John Calvin on Common Grace

For nearly exhaustive documentation of John Calvin’s doctrine of Common Grace, see the 170 pages of quotes from his Institutes and commentaries in Herman Kuiper, Calvin on Common Grace (1928).

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Institutes of the Christian Religion

Book 1

Ch. 5.3

Paul, accordingly, after reminding the Athenians that they “might feel after God and find him,” immediately adds, that “he is not far from every one of us,” (Acts 17:27); every man having within himself undoubted evidence of the heavenly grace by which he lives, and moves, and has his being.

 

Ch. 8.1

Read Demosthenes or Cicero, read Plato, Aristotle, or any other of that class: you will, I admit, feel wonderfully allured, pleased, moved, enchanted; but turn from them to the reading of the Sacred Volume, and whether you will or not, it will so affect you, so pierce your heart, so work its way into your very marrow, that, in comparison of the impression so produced, that of orators and philosophers will almost disappear; making it manifest that in the Sacred Volume there is a truth divine, a something which makes it immeasurably superior to all the gifts and graces attainable by man.

 

Book 2

Ch. 2, Heading

The power of the intellect, secondly, with regard to the arts.  Particular gifts in this respect conferred on individuals, and attesting the grace of God.

 

Ch. 2.17

In that some excel in acuteness, and some in judgment, while others have greater readiness in learning some peculiar art, God, by this variety commends his favor toward us, lest anyone should presume to arrogate to himself that which flows from His mere liberality.  For whence is it that one is more excellent than another, but that in a common nature the grace of God is specially displayed in passing by many and thus proclaiming that it is under obligation to none.

 

Ch. 3.3

But we ought to consider, that, notwithstanding of the corruption of our nature, there is some room for divine grace, such grace as, without purifying it, may lay it under internal restraint.  For did the Lord let every mind loose to wanton in its lusts, doubtless there is not a man who would not show that his nature is capable of all the crimes with which Paul charges it.

 

Ch. 3.4

Still, the surest and easiest answer to the objection is, that those are not common endowments of nature, but special gifts of God, which He distributes in divers forms, and, in a definite measure, to men otherwise profane.  For which reason, we hesitate not, in common language, to say, that one is of a good, another of a vicious nature; though we cease not to hold that both are placed under the universal condition of human depravity. All we mean is that God has conferred on the one a special grace which He has not seen it meet to confer on the other.  When He was pleased to set Saul over the kingdom, He made him as it were a new man.

 

Book 3

Ch. 2.11

The reprobate believe God to be propitious to them, inasmuch as they accept the gift of reconciliation, though confusedly and without due discernment; not that they are partakers of the same faith or regeneration with the children of God; but because, under a covering of hypocrisy, they seem to have a principle of faith in common with them.  Nor do I even deny that God illumines their minds to this extent, that they recognize his grace; but that conviction He distinguishes from the peculiar testimony which He gives to his elect in this respect, that the reprobate never attain to the full result or to fruition.  When He shows himself propitious to them, it is not as if He had truly rescued them from death, and taken them under his protection. He only gives them a manifestation of his present mercy.  In the elect alone He implants the living root of faith, so that they persevere even to the end. Thus we dispose of the objection, that if God truly displays his grace, it must endure for ever.  There is nothing inconsistent in this with the fact of his enlightening some with a present sense of grace, which afterwards proves evanescent.

 

Ch. 2.12

As by the revolt of the first man, the image of God could be effaced from his mind and soul, so there is nothing strange in His shedding some rays of grace on the reprobate, and afterwards allowing these to be extinguished.

 

Ch. 24.15

God is undoubtedly ready to pardon whenever the sinner turns.  Therefore, He does not will his death, in so far as He wills repentance.  But experience shows that this will, for the repentance of those whom He invites to Himself, is not such as to make Him touch all their hearts.  Still, it cannot be said that He acts deceitfully; for though the external word only renders, those who hear it, and do not obey it, inexcusable, it is still truly regarded as an evidence of the grace by which He reconciles men to Himself.

 

 

Commentary on Deuteronomy 32:6

For, since the fall of Adam had brought disgrace upon all his posterity, God restores those, whom He separates as His own, so that their condition may be better than that of all other nations.  At the same time it must be remarked, that this grace of renewal is effaced in many who have afterwards profaned it.

 

 

Commentary on Psalm 107

But prosperity, and the happy issue of events, ought also to be attributed to his grace, in order that He may always receive the praise which He deserves, that of being a merciful Father, and an impartial Judge.  About the close of the psalm, He inveighs against those ungodly men who will not acknowledge God’s hand, amid such palpable demonstrations of his providence.

 

 

Commentary on Hebrews 

6:5

That God indeed favors none but the elect alone with the Spirit of regeneration, and that by this they are distinguished from the reprobate; for they are renewed after his image and receive the earnest of the Spirit in hope of the future inheritance, and by the same Spirit the Gospel is sealed in their hearts.  But I cannot admit that all this is any reason why He should not grant the reprobate also some taste of his grace, why He should not irradiate their minds with some sparks of his light, why he should not give them some perception of his goodness, and in some sort engrave his word on their hearts.

 

10:29

He is therefore rightly called the Spirit of grace, by whom Christ becomes ours with all his blessings.  But to do despite to Him, or to treat Him with scorn, by whom we are endowed with so many benefits, is an impiety extremely wicked. Hence learn that all who willfully render useless his grace, by which they had been favored, act disdainfully towards the Spirit of God.  It is therefore no wonder that God so severely visits blasphemies of this kind; it is no wonder that He shows himself inexorable towards those who tread under foot Christ the Mediator, who alone reconciles us to Himself; it is no wonder that he closes up the way of salvation against those who spurn the Holy Spirit, the only true guide.

 

 

Concerning the Eternal Predestination of Godp. 66

There are sons of God who do not yet appear so to us, but now do so to God; and there are those who, on account of some arrogated or temporal grace, are called so by us, but are not so to God.

 

 

Commentary on Psalm 145:9

Jehovah is good to all, etc. The truth here stated is of wider application than the former, for the declaration of David is to the effect, that not only does God, with fatherly indulgence and clemency, forgive sin, but is good to all without discrimination, as he makes his sun to rise upon the good and upon the wicked. (Matthew 5:45.) Forgiveness of sin is a treasure from which the wicked are excluded, but their sin and depravity does not prevent God from showering down his goodness upon them, which they appropriate without being at all sensible of it. Meanwhile believers, and they only, know what it is to enjoy a reconciled God, as elsewhere it is said, Come ye to him, and be ye enlightened, and your faces shall not be ashamed; taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:5, 8).  When it is added that the mercy of God extends to all his works, this ought not to be considered as contrary to reason, or obscure. Our sins having involved the whole world in the curse of God, there is everywhere an opportunity for the exercise of God’s mercy, even in helping the brute creation.

 

Commentary on Psalm 145:14

Jehovah upholding all the falling. He gives instances of the goodness and mercy of God, such as make it evident that God reigns only for the promotion of the general welfare of mankind. By the falling, and those who are bowed down, he means figuratively those who are overwhelmed by adversity, and would sink at once, were not God to extend his hand for their support. God, in short, has respect to the troubles of men, and helps such as are in distress, so that all ought not only to look upon his divine government with reverence, but willingly and cordially submit themselves to it. Another lesson taught us is, that none will be disappointed who seeks comfort from God in his affliction.

 

Commentary on Psalm 144:3

O Jehovah! what is man, etc. He amplifies the goodness shown by God by instituting a comparison. Having declared how singularly he had been dealt with, he turns his eyes inward, and asks, “Who am I, that God should show me such condescension? ” He speaks of man in general; only the circumstance is noticeable that he commends the mercy of God, by considering his lowly and abject condition. In other places he mentions grounds of humiliation of a more personal or private nature, here he confines himself to what has reference to our common nature; and though even in discussing the nature of man there are other reasons he might have specified why he is unworthy of the regard and love of God, he briefly adverts to his being like the smoke, and as a shadow. We are left to infer that the riches of the divine goodness are extended to objects altogether unworthy in themselves. We are warned, when apt at any time to forget ourselves, and think we are something when we are nothing, that the simple fact of the shortness of our life should put down all arrogance and pride. The Scriptures, in speaking of the frailty of man, comprehend whatever is necessarily connected with it. And, indeed, if our life vanish in a moment, what is there stable about us? We taught this truth also that we cannot properly estimate the divine goodness, unless we take into consideration what we are as to our condition, as we can only ascribe to God what is due unto him, by acknowledging that his goodness is bestowed upon undeserving creatures. The reader may seek for further information upon this point in the eighth Psalm, where nearly the same truth is insisted upon.

 

 

Related Pages

John Calvin on God’s Love for Mankind

John Calvin on the Fatherhood of God Over All People

John Calvin on the Sincere Free Offer of the Gospel