As I have been reading through Chrysostom’s Homilies on Ephesians, I stumbled upon three very interesting quotations from his first sermon.
That you may not then, when you hear that He has chosen us, imagine that faith alone is sufficient, he proceeds to add life and conduct. To this end, says he, has He chosen us, and on this condition, that we should be holy and without blemish.
I can only imagine many Romanists using this quotation to prove Chrysostom would reject Sola Fide. Given my reading of Chrysostom, it is hard to say whether or not he would agree with the Reformed understanding of Sola Fide (though some have made strong arguments he would). However, I do not believe this particular quotation is at odds with Sola Fide.
Chrysostom is clearly saying that faith alone is in some way insufficient, but the key question is: “Insufficient for what?” Chrysostom is commenting on the fact that God predestined His people to “be holy and blameless before him” (Eph. 1:4). Chrysostom makes the very valid point that God does not merely predestine our salvation, He does not merely predestine our justification, He does not merely predestine our forgiveness, but the ultimate telos of God’s predestination is sanctification. We are predestined to be holy. Therefore, Chrysostom is right in this context to say that faith alone is insufficient. God has not merely predestined us to believe, but to be holy. Therefore, if someone is merely believing and not being sanctified, than whatever faith that is, it isn’t enough to count that person among the elect (James 2:11-26). Chrysostom is not talking about justification or adoption here when he speaks of the insufficiency of faith alone. This particular quotation is a sure condemnation against antinomians, but it is not a condemnation of the Reformed. Faith alone may be sufficient for justification, but it is not sufficient for the entire Christian life. It is not sufficient for being elect. It is not sufficient for glory.
In Calvin’s commentary on Ephesians, he makes the same point which Chyrysostom makes in different words,
We learn also from these words, that election gives no occasion to licentiousness, or to the blasphemy of wicked men who say, “Let us live in any manner we please; for, if we have been elected, we cannot perish.” Paul tells them plainly, that they have no right to separate holiness of life from the grace of election; for “whom he did predestinate, them he also called, and whom he called, them he also justified” (Romans 8:30).
Two Wills of God
For the word good pleasure everywhere means the precedent will, for there is also another will. As for example, the first will is that sinners should not perish; the second will is, that, if men become wicked, they shall perish. For surely it is not by necessity that He punishes them, but because He wills it.
Chrysostom would not be a Calvinist were he to resurrect today. Nonetheless, he recognizes a very basic truth that so many of his fellow non-Calvinists refuse to recognize: God has competing desires, or “wills” in other words. (I prefer to speak of the desires of God rather than wills, since it may sound confusing to those who maintain Classical Theism which teaches that there is only one will in God. I do think we can speak of the term “will” in different ways. So I do not believe that Chrysostom, or any Reformed theologians compromise the one will in God when they speak of God having multiple wills in this context.)
Chrysostom gives his own example of two competing wills in God. On the one hand, God desires the salvation of every sinner. On the other hand, God also desires to justly judge sinners. Thus, when an unbeliever dies God desires for them not to perish, but he also desires their judgment. Thus, God has a competition of wills.
Calvinists recognize this concept as it pertains to election. God desires the salvation of all, but He also desires to glorify His wrath and justice, preventing Him from electing all. The same can be said for the crucifixion. God did not want Jesus to be murdered since He desires no man to sin and because He loves His Son. On the other hand, He did desire Jesus’ crucifixion. That is why He sent Him into the world, that was the way ordained to save His people. Thus, as it pertains to Christ’s death, God decreed that which He did not desire, because in other sense, He desired it.
Many non-Calvinists will avoid a notion of competing wills because they see how much it plays into the Calvinist’s hands in debate. Chrysostom, though not a Calvinist (to speak anachronistically), was not foolish enough to adopt that strategy.
Because our being rendered virtuous, and believing, and coming near unto Him, even this again was the work of Him that called us Himself, and yet, notwithstanding, it is ours also.
While Chrysostom would not agree with Calvin on many issues, he does tip his hat here to the Reformed doctrine of Compatibilism. It’s difficult to say too much since Chrysostom does not elaborate on this point, but he does write like a Compatibilist when he so freely speaks of our sanctification and faith as being both God’s work and our work simultaneously. He is very comfortable with this tension just as we the Reformed are in our writings. Chrysostom here believes the Lord does things through us and with us; yet, the works are still our own. That is the position of the Reformed. God predestines our works; yet, they are our works also.
To be more specific, Chrysostom’s quotation is very much in support of what we call “Irresistible Grace.” On the one hand, we believe because our faith is God’s doing. God draws us to the Son, the Spirit opens the eyes of our heart and gives us understanding. God predestined our faith; our faith is a gift from God; God did it. Yet, at the same time, the work is our work. I believed, God didn’t believe for me. It was both God’s doing and my doing. And the purpose of this post is not to defend that proposition. The purpose of this post is simply to show that whether it is a paradox or contradiction, Chrysostom agrees with the Reformed.