A Will Freed By Grace

Institutes 2.2.8 – 2.2.11

Calvin begins this reading with a very interesting section on Augustine and his doctrine of “free will.” It begins with a statement that Augustine does not hesitate to “call the will a slave.” Follow-up comments are made by Calvin that help the reader to better understand what Augustine meant. Comments such as:

… he elsewhere admits, that without the Spirit the will of man is not free, inasmuch as it is subject to lusts which chain and master it.”

… man, by making bad use of free will, lost both himself and his will.”

… no will is free which has not been made so by divine grace.”

… the righteousness of God is not fulfilled when the law orders, and man acts, as it were, by his own strength, but when the Spirit assists, and the will (not the free will of man, but the will freed by God) obeys.”

The question is asked, “If man is fallen and enslaved to sin, how can people speak of a ‘free will’?” The will is only “free” when it has been” liberated” by the grace of God. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” (II Corinthians 3:17)

Calvin does say that because of the many misunderstandings that there are about free will and what exactly it does mean, he chooses to not even use the term.

The church fathers were spoken of in Sections 4 and 5 of this chapter and Calvin speaks of them again in Section 9. Here he says that while the fathers spoke ambiguously and with some uncertainty at times about free will, even going “too far in extolling free will,” their intentions were good. Their main object was to teach men to renounce their confidence in self and place their strength and confidence in God alone.

In Section 10, Calvin repeats a caution that he issued earlier in this chapter. The warning is for man to be very careful to not claim even one iota of worthiness for himself for anything he is or anything he has accomplished. To transfer “divine honour to himself” is to become guilty of the greatest impiety. This statement is then supported by a number of Scripture verses.

This reading is concluded with the reminder that man must remain humble before the Lord. The humility that Calvin is speaking of is a “true humility” that acknowledges our total sinfulness and brokenness before holy and righteous God. “The more infirm you are, the more the Lord will sustain you.”

In an extended quote, Calvin writes,

So, in expounding the seventieth Psalm, he forbids us to remember our own righteousness, in order that we may recognise the righteousness of God, and shows that God bestows his grace upon us, that we may know that we are nothing; that we stand only by the mercy of God, seeing that in ourselves we are altogether wicked. Let us not contend with God for our right, as if anything attributed to him were lost to our salvation. As our significance is his exaltation, so the confession of our insignificance has its remedy in his mercy.”


No one readily or easily gives up the high thoughts that we hold of ourselves. When we hold onto and promote ourselves, we rob the Lord of His glory.

Lord, may our prayer be that You would convict and heal us of the “disease of self-love and ambition” and deliver us from the blinding influences that cause us to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think. May our strength and confidence rest in You alone. By Your Spirit and Word may this be so.

Explore posts in the same categories: Bible, Prayer, Reformation, Reformed Theology

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