Excerpts from John Knox’s Work on Predestination


Order of Contents





The Work

Knox, John – An Answer to the Cavillations of [an Anabaptist] Adversary Respecting the Doctrine of Predestination  (1560)  in The Works of John Knox, 5:7-468


Brian L. Dole

‘John Knox on Predestination’

“While living in Geneva about 1558, Knox was asked by persons back in England to answer a book circulating there titled Careless by Necessity.  This work, written by an Anabaptist, denied the doctrine of Predestination. Knox complied…

This work is the longest of Knox’s writings…  On Predestination is in the form of an ‘answer’, and is disputational in structure.  Knox alternately [block] quotes an assertion from his ‘Adversarie’ [in the order of the adversary’s book] immediately following it with his ‘Answer’.”


In addition to the excerpts below, this also is from Knox’s work on predestination:

Calvin, John & Theodore Beza – ‘Calvin & Beza on Providence: Translations by Knox’  trans. John Knox  (1545, 1558, 1560; 2021)




“We do not deny but that the most wicked men are participant of God’s mercy in temporal felicity (yea, and that far above his chosen children); that He makes his sun to shine upon the good and bad, that with long-suffering He calls them to repentance and delays their most just condemnation.” – p. 86

“After that David had affirmed that God is liberal, merciful, patient, and of great gentleness; and also, that He is good to all, and that his mercy is over all his works…  By which sentences he praises the goodness, the mercy, and the providence of God in the regiment and government of his universal creation; which goodness and mercy do so abound, that the innumerable iniquities of mankind and his detestable ingratitude cannot utterly hinder the same from the creatures.

After these common mercies, I say, whereof the reprobate are often partakers, he openeth the treasure of his riche mercies, which are kept in Christ Jesus for his Elect…  Such as willingly delight not in blindness may clearly see that the Holy Ghost makes a plain difference betwixt the graces and mercies which be common to all, and that sovereign mercy which is immutably reserved to the chosen children; and further, that the Lord Himself shall destroy the wicked, albeit his mercy be over all his works.  And so that mercy by the which God pronounces to gather his Church is everlasting, and is not common to the reprobate, but is only proper to the flock of Christ Jesus.” – pp. 86-7

“Howsoever ye join God’s absolute ordinance and sin together, we make so far division betwixt the purpose and eternal counsel of God (for absolute ordinance we use not in that matter) and the sin of man, that we plainly affirm, that man, when he sinned, did neither look to God’s will, God’s counsel, nor eternal purpose; but did altogether consent to the will of the Devil, which did manifestly gainsay God’s revealed will.” – p. 113

“…and yet that He uses no violence, neither in compelling the creatures, neither constraining their wills by any external force, neither yet taking their wills from them, but in all wisdom and justice using them as he knowes most expedient for the manifestation of his glory, without any violence, I say, done to their wills.  For violence is done to the will of a creature, when it wills one thing, and yet by force, by tyranny, or by a greater power, it is compelled to do the things which it would not…

…Why the creatures offend even when they serve most effectually to God’s purpose? to wit, because that they neither have the glory of God in their actions before their eyes, neither yet mind they to serve nor obey God’s purpose and will…” – pp. 143-44

“Man’s will, I say, in the self remained free, notwithstanding that God in his eternal counsel had decreed his fall;” – p. 145

“Wonder it is that ye cannot see how God’s will can remain God’s in liberty, except that He abide in suspense or doubt, and so daily and hourly change his purpose and counsel, as occasion is offered unto Him by men and by their actions.  If this be to make God bound, and to take from Him liberty, to affirm that He is infinite in wisdom, infinite in goodness, infinite in justice, and infinite in power, so does He most constantly, most freely, most justly, and most wisely, bring that to pass which in his eternal counsel He has determined; if this, I say, be to take from God freedom, wisdom, and liberty, as ye do rail, I must confess myself a transgressor.” – pp. 145-6

“‘This’ (says he [Calvin, in On the Eternal Predestination of God]) ‘is to be holden without all controversy, that sin was ever hateful to God…  ‘That he is a God that would not iniquity,’ but rather in ordaining the fall of man, his end and purpose was good and most right, from the which the name of sin [He] abhors.  Howbeit, I say that so He has ordeined the fall of man, that I utterly deny Him to be the author of sin.’

Let the indifferent reader judge with equity, if justly we be accused of that blasphemy which so openly we abhor.  But yet in the same book, he brings forth a testimony of Augustine, who thus writes:

‘These be the great workes of God’ (says Augustine) ‘brought to pass in all his wills: and so wisely brought to pass, that while the nature of angel and man had sinned, that is, had done not that which He, that is, God, would, but that which the self (meaning the creature) would; yet, not the less, by the same will of the creature by the which that was done which the Creator would not, did He fulfill that which He would.  He, being infinitely good, using well those things that were evil, to the damnation of them whom He justly had appointed to pain, and to the salvation of those whom mercifully He had Predestinate to grace. Insofar as to them pertained, they did the thing which God would not; but as appertaining to God’s omnipotency, they might by no means have done that, for even in that that they did against the will of God, the will of God was done in them: and therefore great are the works of the Lord (brought to pass in all his wills), that, by a wondrous and unspeakable manner, that thing should not be done without his will, that yet is done against his will; for it should not be done if He did not suffer it.  And of a truth, He suffered it not unwillingly, but willingly.’

And a little before, Saint Augustine says:

‘It is not to be doubted but that God does well, permitting those things to be done which are evil; for He suffered not this but in his just judgement.  Albeit therefore that these things which be evil, insofar as they are evil, are not good; yet, nevertheless, it is good that not only good things but also that evil things be; for if that this were not good that evil things should be, by no means should they be permitted to be by the Omnipotent Good, to whom, no doubt, it is alike easy, not to suffer the thing which He will not to be, as to do that thing which He will.  Except we believe this, the beginning of our faith is endangered, by the which we profess ourselves to believe in God the Father Almighty.'” – pp. 170-1

“First, you say, seeing God suffered them with greate patience, He is sorry for them.  Here, I say, in your first foundation lies your error; and the cause thereof is that altogether ye are ignorant of God’s nature, in whom neither falls such sufferance, such pacience, nor such sorow.  Painful passions as you grossely imagine.  God is omnipotent, and is compelled to suffer nothing which He has not appointed in His eternal counsel: He is a Spirit and free from all such passions as creatures be subject unto; for in his eternal Godhead there is neither patience subject to pain, neither yet sorow annexed with anguish and grief.

But when such passions be attributed unto God, it is for the weakness of our understanding that the Holy Ghost does subject Himself in language and tongue to our capacitie.  Ye take liberty to yourself, in diverse other phrases, to explain them as you please, yea, even against the plain Scripture.  And why will ye not permit that such phrases be so understood, as nothing be judged upon God’s Majesty which doth not agree with his godly nature?” – pp. 192-3

“I have before said that God neither has pleasure in destruction, neither yet that He will the death of the sinner absolutely, that is, having none other respect but to their torment and pain only.” – p. 195

“Ye will not easily admitt that Servetus be convicted of blasphemy, for if so be, ye must be compelled to confess (except that ye will refuse God) that the sentence of death executed against him was not cruelty, neither yet that the judges who justly pronounced that sentence were murderers nor persecutors, but that this death was the execution of God’s judgement, and they the true and faithful servants of God, who, when no other remedy was found, did take away iniquity from amongst them.  That God has appointed death by his Law, without mercy, to be executed upon the blasphemers, is evident by that Lev. 24…

For this present, I say, first, that Servetus, whom you justify, did maintain, and, by word and writing, dispersed abroad, wicked and most devilish opinions of God, which might not onely make his Godhead to be despised, but also called in doubt and question.  He judged those things nothing necessary to salvation which Christ has commanded and ordained.  And last, that impugning the true religion, he did most obstinately maintain his diabolical errors, and did resist the plain truth to the death.  His erroneous opinions of God and of his eternal Godhead were these:

[1.] Whosoever beleves any Trinity in the essence of God, has not the perfect God, but gods imagined, and illusion of Devils.

2. That Christ is the Son of God, only insofar as He is begotten of God in the womb of the Virgin, and that not only by the power of the Holy Spirit, but because that God begat him of his own substance.

3. (These be the detestable errors of Johan of Kent [d. 1550]) That the Word of God descending from the Heaven is now the flesh of Christ, so that the flesh of Christ is from the Heaven.  Further, that the body of Christ is the body of the Godhead, the flesh of God, godly and heavenly, as it that is begotten of the substance of God.

4. That the soul of Christ is God, and that the flesh of Christ is God, and that as well the flesh as the soul were in the very substance of the Godhead from all eternity.

5. That God is the Father of the Holy Ghost.

6. That Christ having the participation of the Godhead or of God, and participation of man, may not be called a creature, but one that does participate with creatures.

7. As the Word descended into the flesh of Christ, so did the Holy Ghost descend into the souls of the Apostles. (The adversaries look also to be Christs at length)

8. That Christ, so long as He was conversant in the flesh, received not the new Spirit which He was to receive after his resurrection.

9. That in all men, from the beginning, is ingrafted the Spirit of the Godhead, even by the breath of God, and yet may the Spirit, by the which we be illuminated, be extinguished.

10. (The present error of the Anabaptists) That the substantial Godhead is in all creatures.  That the soul of man, although it be not God, it is made God by the Spirit, which is God Himself.

11. That the soul is made mortal by sin, even as the flesh is mortal; not that the soul returns to nothing, as neither does the flesh, but that it dies when that it is deprived of lively action.

12. And that it is holden in hell languishing, as that it should never after live; but these that be regenerated have another soul than that they had before, because of the substance which is renewed, and for the Godhead which is joined.

13. That alike it is to baptize an infant, as to baptize an ass or a stone.

14. That there is no mortal sin committed before the age of twenty years.” – p. 224, 226-7

“We say, the man is not persecuted for his conscience that, declining from God, blaspheming his Majesty, and contemning his religion, obstinately defends erroneous and false doctrine.  This man, I say, lawfully convicted, if he suffer the death pronounced by a lawful magistrate, is not persecuted (as in the name of Servetus ye furiously complain) but he suffers punishment according to God’s commandment, pronounced in Deuteronomy, the 13th chapter.” – p. 231

“…yet have the Elect neither life nor reconciliation but by Christ Jesus; yea, and that by the means of his death and passion, by the which just payment and satisfaction is made to God’s justice for their sins; and so are they reconciled, who by nature are the enemies to God.

We do not deny but that Christ’s death is sufficient for to redeem the sins of the whole world, but because all do not receive it with faith, which is the free gift of God, given to the chosen children, therefore abide the unfaithful in just condemnation.” – p. 250

“(The Anabaptists hold that the elect may fall from their election) The chief proposition which ye maintain to the end of this your book is that the elect may fall from their election.  To the which I answer that if ye understand that those whom God the Father has elected in his eternal counsel to life everlasting in Christ Jesus, may so fall from their election that finally they perish; if this (I say) be your understanding, then I fear not to affirm that proposition to be utterly false, erroneous, and damnable, as it does expressedly repugn to God’s plain Scriptures; for Christ Jesus does affirm that so many as his Father has given to Him shall come unto Him. And to such as do come, He promises life everlasting; which He has in Himself for the salvation of his flock, whereof none shal perish, for furth of his hands can none be pulled away.

Thereafter ye allege that such as be sanctified may after dishonor the Spirit of grace, tread down the blood of the testament, and so draw to damnation.  I answer:  The cause of your error is that ye make no difference betwixt the sanctification and lively faith which is proper only to the sons of God, which once begun is perpetual, and that sanctification and faith which is common to the reprobate, and therefore it is but temporal.

If this distinction displeases you, quarel with the Holy Ghost and not with us, for of his plain works and words evident have we received it.  For all Israel were sanctified to be the kingly priesthood, all were circumcised, yea, and did drink of the spiritual drink, and yet were they not all inwardly sanctified unto salvation and life everlasting…  We do not deny but that the reprobate have some manner of faith, and some sort of sanctification for a time; that is, that they are compelled even by the impire of the Spirit of God, to confess and acknowledge that all things spoken in God’s Scriptures are true; and that therefore their conscience, in a fear and terror, do seek some means to please God, for the avoiding of his vengeance.  For as this is neither the true faith justifying, neither yet the perfect sanctification of the Spirit of God which renews the elect in the inward man; so does neither of both long continue: for they returning to their natural profanation and darkness, do leave the way of light and life, and draw themselves to death and damnation.” – pp. 254-5

“But it appears to me that your doubt is either, to wit, Whether God bestows his great and rich talents upon the reprobate?  For if so He should do, ye affirm that He bestows them in vain, meaning to receive no fruit of them.  That God bestows great talents upon the very reprobate, the Scriptures manifestly do witness; to speak nothing of life, reason, corporal health, riches, and honors, which the reprobate in greatest abundance do possess.  Does not Christ witness that many shall cry, “Lord, in thy name we have prophesied, we have cast out devils, and in thy name have we done many wonderous works”, and yet shall Christ answer, “I never knew you.” – p. 257

“Ye oght to have made a difference betwixt those seven congregations [in Rev. 2-3] where Christ Jesus had been preached and received, and the rest of the world which then remained, or after was to remain in blindness and error; for to those that have by public profession consolations, and received Christ Jesus, be they elect or be they reprobate, do appertain exhortations, threatening, the doctrine of repentance, consolation, prophesying and revelation of things to come; but to those that yet remain manifest enemies of the truth, appertain only the common calling to embrace the truth, with the threatning of destruction if they continue unfaithful.  And therefore because these former congregations (as said is) had professed themselves to be of God’s household, they were entreated as his domestical servants.” – p. 270

“For what other cause can we assign that God so lovingly did often call to repentance the people of Israel, so often offending from the days of Moses unto the coming of Christ Jesus, that He sent unto them prophets to exhort, to rebuke, and to declare the estate of things to come;” – p. 271

If God gave Cain no power to subdue his lust, who was the author of his sin?  I answer, Cain himself: for he was not like to a dead and unsensible sword, as ye adduce the similitude, but he was a reasonable instrument infected by the venom of Satan; from the which, he not being purged, could do nothing but serve the Devil and his own lusts against God’s expressed will and commandement.  I have before proved that God is the cause of no man’s damnation, but sin in which they are fallen is the very cause which all reprobates do find in themselves.” – pp. 283-4

“…for albeit that none can be both blessed and cursed, loved and hated all at once, in that degree of love or of hatred which God freely bears in Christ to his elect, and most justly hates the reprobate, for the causes known to His wisdom; yet in another sort, it is no repugnancy to say that God both blesses and loves in bestowing temporal benedictions, upon such as in his eternal counsel He has rejected, and therefore hates.  As it is no repugnancie to say that God both blesses and loves his elect children, even when most severely He does chasten and punish them.” – pp. 284-5

“But that they are permitted in the same finally, and without redemption to perish, that we constantly deny, for impossible it is that the lively members shall lack participation with the head.  Imposible it is that Christ’s death shall lack his effect, which is the life of those that of his Father are committed to his charge, of whom impossible it is that any shal perish.  For the number of our brethren must be complete; neither yet does it hereof follow that exhortations and admonitions be superfluous and vain, for they are the means which the wisdom of God knows to be most necessary to stir up our dull senses, which always be ready to lie in a certain security.” – p. 300

“…only I must complain that maliciously and most impudently ye wrest our words and pervert our mindes.  And for the probation [proving] thereof, I say, that ye are never able to show in any of our writings the words and sentences which in this place ye affirm us to say.  Ye be never able (I say) to prove that we have written or taught that God by his revealed will, will[s] all men to be saved, and yet by his secret will, He wills many to be damned:  That by his revealed will, He wills no wickedness, but by his secret will, He will[s] Pharaoh to be hard hearted, Shemei to curse David, the Patriarchs to sell their brother Joseph.  That by his reveled will, He would not that Adam should fall, but by his secret will, He wills Adam to fall.

These propositions, I say, you be never able to show in our writings, neither yet to prove that our doctrine did or does tend to that end.  For we constantly affirm that God revealed unto us his most holy and most just will in his plain and holy Scriptures, which do assure us that a separation shall be made betwixt the goats and the lambs…

None of all these, I say, do we cast upon God’s secret will, as ye falsely accuse us; but we do constantly affirm that His will is so plainly revealed in these maters, that such as shall deny any of them to have been God’s will, cannot escape abnegation of his eternal verity.  And further, we say that the fall of man is plainly revealed unto us, not only by experience, but even by that same law which was imposed on him shortly after his creation, the transgression whereof made Adam and all his posterity criminal and guilty to God’s justice, and that neither against God’s will revealed, neither yet against his secret will; for by his will revealed can no man further conclude but this, that in what day soever Adam should eat of the fruit forbidden, that he should die the death.  But Adam, against God’s commandment, did eat, and therefore did he justly underly the sentence of death…

…for we do not affirm that we do know the fall of man by God’s secret will, but by his will manifestly reveled unto us by his holy Scriptures.  Or more plainly to answer your reasons, which you think invincible, we say, that that will which was secret in God before all time, was revealed to man in time by his own Word, and that from time to time the same became more manifest, as Saint Paul witnesses in these words:

‘To me, the least of all saintes, is given this favor (or grace), that I should preach amongst the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ: That I should bring forth to light before all men, what is the communion of the mystery which was hid from all ages in God, who has made all things by Christ Jesus: that the manifest wisdom of God may now be notified to principates and powers in heavenly things by the church, according to the fore-appointment of the ages which he had made in Christ Jesus our Lord.’

…And as those things were sometime secret, but now are manifest, reveled, and known, so likewise was the fall of man, and the redemption which comes by Christ Jesus, sometime secret in the eternal counsel of God, but now is most manifestly preached and declared by Christ Jesus, and by his holy apostles.” – pp. 304-7

“…that by the Word of God we know that God has a secret will whereby he works all that pleases Him in heaven and in earth; and that also He has reveled unto us so much as is profitable for us to know, either yet necessary for our salvation.

For the which we praise His eternal goodnes and infinite wisdom; and do affirm further (as before we have said) that such as stand not content with that which is revealed, but arrogantly list to mount up to search the secrets of God’s counsel, shall be beaten down again by the brightness of his glory to eternal confusion, in a just recompence of their presumptuous boldness.” – pp. 312-3

“[The Adversary said:] ‘Can you prove thereby that God has two wills? or is that which is not reveled contrary to that which is revealed?  Then should there be contrariety in God, which is false.  If God, in respect of his revealed will, would not that Adam should fall, but in respect of his secret will, He would Adam should fall; then did God will two contraries, which is impossible.’

These be your words and several reasons most blasphemously spoken, not against us, but against God’s eternal wisdom.  Against us (I say) ye cannot speak them, for no such doctrine have we ever taught.  For we most constantly affirm that the secret will of God and his will reveled is always one, which is the manifestation and declaration of his own glory, although it seem diverse in the instruments, as before I have most manifestly declared.” – p. 313

“First, you ask, If God have two wills, by reason that He has a secret will and a reveled will?  I answer that as God in his eternal Godhead is simple and one, so is his will in respect of Himself from all beginning simple and one, which is the declaration of his own glory.  But because the instruments (in which God’s glory is and must be forever manifested and known) be diverse, therefore has God’s will, which in Himself is one, diverse considerations, effects, and ends, in respect of the diverse instruments.

For example, God will[s] the vessels of his mercies to be extolled to the glory of the kingdom with Christ Jesus, but He will[s] the vessels of wrath to be adjudged to the fire unquenchable, prepared for the Devil and all his angels.  Who does not see, but in respect of these diverse instruments, the will of God has diverse respects and diverse ends, and justly may be called two wills, or a double will?  For it is one will to save, and another will to condemne, as touching the instruments and creatures saved or condemned.  But in respect of God, the will is one and simple, which is, as before is said, the manifestation of his glory, which no less shines in the just punishment of the one sort than in the merciful deliverance of the other.  And this much for the first.

Secondly, ye ask, If that which is not revealed be contrary to that which is reveled?  To the which I answer as before, that in respect of God, there is no contrariety betwixt the will revealed and the will unrevealed.” – p. 314

“But yet to come more nigh to the matter: I deny that justly you can conclude any contrariety to be in God, albeit that to Adam he said, ‘Thou shall not eat,’ and yet in his eternal counsel He had determined that Adam should eat; neither yet (I say) can you be able to prove that He spoke one thing and willed the contrary, because He pronounced this sentence: ‘In whatsoever day thou shalt eat of this tree, thou shalt die the death,’ but rather we may most assuredly conclude that both the precept, and the penalty threatened to ensue the violation of it, was a plain and manifest declaration what before was concluded in God’s eternal counsel, as also that they were the means, by the which the secret will and good purpose of God took effect amongst men and was notified unto the world; for if God had not before appointed the fall and the remedy for the same, He had not imposed upon him a law, the transgression whereof should bring death; but should have suffered him to live without such fear and bondage, as we shall do when victory shall be given over death, which is the sting of sin, and over sin also which had his power by the law.  And therefore, I say, that God’s commandement forbiding Adam to eat, and the punishment of death denounced, if he did eat, were nothing contrary to his secret will: but were the very ways appointed by his infinite wisdom, by the which He had determined that his secret will concerning the mystery of man’s redemption should be notified and put in execution.” – pp. 318-9




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