John Calvin and Gospel Hardening

“And I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven. And whatever you bind on earth shall occur, having been bound in Heaven. And whatever you may loose on the earth shall be, having been loosed in Heaven” (Matthew 16:19).

Here is an excerpt from John Calvin’s commentary on Matthew 16:19:

“‘Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth.’ The second metaphor, or comparison, is intended directly to point out the forgiveness of sins; for Christ, in delivering us, by his Gospel, from the condemnation of eternal death, looses the cords of the curse by which we are held bound. The doctrine of the Gospel is, therefore, declared to be appointed for loosing our bonds, that, being loosed on earth by the voice and testimony of men, we may be actually loosed in heaven. But as there are many who not only are guilty of wickedly rejecting the deliverance that is offered to them, but by their obstinacy bring down on themselves a heavier judgment, the power and authority to bind is likewise granted to the ministers of the Gospel. It must be observed, however, that this does not belong to the nature of the Gospel, but is accidental; as Paul also informs us, when, speaking of the vengeance which he tells us that he has it in his power to execute against all unbelievers and rebels, he immediately adds, When your obedience shall have been fulfilled (2 Co_10:6). For were it not that the reprobate, through their own fault, turn life into death, the Gospel would be to all the power of God to salvation, (Rom_1:16;) but as many persons no sooner hear it than their impiety openly breaks out, and provokes against them more and more the wrath of God, to such persons its savor must be deadly (2 Co_2:16.). [emphasis mineCD]

I may not receive the label of sapient sage with the following observation, but I think that Calvin is denying that “God uses the preaching of the gospel as a special means of hardening the reprobate” (CCF II.D.2.f.).

Calvin basically says that if not for the impious unbelief of the reprobate, everyone who heard the gospel would be saved (the necessary implication being a form of universalism, assuming that every human being without exception heard the gospel).

Note that Calvin attributes to the reprobate an enormously idolatrous power of destroying the efficacy of Christ’s cross, thus making it of none effect (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:17-18). What necessarily follows from Calvin’s denial that God uses the gospel to deliberately, intentionally, and actively harden the reprobate for destruction? At least two things (perhaps more). First, he necessarily implies that God expresses mercy and grace at the expense of His holiness and justice. And secondly, he conditions salvation on the efforts of the sinner, rather than on the preceptive and penal efforts of Jesus Christ alone (cf. Galatians 3:10-14, 5:2-5).

Calvin cites 2 Corinthians 2:16, apparently thinking that the “odor of death unto death” is ACCIDENTAL, and not an INTENTIONAL means God uses to blind and harden the reprobate for destruction. By way of striking contrast, here is a Biblical explanation of 2 Corinthians 2:16:

“‘2 Corinthians 2: (16) to the one, an odor of death unto death, and to the other, an odor of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things?’

To the reprobate, this sweet smell is an odor of death unto death. The gospel’s effect on the reprobate is to harden them for destruction in the second death. They reject this gospel. They hate this gospel. This gospel blinds their eyes, stops up their ears, and hardens their heart. And what does this odor of death unto death REMAIN to God? It REMAINS a SWEET SMELL to GOD. God is PLEASED with the gospel’s being an odor of death unto death. God has appointed the gospel to be an odor of life unto life to the elect and an odor of death unto death for the reprobate, and He is well-pleased with BOTH. BOTH accomplish His purpose. Isaiah’s preaching was an odor of death unto death to these Jews, and God was PLEASED with it, because it accomplished His purpose of hardening the hearts of these Jews for destruction. God had decreed from before the foundation of the world that these Jews would be hardened and go to hell, and He accomplished His purpose by hardening these Jews through the means of the gospel and then sending them to hell for their blindness, deafness, and rebellion that He caused. Why did God find fault with them and send them to hell for something He caused? After all, who can resist God’s will? Again, this is for verses 19 and following, but I wanted to add this because you can see the objection rising up even as we speak about God’s sovereign, unconditional, active hardening.”