Book I Chapter XV Section 1-8
Growing up in our house in the 1980s there were a few shows that became part of the family culture. One of these institutions was the darts & quizz game Bullseye. I know it doesn’t sound exciting but it was so tacky it was brilliant. There were three teams of two, each consisting of a good darts player and a really rubbish darts player (supposedly on the show for their trivia knowledge). As the game progressed there was finally one team left and they had three darts each to get the required score to win the big prize.
You can call us sadistic but our family’s favourite part was when they failed to make the total required and, just to rub their noses in it, they would show them the prize behind the screen…with the immortal line “lets have a look at what you could’ve won.” It was always entertaining seeing the dissapointment on their face when they realised they had blown their chance to win the top prize (normally a speedboat or something equally unpractical).
While you may be wondering what connection this has to do with Calvin’s Institutes, it will become clear when we consider that in Chapter 15 Calvin considers the true nature of man as if Adam had never sinned i.e. as if the fall had never happened. Calvin attempts to imagine what we would have been like in an innocent world without the corruption of our nature brought on by Adam’s fall. As Calvin draws the screen back on the innocent and pure world before the fall, the sense of disappointment and failure is just as tangible. Here is what we could’ve been, who we could’ve been…
As hard as it is for us to imagine Adam’s pre-fall nature, Calvin attempts it by considering what it means for humans to be made in the image of God (before that image was tainted by sin). Calvin believes that this term describes “the integrity with which Adam was endued when his intellect was clear, his affections subordinated to reason, all his senses duly regulated, and when he truly ascribed all his excellence to the admirable gifts of his maker”.
Calvin also reasons that if we can see what qualities are most changed by the regeneration of man’s nature by the Holy Spirit in conversion, then we can reasonably assume that these were the qualities that were most defaced at the fall. And that they are indicators of the qualities Adam would have had in his sinless state. He points to Ephesians 4.24 as describing these qualities – namely knowledge, true righteousness and holiness.
Calvin argues in this chapter for the immortality of the soul. He says that the conscience is an “undoubted sign of an immortal spirit”. He then dissects the soul into two parts – the intellect and the will. The intellect is to us “the guide and ruler of the soul” while the will’s role is to “choose and follow what the intellect declares to be good, to reject and shun what it declares to be bad”. At least this was the case before the fall when “man possessed freedom of will, by which, if he chose, he was able to obtain eternal life”.
It’s a chilling thought to contemplate how life might have been so very different if the fall had never happened. But it did. There is no turning back the clock. The corruption that followed the fall is so woven into our very being that it is difficult to even comprehend life without it. Thankfully this is not some academic thought experiment with no application in the real world. Understanding the height from which we have fallen helps us to also understand the glory that is to be revealed in the children of God at the final day. We look back in order to look forward – to a day when we, like innocent Adam, will be sinless, pure and undefiled. To the day when we will be like Him for we shall see Him as He is.
“The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed… we will be changed, in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet”. Romans 8.19 & 1 Corinthians 15.51
Amen. Come Lord Jesus, come!