Minister's Blog

Guided Reading Course 15: The corruption of human nature

Guided Reading Course


We continue our study of the doctrine of sin and its effects in session 15 of the Emmanuel Guided Reading Course, looking this week at Calvin, Institutes, II.iii-v (1:289-340). Here’s an outline of these three chapters:

II.iii      The capacity of the fallen human will, and how God works in us to draw us to him.
II.iv      How is God involved in evil human actions.
II.v       Answers to objections.

These three chapters are quite long, so don’t worry if you don’t have time to finish them all. I suggest you focus on the first two sections (up to question 10 in the study questions below), and only move on to the final section (questions 13 to 15, marked with a *) if you have time.

Questions for reflection

a. “If God is sovereign, he can’t blame me for my sin.” Discuss. You might find it helpful to consider (1) Whether any biblical texts explicitly contradict this statement (e.g. Acts 4:23-30?); and (2) Whether you can think of any other arguments against the statement.

b. “If I am sinful by nature, God can’t blame me for my sin.” Discuss.

c. If God is sovereign over our sins, why is he not morally responsible for them?

d. When Christ draws someone to him, does that person come to him willingly or unwillingly?

Study questions

1. What, according to Calvin, is meant by the Scriptural description of fallen man as “flesh” (II.iii.1)?

2. What biblical texts does Calvin cite in II.iii.1-2 to support his view of the depravity of human nature? In your view, do these texts adequately support Calvin’s point?

3. “Almost the same question that was previously answered now confronts us anew” (II.iii.3). What is this question, and how does Calvin answer it?

4. Calvin argues that fallen man sins “willingly, not unwillingly or by compulsion” (II.iii.5)? What does he mean by this? Why is it important?

5. Can you summarise how, according to Calvin, “divine grace corrects and cures the corruption of our nature” (II.iii.6)?

6. How does Lombard misrepresent Augustine’s statement that “grace precedes every good work” (II.iii.7)? What “two things” does Calvin emphasise in order to prevent this misunderstanding?

7. What biblical texts and other arguments does Calvin adduce in II.iii.8-9 to support his view that all good in us “takes its origin from God alone” (II.iii.8)?

8. What does Calvin believe Chrysostom means when he said, “Whom he draws he draws willingly” (II.iii.10)? Why does Calvin object to this notion (II.iii.10)? How does Calvin’s position differ from Chrysostom’s (II.iii.10)?

9. What “most wicked error” does Calvin describe in II.iii.11? How does he respond?

In II.iv, Calvin addresses “the question whether we ought to ascribe to God any part of the evil works in which Scripture signifies that some action of his intervenes” (II.iv.1).

10. Can you explain the illustration Calvin cites from Augustine in II.iv.1? Does this strike you as a biblical way of thinking?

11. In what sense(s) are God, Satan and man all active participants in the same events (II.iii.2)? How do Calvin’s scriptural examples serve his point here (II.iv.4-5)?

In II.v, Calvin considers a number of objections against his understanding of the human will.

*12. Summarise (a) the objections set out in the following sections; and (b) Calvin’s response to them. Do you find Calvin’s responses persuasive?

  • II.v.1
  • II.v.2
  • II.v.3
  • II.v.4-5

*13. Some of Calvin’s critics claim that “God’s precepts [are] so accommodated to our capacities that we are of necessity able to fulfil their demonstrable requirements” (II.v.6). What does this mean, and how does is serve as an argument against Calvin’s view? How does Calvin respond (II.v.6-11)?

*14. Calvin considers a number of other arguments against his position in II.v.12-19. Try to outline these arguments and Calvin’s responses to them. Which position do you find most persuasive?

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