Monday, June 24, 2013

The Last thing Calvin Says

The opening words to Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion are well known.
"Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves."
What is not as well known are the Institutes' final thought. And before I go on I think these final thoughts are both connected to and serve to indicate the purpose of its first words. For what purpose is there in gaining any knowledge of God or of ourselves that will not simply puff up pride in ourselves? Why study God at all?
Calvin's Institutes comes in four books. The first two books follow the "knowledge of God" portion of Calvin's famous opening statement; How we know God the Father, and how God the Son reveals the Father. The last two books speak to the second portion of the opening statement, namely how the Holy Spirit brings us into knowledge of ourselves through union with Christ and how the Church is to live in light of this new knowledge of God and self as revealed in the scriptures.
All this culminates in a not-so-famous but no less important closing word:
"Let us comfort ourselves with the thought… That we have been have been redeemed by Christ at so great a price as our redemption cost him, so that we should not enslave ourselves to the wicked desires of men—much less be subject to their impiety."
Not as lyrical as his opening couplet but just as poignant. The logical conclusion that knowledge of God leads is to is that we are not our own, but that we belong and have been purchased by another who not so much demands our obedience as he deserves our obedience before and in stead of any impious desire. Why seek knowledge of God at all? Because, according Calvin's last word, in knowing God a comfort is found that allows us to stand up to and overcome any wicked scheme of man.

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