Paltry Amends & Ceremonies

Blogging Calvin’s Institutes

Excerpts taken from Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin

Translated by Robert White

Chapter 1: The Knowledge of God


Instead of maintaining a life-long attitude of constant obedience to God, we resist him in almost everything we do, and try to placate him by making a few paltry amends. Instead of pleasing him by holiness and innocence of heart, we invent a mishmash of paltry ceremonies, hoping these will occupy his attention. What is more, the trust which should centre wholly on him is placed instead in ourselves or other creatures.

Two distinctive methods fallen humanity utilizes to appease the nagging voice of conscience, according to Calvin, is first to make meager restitution to both fellow neighbor and to God for the wrongs we’ve committed.  Second, man performs meaningless religious rituals they hope will satisfy God’s demand for duty and obedience. Examples of meager restitution would include insincere apologies to people we’ve offended and vain lip service to God that ‘I’ll never commit that sin again’. In both instances the heart is far from Him, only creating greater distance with each empty gesture(Is 29:13).

Man engages in meaningless rituals in every religion, even Christianity. These ceremonies are poor substitutes for actual heart obedience. They fare worse as offerings of true repentance. Praying the rosary, participating in mass, responding to altar calls, repeating the sinners prayer, getting baptized again and again etc. are but a few examples in Christendom. Multitudes rely on empty rituals to quiet the cry of the soul for reconciliation to God, who is jealous for our full devotion (Dt 4:23-24).

Lastly, we are entangled in so much error and evil belief that the spark of truth which might enlighten us and lead us to behold God’s majesty is hidden and extinguished. It is incapable therefore of leading us to a true knowledge of him. There remains only the initial seed, which can never be completely removed. That is to say, we know that there is a deity. Even so, the seed is so corrupt that it produces only rotten fruit.

Our sense of the existence and abiding displeasure of God is inescapable (Psalm 38:1). However, in our hard-heartedness we cannot truly know him. Knowledge derived from nature cannot paint a complete picture of His full majesty in our fog-shrouded minds (Rom 1:19-20). In summary, we know God exists though He cannot fully be known, yet we hate Him (Rom 8:7).

Only the redeeming love of God in Christ can make sons out of insurgents (Heb 2:10-12).

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