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?