Monday, January 19, 2009

2 The Institutes: The Primacy of the Gift of Scripture

Turning from his discussion of natural revelation, and its insufficiency, Calvin next takes up in Book I, Chapter 6 what became a great rallying cry of the Reformation - Sola Scriptura. God's revelation of Himself to mankind is only truly complete in His Word. In it, God speaks clearly and in a way which particularly displays His glory to us - as such, it is a glorious gift to His church, as Calvin says. Often as I pray while walking on the way to work, I am reminded of God's glory in the creation surrounding me - but also, reminded of the fact that if left to that revelation alone, none could know God truly, I find my thoughts returning to thanksgiving for His gift of His Word. He has not left His children to grasp as Plato's men in the cave, blindly imagining who God is and trying to come to some sort of image of Him. Instead, He has revealed Himself savingly to those whom He has chosen, by means of is own perfect speech. As Calvin writes,
Just as old or bleary-eyed men and those with weak vision, if you thrust before them a most beautiful volume, even if they recognize it to be some sort of writing, yet can scarcely construe two words, but with the aid of spectacles will begin to read distinctly; so Scripture, gathering up the otherwise confused knowledge of God in our minds, having dispersed our dullness, clearly shows us the true God. This, therefore, is a special gift, where God, to instruct the church, not merely uses mute teachers but also opens his own most hallowed lips. Not only does he teach the elect to look upon a god, but also shows himself as the God upon whom they are to look. He has from the beginning maintained this plan for his church, so that besides these common proofs he also put forth his Word, which is a more direct and more certain mark whereby he is to be recognized. (p. 70, Institutes of the Christian Religion)
If left to our own minds, and our own inventions we cannot, as fallen men, do anything but build up false gods - and this is what men have done for millenia, apart from God's Holy Word. Left to ourselves, we are lost. Inevitably pride takes hold, and we invent religious conceptions that lift men up and enable us to follow after the flesh (while vainly imagining that things are right with us, not only here, but to eternity). We can, left to ourselves, only devise error.

If we wish to glorify God, then, not only must our conceptions of God and His attributes come from Scripture alone, but we must also strive to know His Word through and through - that we might most honor and glorify Him. We must
strive onward by this straight path if we seriously aspire to the pure contemplation of God. We must come, I say, to the Word, where God is truly 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. If we turn aside from the Word, as I have just now said, though we may strive with strenuous haste, yet, since we have got off the track, we shall never reach the goal. For we should so reason that the splendor of the divine countenance, which even the apostle calls "unapproachable" [I Tim. 6:16], is 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. (p. 72-3, Institutes of the Christian Religion)
This is one of the chiefest beauties of the Word of the Lord. Even when we are only beginning to learn, as much as when we are at the end of our lives, having devoted ourselves to the Lord's service, God's Word is sufficient food for us. We may plumb the depths of His Word for our entire lives, and never come up at a loss - it is all gain. And, as we strive to learn from Him in His Word, so long as we approach Him with submission and a humble Spirit, ready to learn and hear what He has to say - we glorify Him... even in our immaturity. Better to limp along His path, as Calvin writes, than to dash speedily on another road. May Holy Scripture be for us that guide and rule of faith and all of life that God has intended it to be. May we dedicate ourselves to its study, submit ourselves to its authority, and commit ourselves - especially those of us who are fathers and husbands - to its instruction for our families. Thanks be to God for the wonderful gift of His Word.


David Porter said...

Eloquently written. I am enjoying reading your thoughts through the Institutes.

Thank you for your gift!

Todd said...

Thank you - and may God be praised that it's a blessing to you... I think we both can echo praises to God for the gift of our dear elder brother Mr. Calvin, without whose work I'd have so little to say :)


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