If in this week’s assignment Calvin referred his reader back to his earlier section (1.11.8) where he described man’s heart as a perpetual idol factory, I missed it. That quip kept coming to mind during this tour of what Calvin aptly described as five false sacraments, namely: penance, confirmation, marriage, ordination, and extreme unction.
John Owen said (quoting loosely here) that when we sin, we are bored with God. The empty ritualism exposed by Calvin with regard to those five Catholic “sacraments” comprises a similar boredom and dissatisfaction with the all-sufficient atonement of Jesus Christ, even of Jesus Christ himself, which is the essence of all idolatry. At the end of his treatment of these affronts to the Lord Jesus, Calvin alluded to Aesop’s fable of the donkey in the lion’s skin, without mincing words (4.19.32):
“At length, we must extricate ourselves from their mire, in which our discourse has already stuck longer than I should have liked. Still, I believe that I have accomplished something in that I have partly pulled the lion’s skin from these asses.” (McNeill-Battles)
But rather than pile on here by focusing on the idolatry inherent in empty rituals, we will do better by remembering that anything or anyone we esteem and love more than the Lord Jesus Christ is an idol. Anyone interesting in a right appraisal of his own affections in this regard would do well to acquire and imbibe a book by Alexander Grosse (1596-1654), The Happiness of Enjoying and Making a True and Speedy Use of Christ, recently published by Soli Deo Gloria Publications as an imprint of Reformation Heritage Books. Add this to your Christmas list while there is time and you won’t regret it.
Links to Reformation 21 blogs through the Institutes:
Dec. 10: 4.19.26 – 4.19.32 (Skipped! No Reformation21 blog for this day)