1st Corinthians 4:7

1st Corinthians 4:7
For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?

Augustine: “For I did not think that faith was preceded by God’s grace, so that by its means would be given to us what we might profitably ask, except that we could not believe if the proclamation of the truth did not precede; but that we should consent when the gospel was preached to us I thought was our own doing, and came to us from ourselves. And this my error is sufficiently indicated in some small works of mine written before my episcopate.” (On the Predestination of the Saints, emphasis mine)

Augustine: “In the solution of this question I laboured indeed on behalf of the free choice of the human will, but God’s grace overcame, and I could only reach that point where the apostle is perceived to have said with the most evident truth, ‘For who maketh thee to differ? and what hast thou that thou hast not received? Now, if thou hast received it, why dost thou glory as if thou receivedst it not?’ [1 Cor. iv. 7] And this the martyr Cyprian was also desirous of setting forth when he compressed the whole of it in that title: ‘That we must boast in nothing, since nothing is our own.’ [Cypr. Test. Book iii. ch. 4] This is why I previously said that it was chiefly by this apostolic testimony that I myself had been convinced, when I thought otherwise concerning this matter; and this God revealed to me as I sought to solve this question when I was writing, as I said, to the Bishop Simplicianus. This testimony, therefore, of the apostle, when for the sake of repressing man’s conceit he said, ‘For what hast thou which thou hast not received?’ [1 Cor. iv. 7] does not allow any believer to say, I have faith which I received not. All the arrogance of this answer is absolutely repressed by these apostolic words. Moreover, it cannot even be said, ‘Although I have not a perfected faith, yet I have its beginning, whereby I first of all believed in Christ.’ Because here also is answered: “But what hast thou that thou hast not received? Now, if thou hast received it, why dost thou glory as if thou receivedst it not?” (On the Predestination of the Saints, emphasis mine)

According to the article, by the instruction of Cyprian, Augustine was persuaded that he was previously wrong about the nature of “preceded” grace (also known as Prevenient Grace, which Arminians teach as being resistible while Calvinists teach as being irresistible), and wrong that salvation was in any way subject to a person’s voluntary “consent” or “choice of the will,” but strictly an irresistible gift of God “only to the elect.” Augustine indicates that the source of his prior error was due to having not “carefully sought” the nature of the “election of grace,” in having “discovered little concerning the calling itself.” The foundation of Augustine’s revelation is the concept that what a person may themselves wrongly perceive as being voluntary, is actually involuntary 

Concerning Augustine, John Calvin writes: “Lest anyone should say, my faith, my righteousness, or something of the kind, distinguishes me from others, the great teacher of the Gentiles meets all such thoughts by saying: What hast thou that hast not received? (I Cor 4:7)--from whom, unless from Him who distinguishes you from others in not giving to them what He gave to you? He goes on: Faith therefore from beginning to end is the gift of God; and that this gift is given to some and not to others, no one can at all doubt, unless he wish to contest the most manifest testimonies of Scripture.”   (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.63, emphasis mine) 

Calvin states that faith unto salvation is a “gift” to an elect group, while being withheld from the alleged, non-elect. Now consider the passage in context:

1st Corinthians 1:1-13: “Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy. But to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord. Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God. Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, so that in us you may learn not to exceed what is written, so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other. For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it? You are already filled, you have already become rich, you have become kings without us; and indeed, I wish that you had become kings so that we also might reign with you. For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are prudent in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are distinguished, but we are without honor. To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless; and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now.

​Note the context of “servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.”

Recall the conclusion of Cyprian, Augustine and Calvin, concerning 1st Corinthians 4:7, that faith in salvation is an involuntary “gift,” not subject to a person’s voluntary “consent” or “choice of the will.” 

1st Corinthians 9:16-19: “For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel. For if I do this voluntarily, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have a stewardship entrusted to me. What then is my reward? That, when I preach the gospel, I may offer the gospel without charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel. For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more.

The problem is that 1st Corinthians 4:7 is not referring to salvation, but stewardship. Cyprian, Augustine and Calvin have taken the apostle Paul out of context. They have taken the words of the apostle Paul concerning an involuntary Christian stewardship (i.e. our Christian calling, our vocation in Christ), and applied it to salvation, so that the gift of salvation is likewise involuntary. But the context is not about salvation. It’s about Christian stewardship. Therefore, the conclusion that the gift of salvation is involuntary, like that of stewardship, is on erroneous grounds.

Question:  Where did John Calvin get his Calvinism? 

Answer:  He credits Augustine, and Augustine credits Cyprian. Augustine initially affirmed Free Will in his book, The City of God. He retracted it in his letter, On the Predestination of the Saints, and cites 1st Corinthians 4:7 as being very influential to him.

Augustine explains: “It was not thus that that pious and humble teacher thought--I speak of the most blessed Cyprian--when he said ‘that we must boast in nothing, since nothing is our own.’  [Cyprian, Testimonies to Quirinus, Book iii. ch. 4] And in order to show this, he appealed to the apostle as a witness, where he said, ‘For what hast thou that thou hast not received? And if thou hast received it, why boastest thou as if thou hadst not received it?’ [1 Cor. iv. 7] And it was chiefly by this testimony that I myself also was convinced when I was in a similar error, thinking that faith whereby we believe on God is not God’s gift, but that it is in us from ourselves, and that by it we obtain the gifts of God, whereby we may live temperately and righteously and piously in this world.” (On the Predestination of the Saints, emphasis mine)