The Institutes (9)

Book 1 Chapter 6 Sections 1-4

… Scripture, gathering up the otherwise confused knowledge of God in our minds, having dispersed our dullness, clearly shows us the true God. This, therefore, is a special gift, where God, to instruct the church, not merely uses mute teachers but also opens his own most hallowed lips.

Wow. “His own most hallowed lips.” This is the precious gift mankind has in Scripture. God’s own voice. The implications of this are far-reaching: for every area of life that the Bible speaks about, we can say that therein lies God’s discernment and plan over that area. And it’s His voice! We are a people of the Word, designed to know God through His voice that He has first spoken to us. What an… honor! To know Him in this way. Thus, the Scriptures are not a dead, boring text, but a living, enthralling reality that shines into the very throne room of heaven. This, in the truest sense, is awesome.

It’s only by what theologians call “special revelation” that we can know God. The Scriptures are the revelation of God about His Person, not just His works. Then, Calvin distinguishes between two sorts of knowledge of God found in the Scriptures:

First in order came that kind of knowledge by which one is permitted to grasp who that God is who founded and governs the universe. Then that other inner knowledge was added, which alone quickens dead souls, whereby God is known not only as the Founder of the universe and the sole Author and Ruler of all that is made, but also in the person of the Mediator as the Redeemer.

It’s knowing God as Creator and Redeemer. As the means and the end, as John Piper puts it. The Scripture is where He is revealed in all His glory. Previously Calvin stated that it does man no good to try to discern God’s Person unless perceived through nature, which is a veiled perception at best.  Now Calvin says:

… however fitting it may be for man seriously to turn his eyes to contemplate God’s works, since he has been placed in this most glorious theater to be a spectator of them, it is fitting that he prick up his ears to the Word, the better to profit.

The vision of God in nature compliments the vision of Him in the Word. And as we discover Him in the Word, we see Him clearer in nature. Without the Scriptures to show us God, we would fall back into error, as our nature’s inclinations demand. But with it, the new nature within us is compelled to see and know the God Whose voice speaks through the Scriptures. Otherwise, we mere specks in the galactic scheme of things would be unable to comprehend He Who transcends all the universe.

We should so reason that the splendor of the divine countenance, which even the apostle calls “unapproachable”, is for us like an inexplicable labyrinth unless we are conducted into it by the thread of the Word.

But where does Scripture come from? Does God somehow enable the Church to discern Scripture? To produce Scripture? Or does the Church produce Scripture on its own, apart from God? And how is the Scripture rightly understood, with so many varying interpretations? Calvin tackles this in the next chapter.


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