Monday, January 19, 2009

Calvin's Institutes 1.5.12 - 1.6.1

Calvin continues to look at the fact that while there is abundant evidence for God in nature, humanity and his providential actions in history, yet these things do not bring people to the one true God. Instead, because of human "superstition" they are kept from bearing the fruit they should. He pointed out that each persons mind is such, that it comes to a point that from these very evidences they each form their own god. Calvin put it well:
Surely, just as waters boil up from a vast, full spring, so does an immense crowd of gods flow forth from the human mind, while each one, in wandering about with too much license, wrongly invents this of that about God himself.
The list of various gods and superstitions is so great that to seek to deal with them all would be impossible. Further, this is not just something that happens among those who are uneducated. Rather, it is found just as much among those who are highly educated. Whenever people seek to find God on their own they fail. As Calvin stated, "no mortal ever contrives anything that did not basely corrupt religion."

What this results in is that when each person comes up with their own conclusion, each goes his or her own way. There is no agreement or common understanding. So we read:
But since all confess that there is nothing concerning which the learned and unlearned at the same time disagree so much, hence one may conclude that the minds of men which thus wander in their search after God are more than stupid and blind in the heavenly mysteries . . . hence it appears that if men were taught only by nature, they would hold to nothing certain or solid or clear-cut, but would be so tied to confused principles as to worship an unknown god.
The problem with this is that it separates people from the one true God, for, making a god of one's own is to turn away from the one true God. Common understanding will not lead to God. Even falling back to saying a person should follow the route of their local city or their forefathers does not satisfy, because people will not hold to it but want to go their own way. Such an approach is too weak. Thus, there is something more needed, that is, God needs to give witness to himself from heaven.

Calvin concludes chapter V pointing out that what all this means is that even though there are an abundance of evidences for God, this voice of nature speaks in vain.
It is in vain that so many burning lamps shine for us in the workmanship of the universe to show forth the glory of its Author. Although they bathe us wholly in their radience, yet they can of themselves in no way lead us into the right path.
However, all these evidences do accomplish something, they leave all people without excuse. They do so because the fault is not in them, but in human beings. As Calvin put it, "although the Lord does not want for testimony while he sweetly attracts men to the knowledge of himself with many and varies kindnesses, they do not cease on this account to follow their own ways, that is, their fatal errors." We all experience these things that at one time or another give us a sense of the divine, but when that happens, "having neglected the true God, we raise up in his stead dreams and specters of our own brains, and attribute to anything else than the true source the praise of righteousness, wisdom, goodness, and power."

With this Calvin opens chapter VI. He has already hinted what is needed, that is God himself to testify from heaven. In chapter VI that is expanded on. We are so blind that, "it is needful that another and better help be added to direct us aright to the very Creator of the universe." Thus, God added the "light of his Word by which to become know unto salvation." This is needed by all because without it a pure knowledge of God would wander so that even those who seem to be strong in it would soon start to fail. So God added the Word, which takes those things in the creation that evidence him, and make them clear. Calvin put it this way,
Just as old or bleary-eyed men and those with weak vision, if you thrust before them a most beautiful volumn, even if they recognize it to be some sort of writing, yet can scarsely construe two words, but with the aid of spectacles will begin to read distinctly; so Scripture, gathering up the otherwise confused knowledge of God in our minds, having dispersed our dullness, clearly shows us the true God.


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