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 22: Now onto the third branch of the knowledge of spiritual things – how we properly regulate our conduct or “works of righteousness”. This appears to be a branch in which the human mind seems to have more discernment than the other two. Paul even makes a point of this in Romans 2:14-15 where he states that the Gentiles, who don’t even have the law of God can properly discern how they should and should not live. If they have this naturally in their minds, we cannot say that they are wholly blind in regards to the rule of life. For what reason was man given this revelation? It was given to them in their conscience so that they may be without excuse on the day of judgment. Despite this knowledge of good, however, he continues to try to suppress the knowledge of his sin so as to enable him to act in a manner that is contrary to his conscience.
Section 23: Themistius (Paraphr. in Lib. 3 de Anima, cap. 46) states that the intellect is very seldom mistaken in the general definition or essence of the matter; but that deception begins as it advances farther, namely when it descends to particulars. What does that mean? That the natural man, when he sins, believes that he is doing the best good at the time in that circumstance. Now there are times that people knowingly waltz into sin or, when faced with a hard decision choose the easier option which happens to be, in itself, sin. In these circumstances it is very often the case that the person does not see the wickedness of their sins until after it has been completed and upon that revelation repentance immediately follows.
Section 24: Mankind has been granted by God a sense of justice and injustice in order that they may have no pretext to allege ignorance. Using the ten commandments as God’s standard for purity, Calvin exposes how futile it is that man can honor God on his own. Beginning with the first section (relating to us and God) none of us, by our own will can worship God as we ought. More than that, it is the heart of the converted man who continually seeks after God as the profane man returns to his old ways as does a dog to his vomit. In the second section of God’s law (how we relate with one another) it is easy to see our failures in that our own ability to honor one another often descends into bickering over rules and conflicting prideful misunderstandings. We proudly find fault in others, yet completely miss them in ourselves as it is contrary to our pride and we cannot stand to see our own failures.
Section 25: What says Scripture on this matter? Paul states that we are not sufficient to judge our own goodness and that God alone has the authority to do so (2 Cor 3:5). The implication here is not that we are somehow not intelligent enough to see it but that we are so blinded by our own perceived goodness that we cannot, without the Holy Spirit working within us, acknowledge our own failures in light of God’s perfection. The Holy Spirit, however “knows the thoughts of man, that they are vain” (Ps 119:34) and that every thought of mankind is of evil continually (Gen 6:5; 8:21). Since everything that we conceive, meditate upon, plan, and do is always evil, how can we ever think of doing what is pleasing to God who embodies perfection, holiness, and righteousness? It is with this in mind that we are driven to God alone who is the one who brings us to Him (Ps 119:34). Paul continues this thought when he states that he continually prays for the Colossians that they “may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col 1:9-10). This does not imply that the ability to do so is within man, but that it is God who does it for them in their lives. David also states that it is God who keeps him from wandering from the truth (Ps 119:10), and that it is God who acts upon him to renew his spirit when he has acted contrary to the nature of God living within him (Ps 51:12).