The title is misleading but this chapter deals with why God isn’t culpable for human sinning. In other words, Calvin is considering how God can use sinful instruments to fulfill His purposes in human beings while He remains free of their crimes.
Simile: “Augustine (in Psalm 31 and 33) compares the human will to a horse preparing to start, and God and the devil to riders. If God mounts, he, like a temperate and skilful rider, guides it calmly, urges it when too slow, reins it in when too fast, curbs its forwardness and over-action, checks its bad temper, and keeps it on the proper course; but if the devil has seized the saddle, like an ignorant and rash rider, he hurries it over broken ground, drives it into ditches, dashes it over precipices, spurs it into obstinacy or fury.”
So how does this relate to man’s agency and willing?
“When it is said, then, that the will of the natural man is subject to the power of the devil, and is actuated by him, the meaning is, not that the will, while reluctant and resisting, is forced to submit, (as masters oblige unwilling slaves to execute their orders,) but that, fascinated by the impostures of Satan, it necessarily yields to his guidance, and does him homage. Those whom the Lord favours not with the direction of his Spirit, he, by a righteous judgment, consigns to the agency of Satan.”
2 Corinthians 4:4 – “In their [those who are perishing] case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
Ephesians 2:1-3 – “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”
Satan works out his purpose in unbelievers but not without their will. They willingly submit their actions and desires to Satan because they are sinners.
God, Satan, and an individual can each be active in the same event, yet each has a different purpose.
Job 1:17 – “While he [Job’s servant] was yet speaking, there came another and said, ‘The Chaldeans formed three groups and made a raid on the camels and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.’”
“We thus see that there is no inconsistency in attributing the same act to God, to Satan, and to man, while, from the difference in the end [purpose] and mode of action [method], the spotless righteousness of God shines forth at the same time that the iniquity of Satan and of man is manifested in all its deformity.”
“We, therefore, hold that there are two methods in which God may so act. When His light is taken away, nothing remains but blindness and darkness: when His Spirit is taken away, our hearts become hard as stones: when His guidance is withdrawn, we immediately turn from the right path: and hence He is properly said to incline, harden, and blind those whom he deprives of the faculty of seeing, obeying, and rightly executing. The second method…is when executing His judgments by Satan as the minister of his anger, God both directs men’s counsels, and excites their wills, and regulates their efforts as he pleases.”
Deuteronomy 2:30 – “But Sihon the king of Heshbon would not let us pass by him [in the wilderness], for the Lord your God hardened his spirit and made his heart obstinate, that He might give him into your hand, as he is this day.”
1 Samuel 16:14 – “Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and a harmful spirit from the Lord tormented him.”
1 Samuel 18:10-12 (also see 1 Samuel 19:9-10) – “The next day a harmful spirit from God rushed upon Saul, and he raved within his house while David was playing the lyre, as he did day by day. Saul had his spear in his hand. 11 And Saul hurled the spear, for he thought, “I will pin David to the wall.” But David evaded him twice. 12 Saul was afraid of David because the Lord was with him but had departed from Saul.”
2 Thessalonians 2:11-12 – “Therefore God sends them [those who are perishing] a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12 in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”
“But in the same transaction there is always a wide difference between what the Lord does, and what Satan and the ungodly design to do.”
Satan reigns in the reprobate, yet the reprobate act freely and both are under God’s command.
But what about matters that are not right and wrong?
“God’s providence doesn’t merely extend to external events but also in giving humans the will to choose in a way that conforms and serves the outcome He desires (Ps 106:46; 2 Sam 17:14; 1 Kings 12:10, 14; Deut 28:65).” --J. Mark Beach
Free will is not about having the ability to affect outcomes, but with the ability to choose freely (according to our desires).
“We are free to be choice-makers, but we are not free to incline our wills as we please, for the will is guided by the desires of our natures, which are sinful.” --J. Mark Beach
Chapter 5 – Refutation of the Objections Commonly Put Forward in Defense of Free Will
First Objection: If sin is a matter of necessity, then sin ceases to be sin; and if sin is voluntary, then it can be avoided. [Pelagius]
“It is owing not to creation, but the corruption of nature, that man has become the slave of sin, and can will nothing but evil. For whence that impotence of which the wicked so readily avail themselves as an excuse, but just because Adam voluntarily subjected himself to the tyranny of the devil? Hence, the corruption by which we are held bound as with chains, originated in the first man’s revolt from his Maker. If all men are justly held guilty of this revolt, let them not think themselves excused by a necessity in which they see the clearest cause of their condemnation.”
It is because of the FALL that sin is necessary, but it still remains voluntary.
Second Objection: Unless both virtues and vices come from the free choice of the will, reward and punishment lose their meaning. [Aristotle]
Sin arises from our own nature. Our sinful actions have us as their source. So God is just in punishing us. Concerning rewards, they depend on God’s grace and kindness. Human merit has nothing to do with it.
“The grace which he bestows upon us, inasmuch as he makes it our own, he recompenses as if the virtuous acts were our own.”
Third Objection: Without the ability to choose good and evil, humans must be either wholly bad or wholly good. [Chrysostom, Ambrose]
it is divine election which distinguishes among men
“all, without exception, are depraved and given over to wickedness; but at the same time we add, that through the mercy of God all do not continue in wickedness”
Fourth Objection: All exhortations and admonitions [to repent] are meaningless unless we have the power to obey. [opponents of Augustine]
God’s grace works through means and included in those means are exhortations and admonitions to repent.
We are dependent upon God if we are to obey His exhortations (John 15:5; Rom 9:16; Isa 5:24; Deut 10:16; Jer 4:4; Ezek 11:19)
Fifth Objection: God’s commands imply the ability to obey such commands. “Ought” implies “ability” [Pelagius]
God’s law reflects His holy standards, not the capacity of fallen humanity to obey. God commands nothing that is impossible for humanity as created, but sinners are no longer capable of obedience.
“Therefore let us hold this as an undoubted truth which no siege engines can shake: the mind of man has been so completely estranged from God’s righteousness that it conceives, desires, and undertakes, only that which is impious, perverted, foul, impure, and infamous. The heart is so steeped in the poison of sin, that it can breathe out nothing but a loathsome stench. But if some men occasionally make a show of good, their minds nevertheless ever remain enveloped in hypocrisy and deceitful craft, and their hearts bound by inner perversity.”