I thought there would be great profit for my readers if I shared with them the beauties of the knowledge of God that I have been reading in John Calvin’s Institutes. The wealth of the knowledge of God should primarily be taken from Scriptures but we can also profit from the writings of those whom God has gifted with extraordinary wisdom and knowledge for they are wiser than we. This particular book’s purpose is to “aid those who desire to be instructed in the doctrine of salvation” and to help one understand God’s Holy Word. It will be nessecary though to briefly sum up the life of the author of the Institutes, John Calvin.
John Calvin was born on July 10, 1509 in Noyon, France. He grew up Roman Catholic and at the age of fourteen, went to College de Marche in Paris to eventually study theology. However, his father, whose first wishes were that his son be a priest, advised him to study law at Orleans. This Calvin did until he completed his humanist study of law in 1532. Just a year later, Calvin came to Christ and this changes his life completely. He began to preach, study, and even write the first edition of the Institutes. He eventually he moved to Geneva where he spent a difficult time preaching to the church at Geneva and left for Strasbourg after only staying about a year. He finally returned to Geneva in 1541 and had a fruitful career of pastoring, preaching, lecturing, and writing commentaries and various editions of the Institutes. He died on May 27, 1564.
As of yet I have only read the first two chapters of the Institutes so I will have to devote the rest of the post to the first chapter and leave the second for another post. I would wish to sum up Calvin’s ideas in the chapters and give some brief commentary, applications, or what have you.
In light of the purpose of this book, namely to “aid those who desire to be instructed in the doctrine of salvation”, one should look at the general construction of the first three parts of the book. The first three parts deal with the knowledge of God the creator, the knowledge of God the Redeemer, and the way of obtaining the grace of Christ. It is in this order that Calvin displays the gospel and a model for leading others to Christ. Within the first chapter of the first part/book, Calvin discusses what true wisdom is and the effects of knowing God. True wisdom is a true knowledge of God and of ourselves. Without such understanding, we have not wisdom. The knowledges are intertwined and inseparable to the point that either one’s precedence over the other is hard to find. One cannot understand himself without knowing that all the powers he has must come from something outside himself for our whole being is sustained by God. A point Calvin makes which is entirely true though we don’t often think of this way is; We try to understand God but we can’t until we are displeased with ourselves. If we don’t, we are saying that we don’t need God and are secure in our sin. O foolish man! How oft we think or act this way! Calvin goes on to say that we are so engrossed in our own self righteousness that we blind ourselves to a true knowledge of ourselves. When we begin to understand our true nature, a nature that can only sin, we begin to understand that God is almighty and infinitely holy, something we can never be or ever will be. This puts man in a tight spot with nowhere to run, stuck like fish in a barrel. Calvin uses a few examples in the end of the chapter to convey the fear this new knowledge gives us. As Abraham says, we are indeed dust and ashes before the presence of an almighty God. We that knowledge we learn how we must act before God, in humility. Calvin sums the chapter up with the conclusion the two knowledges have mutual ties but that he will discuss the knowledge of God first, then the knowledge of His fallible, pitiful, creatures. Should you wish to read a better reflection on the Institutes, I would refer you to my father’s blog; he has already done several reflections on the Institutes. Here is one (which I will also include for the post on Chapter 2) that is actually done on a small portion of Chapter 2 but it will help you: http://redeemerchurchbrunswick.wordpress.com/2009/01/21/reflection-1-calvins-institutes-jim-wilkerson/