Calvin: Free Will Combined With Divine Grace Is Corruption

“We must, therefore, remember what we quoted from Augustine, that some men labor in vain to find in the human will some good quality properly belonging to it. Any intermixture which men attempt to make by conjoining the effort of their own will with divine grace is corruption, just as when unwholesome and muddy water is used to dilute wine.”   [Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin, Translated by Henry Beveridge, Book Two, Chapter 5, Section 15]

The illustration Calvin used in the above quote is very powerful.  It clearly explains what would happen if God’s election had to be combined with our free will choice to accomplish our salvation.  Anytime you combine something that is pure with something that is not pure, the end product is no longer pure.  It is impossible for the pure to remain pure.  God’s election is pure, our will is impure (totally depraved).  So, we can now see that God’s election cannot be combined in any way with our will (even in the most minuscule amount) to accomplish our salvation.  This means that if we have to cooperate (accept the free gift, seek Him, give our lives to Him, ask Him into our heart, etc.) with God in accomplishing our salvation then we cannot be saved.

Libertarian free will is a hot button issue today.  It is the first objection usually posed against reformed theology.  Do we have free will?  If so, in what measure?  If not, are we robots?  Proponents of libertarian free will are very dedicated to it.  In fact, it is nearly impossible to change their mind….only the truth of God’s word can do it.

What do you think if Calvin’s illustration?


John Calvin On The Depraved Nature of All Men

For, did the Lord let every mind loose to wanton in its lusts, 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, &c).  What?  Can you exempt yourself from the number of those whose feet are swift to shed blood; whose hands are foul with rapine and murder; whose throats are like open sepulchres; whose tongues are deceitful; whose lips are venomous; whose actions are useless, unjust, rotten, deadly; whose soul is without God; whose inward parts are full of wickedness; whose eyes are on the watch for deception; whose minds are prepared for insult; whose every part, in short, is framed for endless deeds of wickedness? 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.……..In the elect, God cures these diseases in the mode which will shortly be explained; in others, he only lays them under such restraint as may prevent them from breaking forth to a degree incompatible with the preservation of the established order of things……Thus God, by his providence, curbs the perverseness of nature, preventing it from breaking forth into action, yet without rendering it inwardly pure. [1]

Bad things happen in our world everyday.  Bad people exist.  With that said, we must realize that it could be worse…much worse.  It is only God that stops it from being worse.

We don’t often think of God’s grace in this way.  We usually think of it in relation to what He has done for the elect.  This aspect of God’s grace is no less important.  We need to focus on this aspect of God’s grace from time to time.


[1]  The Institutes Of The Christian Religion by John Calvin, translated by Henry Beveridge, Book Two, Chapter 3, Section 3

John Calvin On The Dangers Of The Use Of The Term “Free Will”

From:  Exploring Theology

How few are there who, when they hear free will attributed to man, do not immediately imagine that he is the master of his mind and will in such a sense, that he can of himself incline himself either to good or evil?  It may be said that such dangers are removed by carefully expounding the meaning to the people.  But such is the proneness of the human mind to go astray, that it will more quickly draw error from one little word, than truth from a lengthened discourse. [Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin, translated by Henry Beveridge, Book Two, Chapter 2, Section 7]

Is this not true?  If you have ever discussed free will with someone who is a believer in free will you will know that most of their objections occur because they take the very position that Calvin describes in the quote.

Free will has become a “hot button” issue.  If you dare suggest that God is sovereign then the immediate response is “What about free will?”.  This objection has infiltrated every part of our culture today.  Even movies portray this false understanding.  Have you seen Bruce Almighty?  Remember the scene where God is explaining the rules of being God to Bruce.  He basically tells Bruce that he can do anything he wants except tamper with free will.

I admit that I don’t fully understand all aspects of this issue.  I plan to read some on it soon.  My theology study group is going to be reading Freedom of the Will by Jonathan Edwards soon so I hope this will be a good place to start.

If you have any suggestions of good books to read on the subject, please share them in a comment.

John Calvin On The Sufficiency Of God

To conclude, in one word; as often as we call God the Creator of heaven and earth, let us remember that the distribution of all the things which he created are in his hand and power, but that we are his sons, whom he has undertaken to nourish and bring up in allegiance to him, that we may expect the substance of all good from him alone, and have full hope that he will never suffer us to be in want of things necessary to salvation, so as to leave us dependent on some other source; that in everything we desire we may address our prayers to him, and, in every benefit we receive, acknowledge his hand, and give him thanks; that thus allured by his great goodness and beneficence, we may study with our whole heart to love and serve him.  [Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin translated by Henry Beveridge; Book One, Chapter 14, Section 22]

John Calvin On Spiritual Warfare

Being forewarned of the constant presence of an enemy the most daring, the most powerful, the most crafty, the most indefatigable, the most completely equipped with all the engines and the most expert in the science of war, let us not allow ourselves to be overtaken by sloth or cowardice, but, on the contrary, with minds aroused and ever on the alert, let us stand ready to resist; and, knowing that this warfare is terminated only by death, let us study to persevere. Above all, fully conscious of our weakness and want of skill, let us invoke the help of God, and attempt nothing without trusting in him, since it is his alone to supply counsel, and strength, and courage, and arms. – John Calvin [Institutes of the Christian Religion translated by Henry Beveridge, Book One, Chapter 14, Section 13]

Does any more need to be said?

The Duty of a Theologian

The duty of a theologian, however, is not to tickle the ear, but confirm the conscience, by teaching what is true, certain, and useful. [Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin, Book 1, Chapter 14, Section 4]

Do you agree?  If not, what are your reasons.

Calvin On How Jesus Is Both Eternal And Begotten

We say, then, that the Godhead is absolutely of itself. And hence also we hold that the Son, regarded as God, and without reference to person, is also of himself; though we also say that, regarded as Son, he is of the Father. Thus his essence is without beginning, while his person has its beginning in God.  – [from Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin translated by Henry Beveridge Book 1, Ch. 13, Section 25]

John Calvin On The Best Way To Seek God

The Lord is manifested by his perfections. When we feel their power within us, and are conscious of their benefits, the knowledge must impress us much more vividly than if we merely imagined a God whose presence we never felt. Hence it is obvious, that in seeking God, the most direct path and the fittest method is, not to attempt with presumptuous curiosity to pry into his essence, which is rather to be adored than minutely discussed, but to contemplate him in his works, by which he draws near, becomes familiar, and in a manner communicates himself to us.

Source:  Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin translated by Henry Beveridge; Book 1, Ch. 5

John Calvin On “Christians” Who Do Not Have A Proper Understanding Of How They Are To Live

Source: Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin translated by Henry Beveridge

For while the whole life ought to be one perpetual course of obedience, they rebel without fear in almost all their actions, and seek to appease him with a few paltry sacrifices; while they ought to serve him with integrity of heart and holiness of life, they endeavour to procure his favour by means of frivolous devices and punctilios of no value. Nay, they take greater license in their grovelling indulgences, because they imagine that they can fulfil their duty to him by preposterous expiations; in short, while their confidence ought to have been fixed upon him, they put him aside, and rest in themselves or the creatures. At length they bewilder themselves in such a maze of error, that the darkness of ignorance obscures, and ultimately extinguishes, those sparks which were designed to show them the glory of God.

I would probably say that those who are described in the quote are not really Christians at all. Most of you would probably agree with that. We cannot be a Christian and continue to live like the world. To be a Christian means that we are changed and are no longer like the world. I have heard the change that occurs described in this way: “God changes our want to’s”. That means that He changes the things that we want to do. We no longer want to do the things that we once did. This does not mean that we won’t sometimes fall back into our old ways…we still have the old nature and it is constantly fighting with our new nature…and sometimes the old nature wins.

Calvin points out that the people who live this way try to appease God in some way. They want to have their cake and eat it to…they want to live like the world but have salvation as well. It does not work that way. God wants all of us, not just a part. He will not be appeased. We either live whole heartedly for the Lord or for Satan…there is no middle ground.

John Calvin On The State Of the Church

For so far have the wicked prevailed, that the truth of Christ, if not utterly routed and dispersed, lurks as if it were ignobly buried; while the poor Church, either wasted by cruel slaughter or driven into exile, or intimidated and terror–struck, scarcely ventures to breathe. Still her enemies press on with their wonted rage and fury over the ruins which they have made, strenuously assaulting the wall, which is already giving way. Meanwhile, no man comes forth to offer his protection against such furies. Any who would be thought most favourable to the truth, merely talk of pardoning the error and imprudence of ignorant men For so those modest personages speak; giving the name of error and imprudence to that which they know to be the infallible truth of God, and of ignorant men to those whose intellect they see that Christ has not despised, seeing he has deigned to intrust them with the mysteries of his heavenly wisdom. Thus all are ashamed of the Gospel.

This quote comes from the Prefatory Address to Frances I, King of France.  It comes in the context of Calvin discussing the state of the church in France. It could have easily been written about the state of the church today in the United States.