Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Calvin's Institutes 1.6.2 - 1.7.2

Since the revelation of God in the created world around us is not sufficient to bring people to knowledge of God because our own blindness keeps us from seeing it clearly, we need God himself to witness to us.

In today's reading Calvin continued to expand on that theme. He pointed out that to provide that testimony God worked in various ways through prophets and visions to reveal himself to certain people who would record this for coming generations. In giving this Word, "God rendered faith unambiguous forever, a faith that should be superior to all opinion." That this truth might survive from generation to generation, God had people commit them to writing. Thus, a record was kept for those yet to come.

In this Word, God not only reveals the way of reconciliation between God and humanity, but also reveals God in as creator and sustainer of all things. Calvin wrote:
Scripture adorns with unmistakable marks and tokens the one true God, in that he has created and governs the universe, in order that he may not be mixed up with the throng of false gods. Therefore, 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 to them, it is fitting that he prick up his ears to the Word, the better to profit.
Thus, while studying God in what he has made has some value, much more value, much more profit is found in studying the Word of God in Scripture. In fact true religion, unlike false religion, finds it beginning only in Scripture. So Calvin maintained, "no one can get even the slightest taste of right and sound doctrine unless he be a pupil of Scripture."

If one wonders why Christianity, even Evangelical Christianity, has fragments so much today, one only needs to consider how little people who call themselves Christian consider the Scriptures. How they are, for the most part, ignorant of what the Bible teaches. How, even when they know what the Bible teaches, they feel they have the right and authority to override the Word of God and say what in it is from God and what is not. The lack of sound doctrine most certainly grows out of the fact that few are pupils of Scripture.

While the situation in Calvin's day was different, he realized that without Scripture, people will most certainly go into error. Our great tendency, the very tendency that makes the revelation of God in creation and providence something we are blind to, is that we gravitate toward all kinds of error. Only Scripture can hold us back. Calvin wrote:
. . . if we seriously aspire to the pure contemplation of God. We must come, I say, to the Word, where God is truely and vividly described to us from his works, while these very works are appraised not by our depraved judgment but by the rule of eternal truth . . . For we should so reason that the splendor of the divine countenance, which even the apostle calls "unapproachable" [1 Tim. 6:16], if for us like an inexplicable labyrinth unless we are conducted into it by the thread of the Word; so that it is better to limp along this path than to dash with all speed outside it.
Scripture can and does show us what the creation cannot. It is only with its assistance that we can see properly.

In chapter VII Calvin moved on to defend how the authority of Scripture must be confirmed by the witness of the Spirit. Scripture did not and does not receive its authority from me. It is not given authority by the Church, in spite of the claims of some. To assert that the authority of Scripture rest in the church is to again rest the authority on human kind. It is to put even the very word on God on shakey ground. Calvin wrote,
Yet, if this is so, what will happen to miserable consciences seeking firm assurnace of eternal life is all promises of it consist in and depend solely upon the judgment of men? Will they cease to vacillate and tremble when they receive such an answer?

To support that the church is not the source of Scriptures authority, Calvin points to Ephesians 2:20 where it is found that the church is built on the foundation of the prophes and apostles. If the teachings and writings given by God through the prophets and apostles, then it is the church that depends on them, not the other way around. It is because of the God given authority of the writings given through the prophets and apostles, that the church exists at all.

If I may add, since that is the case, it would be foolishness to think that the church can abandon those very writings and still survive. To do so would be like knocking out the foundations of a house and expecting it to remain standing.


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