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 3: “Everything Proceeding From The Corrupt Nature of Man Damnable.”
Section 6: Calvin now turns to investigate the work which God does within the heart and mind of the natural man leading toward conversion. Philippians 1:6 states that it is God who begins the conversion of our will, and who will continue to keep us until Jesus comes back. “God, therefore, begins the good work in us”, states Calvin, “by exciting in our hearts a desire, a love, and a study of righteousness, or (to speak more correctly) by turning, training, and guiding our hearts unto righteousness; and he completes this good work by confirming us unto perseverance.” This is not God “aiding” us toward Him, but a whole replacement of our will and desires. Ezekiel 36:26-27 states, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” We have already proven that the heart and desire of man is evil continually; how is it that now we can achieve righteousness with only a few causal promptings from our divine creator? It is impossible! Instead, it is necessary that our whole will is removed and replaced with one that is engineered to seek God. We are not only incapable of doing God’s will without His direct intervention, we are ill-equipped. God, therefore, HAS to work within us to lead us to Himself. Philippians 2:13 drives this point home when it states that “it is God who works within us, both to will and to work for His own good pleasure.” Remember, that is not directed toward the unconverted, but to the Christian. If God so has to work in those whom He has justified, how much more does He work in the lives of the unconverted, who is wholly bent toward His destruction, to bring him to trust in Jesus alone for his salvation? All good things that we have in our lives come from God alone (1 Cor 8:6; 12:6), and the good works that we perform are merely an act of worship to the God who redeemed us. The whole of our turning, repentance, trust, salvation, restoration, justification, sanctification, and eventual glorification are from God alone, to God alone, for His glory alone.
Section 7: Refuting the idea that, once God prepares the will for conversion, that it then acts on its own to bring about the trust that leads to salvation, Calvin quotes Augustine, “grace precedes every good work; the will accompanying, not leading; a handmaid, and not a guide (August. ad Bonifac. Ep. 106).” The Lord destroys our depraved will, and replaces it with a good will from Himself. It is this good will, which is a replacement of our human will, that is receptive to God’s call for repentance.
Section 8: Since this is the crux of the issue for most who refute Calvin’s claim that it is God alone who orchestrates our salvation, He turns to Scripture to support him. He states that while his belief is founded in the writings of Augustine, he wants to make himself clear. First, while it is easy to prove that goodness comes only from God, and that no one of their own will is inclined toward good, the cause of election must be sought out. It follows that a right will is not native to that of mankind, but a gift from God. The beginning of right will and action is founded in faith, and that faith itself is a gift from God. There is nothing within man himself that leads God to provide that saving faith to man, so it is therefore founded in grace alone. God opts, out of His own good pleasure, to give to mankind what is necessary to bring him to repentance and faith, not based on the merits found in that man, but based on God’s own desire to see that man saved, paying no regard to whatever works, good or bad, he may have committed. “When the Lord, in the conversion of his people, sets down these two things as requisite to be done—viz. to take away the heart of stone, and give a heart of flesh, he openly declares, that, in order to our conversion to righteousness, what is ours must be taken away, and that what is substituted in its place is of himself.” Where is this supported in scripture? Jeremiah 32:39-40 states, “I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.” Ezekiel also states, “I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 11:19) Calvin concludes, “It always follows, both that nothing good can proceed from our will until it be formed again, and that after it is formed again in so far as it is good, it is of God, and not of us.”
Section 9: This is confirmed in the prayers of the saints. Solomon prays that the Lord may “incline our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments, his statutes, and his rules, which he commanded our fathers.” (1 Ki 8:58), stating that the heart of man is perverse and it is God who must turn our wills toward Him, and keep us focused on His good pleasure. Psalm 119:36 states, “incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain”, relating the same idea of our own failure to focus on God until He does the work to turn us. This is reflected in God’s insistence that the Jews follow God’s rules regarding the Sabbath – that they work hard during the week, but stop and rest every 7 days and trust that God will defend and support them. Jesus verifies this for us in John 15:1,4, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. … Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” We, according to our Savior, will wither and die if we are separated from God who sustains and supports us as the vine supports all those who are attached to it. Continuing this theme, Jesus, in Matthew 15:13, states that “every plant that [God] has not planted will be uprooted.” As we discovered before in Phil 2:13, it is God who does all good works within us, and who sustains us to do those good works for His good pleasure. “Were it said that God gives assistance to a weak will,” states Calvin, “something might be left us; but when it is said that he makes the will, every thing good in it is placed without us.” God also sustains us until we are called home into glory. David asks God to protect him from sin, that it may not have control over him (Psalm 119:133). This reveals that God not only begins the work of salvation and sees it through to completion, but that he is actively involved in our daily lives, protecting us from sin, and leading us toward Him in repentance and faith.