Institutes Entry 19: 1.11.7-1.12.2

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Continuing his reasoning as to why the use of images in worship to God were to be rejected, Calvin states that for the first five hundred years, when Christianity was flourishing and a purer doctrine thriving, churches were commonly empty of images. “Thus, it was when the purity of the ministry had somewhat degenerated that they were first introduced for the adornment of churches.” (pg. 113)

When the teaching degenerated, man could not help but fall headlong into superstitious rites by setting up symbols and images that represented God. The only symbols, Calvin argued, that we should take on are the living and symbolic ones that the Lord has consecrated by his Word, baptism and the Lord’s Supper. All others forged by human ingenuity should be forsaken.

God has rightly prescribed in His holy Word how he is to be worshipped and right honor rendered to him. Because man is prone to superstition, in his pride and folly, is not content with the prescribed manner and order. The law given by God, is a “bridle that has been imposed upon men, to prevent their sinking into vicious rites.” (pg.117)

He opposes what he calls a “distinction without a difference” in the Roman Catholic distinction of latria and dulia. That is that God alone is to be honored and worshiped but that Mary and dead saints can be venerated and served. To serve and venerate a saint to Calvin was the same as worshipping the saint and that is idolatry.

Lord, break the Dagon of pride in my heart that would cause heedless zeal to turn to any superstitious, pretentious attempt to worship You that is against your prescribed order. 

Institutes Entry 18: 1.11.7-12

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The papists used an argument that the need for images to represent God and his work were necessary because pictures are the books of the uneducated. Calvin argued that this was ridiculous in light of the testimony of Scripture and that “there would be no ‘uneducated’ at all if the church had done its duty.” (pg.107) These so called ‘teachers’ that were in authority in the church turned to idols to represent God, His glory and His work because they were ineffectual, powerless and ‘mute’.

Paul himself testifies that by the true preaching of the gospel “Christ is depicted before our eyes as crucified (Gal. 3:1)”. What purpose does it serve to have so many crosses fashioned of wood, silver and gold when the image of the cross does not teach what Scripture does concerning it, that Jesus bore our sins, suffered the wrath of God in our place, to expiate our sins by the sacrifice of his body and the shedding of his blood, to reconcile us to God. A thousand crosses fashioned could never learn those truths apart from the instruction of Scripture.

Calvin says that “man’s nature, is a perpetual factory of idols.” (pg. 108) Man’s prideful mind and audacity, dares to imagine a god according to its own capacity; … and conceives an unreality and an empty appearance as God… the mind begets an idol; the hand gives it birth.” (pg.108)

God forbids the fashioning of images that represent his glory and likeness because he is not to be worshipped superstitiously. When man fashions something as a visible form for God, he binds his power to it and can’t help but turn to it in prayer and worship. That, no matter the intention, is always idolatry. To make an image as a representation of God is to deface His glory and Scripture clearly forbids it.

Lord, keep us from defacing Your glory when our hearts seek to turn to something else which You already have made provision for through the work of Your Son Jesus. 

Institutes Entry 17: 1.11.2-6

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“God’s glory is corrupted by an impious falsehood whenever any form is attached to him.” (pg. 100)  That men would fashion something that resembles God is an absurdity. Scripture clearly repudiates idolatry. Calvin turns to the prophet Isaiah who was emphatic in teaching against idolatry in God’s people. “He teaches that God’s majesty is sullied by an unfitting and absurd fiction, when the incorporeal is made to resemble corporeal matter, the invisible a visible likeness, the spirit an inanimate object, the immeasurable a puny bit of wood, stone, or gold.” (pg. 101) God cannot be reduced to mere trinket or statue.

Even signs given by God to his people as a revealer of his divine Presence, were never to be taken as images to be used to represent God. “For clouds and smoke and flame, although they were symbols of heavenly glory, restrained the minds of all, like a bridle placed on them, from attempting to penetrate to deeply.” (pg. 102) Even the mercy seat over the ark, from which God manifested the presence of his power, was designed in such a manner to reflect the cherubims with wings outspread, covering it. The temple veil, also shielded the art from outside gaze. This was all done so that the Israelites would not be tempted (though they were) to fashion a physical representation of God. God is too big to be made so small as to fit in one’s pocket. Idolatry is insanity — but it is where the wicked heart of man takes him apart from Christ.

Lord, though I don’t fashion god-like trinkets from wood, metal or stone, idolatry, our hearts are always prone towards the worship of something. Let my heart always be inclined to worship you alone, the One true God, that cannot be contained by anything You have made. 

Institutes Entry 16: 1.9.3-11.1

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Looking back to how God has revealed himself through his creation, Calvin shows that Scripture is in agreement with the attributes of God that are known in his creation and creatures. The Scriptures frequently reflect God’s attributes as he is toward us. Speaking of Exodus 34:6-7, Calvin writes “Thereupon his powers are mentioned, by which he is shown to us not as he is in himself, but as he is toward us: so that this recognition of him consists more in living experience than in vain and high-flown speculation.” (pg. 97) God is not known in the form of an image; whereby to fashion an image of the Creator from elements in his creation is an abomination (idolatry).

God’s attributes of mercy, kindness, goodness, justice, judgment and truth are the same powers enumerated as those shining forth in heaven and earth. “Indeed the knowledge of God set forth for us in Scripture is destined for the very same goal as the knowledge whose imprint shines in his creatures, in that it invites us first to fear God, then to trust in him. By this we can learn to worship him both with perfect innocence of life and with unfeigned obedience, then to depend wholly upon his goodness. (pg, 98)

Lord, let me look intently upon your Word and your creation, which both reflect and reveal your divine attributes, so that I might learn to fear you, trust you and worship you in purity of life and obedience and whole-hearted dependance upon your goodness.

Institutes Entry 15: 1.8.10-9.2

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That the Scriptures are still with us after a sustained assault from antiquity forward, is an attestation to preservation by heavenly providence and not human effort. With great care God has preserved His Word. “By countless wondrous means Satan with the whole world has tried either to oppress it or overturn it, to obscure and obliterate it utterly from the memory of men — yet, like the palm, it has risen ever higher and has remained unassailable.” (pg. 91) God’s Word has been miraculously preserved throughout history and is available to us today by divine will.

Calvin also turns his focus on those who, under the guise of the Spirit, elevate personal revelation, over Scripture. Interesting to see that it is as true today as it was in reformation times. The Spirit will always lead us into his Word, never away from it. “Therefore the Spirit, promised to us, has not the task of inventing new and unheard of revelations, or of forging a new kind of doctrine, to lead us away from the received doctrine of the gospel, but of sealing our minds with that very doctrine which is commended by the gospel.” (pg. 94) The Church is ruled by the voice of God and by the Spirit of God. They are in complete agreement.

Lord, I praise you for gloriously preserving your Word throughout history so that I might feast upon its riches and depths of its revelation of you. Let me never elevate thoughts about you that are not in accord with how you have revealed yourself in Your Word and let me cast them aside. Your Word is complete and it is enough for me.

Institutes Entry 14: 1.8.2-1.8.9

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Calvin begins to lay a clear case from Scripture about the proofs contained within its text, that establish the credibility of Scripture. Especially poignant at the start of this chapter in 1.8.1 he writes, “What wonderful confirmation ensues when, with keener study, we ponder the economy of the divine wisdom, so well ordered and disposed; the completely heavenly character of its doctrine, savoring of nothing earthly; the beautiful agreement of all the parts with one another — as well as such other qualities as can gain majesty for the writings.” (pg. 82) There is no literary work in all of antiquity that has the breath of the Divine infused within its pages like the Scriptures.

Calvin points to the content of Scripture, the antiquity of Scripture, the example of Moses, miracles, and fulfilled prophecies to present the proof of the Scriptures credibility. Looking at fulfilled prophecy that defied human expectation, he draws from the stories of Jacob and David to bolster the case that fulfilled prophecy came about by divine intervention and the prophecies were indeed spoken beforehand by divine inspiration. All of these point to the fact that it is God who speaks through His Word.

Lord, let me ponder and study the economy of the divine wisdom contained in the Word, and as I dwell upon the riches of what You have spoken, let faith arise and cause me to lose my taste for what is earthly and temporal and hunger for the eternal. 

Institutes Entry 13: 1.7.3-8.1

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If the Scriptures are the truest revelation of God, where do they derive their authority to be considered God’s self-revelation? For if man is to believe that these are words from God, they must regard the Scriptures as having divine origin. The Scriptures do not have their origin in the church — the church recognizes, receives and gives its seal of approval to the Scriptures — but the church did not conceive of the Scriptures so as to render it the highest authority over Scripture. As Luther wrote in his Lectures on the Psalms, “The Scripture is the womb from which are born the divine truth and the church.” The Scriptures preceded the church.

In countering claims that Augustine believed that the church has higher authority than the Scriptures and renders final judgment on the Scriptures, he writes “those who have not yet been illumined by the Spirit of God are rendered teachable by reverence for the church, so that they may persevere in learning faith in Christ from the gospel. Thus, the authority of the church is an introduction through which we are prepared for faith in the gospel.” (pg. 77)

People look to the church as an authority on the Scriptures and rightly so, and by doing so, that can be a precursor to gospel transformation. But the only way we can fully accept the revelation of Scripture and doctrine is when we are fully persuaded, beyond doubt, that God is its Author. “If we turn pure eyes and upright senses toward it, the majesty of God will immediately come to view, subdue our bold rejection, and compel us to obey.” (pg 79) And that only happens through the witness of the Holy Spirit. “The testimony of the Spirit is more excellent than all reason,” Calvin wrote. (pg. 79)

Lord, I recognize that You are the Author of your Word and the only true faith I possess is that which Your Spirit has sealed upon my heart. Grant unto me, by Your Spirit, the ability to comprehend the mysteries of God in the Scriptures, and let that knowledge draw and inflame me, towards obedience and deeper devotion. 

Institutes Entry 12: 1.6.2-7.2

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Though God has given some revelation of himself through his creation, the Scriptures are the truest source of God’s revelation of himself and communicate to us what creation cannot. “Scripture adorns with unmistakable marks and tokens the one true God, in that he has created and governs the universe, in order that he may not be mixed with the throng of false gods.” (pg. 72)

For Calvin, true religion can only flow from a right knowledge and understanding of God that comes from careful study of the Scriptures and no one could “get even the slightest taste of right and sound doctrine unless he be a pupil of Scripture.” (pg. 72) If we don’t begin with the Scriptures and only survey creation to gain knowledge of God, we will certainly go off track into gross error. To understand the splendor that is God is like an inexplicable labyrinth and the thread of the Word conducts us towards that knowledge of God. Without the Word, we go astray. “For errors can never be uprooted from human hearts until true knowledge of God is planted therein.” (pg. 73)

Lord, give me a heart that earnestly desires to be a pupil of your Word; an ardent and careful student of the Scriptures. For only through your Word have you chosen to give the clearest and truest revelation of yourself. Keep my heart from wandering into error by staying tethered to your Divine truth. 

Institutes Entry 11: 1.5.12-6.1

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“For as rashness and superficiality are joined to ignorance and darkness, scarcely a single person has ever been found who did not fashion for himself an idol or specter in place of God… an immense crowd of gods flow forth from the human mind” (pg. 65). That is what man does with the knowledge of God as manifested through creation. Simple folk and the most learned of men all arrive at the same place — idolatry.

Even though creation reveals the knowledge of God to us, it is incomplete as it shows God to be Creator but not Redeemer. For that we need the pure revelation of God through Scripture. “Scripture gathering up the otherwise confused knowledge of God in our minds, having dispersed our dullness clearly shows us the true God” (pg. 70) While this revelation from Scripture is necessary to show us God in the way he has revealed himself, man is still without excuse because the fault of dullness lies within him.

Lord, let me always run to the source of your own self-revelation, the Scriptures, to gain knowledge of you. Let my thoughts about you be derived from your Word so I don’t fashion a god of my own making. 

Institutes Entry 10: 1.5.6-11

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In our contemplation of God through the lens of creation, one is forced to take note, that frequently the wicked go unpunished and the upright suffer adversity; many times under the oppression of the impious. This does not diminish God’s righteousness as he hates all sin, though some sins seem to go unpunished at the moment. There is a future judgment to which the punishment of some sins are deferred.

God is sovereign over all of his creation. This is especially seen over the life of men. In God’s care, protection, provision, healing; we see heavenly providence and especially fatherly kindness. His power however, is most clearly observed in the overcoming, shattering and breaking down of the impious. God rules over all of the affairs of men. “His wisdom manifests his excellence when he dispenses everything at the best opportunity. In short, there is nothing that he does not temper in the best way,” (pg 61)   The sad reality, Calvin observes, is that “in our stupidity we grow increasingly dull toward so manifest testimonies, and they away without profiting us.” (pg. 63)

Lord help me to recognize and glorify You through the manifold displays of heavenly providence and never grow dull toward all that your creation testifies about Your greatness, power and majesty. 

By |January 19th, 2013|Institutes|0 Comments|