Calvin on No Mere Permission

1. No mere “permission”! From other passages, in which God is said to draw or bend Satan himself, and all the reprobate, to his will, a more difficult question arises. For the carnal mind can scarcely comprehend how, when acting by their means, he contracts no taint from their impurity, nay, how, in a common operation, he is exempt from all guilt, and can justly condemn his own ministers. Hence a distinction has been invented between doing and permitting because to many it seemed altogether inexplicable how Satan and all the wicked are so under the hand and authority of God, that he directs their malice to whatever end he pleases, and employs their iniquities to execute his judgements. The modesty of those who are thus alarmed at the appearance of absurdity might perhaps be excused, did they not endeavour to vindicate the justice of God from every semblance of stigma by defending an untruth. It seems absurd that man should be blinded by the will and command of God, and yet be forthwith punished for his blindness. Hence, recourse is had to the evasion that this is done only by the permission, and not also by the will of God. He himself, however, openly declaring that he does this, repudiates the evasion. That men do nothing save at the secret instigation of God, and do not discuss and deliberate on any thing but what he has previously decreed with himself and brings to pass by his secret direction, is proved by numberless clear passages of Scripture.

The manner and the end are different, but still the fact is, that he cannot attempt anything without the will of God. But though afterwards his power to afflict the saint seems to be only a bare permission, yet as the sentiment is true, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; as it pleased the Lord, so it has been done,” we infer that God was the author of that trial of which Satan and wicked robbers were merely the instruments.

Institutes. Calvin, John. The John Calvin Collection: 12 Classic Works (Kindle Locations 3529-3537). . Kindle Edition.

One comment

  1. Thank you Christopher!
    I think this is a huge “achilles heel” for Calvinists today.
    They don’t have “mere” permission in their system – and yet they need it.

    When one lacks physical attributes such as clear skin or accentuated eyes, one has recourse to cosmetics.

    “Mere” permission is a conceptual attribute that the Calvinist doesn’t have – by demand of his theology. However, Calvinists in their attempts to remove the AUTHOR OF EVIL “stigma” draw extensive recourse in the use of cosmetic language – in order to manufacture cosmetic representations of “mere” permission into their statements.

    In this way the Calvinist can have his cake and eat it. He can reject “mere” permission as semi-heretical – and when needed manufacture cosmetic representations of it within his statements. And often craft his language so subtly – the recipient is unaware of the ruse.

    What is the tell-tale sign the Calvinist is using cosmetic language to paint a picture of “mere” permission?

    He carefully crafts language which is logically consistent with it – yet without actually stating it. The recipient is guaranteed to find these statements acceptable – without realizing the reason he finds them acceptable is because they are consistent with “mere” permission.

    Take John Piper for example:
    “God has the ability to stop anything from happening that might happen”

    Notice how this statement is consistent with the concept that God “merely” permits the things Piper is talking about to happen. God could stop them if he wanted to – but he doesn’t.

    But it becomes irrational in a world where ALL things are RENDERED-CERTAIN – and what is RENDERED-CERTAIN cannot be stopped.

    This is an elegant example of cosmetic language where “mere” permission is conceptually painted onto the face of Calvinism – and most recipients will be mislead by it!

    Piper continues:
    “So, whether he PERMITS or causes a thing directly, he wills it because he ALLOWS it to happen or brings it about himself.

    Notice how this language is carefully crafted to provide HINTS of “mere” permission. God may “permit” or “allow” something “or” he may “cause” it or “bring it about”. Here the language carefully leaves room for “mere” permission.

    Just like mascara is carefully crafted to provide HINTS of thick eye lashes and blush is carefully crafted to provide HINTS of radiant skin. Calvinist language is carefully crafted to provide HINTS of “mere” permission.

    Because without it – the average Christian will not find this theology at all appealing.

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