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Calvin - Institutes of the Christian Religion Book1 Chapter4

Calvin - Institutes of the Christian Religion Book1 Chapter4

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91
ECHAPTER 4
THIS KNOWLEDGE IS EITHER SMOTHERED OR
CORRUPTED, PARTLY BY IGNORANCE,
PARTLY BY MALICE
1. SUPERSTITION
eAs experience shows, God has sown a seed of religion in all men. But

scarcely one man in a hundred is met with who fosters it, once received, in
his heart, and none in whom it ripens \u2014 much less shows fruit in season
[cf.<190103>Psalm 1:3]. Besides while some may evaporate in their own

superstitions and others deliberately and wickedly desert God, yet all
degenerate from the true knowledge of him. And so it happens that no real
piety remains in the world. But as to my statement that some erroneously
slip into superstition, I do not mean by this that their ingenuousness
should free them from blame. For the blindness under which they labor is
almost always mixed with proud vanity and obstinacy. Indeed, vanity
joined with pride can be detected in the facte(b)that, in seeking God,
miserable men do not rise above themselves as they should, but measure
him by the yardstick of their own carnal stupidity, and neglect sound

investigation; thus out of curiosity they fly off into empty speculations.

They do not therefore apprehend God as he offers himself, but imagine
him as they have fashioned him in their own presumption. When this gulf
opens, in whatever direction they move their feet, they cannot but plunge
headlong into ruin. Indeed, whatever they afterward attempt by way of
worship or service of God, they cannot bring as tribute to him, for they
are worshiping not God but a figment and a dream of their own heart.f202

ePaul eloquently notes this wickedness: \u201cStriving to be wise, they make
fools of themselves\u201d [<450122>Romans 1:22 p.]. He had said before that \u201cthey

became futile in their thinking\u201d [<450121>Romans 1:21]. In order, however, that no one might excuse their guilt, he adds that they are justly blinded. For not content with sobriety but claiming for themselves more than is right, they wantonly bring darkness upon themselves \u2014 in fact, they

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become fools in their empty and perverse haughtiness. From this it
follows that their stupidity is not excusable, since it is caused not only by
vain curiosity but by an inordinate desire to know more than is fitting,

joined with a false confidence.
2. CONSCIOUS TURNING AWAY FROM GOD
eDavid\u2019s statement that ungodly men and fools feel in their hearts that

there is no God [<191401>Psalm 14:1;<195301>53:1] must first, as we shall see
again a little later, be limited to those who, by extinguishing the light of
nature, deliberately befuddle themselves. Accordingly, we see that many,
after they have become hardened in insolent and habitual sinning, furiously
repel all remembrance of God, although this is freely suggested to them
inwardly from the feeling of nature. But to render their madness more
detestable, David represents them as flatly denying God\u2019s existence; not
that they deprive him of his being, but because, in despoiling him of his
judgment and providence, they shut him up idle in heaven.f203 Now there is
nothing less in accord with God\u2019s nature than for him to cast off the
government of the universe and abandon it to fortune, and to be blind to
the wicked deeds of men, so that they may lust unpunished. Accordingly,
whoever heedlessly indulges himself, his fear of heavenly judgment
extinguished, denies that there is a God.f204 And it is God\u2019s just

punishment of the wicked that fatness envelops their hearts, so that after
they have closed their eyes, in seeing they see not [<401314>Matthew 13:14-
15; cf.<230609>Isaiah 6:9-10 and<191710>Psalm 17:10]. And David is the best
interpreter of his thought when in another place he says that \u201cthe fear of
God is not before the eyes of the ungodly\u201d [<193601>Psalm 36:1 p.]. Likewise,
because they persuade themselves that God does not see, they proudly
applaud their own wrongdoing [<191011>Psalm 10:11].

Even though they are compelled to recognize some god, they strip him of
glory by taking away his power. For, as Paul affirms, just as \u201cGod cannot
deny himself,\u201d because \u201che remains\u201d forever like himself [<540213>2 Timothy
2:13], so they, by fashioning a dead and empty idol, are truly said to deny
God. At this point we ought to note that, however much they struggle
against their own senses, and wish not only to drive God thence but also
to destroy him in heaven, their stupidity never increases to the point
where God does not at times bring them back to his judgment seat. But

93

because no fear restrains them from rushing violently against God, it is
certain that so long as this blind urge grips them, their own oafish
forgetfulness of God will hold sway over them.

3. WE ARE NOT TO FASHION GOD ACCORDING
TO OUR OWN WHIM\u2020
bThus is overthrown that vain defense with which many are wont to gloss

over their superstition. For they think that any zeal for religion, however
preposterous, is sufficient. But they do not realize that true religion ought
to be conformed to God\u2019s will as to a universal rule; that God ever remains
like himself, and is not a specter or phantasm to be transformed according
to anyone\u2019s whim. One can clearly see, too, how superstition mocks God
with pretenses while it tries to please him. For, seizing almost solely upon
what God has testified to be of no concern to himself, superstition either
holds in contempt or else openly rejects that which he prescribes and
enjoins as pleasing to himself. Thus all who set up their own false rites to
God worship and adore their own ravings. Unless they had first fashioned
a God to match the absurdity of their trifling,f205 they would by no means
have dared trifle with God in this way. The apostle accordingly

characterizes that vague and erroneous opinion of the divine as ignorance

of God. \u201cWhen you did not know God,\u201d he says, \u201cyou were in bondage to
beings that by nature were no gods\u201d [Galatians 4: 8 p.]. And elsewhere he
teaches that the Ephesians were \u201cwithout God\u201d at the time they were
straying away from the right knowledge of the one God [<490212>Ephesians
2:12]. Nor is it of much concern, at least in this circumstance, whether you
conceive of one God or several; for you continually depart from the true

God and forsake him, and, having left him, you have nothing left except an accursed idol. Therefore it remains for us to assert with Lactantius that no religion is genuine unless it be joined with truth.f206

4. HYPOCRISY
e(b)A second sin arises, that they never consider God at all unless compelled

to; and they do not come nigh until they are dragged there despite their
resistance. And not even then are they impressed with the voluntary fear
that arises out of reverence for the divine majesty, but merely with a
slavish, forced fear, which God\u2019s judgment extorts from them.bThis, since

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