The Institutes (4)

Book 1 Chapter 3 Section 1-3

Previously we’ve seen that to know God is to know yourself, and that in order to know God there must be piety in ones life. Now, Calvin examines the imprint of natural revelation on the mind of man. In order to know God properly, we must be pious. But there is a knowledge of God imprinted in the conscience of man that tells us that He is our Creator and He is God. This is basic Romans 1 101 doctrine. Within our hearts and as we look around at Creation, there can be no doubt that there is a Creator. Calvin points out that even idolatry is proof of a God… man is inclined to worship something. Thus Paul tells us what man does when God is unacknowledged:

Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Man begins to worship the created thing, be it a creature, or man himself. This is where we find ourselves today, with man at the top of the food chain, commandeering our own so-called destiny. At Northland, Dr. Jim Bennett used to identify this verse as the one that shows where humanism, polytheism, and pantheism sprung up from: the rejection of the inborn witness of Yahweh’s power and creation.

And yet, even if this truth is left unsupressed, there is still not enough knowledge of God for us to worship him as we should. Calvin responds to this with another unsettling declaration:

If all men are born and live to the end that they may know God, and yet if knowledge of God is unstable and fleeting unless it progresses to this degree, it is clear that all those who do not direct every thought and action in their lives to this goal degenerate from the law of their creation.

In other words, unless our knowledge of God progresses to the degree that we are able to worship Him, we will regress to suppression of this divine knowledge.

As I read this chapter, I kept thinking “this needs to be brought back to the realm of evangelism.” People need to know that their eyes are blinded, and that there is a truth that is suppressed and held back from them. Something though that I doubt Calvin could have foreseen was the inclusion of atheism as a intellectually popular idea. Nevertheless, it seems to me that atheistic humanism does little more than enshrine man, thus preserving Calvin’s inference that everyone worships something religiously.

Also included is the moral argument for God: everytime anyone commits an act of evil, their conscience identifies it as such, and thus proves that their is a moral standard, and a Lawgiver. Of course, it is possible to sear the conscience, but without the advent of encroaching sin man has enough knowledge to know that there is a powerful Creator God.

Next time, Calvin examines the suppression of divine truth. As he phrases it, how it is “either smothered or corrupted.”


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