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Title: John Calvin - Secret Providence - Article Ninth
Author: John Calvin
Language: English

00004-0014 Secret Providence - Article Ninth
The will of God is the highest cause of the hardening of man.

Against the Eighth and Ninth

On the eighth and ninth they inquire what Moses means, when he writes that Pharaoh hardened his own heart? Shall we interpret thus; Pharaoh hardened his own heart, that is God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. But this truly will be much more violent, than if you were to say God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, that is God allowed Pharaoh to remain in the natural hardness of his heart, because Pharaoh had refused to obey him.

In the next place, they ask concerning that passage, “To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” Now if you interpret this, let not God harden your hearts, it will be very absurd, as it would be enjoining men to do God’s work. For if it belongs to God to harden hearts, it is impossible to command men either to harden them, or not to harden them; any more than to add, or to take away, a cubit from their stature.


Here again I entreat the honesty of my readers, to compare my language, and the whole strain of my teaching, with your garbled articles. Thus, when your calumny is detected, all the odium which you labor to excite, will vanish of its own accord. Meanwhile, I do not deny, that I have taught along with Moses and Paul, that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Here you expostulate with me to the contempt of Moses, and treating his word as of no account, ask “When the same Moses declares, that Pharaoh hardened his own heart, why have recourse to that violent interpretation — God hardened Pharaoh’s heart?” Now I need go no further for an explanation, than the ninth article, which while you quote, you either distort or misunderstand. For if the will of God is the highest, or remote cause of hardening, then when man hardens his own heart, he himself is the proximate cause, I everywhere distinguish between primary and remote causes, and those which are mediate and proximate; for while the sinner finds himself the root of depraved feeling, there is no reason why he should transfer his fault to God. I have somewhere declared that to do so, is just to act like the maid servant of Medea in the ancient Poet, “I would,” says she, “that the pines had never fallen in the grove of Pelion, felled with hatchets to the ground.” For when an impure woman felt herself stimulated by her own lust, to betray her father’s kingdom, this foolish attendant accuses neither her shameless passion, nor the allurement of Jason, but complains that a ship had been built in Greece. Thus when a man conscious of crime, seeks pretexts of extenuation in remote causes, he ridiculously forgets himself. You now perceive though God in his own way hardens hearts, yet every one is justly responsible for his own hardness, because every one is hardened by his own wickedness.

The case is different when hearts are inclined to obey God. For as by nature we are all prone to contumacy, no one will desire to act aright, unless he is acted upon. And yet when the Scripture says that hearts are prepared by God, and that the faithful prepare themselves to present to God, a voluntary worship; it is not inconsistent with itself, but shows distinctly that divine worshipers perform their duty spontaneously, and with the voluntary affection of their hearts, and yet this is not inconsistent, with God performing his part, by the secret influence of his Spirit. The case is different as I have already said in regard to hardening.

For God does not govern the reprobate by the spirit of regeneration, but subjects and dooms them to the Devil, and by his secret government, so manages their depraved affections, that they do nothing which he has not decreed. These things, therefore, harmonize very well; that however God hardens whom he pleases, yet every one is to himself the cause of his own hardening.

Lest I should be tedious, pious, and fair readers may take the help of this remark of Augustine, (Book fifth against Julian, chapter 3,) “Whereas the apostle declares that men are given over to vile affections,” this is rashly and unskillfully restricted to sufferance, because the same Paul elsewhere joins power with sufferance, saying, “if God willing to show his power endured with much patience the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction,” etc. And though that holy teacher had never spoken on this subject, the authority of God should of itself be more than enough for us. It is not I who have said that God takes away understanding from princes of the earth, to cause them to err; or that he held the heart of Pharaoh, that it should not be turned in humanity. I have not said that God turned the hearts of the nations, or strengthened them in hatred of his people, or hissed for the Egyptians and employed them as hammers. I have not said that Sennacherib was a rod in God’s hand; but the Spirit so pronounces.

What? When the Scripture also tells us that Saul was seized by a wicked spirit of God, will you refer this to allowance and permission merely?

How much better is the judgment of Augustine, (Book on Holy Predestination.) “If Satan and the wicked sin, it is of themselves; if in sinning they do this or that, it is by the power of God dividing the darkness as he pleases.” Whatever God openly declares, you impute to me. Let the same Augustine answer you for me, (On Grace and Free Will to Val.) “Scripture if diligently studied, shows not only that God is the Lord of the good volitions of men, which he himself forms out of evil, and directs them when produced to good results and eternal life; but that those volitions which maintain their worldly character, are so in the power of God, that he by a most secret, but most just judgment, inclines them as he pleases, and when he pleases, either to confer blessings, or inflict punishments.”