More on the Need for Scripture–From John Calvin

Posted: January 7, 2014 in Uncategorized

That the heavens declare the glory of God is clear from Scripture (Ps. 19). What is equally clear is that the Scriptures give us a fuller and more clear picture of God than we can discern from the stars, mountains, oceans, and trees. John Calvin has stated plainly that God shows himself to the creatures through the created order. He, however, is equally clear that we must go to the Bible to attain right knowledge of the Creator. What I provide in this post are a few excerpts from his Institutes that make it plain that Calvin thought the Bible was the proper school for learning about our great God. I will also comment on each quotation and offer my interpretation of Calvin.

“Therefore, while it becomes man seriously to employ his eyes in considering the works of God, since a place has been assigned him in this most glorious theatre that he may be a spectator of them, his special duty is to give ear to the Word, that he may the better profit.”–what Calvin is saying is that it is right for mankind to look at the things God has done and consider what they teach us about him. However, it is especially important to give attention to what the Bible says. Thus, we look at the hurricane and consider the power of God. We witness the birth of a new born baby and marvel at the God who gives life to all people. Yet, in seeing all these things, we must go to the Word of God to see things more clearly and more correctly.

“If true religion is to beam upon us, our principle must be, that it is necessary to begin with heavenly teaching, and that it is impossible for any man to obtain even the minutest portion of right and sound doctrine without being a disciple of Scripture.“–Calvin is simply continuing his line of thinking that he started a couple of paragraphs earlier. If we are to understand “true religion,” then we must “begin with” Scripture (given what he says next, and the context, I take “heavenly teaching” to mean the Bible). Without Scripture, we cannot arrive at right and sound doctrine. This raises some interesting questions. Does Calvin mean that we cannot have right thoughts about God apart from reading the Bible? Surely he doesn’t since he has spent the entire prior chapter discussing the usefulness of general revelation. The key here may be what he means by “obtain…doctrine.” I am not yet ready or able to interpret that phrase in Calvin’s thought but feel it would prove helpful in understanding his thinking.

“It being thus manifest that God, foreseeing the inefficiency of his image imprinted on the fair form of the universe, has given the assistance of his Word to all whom he has ever been pleased to instruct effectually, we, too, must pursue this straight path, if we aspire in earnest to a genuine contemplation of God; – we must go, I say, to the Word, where the character of God, drawn from his works is described accurately and to the life; these works being estimated, not by our depraved Judgment, but by the standard of eternal truth.”–Calvin is fairly clear here. The image of God that has been “imprinted” upon creation (general revelation), is “inefficient” to instruct us without the “assistance of the Word.” For our “contemplation of God,” that is, our thinking about him, to be orthodox (right), then “we must go…to the Word.” It is in the Bible where the being of God is “described accurately” and not left to our “depraved Judgment.” So, in your thinking about God, go to the Word and let God reveal himself in his way.

“…it is the proper school for training the children of God;…“–The Bible is the school, the curriculum, the most useful university for teaching us about the being of God, the works of God, the purposes of God, etc. To the Bible we should go to learn about the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. To the Bible we should go to learn about Jesus, the gospel, and the heavenly city that awaits us.

Calvin has much more to say (on a great many things). If you get the chance to read him…tolle lege!


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