Thursday, 5 January 2012

Calvin's Institutes - Book 1, ch. 4

Though deep down we know there is a God, we try to supress what knowledge of Him we have - "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth" Rom. 1:18). For Calvin, the consequence of this for many is that they "fall away into superstition". Those that "set up a fictitious worship", he warns, "merely worship and adore their own delirious fancies". Or, as Romans 1:22 says, "Claiming to be wise, they became fools".

Not surprisingly, those who will not revere God hate the thought of His justice more than anything else. On the one hand they try to deny it yet on the other, because of the guilt deep within, they imagine they can appease His wrath by doing good deeds of some sort ("a few paltry sacrifices" and "punctilios of no value"). At the same time they will "defile themselves with every kind of vice". In short, says Calvin, instead of fixing their confidence on God, they trust in themselves. The eventual outcome of this is that "they bewilder themselves in such a maze of error, that the darkness of ignorance obscures, and ultimately extinguishes, those sparks which were designed to show them the glory of God".

Yet, in all this, the conviction that God exists cannot be completely extinguished. Calvin demonstrates this by reference to when some great calamity threatens them, those who previously had nothing to do with God, will suddenly resort to prayer in their despair. I am reminded of the saying: there are no atheists on a sinking ship.

Thanks be to God for His mercy for rescuing a God-suppressing, justice-hating sinner like me!

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