The Institutes (5)

Book 1 Chapter 4 Sections 1-4

The knowledge of God that is evident in natural revelation is “smothered and corrupted” in man. How can we tell this?

… vanity joined with pride can be detected in the fact that, in seeking God, miserable men do not rise above themselves as they should, but measure him by the yardstick of their own carnal stupidity, and neglect sound investigation; thus out of curiosity they fly off into empty speculations.

Romans 1 is seen again… they trade the glory of God for images resembling themselves or created things. We know what the root of this suppression is, but Calvin won’t deal with Adam’s sin in great detail until the second book of the Institutes, which I probably won’t get to until next month. At this point he is only concerned with the outward manifestations of man’s interactions with knowledge of the divine. This means he references sin, but doesn’t delve deeply into studying its root. Yet.

Here, Calvin points out how men fly off into speculation, and then asserts that this is conscious on their part. Men wish to hide under their own ignorance so as to delay (at least in their own mind) accountability. These words are incredibly true, and didn’t settle in until the second read-through. Think about when you speak to someone about eternity, and its as though they are considering it for the first time. For decades they’ve lived life as though there was no hereafter, and now they’re reminded that death is coming, and eternity awaits.

Calvin goes on to indict religious speculation in general:

… all who set up their own false rites to God worship and adore their own ravings. Unless they had first fashioned a God to match the absurdity of their trifling, they would by no means have dared trifle with God in this way.

… and specifically legalism. Legalism seems to be, in Calvin’s mind, the worst form of religious innovation. In it, the grace of God is touted but denied. It is truly having the form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.

Where they ought to serve him in sanctity of life and integrity of heart, they trump up frivolous trifles and worthless little observances with which to win his favor. Nay, more, with greater license they sluggishly lie in their own filth, because they are confident that they can perform their duty toward him by ridiculous acts of expiation.

Then while their trust ought to have been placed in him, they neglect him and rely upon themselves, his creatures though they be. Finally, they entangle themselves in such a huge mass of errors that blind wickedness stifles and finally extinguishes those sparks which once flashed forth to show them God’s glory.

All this  springs up from man’s conscious turning away from God’s truth. We want our own way, and that’s what we pursue, to the exclusion of God. Next chapter, Calvin will probe the depths of natural revelation, the ways in which man is held accountable by Creation, and how this revelation is not enough to know God properly.


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