If you thought Luther had a way with word in his disputes with opponents, Calvin can give him a run for his money at times. I came across this while studying the issue of the “well-meant offer.” The topic? Predestination of course.
Here he is responding to Albert Pighius, a Roman Catholic, who like many today, took issue with predestination.
Here is some of Calvin’s response:
Now if a mortal man should pronounce his “I will” and his “I command;” and should say that HIS will ought to be deemed a sufficient reason for HIS actions, I confess that such an “I will” would be tyrannical indeed! But to call God’s “I will” and God’s “I command” tyrannical, is profanity, blasphemy, and madness! For no mortal dares impute to God anything unequal or excessive; so as to imply, that there can be, in Him, any inordinate will, wish, or desire, as in men. On the contrary, such honour and reverence are ever due to his will, that it is worthy of being considered as containing in itself all the validity of a just reason: because, the will of God is the source and rule of all righteousness. For as to that distinction commonly held in the schools, concerning the twofold will of God; such distinction is by no means admitted by us. The sophists of Sorbon prate about an ordinate will of God, and an absolute will of God. But this is a blasphemy deservedly abhorred, in its sound to all godly ears; but plausible and pleasant to the ears of Pighius, and of all his fellows. I, however, on the contrary, contend, that so far from there being anything inordinate, in God, whatever there is of order, in heaven or in earth, flows from Him alone, and from his will. Whenever therefore we carry the will of God to its utmost height; and show that it is higher than all reason; far be it from us to imagine, that He ever wills anything, but with the highest reason. We also deeply feel, that He so possesses, as his own right, the sum of all power; that our sacred duty is to be content with the nod of his will alone, in all things. For if that be true which the Psalmist saith, “Thy judgments, O Lord, are a great deep” (Ps. 36:6); when the mind of a man launches forth into that height of pride, that it cannot rest in the alone good-pleasure and will of God; let him take solemn heed, that that “great deep” swallow him not up! Indeed, it must be so: it cannot be otherwise: and such vengeance is gloriously just!
Wherefore, let that noble and solemn appeal of Augustine never fall from our memory.—“Listen to what God is, and what thou art. He, is God! Thou, art man! If thou seem to thyself to be speaking of justice, in the works and ways of God;—is the fountain of all justice, thinkest thou, dried up? Thou, as a man, expectest an answer from me, who also am a man. Therefore, let us both hear the apostle saying, with reference to all questioning of God,—‘Nay, but who art thou, O man?’ Better is believing ignorance, than daring knowledge! Search for merit; and you will find nothing but punishment!—‘O the depth, &c.!’ Peter denies; a robber believes!—‘O the depth, &c.!’ Askest thou the reason?—I tremble before ‘the depth, &c.!’ Reason thou;—I will wonder and admire! Dispute thou;—I will believe! I see the height: I will not rush into the ‘depth!’—Paul quietly rested, because he found reason for wonder and admiration. He calls the judgments of God ‘unsearchable;’ and comest thou on purpose ‘to search into them’? Paul says, ‘His ways are past finding out;’ and comest thou on purpose ‘to find them out’ ”—Akin to these holy sentiments, is that also where Augustine saith, in another place. “Wilt thou join me in dispute? Nay rather join with me in admiration and wonder!—Rather join me, in exclaiming, ‘O the depth, &c!’—Let us agree to tremble, together; that we perish not in presumption, together!”
Pighius displays, in his own estimation, great acuteness, when he argues thus;—“There would be no deep abyss at all, if the will of God were to be considered as the highest of all reason; because, nothing would be more easy, than to say, that all things were done, because God so pleased; where his will ruled absolutely, and alone.”—But by babbling thus sophistically, he ridiculously passes over that very point, which forms the great question at issue. It is quite plain that all things are done, because it so pleased God. But the great question is,—Why did it please God, that one thing should be done in one way, and another thing in a way quite the contrary?—Pighius then proceeds with the same line of silly argumentation. And in order that he might show, that God had a reason and a cause in all his counsels; he adduces, as a proof, the answer which Christ gave to his disciples in the case of a blind man,—‘that he was born blind, That the works of God, should be made manifest in him.’ Thus does Pighius make a shadow battle, and then fight it out; imagining, that he has gained the victory. But when, and where, did the monstrous idea enter my mind, that any counsel of God was without God’s reason for it?—As I constantly make God the RULE of the whole world, who, by his incomprehensible and wonderful counsel, governs and directs all things; will any man say, that he can gather, from my words, that I make God to be carried this way, and that way, at random? or to do, what He does, with blindfold temerity?
Now it is singular, that Pighius quotes some words of mine, by which, if I mistake not, he is himself most evidently refuted. The words to which I allude are those wherein I assert, that God has a purpose in all his ways and works, how hidden soever they may be: which purpose is, that He may spread the glory of his name. But my opponent would set before the eyes of his readers a colour of contradiction, in my sentiments; because I hold, that no reason for the good-will of God, in any of his works, is to be required or investigated; and yet that I at the same time show, what that reason is.—But it is useless to waste time in exposing such cold and self-evident absurdities.—The Lord has as a reason for all his works;—his own great glory. This is his ultimate object, in them all. Hence, on the testimony of Paul, God raised up Pharaoh, “that He might show his power in him; and that his name might be declared throughout all the earth.” (Rom. 9:17.) Now does the apostle Paul, I pray, contradict himself when he exclaims, immediately afterwards, that the judgments of God are “past finding out?” The same apostle declares also, that the vessels of wrath, “appointed” by the Lord “unto destruction,” were “endured” by Him, “with much long suffering;” in order that “He might show his wrath, and make his power known in them,” (Rom. 9:22.)—Now, is the wondering admiration of Paul which immediately follows—“O the depth!”—contrary, I pray you, to this his sentiment?—Tell me, I repeat,—does the apostle here contradict himself? If he does not, neither do. I in my like solemn argument, contradict myself!
But Pighius goes farther still into error, absurdity, and confusion, in his way of arguing.—He spreads a false colour over the very term, cause, by introducing the final cause, in the place of the formal cause. For although the end to which God looks, in his works, be not obscure; namely, his own great and wide glory! yet, the reason WHY it pleaseth Him so to work, by no means appears so wholly, and immediately, plain.—The pith, however, and sum of the present point of the whole great question is this.—Although God does not demonstrate to us, by plain and satisfactory arguments, his own righteousness, in all his works; yet our bounden duty is to be assured, that whatever He doeth, He doeth righteously. It is therefore our duty to rest in his will alone. So that our knowledge of his will and pleasure, in whatsoever He doeth, though the cause of his doing it should surpass our comprehension, ought to suffice us, more than a thousand reasons.—Hence the folly of Pighius, in quarrelling with me, and accusing me of inconsistency: because, while I maintain that no reason for the Divine will, should be inquired into; I yet loudly affirm that God willeth nothing, but what He judgeth just and right to be done. For he asserts, that this latter member of my argument is really rendering a reason for the will of God, as the cause of all: the rendering of which reason (he says) I elsewhere declare to be inconsistent, in myself, or in any one else. But what knowledge of the cause can I be said to profess, if I only believe, that God does, what He does, with a great design, and what He judges right to be done; and especially, if I profess myself to be, all the while, unable to comprehend the certain and special reason of the Divine work and counsel? Added to all this, my opponent, considering the mighty difference between the reverence of faith, and the audacity of inquiry into God’s will, a matter of no moment at all; seizes hold of that, which I teach to be a matter of faith, and preposterously hurls it into the circle of that common knowledge, which is of human conception.
Now, though I believe I have, in my “Institutes,” already refuted, with clearness and brevity, the various absurdities of opposition which my adversaries heap upon my doctrine, from all quarters, that they may calumniate and defame it; and though I think I have effectually met and exposed many of those figments, by which ignorant persons delude and bewilder themselves; yet, as Pighius has found much delight in nibbling at my testimonies and my replies to opponents; I will not object to wash off from myself, as I proceed, his virulent soil.
Calvin, J., & Cole, H. H. (2009). Calvin’s Calvinism: A Treatise on the Eternal Predestination of God (102-107,116–117,). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.