October 26, 2014
B. The Trinity Read the rest of this entry »
December 11, 2011
Appendix B:The Church & The State
Despite his apparent desire to be named as a bishop in America, Wesley did not say very much about the relationship of Church and State. However, he did have some words of criticism for John Calvin’s view of the relationship of Church and State:
I dare not insist upon any one’s using the word Trinity, or Person. …. I cannot: Much less would I burn a man alive, and that with moist, green wood, for saying, ” Though I believe the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God; yet I scruple using the words Trinity and Persons, because I do not find those terms in the Bible.” These are the words which merciful John Calvin cites as wrote by Servetus in a letter to himself. (6:201, Sermon 55 On The Trinity, May 8, 1775)
Those who can’t logically refute predestination will often run to this episode in Calvin’s life as seemingly irrefutable proof that predestination is false. Their view seems to be that Calvin taught predestination because he was just plain mean. Obviously the conclusion doesn’t necessarily follow. But it is worth examining Calvin’s rationalization for the use of the death penalty against Servetus, because it offers a very revealing look at the whole relationship of Church and State.
There is an amazing amount of literature on this subject, but it all falls into two distinct categories: that which depicts Servetus as a paragon of virtue, filled with all humility, temperance, patience, and meekness, and a selfless martyr for freedom of conscience under the cruel, tyrannical, bloodthirsty,merciless, iron hand of petty, vindictive John Calvin1; and that which presents a much more realistic picture of the two men and their times, but presents Calvin as merely being influenced by the vestiges of an archaic view of the role of politics in the service of religion2. Neither type has the slightest interest in what specifically motivated Calvin to support the use of capital punishment against heretics.
First, a few of the facts3. Miguel Serveto was a doctor from Spain, studying in Vienne, France. In 1531, he published a book called Errors on the Trinity , that was openly anti-Trinitarian. In 1545, he had some correspondence with Calvin, and continued to defend his anti-Trinitarian views. But Calvin became so frustrated with Servetus’ heresies and personal pride4 that he finally broke off correspondence with Servetus. Soon thereafter, Calvin wrote a letter to his friend William Farel, which contains the infamous passage “But I am unwilling to pledge my word for his safety, for if he shall come, I shall never permit him to depart alive, provided my authority be of any avail.”5
Servetus published a second book, Christianity Restored, and was subsequently arrested by the Inquisition in April, 1553, at Vienne. He was sentenced to death by burning, but escaped. He was then burned in effigy, along with most of his books. In July of 1553, Servetus went to Geneva, apparently to join Calvin’s enemies there, a party called the Libertines. In August, he attended one of Calvin’s sermons, was recognized, and arrested. The Inquisition demanded that Servetus be returned to Vienne, to be executed there, but the Geneva council refused. (When asked, Servetus himself preferred to remain in Geneva.)
On Sept. 22, 1553, Servetus submitted a petition to the Genevan Council. Schaff says “He declared in his petition that Calvin, like a magician, ought to be exterminated, and his goods be confiscated and given to Servetus, in compensation for the loss he had sustained through Calvin … But the Council took no notice of his petition.”6 The Council sentenced Servetus to death, by being burned alive. Calvin concurred with the death penalty, but requested that the form be changed to beheading, as it was quicker and less painful7. The Council refused. At Servetus’ request, Calvin visited Servetus before the execution, and urged him to repent, but Servetus would not.
At the execution, Servetus cried out “Jesus, Son of the eternal God, have mercy on me!” This prompted Farel to remark that Servetus had been killed for a single adjective; meaning that if Servetus had called Jesus “the eternal Son of God”, he would have been spared. Nevertheless, Farel’s remark has provided much ammunition for Free Willers to accuse Calvin of ‘making Servetus an offender for a word’. But almost every contemporary Reformer supported the execution, including Melancthon, Bucer, and Bullinger in Germany, and Farel and Beza in Switzerland8. As a historical footnote, however, a statue was erected by Swiss Calvinists in 1912, bearing the inscription “In memory of Michael Servetus – victim of religious intolerance of his time, and burned for his convictions at Champel, on September 27, 1553. Erected by the followers of John Calvin, three hundred and fifty years later, as “expiation” for that act, and to repudiate all coercion in matters of faith.”9
Obviously, Wesley, in his reference to Calvin’s supposed use of “moist, green wood” intended to imply that persecution of dissenters is the natural fruit of the doctrine of predestination. Not only was the situation a lot more complicated than that, but Wesley conveniently ignored all the evidence to the contrary; that it is actually the doctrine of Free-Will that produces the fruit of persecution.
Let’s look first at the institution that originally arrested and tried Servetus: the Inquisition. It was created in the fifteenth century after Spanish Jews were forcibly converted to Catholicism. When many of those Jews converted publicly, but continued to practice Judaism privately, the Inquisition was created to find and eliminate them. Later, the full force of the Inquisition would be brought to bear on thousands, if not millions of Reformers, Anabaptists, and various non-Catholics, in Holland, France, Spain, Italy, and Germany, with much the same object as that for which it was originally created: conversion of ‘heretics’ to Catholicism by the power of the sword. Now there is really only one reason to forcibly convert someone, and that reason is the doctrine of free-will. After all, if faith is given exclusively by the grace of God, then sword-point conversions are rendered meaningless. They cannot produce true, saving faith. On the other hand, if faith is produced by the free-will of man, then a sword-point conversion can actually convert someone. In fact, it becomes a great way of forcibly converting large numbers of people to your religion.10 So, contrary to popular belief, the great impulse for religious persecution is in fact free-will, while the great impulse for religious and political toleration is predestination.
It is worth noting that the early Arminians (also called ‘Remonstrants’) learned this lesson well, from their Catholic predecessors in Holland. The Acts of the Synod of Dordrecht were originally published with a lengthy foreword, describing some of the events leading up to the Synod, and it includes some of the persecutions Arminians inflicted on their opponents11:
“For Adolphus Venator, the Minister [of the Church of Alkmaar] was suspended from his ministry by the North-Holland Churches on account of his unsound life and thoroughly unsound doctrine. But he, appealing to the Magistrate there and despising ecclesiastical censures, nevertheless continued in the office of Minister. …. These [Magistrates] … first forced the elders and deacons to lay down their office; then they did the same thing to the two Ministers because they had taken position against the errors of Venator. And when the Ministers had been deposed from their office, they were scandalously driven out of the city. The one was Pieter Cornelissen, who had been minister for some fifty years with great edification; and the other was Cornelius Hillenius, a bright and pious man, both of them earnest defenders of the pure doctrine.”12
“There were also many churches in the villages on whom, against their will, were imposed Remonstrant Ministers, or Ministers who were favorable to the Remonstrants. And seeing that they could not without the greatest offense, grief, and unrest listen to those terrible slanders against sound doctrine which were daily heard in their sermons, the people of these congregations forsook their churches and went to hear the sermons of neighboring sound Ministers; …. When the Remonstrants sought in vain to prevent this by strict prohibitions by the Magistrates, they aroused no little persecution against those churches. …. In the province of Utrecht … [Johannes] Uitenbogaard, August 24, introduced certain Remonstrant ministers, …. Thereafter these men were very zealous and diligent that not only in the City, but in the entire Province, everywhere where they could, the sound Ministers were driven out and replaced by Remonstrants, so that only the doctrine of the Remonstrance was openly taught.”13
“Meanwhile, Uitenbogaard brought it about through the authority of certain Leaders, his Fellow-Ministers were ordered to obey these resolutions [ie. new laws regarding the installment of Church Ministers, favorable to the Remonstrants]….. When because of this many pious people were punished by confiscation of goods and with imprisonments and exile, they appealed to the highest Court of Justice and sought help against this violence. And now the honorable Lord Counsellors of the High Council sought to come to the help of the oppressed; but the Remonstrants saw to it, through the Advocate [ie. Uitenbogaard], that the High Council was forbidden to help, and that the hands of the High Court of Justice were tied.”14
Remonstrant persecution of their opponents did not end in Holland, or even with the Synod of Dordt. It continued to spread into England, where it was heavily promoted by Archbishop Laud. An example of Laud’s persecution of Calvinists is seen in his reaction to the trial of Dr. Thomas Jackson. Jackson was arrested for writing a book against the ceremonies of the Church of England. He was kept in prison for sixteen weeks before his trial, and this imprisonment had deteriorated his health to the point that he could not even attend the trial. Horatius Bonar writes that Star Chamber “condemned the afflicted and aged divine to be degraded as a minister, to have one of his ears cut off, and one side of his nose slit, to be branded on the face with a red-hot iron, to stand in the pillory, to be whipped at a post, to pay a fine of £1000, and to suffer imprisonment until the fine was paid. When this inhuman sentence was pronounced, Laud took off his hat, and holding up his hands, gave thanks to God who had given the Church victory over her enemies! The sentence was executed without mercy, and Leighton lay in prison till upward of ten years.”15
To his credit, Wesley himself never advocated such persecution of predestinarians. His style was more along the lines of having a massive ‘revival’, with lots of emotional frenzy, and thousands of people ‘saved’; and later Methodists would take this line of thinking to even greater heights, or depths, of silliness. But the great principle behind both the persecutions and the ‘revivals’ is free-will. So far from persecution being a fruit of predestination, we see that persecution is, in reality, a fruit that springs from the tree of free-will! (Mat 6:16-18)
But here we run into a problem. John Calvin was one of the greatest champions of predestination, and one of the most eloquent opponents of free will, in all of history. But we have already seen that Calvin concurred with the death penalty ordered against Servetus. How is it that John Calvin, whose name is practically synonymous with predestination, seems to have endorsed a practice so thoroughly grounded in free-will?
John Calvin held to several doctrines that would today be reviled as hyper-Calvinist. These include supralapsarianism19, double imputation20, and double predestination21. But he also held to some doctrines that seem rather at odds with predestination. Advocates of Common Grace often point to passages in Calvin’s writing to support their theory, but it is more correct to say that he held to common aspects of grace:
“The power of human acuteness also appears in learning these [ie the arts] because all of us have a certain aptitude. . . . Hence, with good reason we are compelled to confess that its beginning is inborn in human nature. Therefore this evidence clearly testifies to a universal apprehension of reason and understanding by nature implanted in men. Yet so universal is this good that every man ought to recognize for himself in it the peculiar grace of God.”22
“…how unworthy soever we be and straight, yet the fatherly love of God breaketh through even unto the unworthy. Especially the generality of mankind doth testify that the benefits of God do never cease, wherein heappeareth to be our Father.”23
So, according to Calvin, the knowledge of arts and sciences which people possess is a “peculiar grace” of God, while the “sun and rain on the evil and the good” shows that God is, in some sense, a Father to the entire human race. This, indeed, is a far cry from the idea that God is waiting, pleading, and yearning over every sinner in the world, as promoted by the Marrow Men, certain Puritans, and assorted tolerant Calvinists.24 But it is certainly a tentative step in that direction.
Calvin, however, does not seem to have held the theory of common aspects of grace in isolation. It seems that he also held to a theory of universal aspects of the Atonement:
“True it is that the effect of His death comes not to the whole world. Nevertheless, forasmuch as it is not in us to discern between the righteous and the sinners that go to destruction, but that Jesus Christ has suffered His death and passion as well for them as for us, therefore it behoves us to labour to bring every man to salvation, that the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ may be available to them…”25
“And, indeed, in the Second Epistle of Peter, Christ alone is mentioned, and there he is called Lord. But He means that Christ is denied, when they who had been redeemed by his blood, become again the vassals of the Devil, and thus render void as far as they can that incomparable price.”26
“The four reasons, whereby Paul doth carefully prick forward the pastors to do their duty diligently, because the Lord hath given no small pledge of his love toward the Church in shedding his own blood for it. Whereby it appeareth how precious it is to him; and surely there is nothing which ought more vehemently to urge pastors to do their duty joyfully, than if they consider that the price of the blood of Christ is committed to them. For hereupon it followeth, that unless they take pains in the Church, the lost souls are not only imputed to them, but they be also guilty of sacrilege, because they have profaned the holy blood of the Son of God, and have made the redemption gotten by him to be of none effect, so much as in them lieth. And this is a most cruel offense, if, through our sluggishness, the death of Christ do not only become vile or base, but the fruit thereof be also abolished and perish …”27
These quotes alone prove that Calvin was not even a Christian, for it shows that he believed that the Atonement was intended to accomplish something which it failed to do (Psa 115:3, Isa 46:10, Eph 1:11). This kind of blasphemy is never taught by the Holy Spirit; it is only taught by Satan and his children.
But thus the stage was set for Calvin to do a theological end-run around the doctrine of predestination, retaining all the man-centered qualities of free-will, without discarding the biblical truth of predestination. That is to say, universal aspects of the atonement and common aspects of grace add up to free aspects of the will. Calvin could therefore go on at length about the wickedness of free will, while still maintaining that God will nevertheless reward even the wicked when they obey his Law:
“The reward, that the days of children who have behaved themselves piously to their parents shall be prolonged, aptly corresponds with the observance of the commandment, since in this manner God gives us a proof of His favor in this life, when we have been grateful to those to whom we are indebted for it; whilst it is by no means just that they should greatly prolong their life who despise those progenitors by whom they have been brought into it. … But inasmuch as long life is not vouchsafed to all who have discharged the duties of piety towards their parents, it must be remembered that, with respect to temporal rewards, an infallible law is by no means laid down; and still, where God works variously and unequally, His promises are not made void, because abetter compensation is secured in heaven for believers, who have been deprived on earth of transitory blessings.”28
It was Calvin’s doctrine of common aspects of grace that laid the foundation for Reconstructionism. Gary North writes:
“The working out of the principle of covenantal blessing can lead to the positive feedback operation: historical blessing to covenantal reaffirmation to greater historical blessing.” “The law of God is a tool of dominion. There can be no long-term dominion in defiance of it. When men adhere to its principles externally, they receive God’s external blessings. This is common grace. … This common grace obedience brings external blessings. It may also bring external influence. These blessings do not point to the salvation of unregenerate people; if anything, they point to their coming destruction, for reprobates always grow arrogant when they receive God’s covenantal blessings. … The positive feedback between faith and blessings requires additional faith to sustain the growth process. … The law is the basis of affirming the covenant. It is the basis of positive feedback culturally. … God’s law is the primary manifestation of common grace.”29
Notice the recurring theme that “external obedience to God brings external blessings”, and the use of the word “feedback”. This is essentially “free aspects of the will”: God responding to what the unregenerate do, rewarding them for their external obedience, even though they do not have faith (Heb 11:6).
Reconstructionists, in their turn, have taken the doctrines of common aspects of grace, and free aspects of the will, and constructed a theology which allows for cooperation between Calvinists and Roman Catholics. Take a moment to think about these two astounding quotes, found recently on the World Wide Web:
“So let us reconsider the biblical basis for a truly Christian doctrine of natural law. … it will show us the basis on which those of us who are Evangelical or Reformed can cooperate with our Catholic brothers in opposing the common foe.”30
Ironically, it has come to this. John Calvin, who so vehemently opposed the Roman Catholic church, along with all its will worship, superstition, and idolatry, himself set down the principles upon which his followers could cooperate, and eventually fellowship, with Roman Catholics. After all, most Catholics outwardly obey the Law of God, so (according to Gary North’s “feedback” theory) God should provide them with outward blessings, right? And if the blood of Jesus was, in some sense, intended for them as well, we should have no problem cooperating with them against an ungodly world, right?
Against all this filth, we maintain that the church in this world is not called to works of cooperation with the world, or the whore church. She is called to preach the antithesis: to oppose the evil works of the world, and expose the wickedness of the whore church, especially when that wickedness is hidden behind a facade of godliness, and outward obedience to the Law. She is called to do this because she has absolutely nothing in common with world or the false church. In no sense does the grace of God extend to them, in no sense did Jesus die for them, and in no sense are they able to choose obedience to God (Pro 16:4 & 21:1, John 1:12-13 & 15:21-25, Rom 9:16).
Furthermore, in no sense is the church called to use the sword as a means of conversion, let alone the prosecution of heretics. Faith does not come by the free will of man, but by the grace of God alone (Eph 2:8-9). It is God alone who determines when and where a conversion will take place, not the use of force (Jms 1:20). It is also God alone who determines how a sinner will be hardened against the Gospel (Psa 105:25, 2 Cor 2:15-16, Rev 17:17). If a sinner is predestined to hate the Gospel, God can as easily use the true preaching of the Gospel, as the preaching of a heretic, so it is no excuse to argue that a heretic murders the soul of his hearers. The election of God can neither be increased nor diminished by dispatching a heretic off to hell. The church in this world is most certainly called to remove heretics and ungodly men from her midst (1 Cor 5:4-5, Eph 5:11, Tit 3:10) in the hope that their removal will cause them to repent, and believe the Gospel. But the church does not safeguard her members by executing heretics, any more than she increases her membership with forced conversions. The power of God is not in the sword, but in the Gospel (John 18:36, Rom 1:16-17, 2 Cor 10:3-5); specifically in the true preaching of the Gospel, a preaching that involves pointing fingers at heretics, naming their names and warning the sheep about the wolves (Mt 23:13ff, Ac 20:28-31, Gal 1:8-10, 2 Tim 2:16-18, 1 Jn 4:1-3).
This section has necessarily gone into some of the larger issues relevant to the trial and execution of Servetus. To conclude, therefore, let it be understood that Calvin’s participation in the execution of Miguel Serveto was, historically, a very complicated matter, not the stark, good-Servetus/evil-Calvin dichotomy we are led to believe. However, it is still true that Calvin did support the use of the death penalty against heretics like Servetus.
But against the insinuations of Free-Will advocates like John Wesley, we maintain that this was not the fruit of predestination, but the vestiges of Free-Will that Calvin still clung to. Therefore, let every Arminian, Unitarian, Roman Catholic, and every other defender of Free-Will take note of the spirit of intolerance and persecution inherent in their own system.
And further, let every Reconstructionist and tolerant Calvinist take note of the logical direction their theology of common grace will eventually take them. Let them also take note how the doctrine of common grace goes hand in hand with the blasphemous doctrines of universal (aspects of the) atonement, and free (aspects of the) will.
1One claimed that Calvin “had a prolonged, murderous hate in his heart” and another claimed “A book printer who had railed at Calvin had his tongue perforated with a red-hot iron”. Neither author offered proof of these accusations. But the editor of Calvin’s letters notes: “ Calvin shewed himself, on more than one occasion, disposed to forgive personal injuries, as the Registers of Council testify: — “A woman having abused M. Calvin, it is directed that she be consigned to prison. Liberated at the request of the said M. Calvin, and discharged with a reproof.” — 12th December 1545.” Calvin’s Letters, #154, 13thFebruary1546, fn 27.
2Phillip Schaff says “Calvin’s [participation in the] arrest of Servetus admit of no proper justification, and are due to an excess of zeal for orthodoxy.” Scaff, History of the Christian Church, vol VIII, ch. 16, http://www.ccel.org/s/schaff/history/8_ch16.htm , June 21, 2001
3For a thorough and detailed discussion of the events surrounding the trial, see Schaff, ibid. Schaff includes an extensive discussion of Servetus’ life and theology, his invectives against Calvin, his behavior before the Inquisition, and a general discussion of religious liberty before and after Servetus’ execution. See also Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination (Nutley, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1932), p. 412-419.http://www.ccel.org/b/boettner/predest/2.htm , June 5, 2001.
5Calvin’s Letters, #154, Feb 13, 1546. It should be noted, however, that Calvin did not have any such authority; he was never a member of the city Council, and was not even a citizen of Geneva until years later. The only real authority he had was as pastor of the French refugees in Geneva. Furthermore, his influence over the Geneva city council was tenuous at best. Indeed, the President of the Court and many influential members of the court were Calvin’s avowed enemies.
desiring to mitigate the severity of his punishment, you act the part of a friend to a man who is most hostile to you.” Calvin’s Letters, #322, fn 395
9http://www.biblestudents.org/absco/photodrama/pd0009.htm#Calvin%20and%20Servetus , June 21, 2001. Note, however, that the date of Servetus’ execution was October 27, not September 27, of 1553.
10Let the reader note that, although the name has been changed, the Inquisition is still in existence; it even has its own web site ( http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_pro_14071997_en.html , May 15, 2001). But even if the Inquisition were not around, the principle of free-will is still a foundational element of the Roman Catholic system, so that the horrors of the Inquisition could be brought back at any time, if necessary. I note in passing, that the Roman Catholic Church has never erected any statues repudiating the massacre of thousands upon thousands of Dutch, German, French, Scottish, and English Reformers.
14Ibid., p. 89. The Foreword goes on to describe how Uitenbogaard raised his own militia to defend the Remonstrant ministers in the event that a national Synod were called, and the Remonstrant doctrines condemned.
19Inst II:12:5http://www.smartlink.net/~douglas/calvin/bk2ch12.html , June 5, 2001;
Comm. on Malachi, Lecture 170 http://www.ccel.org/c/calvin/comment3/comm_vol30/htm/iv.ii.ii.htm , June 5, 2001.
20Inst II:16:5+6 http://www.smartlink.net/~douglas/calvin/bk2ch16.html, June 5, 2001;
Comm. on II Cor 5:21http://www.ccel.org/c/calvin/comment3/comm_vol40/htm/xi.iv.htm , June 5, 2001.
21Inst II:4:3 http://www.smartlink.net/~douglas/calvin/bk2ch04.html, June 5, 2001;
Inst III:21:8 http://www.smartlink.net/~douglas/calvin/bk3ch21.html, June 5, 2001;
Inst III:23:1+8http://www.smartlink.net/~douglas/calvin/bk3ch23.html , June 5, 2001.
22Institutes II:2:14 http://www.smartlink.net/~douglas/calvin/bk2ch14.html , June 5, 2001 (emph mine).
23Comm on Acts 14:17http://www.ccel.org/c/calvin/comment3/comm_vol37/htm/ii.iv.htm , June 5, 2001(emph mine)
24“Christ invites sinners with an enlarged heart. Joy enlarges it. His heart is open to you, his arms are stretched wide. … Would you do Christ a pleasure? then come to him. … Would you content and ease his heart? Then come.” [Thomas Boston,from his sermon, Come Unto Me, All Ye That Labour, distributed in booklet form by Chapel Library, Pensacola, Floridahttp://www.mountzion.org/text/comeunto.rtf , June 5, 2001].
26Comm. on Jude 4, http://www.ccel.org/c/calvin/comment3/comm_vol45/htm/viii.iii.htm , June 5, 2001.
27Comm. on Ac 20:28,http://www.ccel.org/c/calvin/comment3/comm_vol37/htm/viii.v.htm , June 5, 2001.
28Commentary on the Harmony of the Law, vol. 3, Exodus 20:12, http://www.ccel.org/c/calvin/comment3/comm_vol05/htm/ii.htm , June 5, 2001; emph. added
29Dominion and Common Grace, http://freebooks.commentary.net/freebooks/sidefrm2.htm , June 5, 2001.
30J. Budziszewski, “Apostles of Common Grace” http://www.calvin.edu/henry/budlect.htm , June 5, 2001; emph. in orig.
31Rev. Richard M. Nardone, Book review of “Evangelicals and Catholics Together: Toward a Common Commission”, Edited by C. Colson and R. J. Neuhaus (Word Publishing, Dallas, Tex., 1995), 236pp http://www.catholic.net/rcc/Periodicals/Homiletic/07-96/12/12.html , June 5, 2001.