(Calvin, Institutes on the Christian Religion 1, part 5)

the Christian Religion 
Book First: Of the Knowledge of God the Creator 
    The First Book treats of the knowledge of God the Creator. But 
as it is in the creation of man that the divine perfections are best 
displayed, so man also is made the subject of discourse. Thus the 
whole book divides itself into two principal heads - the former 
relating to the knowledge of God, and the latter to the knowledge of 
man. In the first chapter, these are considered jointly; and in each 
of the following chapters, separately: occasionally, however, 
intermingled with other matters which refer to one or other of the 
heads; e.g., the discussions concerning Scripture and images, 
falling under the former head, and the other three concerning the 
creation of the world, the holy angels and devils, falling under the 
latter. The last point discussed, viz., the method of the divine 
government, relates to both. 
    With regard to the former head, viz., the knowledge of God, it 
is shown, in the first place, what the kind of knowledge is which 
God requires, Chap. 2. And, in the second place, (Chap. 3-9,) where 
this knowledge must be sought, namely, not in man; because, although 
naturally implanted in the human mind, it is stifled, partly by 
ignorance, partly by evil intent, Chap. 3 and 4; not in the frame of 
the world: because, although it shines most clearly there, we are so 
stupid that these manifestations, however perspicuous, pass away 
without any beneficial result, Chap. 5; but in Scripture, (Chap. 6,) 
which is treated of, Chap. 7-9. In the third place, it is shown what 
the character of God is, Chap. 10. In the fourth place, how impious 
it is to give a visible form to God, (here images, the worship of 
them, and its origin, are considered,) Chap. 11. In the fifth place, 
it is shown that God is to be solely and wholly worshipped, Chap. 
12. Lastly, Chap. 13 treats of the unity of the divine essence, and 
the distinction of three persons. 
    With regard to the latter head, viz., the knowledge of man, 
first, Chap. 14 treats of the creation of the world, and of good and 
bad angels (these all having reference to man.) And then Chap. 15, 
taking up the subject of man himself, examines his nature and his 
    The better to illustrate the nature both of God and man, the 
three remaining Chapters, viz., 16-18, proceed to treat of the 
general government of the world, and particularly of human actions, 
in opposition to fortune and fate, explaining both the doctrine and 
its use. In conclusion, it is shown, that though God employs the 
instrumentality of the wicked, he is pure from sin and from taint of 
every kind. 
the Christian Religion 
Book First 
Of the Knowledge of God the Creator 
Chapter 1. 
1. The knowledge of God and of ourselves mutually connected. - 
Nature of the connection. 
1. The sum of true wisdom, viz., the knowledge of God and of 
    ourselves. Effects of the latter. 
2. Effects of the knowledge of God, in humbling our pride, unveiling 
    our hypocrisy, demonstrating the absolute perfections of God, 
    and our own utter helplessness. 
3. Effects of the knowledge of God illustrated by the examples, 1. 
    of holy patriarchs; 2. of holy angels; 3. of the sun and moon. 
    1. Our wisdom, in so far 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. For, in the first place, no man can survey 
himself without forthwith turning his thoughts towards the God in 
whom he lives and moves; because it is perfectly obvious, that the 
endowments which we possess cannot possibly be from ourselves; nay, 
that our very being is nothing else than subsistence in God alone. 
In the second place, those blessings which unceasingly distil to us 
from heaven, are like streams conducting us to the fountain. Here, 
again, the infinitude of good which resides in God becomes more 
apparent from our poverty. In particular, the miserable ruin into 
which the revolt of the first man has plunged us, compels us to turn 
our eyes upwards; not only that while hungry and famishing we may 
thence ask what we want, but being aroused by fear may learn 
humility. For as there exists in man something like a world of 
misery, and ever since we were stript of the divine attire our naked 
shame discloses an immense series of disgraceful properties every 
man, being stung by the consciousness of his own unhappiness, in 
this way necessarily obtains at least some knowledge of God. Thus, 
our feeling of ignorance, vanity, want, weakness, in short, 
depravity and corruption, reminds us, (see Calvin on John 4: 10,) 
that in the Lord, and none but He, dwell the true light of wisdom, 
solid virtue, 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. For what man is not disposed to rest in himself? 
Who, in fact, does not thus rest, so long as he is unknown to 
himself; that is, so long as he is contented with his own 
endowments, and unconscious or unmindful of his misery? Every 
person, therefore, on coming to the knowledge of himself, is not 
only urged to seek God, but is also led as by the hand to find him. 
    2. On the other hand, it is evident that man never attains to a 
true self-knowledge until he have previously contemplated the face 
of God, and come down after such contemplation to look into himself. 
For (such is our innate pride) we always seem to ourselves just, and 
upright, and wise, and holy, until we are convinced, by clear 
evidence, of our injustice, vileness, folly, and impurity. 
Convinced, however, we are not, if we look to ourselves only, and 
not to the Lord also - He being the only standard by the application 
of which this conviction can be produced. For, since we are all 
naturally prone to hypocrisy, any empty semblance of righteousness 
is quite enough to satisfy us instead of righteousness itself. And 
since nothing appears within us or around us that is not tainted 
with very great impurity, so long as we keep our mind within the 
confines of human pollution, anything which is in some small degree 
less defiled delights us as if it were most pure just as an eye, to 
which nothing but black had been previously presented, deems an 
object of a whitish, or even of a brownish hue, to be perfectly 
white. Nay, the bodily sense may furnish a still stronger 
illustration of the extent to which we are deluded in estimating the 
powers of the mind. If, at mid-day, we either look down to the 
ground, or on the surrounding objects which lie open to our view, we 
think ourselves endued with a very strong and piercing eyesight; but 
when we look up to the sun, and gaze at it unveiled, the sight which 
did excellently well for the earth is instantly so dazzled and 
confounded by the refulgence, as to oblige us to confess that our 
acuteness in discerning terrestrial objects is mere dimness when 
applied to the sun. Thus too, it happens in estimating our spiritual 
qualities. So long as we do not look beyond the earth, we are quite 
pleased with our own righteousness, wisdom, and virtue; we address 
ourselves in the most flattering terms, and seem only less than 
demigods. But should we once begin to raise our thoughts to God, and 
reflect what kind of Being he is, and how absolute the perfection of 
that righteousness, and wisdom, and virtue, to which, as a standard, 
we are bound to be conformed, what formerly delighted us by its 
false show of righteousness will become polluted with the greatest 
iniquity; what strangely imposed upon us under the name of wisdom 
will disgust by its extreme folly; and what presented the appearance 
of virtuous energy will be condemned as the most miserable 
impotence. So far are those qualities in us, which seem most 
perfect, from corresponding to the divine purity. 
    3. Hence that dread and amazement with which as Scripture 
uniformly relates, holy men were struck and overwhelmed whenever 
they beheld the presence of God. When we see those who previously 
stood firm and secure so quaking with terror, that the fear of death 
takes hold of them, nay, they are, in a manner, swallowed up and 
annihilated, the inference to be drawn is that men are never duly 
touched and impressed with a conviction of their insignificance, 
until they have contrasted themselves with the majesty of God. 
Frequent examples of this consternation occur both in the Book of 
Judges and the Prophetical Writings; so much so, that it was a 
common expression among the people of God, "We shall die, for we 
have seen the Lord." Hence the Book of Job, also, in humbling men 
under a conviction of their folly, feebleness, and pollution, always 
derives its chief argument from descriptions of the Divine wisdom, 
virtue, and purity. Nor without cause: for we see Abraham the 
readier to acknowledge himself but dust and ashes the nearer he 
approaches to behold the glory of the Lord, and Elijah unable to 
wait with unveiled face for His approach; so dreadful is the sight. 
And what can man do, man who is but rottenness and a worm, when even 
the Cherubim themselves must veil their faces in very terror? To 
this, undoubtedly, the Prophet Isaiah refers, when he says, (Isaiah 
24: 23,) "The moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed, when 
the Lord of Hosts shall reign;" i. e., when he shall exhibit his 
refulgence, and give a nearer view of it, the brightest objects 
will, in comparison, be covered with darkness. 
    But though the knowledge of God and the knowledge of ourselves 
are bound together by a mutual tie, due arrangement requires that we 
treat of the former in the first place, and then descend to the 
Chapter 2. 
2. What it is to know God,--Tendency of this knowledge. 
1. The knowledge of God the Creator defined. The substance of this 
    knowledge, and the use to be made of it. 
2. Further illustration of the use, together with a necessary 
    reproof of vain curiosity, and refutation of the Epicureans. 
    The character of God as it appears to the pious mind, 
    contrasted with the absurd views of the Epicureans. Religion 
    1. By the knowledge of God, I understand that by which we not 
only conceive that there is some God, but also apprehend what it is 
for our interest, and conducive to his glory, what, in short, it is 
befitting to know concerning him. For, properly speaking, we cannot 
say that God is known where there is no religion or piety. I am not 
now referring to that species of knowledge by which men, in 
themselves lost and under curse, apprehend God as a Redeemer in 
Christ the Mediator. I speak only of that simple and primitive 
knowledge, to which the mere course of nature would have conducted 
us, had Adam stood upright. For although no man will now, in the 
present ruin of the human race, perceive God to be either a father, 
or the author of salvation, or propitious in any respect, until 
Christ interpose to make our peace; still it is one thing to 
perceive that God our Maker supports us by his power, rules us by 
his providence, fosters us by his goodness, and visits us with all 
kinds of blessings, and another thing to embrace the grace of 
reconciliation offered to us in Christ. Since, then, the Lord first 
appears, as well in the creation of the world as in the general 
doctrine of Scripture, simply as a Creator, and afterwards as a 
Redeemer in Christ, - a twofold knowledge of him hence arises: of 
these the former is now to be considered, the latter will afterwards 
follow in its order. But although our mind cannot conceive of God, 
without rendering some worship to him, it will not, however, be 
sufficient simply to hold that he is the only being whom all ought 
to worship and adore, unless we are also persuaded that he is the 
fountain of all goodness, and that we must seek everything in him, 
and in none but him. My meaning is: we must be persuaded not only 
that as he once formed the world, so he sustains it by his boundless 
power, governs it by his wisdom, preserves it by his goodness, in 
particular, rules the human race with justice and judgement, bears 
with them in mercy, shields them by his protection; but also that 
not a particle of light, or wisdom, or justice, or power, or 
rectitude, or genuine truth, will anywhere be found, which does not 
flow from him, and of which he is not the cause; in this way we must 
learn to expect and ask all things from him, and thankfully ascribe 
to him whatever we receive. For this sense of the divine perfections 
is the proper master to teach us piety, out of which religion 
springs. By piety I mean that union of reverence and love to God 
which the knowledge of his benefits inspires. For, until men feel 
that they owe everything to God, that they are cherished by his 
paternal care, and that he is the author of all their blessings, so 
that nought is to be looked for away from him, they will never 
submit to him in voluntary obedience; nay, unless they place their 
entire happiness in him, they will never yield up their whole selves 
to him in truth and sincerity. 
    3. Those, therefore, who, in considering this question, propose 
to inquire what the essence of God is, only delude us with frigid 
speculations, - it being much more our interest to know what kind of 
being God is, and what things are agreeable to his nature. For, of 
what use is it to join Epicures in acknowledging some God who has 
cast off the care of the world, and only delights himself in ease? 
What avails it, in short, to know a God with whom we have nothing to 
do? The effect of our knowledge rather ought to be, first, to teach 
us reverence and fear; and, secondly, to induce us, under its 
guidance and teaching, to ask every good thing from him, and, when 
it is received, ascribe it to him. For how can the idea of God enter 
your mind without instantly giving rise to the thought, that since 
you are his workmanship, you are bound, by the very law of creation, 
to submit to his authority? - that your life is due to him? - that 
whatever you do ought to have reference to him? If so, it 
undoubtedly follows that your life is sadly corrupted, if it is not 
framed in obedience to him, since his will ought to be the law of 
our lives. On the other hand, your idea of his nature is not clear 
unless you acknowledge him to be the origin and fountain of all 
goodness. Hence would arise both confidence in him, and a desire of 
cleaving to him, did not the depravity of the human mind lead it 
away from the proper course of investigation. 
    For, first of all, the pious mind does not devise for itself 
any kind of God, but looks alone to the one true God; nor does it 
feign for him any character it pleases, but is contented to have him 
in the character in which he manifests himself always guarding, with 
the utmost diligences against transgressing his will, and wandering, 
with daring presumptions from the right path. He by whom God is thus 
known perceiving how he governs all things, confides in him as his 
guardian and protector, and casts himself entirely upon his 
faithfulness, - perceiving him to be the source of every blessing, 
if he is in any strait or feels any want, he instantly recurs to his 
protection and trusts to his aid, - persuaded that he is good and 
merciful, he reclines upon him with sure confidence, and doubts not 
that, in the divine clemency, a remedy will be provided for his 
every time of need, - acknowledging him as his Father and his Lords 
he considers himself bound to have respect to his authority in all 
things, to reverence his majesty aim at the advancement of his 
glory, and obey his commands, - regarding him as a just judge, armed 
with severity to punish crimes, he keeps the judgement-seat always 
in his view. Standing in awe of it, he curbs himself, and fears to 
provoke his anger. Nevertheless, he is not so terrified by an 
apprehension of judgement as to wish he could withdraw himself, even 
if the means of escape lay before him; nays he embraces him not less 
as the avenger of wickedness than as the rewarder of the righteous; 
because he perceives that it equally appertains to his glory to 
store up punishment for the one, and eternal life for the other. 
Besides, it is not the mere fear of punishment that restrains him 
from sin. Loving and revering God as his father, honouring and 
obeying him as his master, although there were no hell, he would 
revolt at the very idea of offending him. 
    Such is pure and genuine religion, namely, confidence in God 
coupled with serious fear - fear, which both includes in it willing 
reverence, and brings along with it such legitimate worship as is 
prescribed by the law. And it ought to be more carefully considered 
that all men promiscuously do homage to God, but very few truly 
reverence him. On all hands there is abundance of ostentatious 
ceremonies, but sincerity of heart is rare. 
Chapter 3. 
3. The knowledge of God naturally implanted in the human mind. 
1. The knowledge of God being manifested to all makes the reprobate 
    without excuse. Universal belief and acknowledgement of the 
    existence of God. 
2. Objection - that religion and the belief of a Deity are the 
    inventions of crafty politicians. Refutation of the objection. 
    This universal belief confirmed by the examples of wicked men 
    and Atheists. 
3. Confirmed also by the vain endeavours of the wicked to banish all 
    fear of God from their minds. Conclusion, that the knowledge of 
    God is naturally implanted in the human mind. 
    1. That there exists in the human minds and indeed by natural 
instinct, some sense of Deity, we hold to be beyond dispute, since 
God himself, to prevent any man from pretending ignorance, has 
endued all men with some idea of his Godhead, the memory of which he 
constantly renews and occasionally enlarges, that all to a man being 
aware that there is a God, and that he is their Maker, may be 
condemned by their own conscience when they neither worship him nor 
consecrate their lives to his service. Certainly, if there is any 
quarter where it may be supposed that God is unknown, the most 
likely for such an instance to exist is among the dullest tribes 
farthest removed from civilisation. But, as a heathen tells us, 
there is no nation so barbarous, no race so brutish, as not to be 
imbued with the conviction that there is a God. Even those who, in 
other respects, seem to differ least from the lower animals, 
constantly retain some sense of religion; so thoroughly has this 
common conviction possessed the mind, so firmly is it stamped on the 
breasts of all men. Since, then, there never has been, from the very 
first, any quarter of the globe, any city, any household even, 
without religion, this amounts to a tacit confession, that a sense 
of Deity is inscribed on every heart. Nay, even idolatry is ample 
evidence of this fact. For we know how reluctant man is to lower 
himself, in order to set other creatures above him. Therefore, when 
he chooses to worship wood and stone rather than be thought to have 
no God, it is evident how very strong this impression of a Deity 
must be; since it is more difficult to obliterate it from the mind 
of man, than to break down the feelings of his nature, - these 
certainly being broken down, when, in opposition to his natural 
haughtiness, he spontaneously humbles himself before the meanest 
object as an act of reverence to God. 
    2. It is most absurd, therefore, to maintain, as some do, that 
religion was devised by the cunning and craft of a few individuals, 
as a means of keeping the body of the people in due subjection, 
while there was nothing which those very individuals, while teaching 
others to worship God, less believed than the existence of a God. I 
readily acknowledge, that designing men have introduced a vast 
number of fictions into religion, with the view of inspiring the 
populace with reverence or striking them with terror, and thereby 
rendering them more obsequious; but they never could have succeeded 
in this, had the minds of men not been previously imbued will that 
uniform belief in God, from which, as from its seed, the religious 
propensity springs. And it is altogether incredible that those who, 
in the matter of religion, cunningly imposed on their ruder 
neighbours, were altogether devoid of a knowledge of God. For though 
in old times there were some, and in the present day not a few are 
found, who deny the being of a God, yet, whether they will or not, 
they occasionally feel the truth which they are desirous not to 
know. We do not read of any man who broke out into more unbridled 
and audacious contempt of the Deity than C. Caligula, and yet none 
showed greater dread when any indication of divine wrath was 
manifested. Thus, however unwilling, he shook with terror before the 
God whom he professedly studied to condemn. You may every day see 
the same thing happening to his modern imitators. The most audacious 
despiser of God is most easily disturbed, trembling at the sound of 
a falling leaf. How so, unless in vindication of the divine majesty, 
which smites their consciences the more strongly the more they 
endeavour to flee from it. They all, indeed, look out for 
hiding-places where they may conceal themselves from the presence of 
the Lord, and again efface it from their mind; but after all their 
efforts they remain caught within the net. Though the conviction may 
occasionally seem to vanish for a moment, it immediately returns, 
and rushes in with new impetuosity, so that any interval of relief 
from the gnawing of conscience is not unlike the slumber of the 
intoxicated or the insane, who have no quiet rest in sleep, but are 
continually haunted with dire horrific dreams. Even the wicked 
themselves, therefore, are an example of the fact that some idea of 
God always exists in every human mind. 
    3. All men of sound judgement will therefore hold, that a sense 
of Deity is indelibly engraven on the human heart. And that this 
belief is naturally engendered in all, and thoroughly fixed as it 
were in our very bones, is strikingly attested by the contumacy of 
the wicked, who, though they struggle furiously, are unable to 
extricate themselves from the fear of God. Though Diagoras, and 
others of like stamps make themselves merry with whatever has been 
believed in all ages concerning religion, and Dionysus scoffs at the 
judgement of heaven, it is but a Sardonian grin; for the worm of 
conscience, keener than burning steel, is gnawing them within. I do 
not say with Cicero, that errors wear out by age, and that religion 
increases and grows better day by day. For the world (as will be 
shortly seen) labours as much as it can to shake off all knowledge 
of God, and corrupts his worship in innumerable ways. I only say, 
that, when the stupid hardness of heart, which the wicked eagerly 
court as a means of despising God, becomes enfeebled, the sense of 
Deity, which of all things they wished most to be extinguished, is 
still in vigour, and now and then breaks forth. Whence we infer, 
that this is not a doctrine which is first learned at school, but 
one as to which every man is, from the womb, his own master; one 
which nature herself allows no individual to forget, though many, 
with all their might, strive to do so. Moreover, if all are born and 
live for the express purpose of learning to know God, and if the 
knowledge of God, in so far as it fails to produce this effect, is 
fleeting and vain, it is clear that all those who do not direct the 
whole thoughts and actions of their lives to this end fail to fulfil 
the law of their being. This did not escape the observation even of 
philosophers. For it is the very thing which Plato meant (in Phoed. 
et Theact.) when he taught, as he often does, that the chief good of 
the soul consists in resemblance to God; i.e., when, by means of 
knowing him, she is wholly transformed into him. Thus Gryllus, also, 
in Plutarch, (lib. guod bruta anim. ratione utantur,) reasons most 
skilfully, when he affirms that, if once religion is banished from 
the lives of men, they not only in no respect excel, but are, in 
many respects, much more wretched than the brutes, since, being 
exposed to so many forms of evil, they continually drag on a 
troubled and restless existence: that the only thing, therefore, 
which makes them superior is the worship of God, through which alone 
they aspire to immortality.

Calvin, Institutes on the Christian Religion, Volume 1
(continued in part 6...)

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