A Journey With John Calvin, “Man’s Full Culpability”

Posted: September 4, 2009 by Rick Hogaboam in Calvinism, Original Sin, Uncategorized

johncalvinTwo selections from Calvin’s Institutes:

This corrupt procedure is admirably described by Paul, when he says, that “thinking to be wise, they became fools” (Rom. 1:22). He had previously said that “they became vain in their imaginations,” but lest any should suppose them blameless, he afterwards adds that they were deservedly blinded, because, not contented with sober inquiry, because, arrogating to themselves more than they have any title to do, they of their own accord court darkness, nay, bewitch themselves with perverse, empty show. Hence it is that their folly, the result not only of vain curiosity, but of licentious desire and overweening confidence in the pursuit of forbidden knowledge, cannot be excused (Calvin, John: Institutes of the Christian Religion. Bellingham, WA : Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997, S. I, iv, 1).

Nothing being less accordant with the nature of God than to cast off the government of the world, leaving it to chance, and so to wink at the crimes of men that they may wanton with impunity in evil courses; it follows, that every man who indulges in security, after extinguishing all fear of divine Judgment, virtually denies that there is a God. As a just punishment of the wicked, after they have closed their own eyes, God makes their hearts dull and heavy, and hence, seeing, they see not (Calvin, John: Institutes of the Christian Religion. Bellingham, WA : Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997, S. I, iv, 2).

Calvin goes to great lengths to show that man, and man alone, is culpable before God. Man is the initiator in rebellion. God is not actively causing people to sin. Calvin’s testimony aligns with Scripture, and especially Paul in Romans 1, where he uses the phrase “God gave them over” three times to explain the depravity of man. God is therefore seen as the restrainer of evil within His grace, but where it is shunned and evil is desired, God relents and gives them over. Notice that God is removing His hand. Hardly the picture some attribute to Calvin of a God who is not removing His hand, but rather pushing people away to rebel.

God has only so much patience with OUR rebellion. It is ours entirely. Calvin warned against “omni-causality”, seeing God as a causal agent for every event. It is more nuanced and requires further explanation, but suffice it to say that this Calvinist does NOT believe that God is the causal agent for my rebellion. Rather, He permitted and allowed me to do what I wanted to do. It all accords within His providential rule, but He didn’t decree my sin as an active agent. James says that God neither tempts or is tempted. Calvin would lend a hearty “Amen” to the clear teaching of Scripture on this matter.


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