Someone left a comment on another post I wrote regarding assurance of salvation claiming that Calvin teaches God lies to people, the elect included, about their salvation.
Jean Calvin expressly states in the Institutes that the Calvinist God lies to people even the “elect” cannot be certain of their salvation. They may go to heaven, they may not. Depends on their spiritual state at the end, and even then cannot be assured. Institutes 3 2 11. Calvinism is an utter absurdity.
He cites Inst. 3.2.11 for this claim, and so I am going to demonstrate this citation says nothing of the kind. But before I do that there are some clarifications to make to keep the comments focused:
This is a very narrow topic. I am addressing a very specific claim. I am merely analyzing Inst. 3.2.11. That means there are a number of things I am not doing.
I am not making a claim about whether or not Calvin believed that God deceives people. Perhaps there is some place where Calvin does explicitly say the Bible teaches that (2 Thessalonians 2:11 comes to mind). But I am not dealing with what Calvin believed on this subject, but merely what Inst. 3.2.11 teaches.
I am also not proving what Calvin says in Inst. 3.2.11. I am not attempting to prove what Calvin says in this paragraph is true. I am merely defending it from the error that was ascribed to it.
Therefore, any comment about what Calvin teaches elsewhere, or whether what he says is biblical, is off topic. The topic is very narrow: Does Inst. 3.2.11 teach that God lies to people, including the elect? I answer in the negative.
Here is Calvin’s paragraph:
I am aware it seems unaccountable to some how faith is attributed to the reprobate, seeing that it is declared by Paul to be one of the fruits of election; and yet the difficulty is easily solved: for though none are enlightened into faith, and truly feel the efficacy of the Gospel, with the exception of those who are fore-ordained to salvation, yet experience shows that the reprobate are sometimes affected in a way so similar to the elect, that even in their own judgment there is no difference between them. Hence it is not strange, that by the Apostle a taste of heavenly gifts, and by Christ himself a temporary faith, is ascribed to them. Not that they truly perceive the power of spiritual grace and the sure light of faith; but the Lord, the better to convict them, and leave them without excuse, instills into their minds such a sense of his goodness as can be felt without the Spirit of adoption. Should it be objected, that believers have no stronger testimony to assure them of their adoption, I answer, that though there is a great resemblance and affinity between the elect of God and those who are impressed for a time with a fading faith, yet the elect alone have that full assurance which is extolled by Paul, and by which they are enabled to cry, Abba, Father. Therefore, as God regenerates the elect only for ever by incorruptible seed, as the seed of life once sown in their hearts never perishes, so he effectually seals in them the grace of his adoption, that it may be sure and steadfast. But in this there is nothing to prevent an inferior operation of the Spirit from taking its course in the reprobate. Meanwhile, believers are taught to examine themselves carefully and humbly, lest carnal security creep in and take the place of assurance of faith. We may add, that the reprobate never have any other than a confused sense of grace, laying hold of the shadow rather than the substance, because the Spirit properly seals the forgiveness of sins in the elect only, applying it by special faith to their use. Still it is correctly said, that 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.https://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.v.iii.html
Does God deceive the Elect?
It is particularly strange that the commenter found in this passage evidence for the elect being lied to by God, when Calvin so consistently teaches the contrary.
for though none are enlightened into faith, and truly feel the efficacy of the Gospel, with the exception of those who are fore-ordained to salvation,
Here Calvin affirms the elect do truly feel the efficacy of the Gospel.
yet the elect alone have that full assurance which is extolled by Paul, and by which they are enabled to cry, Abba, Father.
Yet again Calvin is very clear that the Spirit of God provides a full assurance to the elect alone. And again,
because the Spirit properly seals the forgiveness of sins in the elect only, applying it by special faith to their use.
There is nothing in this passage about God lying to the elect or the elect not being able to have assurance of their salvation.
Does God Deceive the Reprobate?
There is no statement in Calvin’s paragraph that even remotely suggests God lies to or deceives the elect. While there are statements that may seem to suggest he teaches God deceives reprobates, a careful reading will show nothing of the kind.
but the Lord, the better to convict them [the reprobate], and leave them without excuse, instills into their minds such a sense of his goodness as can be felt without the Spirit of adoption.
All Calvin is affirming here is that God reveals a sense of His goodness. What God impresses upon the reprobate is enough evidence of His goodness to be felt, but not enough to be received with a genuine faith. This is not at all lying or deceiving. God is not instilling something false into their minds. That would be deceptive. God is not instilling their own false assurance. All God is doing is giving them a taste of His goodness. They twist that to their own destruction, but God does not lie or deceive. What He impresses is true.
Anyone trying to argue that this is deception would be forced to believe God actually deceives all of mankind. Romans 1 teaches us that God reveals Himself to us through nature, that which we call general revelation. General revelation allows us to learn wonderful things about God, but it is not enough to save us. Thus, in general revelation God only gives enough to damn us. Is this deception? Of course not. Likewise, when God impresses some truth onto the reprobates mind, enough truth to make His goodness felt, but not enough to save, He is not lying or deceiving.
Another analogy can be drawn from Peter’s thoughts on Paul’s writings:
[A]s [Paul] does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.2 Peter 3:16
Paul sometimes writes in ways hard to understand, and evil men grab onto these hard sayings and twist them. Is Paul deceiving people? To ask the question is to answer it. Paul provided complicated data which men used to deceive, but Paul did not deceive them.
This is analogous to some level of what Calvin is saying. God gives men an incomplete taste of Him, and these evil men wrest that to their own destruction.
The other quotations which could be twisted to misrepresent Calvin follow suit.
But in this there is nothing to prevent an inferior operation of the Spirit from taking its course in the reprobate.
Here Calvin does affirm an active role rather than a passive role on behalf of the Spirit, but what is this inferior operation? Is the Spirit putting false ideas into people’s heads? Is He creating a false sense of assurance in their hearts? Calvin says nothing of the kind. The inferior operation is what was discussed above. It is the Spirit giving men a taste of the heavenly gift, of the Word of God, and a small share in Himself. He is giving them a taste of spiritual life and the goodness of God. They achieve their own false assurance on their own. The Spirit does not actively deceive them according to Calvin.
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.
What is God illuminating in the minds of the reprobate? Is God implanting them with a belief that they are saved? That would need to be the case if we were going to accuse Calvin of teaching that God deceives or lies to apostates of their salvation. But that is not at all what Calvin is saying. At no point in this paragraph does Calvin attribute the belief of being saved as the information God actively implants in the reprobate. Rather, all God does is reveal some of his goodness to the reprobate. God does no deceiving when he reveals His goodness to the reprobates. In fact, this would be the case if Calvinism is not true. As God extends prevenient grace to some they may learn some of God’s goodness, believe it without true faith, and then be deceived of their own salvation. Is God deceiving in this situation, too? All Calvin affirms is that God shows Himself to be merciful, propitiatory, and gratuitous to reprobates. When they believe that with a deficient faith, God did not lie to them.
One does not need to read very closely to see that nothing in Calvin’s paragraph affirms that God lies to anyone, especially the elect. Rather Calvin affirms that God makes the elect fully assured of the truthfulness of their justification. Among the reprobate false confessors, Calvin merely affirms that God reveals some of His own goodness to them, and it is they who cling to that goodness impartially, deceiving themselves of their own salvation. There is nothing in here to support the notion that God actively lies to or deceives anyone.