The Knowledge of Man and Free Will prt 2 – week 4
(my blog subtitles are bold, quotes of Calvin in italics, applications are mine)
What better describes you when it comes to approaching rules or boundaries?
Do you feel like rules and boundaries are what allow for us to live and work in relative harmony, peace and prosperity? “The rules are there for our own good. If each of us would put in a reasonable effort of pulling our weight in following them, this world would be a whole lot fairer and, overall, happier place.” – Do I hear an AMEN?!
Do you tend to see boundaries rules as obstacles to be overcome, ignored or just straight -up broken? “Rules, rules, we don’t need no stinking rules! You show me your rule and I’ll show you how far beyond it I can live. If we had less controls, rules and boundaries people would be a whole lot happier.” – Can I get a YEEHAW?!
Jesus tells a parable including these two types of personalities within the same family structure. There was son who didn’t want to, couldn’t and wouldn’t live under the rules of his father’s house any longer. The only way he believed he could succeed was to get what his father had promised to give him and get as far away as he could from the whole family. He had a brother who thrived under these same rules. He was steady, solid, capable and worked hard in his father’s successful business. He was ready to take over the business and see it soar to new heights whenever his dad was ready to promote him. He was just waiting for the day.
Which one was right? Which one finally found the success they craved?
I’m guessing you know the story of the prodigal son and the elder brother. There has been countless books written on this incredible story Jesus taught. The lessons seem endless from this parable. Quite often I have heard the concluding application, in church settings, from church pulpits boil down to… don’t be like the prodigal son… CHOOSE to come home now.
The emphasis of the appeal is most often on my ‘choosing’, my ‘free will’, my ability to rightly assess what the state of my life is in and to make the best logical choice for my best life now.
Wonder what Calvin would think of such an ending appeal that I have heard so often in our North American pulpits?
How free is Man?
“We have seen that the lordship of sin, having overcome the first man, made the whole of humanity its slaves. It remains for us to discover whether, being now in bondage, we are devoid of all freedom and liberty, or whether, if some part survives, how far it extends.
To discover the truth of this matter Calvin sets out to show the reader “the goal to which our argument is directed,” he points out two dangers as we need to consider in understanding how free man is:
“When men is destitute of all goodness, he may often adopt an air of indifference; and because he is told that he is powerless to do good, he will not care to try, as if it were no business of his.” Like a prodigal son who cares nothing for the design, the rule, the boundaries.
“Conversely, it is impossible to concede, anything to him without filling him with false confidence and excessive boldness, and without robbing God of a potion of his honour. ” Like the elder brother believing that we deserve grace. The Father owe’s us.
Calvin’s concern here is to arouse man to the desperateness of their situation and to cause them to take great diligence in seeking, understanding, knowing and pressing for a solution. In this way he hopes to be used for the purpose of “awakening man from his carelessness and sloth…. demonstrating his utter poverty.”
Now as our own ‘goodness’ protests against this approach of calling humanity utterly bankrupt to, by free will, change the most important part of our nature, he wishes to be fair thinking; “no one should deprive man of what is truly his… no one should credit him for less than he has.”
Therefore in order to make a fair assessment we need to be able to identify what is honestly man’s “false and empty boasting” (elder brother self-righteousness). In this way what remains will be the clearer view of what has been given by the good grace of God to the nature of man. The result should be a humble thankfulness and a desire to steward the gifts of God in the creating of us with a happy obedience. Failing this, the response will be man “consigned to endless shame through ingratitude.” This describes the great need of humanity to recognize and lean into the grace of God. Here we will begin to understand the extend of the ability of our human ‘free will’.
Calvin takes us back to when man and woman were considered perfect. That brief time in human history when every man and woman was complete and declared very good. At the pinnacle of man’s “highest honour he could obtain, Scripture says no more to his credit than that he was created ‘in God’s image’ (Gen. 1:27; James 3:9). By this it means that man was not rich by virtue of his own gifts, but that his blessedness lay in his partnership with God. So what now remains in humanities condition? When man held unstained the image of God in every part of his created being he failed to acknowledge him with everlasting thanksgiving and delight in the obedience of knowing him.”
This shunning of the great grace of God at the pinnacles of man’s goodness leaves us with the greatest means left to us in glorifying God here: “Now the highest response of the pride filled human heart is to “glorify him by avowing his poverty.”
To ignore this great poverty in our ability to do anything that might bring about our own saving but to listen to those who “urge us to live in own strength and power”, our own goodness is to offer merely “smoke”; A hope in something empty and fleeting. So Augustine is right when he so often repeats the memorable saying that ‘those who defend free will wreck it, instead of making it secure.”
There are many who believe that “this whole controversy as not only useless but highly dangerous…. to see man’s power eclipsed and obliterated, and God’s power built up in him instead….. instead… it is one of the foundations of religion.”
Philosophic theories regarding mind and will
Calvin sketches quickly, so that he might abandon, Plato’s division of the make up of mankind. It is based on an appeal to reason as understood and received through the senses of sight, hearing, taste, scent or touch. In this model “reason does its work by judging all these things.” This is then ruled by intellect “which contemplates with calm and steady gaze everything which reason turns over in its mind.” It is through this grid then that Plato points out our cognitive abilities, our own power, make choices/decisions. “These powers are reason, intellect and imagination”. What then falls in line in Plato’s reasoning, is those powers that guide our desires and eventually out of which we form our appetites and lead us to “seize the things imagination sets before us.”
Don’t be fooled by the philosophy follow the function
Calvin examines Plato’s model of human reasoning that leads to the ‘free will of man’ and man’s choices and rejects it’s source of knowing as deeply faulty. This he goes along with Aristotle’s model of the foundations for man’s free will or choosing; “for whom the soul contains one part which is not-self rational, but which can be guided by reason while the other part actually partakes of reason.” In these basic break-downs, as well as that of the philosopher Cicero, Calvin points out there is a basic two-part make up, however the end results in decision-making for man. These two basic parts of the soul, as seen through the philosophers, Calvin points out could be plainly labeled “a contemplative intellect which stops short of action, being concerned only to observe… intelligence; the other kind of intellect is practical, once it has apprehended good or evil,it implies the will to follow or to shun it… and so in the same way the philosophers divide desire into appetite and will…”
Within this basic model the philosophers, “still fancy that man retains the gift of reason, by which he is able to lead a well-ordered life.”
The basis of this understanding fails, in Calvin’s thinking through scripture. He will argue that the problem in this understanding is that “human reason is corrupt”. Therefore it is impossible for both the reason, intellect, imagination and will that follows is at its heart broken and must be informed by something outside itself in order to be transformed on the inside.
Foundational Christian perspective on mind and will
“Our soul consists of two parts: intellect and will. Intellect seeks to discriminate between the many things which come to our notice and to decide what should be approved and what condemned. The roll of will is to choose and follow whatever mind judges to be good and conversely to reject and shun what it reproves” Much then relies on the state of our intellect or out of which source our intellect functions.
“Now in due course we will see just how reliable the mind is in giving proper direction to the will”
Free will: the problem stated
“The philosophers agree in believe that reason is lodged in the human soul, which is like a lamp to guide the intellect, and like a queen to rule the will.They imagine that reason to be so full of divine light that it is able to distinguish between good and evil and has the power to command. Sense on the other hand is crude and ignorant, unable to rise to the study of superior and exceptional things, confining itself to the things of the earth.” So goes the argument for man’s goodness and the free will to choose what is good or best that by natural tendency man’s “desire… if it chooses to obey reason and does not allow itself to be mastered by sense, has a natural tendency to seek out whatever is good and honourable, and is thus able to keep to a straight path. If, however, it becomes a slave to sense, it is corrupt and defiled by it, and will indulge in mischief of every kind.”
This leads to the conclusion that man is able to reason himself to live right and in happiness, so long as he keeps himself as noble and pure as he can and is able to stay surrendered to the clarity of his reason not simply to give himself over to the control of his senses. If reason, couched in man’s nobility drives then man can expect a favourable outcome. If sense is in the driver’s seat then man will doom himself to a life consumed with “lower” passions that are ever-changing and never satisfied. The will, in this thinking, is the free agent that can choose who is driving.
Practice has a way of debunking theory however, which is our actual experience (Romans 7).
Free will that is said to be able to choose what is good over what is evil our ‘will’ as the driver of our own intentions and our Creator at best in the back seat or at worst on the side of the road. This thinking makes light of our broken sinfulness, our need for a Saviour, and places God at the mercy of our free will.
“To sum up, then, this is the philosophers position. Reason, which resides in the human mind, is sufficient to guide us aright and to show us the right things to do. Will, being inferior to reason, is tempted and beguiled by sense to do what is evil; but insofar as it has freedom of choice, it cannot be prevented from wholly following reason.”
I agree with Calvin, this falls short. More later.
Thanks for reading,