Hodge argues that unless grace is resistible, the ultimate reason some believe and not others is found in us and not in God. Hodge says this would make believers better, more impressible or less obstinate than others.1
Personally, I find this one of the most powerful Calvinistic arguments. The idea that I can take credit for my salvation is intolerable, as is the idea that I am better than someone else. But the Calvinistic solution is no solution, and it creates more problems than it resolves.
Let’s take the argument that believers can take credit for their faith. But Calvinists also say that people believe. Therefore Calvinism entails that people can take credit for their faith.
It does no good for Calvinists to object that in Calvinism grace is the sufficient cause of faith, and in Arminianism it is not. That doesn’t impact responsibility. In Calvinism, people are responsible for their actions, even though they are predetermined by sufficient causes. The objection at first seems appealing, because it is built on the intuitive Arminian assumption of the link between LFW (Libertarian Free Will) and responsibility (i.e. faith is predetermined, therefore we are not responsible for it.) But since most Calvinists are compatiblists, this view entails the contradiction that we are and are not responsible for predetermined actions.
So Calvinism doesn’t solve the problem. Worse, it opens the can of worms regarding the reprobate.
Why Can’t Believers Boast?
Faith is a good thing. God commands faith and people are chided and punished for unbelief (1 John 3:23, Mark 16:14, John 12:48). Even the belief of demons is called good (James 2:19). Faith is listed among the three abiding virtues (1 Corinthians 13:13) and Hebrews 11 gives the so called “hall of faith”.
On the other hand, the command to believe is evangelical, not legal. Faith is not a work of the law, it excludes boasting, and it’s consistent with grace. (Romans 3:27-28, Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 4:5, Romans 4:16)
How is it that faith is both good and not a work of the law? God’s commands reflect His holy character. (Matthew 5:48, also cross reference Mark 12:28-31 with 1 John 4:8) But God never repented or trusted Christ for salvation. He has no need to. So faith is not a part of the image of God or of Christ. In this sense, it’s not a virtue, and that’s why it doesn’t earn God’s favor. Apart from God’s mercy, faith is worthless. And that’s why believers cannot boast. This resolves the difficulty for both Calvinists and Arminians.
The Ultimate Reason Some Believe and Not Others
We have already seen that faith is nothing to brag about, such that even if we are the ultimate reason why we believe, we still are no better than anyone else; but is it true that the ultimate reason we believe is in us and not in God? Given our very existence depends on God, no, clearly not. But even in the less ultimate sense, assuming our existence, I still don’t think so. God, knowing how we would freely respond, decides to call us. 2 Hodge discusses this view, and concludes that since we freely believe, the ultimate reason is still in man. (link) But this ignores God’s role. It’s not an either us or God – the question is a false dichotomy. The ultimate reason is in both us and God, not either/or.
1Interestingly Hodge does not appeal to 1 Corinthians 4:7 (at least not directly, but he does quote Bellarmin who uses the passage). Perhaps the issue is in the translation. The KJV’s “who maketh thee to differ” seems highly supportive of Hodge’s case. But recent translations have moved away from this sense to “who sees anything different in you” (ESV, RSV and NRSV) or “who regards you as superior” (NASB). The Greek diakrino does seem to relate more easily to deciding something rather than making something. But in any case, Hodge doesn’t use this text. The passages Hodge does cite are those he supposes teach unconditional election, but don’t describe the nature of grace.
2I am a Molinist, which opens this way of explaining things. It’s called congruism (i.e. the idea that God’s grace and man’s choice are congruent). I personally think Arminius was a congruist, but not all Arminians hold to this.