The Institutes (3)

Book 1 Chapter 2 Section 1-2

Hebrews 12:14 tells us that without holiness, no one will see the Lord. In the last chapter, the holiness of God was shown in juxtaposition to the sinfulness of mankind. Since we are sinful, how is it that we can see God as He should be seen? This question is brought up and not answered in this section. In this chapter, Calvin defines that which is essential to the Christian life: piety.

I call “piety” that reverence joined with love of God which the knowledge of his benefits induces. For until men recognize that they owe everything to God, that they are nourished by his fatherly care, that he is the Author of their every good, that they should seek nothing beyond him they will never yield him willing service. Nay, unless they establish their complete happiness in him, they will never give themselves truly and sincerely to him.

This is the crux of the matter, but presents a dilemma. How can we, who are not pious, become pious so that we might properly know God? Again, it’s a question that’s presented without answer. Instead, Calvin presents this in an idealistic fashion: our knowledge of God would be perfect except for the sin of Adam. We would be pious, but now we cannot. Along with piety, trust and reverence are required as the proper responses towards God. Piety frames the picture of God’s holiness, and trust and reverence are our reaction to the picture. And, as the above quote indicates, this is no forced trust and reverence. This is happy trust, willing reverence.

Calvin tells us what should have been, and what is:

Here indeed is pure and real religion: faith so joined with an earnest fear of God that this dear also embraces willing reverence, and carries with it such legitimate worship as is prescribed in the law. And we ought to note this fact even more diligently: all men have vague general veneration for God, but very few really reverence him.

“Very few really reverence Him”… the only One who is due real reverence. The One who spans the heavens. And we have been entrusted with the only message that can show mankind where they truly stand.

The outward manifestation and reason for this lack of reverence will be examined in the next two chapters. Calvin will examine the root in due course.


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