Chapter 2 – Man Has Now Been Deprived of Freedom of Choice and Bound Over to Miserable Servitude.
There are 2 problems that arise from using language such as “freedom of choice.”
“(1)When man is denied all uprightness, he immediately takes occasion for complacency [sloth] from that fact; and, because he is said to have no ability to pursue righteousness on his own, he holds all such pursuit to be of no consequence, as if it did not pertain to him at all. (2) Nothing, however slight, can be credited to man without depriving God of His honor, and without man himself falling into ruin through brazen confidence [pride].”
“What remains, therefore, now that man is stripped of all his glory, than to acknowledge the God for whose kindness he failed to be grateful, when he was loaded with the riches of his grace? Not having glorified him by the acknowledgment of his blessings, now, at least, he ought to glorify him by the confession of his poverty. In truth, it is no less useful for us to renounce all the praise of wisdom and virtue, than to aim at the glory of God. Those who invest us with more than we possess only add sacrilege to our ruin.”
Philosophers: “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.”
Many Church Fathers followed the lead of the philosophers: “Therefore, to avoid teaching anything which the majority of mankind might deem absurd, they [church fathers] made it their study, in some measure, to reconcile the doctrine of Scripture with the dogmas of philosophy, at the same time making it their special care not to furnish any occasion to sloth.”
Calvin, following others, admits to distinguishing between 3 kinds of freedom:
Freedom from necessity [compulsion]: We are free as human beings. We are not robots or puppets. We are not compelled or forced in the actions that we choose.
Freedom from sin: This was lost in the Fall.
Freedom from misery: This was lost in the Fall.
“All this being admitted, it will be beyond dispute, that free will does not enable any man to perform good works, unless he is assisted by grace; indeed, the special grace which the elect alone receive through regeneration.”
“Man does not have free choice equally of good and evil; rather, it only means that he acts wickedly by will, not by compulsion.”
“According to Calvin, the very idea of a free (that is, unhindered or untainted) will puffs us up. If we are truly to advance in a keen knowledge of ourselves, we must be ‘cast down’ and ‘overwhelmed’ by the recognition of our ‘calamity, poverty, nakedness, and disgrace.’ Our danger is not to underestimate our achievements or gifts but to overestimate them. We must learn that what we have lost and now lack God alone can recoup for us.” --J. Mark Beach
“Man’s natural gifts [intellect & will] were corrupted by sin, and his supernatural gifts withdrawn; meaning by supernatural gifts the light of faith and righteousness, which would have been sufficient for the attainment of heavenly life and everlasting felicity. Man, when he withdrew his allegiance to God, was deprived of the spiritual gifts by which he had been raised to the hope of eternal salvation.”
Humans Corrupted in the Faculty of the Intellect
Regarding Earthly Life
“By earthly things, I mean those which relate not to God and his kingdom, to true righteousness and future blessedness, but have some connection with the present life, and are in a manner confined within its boundaries.”
“Those men whom Scripture [1 Cor. 2:14] calls ‘natural men’ were, indeed, sharp and penetrating in their investigation of inferior [earthly] things. Let us, accordingly, learn by their example how many gifts the Lord left to human nature even after it was despoiled of its true good.”
Yet even all of this flows from God’s grace and goodness even when natural men do not ascribe it to Him.
Regarding Heavenly Life
“By heavenly things, I mean the pure knowledge of God, the method of true righteousness, and the mysteries of the heavenly kingdom.”
“Men otherwise the most ingenious are blinder than moles.”
John 1:4-5 – “In him [Jesus] was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
John 1:12-13 – “But to all who did receive him [Jesus], who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
John 6:44 – “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”
1 Corinthians 2:14 – “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”
Humans Corrupted in the Faculty of the Will
Genesis 8:21 – “And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.”
John 8:34 – “Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.”
“Of our own we have nothing but sin.” --Calvin, quoting Augustine
“Humans…still possess the faculty of will but it is in bondage to sin and humans are without freedom to act righteously unless God provides the way.” --J. Mark Beach
Chapter 3 – Only Damnable Things Come Forth from Man’s Corrupt Nature
John 3:3 – “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Romans 8:6-8 – “For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”
Jeremiah 17:9 – “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”
Romans 3:10-18 – “as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.’ 13 ‘Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.’ ‘The venom of asps is under their lips.’ 14 ‘Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.’ 15 ‘Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 in their paths are ruin and misery, 17 and the way of peace they have not known.’ 18 ‘There is no fear of God before their eyes.’”
What about unbelievers who seem to strive after a life of virtue and do good?
“Such examples, then, seem to warn us against supposing that the nature of man is utterly vicious, since, under its guidance, some have not only excelled in illustrious deeds, but conducted themselves most honorably through the whole course of their lives. But we ought to consider, that, notwithstanding of the corruption of our nature, there is some room for divine grace, such grace as, without purifying it, may lay it under internal restraint.”
God exercises an external restraining grace upon individuals so that they are not carried away to the depths of their depravity. Men are not as evil as they could be through God’s restraining their evil. Yet, this is only external and restraining. This is not the grace that works internally upon the heart to cleanse it.
“The virtues which deceive us by an empty show may have their praise in civil society and the common intercourse of life, but before the judgment-seat of God they will be of no value to establish a claim of righteousness.”
“Fallen humans are under the bondage of sin which renders them unable to desire the good, seek the good, or dispose themselves toward the good apart from God’s intervention. When persons actually want righteousness in a righteous manner, this must be ‘ascribed entirely to God’s grace.’ ‘Therefore simply to will is of man; to will ill, of a corrupt nature; to will well, of grace.’” –J. Mark Beach
Conversion: “God, therefore, begins the good work in us by exciting in our hearts a desire, a love, and a study of righteousness, or (to speak more correctly) by turning, training, and guiding our hearts unto righteousness; and he completes this good work by confirming us unto perseverance.”
Objection: The will is converted by God, but when once prepared, does its part in the work of conversion. “Grace makes conversion possible but not inevitable.”
“Since Scripture proclaims throughout that it is the free gift of God, it follows, that when men, who are with their whole soul naturally prone to evil, begin to have a good will, it is owing to mere grace. Therefore, when the Lord, in the conversion of his people, sets down these two things as requisite to be done, viz., to take away the heart of stone, and give a heart of flesh, he openly declares, that, in order to our conversion to righteousness, what is ours must be taken away, and that what is substituted in its place is of Himself.”