Tuesday, March 24, 2009

0 Creation and God's Revelation of Himself In It

At the outset of chapter 14 of Book I of the Institutes, John Calvin discusses the Creation and God's revelation of Himself in it. He entitles the chapter, "Even in the Creation of the Universe and of All Things, Scripture by Unmistakable Marks Distinguishes the True God from False Gods."

One of Calvin's primary principles of interpretation is found in this book - both in the first and fourth sections: that we must NEVER try to pry further into the being of God or of His works than He has expressly revealed in Scripture. Not that we cannot discern doctrine from what the Westminster Confession deems "good and necessary consequences" of Scripture - but that we must never go beyond Scripture in determining who God is, or what his character is. Scripture fully discloses God's revealed will for us - we cannot go further. This implies also that when there are things that are, to our finite and puny minds, contradictory, where God has not revealed the solution to us, we must accept the truths that God has revealed, and leave the solution to Him. (an example of this is the crucifixion of Christ, which Scripture reveals as being predestinated and fully decreed by God - and which Scripture also reveals as being the responsibility of Herod and Pilate, and for which they are condemned - see Acts 2 and 4 for discussions of this.)
"Therefore, let us willingly remain enclosed within these bounds to which God has willed to confine us, and as it were, to pen up our minds that they may not, through their very freedom, to wander, go astray. " (p. 161)
Speaking of the angels and their creation, Calvin writes,
"What point, then, is there anxiously investigating on what day, apart from the stars and planets, the other more remotely heavenly hosts began also to exist? Not to take too long, let us remember here, as in all religious doctrine, that we ought to hold one rule of modesty and sobriety: not to speak, or guess, or even to seek to know, concerning obscure matters anything except what has been imparted to us by God's Word." (p. 164)
This very thing I have seen people stumble over and try to discern answers to, and as Calvin says, this is simply not profitable, nor useful in any way. We have SO much to be concerned with in the Scriptures concerning doctrine for life and faith, that it is only detrimental to spend ANY time pondering on such silly questions. We are warned against this for good reason. God, through His Word, gives us instruction for Godliness... and His word is sufficient for our training therein. Going beyond it, then, to answer dumb questions that profit nothing, is to deny the sufficiency of Scripture - no less. Accepting Scripture's teaching is a simple matter of obedient submission to the King of Kings.

Calvin then goes on in sections 5 through 12 of this chapter to address various speculative theories concerning angels that were plaguing the church at the time of his writing... numbers, hierarchies, and orders of angels, the question of guardian angels (which Calvin refuses to answer definitively, the reality of angels, the error of assigning divinity to angels, etc. Then, as today, the doctrine of angels was a point of much abuse and error.

In sections 13-19, Calvin takes up the fallen angels - correcting a number of current errors concerning them as well. Most important among the statements made in these sections, I believe, is that the demonic is surely real - that fallen angels still do the bidding of Satan, and that the struggle continues in this day between God and the fallen and degenerate creatures known as demons, or fallen angels. One cannot be complacent about the reality of the adversary and the reality of spiritual evil. This being said, Calvin properly asserts that every evil power is subject to God. We see this powerfully illustrated in the opening chapters of Job, but elsewhere as well. NOTHING is done apart from God's will that it should be done, even evil acts perpetrated against the church by the enemy and his minions. The enemy is subject to God, PERIOD.
"As for the discord and strife that we say exists between Satan and God, we ought to accept as a fixed certainty the fact that he can do nothing unless God wills and assents to it... Satan is clearly under God's power, and is so ruled by his bidding as to be compelled to render him service." (pp. 175-176)
It cannot be accepted that Satan has any power whatsoever that is not given him by God - God is the supreme Sovereign, and Satan merely a creature - powerful to be certain, but ruled by God. We must take comfort in this as we see the enemy at work in the world. We must be assured that God is in Sovereign command of every circumstance and every single one of His creatures. We know, too, that because of this, nothing is lost for God - all is won; and those of us who are in His Son are in Him and have that victory secured by Him.

I close with a final word from Calvin in this chapter, in which he gives great praise to God as creator and as Sovereign. Let his words comfort you too, as you look at the world and our place in it - and see things contrary to the revealed will of God. Knowing that God indeed is in full and complete control is a great comfort to the people of God...
"To conclude once for all, whenever we call God the Creator of heaven and earth, let us at the same time bear in mind that the dispensation of all those things which he has made is in his own hand and power and that we are indeed his children, whom he has received into his faithful protection to nourish and educate. We are therefore to await the fulness of all good things from him alone and to trust completely that he will never leave us destitute of what we need for salvation, and to hang our hopes on none but him! We are therefore, also, to petition him for whatever we desire; and we are to recognize as a blessing from him, and thankfully to acknowledge, every benefit that falls to our share. So, invited by the great sweetness of his beneficence and goodness, let us study to love and serve him with all our heart." (p. 182)



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