John Calvin: The Fiction of Free Will

“…..for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure” (Isaiah 46:9-10).

God is God – He Calls the Shots!

Free will in fallen man is the sacred cow of all non-Calvinists; it is non-negotiable with them, and this was made clear in the DVD on the subject of Calvinism (volume 2 of a DVD series titled “Wide is the Gate” produced by Caryl Productions), in which Pastor Chris Quintana asks if man has the ability to accept or reject God.  He believes that according to Calvinism, God sends people to heaven or hell based on his own sovereign will.  He thus denies that God acts according to his sovereign will, doing with sinners as he pleases, and (Chris) hands the sovereignty to fallen humanity.  But let him take up that view with God, and let me show you the Truth.

To start with, the bible says the choice is not with man but with God: “What shall we say then?  Is there unrighteousness with God?  God forbid.  For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.  So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.  For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout the earth.  Therefore he hath mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth (Rom 9:14-18). 

There is simply no way around this passage other than to understand and accept that the eternal destiny of every human being is in the hands of God.  Verse 16 specifically rules out the ability of every unregenerate person from creation until the return of Jesus to choose to become a saved Christian.  And verse 17 shows that God even raises up individuals (e.g. Pharaoh) to glorify him by their destruction.

But Paul, by the Holy Spirit, forestalls resistance to God’s sovereignty by challenging his readers with their weakness and insignificance, saying: “Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault?  For who hath resisted his will?  Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God?  Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?” (Rom 9:19-20). 

God does not explain himself in this matter – he simply states the truth that he is in control of his creation.  “….all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth:  and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou? (Dan 4:34-35).

The truth is that all mankind is already destined for hell because they are born in sin (Ps 51:5; Rom 3:9-12; Eph 2:1-3) and are enemies of God (Rom 3:18; Col 3:6); and they will not turn to God.  However – and this is the greatness of God’s free grace – God, in mercy to the lost, exercises his sovereign will in choosing some of them to receive the free (to them) gift of salvation and life through Jesus Christ.  Because mankind is dead in trespasses and sins and is totally unable to come to God, if any sinner is to be saved, God must reach down from heaven and rescue them by doing everything necessary for their salvation – not merely providing the means and leaving it up to man to choose whether he will accept the precious gift, but stepping into their lives and making them willing (Acts 16:14).  That’s why Paul writes “it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy”(Rom 9:16).  God doesn’t send anybody to hell or heaven based on his own sovereign will, but on the basis of whether they receive or reject the gospel.  This is the clear teaching of scripture and therefore of Calvinism.  Calvinism is the only theology that shows how predestination and the gospel combine and harmonise in the salvation of sinners.

How the Gospel and Predestination Work Together in Salvation

If it’s true that only those can come to God whom he has chosen to do so, what’s the point of preaching the gospel?  The bible answers this question: “Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God (ekloge: choosing out, selecting, choice [by God]).  For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Ghost….” (1 Thess 1:4-5).  See also Eph 1:3-6.

Again, it is clearly stated that we are excluded from life and heaven by unbelief: “And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not?  So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief (Heb 3:18-19).

When the gospel is preached, the invitation to come to Christ is genuine.  When the elect hear it they are made willing and they come to Jesus (Acts 16:14).  They acknowledge their sin, repent, are born again and receive the Holy Spirit.  They receive Christ and his gift of eternal life by faith and they commit their lives to him and rejoice that he has shown them mercy.  As Paul states: “For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel (1 Cor 4:15).  And so the gospel is the means by which the elect are brought in to the kingdom.  They’re not saved, and their election is meaningless, until they respond in faith and repentance to the gospel

Unregenerate Sinners are Unable to Turn to Christ

However, when the reprobate hear the gospel, they reject it because God has not made them willing (Rom 9:18-21; Jn 6:44-4565).  In their natural unregenerate state, they reject Christ because they want to, they choose to – that is the limit of their free will; unless God first opens their heart, they will never come to him (Acts 16:14).  “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor 2:14).  And Jesus said, when speaking to Nicodemus, “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.  For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved (John 3:19-20).  Unless God does something to and in unbelievers they will never turn to him because by nature they are hostile to God (Eph 2:1-10).

Those who reject the gospel do so because they choose to, and God will justly hold them accountable for it.  They act in accordance with their fallen nature and they would feel violated if their will was overridden; as Paul writes, “…they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved” (2 Thess 2:10). 

Jesus told us: All that the Father giveth me shall come to me;and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out” (Jn 6:37; see also Jn 6:39-40 and 44, 65). 

John Calvin states it thus: “So far is it, indeed, from being placed in the mere will of man, that we may add, that even the pious, and those who fear God, need this special inspiration of the Spirit.  Lydia, a seller of purple, feared God, and yet it was necessary that her heart should be opened, that she might attend to the doctrine of Paul, and profit in it (Acts 16:14).  This was not said of one woman only but to teach us that all progress in piety is the secret work of the Spirit.  Nor can it be questioned, that God sends his word to many whose blindness he is pleased to aggravate.  For why does he order so many messages to be taken to Pharaoh?  Was it because he hoped that he might be softened by the repetition?  No, before he began he both knew and had foretold the result: ‘The Lord said unto Moses, When thou goest to return into Egypt see that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand: but I will harden his heart, that he will not let the people go’” (Institutes Book 2, Chapter 24, 13).

Elsewhere he writes: “Scripture often asserts that man is the slave of sin.  What it means is that his mind is so far removed from God’s righteousness that he thinks of, deeply desires and undertakes nothing that is not evil, perverse, iniquitous and sullied; for the heart, having drunk its fill of sin’s venom, can emit nothing but sin’s fruits.

However, we must not think that there is some violent necessity driving man to sin.  He sins with the full agreement of his own will, and he does it eagerly and in line with his own inclinations. 

The corruption of the heart means that man has a very strong and continuing hatred of the whole of God’s righteousness.  In addition, he is devoted to every kind of evil.  Because of this he is said not to have the free power of choosing between good and evil – which is called free will” (Calvin, J., 2008, p. 11-12).

The Westminster Confession of Faith states why there is no such thing as Free Will for fallen man:

Of the Fall of Man, of Sin, and of the Punishment Thereof

1. Our first parents, being seduced by the subtlety and temptation of Satan, sinned, in eating the forbidden fruit (1).  This their sin, God was pleased, according to his wise and holy counsel, to permit, having purposed to order it to his own glory (2).

2. By this sin they fell from their original righteousness and communion with God (3), and so became dead in sin (4), and wholly defiled in all the parts and faculties of soul and body (5).

3. They being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed (6); and the same death in sin and corrupted nature, conveyed to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation (7).

4. From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good (8), and wholly inclined to all evil (9), do proceed all actual transgressions (10)”.

“(1) Gen 3:13; 2 Cor 11:3 (2) Rom 11:32 (3) Gen 3:6-8; Eccles 7:29; Rom 3:23 (4) Gen 2:17; Eph 2:1 (5) Tit 1:15; Gen 6:5; Jer 17:9; Rom 3:10-18 (6) Gen 1:27-28; Gen 2:16-17; Acts 17:26; Rom 5:12, 15-19; 1 Cor 15:21-22, 45, 49 (7) Ps 51:5; Gen 5:3; Job 14:4; Job 15:15 (8) Rom 5:6; Rom 8:7; Rom 7:18: Col 1:21 (9) Gen 6:5; Gen 8:21; Rom 3:10-12 (10) James 1:14-15; Eph 2:2-3; Matt 15:19”

Of Effectual Calling

1. All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, he is pleased, in his appointed time, effectually to call (1), by his Word and Spirit (2), out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation, by Jesus Christ (3); enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God (4), taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them a heart of flesh (5); renewing their wills, and, by his almighty power, determining them to that which is good(6), and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ (7); yet so as they come most freely, being made willing  by his grace (8).

2. This effectual call is of God’s free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man (9), who is altogether passive therein, until, being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit (10), he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it (11)”.

“(1) Rom 8:30; Rom 11:7; Eph 1:10-11 (2) 2 Thess 2:13-14; 2 Cor 3:3, 6 (3) Rom 8:2; Eph 2:1-5; 2 Tim 1:9-10 (4) Acts 26:18; 1 Cor 2:10-12; Eph 1:17-18 (5) Ezek 36:26 (6) Ezek 11:19; Phil 2:13; Deut 30:6; Ezek 36:27 (7) Eph 1:19; John 6:44-45 (8) Song 1:4; Ps 110:3; John 6:37; Rom 6:16-18 (9) 2 Tim 1:9; Tit 3:4-5; Eph 2:4-5, 8-9; Rom 9:11 (10) 1 Cor 2:14; Rom 8:7; Eph 2:5 (11) John 6:37; Ezek 36:37; John 5:25”.


Calvin, John, Truth for all Time; A Brief Outline of the Christian Faith, 1998, 2000, 2008, Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh, UK, Carlisle, PA, USA