Blog 41: 2.1.5 - 2.1.8

Iain D Campbell

Calvin self-consciously draws on Augustine as he explores the meaning and effects of sin. Estrangement from his Maker, he says, was the death of Adam's soul (2.1.5). But what Adam lost when he sinned were gifts which had been granted to the whole race: 'when he was infected with sin, contagion crept into human nature' (2.1.7).

At the point of our origin, therefore, we are polluted by sin. Calvin defines original sin as 'a hereditary depravity and corruption of our nature, diffused into all parts of the soul, which first makes us liable to God's wrath, then also brings forth in us those works which Scripture calls "works of the flesh"' (2.1.8).

This is our fallen condition: from the outset, we are corrupted in every part of our nature and stand justly condemned before God; and from the outset, that corruption constantly bears 'new fruits'. Original sin is more than a lack or deprivation: 'the whole of man is of himself nothing but concupiscence' (2.1.9).

The gurus of modern self-help pedal the view that man's basic problem is all around him and outside of himself, and that the solution lies within, in man's inner resources and hidden strength. That is not Calvin's position, because it is not the position of the Bible. For Calvin, man's problem is within his own constitution, and the solution is outside of him. He summarises it exactly in this way: 'guilt is of nature, but sanctification of supernatural grace' (2.1.7).