Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin.

Book 2: Of the knowledge of God the Redeemer, in Christ, as first manifested to the fathers, under the law, and thereafter to us under the gospel.

Chapter 2: “Man Now Deprived of Freedom of Will, and Miserably Enslaved”

Section 26: Moving on to the will now where the question of freedom principally rests – the power of choice belonging to it rather than the intellect. Now, all men realize that the act of free choice depends on the options which are made available. You cannot choose to do “anything” if “anything” is not an option. For instance, you cannot choose to take a wheelbarrow to the moon if you do not have the means to do so. What we do then, is to make a choice based on the options presented to us – choosing what we determine to be the best course of action. Calvin clarifies the issues, “The question of freedom, therefore, has nothing to do with the fact of man’s being led by natural instinct to desire good. The question is, Does man, after determining by right reason what is good, choose what he thus knows, and pursue what he thus chooses?”. The “appetite” (or desire made manifest) is a natural inclination and what is “good” is not what is virtuous or righteous, but what is the correct choice in that situation. Calvin then states, “In fine, how much soever man may desire to obtain what is good, he does not follow it. There is no man who would not be pleased with eternal blessedness; and yet, without the impulse of the Spirit, no man aspires to it. Since, then, the natural desire of happiness in man no more proves the freedom of the will, than the tendency in metals and stones to attain the perfection of their nature, let us consider, in other respects, whether the will is so utterly vitiated and corrupted in every part as to produce nothing but evil, or whether it retains some portion uninjured, and productive of good desires.”

Section 27: It would seen that our natural will has the power to aspire to holiness, yet we do not have the power to pull it off. Paul confirms this when he states that what he would will to do he is incapable and that which he wills not to do, he does (Rom 7:15, 18). Of course is speaking of the struggle of the Christian here, in that the natural man cannot will to do the right thing by his own power – at least not in a manner that glorifies God. The Christian is constantly in struggle against against sin (Rom 7:20) whereas the natural man doesn’t care if he sins. Paul continues, “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members” (Rom 7:22-23). The natural man, however, is incapable of thinking a good thought (2 Cor 2:6), and whose every thought is of evil continually (Gen 8:21). We are, by our nature, sinners and if sinners, then servants of sin, under bondage and unable to rescue ourselves (Jn 8:34). If we could attain salvation through our own free will, then it Paul could not have said that “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil 2:13). Even when the believer prays that God would have their heart trained to the obedience of the law, it is a prayer from God through them that they would seek Him more diligently (Ps 51:12). In conclusion of this chapter, Calvin states, “Let us therefore rather adopt the sentiment of Augustine, “God will prevent you in all things, but do you sometimes prevent his anger. How? Confess that you have all these things from God, that all the good you have is from him, all the evil from yourself,’ (August. De Verbis Apost. Serm. 10). Shortly after he says ‘Of our own we have nothing but sin.'”.

Leave a Reply

Search the ESV Bible


(e.g., John 1 or God's love)