Blog 55: 2.5.13 - 2..17

Stephen Nichols

Objections still remain to Calvin's view of free will.  Such as this one, raised in 2.5.13:  What about the biblical passages that leave us to our own devices, such as Hosea 15:5, "I shall go to my own place, until they lay it upon their hearts to seek my face"?   Calvin points out that how we understand these texts that speak to the interaction with God and his people is quite crucial.  It could very well be, at least it's plausible, that God withdraws (in this case in Hosea Calvin points out that the withdrawal concerns the withholding of prophecy) in order "to make us more humble."  It's not done to bring out our ability, but our inability.  So Calvin says, "For he does it for no other purpose than to compel us to recognize our own nothingness" (2.5.13).

Another set of texts concerns the reference to "our" works, as if they originate in us.  Calvin simply steps in to say that they are "ours" only insofar as they are God's gifts to us.  These works are not of our doing, but are done "out of [God's] lovingkindness" (2.5.15), at work in us.  Calvin also adds, "The praise for which God rightly claims for himself," (2.5.15).

This has been a lot of raising and refuting of objections (and there's more to come next week!).  One could rightly ask:  Why, what's all the fuss?  Calvin seems to be after one thing, an understanding of the human will and human ability that is both in accord with Scripture and preserves the biggest room possible for God's grace.  Not everyone may be convinced by Calvin's arguments against free will.  But, seeking a capacious place for grace in our theology strikes me as a worthwhile task for us all.