In our preceding article, we called attention to the fact that the Word of God does not separate the things that are present and earthly from the things that are eternal, and surely teaches us to view them in the light of each other. And we maintain that this is also the position of Calvin.
It must be maintained that, although the prosperity of the wicked constituted a problem for Calvin, nevertheless he sought its solution by maintaining that the Lord shows the wicked temporal mercy, but he also attempts to solve the problem in the light of eternity and by maintaining that the Lord is God. In connection with the manifestation of God, one reads repeatedly that thereby the wicked are rendered inexcusable. We read this repeatedly throughout Book I of his Institutes. But, if we wish plain language that “Common Grace” fulfills the curse, and renders the wicked inexcusable before God, then we should note what we read in III, 25, 9:
How is it, then, that God not only “maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good,” but that, for the accommodations of the present life, his inestimable liberality is diffused in the most copious abundance? Hence we see, that things which properly belong to Christ and his members, are also extended to the impious; not to become their legitimate possession, but to render them more inexcusable. Thus impious men frequently experience God’s beneficence in remarkable instances, which sometimes exceed all the blessings of the pious, but which, nevertheless, are the means of aggravating their condemnation.
This is plain language. And also when Calvin writes about those temporal gifts for the wicked which they share with the godly in God’s covenant, we read the same thought, as in III, 2, 11.
And finally we note that the church of the present day refuses to speak of this purpose, because, so they declare, we have nothing to do with it. Calvin always ends in the doctrine of God’s sovereign election, in an essential distinction between the Church and the World, and his common grace is the means to render the wicked inexcusable and to increase his judgment. In this Calvin does not remain silent. Calvin’s common grace was a peculiar phenomenon in this natural life. God’s grace is, according to him, exclusively particular and reserved only for the people of God.
Having concluded what Calvin has to say about Common Grace, we now wish to call attention, specifically, to the doctrine of sin as occurring in the writings of the reformer. He writes on this subject in Book II, chapters 1-3, of his Institutes.
He begins by calling attention to the old adage, which strongly recommends to man the knowledge of himself. He considers it shameful for man to be ignorant of himself. But then Calvin immediately calls attention to the preposterous use which some philosophers have made of this adage, and we quote, I, 1, 1:
For while they exhort man to the knowledge of himself, the end they propose is, that he may not remain ignorant of his own dignity and excellence; nor do they wish him to contemplate in himself any thing but what may swell him with vain confidence, and inflate him with pride.
This statement may well be considered the key-note of what the reformer has to say about the subject of sin. He states that man’s knowledge of himself consists of two things: first, he must consider what was bestowed upon him as his creation, and, secondly, he ought to contemplate his miserable condition since the fall of Adam, the sense of which will tend to destroy all boasting and confidence, overwhelm him with shame and fill him with real humility.
One might almost conclude that Calvin wrote the following with his eye upon present conditions, establishing the truth that, while conditions may vary and change outwardly, issues and principles remain the same throughout the ages, so that we need not doubt what the reformer’s position would have been had he lived today (II, 1, 3):
For, according to carnal apprehension, a man is thought to be well acquainted with himself, when, confiding in his own understanding and integrity, he assumes a presumptuous boldness, incites himself to the duties of virtue, and, declaring war against vice, uses his most strenuous endeavors to adhere to what is fair and honorable. But he, who inspects and examines himself by the rule of the Divine judgment, finds nothing that can raise his mind to a genuine confidence; and the more fully he has examined himself, the greater is his dejection; till, entirely discarding all confidence, he leaves himself no ability for the proper conduct of his life.
Having written this, the reformer, continuing in the same paragraph, calls the attention of the reader to man’s original condition and of that from which man iswholly departed, the viewing of which should confound him and almost annihilate him. What would have been Calvin’s position were he living today, witnessing the church’s social gospel (and I refer to the reformed church world of today), the church’s efforts toward social improvement and the betterment of this world, all taking place in the Name of Christ, the King of His church, and as seeking the establishment of His Kingdom? What would be his reaction while witnessing the terrible defection from the truth, the ruthless trampling under foot of the very fundamentals of the Word of God, the corrupting of the truth and the denial of the infallibility of the Scriptures? How violently he would react and protest against the present day reducing of Genesis 1-3 to a myth, the attack upon the virgin birth and the miracles of our Lord! How he would cause his voice to be heard against the social gospel of today, the identifying of the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ with a kingdom consisting of warring against poverty, social injustices and racial inequalities, and all this taking place without the cross of Calvary! Indeed, circumstances may and do vary, but principles and fundamental issues remain the same throughout the ages.
Calvin, in his doctrine of sin, maintained the Scriptural doctrine of original sin. Incidentally, he connects all the present sin and misery with the sin of Adam. This, of course, is well-known. He would have viewed with horror the position taken by many in the reformed church world of today, that Scripture’s account of the fall of our first parents in Paradise is a myth, that Adam and Eve were not the first people, that sin, therefore, never entered this world as set forth in the first book of the Bible. He maintains Scripture’s account of the fall, is unalterably opposed to the teaching of Pelagianism which would maintain that Adam only ruined himself and that his sin did not injure his descendants. He writes, II, 1, 5:
This is that hereditary corruption which the fathers called original sin; meaning by sin, the depravation of a nature previously good and pure. . . .There is certainly no ambiguity in the confession of David, that he was shapen in iniquity, and in sin his mother conceived him. . . . Every descendant, therefore, from the impure source, is born infected with the contagion of sin; and even before we behold the light of life, we are in the sight of God defiled and polluted. For “who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?” The book of Job tells us, “Not one.”
Calvin defines original sin and sets forth the terrible extent of it in II, 1,8 and we quote the following:
To remove all uncertainty and misunderstanding on this subject, let us define original sin. It is not my intention to discuss all the definitions given by writers; I shall only produce one, which I think perfectly consistent with the truth. Original sin, therefore, appears to be an hereditary depravity and corruption of our nature, diffused through all the parts of the soul, rendering us obnoxious to the Divine wrath, and producing in us those works which the Scripture calls “works of the flesh.” . . . These two things therefore should be distinctly observed: first, that our nature being so totally vitiated and depraved, we are, on account of this very corruption, considered as convicted and justly condemned in the sight of God, to whom nothing is acceptable but righteousness, innocence, and purity. . . . Nevertheless we derive from him, not only punishment (original guilt, H.V.), but also the pollution to which the punishment of justly due. . . . And therefore infants themselves, as they bring their condemnation into the world with them, are rendered obnoxious to punishment by their own sinfulness, not by the sinfulness of another. For though they have not yet produced the fruits of their iniquity, yet they have the seed of it within them; even their whole nature is as it were a seed of sin; and therefore cannot but be odious and abominable to God. . . . The other thing to be remarked is, that this depravity never ceases in us, but is perpetually producing new fruits, those works of the flesh, which we have before described, like the emission of flame and sparks from a heated furnace, or like the streams of water from a never failing spring. Wherefore those who have defined original sin as a privation of the original righteousness, which we ought to possess, though they comprise the whole of the subject, yet have not used language sufficiently expressive of its operation and influence. For our nature is not only destitute of all good, but is so fertile in all evils that it cannot remain inactive. Those who have called it concupiscence have used an expression not improper, if it were only added, which is far from being conceded by most persons, that everything in man, the understanding and will, the soul and body, is polluted and engrossed by this concupiscence; or, to express it more briefly, that man is of himself nothing else but concupiscence.
This is Calvin’s doctrine of original sin, original guilt and original pollution. He is unalterably opposed to the heresy of Pelagianism which he calls profane, a devilish delusion and a teaching of consummate impudence. He includes in this original corruption also the children, and declares that their whole nature is as it were a seed of sin and that it therefore cannot but be odious and abominable to God. And he concludes with the observation that our nature is not only destitute of all good, but that it is so fertile in all evils that it cannot remain inactive. Everything in man, the understanding and the will, the soul and body, is polluted and engrossed by this concupiscence; or, to express it more briefly, man of himself is nothing else than concupiscence. And so Calvin also remarks that sin has possessed all the powers of the soul, since Adam departed from the fountain of righteousness. And he also declares that man is so totally overwhelmed, as with a deluge, that no part is free from sin and that therefore whatever proceeds from him is accounted sin, even as Paul says that all the affections or thoughts of the flesh are enmity against God, and therefore death.