As we have seen in the previous chapters, Calvin explains how the knowldege of God is evident in every man and how man supresses the truth of this matter to his own detriment. Chapter five is the last of those chapters on the theme of the knowledge of God in every man’s soul. It is an especially long chapter, consisting of fifteen sections, so I shall endeavor to be as brief as possible.
As I look back over this chapter, I realize how unique the structure of this chapter is. He titles this chapter as “The Knowledge of God conspicous in the Creation and continual government of this world”. His main focus in this chapter, with a mindset that the knowledge of God is embedded in man’s ken, is the works of God. By looking at the scope of this chapter and its long title, I am reminded of the catechism question, written by the Westminster Divines in the 1640s, that asks, “How doth God execute his decrees? (Q. 8). The answer, as many of us know and should know is, “God executeth his decrees in the works of creation and providence.” To correlate with Calvin’s title, the phrase “continual goverment of this world” refers to the providence of God; “his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions. (Q. 11)”
There are two principal parts of this chapter. In the first ten sections, Calvin shows how the knowledge of God can be seen in his works of creation and providence, with the first six sections dealing with creation and the remaining four dealing with providence. In the second part or remaining five sections, Calvin shows how the stupidity of mankind blinds them to not seeing the wondrous and clear work of God and how they do it to their demise.
Calvin, in section one, demonstrates how the creation, in all its splendor and beauty, declares the glory of God. He uses passages from the Bible to justify this ( Psalm 104:2,3; Hebrews 11: 3; Psalm 29:1; Romans 1:20) Calvin explain that “his essence, indeed, is incomprehensible, utterly transcending all human thought; but on each of his works his glory is is engraven in characters so bright, so distinct, and so illustroius, that none, however dull and illiterate, can plead ignorance as their excuse. ” He shows from the Psalms how his dwelling place is filled with his glory and so magnifies him above us. Calvin’s thesis statement of the first five chapters of his book on theology is not of his own making, he gets this from Paul in Romans 1:19,20, “Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.”
Calvin goes on to show how the very simple and common things in our universe, the heavenly bodies, our own bodies and how they work; declare the glory of God. If you think about it, our daily faculties, to eat for instance, are so complex that they show how majestic and incomphrehensible God is since we are his image bearers. Calvin, being no physician, does not use his contempary science per se, to expound this but the immortal Word of God. Within section four, he goes on to show how ingrateful we are to disregard God who is mainfested in us. Indeed we who call ourselves Christians are just as guilty of this, we fail each and every day to praise and thank God for making us and (if we are in Christ) saving us. In section five, Calvin speaks of the soul, its powers, and its nature. He refutes the popular ideas about the soul and their author, Aristotle. Calvin also goes on to say how the soul is immortal. What I love about Calvin (and the “Calvinist” world view) is that he has a vast knowledge of other classical writings and he employs these, along with Scripture, to make his point. In section six he concludes his talk on how God’s work of creation displays his nature.
In section seven, Calvin begins to unfold how God’s work of providence show his nature and how man may know about them. God’s providence is something that is above nature so it is something not understood apart from God’s Word. He explains the concept, which many people have a hard time with, that ” the righteous are the special objects of his favor, the wicked and profane the special objects of his severity. He does this because he is infinitely just, a concept we cannot begin to understand. Yet even as he does this, he does impart a kind of grace to all men, just and unjust. This is his common grace that allows men to live, despite the magnitude of their sins. Calvin goes on in sections eight and nine to describe God’s power and wisdom and his divine Majesty. In section ten, shows the tendency of the knowledge of God to inspire the righteous and to convict the sinful.
With God’s works of creation and providence described and exemplified, Calvin moves on to show how stupid man is when we have all this beautiful knowledge at our fingertips and right in front of our faces. That should be our mindset of mankind and only with that mindset can we begin to understand our true nature and the nature of God; Calvin’s premier thesis for the Institutes. Calvin, in section twelve, compares man’s mind to a labyrinth and a flood. When he says that man is stupid, he does not condemn those without education but those who have raised themselves to the highest levels of intellectual thinking, the philosophers. He shows that the flowery nature of their genius blinds them to something far above their superior ken. He goes on to show how different philosophies demonstrate this, all the way from the Stoics and Egyptians to the Epicureans, some of the greatest philosophic minds the Ancient World produced.
In section thirteen, Calvin makes a very true statement, ” whosoever adulterates pure religion make a departure from the one God”. This applies to all who worship other “gods”, whether it be Allah, Buddha, Jupiter, money, fame, sex, etc. He bases these statements on pure Scripture. In section fourteen and fifteen, Calvin concludes this chapter to say something quite powerful. Although the knowledge of God may be ascertained in God’s works of Creation and Providence, it is only through His divine Word that one may gain a saving knowledge of Christ.