Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Heavens Declare the Glory of God

The psalmist goes on to give even more evidence that God's creation speaks to us. This is where Calvin starts: Our knowledge of Him, and of ourselves.

Chapter 1 brings us to basics... man's wisdom, his knowledge consists of two broad categories ... knowledge of God and knowledge of ourselves. Whether our knowledge of God comes from knowledge of ourselves, or the other way around, matters little, for in the end, we must conclude that any of our knowledge comes from Him, and the more we contemplate ourselves, the more we are driven to God, and the more we are in the presence of God, the more terrible He is to us.
Take Home Pearl: Him with Whom we have to do ... the Source of all knowledge, indeed the Source of our very ability to think at all!

Chapter 2 teaches us that mankind can know God as Creator, and thus worship Him. When we come to this knowledge, the pious mind thus concludes that He also upholds His creation. Calvin reminds us that had man no need of redemption, he would come to know and worship and adore God simply because of His creating and upholding all things. This would produce a desire for obedience and fear of straying from the authority which God thus exerts over His creation.
Take Home Pearl: Mankind has an innate knowledge of God and His Creation and His Goodness, and an inborn fear of transgressing His authority over His creation, however supressed and stifled it may be.

Chapter 3 Calvin refutes the claim that religion and the fear of a god is an invention of politicians to keep people in fear and subjection. He answers that there has yet to be found a group of people in the most primitive reaches of the world who do not subject themselves willingly to base objects in God's creation, to fulfill the innate need to worship diety. Though men
make themselves merry with whatever has been believed in all ages concerning religion, ... it is but a Sardonian grin; for the worm of conscience, keener than burning steel, is gnawing them within.
Take Home Pearl: Those who claim no knowledge of God are whistling in the dark!

Chapter 4 ... Most men stifle and suppress the inborn seed of religion. Calvin uses Romans 1 to show that this is more than passive ignorance, but a willful rejection of the knowledge given them. He uses the Psalmist to show that rather than denying the existence of God, men willfully create gods of their own imaginations. He claims that every man at some time is
dragged before the divine tribunal, ... and are hurried on by the blind impulse, and their prevailing state of mind in regard to him is brutish oblivion.
Calvin further then claims whenever man thinks of God it is only when dragged kicking and screaming. Motivated by fear, man hurries back to the gods of his own invention.
Take Home Pearl: Lactantius says: No religion is genuine that is not in accordance with truth.

Chapter 5... Calvin here goes in some depth to show that God's nature and essence are revealed in His creation. He uses examples from astronomy and the functioning of the human body. We shamefully fail to recognize, even when confronted with the miracle of the workings of our body, to give God the glory. Amen. (How much the more men, who today have orders of magnitude more information, rush to give naturalistic explanations of the impossibly intricate workings of human physiology!) He then uses the normal course of human events as another revelation of the knowledge of God, how that good is rewarded and evil is punished. The fact that evil is often reward and good goes unreward should point to a future time when these discrepancies will be made right. This revelation, too, is lost on mankind, attributing even the most blatant of God's interventions in man's affairs to chance and fortune. Calvin's conclusion:
For 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 phontom of our own brain, drawing away the praise of justice, wisdom, and goodness from the fountain-head, and transferring it to some other quarter.

Take Home Pearl: Even though I am stamped with the image of my Creator, wild horses can't get me to admit it!


BlueDog said...

In Chapter 2, I was a little confused at first concerning who exactly is the person knowing God. It seems that it is a person, not lost or even a redeemed sinner, who has "that first and simple knowledge, to which the genuine order of nature would lead us, if Adam had retained his innocence." It is man in innocence, unspoiled by sin. So this is a discourse about how man, originally, would have known God.

Very wonderful thoughts to meditate on! We are so accustomed to think about God from our perspective as reconciled sinners. But the beautiful, innocent reasoning of a pre-fall Adam concludes many true and righteous facts about God.

God is Creator. This acknowledgment produces fear and reverence. It also elicits praise and worship. I deduce from the daily provision I have from creation that God is good. I not only submit to His authority, but I also desire union with Him. Additionally, and this is so wonderful, this unfallen Adam "confides in him as his Guardian and Protector, and unreservedly commits himself to his care."

This is a picture of faithfulness and trust in the life of an innocent, unfallen man. I also infer that it implies growth and increased maturity in such submission and faith. Luke says that as a boy, Jesus, the second Adam, unfallen and innocent "increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor [grace] with God and man" (Luke 2:52).

BlueDog said...

For Calvin, what is the chief end of man? In his words, what is "the end for which all men are born and live"?

Answer: to know God.

BlueDog said...

Strict Reformed proponents of the so-called "regulative principle" of worship (i.e. "whatever is not commanded is forbidden") are frequently forced to exegetical twister when it comes down to justifying their position. I have found that they have to rely on statements of great theologians and reformers as much as on their own distorted interpretations of certain passages of Scripture.

Here is a passage from Calvin (chapter 4, III) in which he seems to address the issue: "Persons who introduce newly-invented methods of worshipping God, really worship and adore the creature of their distempered imaginations; for they would never have dared to trifle in such a manner with God, if they had not first feigned a god conformable to their own false and foolish notions."

At first glance this seems to be a harsh condemnation of churches who have elements in their worship service that are not expressly commanded. (Some say hymns are forbidden; others say instruments, or robes, or Christmas.) These elements are nothing more than "newly-invented methods" and are condemned because the people who do such things are setting up a god "conformable to their own false and foolish notions." At first, I thought, perhaps, this passage was relevant to the "regulative principle" discussion.

But the context of this passage persuades me to think otherwise. This chapter and paragraph is talking about people who deny God himself. They suppress the truth of His existence and authority. The immediate context addresses the fact that even unbelievers set up objects of worship because of their inherent knowledge of God. The issue Calvin is speaking of here isn't elements of worship in a church service. It is idolatry, the false worship of false gods.

BlueDog said...

What a masterfully constructed discourse is Chapter 5! It is an exploration of the improper responses that mankind makes to the revelation of God. That revelation of God's glory, power, and wisdom is all around him as well as inside him. Yet, Calvin continually hints, then finally explicitly states, that such revelation is insufficient. He says that even with all of God's revelation in the world, yet Calvin says, "Vain ... is the light afforded us in the formation of the world to illustrate the glory of its Author, which, though its rays be diffused all around us, is insufficient to conduct us into the right way" (5, XIV).

Men continually "persist in following their own ways, their pernicious and fatal errors," though the Lord has abundantly revealed Himself to them. And this revelation is a demonstration of God's grace because "with various and most abundant benignity he sweetly allures mankind to a knowledge of him." Wow.

Man's response is rebellious because it is not mixed with faith: "the invisible Deity was represented by such visible objects, yet that we have no eyes to discern him, unless they be illuminated through faith by an internal revelation of God" (5, XIV). Man's sinfulness is such that he needs further revelation. Thus, Calvin concludes, "But, however men are chargeable with sinfully corrupting the seeds of divine knowledge, which, by the wonderful operation of nature, are sown in their hearts, so that they produce no good and fair crop, yet it is beyond a doubt, that the simple testimony magnificently borne by the creatures to the glory of God, is insufficient for our instruction" (5, XV). And that's how the chapter ends.

It makes we want to turn the page to discover what completes the magnificent and glorious, yet insufficient, testimony of God concerning Himself! And Calvin doesn't disappoint, for the heading of Chapter 6 is "The Guidance and Teaching of the Scripture Necessary to Lead to the Knowledge of God the Creator." What an introduction to the necessity of God's revelation in Scripture!