Blogging The Institutes
Excerpts taken from Institutes of the Christian Religion (1541 Edition) by John Calvin
Translated by Robert White
Chapter 1: The Knowledge of God
Post#10 (Note: This post should’ve gone before post#9 but I goofed)
For God is made known to us in his works so that, when we feel their force within us and receive their benefits such knowledge should touch us more keenly than if we conceived of God as some airy being of whom we had no real experience. Accordingly, the proper way to seek God and the best way to proceed is to behold him in his works, for through them he becomes close and familiar to us, and indeed imparts something of himself.
This kind of knowledge should not only prompt us to know and serve God, but should also arouse and awaken us to the hope of the future life. For we perceive that the signs which God gives both of his goodness and severity are partial and only half complete: they are samples, as it were,of what will be fully and finally revealed on the appointed day. Moreover, since we see the good and the innocent bowed down with suffering, hurt by insults, wounded by slanders, enduring scorn and shame; and since on the other hand the wicked flourish, prosper, enjoy untroubled ease and esteem, we are led to conclude that there will be another life in which iniquity will be punished and righteousness rewarded.
Notice Calvin’s frequent use of the word should in the above two quotes. The knowledge He gives us in His works and the benefits we receive daily in His gracious provision should touch us deeply. It should motivate us to know and serve Him. It should give us hope for resurrection life. His use of should is intentional. Man should behold what he plainly does not. In the next section Calvin goes on to explain humanity’s blindness to God’s revelation in His works. This flaw is not one of design, meaning, God didn’t create man with an innate deficiency to prevent us from beholding His majesty. No, the failure to behold is ours. It is a moral failure and it is absolute. Sin’s grip never relaxes its hold on our souls. The blind cannot command themselves to see. The help must come from outside ourselves. Only God can restore sight to the sightless (Psalm 146:8).
Calvin points out that while we can see clear evidence of both the goodness and severity of God in society, it is nonetheless incomplete. He is right. We have all observed instances where the bad guy gets away scot-free. Drug lords, dictators, corrupt politicians and unscrupulous businessmen can live in opulence for the entirety of their lives, escaping the long arm of justice. We cry foul that evil can go unpunished. Conversely, we are dismayed when good people suffer needlessly at the hands of those who would exploit them for personal gain. It’s not fair and we long to see the wicked get their just due and the innocent to receive recompense (Psalm 1).
In the light of the existence of a just God who repays evil and rewards good, we then should understand that this life cannot possibly be all there is. A time of judgment and reward must exist beyond the grave. It is at this place in history where all unrighteousness will be unveiled in the light of God’s presence. None shall escape His wrath. It is also where the righteous will be vindicated. They will shine like the sun in the kingdom of the Father (Matt 13:43).