On July 10, 1509, John Calvin was born, and I will quietly celebrate this day. I say quietly because I certainly don’t envisage the same degree of evolutionists’ commemoration of the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin. Yet, for Christians everywhere we can use Calvin’s birthday as a reason to celebrate reformation and to remind us that God does preserve the authority of His Word and has always provided His men to teach it.
This year, on the 500th anniversary of his birth, I have decided to read through his Institutes, and while there has certainly been much debate about Calvin’s teaching on sovereign grace and election, we can still all be in agreement that he did indeed have a strong adherence to biblical authority in an age of superstition and steeped tradition. Calvin was an integral part of church reformation—a great movement of God that brought His people back to His Word.
As I read through the first book of his Institutes (Of the Knowledge of God the Creator), I found Calvin clinging to two major principles.
God has revealed Himself to us through His creation.
In Romans 1:20, Paul tells us that creation is in itself a revelation of God to us, leaving us without excuse. Calvin makes it clear that creation, in fact, cries out to us that there is an all powerful creator. He makes comments such as:
“(humans) skill, moreover, in making astonishing discoveries, and inventing so many wonderful arts, are sure indications of the agency of God in man”1
In vain for us, therefore, does Creation exhibit so many bright lamps lighted up to show forth the glory of its Author.
In fact, Calvin thought that creation shouted so loudly of its creator that he was astonished to find that humans would see fit to employ their own God-given talents and intellect into a pursuit of denying the very God that gave them to us.
. . . the earth sustains on her bosom many monster minds—minds which are not afraid to employ the seed of Deity deposited in human nature as a means of suppressing the name of God.
We cannot understand creation without God’s special revelation through His Word.
The Word of God reveals to us what we cannot know through creation alone. It is the Bible that reveals who our Creator is—the history of this world from the very beginning, the truth about the human condition, the salvation truth of Jesus, and the future final judgment. Calvin found the lights of creation certainly beaming upon the glory of the creator, but he also found a limit to the knowledge these lights reveal:
Some sparks, undoubtedly, they do throw out; but these are quenched before they can give forth a brighter effulgence. Wherefore, the apostle, in the very place where he says that the worlds are images of invisible things, adds that it is by faith we understand that they were framed by the word of God (Heb. 11:3); thereby intimating that the invisible Godhead is indeed represented by such displays, but that we have no eyes to perceive it until they are enlightened through faith by internal revelation from God.
The great error of this world is an attempt to deny the written Word of the Creator to understand the creation without Him. Calvin saw this as not only wrong but sinful:
We see many, after they have become hardened in a daring course of sin, madly banishing all remembrance of God, though spontaneously suggested to them from within, by natural sense.
This is the great difference between Darwin and Calvin. Darwin suppressed any sense of God, denied His written Word, and attempted to explain this world from a naturalistic perspective. Calvin accepted the authority of the Word of God and viewed the world clearly through biblical glasses.
Let us allow Calvin the last word:
For no sooner do we, from a survey of the world, obtain some slight knowledge of Deity, than we pass by the true God.