Chapter Summary of Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion
Book One, Chapter XV – Discussion of Human Nature as Created, of the Faculties of the Soul, of the Image of God, of Free Will, and of the Original Integrity of Man’s Nature
In this chapter Calvin again picks up the importance, as in the first chapter of Book I, of man knowing himself if he is to truly know God. Here he expounds on the understanding of man specifically as it relates to his “pre-fall” condition in Adam. At his creation man was “spotless”, body and soul. The fact that man became tarnished owes to his own volition and not that of any defect in his nature as created by God. It cannot rightly be understood from Scripture that the body and soul are one-and-the-same. Neither can it be demonstrated that, while incorporeal, the soul may be understood as without essence, as the Manichaeans suggest. They argue that the soul is “a force divinely infused into bodies” but without essence. For how is it that a non-essential force could apprehend the things of God and even move to penetrate to his judgment seat? Unlike the body, the soul grasps the distinctions of right and wrong. Indeed, Peter specifically speaks of the “salvation of…souls” [1 Pet. 1:9]. Christ himself draws the distinction between the bliss of the soul of Lazarus over-against the torment of the rich man’s soul [Luke 16:22-23].
Man was created by God in his “image and likeness” [Gen. 1:27]. The proper seat of this image in man is the soul. Responding to those who would draw a substantive distinction between the terms image and likeness requires little ink. Repetition is common in Hebrew writing for the purpose of emphasis or explanation. Later Moses refers to the “image of God” twice with no mention of likeness whatever. We can also understand by the teaching of Christ that the angels too were created in God’s image [Matt. 22:30].
The image of God was revealed in Adam before the fall and revealed in its fullness in Christ Jesus. His image in man at the fall was certainly decimated, but not totally destroyed, and, by the work of Christ, will be fully restored [Col. 3:10; Eph. 4:24; 2 Cor. 3:18]. Even now, in so far as one has been reborn in the spirit the beginning of this restoration is manifest. The Manichaean’s error of the soul’s emanation, that because it is said that God “breathed the breath of life upon man’s face” [Gen. 2:7], that this image consists of some actual portion of the substance of God. This is non-sense on many levels not the least of which is that God is not subject to change that such relinquishing of part of his own substance would require. We are indeed God’s offspring [Acts 17:28], but in quality, not in essence. We are made to conform to God not in “substance but by the grace and power of the Spirit” [2 Cor. 3:18].
The soul itself is incorporeal but housed in the body. It serves to animate man’s actions, rule man’s behavior, arouse man to honor God and bring shame (conscience) when honor is lacking. While the created soul is intended for conformity to the image in which man is made, perversion of this has given man the capacity for anger and inordinate desire. The fundamental faculties of man is the understanding and the will. The understanding distinguishes between what is worthy of approval or disapproval. The will is the conscious outworking of the judgment of the understanding.
Given this groundwork regarding the functioning of the soul in man it is understood that Adam, prior to the fall, had the freedom and power to obey and attain eternal life, or to disobey and deny it. By his own will, on the basis of his own understanding, he violated his covenant. All of his progeny since have inherited his corrupted state. In spite of this “slap” in the face of the creator, God has and will work it for the good of his people [Rom. 8:28] and his own glory.