As I committed to reading through Calvin’s Institutes with a friend, in honour of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017, I thought it would be worth jotting down some bits that I found particularly interesting. Here’s the quote for today:
When his light is removed, nothing but darkness and blindness remains. When his Spirit is taken away, our hearts harden into stones. When his guidance ceases, they are wrenched into crookedness. 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.
John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 2, 4.3
When you think of your heart (I’m thinking the centre of your being rather than your physical blood pumper here), you probably imagine that it is yours to wield. Yours to shape and to grow. Yours to give, to enlarge, to shrink and to turn against someone.
However the truth is that our hearts are entirely reliant upon God’s Spirit for any semblance of goodness. I had often wondered what it meant when it’s mentioned in the Bible that God “hardened Pharaoh’s heart”, for example [e.g. Exodus 9:12]. Yet it’s not that God is working up a sweat in order to turn Pharaoh’s heart to stone, but by giving Pharaoh what he wants in removing his Spirit—which is why it’s also written that “Pharaoh hardened his heart” [e.g. Exodus 8:32].
So Calvin perceptively notes that with the withdrawal of God’s Spirit, our hearts—or Pharaoh’s, or anyone else’s—revert to the state they are left in from our rebellion from God. Hardened, blinded and “wrenched into crookedness”. This is perhaps an answer to the question that plagues many when they think about the Sovereignty of God: Why does God hold us accountable for wrongdoing if he’s in control? The answer now is clear: Left to our own natural state we are incapable of anything but rebellion against him. It’s not that he’s making us sin, it’s that by his grace in the presence of his Spirit that he allows any spiritual openness, sight or perceptions at all.
Perhaps now you might be aware of the extraordinary grace given you just for considering this fact, or for every time you have in any way responded to God’s prompting or his Word. Because if it were solely up to us to make it to him…well, let’s just say the race would be over before it began.