Calvin and the Light of the Word

Posted: January 1, 2014 in Uncategorized

01v/11/arve/G2582/020In April I will lecture at Bethlehem College and Seminary on Calvin’s Institutes of Christian Religion for the undergraduate students in the history of ideas (HOI) track. In preparation for this guest lecture I am once again reading through the entirety of the Institutes. This morning I am reading through Calvin’s section on the knowledge of God as revealed through the Scriptures. As usual, Calvin is straight to the point, clear, and convincing.

Prior to Book I, chapter 6 (I.6), Calvin has taken up the idea of general revelation. That is, God has revealed himself to the human mind through the medium of the created order. Even the human body, according to Calvin, testifies to the presence of Deity. However, general revelation is not sufficient to bring men to God. Calvin says that “[i]n vain for us, therefore, does Creation exhibit so many bright lamps lighted up to show forth the glory of its Author” (I.5.14). Though the lamp shines, in our depraved state we do not comprehend the light. Calvin goes on, “[f]or no sooner do we, from a survey of the world, obtain some slight knowledge of Deity, than we pass by the true God, and set up in his stead the dream and phantom of our own brain, drawing away the praise of justice, wisdom, and goodness, from the fountain-head, and transferring it to some other quarter” (I.5.15). Thus, we look at the created world, the general revelation of God through nature, and then pass on from the God of creation to praise some created thing.

Calvin, therefore, says we need more help. This is where Calvin turns his attention to the Scriptures. It is through the light of the Word that God gives us “another and better help…to guide us properly to God as a Creator” (I.6.1). Again, Calvin says that the Word is “a surer and more direct means of discovering” God (I.6.1). For Calvin, it is the Bible that gives us a clearer picture of God. The Bible serves as glasses that clear up the blurry vision that general revelation has given us. The revelation of creation is not itself distorted, but our eyes, being fallen, cannot see as they should. Thus, God gives us the Bible as the lens through which our sight is made clear.

Oh that God would, in this new year, grant us eyes to see as we read his Word and seek his face. That we would behold the God that Calvin saw and savored. May we pick up the Bible every day and seek the God who has revealed himself to us in nature and more specifically through his Word. And as we see this great and glorious Creator, may we give him our hearts, our minds, and our strength. For his glory and our joy.


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