Wednesday, January 14, 2009

0 The Institutes: God's Lordship Expounded

After taking some time to reflect on Man's sinful rejection of God, Calvin returns to the grandeur of our Almighty God and His Sovereing Rule. At the start of section 6 of Book I, chapter 5, Calvin makes an important transition:
Let us therefore remember, whenever each of us contemplates his own nature, that there is one God who so governs all natures that he would have us look unto him, direct our faith to him, and worship and call upon him. (p. 58, Institutes of the Christian Religion)
Again, Calvin is attesting to the fact of God's supremacy in all things - and turns our thoughts, as we think of our own nature, to the God who gave us our lives and rules us in every aspect of them. He's turning us to the chief end of man, "to glorify God and enjoy Him forever". His contemplations in sections 6 to 9 concern God's Sovereignty and our enjoyment of the fact of His righteous rule. Since God has revealed Himself in nature, it is the responsibility of all to seek Him out and worship Him in spirit and in truth. In creation, Calvin writes, He gives ample warning and sufficient beckoning to His creatures.

Not only does God beckon forth His creation to His worship (notice that the Psalmist proclaims that God's inanimate creations praise Him - Sun, Moon and stars, trees and mountains!) but His works of administration and providence over the affairs of men also attest to His glorious reign. In particular, His works among men that display His attributes are seen when, as Calvin writes,
His power shows itself clearly when the ferocity of the impious, in everyone's opinion unconquerable, is overcome in a moment, their arrogance vanquished, their strongest defenses destroyed, their javelins and armor shattered, their strength broken, their machinations overturned, and themselves fallen of their own weight; and when their audacity, which exalted them above heaven, lays them low even to the center of the earth; when, conversely the humble are raised up from the dust, and the needy are lifted up from the dung heap [Ps. 113:7]; the oppressed and afflicted are rescued from their extreme tribulation; the despairing are restored to good hope; the unarmed, few and weak, snatch victory from the armed, many and strong. Indeed, his wisdom manifests his excellence when he dispenses everything at the best opportunity; when he confounds all wisdom of the world [cf. I Cor. 1:20]; when "he catches the crafty in their own craftiness" [I Cor. 3:19 p.; cf. Job 5:13]. (p. 60-61, Institutes of the Christian Religion)
When God turns the tables of life over, lifting up the downcast, or toppling the haughty from their lofty heights, this is when God's Sovereignty is at center stage for us to appreciate and give praise to Him for.

In all these things, Calvin writes, we ought to be observant and expectant of opportunities for worship and praise of our God. It is not within our purview to endlessly speculate reasons, causes and mechanisms - but to come to knowledge of God through our observation, and to recognize His glory in all His works. Calvin concludes,
And here again we ought to observe that we are called to a knowledge of God: not that knowledge which, content with empty speculation, merely flits in the brain, but that which will be sound and fruitful if we duly perceive it, and if it takes root in the heart. For the Lord manifests himself by his powers, the force of which we feel within ourselves and the benefits of which we enjoy. We must therefore be much more profoundly affected by this knowledge than if we were to imagine a God of whom no perception came through to us. Consequently, we know the most perfect way of seeking God, and the most suitable order, is not for us to attempt with bold curiosity to penetrate to the investigation of his essence, which we ought more to adore than meticulously to search out, but for us to contemplate him in his works whereby he renders himself near and familiar to us, and in some manner communicates himself. (p. 62-63, Institutes of the Christian Religion)
The proper response is not the inward self-gratifying reflection of the New Age seeker of God within, but the outward, God-glorfiying reflection and mediation on the good attributes of God that He has revealed to us, in His world as well as in His Word. We will find things that our feeble minds cannot penetrate - and we must be content with that. God has chosen to reveal of Himself what is necessary for our good, our edification, the building up of His church, and the glorification of His name. No more has He chosen to reveal, and no more do we need. Let us sing His praises, therefore, and call fervently upon His name in worship.



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