The Institutes (6)

Book 1 Chapter 5 Sections 1-5

… men cannot open their eyes without being compelled to see him. Indeed, his essence is incomprehensible; hence, his divineness far escapes all human perception. But upon his individual works he has engraved unmistakable marks of his glory, so clear and so prominent that even unlettered and stupid folk cannot plead the excuse of ignorance.

Calvin opens up this chapter speaking on the knowledge of God which “shines forth in the fashioning of universe and the continuing government of it.” This is the first lengthy chapter that Calvin writes; I’ll probably take three days to go through it.

Calvin indicts all of mankind together, listing in quick succession all the places where “divine glory” is to be seen. Most interesting to me is his assertion that the liberal arts are displays of His glory. In the same way that man can exercise his creativity and intellect to discover truth. In this way, they know there is a Creator.

Even more glory-filled, however, is God’s crowning creation: man. We are called a “microcosm” due to God’s “power, goodness, and wisdom” that’s on display in our being; as such, Calvin points out that the chief proof of God is man himself. And yet, man does not tend to look within, despite all the awesome capacity that God has packed up us. Instead, He naturally looks outward for answers. We see “a clear mirror of God’s work… is in humankind.”

But the confusion comes when creature is exalted to the level of Creator… when the creature/Creator wall is broken down, the knowledge of God is smothered. The hint of God’s glory in man, which should cause man to look outside himself, is instead bastardized and used to exalt the creature. We change out His glory, at first mistaking and ultimately replacing it with our own, or the glory of something within the natural order.

This distinction is one Calvin was want to preserve:

This is indeed making a shadow deity to drive away the true God, whom we should fear and adore. I confess, of course, that it can be said reverently, provided that it proceeds from a reverent mind, that nature is God; but because it is a harsh and improper saying, since nature is rather the order prescribed by God, it is harmful in such weighty matters, in which special devotion is due, to involve God confusedly in the inferior course of his works.

In the next part of chapter 5, Calvin speaks about the lordship of God over Creation. Just as He has throughout history, He disbars man from claiming what belongs to Him alone.


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