Is It Really Free?

Institutes 2.1.9 – 2.2.3

One of Calvin’s last statements in the previous reading of the Institutes was, “For our nature is not only utterly devoid of goodness, but so prolific in all kinds of evil, that it can never be idle.”

He was saying that not only are we born without goodness, we are ceaselessly employed in bearing the abundant fruit of evil. That is by nature who we are and what we do.

This line of thought continues in this reading with references to Paul and a quote from Ephesians 4:17, 18 that speaks about the futility of our minds, the darkness of our understanding of the things of God, and the hardness of our hearts. After Paul tells us that our natural condition can only be “corrected” by God’s grace, he tells us that we must be renewed in and transformed by the renewing of our minds.

There must be a new nature,” Calvin says, because “the whole man, from the crown of the head to the sole of the foot, is so deluged, as it were, that no part remains exempt from sin, and, therefore everything which proceeds from him is imputed as sin.” (2.1.9)

Holy God is not the Author of this nature. This condition, this ruin of self, “is attributable to our own depravity,” inflicted upon ourselves by sin. Solomon wrote, “Lo, this only have I found, that God made man upright….” (Ecclesiastes 7:29). By man’s own infatuation we have fallen into vanity, therefore our destruction can only be blamed on ourselves.

In Chapter 2, the subject begins to transition to the discussion of man and free will. Is man so depraved and devoid of sensibility, because of the fall, that we have no free will, or “liberty,” as Calvin refers to it? If we do have a semblance of “liberty” left, how far does its power extend?

A foundation for the discussion to follow is laid in Section 1. Calvin basically says that man needs to acknowledge the fact that he has “no remaining good in himself”, that is, humble himself before Mighty God, and then place himself in a position in which he can learn about the goodness and liberty of which he is devoid, that “the power of God in man may be exalted.” (2.1.1)

The teaching of the philosophers on the subject of understanding is the subject of Sections 2 and 3.

After a lengthy explanation of the soul, mind and heart and their relationship to one another, Calvin brings the reading to a conclusion with this summary statement:

Thus, in short, all philosophers maintain, 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.”

Philosophers and the secular humanism of the 21st Century man assert the goodness and power of man’s will. This speaks to their belief that man is good and reasonable and able to pursue virtues and make virtuous and wise decisions for self and others. They would assert that there is no need for a God and His will. “We are sufficient unto ourselves.”

It is obvious where this kind of thinking has taken us.

Calvin would assert, and we would agree with him, that man does have a free will, but the issue is whether or not we have the moral ability to make godly choices. That is only possible if we have been regenerated by God’s grace, have a renewed mind and are making Spirit-led, biblically grounded decisions.

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