“In every age there have been some who, under the guidance of nature, were all their lives devoted to virtue. It is of no consequence, that many blots may be detected in their conduct; by the mere study of virtue, they evinced that there was somewhat of purity in their nature…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 the corruption of our nature, THERE IS SOME ROOM FOR DIVINE GRACE, such as, WITHOUT PURIFYING IT, MAY LAY IT UNDER INTERNAL RESTRAINT. For, did the Lord let every mind loose to wanton in its lust, doubtless there is not a man who would not show that his nature is capable of all the crimes with which Paul charges it (Rom. 3 compared with Ps. 14:3, etc.)…If every soul is capable of such abominations (and the apostle declares this boldly), it is surely easy to see what the result would be, if the Lord were to permit human passion to follow its bent…thus God, BY HIS PROVIDENCE, CURBS THE PERVERSENESS OF NATURE, preventing it from breaking forth into action, yet without rendering it inwardly pure” (John Calvin, “Institutes of the Christian Religion,” page 180).
I just started in-depth reading of John Calvin’s “Institutes of the Christian Religion” tonight. What fascinated me most was his argument against free will, but to get into it, I had to read material prior to that. So, I picked up chapter three of his second book, the chapter being titled “Everything Proceeding from the Corrupt Nature of Man Damnable.”
The quote above is taken from Calvin’s section three of the chapter on the Corrupt Nature of Man. Now, before I get started, let me say that I agree, the nature of man is completely corrupt! No matter how many good things we do, we are still corrupt, and our selfish motives drive us most, if not all, of the time. I can grant Calvin this point regarding human nature.
But the part that gets me is, If there is no grace on those EXCEPT the chosen of God (God of course, choosing people for salvation, according to Calvin), then, why is it that the reprobate demonstrate ANY signs of virtue? Calvin’s response? God’s providence continues to restrain their wickedness.
I have two responses. First, if God gives them common grace and “restrains” their wickedness, then doesn’t it make sense to give them salvation grace, save them, and then persevere them to the end so that they won’t live in lawlessness anymore and be damned to hell? Calvin’s idea of the elect has lots of problems, especially when he gets here to his discussion on common grace. Notice what he writes regarding common grace:
“Thus God, by his providence, curbs the perverseness of nature, preventing it from breaking forth into action, yet WITHOUT RENDERING IT INWARDLY PURE” (180).
There is a problem with this statement above. What Calvin is saying here is that God is able to restrain evil in them, but He’s not “able” or doesn’t desire to give them salvation grace, which would save them; and have His grace keep them from such an immoral lifestyle? How does this fit with the character and nature of God? If God only restrains their deeds, but damns their souls, then, isn’t God DANGLING A CARROT OF RIGHTEOUSNESS IN FRONT OF THEM when He can deliver them from SOME of their evil, but not all (because He won’t extend salvation grace to them)? My reason for this question is that, if God isn’t going to save them, or has no good desires towards them (the “them” here referring to the reprobate, the damned),then why does God worry about what they do, since they are gonna go to Hell no matter what? It doesn’t make sense to say that God gives them some moral grace and restraint, bends their wills to do some good in the world, but then, He can’t bend their wills to accept Him by faith and persevere in their Christian walk. Calvin stresses that God elects some and damns others; but it seems that, in the grand scheme of things, God showers down His grace upon all. God can’t elect in salvation but not elect in moral grace. To say that God does this is to place the blame on God for humankind’s actions.
Secondly, what does one do with Genesis 6? The passage of God’s decision to send the Flood but to save Noah and his family shows us that God does not just restrain the evil of man. Genesis 6 says:
“When the Lord saw that man’s wickedness was widespread on the earth and that every scheme his mind thought of was nothing but evil all the time, the Lord regretted that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. Then the Lord said, ‘I will WIPE OFF THE FACE OF THE EARTH: man, whom I created, together with the animals, creatures that crawl, and birds of the sky—for I REGRET THAT I MADE THEM” (Gen. 6:5-7, HCSB).
God decides to destroy all of creation. And why? Because “man’s wickedness was widespread on the earth and that EVERY SCHEME HIS MIND THOUGHT OF WAS NOTHING BUT EVIL ALL THE TIME…”
I don’t know what you’re thinking, but me—I’m thinking that it can’t get much worse than this description! I mean, Adam and Eve sinned ONCE in the Garden—but now, man sinned ALL THE TIME! All he did was evil, rarely any good whatsoever.
However, notice what God says to Noah regarding Noah’s walk?
“Then the Lord said to Noah, ‘Enter the ark, you and all your household, FOR I HAVE SEEN THAT YOU [alone] ARE RIGHTEOUS BEFORE ME in this generation” (Gen.7:1, HCSB).
Genesis 6 also tells us about Noah:
“Noah was a RIGHTEOUS man, BLAMELESS among his contemporaries; NOAH WALKED WITH GOD” (Gen. 6:9, HCSB).
Despite the majority of the world, Noah CHOSE to walk right before God. And God told Noah that he was to enter the ark because God would preserve some of the inhabitants of the earth…and because Noah loved God, Noah would be one of those people (along with his family) who would get to inhabit the new earth.
In Genesis 6, the Lord decides to destroy all of creation because of wickedness and evil. However, He chooses to save Noah and his family, since Noah was righteous, one of the only righteous people on the earth in those days. Now, if God were to destroy the inhabitants of the earth, including those who despised God (the reprobate, as Calvin says) because of their evil (although HE created them reprobate, as Calvin says), then How can God destroy them and be called “JUST”?
Back to what I said regarding God “dangling a carrot of righteousness (via faith) in front of the reprobate: for Calvin to place this on God restraining their moral evil but not restraining their spiritual waywardness is preposterous. I think Calvin aims here to uphold God’s sovereignty and providence: But what Calvin actually does is UNDERMINE the responsibility of those who choose to do evil. The only way to get around blaming God, and the only way to MAINTAIN God’s innocence, is to include the factor of FREE WILL—something that Calvin seems reluctant to do, at all costs.