Calvinists typically represent Calvinism as a form of "soft" determinism. In other words, it is a determinism that is nonetheless compatible with a certain freedom of the will. God determines all things, but man is nonetheless free. The sense in which man is free is that his choices are voluntary rather than mechanistically determined, as metaphysical materialists believe. Thus, when Arminians ask Calvinists, whom they know believe God determines all things, what we believe about free will, the typical response is "man is free but he is bound by his nature." I believe this response is misguided, because the sort of freedom Arminians have in mind is a freedom from metaphysical rather than anthropological or volitional necessity of nature. Arminians thus ask Calvinists what we believe about our beliefs concerning a freedom from metaphysical necessity relative to God's absolute predestination, and Calvinists usually commit the logical fallacy of equivocation, using the term "free will" in a sense totally different from that of the questioner, when they respond that man is "free" insofar as he possesses voluntariness of choice, but necessity of voluntary choices according to this voluntariness of nature.
Calvin acknowledges the importance of making the relevant distinctions when speaking of the question of free will:
In general, they are wont to place under the free will of man only intermediate things—viz. those which pertain not to the kingdom of God, while they refer true righteousness to the special grace of God and spiritual regeneration. The author of the work, “De Vocatione Gentium,” (On the Calling of the Gentiles),15 150 wishing to show this, describes the will as threefold—viz. sensitive, animal, and spiritual. The two former, he says, are free to man, but the last is the work of the Holy Spirit. What truth there is in this will be considered in its own place. Our intention at present is only to mention the opinions of others, not to refute them. When writers treat of free will, their inquiry is chiefly directed not to what its power is in relation to civil or external actions, but to the obedience required by the divine law. The latter I admit to be the great question, but I cannot think the former should be altogether neglected; and I hope to be able to give the best reason for so thinking (sec. 12 to 18). The schools, however, have adopted a distinction which enumerates three kinds of freedom (see Lombard, lib. 2 Dist. 25); the first, a freedom from necessity; the second, a freedom from sin; and the third, a freedom from misery: the first naturally so inherent in man, that he cannot possibly be deprived of it; while through sin the other two have been lost. I willingly admit this distinction, except in so far as it confounds necessity with compulsion. How widely the things differ, and how important it is to attend to the difference, will appear elsewhere(Calvin, Book 2, Chapter 2, "Institutes of the Christian Religion").
Calvin tends to articulate the distinction between necessity and compulsion relative to man's will, which is how compatibilistic or soft-deterministic Calvinists tend to articulate the distinction in response to Arminians who ask about necessity relative to the metaphysical determination of God's absolute predestination:
Were any to ask them, Is not God necessarily good, is not the devil necessarily wicked, what answer would they give? The goodness of God is so connected with his Godhead, that it is not more necessary to be God than to be good; whereas, the devil, by his fall, was so estranged from goodness, that he can do nothing but evil. Should any one give utterance to the profane jeer, that little praise is due to God for a goodness to which he is forced, is it not obvious to every man to reply, It is owing not to violent impulse, but to his boundless goodness, that he cannot do evil? Therefore, if the free will of God in doing good is not impeded, because he necessarily must do good; if the devil, who can do nothing but evil, nevertheless sins voluntarily; can it be said that man sins less voluntarily because he is under a necessity of sinning? (Calvin, Book 2, Chapter 3, "Institutes of the Christian Religion")
"When I say that the will, deprived of liberty, is led or dragged by necessity to evil, it is strange that any should deem the expression harsh, seeing there is no absurdity in it, and it is not at variance with pious use. It does, however, offend those who know not how to distinguish between necessity and compulsion."
"Man through liberty became a sinner, but corruption, ensuing as the penalty, has converted liberty into necessity."
"Man, since he was corrupted by the fall, sins not forced or unwilling, but voluntarily, by a most forward bias of the mind; not by violent compulsion, or external force, but by the movement of his own passion; and yet such is the depravity of his nature, that he cannot move and act except in the direction of evil."
Nevertheless, he does acknowledge a metaphysical necessity of choice relative to God's predestination, as is clear from the fact that he dedicates the entirety of the last chapter of Book 1 (Chapter 18) to refuting the idea that God possesses a merely 'permissive' will according to which He merely allows evil rather than actively ordains it according to a simple, straightforward positive will; it is precisely such a question Arminians are asking, and it is precisely such a question Calvin seems to be addressing here. Arminians are asking about freedom of the will relative to God's metaphysical determination in comprehensive terms. So although we do indeed sin "freely"(read: voluntarily) according to our own wills, did not God Himself ordain the Fall by which our will became corrupted in the first place? Does Calvin have anything to say about this? Indeed, he speaks of it at length in Chapter 23 of Book 3, and emphatically affirms that God's will of decree is comprehensive in its scope. God ordains all things, and all things thus come about by the metaphysical determination of God's absolute predestination. In this sense, there is no meaningful sense in which anyone other than God can be said to have free will, regardless of the purity or corruption of our volition, since God by positive and active decree ordained even Adam's Fall, before his will have been corrupted and changed from that of liberty of volition to bondage and corruption.
But before Chapter 23, he concludes the previous chapter, chapter 22, with a quote which lands him firmly in the hard determinist camp (although there are admittedly points where his solidly double predestinarian views sometimes seem to warrant an infralapsarian interpretation; though Calvin, in my estimation, is not always clear on this point, and he seems to mostly speak in a manner more appropriate of a supralapsarian. The reader can judge for himself):
We come now to the reprobate, to whom the Apostle at the same time refers (Rom. 9:13). For as Jacob, who as yet had merited nothing by good works, is assumed into favor; so Esau, while as yet unpolluted by any crime, is hated. If we turn our view to works, we do injustice to the Apostle, as if he had failed to see the very thing which is clear to us. Moreover, there is complete proof of his not having seen it, since he expressly insists that when as yet they had done neither good nor evil, the one was elected, the other rejected, in order to prove that the foundation of divine predestination is not in works. Then after starting the objection, Is God unjust? instead of employing what would have been the surest and plainest defense of his justice—viz. that God had recompensed Esau according to his wickedness, he is contented with a different solution—viz. that the reprobate are expressly raised up, in order that the glory of God may thereby be displayed. At last, he concludes that God has mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth (Rom. 9:18). You see how he refers both to the mere pleasure of God. Therefore, if we cannot assign any reason for his bestowing mercy on his people, but just that it so pleases him, neither can we have any reason for his reprobating others but his will. When God is said to visit in mercy or harden whom he will, men are reminded that they are not to seek for any cause beyond his will(Calvin).
Calvin explicitly broaches the position taken up by both infralapsarians and single predestinarians, according to which, although election is unconditional, reprobation is yet conditional on God's foreknowledge of the demerit of our works. Calvin insists that this contradicts the clear reasoning of the Apostle Paul in Romans 9, who assigns the ultimate "cause" of both election and reprobation to God's will. Hence, "When God is said to visit in mercy or harden whom he will, men are reminded that they are not to seek for any cause beyond his will." Calvin, anticipating the obvious objection those who oppose him on this issue will have, dedicates Chapter 23 to addressing their objections:
1. The human mind, when it hears this doctrine, cannot restrain its petulance, but boils and
rages as if aroused by the sound of a trumpet. Many professing a desire to defend the Deity from
an invidious charge admit the doctrine of election, but deny that any one is reprobated (Bernard.
in Die Ascensionis, Serm. 2). This they do ignorantly and childishly since there could be no election
without its opposite reprobation. God is said to set apart those whom he adopts for salvation. It
were most absurd to say, that he admits others fortuitously, or that they by their industry acquire
what election alone confers on a few. Those, therefore, whom God passes by he reprobates, and
that for no other cause but because he is pleased to exclude them from the inheritance which he
predestines to his children. Nor is it possible to tolerate the petulance of men, in refusing to be
restrained by the word of God, in regard to his incomprehensible counsel, which even angels adore.
We have already been told that hardening is not less under the immediate hand of God than mercy.
Paul does not, after the example of those whom I have mentioned, labour anxiously to defend God,
by calling in the aid of falsehood; he only reminds us that it is unlawful for the creature to quarrel
with its Creator. Then how will those who refuse to admit that any are reprobated by God explain
the following words of Christ? “Every plant which my heavenly Father has not planted shall be
rooted up,” (Mt. 15:13). They are plainly told that all whom the heavenly Father has not been
pleased to plant as sacred trees in his garden, are doomed and devoted to destruction. If they deny
that this is a sign of reprobation, there is nothing, however clear, that, can be proved to them. But
if they will still murmur, let us in the soberness of faith rest contented with the admonition of Paul,
that it can be no ground of complaint that God, “willing to show his wrath, and to make his power
known, endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted for destruction: and that he
might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had store prepared
unto glory,” (Rom. 9:22, 23). Let my readers observe that Paul, to cut off all handle for murmuring
and detraction, attributes supreme sovereignty to the wrath and power of God; for it were unjust
that those profound judgments, which transcend all our powers of discernment, should be subjected
to our calculation. It is frivolous in our opponents to reply, that God does not altogether reject those
whom in levity he tolerates, but remains in suspense with regard to them, if per adventure they may
repent; as if Paul were representing God as patiently waiting for the conversion of those whom he
describes as fitted for destruction. For Augustine, rightly expounding this passage, says that where
power is united to endurance, God does not permit, but rules (August. Cont. Julian., Lib. 5, c. 5).
They add also, that it is not without cause the vessels of wrath are said to be fitted for destruction,
and that God is said to have prepared the vessels of mercy, because in this way the praise of salvation
is claimed for God, whereas the blame of perdition is thrown upon those who of their own accord
bring it upon themselves. But were I to concede that by the different forms of expression Paul
softens the harshness of the former clause, it by no means follows, that he transfers the preparation
for destruction to any other cause than the secret counsel of God. This, indeed, is asserted in the
preceding context, where God is said to have raised up Pharaoh, and to harden whom he will. Hence
it follows, that the hidden counsel of God is the cause of hardening. I at least hold with Augustine
that when God makes sheep out of wolves, he forms them again by the powerful influence of grace,
that their hardness may thus be subdued, and that he does not convert the obstinate, because he
does not exert that more powerful grace, a grace which he has at command, if he were disposed to
use it (August. de Prædest. Sanct., Lib. 1, c. 2).
These observations would be amply sufficient for the pious and modest, and such as remember
that they are men. But because many are the species of blasphemy which these virulent dogs utter
against God, we shall, as far as the case admits, give an answer to each. Foolish men raise many
grounds of quarrel with God, as if they held him subject to their accusations. First, they ask why
God is offended with his creatures who have not provoked him by any previous offense; for to
devote to destruction whomsoever he pleases, more resembles the caprice of a tyrant than the legal
sentence of a judge; and, therefore, there is reason to expostulate with God, if at his mere pleasure
men are, without any desert of their own, predestinated to eternal death. If at any time thoughts of
this kind come into the minds of the pious, they will be sufficiently armed to repress them, by
considering how sinful it is to insist on knowing the causes of the divine will, since it is itself, and
justly ought to be, the cause of all that exists. For if his will has any cause, there must be something
antecedent to it, and to which it is annexed; this it were impious to imagine. The will of God is the
supreme rule of righteousness, so that everything which he wills must be held to be righteous
by the mere fact of his willing it. Therefore, when it is asked why the Lord did so, we must answer,
Because he pleased. But if you proceed farther to ask why he pleased, you ask for something greater
and more sublime than the will of God, and nothing such can be found. Let human temerity then
be quiet, and cease to inquire after what exists not, lest perhaps it fails to find what does exist. This,
I say, will be sufficient to restrain any one who would reverently contemplate the secret things of
God. Against the audacity of the wicked, who hesitate not openly to blaspheme, God will sufficiently
defend himself by his own righteousness, without our assistance, when depriving their consciences
of all means of evasion, he shall hold them under conviction, and make them feel their guilt. We,
however, give no countenance to the fiction of absolute power,50 496 which, as it is heathenish, so
it ought justly to be held in detestation by us. We do not imagine God to be lawless. He is a law to
himself; because, as Plato says, men laboring under the influence of concupiscence need law; but
the will of God is not only free from all vice, but is the supreme standard of perfection, the law of
all laws. But we deny that he is bound to give an account of his procedure; and we moreover deny
that we are fit of our own ability to give judgment in such a case. Wherefore, when we are tempted
to go farther than we ought, let this consideration deter us, Thou shalt be “justified when thou
speakest, and be clear when thou judges,” (Ps. 51:4).
3. God may thus quell his enemies by silence. But lest we should allow them with impunity to
hold his sacred name in derision, he supplies us with weapons against them from his word.
Accordingly, when we are accosted in such terms as these, Why did God from the first predestine
some to death, when, as they were not yet in existence, they could not have merited sentence of
death? let us by way of reply ask in our turn, What do you imagine that God owes to man, if he is
pleased to estimate him by his own nature? As we are all vitiated by sin, we cannot but be hateful
to God, and that not from tyrannical cruelty, but the strictest justice. But if all whom the Lord
predestines to death are naturally liable to sentence of death, of what injustice, pray, do they
complain? Should all the sons of Adam come to dispute and contend with their Creator, because
by his eternal providence they were before their birth doomed to perpetual destruction, when God
comes to reckon with them, what will they be able to mutter against this defense? If all are taken
from a corrupt mass, it is not strange that all are subject to condemnation. Let them not, therefore,
charge God with injustice, if by his eternal judgment they are doomed to a death to which they
themselves feel that whether they will or not they are drawn spontaneously by their own nature.
Hence it appears how perverse is this affectation of murmuring, when of set purpose they suppress
the cause of condemnation which they are compelled to recognize in themselves, that they may lay
the blame upon God. But though I should confess a hundred times that God is the author (and it is
most certain that he is), they do not, however, thereby efface their own guilt, which, engraven on
their own consciences, is ever and anon presenting itself to their view.
4. They again object, Were not men predestinated by the ordination of God to that corruption
which is now held forth as the cause of condemnation? If so, when they perish in their corruptions
they do nothing else than suffer punishment for that calamity, into which, by the predestination of
God, Adam fell, and dragged all his posterity headlong with him. Is not he, therefore, unjust in thus
cruelly mocking his creatures? I admit that by the will of God all the sons of Adam fell into that
state of wretchedness in which they are now involved; and this is just what I said at the first, that
we must always return to the mere pleasure of the divine will, the cause of which is hidden in
himself. But it does not forthwith follow that God lies open to this charge. For we will answer with
Paul in these words, “Nay but, O man, who art thou that replies against God? Shall the thing formed
say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Has not the potter power over the clay, of
the same lump to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor?” (Rom. 9:20, 21). They
will deny that the justice of God is thus truly defended, and will allege that we seek an evasion,
such as those are wont to employ who have no good excuse. For what more seems to be said here
than just that the power of God is such as cannot be hindered, so that he can do whatsoever he
pleases? But it is far otherwise. For what stronger reason can be given than when we are ordered
to reflect who God is? How could he who is the Judge of the world commit any unrighteousness?
If it properly belongs to the nature of God to do judgment, he must naturally love justice and abhor
injustice. Wherefore, the Apostle did not, as if he had been caught in a difficulty, have recourse to
evasion; he only intimated that the procedure of divine justice is too high to be scanned by human
measure, or comprehended by the feebleness of human intellect. The Apostle, indeed, confesses
that in the divine judgments there is a depth in which all the minds of men must be engulfed if they
attempt to penetrate into it. But he also shows how unbecoming it is to reduce the works of God to
such a law as that we can presume to condemn them the moment they accord not with our reason.
There is a well-known saying of Solomon (which, however, few properly understand), “The great
God that formed all things both rewardeth the fool and rewardeth transgressors,” (Prov. 26:10).
For he is speaking of the greatness of God, whose pleasure it is to inflict punishment on fools and
transgressors though he is not pleased to bestow his Spirit upon them. It is a monstrous infatuation
in men to seek to subject that which has no bounds to the little measure of their reason. Paul gives
the name of elect to the angels who maintained their integrity. If their steadfastness was owing to
the good pleasure of God, the revolt of the others proves that they were abandoned.50 497 Of this
no other cause can be adduced than reprobation, which is hidden in the secret counsel of God.
”—if their constancy and firmness was founded on the good pleasure of God, the revolt
of the devils shows that they were not restrained, but rather abandoned.
5. Now, should some Manes or Cœlestinus50 498 come forward to arraign Divine Providence
(see sec. 8), I say with Paul, that no account of it can be given, because by its magnitude it far
surpasses our understanding. Is there any thing strange or absurd in this? Would we have the power
of God so limited as to be unable to do more than our mind can comprehend? I say with Augustine,
that the Lord has created those who, as he certainly foreknow, were to go to destruction, and he
did so because he so willed. Why he willed it is not ours to ask, as we cannot comprehend, nor can
it become us even to raise a controversy as to the justice of the divine will. Whenever we speak of
it, we are speaking of the supreme standard of justice. (See August. Ep. 106). But when justice
clearly appears, why should we raise any question of injustice? Let us not, therefore, be ashamed
to stop their mouths after the example of Paul. Whenever they presume to carp, let us begin to
repeat: Who are ye, miserable men, that bring an accusation against God, and bring it because he
does not adapt the greatness of his works to your meagre capacity? As if every thing must be
perverse that is hidden from the flesh. The immensity of the divine judgments is known to you by
clear experience. You know that they are called “a great deep” (Ps. 36:6). Now, look at the
narrowness of your own minds and say whether it can comprehend the decrees of God. Why then
should you, by infatuated inquisitiveness, plunge yourselves into an abyss which reason itself tells
you will prove your destruction? Why are you not deterred, in some degree at least, by what the
Book of Job, as well as the Prophetical books declare concerning the incomprehensible wisdom
and dreadful power of God? If your mind is troubled, decline not to embrace the counsel of
Augustine, “You a man expect an answer from me: I also am a man. Wherefore, let us both listen
to him who says, ‘O man, who art thou?’ Believing ignorance is better than presumptuous knowledge.
Seek merits; you will find nought but punishment. O the height! Peter denies, a thief believes. O
the height! Do you ask the reason? I will tremble at the height. Reason you, I will wonder; dispute
you, I will believe. I see the height; I cannot sound the depth. Paul found rest, because he found
wonder. He calls the judgments of God ‘unsearchable;’ and have you come to search them? He
says that his ways are ‘past finding out,’ and do you seek to find them out?” (August. de Verb.
Apost. Serm. 20). We shall gain nothing by proceeding farther. For neither will the Lord satisfy
the petulance of these men, nor does he need any other defense than that which he used by his
Spirit, who spoke by the mouth of Paul. We unlearn the art of speaking well when we cease to
speak with God.
6. Impiety starts another objection, which, however, seeks not so much to criminate God as to
excuse the sinner; though he who is condemned by God as a sinner cannot ultimately be acquitted
without impugning the judge. This, then is the scoffing language which profane tongues employ.
Why should God blame men for things the necessity of which he has imposed by his own
predestination? What could they do? Could they struggle with his decrees? It were in vain for them
to do it, since they could not possibly succeed. It is not just, therefore, to punish them for things
the principal cause of which is in the predestination of God. Here I will abstain from a defense to
which ecclesiastical writers usually recur, that there is nothing in the prescience of God to prevent
him from regarding; man as a sinner, since the evils which he foresees are man’s, not his. This
would not stop the caviler, who would still insist that God might, if he had pleased, have prevented
the evils which he foresaw, and not having done so, must with determinate counsel have created
man for the very purpose of so acting on the earth. But if by the providence of God man was created on the condition of afterwards doing whatever he does, then that which he cannot escape, and which
he is constrained by the will of God to do, cannot be charged upon him as a crime. Let us, therefore,
see what is the proper method of solving the difficulty. First, all must admit what Solomon says,
“The Lord has made all things for himself; yea, even the wicked for the day of evil,” (Prov. 16:4).
Now, since the arrangement of all things is in the hand of God, since to him belongs the disposal
of life and death, he arranges all things by his sovereign counsel, in such a way that individuals are
born, who are doomed from the womb to certain death, and are to glorify him by their destruction.
If any one alleges that no necessity is laid upon them by the providence of God, but rather that they
are created by him in that condition, because he foresaw their future depravity, he says something,
but does not say enough. Ancient writers, indeed, occasionally employ this solution, though with
some degree of hesitation. The Schoolmen, again, rest in it as if it could not be gainsaid. I, for my
part, am willing to admit, that mere prescience lays no necessity on the creatures; though some do
not assent to this, but hold that it is itself the cause of things. But Valla, though otherwise not greatly
skilled in sacred matters, seems to me to have taken a shrewder and more acute view, when he
shows that the dispute is superfluous since life and death are acts of the divine will rather than of
prescience. If God merely foresaw human events, and did not also arrange and dispose of them at
his pleasure, there might be room for agitating the question, how far his foreknowledge amounts
to necessity; but since he foresees the things which are to happen, simply because he has decreed
that they are so to happen, it is vain to debate about prescience, while it is clear that all events take
place by his sovereign appointment.
7. They deny that it is ever said in distinct terms, God decreed that Adam should perish by his
revolt.50 499 As if the same God, who is declared in Scripture to do whatsoever he pleases, could
have made the noblest of his creatures without any special purpose. They say that, in accordance
with free-will, he was to be the architect of his own fortune, that God had decreed nothing but to
treat him according to his desert. If this frigid fiction is received, where will be the omnipotence
of God, by which, according to his secret counsel on which every thing depends, he rules over all?
But whether they will allow it or not, predestination is manifest in Adam’s posterity. It was not
owing to nature that they all lost salvation by the fault of one parent. Why should they refuse to
admit with regard to one man that which against their will they admit with regard to the whole
human race? Why should they in caviling lose their labour? Scripture proclaims that all were, in
the person of one, made liable to eternal death. As this cannot be ascribed to nature, it is plain that
it is owing to the wonderful counsel of God. It is very absurd in these worthy defenders of the
justice of God to strain at a gnat and swallow a camel. I again ask how it is that the fall of Adam
involves so many nations with their infant children in eternal death without remedy unless that it
so seemed meet to God? Here the most loquacious tongues must be dumb. The decree, I admit, is,
dreadful; and yet it is impossible to deny that God foreknow what the end of man was to be before
he made him, and foreknew, because he had so ordained by his decree. Should any one here inveigh
against the prescience of God, he does it rashly and unadvisedly. For why, pray, should it be made
a charge against the heavenly Judge, that he was not ignorant of what was to happen? Thus, if there
is any just or plausible complaint, it must be directed against predestination. Nor ought it to seem
absurd when I say, that God not only foresaw the fall of the first man, and in him the ruin of his
posterity; but also at his own pleasure arranged it. For as it belongs to his wisdom to foreknow all
future events, so it belongs to his power to rule and govern them by his hand. This question, like
others, is skillfully explained by Augustine: “Let us confess with the greatest benefit, what we
believe with the greatest truth, that the God and Lord of all things who made all things very good,
both foreknow that evil was to arise out of good, and knew that it belonged to his most omnipotent
goodness to bring good out of evil, rather than not permit evil to be, and so ordained the life of
angels and men as to show in it, first, what free-will could do; and, secondly, what the benefit of
his grace and his righteous judgment could do,” (August. Enchir. ad Laurent).
8. Here they recur to the distinction between will and permission, the object being to prove that
the wicked perish only by the permission, but not by the will of God. But why do we say that he
permits, but just because he wills? Nor, indeed, is there any probability in the thing itself—viz. that
man brought death upon himself merely by the permission, and not by the ordination of God; as if
God had not determined what he wished the condition of the chief of his creatures to be. I will not
hesitate, therefore, simply to confess with Augustine that the will of God is necessity, and that
every thing is necessary which he has willed; just as those things will certainly happen which he
has foreseen (August. de Gen. ad Lit., Lib. 6, cap. 15). Now, if in excuse of themselves and the
ungodly, either the Pelagians, or Manichees, or Anabaptists, or Epicureans (for it is with these four
sects we have to discuss this matter), should object the necessity by which they are constrained, in
consequence of the divine predestination, they do nothing that is relevant to the cause. For if
predestination is nothing else than a dispensation of divine justice, secret indeed, but unblamable,
because it is certain that those predestinated to that condition were not unworthy of it, it is equally
certain, that the destruction consequent upon predestination is also most just. Moreover, though
their perdition depends on the predestination of God, the cause and matter of it is in themselves.
The first man fell because the Lord deemed it meet that he should: why he deemed it meet, we
know not. It is certain, however, that it was just, because he saw that his own glory would thereby
be displayed. When you hear the glory of God mentioned, understand that his justice is included.
For that which deserves praise must be just. Man therefore falls, divine providence so ordaining,
but he falls by his own fault. The Lord had a little before declared that all the things which he had
made were very good (Gen. 1:31). Whence then the depravity of man, which made him revolt from
God? Lest it should be supposed that it was from his creation, God had expressly approved what
proceeded from himself Therefore man’s own wickedness corrupted the pure nature which he had
received from God, and his ruin brought with it the destruction of all his posterity. Wherefore, let
us in the corruption of human nature contemplate the evident cause of condemnation (a cause which
comes more closely home to us), rather than inquire into a cause hidden and almost incomprehensible
in the predestination of God. Nor let us decline to submit our judgment to the boundless wisdom
of God, so far as to confess its insufficiency to comprehend many of his secrets. Ignorance of things
which we are not able, or which it is not lawful to know, is learning, while the desire to know them
is a species of madness.
9. Someone, perhaps, will say, that I have not yet stated enough to refute this blasphemous
excuse. I confess that it is impossible to prevent impiety from murmuring and objecting; but I think
I have said enough not only to remove the ground, but also the pretext for throwing blame upon
God. The reprobate would excuse their sins by alleging that they are unable to escape the necessity
of sinning, especially because a necessity of this nature is laid upon them by the ordination of God.
We deny that they can thus be validly excused, since the ordination of God, by which they complain
that they are doomed to destruction, is consistent with equity,—an equity, indeed, unknown to us,
but most certain. Hence we conclude, that every evil which they bear is inflicted by the most just
judgment of God. Next we have shown that they act preposterously when, in seeking the origin of
their condemnation, they turn their view to the hidden recesses of the divine counsel, and wink at
the corruption of nature, which is the true source. They cannot impute this corruption to God,
because he bears testimony to the goodness of his creation. For though, by the eternal providence
of God, man was formed for the calamity under which he lies, he took the matter of it from himself,
not from God, since the only cause of his destruction was his degenerating from the purity of his
creation into a state of vice and impurity.
10. There is a third absurdity by which the adversaries of predestination defame it. As we ascribe
it entirely to the counsel of the divine will, that those whom God adopts as the heirs of his kingdom
are exempted from universal destruction, they infer that he is an acceptor of persons; but this
Scripture uniformly denies: and, therefore Scripture is either at variance with itself, or respect is
had to merit in election. First, the sense in which Scripture declares that God is not an acceptor of
persons, is different from that which they suppose: since the term person means not man, but those
things which when conspicuous in a man, either procure favor, grace, and dignity, or, on the contrary,
produce hatred, contempt, and disgrace. Among, these are, on the one hand, riches, wealth, power,
rank, office, country, beauty, &c.; and, on the other hand, poverty, want, mean birth, sordidness,
contempt, and the like. Thus Peter and Paul say, that the Lord is no acceptor of persons, because
he makes no distinction between the Jew and the Greek; does not make the mere circumstance of
country the ground for rejecting, one or embracing the other (Acts 10:34; Rom. 2:10, Gal. 3:28).
Thus James also uses the same words, when he would declare that God has no respect to riches in
his judgment (James 2:5). Paul also says in another passage, that in judging God has no respect to
slavery or freedom (Eph. 6:9; Col. 3:25). There is nothing inconsistent with this when we say, that
God, according to the good pleasure of his will, without any regard to merit, elects those whom he
chooses for sons, while he rejects and reprobates others. For fuller satisfaction the matter may be
thus explained (see August. Epist. 115, et ad Bonif., Lib. 2, cap. 7). It is asked, how it happens that
of two, between whom there is no difference of merit, God in his election adopts the one, and passes
by the other? I, in my turn, ask, Is there any thing in him who is adopted to incline God towards
him? If it must be confessed that there is nothing. it will follow, that God looks not to the man, but
is influenced entirely by his own goodness to do him good. Therefore, when God elects one and
rejects another, it is owing not to any respect to the individual, but entirely to his own mercy which
is free to display and exert itself when and where he pleases. For we have elsewhere seen, that in
order to humble the pride of the flesh, “not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not
many noble, are called,” (1 Cor. 1:26); so far is God in the exercise of his favor from showing any
respect to persons.
11. Wherefore, it is false and most wicked to charge God with dispensing justice unequally,
because in this predestination he does not observe the same course towards all. If (say they) he
finds all guilty, let him punish all alike: if he finds them innocent, let him relieve all from the
severity of judgment. But they plead with God as if he were either interdicted from showing mercy,
or were obliged, if he show mercy, entirely to renounce judgment. What is it that they demand?
That if all are guilty all shall receive the same punishment. We admit that the guilt is common, but
we say, that God in mercy succors some. Let him (they say) succor all. We object, that it is right
for him to show by punishing that he is a just judge. When they cannot tolerate this, what else are
they attempting than to deprive God of the power of showing mercy; or, at least, to allow it to him
Calvin's Institutes John Calvinonly on the condition of altogether renouncing judgment? Here the words of Augustine most
admirably apply: “Since in the first man the whole human race fell under condemnation, those
vessels which are made of it unto honor, are not vessels of self-righteousness, but of divine mercy.
When other vessels are made unto dishonor, it must be imputed not to injustice, but to judgment,”
(August. Epist. 106, De Prædest. et Gratia; De Bone Persever., cap. 12). Since God inflicts due
punishment on those whom he reprobates, and bestows unmerited favor on those whom he calls,
he is free from every accusation; just as it belongs to the creditor to forgive the debt to one, and
exact it of another. The Lord therefore may show favor to whom he will, because he is merciful;
not show it to all, because he is a just judge. In giving to some what they do not merit, he shows
his free favor; in not giving to all, he declares what all deserve. For when Paul says, “God has
concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all,” it ought also to be added, that
he is debtor to none; for “who has first given to him and it shall be recompensed unto him again?”
(Rom. 11:32, 33).
12. Another argument which they employ to overthrow predestination is that if it stand, all care
and study of well doing must cease. For what man can hear (say they) that life and death are fixed
by an eternal and immutable decree of God, without immediately concluding that it is of no
consequence how he acts, since no work of his can either hinder or further the predestination of
God? Thus all will rush on, and like desperate men plunge headlong wherever lust inclines. And
it is true that this is not altogether a fiction; for there are multitudes of a swinish nature who defile
the doctrine of predestination by their profane blasphemies, and employ them as a cloak to evade
all admonition and censure. “God knows what he has determined to do with regard to us: if he has
decreed our salvation, he will bring us to it in his own time; if he has doomed us to death, it is vain
for us to fight against it.” But Scripture, while it enjoins us to think of this high mystery with much
greater reverence and religion, gives very different instruction to the pious, and justly condemns
the accursed license of the ungodly. For it does not remind us of predestination to increase our
audacity, and tempt us to pry with impious presumption into the inscrutable counsels of God, but
rather to humble and abase us, that we may tremble at his judgment, and learn to look up to his
mercy. This is the mark at which believers will aim. The grunt of these filthy swine is duly silenced
by Paul. They say that they feel secure in vices because, if they are of the number of the elect, their
vices will be no obstacle to the ultimate attainment of life. But Paul reminds us that the end for
which we are elected is, “that we should be holy, and without blame before him,” (Eph. 1:4). If the
end of election is holiness of life, it ought to arouse and stimulate us strenuously to aspire to it,
instead of serving as a pretext for sloth. How wide the difference between the two things, between
ceasing from well-doing because election is sufficient for salvation, and its being the very end of
election, that we should devote ourselves to the study of good works. Have done, then, with
blasphemies which wickedly invert the whole order of election. When they extend their blasphemies
farther, and say that he who is reprobated by God will lose his pains if he studies to approve himself
to him by innocence and probity of life, they are convicted of the most impudent falsehood. For
whence can any such study arise but from election? As all who are of the number of the reprobate
are vessels formed unto dishonor, so they cease not by their perpetual crimes to provoke the anger
of God against them, and give evident signs of the judgment which God has already passed upon
them; so far is it from being true that they vainly contend against it.
13. Another impudent and malicious calumny against this doctrine is, that it destroys all
exhortations to a pious life. The great odium to which Augustine was at one time subjected on this
Calvin's Institutes John Calvinhead he wiped away in his treatise De Correptione et Gratia, to Valentinus, a perusal of which will
easily satisfy the pious and docile. Here, however, I may touch on a few points, which will, I hope,
be sufficient for those who are honest and not contentious. We have already seen how plainly and
audibly Paul preaches the doctrine of free election: is he, therefore, cold in admonishing and
exhorting? Let those good zealots compare his vehemence with theirs and they will find that they
are ice, while he is all fervor. And surely every doubt on this subject should be removed by the
principles which he lays down, that God has not called us to uncleanness; that every one should
possess his vessel in honor; that we are the workmanship of God, “created in Christ Jesus unto
good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them,” (1 Thess. 4:4, 7; Eph.
2:10). In one word, those who have any tolerable acquaintance with the writings of Paul will
understand, without a long demonstration, how well he reconciles the two things which those men
pretend to be contradictory to each other. Christ commands us to believe in him, and yet there is
nothing false or contrary to this command in the statement which he afterwards makes: “No man
can come unto me, except it were given him of my Father,” (John 6:65). Let preaching then have
its free course, that it may lead men to faith, and dispose them to persevere with uninterrupted
progress. Nor, at the same time, let there be any obstacle to the knowledge of predestination, so
that those who obey may not plume themselves on anything of their own, but glory only in the
Lord. It is not without cause our Savior says, “Who has ears to hear, let him hear,” (Mt. 13:9).
Therefore, while we exhort and preach, those who have ears willingly obey: in those again, who
have no ears is fulfilled what is written: “Hear ye indeed, but understand not,” (Isaiah 6:9). “But
why (says Augustine) have some ears, and others not? Who has known the mind of the Lord? Are
we, therefore, to deny what is plain because we cannot comprehend what is hid?” This is a faithful
quotation from Augustine; but because his words will perhaps have more authority than mine, let
us adduce the following passage from his treatise, De Bone Persever., cap. 15.
“Should some on hearing this turn to indolence and sloth, and leaving off all exertion, rush
headlong into lust, are we, therefore to suppose that what has been said of the foreknowledge of
God is not true? If God foreknew that they would be good, will they not be good, however great
their present wickedness? and if God foreknow that they would be wicked, will they not be wicked,
how great soever the goodness now seen in them? For reasons of this description, must the truth
which has been stated on the subject of divine foreknowledge be denied or not mentioned? and
more especially when, if it is not stated, other errors will arise?” In the sixteenth chapter he says,
“The reason for not mentioning the truth is one thing, the necessity for telling the truth is another.
It were tedious to inquire into all the reasons for silence. One, however, is, lest those who understand
not become worse, while we are desirous to make those who understand better informed. Now such
persons, when we say anything of this kind, do not indeed become better informed, but neither do
they become worse. But when the truth is of such a nature, that he who cannot comprehend it
becomes worse by our telling it, and he who can comprehend it becomes worse by our not telling
it, what think ye ought we to do? Are we not to tell the truth, that he who can comprehend may
comprehend, rather than not tell it, and thereby not only prevent both from comprehending, but
also make the more intelligent of the two to become worse, whereas if he heard and comprehended
others might learn through him? And we are unwilling to say what, on the testimony of Scripture,
it is lawful to say. For we fear lest, when we speak, he who cannot comprehend may be offended;
but we have no fear lest while we are silent, he who can comprehend the truth be involved in
falsehood.” In chapter twentieth, glancing again at the same view, he more clearly confirms it.
Calvin's Institutes John Calvin“Wherefore, if the apostles and teachers of the Church who came after them did both; if they
discoursed piously of the eternal election of God, and at the same time kept believers under the
discipline of a pious life, how can those men of our day, when shut up by the invincible force of
truth, think they are right in saying, that what is said of predestination, though it is true, must not
be preached to the people? Nay, it ought indeed to be preached, that whoso has ears to hear may
hear. And who has ears if he has not received them from him who has promised to give them?
Certainly, let him who receives not, reject. Let him who receives, take and drink, drink and live.
For as piety is to be preached, that God may be duly worshipped; so predestination also is to be
preached, that he who has ears to hear may, in regard to divine grace, glory not in himself, but in
14. And yet as that holy man had a singular desire to edify, he so regulates his method of teaching
as carefully, and as far as in him lay, to avoid giving offense. For he reminds us, that those things
which are truly should also be fitly spoken. Were any one to address the people thus: If you do not
believe, the reason is, because God has already doomed you to destruction: he would not only
encourage sloth, but also give countenance to wickedness. Were any one to give utterance to the
sentiment in the future tense, and say, that those who hear will not believe because they are
reprobates, it were imprecation rather than doctrine. Wherefore, Augustine not undeservedly orders
such, as senseless teachers or minister and ill-omened prophets, to retire from the Church. He,
indeed, elsewhere truly contends that “a man profits by correction only when He who causes those
whom He pleases to profit without correction, pities and assists. But why is it thus with some, and
differently with others? Far be it from us to say that it belongs to the clay and not to the potter to
decide.” He afterwards says, “When men by correction either come or return to the way of
righteousness, who is it that works salvation in their hearts but he who gives the increase, whoever
it be that plants and waters? When he is pleased to save, there is no free-will in man to resist.
Wherefore, it cannot be doubted that the will of God (who has done whatever he has pleased in
heaven and in earth, and who has even done things which are to be) cannot be resisted by the human
will, or prevented from doing what he pleases, since with the very wills of men he does so.” Again,
“When he would bring men to himself, does he bind them with corporeal fetters? He acts inwardly,
inwardly holds, inwardly moves their hearts, and draws them by the will, which he has wrought in
them.” What he immediately adds must not be omitted: “because we know not who belongs to the
number of the predestinated, or does not belong, our desire ought to be that all may be saved; and
hence every person we meet, we will desire to be with us a partaker of peace. But our peace will
rest upon the sons of peace. Wherefore, on our part, let correction be used as a harsh yet salutary
medicine for all, that they may neither perish, nor destroy others. To God it will belong to make it
available to those whom he has foreknown and predestinated"(Calvin)
Thus, Calvin seems to affirm, that at the very least, when we are speaking of the final destinies of both the elect and the reprobate, are to be understood in terms of hard determinism. That is, when seeking the ultimate cause of reprobation, and in responding to the objections of Arminians, Calvin's logic is ultimately not the soft determinist logic of a compatibilist, but that of a hard determinist.
So also the early Martin Luther. In his work Bondage of the Will, he frames the question of "free will", not merely in terms of voluntariness of volition, but speaks of it as being non-existent relative to the absolute predestination of God. Like Calvin, he speaks of the events which God both wills and foreknows as being necessary by virtue of the prescience and sovereignty of God:
Sect. 9.—THIS, therefore, is also essentially necessary and wholesome for Christians to know: That God foreknows nothing by contingency, but that He foresees, purposes, and does all things according to His immutable, eternal, and infallible will. By this thunderbolt, "Free-will" is thrown prostrate, and utterly dashed to pieces. Those, therefore, who would assert "Free-will," must either deny this thunderbolt, or pretend not to see it, or push it from them. But, however, before I establish this point by any arguments of my own, and by the authority of Scripture, I will first set it forth in your words.
Are you not then the person, friend Erasmus, who just now asserted, that God is by nature just, and by nature most merciful? If this be true, does it not follow that He is immutably just and merciful? That, as His nature is not changed to all eternity, so neither His justice nor His mercy? And what is said concerning His justice and His mercy, must be said also concerning His knowledge, His wisdom, His goodness, His will, and His other Attributes. If therefore these things are asserted religiously, piously, and wholesomely concerning God, as you say yourself, what has come to you, that, contrary to your own self, you now assert, that it is irreligious, curious, and vain, to say, that God foreknows of necessity? You openly declare that the immutable will of God is to be known, but you forbid the knowledge of His immutable prescience. Do you believe that He foreknows against His will, or that He wills in ignorance? If then, He foreknows, willing, His will is eternal and immovable, because His nature is so: and, if He wills, foreknowing, His knowledge is eternal and immovable, because His nature is so.
From which it follows unalterably, that all things which we do, although they may appear to us to be done mutably and contingently, and even may be done thus contingently by us, are yet, in reality, done necessarily and immutably, with respect to the will of God. For the will of God is effective and cannot be hindered; because the very power of God is natural to Him, and His wisdom is such that He cannot be deceived. And as His will cannot be hindered, the work itself cannot be hindered from being done in the place, at the time, in the measure, and by whom He foresees and wills. If the will of God were such, that, when the work was done, the work remained but the will ceased, (as is the case with the will of men, which, when the house is built which they wished to build, ceases to will, as though it ended by death) then, indeed, it might be said, that things are done by contingency and mutability. But here, the case is the contrary; the work ceases, and the will remains. So far is it from possibility, that the doing of the work or its remaining, can be said to be from contingency or mutability. But, (that we may not be deceived in terms) being done by contingency, does not, in the Latin language, signify that the work itself which is done is contingent, but that it is done according to a contingent and mutable will—such a will as is not to be found in God! Moreover, a work cannot be called contingent, unless it be done by us unawares, by contingency, and, as it were, by chance; that is, by our will or hand catching at it, as presented by chance, we thinking nothing of it, nor willing any thing about it before
And how can you be certain and secure, unless you are persuaded that He knows and wills certainly, infallibly, immutably, and necessarily, and will perform what He promises? Nor ought we to be certain only that God wills necessarily and immutably, and will perform, but also to glory in the same; as Paul, (Rom. iii. 4,) "Let God be true, but every man a liar." And again, "For the word of God is not without effect." (Rom. ix. 6.) And in another place, "The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, the Lord knoweth them that are His." (2 Tim. ii. 19.) And, "Which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began." (Titus i. 2.) And, "He that cometh, must believe that God is, and that He is a rewarder of them that hope in Him." (Heb. xi. 6.)(Luther, Bondage of the Will).
—"But Paul does not explain this point, he only rebukes the disputer; "Who art thou, O man, that repliest against God!" (Rom. ix. 20.)—
O notable evasion! Is this the way to handle the Holy Scriptures, thus to make a declaration upon ones own authority, and out of ones own brain, without a Scripture, without a miracle, nay, to corrupt the most clear words of God? What! does not Paul explain that point? What does he then? 'He only rebukes the disputer,' says the Diatribe. And is not that rebuke the most complete explanation? For what was inquired into by that question concerning the will of God? Was it not this—whether or not it imposed a necessity on our will? Paul, then, answers that it is thus:—"He will have mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth. It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy." (Rom. ix. 15-16, 18.). Moreover, not content with this explanation, he introduces those who murmur against this explanation in their defence of "Free-will," and prate that there is no merit allowed, that we are damned when the fault is not our own, and the like, and stops their murmuring and indignation: saying, "Thou wilt say then, Why doth He yet find fault? for who hath resisted His will?" (Rom. ix. 19.).
Do you not see that this is addressed to those, who, hearing that the will of God imposes necessity on us, say, "Why doth He yet find fault?" That is, Why does God thus insist, thus urge, thus exact, thus find fault? Why does He accuse, why does He reprove, as though we men could do what He requires if we would? He has no just cause for thus finding fault; let Him rather accuse His own will; let Him find fault with that; let Him press His requirement upon that; "For who hath resisted His will?" Who can obtain mercy if He wills not? Who can become softened if He wills to harden? It is not in our power to change His will, much less to resist it, where He wills us to be hardened; by that will, therefore, we are compelled to be hardened, whether we will or no.
If Paul had not explained this question, and had not stated to a certainty, that necessity is imposed on us by the prescience of God, what need was there for his introducing the murmurers and complainers saying, That His will cannot be resisted? For who would have murmured or been indignant, if he had not found necessity to be stated? Paul's words are not ambiguous where he speaks of resisting the will of God. Is there any thing ambiguous in what resisting is, or what His will is? Is it at all ambiguous concerning what he is speaking, when he speaks concerning the will of God? Let the myriads of the most approved doctors be blind; let them pretend, if they will, that the Scriptures are not quite clear, and that they tremble at a difficult question; we have words the most clear which plainly speak thus: "He will have mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth:" and also, "Thou wilt say to me then, Why doth He yet complain, for who hath resisted His will?"
The question, therefore, is not difficult; nay, nothing can be more plain to common sense, than that this conclusion is certain, stable, and true:—if it be pre-established from the Scriptures, that God neither errs nor is deceived; then, whatever God foreknows, must, of necessity, take place. It would be a difficult question indeed, nay, an impossibility, I confess, if you should attempt to establish, both the prescience of God, and the "Free-Will" of man. For what could be more difficult, nay a greater impossibility, than to attempt to prove, that contradictions do not clash; or that a number may, at the same time, be both nine and ten? There is no difficulty on our side of the question, but it is sought for and introduced, just as ambiguity and obscurity are sought for and violently introduced into the Scriptures (Luther, "Bondage of the Will")
For is it not searching with temerity, when we attempt to make the all-free prescience of God to harmonize with our freedom, prepared to derogate prescience from God, rather than lose our own liberty? Is it not temerity, when He imposes necessity upon us, to say, with murmurings and blasphemies, "Why doth He yet find fault? for who hath resisted His will?" (Rom. ix. 19).
Martin Luther uses this reasoning freely throughout his work, and it would be superfluous to quote the relevant material in its entirety. Suffice it to say that he clearly understands "free-will" as, in at least some cases, being bound by God's absolute, immutable and necessary predestination and foreknowledge, rather than merely being bound by necessity to sin because of its sin nature.
Jonathan Edwards is another example of a Calvinist theologian who does not merely speak of free will relative to the state of our natures, but goes beyond this and argues for a hard determinism, according to which God is the ultimate cause of all events, including human thoughts and actions. Wainwright summarizes Edwards' view on the relation of divine sovereignty to the power of contrary choice:
Necessity is consistent with moral responsibility, however. We are said to be responsible for our actions when we act as we choose and determinism does not deny that our actions often spring from our choices. Nor is necessity incompatible with praise and blame. Even though God and Christ necessarily act for the best, their actions are eminently praiseworthy(Wainwright, 2012).
"Edwards' principle reasons for theological determinism are God's sovereignty, the principle of sufficient reason (which requires that everything that begins to be have a complete cause), the nature of motivation, and God's foreknowledge"(Wainwright, 2012).
Wainwright, William, "Jonathan Edwards", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2012/entries/edwards/>.