Grace In The Residue

Institutes 2.2.12 – 2.2.17

In this reading, Calvin discusses the effect of the fall on the natural and spiritual endowments that the LORD has bestowed on man.

He begins with a reference to a saying by Augustine that “man’s natural gifts were corrupted by sin, and his supernatural gifts withdrawn” as the result of sin. The “light of faith and righteousness, which would have been sufficient for the attainment of heavenly life and everlasting felicity,” have been withdrawn from man and he is now an “exile from the kingdom of God.”

This withdrawal of the supernatural gifts has necessarily had an effect on man’s natural gifts – they have been corrupted. Man still possesses the residue of reason, though it has been weakened. He has a will, but it has become “so enslaved by depraved lusts” that it is incapable having even one righteous desire.

Man also still possesses an intellect and has “a certain desire of investigating truth.” But, because of sin, his mind has become dull and he is therefore unable to “pursue the right path of investigation.” Not only does the intellect wander and stumble in its pursuit of truth, Calvin says that it “frequently fails to discern what the knowledge is which it should study to inquire.” This results in superfluous and useless discussions that are vain and frivolous.

This made me think of passages of Scripture in which the Apostle Paul speaks about empty words (Ephesians 5:6), philosophy and empty deception (Colossians 2:8), and worldly and empty chatter (I Timothy 6:20).

Man’s intelligence, though marred by sin, can still be effective in the study of inferior, earthly things such as policy and economy, all mechanical arts and liberal studies, including civil order. But, intellect is totally useless regarding heavenly things such as “the pure knowledge of God, the method of true righteousness, and the mysteries of the heavenly kingdom.”

Man has been left with an intelligence that enables him to devise new things and improve in areas that have been previously learned. As this occurs, and as we recognize it for the good of man, we should also recognize it as a “special gift from God.” These endowments and their benefits to man “ought to be regarded as a gratuitous gift of his beneficence to each.”

We are reminded that,

” … the human mind, however much fallen and perverted from its original integrity, is still adorned and invested with admirable gifts from its Creator. If we reflect that the Spirit of God is the only fountain of truth, we will be careful, as we would avoid offering insult to him, not to reject or condemn truth wherever it appears. In despising gifts, we insult the Giver.” (2.2.15)

So we, as Christ-followers, should neither deny nor fail to appreciate the work, advancements and benefits that are accomplished by researchers, scientists, and doctors in the fields of technology, science, engineering, and medicine. But, we should also be careful to acknowledge how these men have been able to accomplish what they have and to give God all of the glory for it. He has left many endowments in the possession of human nature though they have been “despoiled of the true good” which were theirs in the original giving.

“But shall we deem anything to be noble and praiseworthy, without tracing it to the hand of God?” (2.2.15)

While the Holy Spirit only indwells those who have been regenerated and know Christ as their personal Savior, the Spirit does fill and move and invigorate all things by His virtue and that for His particular purposes.

In the summary of this reading, Calvin uses terms and expressions such as “the general kindness of God”, “the Divine indulgence”, “in a common nature the grace of God”, and “particular influences according to his calling” to emphasize that though the natural endowment of reason has been corrupted by sin, man and his reason is still “entirely under the control” and rulership of God. A number of examples of this from the Book of Judges, I Samuel and Job are presented as testimony to the oversight and superintendence of the LORD over all things, people, and circumstances.


May I simply say that I am thankful the LORD has left with us a “residue” of the natural endowments with which man was originally blessed. Though the endowments have been corrupted by sin, the LORD, in His grace and mercy, has seen fit to use the endowments and the possessors of them for our common good.

May we recognize this fact and give Him the glory for it.


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