III. Supporting Evidence from St Paul

Against this judgment of God, many dogs petulantly rise up[1] Indeed some of them do not hesitate to attack God openly, asking why God, foreseeing the future ruin of Adam, did not order human affairs better. For restraining such people, there is no better means than Paul shows us. This question was raised: How can God be just in showing mercy upon whom He will and in hardening whom He will? Such human audacity he deems unworthy of reply, except to remind them of their rank and status: O man, who art thou that repliest against God? (Rom 9.20). Profane men[2] babble about his concealing the absurdity of the thing with silence for want of an answer; but the matter is quite otherwise. For the apostle adopts an axiom not only accepted by pious minds, but engraved on common sense: the inscrutable judgment of God is greater than men can penetrate. And who, I ask, would not be ashamed to comprehend within the measure of his mind all the causes of the works of God? For the question hinges upon this, whether there is no justice of God except what we can conceive. To formulate this in a word: is it lawful to measure the power of God by our natural sense? There is no one who would not immediately reply that all the senses of men concentrated in one man must succumb before the immense power of God. Yet as soon as a specific reason is not apparent in the works of God, somehow or other they are prepared to appoint a day[3] for judging Him. What therefore could be more opportune and apt than this admonition of Paul: those who elevate themselves above the heavens entirely forget what they are. Suppose God to cede His rights and offer Himself ready to render a reason. When it came to those secret counsels which the angels adore with trembling, who would not be stunned and amazed before such glory? How remarkable is the madness of men who are more audacious to subject God to themselves than to dare to stand on equal ground with some pagan judge![4] You find it grievous and hateful that God's power and deeds are greater than your mind conceives; yet to an equal of yours you will concede the right of enjoying his own judgment. Do you dare to mention the name of God while in so furious a frame o mind?[5] What does Gods name mean to you? Will you assert that Paul is destitute of reason,[6] because he does not drag God from His throne and set Him before you for cross-examination? We on our side are assured that the holy apostle in the first place restrains with fitting gravity the wild madness of those who do not shrink from impugning the justice of God; and that secondly he gives to the worshippers of God a more useful counsel than if he had exalted them on eagles' wings above the clouds. For more excellent than wisdom is the soberness of mind which is regulated by the fear of God and keeps within the limits of intelligence prescribed by Him. Let proud men defame this sobriety, calling it by the name of ignorance, if they will; but let it hold fast the height of true wisdom,[7] that, believing the will of God to be the supreme justice, it ascribe to Him His proper glory. But this does not satisfy Pighius and his fellows. For, pretending a concern for the honour of God, they bark at us as if we were imputing to Him a cruelty quite alien to His nature. He denies that there is any dispute between him and God. What or whose cause then is it that Paul upholds? After laying down this axiom, that God hardens whom He will and has mercy on whom He will, he supposes the retort:[8] Why does He still find fault? who resists His will? To such blasphemy he opposes simply the power of God. If those who attribute the hardening of men to His eternal counsel invest God with the character of tyrant, we are certainly not the author of this opinion.[9] If those who think His will to be stronger than all other causes do God injury, Paul taught this before us. Let them dispute with him. For in the present matter we contend for nothing which is not taught by him. Yet about these dogs I would not be over anxious. I am moved rather by anxiety for some otherwise decent men who, fearing to ascribe to God anything unworthy of His goodness, are terrified at what God says of Himself by the mouth of Paul. My express concern is the godly one of clearing God's justice from all calumny. Such modesty would even be worthy of praise, were it not the product of peevishness inflated by a certain secret arrogance; for such men speak out of their own natural sense.[10] For why should they fear to concede anything to the power of God beyond the grasp of their own mind lest His justice be imperilled, except for the reason that they do not hesitate to subject the tribunal of God to their own understanding? Paul shows how in- tolerable is the pride of the man who assumes to himself the judgment of his brother, since there is one judge by whom we all stand or fall, and to whom every knee must bow (Rom 14.10). What madness therefore for man to raise his hackles against this judge Himself by measuring His power by natural sense! Those therefore who plead that modesty like this prevents them endorsing Paul's doctrine must first confess that the praise they accord to God's justice is restricted to their own mind and sense; and then too, if in reality agreeing with us, they prefer none the less to suppress this doctrine for fear of giving free rein to the impudence of the wicked, the precaution is quite preposterous. As if the honour of God were to be protected by our lies! Not only does God Himself not delegate such patronage to us,[11] but in the book of Job pronounces it hateful to Him. Let such people therefore take care lest, by affecting a greater prudence than the Lord prescribes in His Word, they make themselves guilty of a double folly.

The moderation they commend is most useful for repressing the blasphemies of the wicked. But if they think thus easily to put the bridle upon such rebels against God by their words their confidence is ridiculous. When Paul has discussed the hidden counsels of God so far as is needful, he as it were puts out his hand to forbid further advance. Restless spirits will kick and rear and leap over the limit set them with acrobatic facility.[12] How then will they subside at the nod of this or that trainer who encloses their course with narrower fences?[13] As well think to hold with a cobweb a horse prancing fiercely over the fencing it has broken.[14] But, you say, in a matter so hard and obscure, nothing is better than to think soberly. Who denies it? But at the same time it must be observed what the best kind of sobriety is, lest we suffer what has befallen the papists, who, to hold their adherents in obedience,[15] make them like brute beasts. Is this Christian simplicity, to fly from the knowledge of the things God shows as if it were harmful? Here, they say, we may be ignorant without detriment. As if the heavenly teacher were not the best judge of what and how much we should know! Therefore, lest we should be tossed by the waves, or blown about in mid-air in doubt and uncertainty, or put our foot in too deep and be drowned in the abyss, let us allow ourselves to be ruled and taught of God, contented by His simple Word and wanting to know nothing more than is to be found there, even if the faculty were given us. This docility, by which a pious man keeps all his natural senses under the Word of God, is the true and only rule of wisdom. For it is safe to follow, however far He who is the way with outstretched hand leads us, whose Spirit also spoke through apostles and prophets; and to be ignorant of those things which are not taught in the school of God far excels all the insight of the human mind. Therefore, Christ enjoins His sheep both to listen to His voice and to stop their cars to the voice of strangers. Indeed it cannot be otherwise than that vain winds of error blow from every quarter through the soul that is devoid of sound doctrine. Further, I can declare with all truth that I should never have spoken on this subject, unless the Word of God had led the way, as indeed all godly readers of my earlier writings, and especially of my Institutes, will readily gather. But this present refutation of the enemies who oppose me will throw some fresh light.


[1] French has: who fret against this admirable counsel of God.

[2] French has: certain wags.

[3] French has to summon Him.

[4] French has: some village judge.

[5] French has: while they babble of God and religion.

[6] French has: that St Paul is at the bottom of his form.

[7] French has wisdom now.

[8] French has in the person of the sanderes, he retorts with the demand.

[9] French has: but the Holy Spirit.

[10] This last phrase wanting in French version.

[11] French has: He fees us from commending Him by such means.

[12] French adds: not observing the prohibition of the Holy Spirit.

[13] French has: Now if any people retract from what St Paul said, wishing to observe limits stricter than Scripture sets, I pray you, do those who are so fickle remain quietly within their appetite?

[14] French has: having burst bridle, halter and bar.

[15] French has: who do not allow for true simplicity.