Luther & Calvin Writing Assignment (L10)

Explain Luther’s main points in the selection you read from On the Freedom of a Christian.

Luther makes many points in his work On the Freedom of a Christian, but, of all his ideas, one of his strongest was that of which he makes clear the process by which an unrighteous man becomes a righteous man, and this was, he said, by justification. Luther went on to say that this justification could be carried out by faith alone; that good works had no meaning in the great order of things. He was a firm believer that human beings were a truly corrupt people, and so he taught that good works should be done purely out of one’s love for God, rather than to get one into heaven. His lack of faith in the human race was reflected in his works on multiple occasions, where he shamelessly wrote of all men’s inability to avoid sin. “For example: ‘thou shalt not covet,’ is a precept by which we are all convicted of sin; since no man can help coveting, whatever efforts to the contrary he may make. In order therefore that he may fulfil the precept, and not covet, he is [109] constrained to despair of himself and to seek elsewhere and through another the help which he cannot find in himself; as it is said: ‘O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is thine help.’ (Hosea xiii. 9.) Now what is done by this one precept, is done by all; for all are equally impossible of fulfilment by us.” He also later wrote that “Christ is full of grace, life, and salvation; the soul is full of sin, death, and condemnation.” Luther makes it a point to be clear that he believes the “the whole Scripture of God is divided into two parts, precepts and promises. The precepts certainly teach us what is good, but what they teach is not forthwith done. For they show us what we ought to do, but do not give us the power to do it.” Overall, I find Luther’s main points from this excerpt to be somewhat morbid in the sense that he believes those who have not found salvation of God are condemned to a life, and afterlife of sin and misery. One who is not devoted to a life of religious faith is not living much of a life at all because he will continue on to spend eternity in hell.

Explain Calvin’s main points in the selection you read from the Institutes of the Christian Religion. How does Calvin answer those who say predestination makes God into a being who dispenses justice unequally?

In the given selection of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, each of his major points involves justifying and defending God’s “gratuitous elections” of predestination. Starting in Book Three, Chapter 21, Calvin’s opening statement is that “The covenant of life is not preached equally to all, and among those to whom it is preached, does not always meet with the same reception.” More simply stated, Calvin is declaring that the conditional promises made to humanity by God are not equal to each being, and that although he is not an unjust God, not all is made fair for each man by Gods will. He goes on to say that “by predestination we mean the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man. All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestinated to life or to death.” Here, Calvin is saying, in a quite blunt fashion, that God does as he wills – not with no reason, but none such reasons are explained other than that he decides with himself. Meaning in a greater picture of life, it does not matter the good deeds one has carried out, or the bad deeds one has done, because in the end God has already decided what’s going to happen to you when you die. Towards the end of this selection, in Chapter 23, Calvin offers quite the response to those who say predestination makes God into a being who dispenses justice unequally ; “Wherefore, it is false and most wicked to charge God with dispensing justice unequally, because in this predestination he does not observe the same course towards all.” Calvin states, quite correctly in fact, that it would be even more unjust, and actually unequal if God were to decide the same fate for every man. If the good and the bad are all passed onto heaven, what fairness is in that? Likewise it would be quite unequal to sentence the good and the bad to a life of eternal damnation. However, here Calvin is simply distracting people with other hypothetical inequalities of God’s rule, and he fails to prove why predestination is still a fair and equal way. Just because God is sending different people different places, doesn’t exactly mean he is sending them to the right places. Going into specifics, Calvin says “we admit that the guilt is common, but we say, that God in mercy succors some. Let him (they say) succor all. We object, that it is right for him to show by punishing that he is a just judge. When they cannot tolerate this, what else are they attempting than to deprive God of the power of showing mercy; or, at least, to allow it to him only on the condition of altogether renouncing judgment?” In mercy, God can help man. But then, ‘they’ respond, why not help all? Calvin’s argument to this is that God shows he is a ‘just’ and fair judge by punishing, rather than taking pity on all. He then attacks the people questioning this logic of predestination by stating that they’re attempting to deprive God of the power of showing mercy, because they say unless he has mercy on all, let him have mercy on none. In reality, this is not what the people are saying, but accusing one of questioning Gods judgments is a quick way to shut them up in this setting.