Knowability of God


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).  Continue reading

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Stumbling in the Dark


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#9

Nevertheless, whatever light is kindled for us as we behold God’s works, our mind, in attempting to picture both him and his eternal kingdom, is so carnal that these very clear proofs convey no more to us about them than they do to the blind. When it comes to the structure of the whole wide world, how many of us lift our eyes heavenward? Or in surveying every country on earth, how many think to remember the Creator? And how many, ignoring the workman, look no further than the creature? As for what lies outside the ordinary course of nature, how many there are who only see chance at work, as it tosses and tumbles men about, instead of God’s providence which in fact governs them! And if, as inevitably happens to all men, we are sometimes forced to consider God’s role in all of this, we no sooner have a vague inkling of some deity or other than we return to the foolish notions of the flesh, and in our vanity we corrupt God’s pure truth.

This sphere of green and blue in which we exist tells us something about God. But most of the time we aren’t looking for the answers to the questions we aren’t asking. In my pre-conversion mind I thought little about God’s role in creation. Perhaps because that would force me to consider MY role in God’s creation. I didn’t want to be a character in someone else’s play. This is my story and I’ll write my own happy ending thank you very much. On the rare occasion that I would consider God, I imagined Him unconditionally benevolent, always smiling down on my silly antics. Without a deeper, more complete revelation (that I had no interest in discovering) I could not know the whole truth of His nature. Continue reading

Works of Providence


Blogging the Institutes

Quotes taken from Institutes of the Christian Religion (1541 Edition) by John Calvin

Translated by Robert White

Chapter 1: The Knowledge of God

Post#8

For in ruling over mankind he so orders his providence that, although he is commonly and in every way kind and generous to all, he daily reveals his righteousness to the good whom he guides, and his judgment to the wicked. For the retribution which he metes out for sin is neither secret nor hidden.In the same way he appears as the sure protector and guardian of innocence, for through his blessing he gives prosperity to the good, assists them in time of need, relieves their suffering, remedies their misfortunes, and ever and always provides for their salvation.

Calvin answers a question I think many ask themselves at one time or another: Does God still judge sin? The response Calvin gives is an emphatic “yes!” We see it everyday when justice is served to those who have been caught in their crimes. We know it subconsciously when someone is struck down suddenly in their prime who has reveled in unrepentant immorality.We see his generosity every time we experience a joy of everyday life: the warm embrace of a loved one, the abundance of food on our table, the sturdy shelter over our heads. We feel his kindness when those who’ve been served with injustice are consoled, comforted and supported by those who’ve reached out in compassion for their plight. By providence we mean that God works His will through the everyday course of events and circumstances in the world. God is sovereign and works all things according to the counsel of His will (Eph 1:11-12). If this were not so God would cease being God. He would not then be worthy of our worship. Continue reading

Reflections of God’s Glory


Blogging the Institutes

Taken from Institutes of the Christian Religion (1541 Edition) by John Calvin

Translated by Robert White

Chapter 1: The Knowledge of God

Post#7

…whichever way we turn our eyes, there is no part of the world, however small, in which at least some spark of God’s glory does not shine. In particular, we cannot gaze upon this beautiful masterpiece of the world, in all its length and breadth, without being completely dazzled, as it were, by an endless flood of light. Accordingly, in Hebrews the apostle aptly calls the world the mirror of things invisible, because the structure of the world serves as a mirror in which we behold God, who otherwise cannot be seen (Heb 11:3).

The whole purpose of the material creation is to reflect the glory of the invisible God. His glory sparkles in the heavens above, through the warm brilliance of the sun, the cold beauty of the moon and the twinkling shimmer of the stars. It shines forth in the world below, from the rolling hills of green to the ubiquitous oceans of blue. It breaks out from the flight of birds in the air to the fleeting beasts of the field to the swarming fish of the sea. His likeness reflects most clearly in the form of man, crafted lovingly by the Maker’s hand to be His image bearer to all creation.

The Fall brought man low, blighting and obscuring God’s glory to the point where it no longer shines brightly as a light in our dim, myopic vision. All of creation mourns the darkness to which man has plunged it (Rom 8:22). Our blindness and intentional ignorance will not stand up in God’s court. He has revealed enough of Himself to condemn the entire human race for refusing to honor His majesty. Continue reading

True Godliness


Blogging The Institutes

Excerpts taken from Institutes of the Christian Religion (1541 Edition) by John Calvin

Translation by Robert White

Chapter 1: The knowledge of God

Post#6

The believing heart does not haphazardly forge for itself some kind of god. Rather it looks to him who is the true and only God. It does not ascribe to him whatever qualities it pleases but is content to take him as he shows himself to be: it is always careful not to depart from God’s will through headstrong pride. Knowing him thus, and understanding that he governs all things by his providence, it confidently accepts him as guardian and protector, and thus entrusts itself to his keeping, since it knows him to be the author of all that is good.

A contrite heart doesn’t work to construct a god acceptable to its own liking. On the contrary it willingly accepts the testimony of Scripture of who God is, of what it tells us is pleasing and acceptable to Him. A believing heart is a trusting heart. God’s providence over all creation and world events gives Christians security and comfort. This faith helps believers overcome sufferings and trials. They are ordained by God for His purposes and our eternal good (Rom 8:28 ESV). Continue reading

Twin Evils of False Religion


Blogging the Institutes

Excerpts taken from Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin

Translation by Robert White

Chapter 1: The Knowledge of God

Post #5

It is easy indeed to see how, the victim of its own empty illusions, superstition mocks God whenever it tries to please him. It only fastens on the things which God expressly says mean nothing to him. It ignores those which he has commanded and which he has said are acceptable to him; or else it openly rejects them. Therefore all who, wishing to honour God, set up religions of their own devising, are merely worshiping their own fantasies. For they would never have ventured to trifle with God if they had not first fashioned him according to their whims.

Superstitious worship is the first of two great evils Calvin identifies in the realm of professing Christianity. Superstition is an irrational belief usually founded on ignorance or fear and characterized by obsessive reverence for omens, charms, etc. People will focus on the dice rolls of fate, accompanied by  serendipitous trinkets, prophetic words and meaningless rituals. They believe these things will increase their chances at good fortune  and a favorable countenance from the god of their fevered imaginations. Such a nebulous, hopeless ploy at finding comfort and approval in falsehood is the height of human folly. God is not pleased by our cleverly devised fables. Continue reading

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

Post#4

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). Continue reading