Chapter Summary of Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion
Chapter V – The Knowledge of God Shines Forth in the Fashioning of the Universe and the Continuing Government of It
God has made clear through his creation his existence and made manifest his glory. Man, for his part, fails to know and worship him and thus falls into superstition and confusion. Persistence in their error leaves man without excuse.
Not only has God imbued man innately with a knowledge of himself, he continues to speak almost deafeningly of his being and glory through the divine majesty displayed in his creation (see Rom. 1:19-20). The evidence of which Paul speaks is not hidden, rather it is unavoidably witnessed and understood by even the most common of men in nature, the heavens and even his own body. Indeed, Aristotle called man himself a “microcosm” as it is the most resounding evidence of the power, goodness and wisdom of God in all creation. Therefore even the deaf, dumb and blind are also without excuse as man need look no further than their own being to be convinced. Knowing the lengths to which God has gone to ensure all men will know of him we, with David, break into doxology and exclaim, “[w]hat is man that thou art mindful of him” (Ps. 8:4)?
Though such a response of praise is appropriate and justified, man rather, in pride and ingratitude, turn from God. In turning from God, the Creator, they turn to nature, the creation, as the basis on which they see themselves as ontologically superior to the beasts. Because the soul finds physical expression through the body they minimize (or eliminate) the distinction and assume the soul is dependent on the body for its continued existence. In perverted understanding these men suppress the need for God, even the existence of God, from their remembrance.
It is not laudable intellectual inquiry that leads men to discover alternatives to explain the presence of their own remarkable gifts and that of the rest of creation. Rather, their rejection results from purposive, base, wicked suppression of the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18). Even still, in God’s government of his creation we see not an immediate “tit-for-tat” correlation between the sin of man and the judgement of God. While he hates all sin as odious he is pleased to punish one with alacrity while demonstrating patience with another, though their will come recompense for all. For it is God alone who is utterly sovereign over the lives of men. While this will be starkly demonstrated in the judgment of men, it is seen universally in the seemingly coincidental occurrence of their daily lives.
Rather than vainly striving to peer into the being and essence of God man rather ought to contemplate his majesty and glory through his works within and without by which he has deigned to communicate with us. In considering his divine excellencies and the understanding of the necessity of the punishment of all sin it is, without extensive investigation, apparent that wickedness must come to an end. That wickedness is not yet at its end we must conclude there to be a work of God as yet unfinished. This logically leads us to an understanding of a life yet to be lived where the unrighteous will have their final punishment and the righteous their reward.
Despite the indwelling knowledge of God, man refuses to “know” God. All of the evidence of creation and providence do nothing to reveal him to the blinded and wicked heart that has inclined itself toward human superstition and philosophies – propagated by his own sinful inclination to suppress the truth, and further still by those “intellectuals” who have taken up the role of illumining the minds of men. So far from reason has man come in his denial of truth that he has made, in his mind, the illogical logical and branded it scholarship (see Acts 17:23, the worship of an “unknown god”). Worshipping a man-conceived, unknown god is no trivial matter. It is for this reason that God speaks to our minds from the heavens. In nature he calls us to the Creator of all nature. In his divine revelation he speaks to our hearts filling us with “food and gladness” (Acts 14:15-17). Having such general revelation – from without, and special revelation – from within, man is left with no excuse and utterly nothing to mitigate the ultimate evil of his sustained rejection of God.