The Institutes (7)

Book 1 Chapter 5 Sections 6-10

The knowledge of God, considered by most today to be a relative individualistic knowledge, is instead objective. It is found most clearly in heaven at the throne, most clearly on earth at the Cross, and, as we’ve seen, found in every aspect of creation, including our own consciences. Calvin will deal with the first two in due time; for now, we’re continuing to examine natural revelation and its affect and pronouncement on mankind. The last section dealt with God’s revelation of Himself in creation; now, Calvin examines God’s sovereignty over man’s current dealings.

In response to the confusion between the Creator and creation, Calvin shows that clearly one has power over the creation. After listing various signs of power in Creation that Scripture identifies as God’s doing, Calvin states:

This very might leads us to ponder his eternity; for he from whom all things draw their origin must be eternal and have beginning from himself. Furthermore, if the cause is sought by which he was led once to create all these things, and is now moved to preserve them, we shall find that it is goodness alone. But this being the sole cause, it ought still to be more than sufficient to draw us to his love, inasmuch as there is no creature, as the prophet declares, upon whom God’s mercy has not been poured out.

The purpose of all this knowledge is to draw us to him. Calvin expresses this purpose as two-fold: “to arouse us to the worship of God… also to awaken and encourage us to the hope of the future life.” Both of these are indications that, for us, the purpose of knowing God is… Himself. We get God in the end, and that’s what eternal life consists of.

With the purpose being stated at the beginning and elucidated at the end of this section, God’s sovereignty is examined in sections 7-9. Calvin shows how each person and circumstance stands under the providence of God, regardless of ability to remove oneself from under Him. What about those who seem to live their lives apart from His guidance, and indeed show themselves to be evil? Concerning this apparent forsaking of divine sovereignty, Calvin writes:

… a far different consideration ought, rather, to enter our minds: that, when with a manifest show of his anger he punishes one sin, he hates all sins; that, when he leaves many sins unpunished, there will be another judgment to which have been deferred the sins yet to be punished. Similarly, what great occasion he gives us to contemplate his mercy when he often pursues miserable sinners with unwearied kindness, until he shatters their wickedness by imparting benefits and by recalling them to him with more than fatherly kindness!

Calvin goes on and shows many examples of God’s control over circumstances and people in the Scriptures. Why does God operate this way? Calvin’s response, if not comprehensive, is at least insightful:

If now every sin were to suffer open punishment, it would seem that nothing is reserved for the final judgment. Again, if God were now to punish no sin openly, one would believe that there is no providence.

Contemplating His works, and what He has revealed of Himself, is the only way to truly know God. We should not attempt to “penetrate into His essence”, something that will not take place until we are brought into His presence. And still, God will always have an element of mystery to Him, since we’ll never be able to finally fathom His infinity. So instead of looking at His works and detaching them from His Person

we comprehend their chief purpose, their value, and the reason why we should ponder them, only when we descend into ourselves and contemplate by what means the Lord shows in us his life, wisdom, and power; and exercises in our behalf his righteousness, goodness, and mercy.

And we haven’t even arrived at Scripture yet! What a great God!

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