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Bolsec and God’s “Tyranny”

All throughout the history of the world, beginning already with Adam and Eve, man has desired to be as God. Man has always wanted to have merit in himself, apart from God. Examples of this run throughout history. The Jewish leaders in Jesus’ day wanted their own works to be worth something. Another example is the church in Rome at the time of the Reformation, who fell into works righteousness.  The Reformation helped to once again point God’s people to salvation in Christ alone. But soon after, man once again showed that he wanted a place of honor before God, and it is at this point in history, the 16th Century, that Jerome Bolsec, denier of eternal predestination, takes his place.

Jerome Bolsec was a native of Paris and became a monk in the Roman Catholic Church. Some time after the Reformation, he joined the movement. He had to flee the persecution of Rome, and being spared by a wealthy duchess, went on to be married and start a new career in medicine. A few years later he moved to Geneva, Switzerland, a city where there happened to be an embattled preacher named John Calvin.

Before finding out more about Bolsec, it is necessary to know a few things about the church of this age, in order to get a true perspective of this history. First, the Reformation did not spread by a few believers setting up a church in their city, but instead, the ranking officials from a city such as Geneva, would declare the whole city to be part of the Reformation. Then also, all the citizens of that city were to conform to that decision. So the magistrates controlled things, and there was no “separation of church and state” as we have today in our country. Second, the Reformation in Switzerland was just in its beginning stages at this time in history (1550’s). At this time, John Calvin was busy attempting to organize the church where there was much confusion. An example of this was that Calvin was only now setting up a form of church government (minister, elder, and deacon). Reformation ministers, in their preaching, were just starting to clarify the church’s doctrines and how they stood on certain issues. It was in this Geneva that Jerome Bolsec came.

Being a former monk, Bolsec was interested in theological discussions, and often participated in a meeting of pastors held weekly in the city. It was at one of these meetings that Bolsec stood up and made his true beliefs known, going so far as to accuse Calvin of being “opposed to revealed truth” when speaking of the doctrine of predestination. Predestination speaks of God’s electing some, and reprobating others, even before the world began, apart from any influence from man.

Against this was Bolsec who proposed a view which was popular in Reformation Europe and which was, in fact, already condemned by Martin Luther, but which had only started to filter into Switzerland. Bolsec asserted that every individual person is “free” to accept or reject God’s “offer” of salvation given to all people. In fact, said he, God was a “tyrant” if He would condemn some to hell even before they had a chance to prove themselves. This is how Bolsec denied eternal predestination. If we have a “free will” (are able without God’s help) to accept a salvation which God “offers” to us, then our salvation or damnation is left up to us, and was not planned (predestination) by God before the world began. So here we see, that though the Reformation showed that man’s works were nothing, and faith was needed, now man wanted to take credit for that very faith, taking away honor which is rightly God’s alone.

Because of his statements, the officials imprisoned Bolsec and put him on trial for heresy. As Bolsec defended himself, the city council was at a loss. His arguments were actually quite convincing and he even claimed that other churches in Switzerland believed as he. One argument was the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah. Since, according to eternal predestination, these cities did only that which God ordained, why would God’s wrath be kindled against them? He implied that God was the author of sin and questioned His righteousness. Because of the council’s indecision, other churches in Switzerland were sought for help. But this was no help at all, for the majority of the churches, still unlearned in this “difficult doctrine,” advised leniency and saw room for both views. Calvin, seeking God’s very honor at stake, instructed the people of Geneva and uncovered the truth which the Church now has today.  Calvin showed the people such passages as Eph. 1:4, 5 and Romans 8:29, 30 to prove to them God’s sovereignty in salvation. He also explained to them that all people are guilty apart from Christ. So then, when God determined to save some from the terrible judgment they deserve, He is gracious and merciful, and certainly no “tyrant.” I don’t know how Bolsec could have continued to question God’s predestination, His election and reprobation taking place before the world began, and the question of God’s fairness, after being shown Romans 9, especially verses 11-24. It seems so clear, as evidently it now was to the magistrates of Geneva, for they proceeded to banish Bolsec from Geneva.

The immediate result of this controversy was even more ridicule and scorn by many, even in the church world, against Calvin. The end result however was summed up by another reformer, Beza. “All that Satan gained by these discussions was, that this article of the Christian religion, which was formerly most obscure, became clear and transparent.”  This statement also shows that God was controlling these events and directing them for the advancement of His Kingdom.

Even in our own day, this truth of predestination is keeping God’s people safe from Satan’s clutches, for the vast majority of the so-called “church world” today teaches this same “free will” and “well-meant offer.” (For a closer look at how Bolsec’s beliefs have continued in history, look up the Nov. 15, 1993 issue of the Standard Bearer, Volume 70, pages 77–79).  It has been remarked, that those churches and individuals who no longer speak of God’s reprobation and wrath against the world and sin, concentrate more on the “good things” about God.  We who preach and talk of God’s hatred of men and all sin are more pessimistic. How offensive such talk must be to God. It seems as though such people, in actuality, don’t desire a God who has justifiable hatred.

The uncovering of this doctrine has also been used to keep God’s people from seeing themselves as the source of their faith and instead, seeing God as the author of every part of their salvation. For God’s children as well as the children of this world are all the same by nature. We all want to hold something before our Sovereign Creator and say, “Thou art great, but I am worthy, too!” And, if left in sin, all would eventually deny God completely. How humbling this is. Man is nothing, not even able to recognize his need. God must receive all the glory.

Bibliography

  1. Calvin R.N.Carew Hunt
  2. History of the Christian Church Schaff
  3. The Man God Mastered Jean Cadier