Calvin’s view on man in a post fall state

John Calvin teaches in his Institutes of Christian Religion in Chapters 1 – 10 his beliefs, what he calls Wisdom, concerning God’s revelation to man in a post fall state, it’s implications on man’s response proving ultimately man only believes in God and offers Him true reverence and love by the convicting and persuading power of the Holy Spirit to believe His Word wherein His nature and works are revealed as they were initially in creation.

Calvin outlines the following steps God has taken for us to have this wisdom: 1) He has revealed His nature and power in creation 2) in our creation He planted a seed of His existence called by Calvin a seed of divinity 3) He sent His word into the world to teach us directly and 4) He sent His own Spirit to convict us that His Word is true.

Calvin’s quote begins his explanation of these steps:

“Our wisdom, insofar as it ought to be deemed true and solid wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But as these are connected together by many ties, it is not easy to determine which of the two precedes and gives birth to the other.” 1.

Calvin explains this wisdom is the following: 1) knowing God has revealed His nature and works to man as His creator in His creation and 2) man as a creature knows God as His creator and knows His nature and works (i.e. natural theology). Yet man does not come to reverence and love God apart from the hearing of His Word and the conviction of His Spirit confirming the Word as truth (salvation).

Calvin argues saying man as a created being should first turn his thoughts towards God because it is obvious man’s gifts are not from himself, that our very existence is from God and that these blessings are a like a stream intended to lead us to God especially in light of our ruin as descendants of Adam.

“Thus our feeling of ignorance vanity, want, weakness, in short, depravity and corruption, reminds us that in the Lord, and none but He dwell the true light of wisdom, solid virtue and exuberant goodness. We are accordingly urged by our own evil things to consider the good things of God: and, indeed, we cannot aspire to Him in earnest until we have begun to be displeased with ourselves.” [2]

Man, however, cannot attain a true self-knowledge without beholding the face of God, which is salvation. This is testified in Scripture that when people are near God and behold His majesty they cry out in terror and fear due to His holiness and when they are not near Him they live as if He does not exist.

Right self-knowledge

The Supreme knowledge of God intended to bring forth our love for Him is that everything flows from Him and He is the cause of all things. In His role as creator it is unrealistic to expect man to worship Him unless man perceives He is the source of all that is good and that piety (the union of reverence and love of God) and religion (which springs from piety) are present. The ‘pious mind’ would be horrified to offend God and would live life and worship Him according to His Law.

Seed of divinity

To bear witness to Himself and to turn us to Himself to attain true-self knowledge God has placed a seed of divinity in every man. This is witnessed when man worships wood and stone and when men lead others into religious cults which they could not do unless the seed of divinity already existed within man.

 Yet even though this seed of divinity exists in every man yet in no man does it mature. This immature seed produces the following results: man brings God down to his level; man imagines God in his image; man denies the power of God; they develop religious zeal that mocks God; their worship of God is based on lies; their thoughts of the true God are against their will; they wish the tribunal that judges them would be overthrown; they continue to indulge in sin; and their offerings are an offense to God. These faithless acts demonstrate man would never engage in them without the implanted seed of divinity.

Divinity in creation

Another witness is that God has showed Himself through His creation so daily man is confronted with God’s existence and His glorious and beautiful attributes.

This is witnessed by: even the most illiterate and ignorant peasant discerning God’s existence and glory; man’s body bears witness to the genius of it’s Maker; babies praising God; Man by virtue of being created in God’s image is a greater being than brute beasts; man’s abilities to understand, remember and exist; Gods power manifested in nature; His control over His creation that ultimately protects us; and His blessings of His presence, wisdom and reconciliation.

Even God’s earthly judgments are demonstrated to everyone: the righteous are blessed; the wicked and profane receive His damnation; the final judgment at death; and sometimes wicked sinners are subdued by His mercy and wooed back to Himself.

“It is plain that the Lord has furnished every man with abundant proofs of His wisdom.” [3]

Evidences of man’s continued unbelief: despite the brightness of God’s glory man remains dull to them and receives no benefits; Man has never found God on his own; Any religion founded by man was darkness; true religion comes from Mt. Zion. God Himself; though the world shows forth God’s glory it is not enough to convince man to believe.

Hence men if they remain untaught persevere in error and even though they have not natural power to believe it is still no excuse.

Thus despite God making Himself known in creation yet “No one, indeed will voluntarily and willingly devote himself to the service of God unless he has previously tasted His paternal love, and been thereby allured to love and reverence Him.” [4]

His works declare His glory and man is to presume upon knowing God by considering and meditating upon His works. However the works are insufficient to lead us to God. Man continues to create idols of his own making. In other words only faith, brought about by internal revelation from God brings about the knowledge of God and our devotion and worship.

His Word sent to teach us

Calvin continues explain in Chapter 6 that God therefore sends His word into the world to teach us Himself since man cannot clear up the confusion of the ‘impressions of Deity’. Through His Word God declares there is a God to be worshipped and that He is that God including being the world’s creator and redeemer.

However, men, still hard-hearted and stiff necked, say the Word has authority only if man says it does. Calvin explains that even though the church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Eph 2:20/i.e. the Word of God) yet His words will not obtain full credit in the hearts of men until they are sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit; yhus those souls taught by the Holy Spirit acquiesce implicitly in Scripture: “Only let us now understand that the only true faith is that which the spirit of God seals in our hearts.”

The Holy Spirit persuades

 Since Scripture is confirmed by its effect upon man and the inward persuasion of the Holy Spirit versus by argument, consent of the church or any other human entity man’s faith is said to rest on “the power of God” (I Cor 2:5).

Thus the Holy Spirit works to confirm the existing Word of God not bring forth new truth. In other words the Spirit exalts, affirms and brings to life the existing Word.

Thus the word and spirit working together counters those who say either they have the Spirit but no reverence for the Word or that the Law brings death.

In conclusion God’s nature of love, justice and righteousness, and His works are revealed both in Scripture and natural life.

“Moreover the knowledge of God which is set before us in the Scriptures is designed for the same purpose as that which shines in creation, i.e., that we may thereby learn to worship Him with integrity of heart and unfeigned obedience and also to depend entirely on His goodness.” [5]

Thus through the inward work of the Spirit man is brought to faith in the Word and therefore can see God in all of life: creation and the Word and can then say he is now wise since he knows God and himself.

[1] Calvin, J. (2011). Institutes of the Christian Religion & 2. (J. T. McNeill, Ed., F. L. Battles, Trans.) (Vol. 1, pp. 5). Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.

[2] Ibid. p 4.

[3] Ibid. p

[4] Ibid. p 17.

[5] Ibid.


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