Blogging the Institutes | 1.15.7-8 | The Soul and Free Will

“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List

The Soul and Free Will

Philosophers don’t take into account corrupted human nature when they talk about the soul. Sometimes they will conflate the two states of the soul, although they are both very different from one another. For sake of argument, we should believe that the soul consists of two parts: intellect and will. The intellect distinguishes between objects and then approves of what is “good.” The will follows what the intellect deems “good,” rejecting and shunning the bad. We won’t delve deeply into Aristotle’s teaching. He believed that the mind itself did not change or make any decision, but that the power to move the mind was choice.

Let’s not get bogged down in superfluous questions. The intellect is the guide and ruler of the soul. The will follows it and waits its decision. For this reason, Aristotle taught that the soul pursues and rejects things in proportion to the affirmation of rejection made by the intellect. At this point, I only want to demonstrate that all the faculties of the soul can be put under the category of “intellect” or “will.” Others break things down differently. They say that “sense” inclines someone to pleasurable things like the intellect does for the good. Sense can then be broken down further into concupiscence and lust. I, however, prefer to use the word “will” rather than sense when referring to appetites.

Therefore, God has provided the soul with intellect, through which a person can discern good and evil, just and unjust. Through his intellect, a person can know what to follow and what to reject. God has also joined to the intellect the capacity of the will, the ability to make choices. Humanity excelled in its intellect and will before sin. These capacities of intelligence, prudence, and wise decision-making were for the good of its earthly life but also helped humanity rise up to God and eternal happiness. Consequently, choice was added to direct the appetites so that the will might be perfectly submissive to the authority of reason. Before sin, humanity possessed freedom of will. It was able to obtain eternal life, if it so chose. At this point, it would be irrelevant to introduce the question about God’s secret predestination. We shoudn’t be concerned with what might or what might have happened. Instead, we should concern ourselves about humanity’s true nature at the time.

Therefore, Adam might have stood if he chose rightly. But it was by his own will that he fell. His will was pliable in either direction (sin or not sin), and he had not received the strength to persevere and so he easily fell. Still, he had a free choice of good and evil. He not only had choice, but his mind and will were also the highest point of righteousness. Even his body was framed for obedience to God, until he corrupted its goodness and destroyed himself. Hence, philosophers go askew when they look for a pristine building in the ruins, and order in the disorder.  They believed that people could not be rational unless they had free choice of good and evil. They also imagined that the distinction between virtue and vice was destroyed, if people could not arrange their lives as they saw fit. According to their views, there was no change in people. Consequently, they throw everything into confusion.

Some professed Christians also try to salvage free-will in people, even though human nature is lost and drowned in spiritual destruction. They often mix biblical doctrine with philosophical opinion and thus make errors in both. But it will be better to leave these things along for a while. In the meantime, it’s important to remember that Adam was very different at his first creation than all of the subsequent generations. All who derived their origin from him received a hereditary trait: corruption. At first, Adam’s soul was formed to perform righteousness. He was sound in mind and freedom of will to choose good. While some may object that Adam’s position was slippery because he could still still and thus the power he had was weak, I would argue that he had sufficient strength to obey so as to take away every excuse. God could not be tied to the condition of a human being who could not or would not sin. Although such a human nature might have been more excellent, it is wrong to demand that God create people unable to sin. God has the full right to determine how much or how little strength to bestow upon humanity. Why God chose not to sustain Adam’s perseverance is hidden in his counsel. We must keep it within the bounds of sober reflection. Adam would have received the power of persevere if he had the will to do so. But Adam did not have the will, which would have given him the power he needed. He would have also received the perseverance he needed. Still, God had given him more than enough. There is no excuse for bringing death upon himself. It was not necessary for God to give him more than a moderate amount of “will power” so that out of Adam’s fall, God might extract his own glory.

One thought on “Blogging the Institutes | 1.15.7-8 | The Soul and Free Will

  1. Pingback: Blogging the Institutes: List of Posts – Raising Lazarus

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.