You shall shall know them by their fruits

An Example of John Calvin 
Answering Objections to his Theology

In reading some of Calvin's writings I was appalled at the degree of abusive language he used in defaming his opponents. Such a debating tactic is rather lame, yet commonly used by those who have little rationally to say to defend their position. But though Calvin's theological position is weak you would think that as a respected Christian of his day he would at least have the decency in controlling his tongue to some extend and not simply rely on insults to win his argument.

The following are some Excepts from "CALUMNIES OF A CERTAIN FELLOW AGAINST THE DOCTRINE OF JOHN CALVIN ON THE SECRET  PROVIDENCE OF GOD, WITH CALVIN’S REPLIES". The first is a presentation by an anonymous author against Calvinism. The author wisely chose to remain anonymous as Calvinists and Calvin in particular had a reputation for having their opponents quite literally put to death. (See also the Murder of Servetus)

You'll have to excuse the lengthiness of the arguments as they were produced in the 1500's, long before the age of the "sound bite", and even so  I'm only quoting a short section from the whole.

Argument Against Calvin's Theology

The following are a couple of points of Calvinistic Theology to which the anonymous author will argue agains:
We sin necessarily by the design of God,
when we sin by our own, or by chance.

The wickedness which men perpetrate by their own volition,
proceeds also from the volition of God.

Now the author presents his argument against these Calvinist ideas:

Against the thirteenth and fourteenth, they (Calvinists) argue in this way. If we sin necessarily, all admonitions are in vain. In vain are the people admonished by Jeremiah, “I set before you the way of life and death. Whoever shall remain in this city, shall die by the sword, by famine, or pestilence: but he who flees to the Chaldeans shall live.” These things, I say, were declared to them in vain, if it were as impossible for them to flee to the Chaldeans, as to swallow a mountain. Now if Calvin shall say, that precepts are given for the purpose of rendering men inexcusable, we reply that this is futile. For if you command your son to eat a rock, and he do it not, he is no more inexcusable after the injunction than before. In the same way if God say to me do not steal, and I steal necessarily, and I can no more abstain from stealing, than I can eat a rock, I am nor more inexcusable after the precept than before, nor more excusable, before the precept than after. In fine, if Calvin’s opinion is true, a man is inexcusable even before the precept; so that there is no occasion for a precept to ensure that inexcusableness. For if the wicked man is reprobate, before he is wicked, that is, before he exists, viz., from Eternity, and so sins necessarily, he is already inexcusable, and condemned before the precept, which is against all laws divine and human. For all laws condemn a man after the crime, and on account of the crime. But that God of Calvin condemned and reprobated the wicked before they existed, not to say before they were wicked, or had sinned; and because he condemned them before they sinned, he compels them to sin, that he may appear, forsooth, to have condemned them justly. In fine, Calvin, they here contrast your God, and theirs in this way.

A false God is slow to mercy, prone to anger, creating the greatest part of the world for destruction, and predestinating them not only to damnation, but to the cause of damnation. Therefore he decreed from eternity, and still determines, and brings it about, that they should sin necessarily, so that neither thefts, nor adulteries, nor homicides are committed, except by his will and impulse. For he suggests to them wicked and base affections, not only permissively but efficaciously, and hardens them; so that while they live impiously, they do God’s work rather than their own, and cannot do otherwise. He make Satan a liar; so that it is no longer Satan, but the God of Calvin, who is the father of lies, as he has often one thing in his mouth, and another in his heart.

But the God whom nature and reason, and Scripture proclaim is evidently opposed to the other, for he is prone to mercy, and slow to anger. He created the common father of all in his own image, like himself, that he might place him in paradise, and endow him with a blessed existence. This God wishes all to be saved, and none to perish; and therefore sent his Son to earth, whose righteousness more than abounded where sin abounded, and the light of whose righteousness illumines every man that comes into the world, while he exclaims, “Come unto me all ye that labor, and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” He suggests good and honorable affections, and frees men from the necessity of sinning into which they had cast themselves by disobedience, and heals all manner of sickness and disease among the people, so that he never denied a favor to any one that besought him.

Now this God comes to destroy the works of that Calvinistic God, and to turn him out of doors. And these two Gods as they are by nature contrary to one another, so they beget children equally unlike. The one produces children who are merciless, proud, savage, envious, sanguinary, false, thinking one thing, and speaking another, impatient, malicious, seditious, contentious, ambitious, avaricious, lovers of pleasure, more than lovers of God; in a word, filled with all bad and vile affection, which their Father himself inspires them. But the other God produces men, who are merciful, modest, meek, benevolent, beneficent, abhorring blood, open, speaking truth from the fullness of the heart, patient, benign, placable, peaceable, abhorring quarrels and strife, despisers of honor, liberal, lovers of God, more than the lovers of pleasure; in fine filled with all good and honorable affections, which their own Father inspires them with.

Such are the things, Oh Calvin, which your adversaries allege respecting your doctrine; and they advise men to judge of the doctrine by the fruit. Now they affirm that you and your disciples, bring forth many of the fruits of your God; for that you are generally litigious, eager for vengeance, tenacious and mindful of an injury, and tainted with the other vices which your Father inspires. But if any should say that this is not the fault of the doctrine which is sound, and does not produce such men; they reply that it does produce such men, which is evident from the fact, that many who have adopted that creed, are become such, while formerly they were not so wicked. Whereas those who believe the doctrine of Christ become better; but they say that your doctrine evidently makes men worse.

Besides, when you maintain that you have sound doctrine, they reply that you are not to be believed. For if your God very often says one thing, and thinks and wills another, there is reason to fear that in imitation of your God, you are doing the same thing, and deceiving men.

It is true, I have at one time been rather fond of your doctrine, and have defended it though it has not been altogether satisfactory to me: because I have attributed much to your authority, us to imagine it unlawful even to think anything in opposition to it. But now that I have listened to the arguments of your adversaries I have nothing to reply. Your disciples doubtless attempt a reply, and among their own partisans, loudly boast of the truth; but when they close with your adversaries, they waver, and seek a poor protection in your books. For your reasons are obscure, and are almost entirely of the sort, which fall out of the memory, as soon as the book is laid aside, and yield no conviction to opposers. Whereas the arguments of your adversaries, are clear, keen, easily remembered and apprehensible by the illiterate — the very description of men who chiefly followed Christ. Hence it happens that your disciples, in general, lean more on your authority, than on reason. And when they cannot refute their opponents, they regard them as heretics, and obstinate persons, withdraw from their society and warn all to do the same. Now, as it is in my opinion, that we should attend to what is said, and not to the person speaking, so I judge that all must be heard, and everything proved, that what is good may be held first.

Wherefore, Oh Calvin, if you have any true, plain, solid arguments, by which the adversaries may be repelled, I entreat you to publish them for the defense of the truth. You know what is written, “a mouth and a wisdom shall be given you, which none shall be able to resist.” For my part, wherever I can lay hold of truth, I am prepared to follow; as well as to exhort others to do the same. But if by chance you are mistaken, I beseech you, Calvin, give glory to God. That will be more honorable to you, than to persevere in error. If you are just and true, I do not think I need entertain any fears about your indignation, on account of this epistle. In the first place, because it belongs to you to be informed of these things; and in the next place, because if you feel (as you say,) that all things come to pass necessarily, you will believe also that it was impossible, that this letter should not have been written by me. Farewell.

While the author's argument would no doubt be offensive to Calvin yet now compare it with Calvin's reply, the majority of which contains nothing more that insults.


What you mean in the last article but one, I no more understand, than if you intended to confound human apprehension by magical mutterings. For what is it to sin by chance? And who, except yourself has conjured up such monsters? I have said somewhere, that those things which seem to happen by chance, are governed by the secret Providence of God. Who will allow you to infer from this that sin is fortuitous? And then as for what is found in my writings, did it originate, with me? Or has it not rather God for its author? If the hatchet of a man cutting the branches of a tree, fall and wound the head of a passenger, will you regard this as a matter of chance? But the Holy Spirit, by Moses declares that such a man is slain by God. Will you say that God, like one drunk, deals his blows at random, right and left, without discrimination?

Now if you fancy that men sin without the knowledge of God, how will God judge the world? And if the transactions of the world escape his notice, how will he have the advantage of mortals? Because I maintain that God is perfectly aware of the sins of men, you go so far in your frenzy, as to accuse him of framing a false God. If I should grant you what you demand, that God is ignorant of sin, what kind of God pray you will he be? And will you still boast that the people are with you, when depriving God of intelligence, and dignifying him with the same title that Lucretius did his images, you fabricate a dead idol in his place?

As to your argument that teaching is superfluous, precepts useless, admonitions vain, upbraiding and threats absurd, if men sin necessarily; if Augustine’s book to Valentinus, “Concerning Corruption and Grace,” a work expressly devoted to this subject, is not sufficient to dissipate these objections, you are unworthy to hear a word from me. As my refutation of Pighius, and your master Servetus, in regard to this calumny, is quite satisfactory to all reasonable and candid readers, I will now merely return this brief answer to your boasting. If you will allow God to command nothing, that man has not power to obey, God will make it plain enough, when he shall place you at his tribunal, that he made no vain assertion by the mouth of his apostle, when he declined that to be impossible to the law, which he himself performed by his own grace. ( Romans 8:1.) It is certain that a perfect righteousness is exhibited in the law, which would be prepared and set forth to all, if our strength were adequate to yield obedience to the commands of God. now Paul declares it was impossible to attain to righteousness by the law. What dispute then have you on this point with Calvin? If you steal necessarily, you suppose that you are no less excusable, after the precept than before. Paul, on the contrary, when he confesses that he was sold under sin, at the same time freely explains, that the law worketh wrath, because the shield of necessity is in vain held forth, when every man is convicted by his conscience of voluntary malignity. Tell me, when the book was in your hand, of late years, for the purpose of stealing wood, to warm your house, was it not your own will that prompted you to steal? If this alone suffice for your just condemnation, that knowingly and willingly you snatched at a base and wicked gain, by your neighbor’s loss, you may rave as you please about necessity, without being in the least justly acquitted. As to your objection, that no one is justly condemned, unless on account of crime, and after crime, I have no quarrel with you on the former point, since I everywhere teach that no one perishes, except by the just judgment of God. At the same time I may not dissemble that a secret venom lurks in your language; for if the similitude you propose is admitted, God will be unjust for involving the whole family of Abraham, in the guilt of original sin.

You deny that is it lawful for God to condemn any man, except on account of actual sin. Innumerable infants are, to this day hurried out of life. Discharge now your virulence against God, for precipitating into eternal death innocent babes torn from their mother’s breasts. Whosoever detests not this blasphemy, when it is openly detected, may curse me to his heart’s content. For I have no right to demand exemption from the railings of those who spare not the Almighty himself.

As to the latter point, do you not see how offensive is your loquacity. For even your master Servetus, and Pighius, and such like dogs, would say at least, that those were condemned before the creation of the world, whom God foreknew to be worthy of death. You, forsooth, will not allow him to doom any one to eternal death, till such time as he becomes obnoxious to earthly judges, by the actual perpetration of crime. Hence let the reader learn how prodigious must be that frenzy, which unhesitatingly subverts by jeer and banter, the whole course of divine justice.

It remains that I vindicate the glory of the true and eternal God, from your sacrilegious revileings. You loudly charge me with thrusting the Devil into the place of the true God. My defense is brief and easy. As all my writings clearly testify, that I had no other design, than that the whole world, should piously and holily devote itself to God; and that all should cultivate in good conscience true righteousness with each other; so my life is not inconsistent with my doctrine; nor will I be so unjust to the grace of God, as to compare myself with you, and those like you, whose innocence is nothing more than compliment and self-flattery. This only will I say, if any upright and fair judge should decide betwixt us, he would readily recognize reverence for God, both in my writings, and in my life; while everything proceeding from you, savors of nothing but mere burlesque upon religion.

Now, briefly to confound your calumnies, can anything surpass your want of principle in contending that God would be slow to mercy, and prone to anger, if he ordained the greater part of the world to eternal death? Beyond all question, fancy what kind of God you please, he alone is to be worshipped by all the pious; who, with the exception of the family of Abraham, suffered the whole human family to wander in fatal darkness, for more than twenty-five hundred years. If you charge him with cruelty, for determining that innumerable nations should be overwhelmed in death, while one family alone was distinguished by the life giving light; the answer is evident, that while the nations were spared from day to day, and the world was not swallowed up a hundred times in a year, just as often did God afford his illustrious displays of his patience. Nor in truth has Paul any hesitation in praising God’s lenity and long-suffering, even when he maintains, that the vessels of wrath were fitted for destruction, by his secret decree. If you are not satisfied with his testimony, I think I may safely despise your barking. For God needs no defense at my hand, but will sufficiently vindicate his own justice, although all impure tongues should emulously conspire to overshadow it. Wherefore, you and your gang, may hurl aloft your blasphemies as you please, to fall back again on your own heads. It is no hardship to me, patiently to endure your revilings, provided the God whom I serve is not reached; and I must be allowed to summon you to his tribunal, where he will in his own time appear, to avenge that doctrine, which in my person you furiously oppose.

Readers of any discernment will appreciate the value of your discourse, about the nature of the true God, when they observe that in all inquiry upon the subject, you make common sense the starting point. the existence of God is true was admitted by all nations and ages; since the principle and seed of this knowledge, was naturally implanted in the mind of man. But how shall reason define what God is, when with all her perspicacity, she can do nothing but turn the truth of God into a lie, thereby adulterating all the knowledge and light of true faith and religion? The Holy Spirit commands us to become fools, if we would be disciples of the heavenly doctrine; inasmuch as the natural man is unable to receive or taste ought of it. You on the other hand would have the human faculty decided on the mysteries of God; and reason, which in its blindness, utterly extinguishes the divine glory, you not only set up as a guide and mistress, but presume to prefer to Scripture itself. So that, it is not wonderful if you allow the most opposite religions to be promiscuously confounded; esteeming the Turk steeped in the dreams of Mahomet, and adoring, I know not what, unknown divinity, no less a worshiper of the true God, than the Christian, who with the unwavering faith of the Gospel, calls on the Father of our Redeemer. Now, although so many indirect jeers at all the first principles of our faith do not aloud declare that you are the open, earnest patron of the infidels, yet your object was, by palliating the superstitions of all nations, to subvert the religion of the sacred oracles of the true God. From that reason doubtless, which is the mother of all errors, has sprung that God of yours, who indiscriminately resolves that all shall be saved. As if forsooth, the word election which occurs so often in the Scriptures, had absolutely no meaning; when the law, the prophets, and the Gospel, everywhere proclaim, that they are called and enlightened to salvation, who were chosen in God’s eternal counsel before the foundation of the world; and unambiguously declare that the foundation and cause of life, is the free love of God, which embraced not all, but whom he pleased. What do you gain by a hundred railings on the other side? You bewilder the simple by raising a mist, about God wishing all to be saved. If this is inconsistent with that election, predestinated his own children to life, I demand why the way of salvation is not thrown open to all. That eulogium of the law is well known and celebrated, “behold I have this day set before you life and death.” If God determined to gather all without distinction into salvation, why did he not set life equally before all, instead of distinguishing but one nation by this prerogative; and that for no other reason, if we believe Moses, except his free favor for those, whom he chose for his own.

You say that Christ was divinely sent, in order that his righteousness might superabound wherever sin abounded. But this one word proves, that you came forth from beneath, at the prompting of Satan. You insolently deride Christ, while you seek to cover up every, the grossest, falsehood, in the colors of piety. For if the righteousness of Christ has superabounded, wherever sin abounded, the condition of Pilate or Judas, will be no worse than that of Peter or Paul. And though I should say nothing of Pilate, Paul denies that the righteousness of Christ, can be separated from the faith of the Gospel, (Ephesians 6:9.) Will you tell us what Gospel was in France, and other remote nations at the time when Christ lived on earth? What? Was God not the same before the coming of his Son? Why then did he seal up the treasure of salvation till the fullness of time? You must burst into laughter at Paul’s doctrine, about the mystery being hid before in God, which was revealed in the promulgation of the Gospel. And now that the sound of the Gospel is proclaimed, the righteousness of Christ comes to none but those, who receive it by faith. Now whence have you faith? If you answer by hearing; it is indeed true; but the hearing is not independent of the special revelation of the Spirit, Isaiah (Isaiah 53:1,) exclaims in surprise, at the fewness of those to whom the arm of the Lord is revealed; and when Paul restricts the gift of faith to the elect, he refers to that passage as evidence. You allow no distinction. Christ induced cries, “Come unto me all ye that labor,” but he also exclaims in another place, “no man comes to me, except the Father draw him.” Nor does he contradict himself, when inviting all without exception by the external voice, he yet declares that no man perceives anything, except as it is given him from heaven; and that none come to him except those who are given him by the Father.

Another passage you no less foully besmear, with your swinish snout; (John 1:4,) alleging that every man that comes into the world, is illuminated with the light of Christ’s righteousness. As if John did not add immediately after; “the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not;” intending to declare, that whatever reason and intelligence had been given to men at first, were suffocated and almost destroyed; and that the only remedy remaining, is the light which Christ bestows on the blind. It is no doubt true, that Christ denied mercy to none that asked it; but you do not reflect that vows and prayers are dictated by the Holy Spirit; nay that faith which is the fruit of gratuitous election, is the key which opens the gate to prayers.

While you are ignorant of these first principles, the denial of which reduces the gospel to a level with the rites of Proserpine and Bacchus, it is surprising that any called Christians should be found, entangling themselves with errors so enormous. As to your flippant insolence, about my disciples being like my God, cruel, envious, calumnious, proud, carrying one thing on their tongue, another in their heart, I will undertake to refute it not so much by word, as by fact. As I have no delight in evil speaking, let your crimes remain unnoticed by me; except that I am at liberty, and it is worth while, to testify before God to this one thing, that although I have fed you in my house, I never beheld a man prouder, more deceitful, or more destitute of humanity than yourself. That man is without all judgment, who does not perceive you to be, at once an imposter, an abandoned cynic in your impudence, and a buffoon avowedly scoffing at religion. I would fain know in what you accuse me of barbarity; unless possibly you refer to your master Servetus; yet the judges themselves, two of whom were his zealous patrons, are witnesses to the fact of my having interceded in his behalf. But enough of myself, and more than enough.

What fruits my doctrine produces, not only in this city, but wide and far through many lands, I leave for the consideration of all. From this school, which you so atrociously assail, God daily chooses victims, of the best and sweetest odor, to illustrate the doctrine of his Gospel. The students there, (of whom the number at least is respectable,) exemplify a painful abstinence, and yet are conspicuous for patience and gentleness; or discarding former luxuries, they are forward and contented in the practice of frugality. Denying themselves and the world, they all aspire to the hope of a blessed immortality. But because it is inexpedient for me to boast, let the Lord answer for me, by those displays of his favor, which he has given in behalf of that doctrine, which is vain assailed by your foetid abuse. But I should like to be informed by you, respecting your character, when you favored this doctrine. You allege that it had not been sufficiently understood by you, in consequence of your being hampered by my authority, so that you held it unlawful to form any opposite opinion. You most assuredly have been too dull, not to comprehend in several years, what I both taught you familiarly at home, and so frequently expounded in your hearing in the public assembly.

Now there are many competent witnesses to prove, that although I failed in the various attempts I made to correct and cure your depravity of temper, yet so long as you kept up appearances with me, you were restrained as by a bridle; so that the cause of your alienation, may well seem to have been, that very licentiousness, which sought uncurbed, to break to the impiety in which you now glory.

You tell us you mind what is said, not who speaks. Would that you had brought yourself before this, candidly to profit by the labors of others, and thus to form a habit of docility. As it is, your only accomplishments being audacity and garrulity, you seek consequence for yourself, by despising others. For my part, I arrogate nothing to myself, but I think I have deserved this of the faithful servants of God, my authority should not be rendered odious. If you said that a few unlearned men hung on my nod, or were influenced by my reputation, you might give some color to your calumny; but now while you make it my fault, that illiterate men are displeased with my doctrine, who wills believe you that learned and ingenious men alone relish my books; nay that such men are held thunderstruck by mere authority, from forming an independent opinion? So far, as your authority goes then, nothing is proved that is not rendered plausible to the vulgar. And this, forsooth is the reason why you deter all from liberal learning; and to gain more disciples, boast to your followers, that all study is vain and frivolous, which is employed in philosophy, logic, and other arts, and even in theology itself. You object that the followers of Christ were of this character; as if there were any inconsistency between literature, and the Christian faith. Here let readers observe the difference between you and me. I maintain that the wisest men are blinded by their own pride, and never even taste the heavenly doctrine, till such time as they become fools, and commanding their own notions to be gone, devote themselves in meek simplicity to the obedience of Christ. For human reason is utterly undiscerning, and human acuteness stupid, in the mysteries of God. Therefore, I say that humility is the beginning of true wisdom; a humility that empties us of all carnal wisdom, so that faith may begin in reverence for divine mysteries. You invite illiterate men to come forward, and despising all learning, and inflated merely with the breath of arrogance, audaciously to decide on the mysteries of heaven; nor will you acknowledge any as legitimate arbiters, except those, who satisfied with common notions, stoutly reject whatever does not suit their fancy.

The Apostle Paul will easily answer another reproach, which you cast on my disciples, for they have his authority, for leaving you and such like heretics to yourselves; rather than by listening to you, voluntarily to pollute their ears with your blasphemies. You deny that such is the proper course, for that all should be heard. As if, indeed, there were no meaning in the command, to avoid a heretic who refuses to repent, after the second and third solemn admonition. If any man denied you a hearing, you would have some ground for complaint; but when you went away vanquished from the public assembly, at which you had full scope to babble, nay to which you had been summoned and almost dragged; what limit, pray, will there be, if pious ears must be always open, till your appetite for God-reviling may be satiated? You take no ordinary pleasure in ridiculing all pious principles. Would you have the sons of God so stupid, as either to be pleased with your insolence, or to listen unmoved to your sacrilegious reviling.

So far as the cause itself is concerned I am confident I have so answered you, that all judicious readers may easily discern, that this Spirit has not been withheld from me, to whom it belongs to grant amount and wisdom, which if you persist in resisting, you will betray an obstinacy equaled only by your disgrace. I shall not cease to wish and to pray, though I dare scarcely hope, that you may at length yield to manifest truth. As to your concluding cavil, that I have no reason to be provoked at your abuse, if I believe that your writing was necessary; it is indeed to my mind a serious and efficacious exhortation to self-possession, inasmuch as nothing is more useful, or better adapted, for bridling indignation, than David’s admonition, “let him curse for God has so commanded.” David, it is true, was well aware that Shimei was instigated by that same lust for railing, with which you now boil; but believing that the impetuous abuse, which the railer fancied himself uttering at random, was ordered by the secret Providence of God, the monarch is restrained by his religious convictions. For no man will ever endure with calm moderation, the assaults of the Devil and the wicked, who does not turn his thoughts from them to God alone.

May God quell thee, Satan! Amen!
GENEVA, 5th January, 1558.

It baffles me that Calvin can simply go into a tantrum like this and presume that somehow he's answered the objections to his theology. And yet I find this to be quite typical of Calvin's writings when he deals with objections. The main objection the anonymous author had here is also the main objection I also have against Calvinism, namely it's proposition that God holds people responsible for things they have no control over, for in such a case God would be unjust. But in between all the ranting and raving I think what Calvin is saying is yes he does in fact believe that God holds people responsible for things they have no control over, and yet God is just. It's illogical but Calvin deals with that fact by proposing we should become fools and accept such illogic, misapplying the 1Cor passage. It's a foolish argument from a foolish man from which was derived a foolish theology. Notice also the contrast between the clear presentation given by the anonymous author and the vagueness of Calvin's response. It's that vagueness, that unwillingness to present a clear and concise response, which I find very frustrating in Calvin's writings, in that it's very difficult to figure out what he's trying to say, and which has led to a great disparity of theology among those who claim to be "Calvinists". Even the TRANSLATOR’S PREFACE to the article noted "There has been recently, and still is, some difference in opinion as to what doctrines were really maintained by Calvin; and opposing controversialists have respectively appealed to his authority in defense of their own sentiments. A distinguished writer (Dr. Channing) has amused himself in imagining how the stern Reformer would look, were he to return to earth, on some calling themselves Calvinists, and how quickly he would tell them to begone to the camp of Arminius."

  • A Calvinist's Response

  • The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources