Week 12 of 50 in the Institutes: The First Step Toward Godliness

This week’s assignment affords many vistas for reflection, but I will limit myself to two.  The first is 2.6.4, where Calvin notes that faith in God is faith in Christ, and requires the following admission from his reader:

but what I wish to impress upon my readers in this way is, that the first step in piety is, to acknowledge that God is a Father, to defend, govern, and cherish us, until he brings us to the eternal inheritance of his kingdom; that hence it is plain, as we lately observed, there is no having knowledge of God without Christ, and that, consequently, from the beginning of the world Christ was held forth to all the elect as the object of their faith and confidence. In this sense, Irenæus says, that the Father, who is boundless in himself, is bounded in the Son, because he has accommodated himself to our capacity, lest our minds should be swallowed up by the immensity of his glory (Irenaeus, lib. 4 cap. 8).

Instead of “the first step in piety” as Beveridge rendered it above, the McNeill-Battles edition translates that phrase as ‘the first step toward godliness.”  Calvin’s point, in either translation, is well taken.  One cannot make much progress in sanctification where there is a lack of assurance of salvation.  One Puritan we read compared the doubting Christian to someone who is given a plot of land to farm, but instead of working the ground, he continually goes back and forth to the land office repeatedly, checking to see if his deed is valid.  So when harvest time comes, such a one has a meager return because all the time which should have been spent planting and harvesting was wasted in relentless questioning and doubt.

Such a one needs to learn to look fully unto Him who is an all sufficient Savior (Heb. 7:25), able to save to the uttermost all who come to him, Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever.  As we sit at Calvin’s feet in 2.7.8 we find this glorious invitation for refuge in Christ:

But while the unrighteousness and condemnation of all are attested by the law, it does not follow (if we make the proper use of it) that we are immediately to give up all hope and rush headlong on despair. No doubt, it has some such effect upon the reprobate, but this is owing to their obstinacy. With the children of God the effect is different. The Apostle testifies that the law pronounces its sentence of condemnation in order “that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God,” (Rom. 3:19).  In another place, however, the same Apostle declares, that “God has concluded them all in unbelief;” not that he might destroy all, or allow all to perish, but that “he might have mercy upon all,” (Rom. 11:32) in other words, that divesting themselves of an absurd opinion of their own virtue, they may perceive how they are wholly dependent on the hand of God; that feeling how naked and destitute they are, they may take refuge in his mercy, rely upon it, and cover themselves up entirely with it; renouncing all righteousness and merit, and clinging to mercy alone, as offered in Christ to all who long and look for it in true faith. In the precepts of the law, God is seen as the rewarder only of perfect righteousness (a righteousness of which all are destitute), and, on the other hand, as the stern avenger of wickedness. But in Christ his countenance beams forth full of grace and gentleness towards poor unworthy sinners.

Links to Reformation 21 blogs through the Institutes:

Mar. 23:  2.5.18 – 2.6.2

Mar. 24:  2.6.3 – 2.7.1

Mar. 25:  2.7.2 – 2.7.7

Mar. 26: 2.7.8 – 2.7.13

Mar. 27: 2.7.14 – 2.8.1


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