Solomon declares that the Lord turns the heart of a king wherever he wants it to go (Proverbs 21:1). What applies to the king certainly also applies to the whole human race. God must direct whatever we conceive of in our minds. If God did not work internally in the minds of people, then Scripture could not said that God takes away trusted advisors, the discernment of the elderly, and the power of princes (Job 12:21). We also read in Scripture that God fills the hearts of people with terror. Moreover, David left the camp of Saul because God had caused a deep sleep to fall upon them. Nothing is clearer, however, than the many passages which speak of God blinding the minds of people. He afflicts them with a cloudy mind, renders them stubborn, and hardens their hearts.
Some theologians could maybe even see that God permits these things to happen if God allowed people to be blinded by Satan. But the text says that the God blinds them. It is his judgment upon them. God is said to have hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and then to have hardened it even more! Some try to avoid the obvious conclusion by claiming that elsewhere Pharaoh is said to have hardened his own heart, thus making his own will the cause of the hardening. These two truths perfectly agree with each. People, although acted upon by God, at the same also act. If to harden, however, means only bare permission, the stubborn disobedience that Pharaoh exemplified would not properly belong to Pharaoh. Is there any weaker interpretation than to say that Pharaoh only allowed himself to be hardened? The Scriptures outright deny such an interpretation: “I” says the Lord, “will harden his heart” (Exod. 4:21).
So also, Moses says that the inhabitants of the land of Canaan, went out to battle because the Lord had hardened their hearts (Josh. 11:20). The same thing is repeated by another prophet, “He turned their hearts to hate his people,” (Psalm 105:25). In a similar way, God says of the Assyrians, “I will send them against a hypocritical nation, and against the people of my wrath will I give him a charge to take the spoil, and to take the prey,” (Isaiah 10:6). God is not doing this to teach the wicked a lesson and move them to repentance. He is doing so because he is bending their will to execute his judgment, just as if they carried their orders engraved on their minds. It appears that they are compelled by the determination of God.
I admit that God often acts in the reprobate by allowing them to come under the agency of Satan. In such a way, Satan performs his part just as he is also compelled by the Lord. And Satan succeeds only as much as the Lord allows him to. The evil spirit that troubled Saul is said to be from the Lord (1 Sam. 16:14). Saul’s madness was a just punishment from God. Satan is also said to blind the minds of those who do not believe the gospel (2 Cor. 4:4). But how can that happen unless that a spirit of error is sent from God himself, making those who refuse to obey the truth to believe a lie? God elsewhere says, “If the prophet be deceived when he has spoken a thing, I the Lord have deceived that prophet,” (Ezek. 14:9). God is also said to give people over to a reprobate mind because he is the author of his own just vengeance whereas Satan is only his servant (cf. Ps. 141:4; Rom. 1:28).
In the Second Book (2.4.3-4), free will be talked about again. Here’s a summary of my thought: since the will of God is said to be the cause of all things, everything people do must be governed by his providence. God not only exerts his power in the elect, who are guided by the Holy Spirit, but also forces the reprobate to do his 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.