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.