Institutes of the Christian Religion

Therefore, since God claims to himself the right of governing the world, a right unknown to us, let it be our law of modesty and soberness to acquiesce in his supreme authority regarding his will as our only rule of justice, and the most perfect cause of all things,—not that absolute will, indeed, of which sophists prate, when by a profane and impious divorce, they separate his justice from his power, but that universal overruling Providence from which nothing flows that is not right, though the reasons thereof may be concealed.

~ Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 1, Chapter 17, Part 2, by John Calvin

I’d like to preface this by stating that from here forward I’m going to summarize my reading in Calvin’s institues to help others follow along. You know, as if anyone actually read this. While I realize that this is very late in the game to start this (last half of the penultimate chapter of the 1st book) I still think that it will be beneficial. I figure that I can wrap back around when I finish the book and drop in a prequel. Call me “Mr. Lucas”.

Book 1:

Chapter 17: “Use to be Made of the Doctrine of Providence”

Section 6: God cares first for the needs of His children, then the world. The purpose of the historical books in the OT was to make this point.

Section 7: God uses all manner of resources to put this into practice, but the end result is the same that it is for His purpose that we are saved from calamity.

Section 8: When calamity arises, the purpose is to bring our focus back to God, by whom we are most likely to be saved from our trouble. If the trouble continues, it is for our testing and instruction, but never out of His control. God rules over good and evil to accomplish His purposes.

Section 9: Sometimes calamity comes due to negligence and imprudence on the part of the believer. This is not judgment from God, but reaping what you sow. In other cases there are hard things that come upon us to remind us of human sin and the curse. Ultimately, God is still in control and we can trust that a danger which is not fatal will not hurt us, yet one that is fatal cannot be resisted by any precaution. So it is our duty to diligently seek God in our actions and, by so doing, seek to live our lives honoring Him, knowing that what takes place in our lives is orchestrated by God for our good and His glory.

Section 10: Life in this world is filled with constant dangers which can harm us in any number of ways. Calvin goes into detail showing a wide range of dangers which threaten us daily and then pauses only to explain that if we were left to nothing but blind chance, our lives would be wrought with fear in that the light of our life could be snuffed out at any moment.

Section 11: The life of a believer however, who trust in God’s divine providence, is a life of freedom from worry and dread. He commits every fear to God and trusts that whatever befalls him, it is at the hand of his redeemer who has promised not to give us more than we can handle. Therefore the life of a Christian is a life of joy in that no matter what may come, good or evil, we will be enabled to withstand it and if it is to conclude with our death then there is nothing that can remove us from that end.

Section 12: Expanding on the topic of God’s providence, Calvin examines a few places in scripture where God “repented” of His decisions (Gen 6:6; 1 Sam 15:11; Jer 18:8). He also discusses where God seems to have changed his mind (Jonah 3:4-10; Isa 38:15; 2 Ki 20:25). As to the statement “repentance” Calvin states that it is wise to remember that God cannot lie and in him are found no errors, ignorance, or impotence. God is also incapable of regret in that all of his decisions are perfect. What is stated is that the term “repent” is to mean “change” in that God is changing the leadership of Israel, away from what the peopel wanted and to what a man after God’s own heart. This ultimately concludes with Numbers 23:19, which states, “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?”.

Section 13: Continuing from Section 12, Calvin relates the term “repentance” is used to help us understand what God was doing through his actions. In the same way, when we read that God is “angry” at sinners we know that he is not acting out of unjust anger but in direct response to us breaking the rules which he has provided to us. These are terms used to help us relate to God and understand more of what he means when he acts toward us.

Section 14: Concluding the questions that he arose in Section 12, Calvin now speaks to the places in scripture where it seems that God has changed his mind. In each of these instances, God provides a conditional statement to people who then repent and God then responds to their repentance by staying his hand. These are instances where God uses his prophets to communicate warnings to bring about a change in the hearts of those involved. God’s first will is that they would repent and if they do not repent He will act in judgment against them. God knows the end will be their repentance and He acts accordingly, but it is through the threat of judgment that these people turn. Ultimately, Isaiah 14:27 remains true, “For the LORD of hosts has purposed, and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back?”

Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin.

Book 1: Of the Knowledge of God the Creator

Chapter 18: “Instrumentality of the Wicked Employed by God, While He stays Pure”

Section 1: When God uses the wicked and their acts to bring about His means, He does not get tainted as being evil Himself. This is a question of God’s permissive will allowing the wicked to do whatever they desire to do in a way that brings about His desired end, either in punishing people through their acts, or using them as a catalyst for change toward what He was desired to take place. This is made manifest in that no one acts outside of the will of God and outside of His utter control over all people. Just as Satan cannot act without God’s express approval of the act, its intended consequences, and the extent of his action, we are not more powerful that Satan in that we can thwart the will of our sovereign God.

Section 2: God occasionally uses “secret movements” to do things behind the scenes to bring about His will. He has blinded people in the case of David’s escape from Saul and Peter’s escape from the hands of the Jews, and even killing people when He wiped out 185,000 Assyrians to save Jerusalem (2 Ki. 21:24). God also occasionally hardness the hearts of men (Exo 4:21; Josh 11:20)

Section 3: People who respond to God’s actions by questioning Him are placing themselves in very dangerous territory. God will not be mocked. To those who say that God has two contrary wills (one for good and one for evil) Calvin refutes it in detail by reminding the reader that Scripture is replete with evidence that God is good and it is instead our opinion of the circumstance which we determine to be “evil”. God is the sovereign creator of all things and, as such, He is the perfect judge of all.

Section 4: While God uses the wickedness of men to bring about His desired will, God Himself does not sin, nor does He incur the penalty of sin. Quoting Calvin, “When Absalom defiled his father’s bed, though God was pleased thus to avenge the adultery of David, he did not therefore enjoin an abandoned son to commit incest, unless, perhaps, in respect of David, as David himself says of Shimei’s curses. For, while he confesses that Shimei acts by the order of God, he by no means commends the obedience, as if that petulant dog had been yielding obedience to a divine command; but, recognising in his tongue the scourge of God, he submits patiently to be chastised.

How do we reconcile God’s promotion of the evil King Jeroboam to his place of honor (1 Kings 12:20) with the perceived contradiction in God’s will as revealed in Hosea 8:4; 13:11? The people could not revolt against the Judean rule without shaking off a yoke divinely imposed on them and therefore to invoke the punishment He promised to Solomon for his ingratitude He orchestrated this revolt. Their new king then led them into idolatry and brought about the separation of the tribes as God had stated would occur if Solomon did not seek after Him with his whole heart as did his father David. God’s will to see the throne continue under the rule of a Davidic king AND His will to see the kingdom separated and judgment come into the larger kingdom of Israel were thus fulfilled.

Calvin then concludes this section with this quote from Augustine, “Since the Father delivered up the Son, Christ his own body, and Judas his Master, how in such a case is God just, and man guilty, but just because in the one act which they did, the reasons for which they did it are different? (August. Ep. 48, ad Vincentium). ” The implication is that we, who have no authority to raise our complaint to God about the way with which He rules His universe, also have no authority here to claim that the author of life and creator of perfect truth sins by His actions, even when He uses sinful actions of mankind to bring about that which He determines to be good.

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 1: “Through Fall of Adam, the Human Race Made Accursed”

Section 1: Mankind should strive to know more about itself, but not to focus on its own glory but to make a careful and reasoned assessment of its place in God’s economy and to realize more clearly its own failures in light of God’s unmeasurable perfection. It is only in light of this that we can clearly see God’s role (and our right response) in our salvation. That stated, mankind is a creation of God and that our lives are held by Him and at a determined length at His pleasure. Secondly, our status in God’s creation is less than that of any of His other creations as none of them sought to supplant his authority with their own. This knowledge should drive us to our knees and lead us to seek Him daily in humble service, cognizant of our consistent failure to achieve even the very barest of the requirements set out in the standard of His perfection.

Section 2: In examining ourselves we must refuse to place confidence in our own abilities. That is part of what led us to the fall. While it is much more enjoyable to focus on our “good qualities”, in relation to the glory of God, we must refuse to do so. Calvin states, “There is nothing that is more acceptable to the human mind than flattery” which is why it is more common to find people focusing on our agreeable attributes. When looking at ourselves in relation to God, however, we must look at the whole of mankind and see ourselves as we truly are. If we, after learning of our own greatness, then trust in ourselves for salvation we are denying the truth of ourselves (as seen in our entirety) and are accepting a lie that will lead to our own destruction.

Section 3: In our own self evaluation we determine that our knowledge of ourselves is complete and thus that our actions are all for the good of ourselves. When a problem (sin) is found in our lives, we tend to approach them with the idea that we can expel it by our own merit or effort and when we have fought with it enough we either conquer it or determine that our failure to conquer it is merely revealing that it was something that’s just “part of” us and never meant to be removed. God, however, wants us to remain focused on our lost perfection and to keep our failures in view. It is this focus that brings humility in that we realize that we cannot attain to God’s standard for perfection. We groan under the pains and pressure of God’s standard, knowing that we cannot reach the ring of salvation by our own effort or merit and therefore we are prodded on to destroy our confidence in ourselves and humbly trust in God alone for deliverance. While our fleshly self-evaluation foolishly leads us to believe we can sufficiently perform our duty before God, the God-focused self-evaluation reveals our inability to perform any just duty before Him.

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 1: “Through Fall of Adam, the Human Race Made Accursed”

Section 4: Given the repercussions from the fall, Calvin then investigates the fall itself and the type of sin that brought down the human race. He concludes that God’s command to not eat of the one tree in the center of the garden, while affording him the opportunity to eat of every other tree was a test of Adam’s faith. If his faith in God was complete, then he would have refused eat the forbidden fruit. As it is with all things in relation to God, our faith that He is who He says He is and that His rule and commands are absolute are the apex upon which humanity rests. Thus Adam’s sin as revealed in his lack of faith as the federal head of mankind we now live in perpetual sin, waiting on salvation through God alone. That precludes that we trust that God is the only one who can save us (as He is the offended party) and that we trust that His salvation is complete. This means that our faith in Christ is the antidote to Adam’s sin.

Infidelity (lit. lack of faith or unfaithful) is what caused the fall of mankind. More simply stated, Adam refused to accept the word of God over his own estimation of the facts presented to him. Calvin clearly states the issue when he says, “Assuredly, when the word of God is despised, all reverence for Him is gone”. From this infidelity spring ambition and pride. Ambition in that we now are led to follow our own council and pride in that we now merely trust in ourselves to determine the best course of action. Combine those with ingratitude for all that we have been given by our sovereign creator and the basis for all sin against God is complete. Adam’s sin against God was an affront against his creator, supplanting his own wisdom with that of God’s, rejecting God’s sovereign rule over his life and decisions. His prideful self-estimation of his abilities to determine the best course of action led him to, by taking the fruit and eating from it, state that God was not only wrong to refuse him that honor, but to imply that God was malicious in his intent to keep man at a lesser state than himself. Calvin concludes, “infidelity opened the door to ambition, and ambition was the parent of rebellion, man casting off the fear of God, and giving free vent to his lust.”

Section 5: God said that if Adam and his wife would eat of the fruit they would die, yet they did not die immediately. Why is this? Calvin states that Adam’s spiritual life (as with our own) consisted in remaining united and bound to his Maker, so the separation which comes from sin killed his soul. What does this have to do with us if Adam was the one who sinned? His sin damned the whole of creation (Rom 8:20, 22) because we are all children of our father. Calvin clarifies this stating, “Therefore, since through man’s fault a curse has extended above and below, over all the regions of the world, there is nothing unreasonable in its extending to all his offspring. After the heavenly image in man was effaced, he not only was himself punished by a withdrawal of the ornaments in which he had been arrayed—viz. wisdom, virtue, justice, truth, and holiness, and by the substitution in their place of those dire pests, blindness, impotence, vanity, impurity, and unrighteousness, but he involved his posterity also, and plunged them in the same wretchedness.” This is where we get the term “original sin” in that the sin which Adam committed as the federal head of mankind was performed for everyone who was ever to come. Calvin then goes into detail refuting the Pelagian heresy which states that we are born “good” but adopt a life of sin which can lead to damnation but that we, outside of God’s diving guidance, can choose a life of purity and save ourselves. Scripture is very clear that this is not the case and using Calvin’s own words of conclusion, “All of us, therefore, descending from an impure seed, come into the world tainted with the contagion of sin. Nay, before we behold the light of the sun we are in God’s sight defiled and polluted. “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Not one,” says the Book of Job (Job 14:4).”

Section 6: Adam’s sin is the root of all corruption within the race of man. Jesus, however, who was not fathered by Adam, escapes this inheritance of damnation (Rom 5:19-21). Continuing his assault on the Pelagian heresy, he breaks down their assumption that the sin of Adam is merely us imitating his sin in our own lives. Through the use of the referenced verse in that through Adam all sin and therefore in Christ all are saved, the Pelagian view must be that we must imitate Christ to obtain our salvation. This is preposterous. Calvin puts the final nail in the coffin for the Pelagian heresy when he states, “Accordingly, the relation subsisting between the two is this, As Adam, by his ruin, involved and ruined us, so Christ, by his grace, restored us to salvation.” For scriptural proof of this concept he turns to 1 Cor 15:22, driving the point of original sin home with Eph 2:3 (all are by nature children of wrath), and my favorite paraphrase of John 3:6, “that which is born of the flesh is fleshy”. Outside of Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf, outside of God acting in our favor despite our actions, intentions, and thoughts, we are all damned. Regeneration through Christ is our only hope.

Section 7: As to when the soul becomes corrupt, it is a mystery which belongs only to God in that we cannot find this out by our own investigation. We see it, however, clearly exposed on young children that their hearts are bent toward evil in their actions and words. Godly parents can help to contribute to the holiness of their children, but this is not an imparted holiness by their perceived inherent goodness, but a grace of God – a blessing – and it does not “prevent the primary and universal curse of the whole race from previously taking effect.”

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 1: “Through Fall of Adam, the Human Race Made Accursed”

Section 8: Defining original sin, Calvin states that it is “a hereditary corruption and depravity of our nature, extending to all the parts of the soul, which first makes us obnoxious to the wrath of God, and then produces in us works which in Scripture are termed works of the flesh.” The works of the flesh are “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these” (Gal 5:19-21). From this we have two observations: First, in that we are so corrupted in our nature, it is no wonder that we are condemned by God. Despite the fact that this sin in our lives is present because of Adam’s sin, we are held accountable for the sins that we commit and everyone, everywhere, has sinned against God (Rom 5:12). It is this “seed” of sin that makes us sinful and that is why even a baby, who is unable to willfully sin against God is seen as one who has already done so. Second, our inherent sinfulness continues to produce new sins within us, despite our desires to stop them. Whether in thought, careless word, or deed, we continue to sin. We can thus conclude that our whole person, from our thought life to our words and actions are dripping with the sin that keeps us from our God.

Section 9: In this section the author continues to push the issue that we are wholly corrupted, in every part of our bodies and in the deepest recesses of our soul. Stating that Romans 3 merely describes original sin as being one with our nature, he continues to show in Ephesians (Eph 4:17-18, 23-24) that our regeneration through Christ applies not to just our soul but to our whole body, and that we will be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom 12:2). Therefore, because so great a transformation is necessary for us to be approved by God a restoration of our whole body and soul is required. This cannot happen through mere works but requires God to act for us on our behalf. We cannot be the originators of this transformation since all of our pre-conversion thoughts and intentions are enmity against God (Rom 8:7).

Section 10: Do away with the people who blame God for our sin and our sin nature. Calvin explains that the idea that God is the author of sin and that He “could have provided better for our safety” by preventing Adam’s sin is absurd. Concluding this section, the author states, “Since man, by the kindness of God, was made upright, but by his own infatuation fell away unto vanity, his destruction is obviously attributable only to himself.”

Section 11: In conclusion of this chapter, it is evident that man is corrupted by a natural “viciousness”, but not one that comes from nature (that is, from our bodies) but from a corrupt spirit within our souls. This heredity of sin, then, keeps us from God and from seeking to honor Him with our lives since we are, after all, “by nature the children of wrath” (Eph 2:3). So, how is it that “good people” who seek to “do good” are seen as vile sinners before God? It’s not the work itself that brings the charge, but the corruption of the work. Our sinful souls, controlling sinful hands, cannot from themselves produce works that are clean before a holy and perfect God.

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 1: Now that we’ve carefully proven that all mankind is wholly sinful in his natural state, to see how far the freedom of the will extends. In order to clearly understand this subject, the point will first be made that mankind is wholly devoid of any goodness, then to “teach him to aspire to the goodness of which he is devoid and the liberty of which he has been deprived”. This is to inspire the unconverted to action when, if left to their own devices, they would see themselves as being wholly pure (or pure enough) when compared to ‘other people’ such that they would never pursue holiness. What is the only goodness that scripture attributes to man before the fall? That he was created in the image of God. All of our blessings, therefore, are given to us by God and not earned by our merit. Now that the original glory that was once given to us has been removed, what remains for us to do other than to acknowledge God for the kindness that He has provided to us? Given that we never glorified God in our blessings, we should glorify Him in our poverty. Even this the corrupt man can never do as it is against our nature to do so.

Section 2: Knowing then that the “faculties of the soul are seated in the mind and heart”, let’s examine the abilities of each. Philosophers maintain that reason dwells in the mind giving light to council and governing the will such that it can discern the best course of action in all situations. On the contrary, sense is dull and short-sighted, “groveling among inferior objects” and never rising above the basest of desires. Appetite, when it obeys reason instead of sense, is “borne to the study of virtue”, but when it is corrupted by sense it becomes corrupted and depraved and degenerates into lust. The will, however, is often given a position between that of reason and sense.

Section 3: These philosophers, convinced by their own experience, do not deny how hard it is for man to establish the “supremacy of reason” in himself when enticed by the allurements of pleasure. This can cause man to become deluded who a false “good”, supplanting his own desire ahead of the true good and thus they are ruled by their passions. “They confess that when once diseases of this description have seized upon the mind, their course is too impetuous to be easily checked, and they hesitate not to compare them to fiery steeds, which, having thrown off the charioteer, scamper away without restraint.” Somehow, they still affirm that virtue and vice are ours to control. This is where our “freedom of choice” resides – in that we choose to either act in accordance with what we know to be good or what we know to be evil at the consult of our wisdom. They say that our wisdom is something that we generate on our own, obtaining it through the supreme act of our own good will. To prove his point, Calvin thus quotes Cicero, “The opinion of all mankind is, that fortune must be sought from God, wisdom from ourselves.” (Cicero, De Nat. Deorum). So, where does philosophy land us? It maintains “that human reason is sufficient for right government; that the will, which is inferior to it, may indeed be solicited to evil by sense, but having a free choice, there is nothing to prevent it from following reason as its guide in all things.”

Section 4: Among Christian writers, all acknowledge that sound reason in man was seriously injured by sin and the will of man is controlled by all manner of vicious desires. Many, unfortunately, lean toward the statements of philosophy in these matters. Most of this took place because the Christian writers were appealing to their listeners and attempting not to be mocked for their beliefs. In short, they were caving under the fear of man. This is the bed in which the debate over “free will” is planted and stands firm – good Christian men and women, afraid of speaking the truth of scripture (or afraid of accepting it) bend in their statements and open the door to unbiblical ideas. For instance, Chrysostom says, “God having placed good and evil in our power, has given us full freedom of choice; he does not keep back the unwilling, but embraces the willing,” (Homil. de Prodit. Judae), and “He who is wicked is often, when he so chooses, changed into good, and he who is good falls through sluggishness, and becomes wicked. For the Lord has made our nature free. He does not lay us under necessity, but furnishing apposite remedies, allows the whole to depend on the views of the patient,” (Homily. 18, in Genesis). One of Chrysostom’s favorite statements was, “Let us bring what is our own, God will supply the rest.” and Jerome concurs with, “It is ours to begin, God’s to finish: it is ours to offer what we can, his to supply what we cannot,” (Dialog. 3 Cont. Pelag).

From what we’ve learned in the last chapter, as revealed to us in scripture it is evident then that these men are giving man way more than is their due. The end result from this rampant appeal to the unconverted intellect was the idea that man is only corrupt in the sensual part of his nature while his reason remained pure. When compared to biblical truth, this is seen to be purely untrue. The presiding thought on both sides of the debate was that man possessed free will to do as he chose and without the input of his divine Creator. But, is this free will, driven by human reason, good or evil?

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 5: In general, the proponents of free will only grant to man free will for intermediate things – not things like righteousness and salvation. Ambrose described the will as having three parts, “sensitive, animal, and spiritual”, and it was only to the first two that he stated man was free to control. They also state that free will only applies to obedience required by the divine law. Quoting Calvin on this topic, “The schools, however, have adopted a distinction which enumerates three kinds of freedom (see Lombard, lib. 2 Dist. 25); the first, a freedom from necessity; the second, a freedom from sin; and the third, a freedom from misery: the first naturally so inherent in man, that he cannot possibly be deprived of it; while through sin the other two have been lost. I willingly admit this distinction, except in so far as it confounds necessity with compulsion. How widely the things differ, and how important it is to attend to the difference, will appear elsewhere.”

Section 6: All these things in view, it is impossible for man to produce good works unless he is assisted by grace; specifically the special grace given to the elect through regeneration. Lombard teaches that it is a twofold grace that leads men to do good works. The first, called “Operating”, is what we will to is good, and the second is “Cooperating” which succeeds the good will and aids it. This will be delved into in more detail in coming sections (ch 3 sec 10, ch 7 sect 9), but Calvin’s primary objection to this division is that it implies that man within himself is capable of desiring to do what is good. His secondary objection is the ambiguity found in the second portion which leads to error. Calvin states, “For it has been thought that we co-operate with subsequent grace, inasmuch as it pertains to us either to nullify the first grace, by rejecting it or to confirm it, by obediently yielding to it.” He then quotes De Vocatione Gentium to show the error, “It is free to those who enjoy the faculty of reason to depart from grace, so that the not departing is a reward, and that which cannot be done without the co-operation of the Spirit is imputed as merit to those whose will might have made it otherwise (lib. 2 cap. 4).” Concluding this section, Calvin states, “The division, however, shows in what respect free will is attributed to man. For Lombard ultimately declares (lib. 2 Dist. 25), that our freedom is not to the extent of leaving us equally inclined to good and evil in act or in thought, but only to the extent of freeing us from compulsion. This liberty is compatible with our being depraved, the servants of sin, able to do nothing but sin.”

Section 7: Calvin thus defines free will, “In this way, then, man is said to have free will, not because he has a free choice of good and evil, but because he acts voluntarily, and not by compulsion.” He then states that any expansion outside of that definition gives too much authority to man to control his own destiny.

Section 8: The church fathers have been all over the board on the use of the term “free will”. Augustine, for instance, hesitates to call the will a “slave”, yet repudiates those who deny free will. Later he states, “without the Spirit the will of man is not free”. It is obvious then, that this is a tumultuous topic, in that Calvin states (and sources) numerous seeming flip-flops in stance from Augustine alone. Concluding this section, Calvin states, “I am unwilling to use it myself; and others if they will take my advice, will do well to abstain from it.” I agree.

Section 9: The author then addresses the view that some readers may take that he prejudiced his own view by only quoting Augustine and not other church fathers as well. He states that his reasoning was that it’s not his place to show all possible sides to the issue but to show that there are many good Christians who hold opposing views on this topic and some who even hold opposing views within themselves. The end of the matter is that all hold that man is inherently sinful and that our desires are only for our own pleasure to the exclusion of glorifying God. Quoting Calvin, “If there is nothing good in us; if man, from the crown of the head to the sole of the foot, is wholly sin; if it is not even lawful to try how far the power of the will extends,—how can it be lawful to share the merit of a good work between God and man?”.

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 10: By way of reminder, Calvin restates his initial premise from the beginning of this chapter; “He who is most deeply abased and alarmed, by the consciousness of his disgrace, nakedness, want, and misery, has made the greatest progress in the knowledge of himself. Man is in no danger of taking too much from himself, provided he learns that whatever he wants is to be recovered in God.” Using numerous passages of scripture (Jer 17:5; Ps 147:10-11; Isa 40:29-31; Jas 4:6; Isa 44:3, 55:1, 60:19) he makes the case that the Bible goes to great pains to show us that our right attitude toward God is one on humility and not prideful arrogance.

Section 11: Turning to the teachings of the church fathers (Chrysostom and Augustine), Calvin now states that the primary attitude of the heart of a Christian is one of humility. “The more infirm you are”, states Calvin, “the more the Lord will sustain you. […] I do not ask, however, that man should voluntarily yield without being convinced, or that, if he has any powers, he should shut his eyes to them, that he may thus be subdued to true humility; but that getting quit of the disease of self-love and ambition, under the blinding of which he thinks of himself more highly than he ought to think, he may see himself as he really is, by looking into the faithful mirror of Scripture.”

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 12: When Adam withdrew his allegience to God, gave up the spiritual gifts he was given. When we are restored through Christ, all of these are added back to us. The natural gifts, which include our intellectual aptitude and integrity in our hearts, were corrupted at the fall, but not altogether removed, and remain corrupted until our glorification. We can obtain a stronger ability to control them but they will remain at war against us until Jesus either comes or calls us home. This highlights God’s necessary action on our behalf to turn us toward Him and bring us to Him for salvation. “As the human mind is unable, from dullness, to pursue the right path of investigation, and, after various wanderings, stumbling every now and then like one groping in darkness, at length gets completely bewildered, so its whole procedure proves how unfit it is to search the truth and find it. Then it labours under another grievous defect, in that it frequently fails to discern what the knowledge is which it should study to acquire. Hence, under the influence of a vain curiosity, it torments itself with superfluous and useless discussions, either not adverting at all to the things necessary to be known, or casting only a cursory and contemptuous glance at them.”

Section 13: Man’s intellect and effort to learn more about God from an external perspective is not always unfruitful but it is woefully ill prepared to attempt to do so. Often we do better when looking at earthly things than we do at heavenly things. Defining the two, Calvin states, “By earthly things, I mean those which relate not to God and his kingdom, to true righteousness and future blessedness, but have some connection with the present life, and are in a manner confined within its boundaries. By heavenly things, I mean the pure knowledge of God, the method of true righteousness, and the mysteries of the heavenly kingdom.” Universal consensus is that the seeds of both earthly and heavenly knowledge are implanted in each of us. People immediately launch from these seeds into quarrels and arguments and sometimes even wars over differing views on these matters. It reads as if Calvin is leading to the point where it is explained that without an outside perspective, one who is not influenced by the results, it is impossible to come to any agreement on the matter.

Section 14: Through investigating the arts, it is seen that while no one is a master of all, all have some aptitude toward some. Given that all people, when working in the arts, attempt to try something new it led Plato toward the erroneous conclusion, “that such knowledge was nothing but recollection.” This is an example of the fact that we have natural talents/gifts which are implanted in us by God.

Section 15: This reminds us that, when reading heathen writers that the human mind, however fallen and perverted, is still invested with gifts from God. They are still a reflection of God’s glory in that they are image bearers of God. Given that the Holy Spirit is the means by which God conveys all truth to us, we should be careful to say that no unconverted soul is capable of producing truth as that could lead you toward blasphemy (since God, working through the unconverted is revealing truth). “We cannot”, relates Calvin, “read the writings of the ancients on these subjects without the highest admiration; an admiration which their excellence will not allow us to withhold. But shall we deem anything to be noble and praiseworthy, without tracing it to the hand of God? Far from us be such ingratitude; an ingratitude not chargeable even on heathen poets, who acknowledged that philosophy and laws, and all useful arts were the inventions of the gods.”

Section 16: Let us not forget the blessings that the Holy Spirit grants to whomever He wills for the common good of mankind. The construction of the temple (Exo 31:2; 35:30), for instance, shows us that God grants to us skills and knowledge necessary to perform specific tasks. The Bible states repeatedly that God directed the wills of the gentiles to perform tasks for Him, we also see them working to advance the areas of physics, dialectics, mathematics, and other sciences. Since all knowledge begins and ends with God, it can been seen clearly that God informs all mankind with this kindness – that we have the ability to learn about the earthly things. “Lest any one, however, should imagine a man to be very happy merely because, with reference to the elements of this world, he has been endued with great talents for the investigation of truth, we ought to add, that the whole power of intellect thus bestowed is, in the sight of God, fleeting and vain whenever it is not based on a solid foundation of truth.”

Section 17: Concluding the thoughts contained in these sections (12-17), Calvin states, “From a general survey of the human race, it appears that one of the essential properties of our nature is reason, which distinguishes us from the lower animals, just as these by means of sense are distinguished from inanimate objects. For although some individuals are born without reason, that defect does not impair the general kindness of God, but rather serves to remind us, that whatever we retain ought justly to be ascribed to the Divine indulgence.” Calvin then goes on to show that the Bible reveals to us numerous times where the Holy Spirit teaches, instructs, and leads us at the will of God to His ends (Judges 6:34; 1 Sam 10:26; 10:6; 16:13). God even causes people to wander for specific reasons that only He knows (Ps 107:40). Concluding this section, Calvin reveals that even in all of this, we can still trace some remnants of the divine image within us which distinguishes us from all other creatures.

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