Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin.
Translating that which was first in French, then translated into the King’s English into regular English so y’all can follow along. Buckle up, good theology ahead!
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 5: “The Arguments Usually Alleged in Support of Free Will Refuted.”
Section 1: To those who support free will through attack of spurious scriptural references, Calvin offers the following responses. Pelagius’ view in his attack against Augustine was that sin is necessary or voluntary. If sin is necessary, then it is no longer sin, and if it is voluntary, it may be avoided. Both of which negate the need for Jesus to take our place if we can sidestep the issue of sin. Both of these views have already been refuted in previous chapters.
Section 2: If good and evil actions are not from free choice, then the punishment and reward is removed. Jerome, quoting the Pelagians, states, “If grace acts in us, grace, and not we who do the work, will be crowned, (Hieron. in Ep. ad Ctesiphont. et Dialog. 1)”. Punishment, however, is applied to the one who acts, not on the one who led or caused the action. Soldiers who, under direct orders, commit horrific acts, are still guilty of those acts despite being ordered to commit them. Regarding rewards, it would be absurd to refuse to acknowledge that it is God who acts in us to bring us to do good works, but God chooses to reward us for our actions when we adhere to His calling or command. Augustine defined this clearly when he said, “God crowns not our merits but his own gifts; and the name of reward is given not to what is due to our merits, but to the recompense of grace previously bestowed?” and “You are nothing in yourself, sin is yours, merit God’s. Punishment is your due; and when the reward shall come, God shall crown his own gifts, not your merits,” (Ep. 52). If this is not enough, merely turn to scripture: “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” ~ Romans 8:30, and “Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” ~ 2 Timothy 4:8. Everything is denied to free will – If we act on our own free will and do good, it is God who deserves the glory for acting in us to produce those good works, and if we do evil, then we are punished, for our actions, but those actions are allowed to take place by God who then uses them for our good and His glory.
Section 3: They then will respond that if we do not possess the power to choose to do good or evil, then all who exist are either good or bad. By that they mean that if we cannot choose our actions, and therefore are living our lives are we are led or allowed by God, then we are either all good people who are allowed to act in sin or we are all bad people who God allows to act righteously. This is absolutely true – and this is the backbone of election! It is not that we are all good people, as the Pelagians would say, but that we are all bad people who need God to act on our behalf to save us from the consequences of our own sin. Paul clearly states it in Romans 3:23-25, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” Quoting Calvin, “Therefore, while we all labour naturally under the same disease, those only recover health to whom the Lord is pleased to put forth his healing hand. The others whom, in just judgment, he passes over, pine and rot away till they are consumed. And this is the only reason why some persevere to the end, and others, after beginning their course, fall away. Perseverance is the gift of God, which he does not lavish promiscuously on all, but imparts to whom he pleases.” It is only attributed to the Lord’s good pleasure that people are saved from their sin, and that they are held firm in their faith.
Section 4: They still refute it, stating that calls for obedience and faith are worthless if we do not possess the power to obey on our own. When Augustine heard this, he wrote the book “De Correptione et Gratia” where he soundly refuted all of their complaints. The heart of his rebuttal to these claims is in this statement: “O, man! Learn from the precept what you ought to do; learn from correction, that it is your own fault you have not the power; and learn in prayer, whence it is that you may receive the power.” Augustine is just repeating what is found clearly in scripture. Jesus Himself said in John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” Paul continues in Romans 9:16 where, regarding God’s sovereign choice to save whomever He desires to save, “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” Paul, knowing this to be true, does not stop compelling them to act in faith and follow the commands of God. Why is this? Paul explains, “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” ~ 1 Corinthians 3:7, showing that God honors the action by enabling growth. God allows us to act on our own in faith, not for His pleasure, though it is by His good pleasure that we are enabled to so act, so that we can grow in Him in faith and increase our endurance.
Section 5: So, what purpose then is there for the exhortation to act in faith? The wicked despise the laws of God and as often as they hear the call of God to repent and trust in Him and refuse, this refusal will act as a testimony against them at the coming judgment. They were afforded the opportunity to repent by their own actions and desires and, without God enabling them, the refused the offer, spitting in the face of their Creator who offered them freedom. The chief use of these exhortations, however are for the believers whom God enables and drives to action by His Holy Spirit. Ezekiel 11:19-20 clearly states it, “And 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, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.”
Why then, are they so implored to action, when they cannot but act at the pace that the Spirit sets for them? God chooses to use these exhortations to teach us of how we should act so that we understand our need for grace and so that we, instead of running off trying to act on our own, trust in God to bring us to action on His own schedule. Calvin continues, “God works in his elect in two ways: inwardly, by his Spirit; outwardly, by his Word. By his Spirit illuminating their minds, and training their hearts to the practice of righteousness, he makes them new creatures, while, by his Word, he stimulates them to long and seek for this renovation. In both, he exerts the might of his hand in proportion to the measure in which he dispenses them.” Jesus declares this to be true when he says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me” ~ John 6:44-45. He clearly states that it is by God’s hand alone that sinners are called to Himself for salvation, but He also states that all are to hear the word of God proclaimed. Paul concludes in 2 Corinthians 2:16, that “to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.” but to both it is to be proclaimed.