Part One

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1.1.1: John Calvin, in describing what it is to know God, uses this example for us to have clarity on the subject: Imagine being outside on a beautiful day. If, at mid-day, we either look down to the ground, or at the mountains, trees, lakes, oceans, we think ourselves endued with a very strong and piercing eyesight; but when we look up to the sun, and gaze at it unveiled, or with no protection, the vision which was fine for the earth is so dazzled and confused by the brilliant sunlight that we have to admit that clear sight for earthly things is very dim when applied to heavenly things. And this is what happens in estimating our spiritual qualities. 

    When we only look to that which is around us, we are quite satisfied with our own righteousness and wisdom. Think about instances you may have had with others who simply have no concern for God. They live as if they are saying,”Hey, things aren't going so bad." And it's because they are busying themselves with their own life and own kingdom.

However, as soon as we lift our eyes to God and his nature, we realize that this is the standard in which we must conform. What looks like commendable activity is judged as pathetic weakness before God.

Furthermore, this is what Scripture consistently shows us: holy men were struck whenever they became aware of the overwhelming presence of God. That is because, just like the biblical characters that we read about, when we see God we are finally convinced of our own insignificance in His light.

            Think about Abraham in Genesis 18:27. In God’s presence he describes his feelings as “Dust and ashes."               

           Or another instance is Elijah in 1 Kings 19:9-13. Elijah, if left to his own wisdom and judgment, would have seen the earthquake, the wind, and fire, and that would have been His standard of judging that which is holy and Godly. But God revealed to Him His holiness in a way that was totally foreign to his expectations and imagination.

1.2.1: As Calvin continues, chapter 2 seeks to answer the question “What does it mean to know God?" He is not, however, referring to the idea of knowing God as Father or Author of Salvation, but to know God as Creator, Provider, and Giver. 

          According to Calvin,"all men promiscuously do pay homage to God, but very few truly reverence him. On all hands there is abundance of ceremonies, but sincerity of heart is rare."

1.3.1-1.4.1: And this longing and acknowledgement of God is completely natural to man. Even the most remote and uncivilized tribes acknowledge God and are engaged in what Calvin would call “religion.”    

    However, man, in his attempt to acknowledge God, defaults toward ultimate human supremacy. Listen to his words:“Man is reluctant 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,”

    That is why Romans tells us that God has made it plain to them(Romans 1:19). All of creation is without excuse before our Maker in heaven. What can be known about God is perfectly clear to us even though we do not particularly like that we are not sovereign and supreme.

    And Calvin elaborates on this point to show us the two ways that humanity reject their knowledge of God: we Suppress our knowledge of God and we Spoil our knowledge of God.

    Some men spoil their knowledge of God. Because of vanity and pride, Man does not ascend to see God for who he is, but creates a false image of God that suits their hearts and passions. Romans 1:22 shows us that “[although we] think [ourselves] to be wise, we became fools.” This is essentially saying that humanity, in the name of wisdom, does the most foolish atrocity by rejecting the true knowledge of God that is inherent in all of us. This is known by Calvin as “spoiling such knowledge.”

    Psalm 14:1 shows us the other sin we commit against God by suppressing our knowledge of Him - “The fool says in his heart,’There is no God.'" This person suppresses the truth by simply avoiding His reality in creation. Humanity “stupef[ ies] themselves” by suppressing a truth that we so naturally and clearly know. This person has become hardened by sin to suppress the truth of God’s existence.

1.5.1: Part One concludes by discussing the knowledge of God revealed in the world and through his government of the world: 

"we cannot open our eyes without being compelled to behold him. His essence, indeed, is incomprehensible, utterly transcending all human thought; but on each of his works his glory is engraven in characters so bright, so distinct, and so illustrious, that none, however dull and illiterate, can plead ignorance as their excuse. Hence, with perfect truth, the Psalmist exclaims, “He covers himself with light as with a garment,” (Psalm 104:2); as if he had said, that God for the first time was arrayed in visible attire when, in the creation of the world, he displayed those glorious banners, on which, to whatever side we turn, we behold his perfections visibly portrayed. In the same place, the Psalmist aptly compares the expanded heavens to his royal tent, and says, “He lays the beams of his chambers in the waters, makes the clouds his chariot, and walks upon the wings of the wind,” sending forth the winds and lightnings as his swift messengers. And because the glory of his power and wisdom is more refulgent in the firmament, it is frequently designated as his palace. And, first, wherever you turn your eyes, there is no portion of the world, however minute, that does not exhibit at least some sparks of beauty; while it is impossible to contemplate the vast and beautiful fabric as it extends around, without being overwhelmed by the immense weight of glory. Hence, the author of Hebrews elegantly describes the visible worlds as images of the invisible (Heb.11:3), the elegant structure of the world serving us as a kind of mirror, in which we may behold God, though otherwise invisible. For the same reason, the Psalmist attributes language to celestial objects, a language which all nations understand (Psalm 19:1), the manifestation of the Godhead being too clear to escape the notice of any people, however obtuse. The apostle Paul, stating this still more clearly, says, “That which may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has showed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead (Rom. 1:20)(Calvin,1.5.1)."

Concluding Observations:

  1. How few of us, as we look up to the skies and around the earth, ever think of the Creator? We tend to overlook him and content ourselves with simply looking at the creation. (Psalm 19:1)
  2. Even though God is clearly seen in creation, we do not have the eyes to see Him as Father until our eyes are enlightened through faith by inner revelation from God. (Hebrews 11:3)
  3. When we wander or go off track, we are cut off from any kind of excuse because everything in creation, EVERYTHING, indicates the right path. God can be plainly seen, and we are without excuse. (Romans 1:19-20)