John Knox (c. 1514–1572) on the eternal predestination of God

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While John Knox (c. 1514–1572) was living in Geneva about 1558, he was asked by people back in England to answer a book circulating there titled Careless by Necessity. This work, written by an Anabaptist, denied the doctrine of Predestination. Knox complied with the English request and wrote On Predestination in Answer to the Cavillations by an Anabaptist probably completing the work while in Dieppe awaiting official permission to re-enter England. This work is the longest of Knox’s writings. No doubts exist concerning its authorship – already in the title of this book we see the character of the fiery Scottish Reformer, as will also be seen in the quotes below. Knox was independently named as its author when permission was granted for it to be printed in Geneva on Nov. 13th 1559. I realize this may be a relatively long read, but I felt none of the quotes below could be left out. This is Knox at his fiery best:

Satan ever from the beginning hath declared himself enemy to the free and undeserved love of God. He hath now in these most corrupt days most furiously raged against that doctrine, which attributeth all praise and glory of our redemption to the eternal love and undeserved grace of God alone.” (p. 24)

“But yet I say, that the doctrine of God’s eternal predestination is so necessary to the church of God, that, without the same, can faith neither be truly taught, neither surely established; man can never be brought to true humility and knowledge of himself; neither yet can he be ravished in admiration of God’s eternal goodness, and so moved to praise him as appertaineth.” (p. 25)

“And therefore we say, that such as attribute any thing to themselves in the grace of their election, have not learned to give God the honour which to Him appertaineth, because they do not freely confess what maketh them to differ from others.” (p. 28)

“Such as desire this Article to be buried in silence, and would that men should teach and believe that the grace of God’s election is common to all, but that one receiveth it and another receiveth it not, proceedeth either from their obedience or disobedience; such deceive themselves and are unthankful and injurious to God.” (p. 29)

“Alas! Shall I, whose corporal eye is so feeble and weak that directly it cannot behold the sun, which is a visible creature, but that it shall be blinded and dazed, shall I, I say, direct the eye of my mind (corrupted by sin) to measure and comprehend the brightness of His justice, who dwelleth in light inaccessible!” (p. 55)

“If these things do displease you, remember first, that they are the voices of the Holy Ghost; and secondly, call to mind the condition of mankind (compared with that sovereign Majesty) be but worms creeping upon the earth, and therefore we can not climb up to heaven, and so reason or plead with the Almighty.” (p. 65)

“If Predestination proceedeth from God’s purpose and will (as the apostle affirmeth that it doth, then the purpose and will of God being eternal, can not be moved by our works or faith being temporal.” (p. 73)

“Now seeing that good works spring forth from election, how can any man be so foolish as to affirm that they are the cause of the same?” (p. 76)

“Now if man hath nothing but that which he receiveth of grace, of free gift, of favour and mercy, what odious pride and horrible unthankfulness is this, that man shall imagine that for his faith and for his works, God did elect and did predestinate him to that dignity! Even as if two or three beggars, chosen from the number of many, were, of the liberal mercy of a Prince, promoted to honour, should after brag and boast that their good service was the cause that the Prince did choose them.” (p. 76)

“Let the whole Scriptures be read and diligently marked, and no sentence (rightly understood) shall be found, that affirmeth God to have chosen us in respect of our works, or because He foresaw that we should be faithful, holy and just. But to the contrary, many places shall we find (yes, even so many as intreat of that matter)that plainly affirm that we are freely chosen according to the purpose of His good will, and that in Christ Jesus.” (p. 78)

“If God’s glory be declared and made manifest, even by the miseries which some creatures sustain, dare you therefore accuse God of cruelty? Consider your bold foolishness, and repent your blasphemies before vengeance strike.” (p. 85)

“We presume not to define what number God shall save, and how many He shall justly condemn: but with reverence we refer judgement to Him who is the universal Creator; whose goodness and wisdom is such that He can do nothing but wisely; and whose judgement is so perfect, that His works are exempted from the judgement of all creatures.” (p. 85)

“Before damnation there cometh a change in man; so that he of very good became evil, and so God’s just judgement found nothing but that which is evil to condemn.” (p. 91)

“If you cannot see just causes why God should make that thing very good which after should become extremely evil, accuse your own blindness; and desire of God to repress in you that presumption and pride which against the Eternal Son of God you have conceived.” (p. 91)

“We affirm and most constantly do believe, that in Christ Jesus, the eternal Son of the eternal Father, were we elected before all time. This you (the Anabaptists) can not abide, and therefore you seek all means to obscure the glory of Him to whom the Father hath given all power in heaven and in earth.” (p. 96)

“Acceptation of persons is when an unworthy person is preferred to a worthy, either by corrupt affection of those that do prefer him, either yet for some quality or external beauty that appeareth in man . . . For as God respecteth not the person of man, so respecteth He nothing that is or can be within man as the chief cause of his election. For what can God foresee, consider or know, to be in man that good is, which floweth not from His free mercy and goodness, as it is written, ‘We are not sufficient of ourselves to think any thing that good is, but all our sufficiency is of God, who worketh in us to do and to perform’.” (p. 100)

“We plainly affirm, that man, when he sinned, did neither look to God’s will, God’s counsel, nor eternal purpose; but did altogether consent to the will of the devil, which did manifestly gainsay God’s revealed will.” (p. 113)

“We say not that God’s ordinance is the cause of reprobation, but we affirm that the just causes of reprobation are hid in the eternal counsel of God, and known to His godly wisdom alone.” (p. 114)

“If you say, For what purpose then doeth their enlightening and illumination (see John 1v9) serve them? The apostle doth answer you, That they may be inexcusable; which reason, if it satisfy not your curiosity, quarrel with the Holy Ghost.” (p. 117)

“The Prophet (Isaiah 55) calleth not all indifferently to drink of these waters, but such as do thirst. And Christ restraineth His generality to such as did travail and were burdened with sin (Matthew 11:28): such, I say, He confesseth Himself to call to repentance; but to such as were just and whole, He affirmeth that He was not sent.” (p. 118)

“Ye (the Anabaptists) be proud contemners of the free grace of God offered to man in Christ Jesus. For with the Pelagians and Papists ye are become teachers of free will, and defenders of your own righteousness.” (p. 121)

“But justly leaving the reprobate to themselves, and to Satan their father, they willingly follow, without all violence or compulsion on God’s part, iniquity and sin, and so finally the way of perdition, to which they are naturally inclined. But if yet that any will affirm that therefore God’s foreknowledge doth but idly behold what they will do, and that in his eternal purpose, counsel and will, he will one thing and they will another, so that their will prevail against His, he shall not escape the crime of horrible blasphemy.” (p. 136)

“Neither yet therefore doth it follow that His foreknowledge, prescience, will or power, doth take away the free will of His creatures, but in all wisdom and justice (however the contrary appears to our corrupted judgements) he uses them as best pleases His wisdom to bring to pass in time that which before all time He had decreed.” (p. 141)

“Violence is done to the will of the creature when it willeth one thing and yet by force, by tyranny or by a greater power it is compelled to do the things which it would not . . . . Do we say that God did (or doeth) any such violence to His creatures? Did He compel Satan to tempt the woman when his will was contrary thereto? Did the will of Adam resist the temptation of the woman, and did he so hate and abhor to eat of that fruit, that it behoved God to compel his will repugnant thereto to eat of it, and so to break the commandments? Or did he not rather willingly hear and obey the voice of his wife?” (p. 144)

“True it is that we be elected in Christ Jesus to be holy and to walk in good works which God hath prepared. But every reasonable man knoweth what difference there is betwixt the cause and the effect. Election, in which I include the free grace and favour of God, is the fountain from which springeth faith, and faith is the mother of all good works. But what foolishness were it therefore to reason: ‘My works are the cause of my faith, and my faith is the cause of my election’?” (p. 157)

“We affirm that the causes of reprobation are most just, but yet we say, that they are incomprehensible to man.” (p. 160)

“The chief end of man’s creation we have before declared to be the glory of God, which if you can not see shine in the just condemnation of the reprobate, accuse your blindness.” (p. 161)

“We do not imagine the faithful members of Christ’s body to be stocks and stones insensible, without will or study of godliness, but we affirm that it is God that worketh in us the good will and good thought, for of ourselves we are not sufficient to think one good thought.” (p. 164)

“The first man fell, because the Eternal judged it expedient. Why He judged it so, we know not, yet it is certain that He so judged it, not but that He saw the glory of His name thereby to be illustrated . . . Man therefore falleth (God’s providence so ordaining) but yet he falleth by his own fault. For God of short time before had pronounced that all which He had made were very good.” (p. 168)

“Therefore let us rather behold the evident cause of damnation in the corrupt nature of mankind, than that we should pretend to search it, being hid, and utterly incomprehensible, in the predestination of God.” (p. 168)

“His (Adam’s) voluntary transgression is sufficient to his condemnation, neither yet is the secret counsel of God the proper or natural cause of sin, but the free and plain will of man. Therefore seeing that man findeth in himself the cause of his misery, what shall it profit him to seek it in the heavens?” (p. 170)

“God so worketh by His creatures and doeth use them to His providence, that the instrument by which He worketh ceaseth not to be evil. And although He convert the malice of the devil and of wicked men to good, yet they therefore are neither excusable, neither yet clean from sin, and their works are wicked and to be damned: for all works take their quality from the purpose and will of the author. Whosoever maketh no distinction betwixt these things maketh an horrible confusion.” (p. 176)

“That we be apt to discern that we have a will, to do this or that, this is a natural gift: but that we can choose, desire and do nothing but that which is evil, that cometh from the corruption of sin.” (p. 177)

“God is omnipotent and compelled to suffer nothing which He hath not appointed in His eternal counsel: He is a Spirit and free from all such passions as creatures be subject to; for in His eternal Godhead there is neither patience subject to pain, neither yet sorrow annexed with anguish and grief. But when such passions be attributed to God, it is for the weakness of our understanding that the Holy Ghost doth subject Himself in language and tongue to our capacity.” (p. 193)

“Before ye proceed any further, ye must prove that God did suffer in the vessels of wrath that which He neither could nor might remedy; and therefore that He fell in grief and sorrow that His power was no greater and his wisdom no more perfect. Woe be to your blasphemies for they compel me to write that which I gladly would not.” (p. 195)

“We say not, we teach not, nor believe, that Christ Jesus doeth only offer medicine and prescribe a diet as a common physician, leaving the using and observation of it to our will and power. But we affirm that in the hearts of His elect, He worketh faith, He openeth their eyes, He cureth their leprosy, He removeth and overcometh their disobedience; yea, by violence He pulleth them forth from the bondage of Satan, and so sanctifieth them by the power of His Holy Spirit, that they abide in His truth, according as He hath prayed for them, and so continue His vessels of glory for ever.” (p. 205)

“Do we not continually affirm, that as God of His great mercy hath called us to the dignity of His children, so hath He sanctified us, and appointed us to walk in pureness and holiness all the days of our life; that we shall continually fight against the lust and inordinate affections that remain in this our corrupt nature; that if we find not the Spirit of Christ working in us, that then we can never be assured of our election.” (p. 210)

“For herein stands the doubt whether that the unthankfulness of God’s children after they have once received mercy, grace and large benefits from God’s hands, doth so alienate the mind of God from them, that He beareth to them no manner of love, till they turn to Him by repentance. The contrary hereof we hold and affirm, not fearing to avow, that repentance, as it is joined to faith, which is the free gift of God, so it is the effect of God’s constant love toward them and no cause of the same.” (p. 238)

“Impossible it is that Christ’s death shall lack its effect, which is the life of those that of His Father are committed to His charge, of whom impossible it is that any shall perish. For the number of the brethren must be complete; neither doth it follow that exhortations and admonitions be superfluous and vain, for they are means which the wisdom of God knoweth to be most necessary to stir up our dull senses, which always be ready to lie in a certain security.” (p. 300)

“God willingly for causes known to His wisdom alone, permitteth and suffereth things to be done, which afterwards He will most justly punish.” (p. 323)

“And so is God’s justice rather accused than maintained by the foolishness of your curious brains, saying, God permitteth many things which He would not. What vanity is this? Is it not a thing confessed amongst all that God’s power is omnipotent? Who then can compel Him to suffer that which He would not? And why doth He willingly suffer things which in His law He hath forbidden? I answer, for the manifestation of His own glory, which is more precious than the heavens and the earth and all things contained therein.” (p. 353-354)

“The Word falling into the heart of the elect doth mollify and illuminate; but falling into the heart of the reprobate, it doth harden and more execrate the same, by reason of the quality and incurable corruption of the person.” (p. 387)

“True it is that God is merciful, gentle, liberal, protector, refuge and life to all. But to which all? To such as hate iniquity, love virtue, lament for their sins past, call upon His name in truth, and do unfeignedly seek His aid in the day of trouble. Of all these, no doubt, He will be intreated, however wicked and unthankful they had ever been before. But to the contrary He will destroy all that speak lies, He hateth all that work iniquity: neither will be show Himself merciful to such as maliciously do offend.” (p. 403)

“None of these sentences: ‘God biddeth all men every where to repent’, and offereth faith to all men are found, in that sense and meaning that ye (the Anabaptists) do understand them, in the whole Scriptures . . . But that generality is restrained by His own words, to those that thirst, that hunger, that mourn, that are laden with sin, as before we have taught.” (p. 404)

“The omnipotence of God and the freedom of His will we must constantly maintain: but we cannot admit that our God be variable, inconstant, subject to ignorance, neither yet that His godly will depend on the will and disposition of man. For that were not to leave God’s will free, but to bring it under the bondage of His creatures.” (p. 405)

“If His counsels be mutable and inconstant, then ceaseth He to be the God, who neither is, nor can be changed.” (p. 405)

“We have confessed that iniquity and sin is so odious to God that in it His goodness can never delight, neither yet can He have pleasure in the destruction of any creature, having respect to the punishment only.” (p. 405)

“If God willeth all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth, and yet many do perish in ignorance, and shall be condemned as Christ Jesus doth pronounce: then must it either follow that God’s will is mutable, and so He is inconstant, and not at all times like Himself, or else He is not omnipotent.” (p. 407)

“For if willingly He shall damn those whom before He would and had determined to save, is His will and determination changed. And if He shall damn those unwillingly, whom He would have saved, then is He not omnipotent.” (p. 408)

“The mind of the prophet (Ezek 33:11) was to stir such as had declined from God, to return unto Him by true repentance; and because their iniquities were so many, and offences so great, that justly they might have despaired of remission, mercy and grace; therefore doth the prophet, for the better assurance of those that should repent, affirm, That God delighteth not, nor willeth the death of the wicked. But of which wicked? Of him, no doubt, that truly should repent: in his death did not, nor never shall God delight. But He delighteth to be known a God that sheweth mercy, grace and favour to such as unfeignedly call for the same, how grievous so ever their former offences have been. But such as continue obstinate in their impiety, have no portion of these promises. For them God will kill, them will He destroy, and them will He thrust, by the power of His word, into the fire which never shall be quenched.” (p. 410)

“The Apostle in these words, ‘God willeth all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth’ (1 Tim 2:4), speaketh not of every man, and of every particular person, but of all men in general, that is to say, of men of all estates, all conditions, all realms, all ages. For as in Christ Jesus there is neither Jew nor Gentile, man nor woman, freeman nor servant, but all are one in Him, so can estate, no condition of man, no realm, no age, be proved so wicked and corrupt, but out of the like hath God called some to the participation of His light . . . For God willeth you (the church) to pray for your persecutors, that their eyes may be opened and they converted to the living God: who, no doubt, will save some of all estates, of all conditions, and vocations of men.” (p. 410-411)

“The Apostle Peter saith, ‘The Lord that hath promised is not slow, but He is long-suffering towards us, while He will none to perish, but all to come to repentance’ (2 Peter 3:9). The Apostle here meaneth not that all without exception shall be received to life by true repentance, but that the cause why God so long deferreth (as it were) the extreme judgement, is that the elect number of God’s children may be complete (as answer was given to those that cried under the altar to be revenged of the tyrannies that dwell on the earth) of these elect children God will none to perish.” (p. 418)

“Storm and rage, spew forth your venom and blaspheme, till ye (the Anabaptists) provoke God’s vengeance at once to be poured forth upon your own heads: this sentence will He never retract. He will have mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He will make hardhearted. That God in Himself hath but one will, which is holy, just, and permanent, that in Him there is no contradiction; that He is faithful and doth perform whatsoever He doth promise.” (p. 418)

“God, who hateth all iniquity, must needs resist the proud, destroy the lying lips, and remove from His society such as declare themselves enemies to His eternal Truth; the knowledge whereof, we confess with Job, cometh only by inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and doth not proceed from flesh or blood, from study, care or worldly wisdom, but is the free gift of God, revealed to the little ones, and commonly hid from the wisest of the world.” (p. 468)

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John Knox (c. 1514–1572) on ungrateful Israel

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“The people were slothful; and the priests, who should have provoked the people to tho remembrance of those great benefits, were become even like to the rest. The Lord therefor did raise up his Prophet Malachi, (who was the last before Christ), sharply to rebuke, and plainly to convict this horrible ingratitude of that unthankful nation, who so shamefully had forgotten those so great benefits recently bestowed upon them. And thus begins he his Prophecy: ‘I have loved you, says the Lord;’ in which words he speaks not of a common love, which in preserving and feeding all creatures is common to the reprobate, but of that love by which he had sanctified and separated them from the rest of nations, to have his glory manifested. But because they (as all ungrateful persons do) did not consider wherein this his love towards them more then towards others did stand, he bringing them to the fountain, demanding this question: ‘Was not Esau brother to Jacob? says the Lord, and nevertheless Jacob l have I loved, and Esau have hated’.”

– John Knox (c. 1514–1572), “On Predestination in Answer to the Cavillations by an Anabaptist, 1560,” in Works, 5:151