Blogging the Institutes – January week 1
(my blog subtitles are bold, quotes of Calvin in italics, applications for present day are mine)
CHAPTER 1 The Beginning of Wisdom
If you were so moved to write a dissertation of what your core beliefs are, a systematic lay out of what you hold as the key truths that have driven your thoughts, your will and your life, what would you write? How would you capture the true essence of the WHY behind the WHAT of who you are and how you have lived your life so far… where would you start?
The Institutes of Christian Religion are John Calvin’s dissertation formed over many years, through reflection, meditation and practice. Born out of a single Source. A source that Solomon of old declares to be the very beginning of wisdom, an understanding and awe of God.
Awareness of God as the source of true wisdom
“The whole sum of our wisdom- wisdom, that is, which deserves to be called true and assured -broadly consists of two parts, knowledge of God and knowledge of ourselves.” pg1,pp1- and so it begins with not simply what is true wisdom but where, indeed, WHO is the source of true wisdom.
We are in a culture that has sought to strip and redefine what has been considered the foundational structures of humanity to be true. I suppose it is an inevitable cycle of what we call human progress to constantly press, rearrange and hope to redefine the boundaries of understood truth. However our current western liberal culture, the culture in which I live, has snowballed this process so that the one truth that seems to be in the driver’s seat of moral, political, educational, and developmental process is “I am the basis of my truth.” There is a great inherent danger and detrimental problem with this basis of self-proclaimed truth.
Self-knowledge is impossible without the knowledge of God
“Conversely, we observe that no one ever attains clear knowledge of self unless he has first gazed upon the face of the Lord, and then turns back to look upon himself.”
This could be a summary thesis for the Institutes. The institutes is the result of and a means to, gazing into the face of God so that we might turn back to look upon ourselves with ever sharpening clarity. To fail to look into the face of God as the source, the basis of what is wisdom and true, is to blunder into the darkness of self-delusion. It is to try to redefine ourselves by making our versions of self-awareness the definition of truth. It is not only extremely poor logic but holds a shifting sand of identity that produces hopelessness and bondage to self-expression~ always recreating ourselves but never coming to a deeper, solid, certainty of who we truly are.
It matters what or who we consider to be the origin of truth upon which we base our life. An awareness of God both unnerves us and assures us.
Awareness of God and it’s affects
An awareness of God is common to all
“We regard it as beyond dispute that there is in the mind of man, by natural inclination, a certain feeling for divinity, so that no one should seek refuge by claiming ignorance. The Lord has instilled in everyone some understanding of his majesty, so that all, having learned that there is one God and that he is their Creator, should be condemned by their own testimony because they have failed to honour him and to devote their lives to doing his will.”
This is Paul’s great theme in the first section of the Epistle of Romans, in the New Testament. The arguments that Calvin makes come out of obvious meditations in Romans. Calvin himself affirms this in his introduction saying that those who have studied the Institutes here, will have already an understanding of his commentary of Romans.
I realize in this culture where most of my neighbours would either identify as atheist, or agnostics (who function as atheists) there might be a long “pfffft- as if” from Calvin’s borrowed statement of universal awareness of God. Which would then most likely be followed by a, “gawfah” at his follow-up statement:
The seed of religion is perverted by self-will
“We have already mentioned that the knowledge of God must be such as effectively to plant in our hearts some seed of religion. This is so that, first, we may be taught to fear and reverence God; and second, that we may learn that all good things must be sought in him, and that for these we owe him the duty of gratitude. For how can our mind conceive of God if you do not immediately see that you, who are his handiwork are, by right of creation, subject to and dependent on his rule?” – this is a great few sentences to meditate on.
Because the darkness of our own minds and hearts. Our inability to define ourselves clearly to any eternally happy-end (a kind of true religion before God) remains outside of our self-realizing grasps. We must be taught to reverence God, such is the major function of both our conscience and creation, in which we continually live, ALL of us.
Calvin presses us further we must learn that all good things (truth) are found in Him and that such a revelation demands our obedience to God, as a loving, submissive “duty of gratitude”. A kind of holy delight in our daily living.
To begin to understand that we are the handiwork of God, holds the right of creation on our lives so that we are in everything “subject and dependent on his rule”. How can we not know this as we begin to form an understanding of God via the witness of creation and conscience?
Where it all goes wrong
The twin evils of superstition and craven fear
“In this respect we sin chiefly in two ways, First, in their search for God’s truth men do not, sadly, go beyond the limits of their nature as they should: rather, they judge God’s greatness according to their own crude understanding. They comprehend him not as he has made himself known, but according to the image which they themselves have arrogantly fashioned.” – Calvin refers to this tendency as a living out of our own superstition. The God we want, or only want to know partially when we need, as opposed to the God who is.
“The second error which men commit is that they think about God only reluctantly, when necessity compels them. They are not moved by fear born of reverence for his majesty, but only by dread of his judgement, which fills them with terror because they cannot escape it.”
– this is living with God in such a way that only fear drives us. The God who is like an angry Father or a controlling spouse. If we can walk the line, step around the egg shells maybe they will like us.
Neither of these two, superstition or fear, are able to absolve the hearts wicked appetite for self-indulgence and so will not produce the lasting fruit that comes out of knowing God. Indeed what Calvin reminds us is that neither our superstitious understandings of a god we want or a fear driven religiosity will ever give us a clear understanding of who God really is. So that we will, hoping in these two man made devices, never truly know God.
Where it all goes right
What true godliness entails
“ This is what is meant by pure and true religion- namely faith joined with unfeigned fear of God, the ‘fear’ comprising both love for the righteousness which God has commanded in his law and reverence, freely and wholeheartedly given, for his majesty.”
The fact that God has revealed himself so that we might know this true and pure religion Calvin says is what makes us wholly different then “the beasts”. The truth of God being known is not founded in mere intellectualizing or the making up of god from our own imaginations. God has revealed God. This is how we can, indeed the only true way, know Him. To know Him in this way is to begin to start to understand what it is to delight in Him. It is to touch the very purpose of our lives, to know God and to glorify Him forever.
The Knowledge of God prt2
Thanks for reading.