Calvin: Knowledge of God and of Ourselves

Is it more important to know the Bible or to know the culture? Some Christians study their Bibles diligently, but fail to learn from their own hearts and from careful observation of the human condition. Other Christians have lots of “missional” relationships with non-Christians and therefore fancy themselves to be good students of people, but are inept when it comes to knowing the Bible. John Calvin would rebuke both extremes and urge us to be faithful students of both general and special revelation.

Nearly all wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But, while joined by many bonds, which one precedes and brings forth the other is not easy to discern. In the first place, no one can look upon himself without immediately turning his thoughts to the contemplation of God… [and on the other hand], it is certain that man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God’s face, and then descends from contemplating him to scrutinize himself.

God has revealed himself and daily discloses himself in the whole workmanship of the universe. As a consequence men cannot open their eyes without being compelled to see him… That brightness which is borne in upon the eyes of all men both in heaven and on earth is more than enough to withdraw all support from men’s ingratitude – just as God, to involve the human race in the same guilt, sets forth to all without exception his presence portrayed in his creatures. Despite this, it is needful that another and better help be added to direct us aright to the very Creator of the universe. It was not vain, then, that he added the light of his Word by which to become known unto salvation… just as old or bleary-eyed men and those with weak vision, if you thrust before them a most beautiful volume, even if they recognize it to be some sort of writing, yet can scarcely construe two words, but with the aid of spectacles will begin to read distinctly; so Scripture, gathering up the otherwise confused knowledge of God in our minds, having dispersed our dullness, clearly shows us the true God.

Institutes of the Christian Religion 1.1.1, 1.1.2, 1.5.1, 1.6.1

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