If Fallen Men Can Only Give Themselves to Evil, How Can God Still Condemn Them?

by John Calvin

The following is an excerpt from Calvin's sermon on Ephesians 2:3-6

...in order that men (who are always subtle minded in seeking some way of escape or other) should not excuse themselves for being under the tyranny of the devil, not allege that the same ought not be laid to their charge, St. Paul shows that said bondage does not cease to be willful. I showed you earlier that in spite of all our free [voluntary] choice, and despite our reason and will, yet we are, as it were, fettered to Satan's service, so that we can do nothing at all but evil, neither should we be any better by nature than the worst thieves in the world, if God had not had pity on us. Thus does St. Paul set forth all other men to us as a mirror, even such as despise God and all order and are driven by Satan in complete rage, saying that we should be like them if God had not been merciful to us. But now there are many who murmur against God, and who bring an action against him, saying, if free will is cast down, what will become of us? If men were able to give themselves to goodness and yet, nevertheless, did not do so, but gave themselves to evil, surely it would be perfectly right and reasonable that they should be regarded as guilty. But if they cannot do ought else but evil, why should God condemn them? Surely at least they ought to be absolved, seeing it is clear that they are held under Satan's dominion, even from their mother's womb. Such is what many men plead in the hope of washing their hands of the matter. And they are not even contented with justifying themselves by empty subterfuges, but they also rail against God, as though he were the cause of their damnation.

But St. Paul, to prevent such slanders, says that they who are under the bondage of Satan and sin, do not cease for all that to be condemned with good reason For they are not constrained to sin by force. They are subject indeed, but it is willfully so. And that is the reason why he says that even such as are brought back again to our Lord Jesus Christ, 'have walked in the lusts of the flesh'; that is to say, that before God had changed them and brought them to obey him by his Holy Spirit, they walked in their own wicked lusts. It is true that men will grant their nature to be sinful, but yet they say it is sufficient that the will be otherwise. All men will grant that it is the will which puts the difference between vice and virtue. But when the philosophers spoke in that way, they were of the opinion that we have a genuine free will.And that is the thing that deceived them, because they did not know that we were marred by the fall of Adam, and yet nevertheless do not cease to be justly accursed, since our offending of God is of our own accord. And so, he adds again, 'doing the desires of our flesh and of or thoughts'. As if he should say that they which are possessed of Satan and held under the slavery of sin, cannot pleas any compulsion. Why? If is their own will that drives them to it. Thus you see, in effect, how St. Paul means to stop the mouths of all slanderers, in order that men should not pick any quarrels with God by pretending they they ought not to be ruined by reason of their sinfulness, seeing that they are subject to it by nature.

...the determinate sentence of the Holy Spirit is ... that we are not only sick, but also dead until we are raised again by Jesus Christ....So then let us on the one hand acknowledge ourselves guilty, assuring ourselves that we were justly robbed of all God's graces in the person of Adam; and again, on the other hand, let us not make the same an excuse, in the hope of escaping by such covering up, as if we were not the bondslaves of sin, nor we ourselves in any sense to blame for it, because we are held down by Satan's snares and shackles even from our birth. But it behooves us to consider always that each one of us will find the source of his disease in his own conscience. Men may plead as much as they desire, but if they examine themselves and question their own consciences, you shall see them condemned, confounded, and quite unable to answer.

When a man has babbled all he may, so that he thinks he has established his case by saying he has no free will of his own, nor ability to resist God, no more is needed but his one word - what, in your opinion is the thing which provokes you to evil? Of, it is the devil. You say well. But yet consider for a moment whether that does so fully excuse you, since you do not very clearly perceive that you were stirred up and driven to it by your own impulse. Do you not know that the source and root of the mischief is in yourself? When you are so rebellious against God that your thoughts are full of falsehood and unbelief, and that so much the more, because your lusts are unbridled and embattled against God and his righteousness, even to make war with him, - when you see all this, must you debate with his further? So then, let us not seek any subterfuges, seeing we carry a sufficient judge with us, even within us, namely, seeing that conscience in every one of us rebukes us. That is what St. Paul aimed at in this passage. And thereby we are also warned not to arrogate anything at all to ourselves, but to bridle all our senses and imaginations, and all the understanding and reason we pride ourselves on having. For until we have so renounced ourselves, it is certain we shall never be fit to apply ourselves to the service of God.

St. Paul says expressly that those whom God has quickened are by that means made one with our Lord Jesus Christ, for it is even in him they have their life.

“"...we must not suppose that any one of us has anything with which to please God more than his fellow man, nor presume to hold any good opinion of ourselves. Instead we must always go to the fountain that cannot be drained dry...we must draw from the love of our God and confess that it cannot be that God should be persuaded or moved from that which is outside Himself, but only that it pleased him to love us freely by receiving us to himself and by enlightening us with his Holy Spirit in the faith of the gospel ... ... even those whom men would deem to be the most excellent, can bring forward nothing of which to boast or with which to purchase themselves esteem before God, but are all received in grace to be made heirs of the heavenly life by means of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Calvin, Sermons on Ephesians, pg. 146, Ephesians 2:3-6


From Sermons on Ephesians by John Calvin


Related Essays
Arguments In Support of Free Will Refuted by John Calvin
Man Now Deprived of Freedom of Will, and Miserably Enslaved by John Calvin
Does Man Have a Free Will? by John Calvin
Are God's Precepts "The Measure of our Strength"?  by John Calvin
Why Did God From the First Predestine Some to Death? by John Calvin


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