The Institutes (15)

Book 1 Chapter 10 Sections 1-3

Having digressed to defend Scriptural authority, Calvin returns to the content and purpose of Scripture. In almost an Platonic fashion, he goes about showing how God’s attributes are shown in His creation, showing that the Form is found in particulars. The difference between Calvin and Plato? “This recognition of him consists more in living experience than in vain and high-flown speculation.” Calvin experienced the realities that Plato theorized about, as do all true believers.

Calvin highlights three particular aspects of God’s character as essential to understanding Him:

… these three things are especially necessary for us to know: mercy, on which alone the salvation of us all rests; judgment, which is daily exercised against wrongdoers, and in even greater severity awaits them to their everlasting ruin; justice, whereby believers are preserved. amd are most tenderly nourished. When these are understood, the prophecy witnesses that you have abundant reason to glory in God.

Calvin says this referring to Jeremiah 9:24, which we actually read in our devotions this morning. Small world. And, to add an Edwarsesque flavor to this, God delights in these attributes being displayed on the earth (mercy, judgment, righteousness/justice) because they display Himself. He does not delight merely in attributes of Himself being displayed, but in Himself. Why? Because God is most concerned about His own glory… He delights not merely in mercy, judgment, and righteousness, but in Himself, Who is each of those things in perfection.

There, got out my Christian Hedonism statement for the week. Continuing, Calvin points out the purpose of special revelation, particularly expressed by these three attributes:

… the knowledge of God set forth for us in the Scripture is destined for the very same goal as the knowledge whose imprint shines in his creatures, in that it invites us first to fear God, then to trust in him. By this we can learn to worship him both with perfect innocence of life and with unfeigned obedience, then to depend wholly upon his goodness.

Fear and trust… throughout evangelical Christianity today, the “trust” trumpet is sounded. But can you really trust God unless you fear Him? Unless you know that He has bought you with a ghastly, horrible price… that is at the same time universally glorious… and that He holds each heartbeat in His hand… unless you know this, can you really trust Him?

Finally, Calvin summarizes the monotheistic nature of special revelation. Even though we speak of a Trinity, there is still only One God, one Essence in three Persons. Rather than mankind having evolved from monotheism towards more complex forms of religion, man has regressed from the pinnacle of knowing the one and only God. “The truth of God has been corrupted by them all.” And, as previously mentioned, all are held to account for this.

Mercy, judgment, righteousness… the three parts of God that we must understand in order to basically grasp salvation. If we fail to declare all three of these in our preaching and our teaching, can we really be said to be Christians? We must preach the salvation of God for His own glory; and these three attributes must be lifted up to lift Him up and glorify Him as He ought to be.


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