Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Man's Heart

Calvin continues with his discussion of sin and man's will here in chapter 4.  He uses an interesting analogy from Augustine.  He compared man's will to that of a horse with God and Satan as the riders.  When God has the reigns, "he guides it properly, spurs it if it is too slow, checks it if it is too swift, restrains it if it is too rough or wild, subdues it if it balks, and leads it down the right path."  Satan on the other hand, "violently drives it far from the trail like a foolish and wanton rider, forces it into ditches, tumbles it over cliffs, and goads it into obstinacy and fierceness."  Calvin does make it clear that Satan can not force his will on anyone but "rather that the will, captivated by Satan's wiles, of necessity obediently submits to all his leading."

Then Calvin gets interesting.  He examines the story of Job again.  This time, he carefully looks at how God, Satan, and man were all active in the same event.  Job recognized that God was active in the entire affair.  The Chaldeans attacked Job's shepherds and flock.  It was just after this event that Job declared, "Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked shall I return there. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; Blessed be the name of the LORD."  Calvin poses the question, "How may we attribute this same work to God, to Satan, and to man as author, without either excusing Satan as associated with God, or making God the author of evil?"  Calvin responds that this is easy.  "The Lord's purpose is to exercise the patience of His servant by calamity; Satan endeavors to drive him to desperation; the Chaldeans strive to acquire gain from another's property contrary to law and right."  It boils down to intention.  Calvin concludes, "Therefore we see no inconsistency in assigning the same deed to God, Satan, and man; but the distinction in purpose and manner causes God's righteousness to shine forth blameless there, while the wickedness of Satan and of man betrays itself by its own disgrace."

Finally today, Calvin begins to address instances where God hardened a man's heart.  Specifically, he addresses what "hardness" means.  Theologians have always struggled with this.  Even Augustine was troubled by it.  Calvin references that at times Augustine referred to this hardening as not referring to actual activity by God, but just his foreknowledge.  But at other times Augustine, "argues at great length that sins happen not only by God's permission and forbearance, but by his might, as a kind of punishment for sins previously committed."  Calvin tells us that many times God blinds or hardens people in order to achieve his will.  Isaiah 6:10 is referenced as an example, "Make the heart of this people dull, And their ears heavy, And shut their eyes; Lest they see with their eyes, And hear with their ears, And understand with their heart, And return and be healed.” Calvin says that the hardening takes place in two ways.  "For after his light is removed, nothing but darkness and blindness remains.  When his Spirit is taken away, our hearts harden into stones...Thus it is properly said that he blinds, hardens, and bends those whom he has deprived of the power of seeing obeying, and rightly following.  The second way, which comes much closer to the proper meaning of the words, is that to carry out his judgments through Satan as minister of his wrath, God destines men's purposes as he pleases, arouses their wills, and strengthens their endeavors."  Calvin sites the example of King Sihon not allowing Moses and the Israelites through his land.  This was done to accomplish God's purpose.  "Therefore, because God willed that Sihon be destroyed, He prepared his ruin through obstinacy of heart."

It can make us uncomfortable to think about God hardening the hearts of men.  It is clearly stated in Scripture, but we often try to dance around the topic because we want to be so careful not to attribute any evil to God.  Calvin does an excellent job in not shying away from the truth contained in Scripture while maintaining God's goodness.

Tomorrow's reading: 2.4.4-2.4.8

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