Original Man

Chapter Summary of Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion
Book One, Chapter XV – Discussion of Human Nature as Created, of the Faculties of the Soul, of the Image of God, of Free Will, and of the Original Integrity of Man’s Nature 

In this chapter Calvin again picks up the importance, as in the first chapter of Book I, of man knowing himself if he is to truly know God. Here he expounds on the understanding of man specifically as it relates to his “pre-fall” condition in Adam. At his creation man was “spotless”, body and soul. The fact that man became tarnished owes to his own volition and not that of any defect in his nature as created by God. It cannot rightly be understood from Scripture that the body and soul are one-and-the-same. Neither can it be demonstrated that, while incorporeal, the soul may be understood as without essence, as the Manichaeans suggest. They argue that the soul is “a force divinely infused into bodies” but without essence. For how is it that a non-essential force could apprehend the things of God and even move to penetrate to his judgment seat? Unlike the body, the soul grasps the distinctions of right and wrong. Indeed, Peter specifically speaks of the “salvation of…souls” [1 Pet. 1:9]. Christ himself draws the distinction between the bliss of the soul of Lazarus over-against the torment of the rich man’s soul [Luke 16:22-23]. 

Man was created by God in his “image and likeness” [Gen. 1:27]. The proper seat of this image in man is the soul. Responding to those who would draw a substantive distinction between the terms image and likeness requires little ink. Repetition is common in Hebrew writing for the purpose of emphasis or explanation. Later Moses refers to the “image of God” twice with no mention of likeness whatever. We can also understand by the teaching of Christ that the angels too were created in God’s image [Matt. 22:30].

The image of God was revealed in Adam before the fall and revealed in its fullness in Christ Jesus. His image in man at the fall was certainly decimated, but not totally destroyed, and, by the work of Christ, will be fully restored [Col. 3:10; Eph. 4:24; 2 Cor. 3:18]. Even now, in so far as one has been reborn in the spirit the beginning of this restoration is manifest. The Manichaean’s error of the soul’s emanation, that because it is said that God “breathed the breath of life upon man’s face” [Gen. 2:7], that this image consists of some actual portion of the substance of God. This is non-sense on many levels not the least of which is that God is not subject to change that such relinquishing of part of his own substance would require. We are indeed God’s offspring [Acts 17:28], but in quality, not in essence. We are made to conform to God not in “substance but by the grace and power of the Spirit” [2 Cor. 3:18].

The soul itself is incorporeal but housed in the body. It serves to animate man’s actions, rule man’s behavior, arouse man to honor God and bring shame (conscience) when honor is lacking. While the created soul is intended for conformity to the image in which man is made, perversion of this has given man the capacity for anger and inordinate desire. The fundamental faculties of man is the understanding and the will. The understanding distinguishes between what is worthy of approval or disapproval. The will is the conscious outworking of the judgment of the understanding.

Given this groundwork regarding the functioning of the soul in man it is understood that Adam, prior to the fall, had the freedom and power to obey and attain eternal life, or to disobey and deny it. By his own will, on the basis of his own understanding, he violated his covenant. All of his progeny since have inherited his corrupted state. In spite of this “slap” in the face of the creator, God has and will work it for the good of his people [Rom. 8:28] and his own glory.

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Sovereign Providence Seen In Creation

Chapter Summary of Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion

Book One, Chapter XIV – Even in the Creation of the Universe and of All Things, Scripture by Unmistakable Marks Distinguishes the True God from False Gods

Through Moses’ account of creation, God provides the reader of Scripture with abundant information regarding his own character. Through one’s interaction and observation of the universe and the instruction of God’s Word he is left with no excuse for boredom of thought or rejection of his Creator as the one true God. Rather than being discontent in our curiosity leading us to press beyond God’s revealed will regarding matters of divinity and the origin of the universe, we should instead be rapt by the immeasurable bounty of answers no man can exhaust which has been provided in God’s kind providence.

It is also clear from Scripture that God is Lord over all, including the angels which he created, thus, as an aside, ascribing to them divinity is patently unbiblical. There are those who have argued against God being the creator of all things. The Manichees, for example, in an effort to distance God from being assumed the creator of evil, taught that while God is the origin of all good, it is the devil who is the eternal, self-existent creator of evil. However, since eternality and self-existence are of necessity attributes of divinity he is essentially ascribing divinity to the devil. Further, their argument is unnecessary. For evil to occur does not require its being created as if it had its own existence apart from good. Rather, evil is the corruption of created good.

Part of being “approved workers” who are “unashamed” we should not be timid in our conviction to follow Christ’s prescription for understanding God’s creation, vis, God’s word. This includes our understanding of the angels – their origin, number, role and activities. It is unprofitable, and I dare say a betrayal of our unbelief to permit our curiosity to press us into inquiry beyond that which God has deigned to make clear from Scripture. There are things then that we may know of the angels from God’s word. We know that God uses angels to carry out things he has decreed [e.g., Ps. 102:20-21]. They are called “hosts” [Luke 2:13], principalities [ Col. 1:16], powers [Eph. 1:21], dominions [1 Cor. 15:24], thrones [Col. 1:16], and even gods [e.g., Ps. 138:1] in that they in some respects exhibit God’s divinity to us. Of note however, when in the Old Testament we see the phrase “the angel of God” or “the angel of the Lord”, this we must interpret as a theophany of the pre-incarnate Christ, or a “Christophany” [e.g., Gen. 18:1; 32:2, 28; Josh. 5:14; Judg. 6:14; 13:10, 22].

While we also see many evidences of angels being employed as protectors, helpers and guides of believers [Ps. 90:11-12; 34:7; Gen. 16:9; 24:7; Ex. 14:19; 23:20; Matt. 4:11; 28:5 to name a few], we have no solid biblical grounds on which to assume that each believer has his own assigned, personal guardian angel. We do see however that there are those assigned to the watch-care of kingdoms and provinces [Dan. 10:12, 20; 12:1] and “children” generally [Matt. 18:10]. This issues has been somewhat confused by the statement after Peter’s “jail break” when the gathered brethren said “[i]t is his angel” [Acts 12:15] at the gate. First, they were mistaken, it was in fact Peter himself. Secondly, as to the understanding that would lead them to even have a foundation for such conclusion does not necessarily indicate that they assumed there to be a single angel perpetually assigned to one individual.

As to the number of angels, there are at least “many legions” [Matt. 26:53]. As to form, they are quite real, though spirits without bodily form who, for the benefit of man appear in visible form at times in the accomplishment of their duties as “ministering spirits” [Heb. 1:14]. Though, as stated, they do not contain in themselves divinity. Christ is superior to the angels and indeed is the author of all good things that they have [Col. 1:16, 20]. As such, angels are not to be worshipped as God. John recounts his own rebuke by an angel for such a mistake [Rev. 19:10; 22:8-9]. While they are not to be worshipped, they are provided to give comfort and not for God’s benefit, as if he needed assistance to accomplish anything, but as an additional assurance to a weak-minded people of weak faith. Rather than leading us to worship the angels, it is ever their role to point our worship Godward.

The “fallen angels”, quite to the contrary, are bent on distracting man from God. Because of this Scripture calls the believer to take precautions and struggle against the “powers of darkness, and spiritual wickedness” [Eph. 6:12] that are numerous [Mark 16:9; Luke 8:30]. At their head is Satan who “from the beginning…was a murderer…and a liar” [John 8:44]. He is a good creation of God who in malice perverted his nature. For “he abode not in the truth” and he is “the father of lies” who, with his minions are instruments of ruin for others [see 2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6; 1 Tim. 5:21]. Despite their willful opposition to God they are held fast by God’s will. That is to say, while their wills are contrary to God’s, the resulting effects of their actions, by God’s divine providence and decrees, are and will remain aligned with God’s own will [e.g., Job 1;6; 2:1; 1:12; 2:6; 1 Kings 22:20-22; Ps. 78:49; 2 Thess. 2:9, 11; 2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 2:2]. Through God’s use of innumerable means the result is that the believer is assured victory [e.g., Eph. 4:27; 1 Pet. 5:8-9; 2 Cor. 12:7; Gen. 3:15; Rom. 16:20; Luke 10:18]. Also, as with the righteous angel, the “devils” are not thoughts or good inspirations, they are actualities as evidenced by numerous passages which cannot be understood to be spoken of regarding non-real thoughts or ideas [e.g., Jude 6, 9; Matt. 12:43; John 8:44; 1 John 3:8,10; Job 1:6; 2:1; Matt. 8:29; 25:41; 2 Pet. 2:4].

Considering all of these things – from the wonders of creations, the work of the angels and the providential conscription of the devils for his purposes – we should be compelled to unashamed, grateful, trusting love, praise, and service to our God.

To God Alone Be The Glory!

Chapter Summary of Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion

Book One, Chapter XII – How God Is to Be So Distinguished from Idols that Perfect Honor May Be Given to Him Alone

Calvin rightly asserts that it is true religion that binds to our conscience that there is but one and only one God. Religious honor and acts of piety, as such, are only to be directed to him alone. Indeed, God declares himself a jealous God and is vehemently opposed to his glory being shared with any other [Ex. 20:5]. This principle is violated not only by those who reject him altogether but also those who would name him supreme yet placing around him many lesser gods to which they ascribe godly attributes.

As discussed previously, the dulia/latria defense is a distinction without a difference. While such would claim that they render honor [latria, servitium] to God alone and servitude [dulia, cultus] to others, the mere use of different words does not negate the action. Further, is it not greater to be served than honored? Does not Paul defy such a distinction when he reminds the Galatians that “they exhibited dulia toward beings that by nature were no gods” [Gal. 4:8] before they were made knowledgeable of God? Jesus rebuked Satan in the wilderness when he quoted Scripture “[i]t is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God’” [Matt, 4:10]. Satan was distinctly not demanding worship but reverence. When John knelt before an angel [Rev. 19:10; 22:8-9] and Cornelius prostrated himself before Peter [Acts 10:25], even though it is clear they had no intention of refocusing their allegiance away from God, they were nonetheless rebuked.

Idol Much?!

Chapter Summary – Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion

Book One, Chapter XI – It Is Unlawful to Attribute a Visible Form to God, and Generally Whoever Sets Up Idols Revolts Against the True God

“You shall not make for yourself a graven image, nor any likeness” [Ex. 20:4]. In this verse Moses records the second command of the Decalogue. As plain as this verse may appear, corrupt man has ever been wont to violate it in the form of sculptures, paintings and other man-made artifices, all of which stand in direct violation of this command. Regardless the sincerity of one’s intentions, such a figurative representation created by finite man does violence to the person and character of an infinite God. As also commanded by Moses, “you did not see a body…therefore take heed to yourself lest perchance, deceived, you make for yourself any likeness…” [Deut. 4:12, 15-16]. Similarly, Paul adhorts, “[s]ince we are the offspring of God, we ought not to judge the Deity to be like gold, and silver, or a stone, carved by the art or devising of man” [Acts 17:29]. Even those biblical occurrences of the manifestations of God’s presence to man do not provide such license. Rather, aptly spoken by Calvin, “the best way to contemplate the divine is where minds are lifted above themselves with admiration.”

Pope Gregory proposed the adage that “images are the books of the uneducated.” As it relates to an education of the heavenly, he stands in direct contradiction to Jeremiah who declares that “the wood is a doctrine of vanity” [10:8] and Habakkuk who teaches that “a molten image is a teacher of falsehood” [2:18]. Augustine agreed with Varro that such were idols and “removed fear and added error” by reducing God to a manageable contrivance that could be easily despised. Insult is added when one considers the obscenity of many of the representations depicted. And still further insult when it is considered that a large measure of the culpability for those “uneducated” lay with the papist church itself who instead of being the source of instruction to which they are called, instead abdicating this responsibility to the idols.

Calvin asserts that “man’s nature is a perpetual idol factory”. While art and craftsmanship are gifts from God they are a curse if worship only befitting God is directed to them. The use of images as a focal point of worship, whether with the intent to worship God or the idol itself, inevitably draws one to ascribe inherent deity to the inanimate, thereby stealing from God that which is given to the image. Those, as the papists, who would defend this practice retort that they do not call such idols their gods. Like the Jews and pagans of old, this does little to exonerate them from the charge of idol worship. The prophets condemned such behavior regardless of what it is otherwise called (Jer. 2:27; Ezek. 6:4; Isa. 40:19-20; Hab. 2:18-19; Deut. 32:37).

Papists employ word-play to draw a distinction between dulia (to serve) and latria (to worship). This is a distinction without a difference. Indeed, some of their own adherents have made statements refuting the reality of such a distinction. Constantius, for example, insists that he will show the same worship and honor to such images as owed to the Trinity itself. John, the legate of the Easterns, urged those who have an image of Christ to offer sacrifice to it, rejoice and exult.

Not only are we warned to avoid idol worship but even idols themselves [1 John 5:21]. This admonition is prudent as not only does man have a propensity for generating idols where they may be found, it is also an unworthy endeavor for the church to divert attention from the living and symbolic images the Lord has consecrated in his Word. Again, however, in defense of such practice there are those who erroneously appeal to the original Nicene council as being supportive, as well as Scriptures such as “God created man in his image” [Gen. 1:27], “Show me thy face for it is beautiful” [SS. 2:14], and “[n]o one lights a lantern and puts it under a bushel” [Matt. 5:15], and many other gross misuses of God’s Word. In fact, there are indeed those who shamelessly have pronounced anathema on any who would neglect adoration of such images.

The One True God

Chapter Summary of Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion
Book One, Chapter X – Scripture to Correct All Superstition, Has Set the True God Alone Over Against All the Gods of the Heathen

The Scriptures by various means have distinguished God as utterly unique. In creation God has revealed himself eternally existent, beneficent, patient and just as described in his title, Elohim.

He has made his attributes apprehensible to his creatures. “Let him who glories, glory in this,” he says, “that he knows that I am the Lord who exercise mercy, judgment, and justice in the earth.” [Jer. 9:24; I Cor. 1:31]. The Scriptures add to our comprehension of the divine character teaching us to fear his holiness, trust in his justice and hope in his goodness.

While creation and the imprint of God on the souls of men from conception are sufficient to leave men without excuse for their idolatry, the Scriptures comes along to further condemn those who “suppress the truth in unrighteousness.”

The Logical Primacy of Scripture

Chapter Summary of Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion
Book One, Chapter IX – Fanatics Abandoning Scripture and Flying Over to Revelation, Cast Down All the Principles of Godliness

There are those who have ascribed primacy of the teaching role of the Spirit to the exclusion of written Scripture. Interestingly, it is the Spirit of Christ then that they claim testifies to the truths contrary to the inscripturated teachings of Christ himself. For Paul clearly teaches that it is Scripture that “is useful for teaching, admonishing, and reproving in order that the servants of God may be made perfect” [2 Tim. 3:16-17]. Contrary to their understanding, it is not the role of the Spirit to add to or modify revelation but to seal to the believer the truths of the gospel as taught in the Scriptures. Indeed Paul warns against teaching “any other doctrine” [Gal. 1:6-9].

The contrary contention then has been that one errs who would constrain the Spirit to the doctrine of a mere book. This assertion lacks merit and sound logic. It is no demerit to himself that the Spirit would be found in conformity with himself, with the very “God-breathed” revelation he himself inspired. Quite the opposite, to constrain the Spirit by the rationality of men would indeed be degrading.

The “fanatics” (as Calvin calls them) err deeply when they call Scripture “the letter that kills”. Paul makes it clear that if the Word of God is sealed to the heart by the Spirit, it is rightly seen as the Word of Life [cf. Phil. 2:16] and by neglecting the Word, which is “the ministration of the Spirit” [II Cor. 3:8], we “quench the Spirit” [cf. I Thess. 5:19–20].

Human Reason and the Credibility of Scripture

Chapter Summary of Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion

Book One, Chapter VIII – So Far as Human Reason Goes, Sufficiently Firm Proofs Are at Hand to Establish the Credibility of Scripture

“Human reason is like a drunken man on horseback; set it up on one side and it falls over on the other.” –Martin Luther

The faith established in the believing heart, as with the Corinthian’s, is founded “upon God’s power, not upon human wisdom” [I Cor. 2:5] and “not in persuasive words of human wisdom but in demonstration of the Spirit and of might” [2:4]. Though, while this is certainly true it is also true that for the one duly persuaded such evidences found in human reason provide added support to the conviction.   

There is in the style of Scripture wide variety from writer to writer from the eloquence of David to the meanness of Zechariah. In common however they reveal thoughts beyond that which could be humanly contrived. As to its antiquity, Scripture dates to Moses, far preceding any extant writings of other religions. Further, Moses did not create a new deity but rather harkened to the one true God of Abraham handed down through the generations. Moses clearly shows himself a faithful messenger from the Lord. He portrays God’s dealing with Israel “warts and all”. Rather than flattering his own people or seeking his own interests he recalls to mind their iniquity [Gen. 49:5-6] and relegates the role of high priest to the lowest rather than his own household.

Miracles testify to the authority bestowed upon Moses. Were these not so could he have written accounts of them as testimony to his contemporaries? By way of refutation, Pharaoh’s sorcerers attempted to explain away miracles of Moses as magic [Ex. 7:11; 9:11]. So distasteful to Moses were the dark arts that he, to the contrary, made their practice or seeking out those who perform such a capital offense.

Beyond bonafide miracles there are ancient prophecies frequently fulfilled in the seemingly most unlikely ways. Consider, Jacob’s prophecy of the kingly line of Judah. By all accounts, through Saul the kingly line should have been that of Benjamin, not the line inaugurated through the youngest son of a shepherd! Further, resounding evidence is the confirmation of numerous recorded prophecies. Consider Isaiah’s naming of Cyrus as the king by whom captive Israel would be freed – over 100 years before the birth of Cyrus [Isa. 45:1]. Or, Jeremiah’s foretelling of the exile and its duration [Jer. 25:11–12; 29:10].

While there have been times of human neglect, God has providentially preserved and propagated the sacred writings from generation to generation. Through all of the persecutions and attacks of his enemies God has seen his Word preserved, indeed propelled.

Turning to the New Testament, its veracity is seen in part in that such heavenly discourse is found in the pens of greedy, unlearned and even murderous men. The esteem given Scripture over the ages has remained and multiplied despite attacks by the most keen-witted skeptics in all ages. Evidence is found further in the broad diversity of individuals in whom this esteem is found. Finally, there is confirmation of the integrity of the Scriptures in the willingness of so many godly men who have willingly died in its defense. As the chapter began, we must remain cognizant of the fact that, though useful, such “evidences” cannot ultimately prove the truth of Scripture. This is left to the inward testimony of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of men so gifted with illumination.