Calvin’s Doctrine of Predestination


The French theologian John Calvin is commonly associated with the doctrine of predestination especially in his famous treatise, Institutes of the Christian Religion, though admittingly this was not the centerpiece of his theological framework. According to Calvin, it can be summarized as: “Predestination we call the eternal decree of God, by which He has determined in Himself, what He would have to become of every individual of mankind. For they are not all created with a similar destiny; but eternal life is foreordained for some and eternal death for others. Every man, therefore, being created for one or the other or these ends, we say he is predestined either to life or to death.”[1]The first section of book three (ch.21) deals with eternal election and God’s predestination. This necessary teaching if ignored impairs the glory of God and its doctrine establishes the certainty of salvation, peace of conscience and the true origins of the church.[2]According to the order of salvation, God acts before creation in choosing some to be saved, not on any account of merit, but only because of His grace and good pleasure. Two distinct groups within the nation of Israel are seen, those who have failed in obtaining what it was trying to seek out (Rom. 11:7) and the elect who depended on the gratuitous election of God.

The assurance of our salvation is preserved, kept by the power of God until the end of life. This confidence of the present leaves no room for doubt when varies trails arise yet we will prevail when the opportunity comes. This leads into Calvin’s next thought (Section 5) on the foreknowledge of God. By this, we mean that the all-inclusiveness of the knowledge of God, according to His omniscience, knows the course of events past, present and future. This knowledge is categorized by absolute perfection, complete, full, all-comprehensive which even reveals the hidden essence of things that mankind can’t penetrate.[3]God’s exhaustive knowledge is not marked by our notions of time but sees it as present not conceived of them from ideas formed in His mind but as actually placed before him.[4]It is an eternal “now” in which God inhabits eternity and He is not constrained by the physical properties of creation as the divine creator. This foreknowledge leads to God’s eternal decrees. The divine determination is established in the election of some (Eph. 1:4) as the efficacy of God’s purpose for the world. God’s choosing is historic according to his redemptive purpose with Abram (Deut. 7:6) and is based on the matter of grace and love. He sovereignly separates through grace of His own and not on the premise of merit, status or stature.

The all-inclusiveness of the knowledge of God, according to His omniscience, knows the course of events past, present and future.

            The doctrine of predestination represents the purpose and plan of God as absolute and unconditional according to the counsel of His will. This can be misunderstood by many as fatalistic or mechanistic in God’s approach towards humanity as a sort of puppet theology were the reprobate never have a chance to believe. Is it unfair that God chooses some and not all to be saved? Calvin answers this question by addressing the means of grace and salvation not based on any merit of our own. Charles Hodge explains this synergistic controversy on election by explaining that the state of grace can’t be secured due to the spiritual death of the fall. The judicial reason why the non-elect fail of salvation is their own sin, yet the reason why they, and not others equally guilty are left to suffer the penalty of their sins, is to be found in the sovereignty of God.[5]The federal view of the fall, held by most Calvinist, teaches that in Adam we have all inherited sin and its curse affects the entire world. This is vital when seeing predestination in the light of the fall because Adam who perfectly represented us, not by virtue of his perfection, but is by virtue of God’s perfect selection.[6]God’s grace can now be directed towards fallen humanity and through one man’s obedience many will be made righteous (Romans 5:19).

The foreknowledge of God connects the doctrine of predestination as Him choosing us because he would know in advance that we would choose him. Foreknowledge precedes predestination in the inward and external call of the believer. This foreknowing can be summed up in the Westminster Confession of Faith: God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.[7]The decrees of God are eternal and planned (Acts 2:23) were He brings about all things. The decree is God’s purpose in eternity; creation, providence, and redemption are the execution of his decree in time.[8]This describes the gratuitous love of God that Calvin explains is the reason for His choosing Israel (Deut. 4:37) as a matter of grace and not merit. The remnant would receive the blessing and Abraham’s children of promise (Rom.9:6-8) are entitled to this election.

The decrees of God are eternal and planned were He brings about all things.

The practical importance of this doctrine may seem like a barren and speculative theory, a lottery where only the winners receive the glorious prize in the end but the immutable goodwill of God provides us with security and courage in election. “To them that love God all things work together for good” (Rom. 8:28). Predestination becomes the one sure guarantee that we’re saved. God becomes the ultimate cause of everything and the all-determining reality.[9]If left to chance, the problem of evil doesn’t vanish and our struggle with conflict and sin remains regardless. The difference is found in the efficacious grace that becomes the necessity of change in the character of the Christian. The regenerate person enjoys the assurance of knowing they have been included in the unchangeable and eternal plan of God (James 1:17). Calvin draws exhaustively from scripture to extrapolate its context especially in the role of redemption. The authority of Christ becomes the indispensable instrument to draw and attract his elect. Predestination is a God-glorifying doctrine which is commonly misunderstood but most beautifully found in His mercy and righteousness.





            [1]Boettner, Loraine. The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publ., 2002, 15.

            [2]Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008, 606.

            [3]Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 1996, 67.

            [4]Weaver, C. Douglas, and Rady Roldán-Figueroa. Exploring Christian Heritage: A Reader in History and Theology. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2017,116.

            [5]Hodge, C. (1997). Systematic Theology (Vol. 2, p. 723). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

            [6]Sproul, R. C. Chosen by God. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1986, 76.

            [7]Westminster Assembly. (1851). The Westminster Confession of Faith: Edinburgh Edition(p. 26). Philadelphia: William S. Young.

            [8]Frame, John M. Doctrine of God. Phillipsburg, NJ: Palgrave Pivot, 2002, 314.

            [9]Meister, C. V., & Stump, J. B. Christian thought: A historical introduction. New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group 2017, 343.


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