by any striving of his own win approval of God and 
deliverance unto life. Out of this helpless and hopeless state, 
therefore, none can escape save by the direct and irresistible 
act of God in regeneration, and, since it is evident that not all 
men are saved, it logically follows that it is not his will to visit 
all with his redeeming grace. What is the inevitable conclusion 
therefore but that, before the creation of the world, God chose 
out of the hosts of mankind yet to be born some whom he fore- 
ordained to eternal bliss. To these in the fulness of time he 
sends his prevailing grace with regenerating power. And the 
grace which is irresistible in regeneration is equally irresistible 
for maintenance: hence these cannot perish, and the perseverance 
of the saints logically follows. But those who are not thus elected, 
being involved in the guilt of Adam's sin and consequently totally 
without holiness or ability to help themselves, are never visited 
by the Spirit and hence go down to hell. This is the nerve of 
Calvinism. 

We shall understand this better if we consider certain objections 
which have been urged against the system. 

1. Is it true that all men are alike depraved and deserving of 
eternal punishment? Is it true that no men are better than 
others? Surely there are differences of character even among 
the unregenerate: surely Epictetus was a better man than Nero, 
and yet neither was aided by grace, if grace be restricted within 
the limits of the Church. Yes, Calvin acknowledges the differ- 
ence but declares that it is due solely to the working of the 
restraining grace of God. There is common grace, which is 
manifest in the affairs of men in all ages and lands, but this is not 
the same as saving grace, which operates only within the limits 
of Christendom. And in order to carry out the divine purposes 
this common grace restrains men from the full exhibition of the 
utter depravity which lies at the heart of all. In the sight of 



THE MARROW OF CALVIN'S THEOLOGY 333 

God, who seeth not as man seeth but looketh into the hearts of 
all, Epictetus was not a whit better than Nero. Their hearts 
were equally vile and corrupt, but for his own purposes God saw 
fit to restrain the expression of that wickedness in the former 
and not to restrain it in the latter. Hence in so far as the one 
appears better than the other it is mere appearance, and an 
appearance due to no merit in Epictetus, since it is solely the 
effect of God's restraining grace. 

2. Does not this doctrine impeach the sincerity of God in giv- 
ing to all men a law which it now appears only the regenerate 
can obey, and in offering to all men promises which only a few 
can accept? A crazy Methodist evangelist, somewhat notorious 
in his day, Lorenzo Dow by name, used to refer to contemporary 
Calvinists as the All-Part men and explained the epithet as 
meaning that, where the Bible spells All, they pronounce it Part. 
How can God sincerely demand an obedience to law which can- 
not be rendered, or hold out promises of salvation which only 
here and there one can embrace? Nevertheless, with reference 
to the Law, is it not the teaching of Paul himself that it was given 
to reveal sin, and even to increase sin, so that through his con- 
scious helplessness man may be brought to the salvation of Christ ? 
He himself had been unable to keep the Law; he therefore con- 
cluded that no man could, and hence that it was not given to be 
kept, but was intended only as a tutor to bring us to Christ. So 
Calvin teaches that the law " was placed far beyond our ability, 
in order to convince us of our impotence." How can one who 
holds Paul's teaching true find fault with Calvin? Moreover, 
if the Law cannot be kept by the unregenerate, it can by the regen- 
erate, and is therefore of utmost service to them as revealing a 
way of life well-pleasing to God. And as for the promises, they 
could not be limited without revealing the elect, who exist only in 
the undisclosed purpose of God. There is a distinction to be 
drawn between the secret and the preceptive will of God; his will 
and grace are declared to all, although it is his secret will that only 
some should obey and accept. " Whosoever will, let him come " : 
yes, whosoever will, may come, but no man can will to come 
except the Spirit draw him. The promises, that is, are always 
made conditionally, and the conditions are of such a nature that 
none can fulfil them apart from saving grace. 



334 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW 

3. But is it not unjust in God thus to elect some and pass over 
others ? Does not such a doctrine as this make God an infinitely 
unjust being? To this there are several replies, of which three 
may be presented. 

(a) No one who believes in the divine government of the 
world can fail to see that in all its essential features this doctrine 
is true to the facts of human life. One child is born in squalor 
and sin, another in surroundings of comfort and to influences 
of goodness. Walk through the slums of a city and compare 
the deformed, diseased, doomed children sprawling on the door- 
steps and the sidewalks with the children of our own homes: is 
there not a difference? What chance of good and happy life 
have these children compared with ours ? Is it the fault of 
these children of the slums that they are what they are? Did 
they choose the sin and wretchedness into which they are born ? 
Are they responsible for being there ? Yet they are there. And 
if God governs the world, if his will is revealed in the order of 
things, is it not in accordance with his will that they are there ? 
Unless therefore one is ready to deny out of hand God's will 
in the world, he cannot deny the arbitrary discriminations of 
God. Furthermore, are not the separations of God recorded in 
sacred history ? Did not God choose Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, 
in succession, not because of their desert but because of his own 
sovereign will ? Did he not choose Israel out of all the nations 
of the earth ? Did not Christ say to his disciples, " Ye have not 
chosen me, but I have chosen you " ? In nature and in grace 
therefore the same principle is displayed. The differences of 
earth and time are but manifestations of the differences in eternal 
destiny, — expressions of the same principle. Beware lest, in pro- 
testing against election, you turn atheist. 

(6) Wherein is the injustice of such discrimination? Is it 
not true, as matter of common observation and experience, that 
a spendthrift father deprives his son of his rightful patrimony, 
and do we complain of that law as unjust ? Is it not true that 
a diseased father transmits the taint to his son, — is such in- 
heritance unjust ? But, whether it seem unjust or not, the fact 
is indubitable. And if we accept the principle in things visible 
and temporal, can we deny it in things invisible and eternal ? 



THE MARROW OF CALVIN'S THEOLOGY 335 

Are not both worlds under the one divine law ? Is it, then, unjust 
that God should punish sin? If not, then men who are sinful 
in nature, and all men are, must be the deserving objects of God's 
wrath and hatred of sin. And, if all men are thus doomed and 
God wills to spare some, have those who are passed over any 
just cause for complaint ? They get their deserts. If, for example, 
a conspiracy is discovered in a nation and all those implicated 
in it are condemned to death, to death justly deserved, is injus- 
tice done to others if the monarch wills to show clemency to a 
few ? If indeed the discrimination were on the basis of previous 
good behavior, if the question of desert or ill desert were once 
raised, then those who go to their merited doom might justly 
complain, perhaps, that they were no less deserving of mercy 
than those who have been pardoned, but it has already been 
shown that in God's election the choice is absolutely without 
regard to merit and proceeds from arbitrary will alone. All men 
are justly doomed; but in God is mercy as well as justice, and 
how can mercy be shown save in the salvation of some under 
just condemnation, and arbitrarily selected, since, if merit enters, 
mercy is cancelled. God's justice is revealed in the condemna- 
tion of all, his clemency in the salvation of some; but those who 
justly die cannot charge God with injustice because they are 
passed over while others likewise under sentence of death are 
mercifully spared. With this plea Calvin might well have been 
content, for the logic is inexorable and the alternatives are una- 
voidable. Is it unjust that all Adam's posterity should suffer 
loss and incur corruption because of his sin ? The same princi- 
ple operates before our very eyes in the processes of human life, 
and are not those processes in accordance with the will of God ? 
To deny God's responsibility for the facts of human life is athe- 
ism. If, on the other hand, the principle is justified here, it can- 
not be pronounced unjust with reference to spiritual concerns. 
Calvinist or atheist, which? Is there discrimination here in the 
case of children born in favorable or unfavorable conditions ? 
Then there are but two alternatives — either God has naught to 
do with temporal discriminations or the principle justified here 
cannot be denied in things eternal. Again, atheist or Calvinist ? 
Furthermore, does not the Bible distinctly teach that all men are 



336 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW 

sinners because of Adam's sin, that all are under condemnation, 
that God foreknows and calls whom he wills, and that the rest 
go down to hell; and do you believe the Bible ? Here the alterna- 
tives are Calvinism or infidelity. And it does not avail to say 
that the Bible teaches also an opposite doctrine, for even if that 
were granted, the reply would be that it unmistakably teaches 
this, and it is for man to accept what God plainly declares and 
leave Him to do the reconciling. And to reject some teachings 
of the Bible on account of others which seem contradictory is to 
reject the Bible altogether as final authority, for an authority 
which permits one to exercise preferences among its declarations 
is no longer an authority in any just sense of the word. 

(c) But Calvin has yet another argument in reply to the objec- 
tion we are now considering, namely: God is just, his will is right; 
there is no higher standard of justice than his will. That this 
is his will is not only revealed in the facts of human life as it 
comes under our observation, but also declared in his unimpeach- 
able Word; therefore it is and must be just, whether we can 
see it so or not. Who are we to sit in judgment on him who 
inhabiteth eternity? What colossal conceit and impudence to 
presume to set our standard of justice, born of our ignorance 
and depravity, over against the eternal wisdom and holiness! 
Nay, just because of our moral depravity, a system which should 
thoroughly commend itself to our unregenerate moral sense 
would be presumably untrue to the ethics of heaven. Who art 
thou, O man, that repliest against God ? One cannot help feel- 
ing that here Calvin ultimately rested. He was not insensible 
to the awfulness of the teaching. "I inquire again," he says, 
arguing with his opponents, "how it came to pass that the fall 
of Adam, independent of any remedy, should involve so many 
nations with their infant children in eternal death, but because 
such was the will of God. It is an awful decree, I confess — 
" Deeretum quidem horribile, fateor" (Inst, iii, 23. 7). But the 
facts of observation and experience religiously interpreted and 
the explicit affirmations of Scripture left no alternative. "If 
your mind is disturbed," he says, "embrace without reluctance 
the advice of Augustine: 'You, a man, expect an answer from 
me who am also a man? Let us both therefore hear him who 



THE MARROW OP CALVIN'S THEOLOGY 337 

says, O man, who art thou ? Faithful ignorance is better than 
presumptuous knowledge. Seek your deserts, you will find noth- 
ing but punishment. O the depth! Peter denies, the thief 
believes; O the depth! Do you seek a reason, I will tremble 
at the depth. Reason, if you will. I will wonder. Dispute, 
if you will, I will believe. I seethe depth. Ireachnot the bottom. 
Paul was at rest because he found wonder. He calls the judg- 
ments of God unsearchable, and are you come to scrutinize 
them ? He says, his ways are past finding out, and are you come 
to investigate them?' We shall do no good by proceeding 
further: it will not satisfy their petulance; the Lord needs no 
other defence than what he has employed by his Spirit speaking 
by the mouth of Paul: and we forget to speak well, when we 
cease to speak with God" (Inst, iii, 23. 5). 

"A horrible decree, I confess," yet to it as to the counsel of 
God Calvin felt himself driven in fidelity to the works and the 
interpreting Word of God. Before the awful majesty of the 
Eternal, whose ways are not as our ways, whose thoughts are 
not as our thoughts, he laid his hand upon his mouth and in awed 
silence wondered at the depth. It is and must be the Lord'a 
will, yet there is no injustice in Him: better to deny our poor 
human sense of justice than to impugn the justice of God. Yea, 
let God be true and every man a liar. So the Scripture and so 
Calvin. 

4. But there is still one other objection which leaves Calvin 
face to face with a dreadful dilemma. Is God the author of 
sin, or, to put it otherwise, did God decree Adam's fall and by 
his decree effect it? Calvin earnestly protests that Adam alone 
of all mankind had free will, and endowments which enabled him 
not to sin. Did God simply fail to sustain him with the power 
of perseverance, so rendering him liable to sin? Then is not 
God, who withdraws support, responsible for the fall ? Did 
God leave this cardinal event of all human history to chance? 
That were a preposterous supposition, since Calvin has argued 
convincingly against the presence of chance in the world, and 
especially since God's decrees all depended on Adam's sin, which 
therefore must have been itself decreed. Did then God merely 
foreknow that Adam would fall ? It was impossible for Calvin to 



338 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW 

take refuge in such an idea, since he had argued that knowledge 
depends on decrees and not the reverse. Did, then, God simply 
permit, by not preventing, the fall ? This too is a perfectly im- 
possible plea for one who like Calvin has argued that the will 
of God is influential and not merely permissive. "He declares 
that he creates light and darkness, that he forms good and evil, 
and that no evil occurs which he has not performed" (Inst, i, 
18. 3). " Providence consists in action " (i, 16. 4). No, however 
Calvin may protest, his logic leads to but one issue: God decreed 
the fall of Adam and by his effective will became thus the ulti- 
mate cause of sin. "God not only foresaw the fall of the first 
man and his posterity in him, but also arranged all by the de- 
termination of his own will. . . . For the first man fell because 
the Lord had determined it was so expedient. The reason for 
this determination is unknown to us. Yet it is certain that he 
determined thus only because he foresaw that it would tend to 
the just illustration of the glory of his name" (Inst, iii, 23. 7-8). 
It is true that Calvin goes on to say that by his own wickedness 
Adam corrupted the nature he had received pure from the Lord, 
but he does not inform us whence the wickedness came into that 
pure nature, and his final refuge as before is in the inscrutable- 
ness of God. "To be ignorant of things which it is neither pos- 
sible nor lawful to know is to be learned. An eagerness to know 
them is a species of madness" (Inst, iii, 23. 8). This then is 
Calvin's terrible dilemma between his ethical sense and his intel- 
lectual logic. A synthesis of thought cannot be attained by the 
mere juxtaposition of contradictory statements however emphati- 
cally made. It is simply impossible to follow the logic of Calvin 
without reaching at last the conclusion that God was the effective 
cause of Adam's sin and all the fearful consequences that follow 
from that sin. Is not this the rediidio ad absurdum of Calvinism ? 
Just because of its own rigorous logic it is condemned by its own 
inner dialectic before the judgment-seat of ethics. 

It must not be forgotten, however, that this system, rigorous as 
it is, horrible as it seems, was rich in comfort and peace to Calvin 
and his contemporaries. They had come out from the ancient 
Church in which they had been born and bred; its traditions 
and ways were stamped upon their minds and hearts. Although 



THE MAEROW OF CALVIN'S THEOLOGY 339 

they had formally renounced it, feelings are more persistent than 
intellectual convictions. Who could be sure that after all the 
Church did not hold the keys to the kingdom of heaven? Per- 
haps salvation did depend upon sacramental grace which the 
Church alone could mediate. Perhaps the authority of the 
Church denied, the rites of the Church neglected, would sink 
them at last in perdition. Fear not, said Calvin's system, sal- 
vation is of God's grace alone; the Church has, and can have, 
nothing to do with it. You are in God's hands and salvation 
does not depend upon rites performed or good deeds done, 
upon your worthiness or merit, but upon his sovereign will 
alone. And, if any troubled soul inquired how he could be sure 
that he was numbered among the elect, the answer was ready. 
He had been called out of Romanism by the Spirit of God, and 
that fact was all-sufficient evidence that he was led by the Spirit 
and included among the elect whose salvation was sure. Nor 
need Protestant believers fear persecution, or peril of sword or 
stake, for God's irresistible grace would prevail to carry them 
through the fiery trial beyond which was the eternal and glorious 
bliss of the redeemed. They were in his mighty hand, subject 
to his will, which controlled for his greater glory and their greater 
bliss even the malicious fury of their foes. So they were made 
equal to every event, saying to potentates of church and state, 
with the serene confidence of their Master, — "You could have no 
power over me at all except it were given you from above," and 
hence well assured that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor 
principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come 
could separate them from the love of God, which through all 
the distresses and persecutions of the present time was leading 
them to certain triumph and eternal glory, while as for their merci- 
less persecutors — ^well, they too were in the hands of God, and 
their fate had been determined before the foundation of the 
world.