Book 1: The Knowledge of God the Creator


Chapter 1: The Link between the Knowing God and Knowing Ourselves

No one can assess himself without turning his thoughts toward the God in whom he lives and moves. Man never arrives at true self-knowledge before he has looked into the face of God and then comes away to look at himself. Such is our innate pride, we always seem to ourselves to be just and upright, wise and holy. Since we all have a tendency to hypocrisy, any hollow appearance of righteousness is quite enough to satisfy us, instead of righteousness itself. It is like an eye which has never been shown anything other than black, assessing an object which is really off-white, as pure white. As long as we do not look further than those around us, we are quite satisfied with our own righteousness, wisdom and virtue; we assess ourselves in very flattering terms as being well on the way to perfection. But even the qualities in us which seem most admirable are worlds away from God’s purity and can never match it. Men are never really convinced of their own insignificance until they contrast themselves with God’s majesty. We can never really seek him in earnest until we begin to despair of ourselves. Everyone who is stung by the awareness of his own unhappiness gains at least some knowledge of God


Chapter 2: What It Is to Know God and Where that Leads

Our grasp of God’s nature is not clear unless we acknowledge him to the origin and fount of all goodness. This would always lead to confidence in him and a longing to stay close to him. Then it would not simply be the fear of punishment that keeps us from sin. Even if there was no hell, we would love and revere God as Father.


Chapter 3: The Knowledge of God Has Been Naturally Implanted in the Human Mind

It is beyond dispute that some awareness of God exists in the human mind by natural instinct, since God himself has given everyone some idea of him so that no one can plead ignorance. There is no tribe or race so uncivilized as to be without the conviction that here is a god.


Chapter 4: The Knowledge of God Is Suppressed by Human Sin

When men seek God, they measure him by their own worldly folly. They do not think of God in his true character, but worship a transient figment of their imaginations. God is no mere spirit form to be changed around according our individual preferences.


Chapter 5: The Knowledge of God Is Evident in His Creation of and Rule over the World

God’s nature is incomprehensible, far beyond all human thought, but his glory is etched on his creation so brightly and clearly, that no one however obtuse and illiterate can plead ignorance. When God created the world he hung up gorgeous banners on which we see his perfection clearly portrayed. The superb structure of the universe acts as a sort of mirror in which we can see God who would otherwise be invisible. Creation hangs up these bright lamps to demonstrate the glory of the Creator to us. How few of us when we look up in the sky or gaze around the earth ever think of the Creator.


Chapter 6: We Need Scripture to Lead Us to God the Creator

As the elderly, or those with poor sight, can hardly make out the words in a book, but with the help of glasses can read clearly, so Scripture (clarifies) ideas about God (from creation) which had been very confused, scatters the darkness and shows us the true God clearly. So while we should consider the works of God (in creation) seriously, since they have been put in this beautiful world for that purpose, we have a special responsibility to listen to his Word and benefit from it. It is impossible for anyone to gain an atom of sound doctrine without being a disciple of Scripture. We must look in God’s Word where his character is described accurately and vividly. We must realize that the glory of God’s face, which even the apostle says is inaccessible to us, is a sort of maze from which we cannot extricate ourselves without the Word to act as a golden thread of guidance.


Chapter 7: The Spirit Leads Us to Believe in the Authority of Scripture

We cannot rely on the doctrine of Scripture until we are absolutely convinced that God is its Author. Our conviction of the truth of Scripture must be derived from a higher source than human guesswork, opinions and arguments, namely the hidden witness of the Spirit. True, it is easy to make a case using all sorts of evidence that the (Scriptures) must have come from him. But although we may defend God’s holy Word against all opponents, it doesn’t follow that we can establish in their hearts the conviction which faith demands. As God alone can truly bear witness to his own words, so these words will not be given complete acknowledgement in the hearts of men until they are sealed by the inner witness of the Spirit


Chapter 9: The Spirit Reveals God to Us through Scripture

The work of the Spirit promised to us is not to create new and unfamiliar revelations or novel types of teaching by which we may be led away from the received doctrine of the Gospel, but to seal on our minds the very doctrine which the Gospel recommends. We must give careful attention both to the reading and hearing of Scripture if we want to get any benefit from the Spirit of God. Any spirit which by passes the truth of God’s Word and suggests any other doctrine is rightly to be suspected. Those wretched people go astray as if determined to destroy themselves by seeking the Spirit from within themselves. They say it is an insult to subject the Spirit to Scripture as if it could be dishonoring to the Spirit to be consistent with himself. Would it be right for the Spirit to revolt against himself? The Lord has so intertwined the truth of his Word and his Spirit that we respect the Word when the Spirit illumines it enabling us to see God’s face, and we welcome the Spirit with no risk of error, when we recognize his Word. God employs the same Spirit by whom he gave the Word to complete his work by effectively confirming the Word to us. But these enthusiasts say that true enlightenment comes from dismissing God’s Word and latching on to any fantasy that comes to mind. But we know that the Word is the means by which the light of the Spirit comes to us.


Chapter 13: The Doctrine of the Trinity

When we profess to believe in God, the name “God” represents his essential being which is made up of 3 persons. So whenever the name of God is used in a general sense, the Son and the Spirit are implied just as much as the Father. As God has shown himself more clearly to us in the coming of Christ, so he has made himself more widely understood as (existing in) three persons (also through Christ’s coming). The apostles declared the Son of God to be the one whom Moses and the prophets called Jehovah (the name of God in the Old Testament); therefore the name Jehovah, may be applied to Christ showing he has a unity of being with the Father. So also, the Spirit is called God by Christ himself. Thus there is nothing to stop us from thinking that the Godhead includes Father, Son and Spirit. The names Father, Son and Holy Spirit definitely indicate a real distinction, but not a division. God’s whole nature is seen in each of the persons. The only difference here is that each has his own individual existence yet this distinctiveness in no way interferes with God’s perfect unity (as one being).


Chapter 14: Creation Reveals that God Is Great and that God Is Good

Since we are placed in such a beautiful world, we should take a reverent delight in God’s work of creation. It is the first sign of faith to realize that everything we look at is made by God. Consider how great the Architect must be who designed the starry (sky) so amazingly that it would be impossible to imagine a more superb sight. When heaven and earth had been richly adorned and generously supplied with everything like a great mansion, exquisitely designed and furnished, finally man was created. He was the most splendid specimen of all God’s works. The Lord himself by his design in creation, has shown that he made everything for our good. Whenever we call God the Creator of heaven and earth, let us remember that we are his children whom he has undertaken to care for and bring us to himself.


Chapter 15: Man Made in the Image of God

We cannot clearly and rightly know God unless we know ourselves. A restriction was placed on our pride by the fact that God made us out of the dust. But Adam might well glory in the bounty of his Maker, who not only deigned to give life to a clay vessel but made it also the dwelling place of an immortal soul. God has given intellect to the soul of man that we might discern what is good and what is evil. He has also given us the will by which we make choices. At creation we had these gifts in perfection enabling us to reach up to God and heavenly joy. Adam could have remained upright if he had chosen to do so, but he fell out of his own volition. He had free choice of good and evil. It wouldn’t be much use to know how we were created if we were unaware of the corruption and degradation of our nature as a result of the Fall. We need to be careful not to look at the natural ills of man and then attribute them to the Author of nature. The irreverent person defends himself by arguing that everything evil (including the evil in himself) comes from God and thus makes an excuse for human sinfulness. He lays the blame on God, saying that evil was (part of God’s original creation). Natural man is always on the lookout for ruses by which he thinks he can shift the blame for his own wickedness. Philosophers look for a complete building in the midst of ruins (when they study human nature today) and thus are confused. We must always remember that man at his creation is different from all the men who came since the Fall.

Man consists of body and soul, the soul (or spirit) being immortal though created by God. (Some say the soul has no being of its own, but is just the life force of the body.) These men cling to the things of this world. Being alienated from the Father of lights, they are so swamped in darkness they think there is no life after death. Yet even in them the light is not completely extinguished so that all sense of immortality is lost. Conscience, which can distinguish between good and evil, responds to the judgment of God and so is proof positive of an immortal sprit.

The image of God shone in Adam in all its glory before the Fall, but then it was tainted and almost obliterated. Nothing was left but a ruin, mutilated and blemished. Although the image of God in man was not completely wiped out, it was so damaged that what was left is an ugly deformity. Our salvation begins a new start for us when we receive Christ who is called the 2nd Adam because he restores us to wholeness. His purpose in regeneration is to renew us in the image of God. Christ is the most perfect image of God and as we are renewed in him we can (begin to) bear the same image in knowledge, purity righteousness and true holiness, though our full glory will only be shown in heaven.

(I need to add a version of Calvin’s chapter 16 on Providence to complete this post)


2 thoughts on “Condensed Calvin: A Very Short Version of His Institutes: 1, God the Creator

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