Blog 52: 2.4.7 - 2.5.3

Stephen Nichols

"The king's heart is a stream of water in the hands of the Lord, he turns it wherever he wants" (Proverbs 21:1). 

Calvin raises yet another difficult question, that of human freedom.  He begins by stressing "God's dominion" (2.4.7).  "If the king's will is bent by God's hand," Calvin understands this Proverb to argue, "our wills are not exempt from that condition" (2.4.7).  Of course, not everyone quite agrees with Calvin, prompting him to address objections in Chapter 5.  In the process, Calvin hearkens back to the debates between Augustine and Pelagius, which popped up again between Luther and Erasmus, and actually seem to pop up wherever theological conversations take place.

The first objection is a syllogism:  if sin is a necessity, done automatically and not freely, it's not sin; if it's voluntary, we are free to do it or not to do it, then sin can be avoided.  That's 2.5.1.  The second objection holds that "unless virtues and vices proceed from the free choice of the will, it is not consistent that man be either punished or rewarded" (2.5.2).  Then there's the third objection, stemming from Chrysostom that without free will, human beings are either all bad or all good (2.5.3).

The first two are the most troubling.  They have the net effect of asking:  How can God can hold us responsible, or reward us for that matter, if we are not free?  This can't be answered in a 250-word blog, but here's a start.  None of us really want what we deserve.  None of us actually want the "reward" for what we do.  Thankfully, God "bestows undeserved grace" (2.5.2).