(Calvin, Institutes on the Christian Religion 1, part 6)

Chapter 4. 
4. The knowledge of god stifled or corrupted, ignorantly or 
1. The knowledge of God suppressed by ignorance, many falling away 
    into superstition. Such persons, however, inexcusable, because 
    their error is accompanied with pride and stubbornness. 
2. Stubbornness the companion of impiety. 
3. No pretext can justify superstition. This proved, first, from 
    reason; and, secondly, from Scripture. 
4. The wicked never willingly come into the presence of God. Hence 
    their hypocrisy. Hence, too, their sense of Deity leads to no 
    good result. 
    1. But though experience testifies that a seed of religion is 
divinely sown in all, scarcely one in a hundred is found who 
cherishes it in his heart, and not one in whom it grows to maturity 
so far is it from yielding fruit in its season. Moreover, while some 
lose themselves in superstitious observances, and others, of set 
purpose, wickedly revolt from God, the result is, that, in reward to 
the true knowledge of him, all are so degenerate, that in no part of 
the world can genuine godliness be found. In saying that some fall 
away into superstition, I mean not to insinuate that their excessive 
absurdity frees them from guilt; for the blindness under which they 
labour is almost invariably accompanied with vain pride and 
stubbornness. Mingled vanity and pride appear in this, that when 
miserable men do seek after God, instead of ascending higher than 
themselves as they ought to do, they measure him by their own carnal 
stupidity, and neglecting solid inquiry, fly off to indulge their 
curiosity in vain speculation. Hence, they do not conceive of him in 
the character in which he is manifested, but imagine him to be 
whatever their own rashness has devised. This abyss standing open, 
they cannot move one footstep without rushing headlong to 
destruction. With such an idea of God, nothing which they may 
attempt to offer in the way of worship or obedience can have any 
value in his sight, because it is not him they worship, but, instead 
of him, the dream and figment of their own heart. This corrupt 
procedure is admirably described by Paul, when he says, that 
"thinking to be wise, they became fools" (Rom. 1: 22.) He had 
previously said that "they became vain in their imaginations," but 
lest any should suppose them blameless, he afterwards adds that they 
were deservedly blinded, because, not contented with sober inquiry, 
because, arrogating to themselves more than they have any title to 
do, they of their own accord court darkness, nay, bewitch themselves 
with perverse, empty show. Hence it is that their folly, the result 
not only of vain curiosity, but of licentious desire and overweening 
confidence in the pursuit of forbidden knowledge, cannot be excused. 
    2. The expression of David, (Psalm 14: 1, 53: 1,) "The fool has 
said in his heart, There is no God," is primarily applied to those 
who, as will shortly farther appear, stifle the light of nature, and 
intentionally stupefy themselves. We see many, after they have 
become hardened in a daring course of sin, madly banishing all 
remembrance of God, though spontaneously suggested to them from 
within, by natural sense. To show how detestable this madness is, 
the Psalmist introduces them as distinctly denying that there is a 
God, because although they do not disown his essence, they rob him 
of his justice and providence, and represent him as sitting idly in 
heaven. Nothing being less accordant with the nature of God than to 
cast off the government of the world, leaving it to chance, and so 
to wink at the crimes of men that they may wanton with impunity in 
evil courses; it follows, that every man who indulges in security, 
after extinguishing all fear of divine judgement, virtually denies 
that there is a God. As a just punishment of the wicked, after they 
have closed their own eyes, God makes their hearts dull and heavy, 
and hence, seeing, they see not. David, indeed, is the best 
interpreter of his own meaning, when he says elsewhere, the wicked 
has "no fear of God before his eyes," (Psalm 36: 1;) and, again, "He 
has said in his heart, God has forgotten; he hideth his face; he 
will never see it." Thus although they are forced to acknowledge 
that there is some God, they, however, rob him of his glory by 
denying his power. For, as Paul declares, "If we believe not, he 
abideth faithful, he cannot deny himself," (2 Tim. 2: 13; so those 
who feign to themselves a dead and dumb idol, are truly said to deny 
God. It is, moreover, to be observed, that though they struggle with 
their own convictions, and would fain not only banish God from their 
minds, but from heaven also, their stupefaction is never so complete 
as to secure them from being occasionally dragged before the divine 
tribunal. Still, as no fear restrains them from rushing violently in 
the face of God, so long as they are hurried on by that blind 
impulse, it cannot be denied that their prevailing state of mind in 
regard to him is brutish oblivion. 
    3. In this way, the vain pretext which many employ to clothe 
their superstition is overthrown. They deem it enough that they have 
some kind of zeal for religion, how preposterous soever it may be, 
not observing that true religion must be conformable to the will of 
God as its unerring standard; that he can never deny himself, and is 
no spectra or phantom, to be metamorphosed at each individual's 
caprice. It is easy to see how superstition, with its false glosses, 
mocks God, while it tries to please him. Usually fastening merely on 
things on which he has declared he sets no value, it either 
contemptuously overlooks, or even undisguisedly rejects, the things 
which he expressly enjoins, or in which we are assured that he takes 
pleasure. Those, therefore, who set up a fictitious worship, merely 
worship and adore their own delirious fancies; indeed, they would 
never dare so to trifle with God, had they not previously fashioned 
him after their own childish conceits. Hence that vague and 
wandering opinion of Deity is declared by an apostle to be ignorance 
of God: "Howbeit, then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto 
them which by nature are no gods." And he elsewhere declares, that 
the Ephesians were "without God" (Eph. 2: 12) at the time when they 
wandered without any correct knowledge of him. It makes little 
difference, at least in this respect, whether you hold the existence 
of one God, or a plurality of gods, since, in both cases alike, by 
departing from the true God, you have nothing left but an execrable 
idol. It remains, therefore, to conclude with Lactantius, (Instit. 
Div. lib i. 2,, 6,) "No religion is genuine that is not in 
accordance with truth." 
    4. To this fault they add a second, viz., that when they do 
think of God it is against their will; never approaching him without 
being dragged into his presence, and when there, instead of the 
voluntary fear flowing from reverence of the divine majesty, feeling 
only that forced and servile fear which divine judgement extorts 
judgement which, from the impossibility of escape, they are 
compelled to dread, but which, while they dread, they at the same 
time also hate. To impiety, and to it alone, the saying of Statius 
properly applies: "Fear first brought gods into the world," (Theb. 
lib. i.) Those whose inclinations are at variance with the justice 
of God, knowing that his tribunal has been erected for the 
punishment of transgression, earnestly wish that that tribunal were 
overthrown. Under the influence of this feeling they are actually 
warring against God, justice being one of his essential attributes. 
Perceiving that they are always within reach of his power, that 
resistance and evasion are alike impossible, they fear and tremble. 
Accordingly, to avoid the appearance of condemning a majesty by 
which all are overawed, they have recourse to some species of 
religious observance, never ceasing meanwhile to defile themselves 
with every kind of vice, and add crime to crime, until they have 
broken the holy law of the Lord in every one of its requirements, 
and set his whole righteousness at nought; at all events, they are 
not so restrained by their semblance of fear as not to luxuriate and 
take pleasure in iniquity, choosing rather to indulge their carnal 
propensities than to curb them with the bridle of the Holy Spirit. 
But since this shadow of religion (it scarcely even deserves to be 
called a shadow) is false and vain, it is easy to infer how much 
this confused knowledge of God differs from that piety which is 
instilled into the breasts of believers, and from which alone true 
religion springs. And yet hypocrites would fain, by means of 
tortuous windings, make a show of being near to God at the very time 
they are fleeing from him. For while the whole life ought to be one 
perpetual course of obedience, they rebel without fear in almost all 
their actions, and seek to appease him with a few paltry sacrifices; 
while they ought to serve him with integrity of heart and holiness 
of life, they endeavour to procure his favour by means of frivolous 
devices and punctilios of no value. Nay, they take greater license 
in their grovelling indulgences, because they imagine that they can 
fulfil their duty to him by preposterous expiations; in short, while 
their confidence ought to have been fixed upon him, they put him 
aside, and rest in themselves or the creatures. At length they 
bewilder themselves in such a maze of error, that the darkness of 
ignorance obscures, and ultimately extinguishes, those sparks which 
were designed to show them the glory of God. Still, however, the 
conviction that there is some Deity continues to exist, like a plant 
which can never be completely eradicated, though so corrupt, that it 
is only capable of producing the worst of fruit. Nay, we have still 
stronger evidence of the proposition for which I now contend, viz., 
that a sense of Deity is naturally engraven on the human heart, in 
the fact, that the very reprobate are forced to acknowledge it. When 
at their ease, they can jest about God, and talk pertly and 
loquaciously in disparagement of his power; but should despair, from 
any cause, overtake them, it will stimulate them to seek him, and 
dictate ejaculatory prayers, proving that they were not entirely 
ignorant of God, but had perversely suppressed feelings which ought 
to have been earlier manifested. 
Chapter 5. 
5. The knowledge of God conspicuous in the creation, and continual 
government of the world. 
This chapter consists of two parts: 1. The former, which occupies 
the first ten sections, divides all the works of God into two great 
classes, and elucidates the knowledge of God as displayed in each 
class. The one class is treated of in the first six, and the other 
in the four following sections: 2. The latter part of the chapter 
shows, that, in consequence of the extreme stupidity of men, those 
manifestations of God, however perspicuous, lead to no useful 
result. This latter part, which commences at the eleventh section, 
is continued to the end of the chapter. 
1. The invisible and incomprehensible essence of God, to a certain 
    extent, made visible in his works. 
2. This declared by the first class of works, viz., the admirable 
    motions of the heavens and the earth, the symmetry of the human 
    body, and the connection of its parts; in short, the various 
    objects which are presented to every eye. 
3. This more especially manifested in the structure of the human 
4. The shameful ingratitude of disregarding God, who, in such a 
    variety of ways, is manifested within us. The still more 
    shameful ingratitude of contemplating the endowments of the 
    soul, without ascending to Him who gave them. No objection can 
    be founded on any supposed organism in the soul. 
5. The powers and actions of the soul, a proof of its separate 
    existence from the body. Proofs of the soul's immortality. 
    Objection that the whole world is quickened by one soul. Reply 
    to the objection. Its impiety. 
6. Conclusion from what has been said, viz., that the omnipotence, 
    eternity, and goodness of God, may be learned from the first 
    class of works, i. e., those which are in accordance with the 
    ordinary course of nature. 
7. The second class of works, viz., those above the ordinary course 
    of nature, afford clear evidence of the perfections of God, 
    especially his goodness, justice, and mercy. 
8. Also his providence, power, and wisdom. 
9. Proofs and illustrations of the divine Majesty. The use of them, 
    viz., the acquisition of divine knowledge in combination with 
    true piety. 
10. The tendency of the knowledge of God to inspire the righteous 
    with the hope of future life, and remind the wicked of the 
    punishments reserved for them. Its tendency, moreover, to keep 
    alive in the hearts of the righteous a sense of the divine 
11. The second part of the chapter, which describes the stupidity 
    both of learned and unlearned, in ascribing the whole order of 
    things, and the admirable arrangements of divine Providence, to 
12. Hence Polytheism, with all its abominations, and the endless and 
    irreconcilable opinions of the philosophers concerning God. 
13. All guilty of revolt from God, corrupting pure religion, either 
    by following general custom, or the impious consent of 
14. Though irradiated by the wondrous glories of creation, we cease 
    not to follow our own ways. 
15. Our conduct altogether inexcusable, the dullness of perception 
    being attributable to ourselves, while we are fully reminded of 
    the true path, both by the structure and the government of the 
    1. Since the perfection of blessedness consists in the 
knowledge of God, he has been pleased, in order that none might be 
excluded from the means of obtaining felicity, not only to deposit 
in our minds that seed of religion of which we have already spoken, 
but so to manifest his perfections in the whole structure of the 
universe, and daily place himself in our view, that we cannot open 
our eyes without being compelled to behold him. His essence, indeed, 
is incomprehensible, utterly transcending all human thought; but on 
each of his works his glory is engraven in characters so bright, so 
distinct, and so illustrious, that none, however dull and 
illiterate, can plead ignorance as their excuse. Hence, with perfect 
truth, the Psalmist exclaims, "He covereth himself with light as 
with a garment," (Psalm 104: 2;) as if he had said, that God for the 
first time was arrayed in visible attire when, in the creation of 
the world, he displayed those glorious banners, on which, to 
whatever side we turn, we behold his perfections visibly portrayed. 
In the same place, the Psalmist aptly compares the expanded heavens 
to his royal tent, and says, "He layeth the beams of his chambers in 
the waters, maketh the clouds his chariot, and walketh upon the 
wings of the wind," sending forth the winds and lightnings as his 
swift messengers. And because the glory of his power and wisdom is 
more refulgent in the firmament, it is frequently designated as his 
palace. And, first, wherever you turn your eyes, there is no portion 
of the world, however minute, that does not exhibit at least some 
sparks of beauty; while it is impossible to contemplate the vast and 
beautiful fabric as it extends around, without being overwhelmed by 
the immense weight of glory. Hence, the author of the Epistle to the 
Hebrews elegantly describes the visible worlds as images of the 
invisible, (Heb. 11: 3,) the elegant structure of the world serving 
us as a kind of mirror, in which we may behold God, though otherwise 
invisible. For the same reason, the Psalmist attributes language to 
celestial objects, a language which all nations understand, (Psalm 
19: 1,) the manifestation of the Godhead being too clear to escape 
the notice of any people, however obtuse. The apostle Paul, stating 
this still more clearly, says, "That which may be known of God is 
manifest in them, for God has showed it unto them. For the invisible 
things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being 
understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and 
Godhead," (Rom. 1: 20.) 
    2. In attestation of his wondrous wisdom, both the heavens and 
the earth present us with innumerable proofs not only those more 
recondite proofs which astronomy, medicine, and all the natural 
sciences, are designed to illustrate, but proofs which force 
themselves on the notice of the most illiterate peasant, who cannot 
open his eyes without beholding them. It is true, indeed, that those 
who are more or less intimately acquainted with those liberal 
studies are thereby assisted and enabled to obtain a deeper insight 
into the secret workings of divine wisdom. No man, however, though 
he be ignorant of these, is incapacitated for discerning such proofs 
of creative wisdom as may well cause him to break forth in 
admiration of the Creator. To investigate the motions of the 
heavenly bodies, to determine their positions, measure their 
distances, and ascertain their properties, demands skill, and a more 
careful examination; and where these are so employed, as the 
Providence of God is thereby more fully unfolded, so it is 
reasonable to suppose that the mind takes a loftier flight, and 
obtains brighter views of his glory. Still, none who have the use of 
their eyes can be ignorant of the divine skill manifested so 
conspicuously in the endless variety, yet distinct and well ordered 
array, of the heavenly host; and, therefore, it is plain that the 
Lord has furnished every man with abundant proofs of his wisdom. The 
same is true in regard to the structure of the human frame. To 
determine the connection of its parts, its symmetry and beauty, with 
the skill of a Galen, (Lib. De Usu Partium,) requires singular 
acuteness; and yet all men acknowledge that the human body bears on 
its face such proofs of ingenious contrivance as are sufficient to 
proclaim the admirable wisdom of its Maker. 
    3. Hence certain of the philosophers have not improperly called 
man a microcosm, (miniature world,) as being a rare specimen of 
divine power, wisdom, and goodness, and containing within himself 
wonders sufficient to occupy our minds, if we are willing so to 
employ them. Paul, accordingly, after reminding the Athenians that 
they "might feel after God and find him," immediately adds, that "he 
is not far from every one of us," (Acts 17: 27;) every man having 
within himself undoubted evidence of the heavenly grace by which he 
lives, and moves, and has his being. But if, in order to apprehend 
God, it is unnecessary to go farther than ourselves, what excuse can 
there be for the sloth of any man who will not take the trouble of 
descending into himself that he may find Him? For the same reason, 
too, David, after briefly celebrating the wonderful name and glory 
of God, as everywhere displayed, immediately exclaims, "What is man, 
that thou art mindful of him?" and again, "Out of the mouths of 
babes and sucklings thou hast ordained strength," (Psalm 8: 2, 4.) 
Thus he declares not only that the human race are a bright mirror of 
the Creator's works, but that infants hanging on their mothers' 
breasts have tongues eloquent enough to proclaim his glory without 
the aid of other orators. Accordingly, he hesitates not to bring 
them forward as fully instructed to refute the madness of those who, 
from devilish pride, would fain extinguish the name of God. Hence, 
too, the passage which Paul quotes from Aratus, "We are his 
offspring," (Acts 17: 28,) the excellent gifts with which he has 
endued us attesting that he is our Father. In the same way also, 
from natural instinct, and, as it were, at the dictation of 
experience, heathen poets called him the father of men. No one, 
indeed, will voluntarily and willingly devote himself to the service 
of God unless he has previously tasted his paternal love, and been 
thereby allured to love and reverence Him. 
    4. But herein appears the shameful ingratitude of men. Though 
they have in their own persons a factory where innumerable 
operations of God are carried on, and a magazine stored with 
treasures of inestimable value - instead of bursting forth in his 
praise, as they are bound to do, they, on the contrary, are the more 
inflated and swelled with pride. They feel how wonderfully God is 
working in them, and their own experience tells them of the vast 
variety of gifts which they owe to his liberality. Whether they will 
or not, they cannot but know that these are proofs of his Godhead, 
and yet they inwardly suppress them. They have no occasion to go 
farther than themselves, provided they do not, by appropriating as 
their own that which has been given them from heaven, put out the 
light intended to exhibit God clearly to their minds. At this day, 
however, the earth sustains on her bosom many monster minds - minds 
which are not afraid to employ the seed of Deity deposited in human 
nature as a means of suppressing the name of God. Can any thing be 
more detestable than this madness in man, who, finding God a hundred 
times both in his body and his soul, makes his excellence in this 
respect a pretext for denying that there is a God? He will not say 
that chance has made him differ from the brutes that perish; but, 
substituting nature as the architect of the universe, he suppresses 
the name of God. The swift motions of the soul, its noble faculties 
and rare endowments, bespeak the agency of God in a manner which 
would make the suppression of it impossible, did not the Epicureans, 
like so many Cyclops, use it as a vantageground, from which to wage 
more audacious war with God. Are so many treasures of heavenly 
wisdom employed in the guidance of such a worm as man, and shall the 
whole universe be denied the same privilege? To hold that there are 
organs in the soul corresponding to each of its faculties, is so far 
from obscuring the glory of God, that it rather illustrates it. Let 
Epicurus tell what concourse of atoms, cooking meat and drink, can 
form one portion into refuse and another portion into blood, and 
make all the members separately perform their office as carefully as 
if they were so many souls acting with common consent in the 
superintendence of one body. 
    5. But my business at present is not with that stye: I wish 
rather to deal with those who, led away by absurd subtleties, are 
inclined, by giving an indirect turn to the frigid doctrine of 
Aristotle, to employ it for the purpose both of disproving the 
immortality of the soul, and robbing God of his rights. Under the 
pretext that the faculties of the soul are organised, they chain it 
to the body as if it were incapable of a separate existence, while 
they endeavour as much as in them lies, by pronouncing eulogiums on 
nature, to suppress the name of God. But there is no ground for 
maintaining that the powers of the soul are confined to the 
performance of bodily functions. What has the body to do with your 
measuring the heavens, counting the number of the stars, 
ascertaining their magnitudes, their relative distances, the rate at 
which they move, and the orbits which they describe? I deny not that 
Astronomy has its use; all I mean to show is, that these lofty 
investigations are not conducted by organised symmetry, but by the 
faculties of the soul itself apart altogether from the body. The 
single example I have given will suggest many others to the reader. 
The swift and versatile movements of the soul in glancing from 
heaven to earth, connecting the future with the past, retaining the 
remembrance of former years, nay, forming creations of its own - its 
skill, moreover, in making astonishing discoveries, and inventing so 
many wonderful arts, are sure indications of the agency of God in 
man. What shall we say of its activity when the body is asleep, its 
many revolving thoughts, its many useful suggestions, its many solid 
arguments, nay, its presentiment of things yet to come? What shall 
we say but that man bears about with him a stamp of immortality 
which can never be effaced? But how is it possible for man to be 
divine, and yet not acknowledge his Creator? Shall we, by means of a 
power of judging implanted in our breast, distinguish between 
justice and injustice, and yet there be no judge in heaven? Shall 
some remains of intelligence continue with us in sleep, and yet no 
God keep watch in heaven? Shall we be deemed the inventors of so 
many arts and useful properties that God may be defrauded of his 
praise, though experience tells us plainly enough, that whatever we 
possess is dispensed to us in unequal measures by another hand? The 
talk of certain persons concerning a secret inspiration quickening 
the whole world, is not only silly, but altogether profane. Such 
persons are delighted with the following celebrated passage of 
    Know, first, that heaven, and earth's compacted frame, 
    And flowing waters, and the starry flame, 
    And both the radiant lights, one common soul 
    Inspires and feeds - and animates the whole. 
    This active mind, infused through all the space, 
    Unites and mingles with the mighty mass: 
    Hence, men and beasts the breath of life obtain, 
    And birds of air, and monsters of the main. 
    Th' ethereal vigour is in all the same, 
    And every soul is filled with equal flame. 
    The meaning of all this is, that the world, which was made to 
display the glory of God, is its own creator. For the same poet has, 
in another place, adopted a view common to both Greeks and Latins: - 
    Hence to the bee some sages have assigned 
    A portion of the God, and heavenly mind; 
    For God goes forth, and spreads throughout the whole, 
    Heaven, earth, and sea, the universal soul; 
    Each, at its birth, from him all beings share, 
    Both man and brute, the breath of vital air; 
    To him return, and, loosed from earthly chain, 
    Fly whence they sprung, and rest in God again; 
    Spurn at the grave, and, fearless of decay, 
    Dwell in high heaven, art star th' ethereal way. 
    Here we see how far that jejune speculation, of a universal 
mind animating and invigorating the world, is fitted to beget and 
foster piety in our minds. We have a still clearer proof of this in 
the profane verses which the licentious Lucretius has written as a 
deduction from the same principle. The plain object is to form an 
unsubstantial deity, and thereby banish the true God whom we ought 
to fear and worship. I admit, indeed that the expressions "Nature is 
God," may be piously used, if dictated by a pious mind; but as it is 
inaccurate and harsh, (Nature being more properly the order which 
has been established by God,) in matters which are so very 
important, and in regard to which special reverence is due, it does 
harm to confound the Deity with the inferior operations of his 
    6. Let each of us, therefore, in contemplating his own nature, 
remember that there is one God who governs all natures, and, in 
governing, wishes us to have respect to himself, to make him the 
object of our faith, worship, and adoration. Nothing, indeed, can be 
more preposterous than to enjoy those noble endowments which bespeak 
the divine presence within us, and to neglect him who, of his own 
good pleasure, bestows them upon us. In regard to his power, how 
glorious the manifestations by which he urges us to the 
contemplation of himself; unless, indeed, we pretend not to know 
whose energy it is that by a word sustains the boundless fabric of 
the universe - at one time making heaven reverberate with thunder, 
sending forth the scorching lightning, and setting the whole 
atmosphere in a blaze; at another, causing the raging tempests to 
blow, and forthwith, in one moment, when it so pleases him, making a 
perfect calm; keeping the sea, which seems constantly threatening 
the earth with devastation, suspended as it were in air; at one 
time, lashing it into fury by the impetuosity of the winds; at 
another, appeasing its rage, and stilling all its waves. Here we 
might refer to those glowing descriptions of divine power, as 
illustrated by natural events, which occur throughout Scripture; but 
more especially in the book of Job, and the prophecies of Isaiah. 
These, however, I purposely omit, because a better opportunity of 
introducing them will be found when I come to treat of the 
Scriptural account of the creation. (Infra, chap. 14 s. 1, 2, 20, 
sq.) I only wish to observe here, that this method of investigating 
the divine perfections, by tracing the lineaments of his countenance 
as shadowed forth in the firmament and on the earth, is common both 
to those within and to those without the pale of the Church. From 
the power of God we are naturally led to consider his eternity since 
that from which all other things derive their origin must 
necessarily be selfexistent and eternal. Moreover, if it be asked 
what cause induced him to create all things at first, and now 
inclines him to preserve them, we shall find that there could be no 
other cause than his own goodness. But if this is the only cause, 
nothing more should be required to draw forth our love towards him; 
every creature, as the Psalmist reminds us, participating in his 
mercy. "His tender mercies are over all his works," (Ps. 145: 9.) 
    7. In the second class of God's works, namely those which are 
above the ordinary course of nature, the evidence of his perfections 
are in every respect equally clear. For in conducting the affairs of 
men, he so arranges the course of his providence, as daily to 
declare, by the clearest manifestations, that though all are in 
innumerable ways the partakers of his bounty, the righteous are the 
special objects of his favour, the wicked and profane the special 
objects of his severity. It is impossible to doubt his punishment of 
crimes; while at the same time he, in no unequivocal manner, 
declares that he is the protector, and even the avenger of 
innocence, by shedding blessings on the good, helping their 
necessities, soothing and solacing their griefs, relieving their 
sufferings, and in all ways providing for their safety. And though 
he often permits the guilty to exult for a time with impunity, and 
the innocent to be driven to and fro in adversity, nay, even to be 
wickedly and iniquitously oppressed, this ought not to produce any 
uncertainty as to the uniform justice of all his procedure. Nay, an 
opposite inference should be drawn. When any one crime calls forth 
visible manifestations of his anger, it must be because he hates all 
crimes; and, on the other hand, his leaving many crimes unpunished, 
only proves that there is a judgement in reserve, when the 
punishment now delayed shall be inflicted. In like manner, how 
richly does he supply us with the means of contemplating his mercy 
when, as frequently happens, he continues to visit miserable sinners 
with unwearied kindness, until he subdues their depravity, and woos 
them back with more than a parent's fondness? 
    8. To this purpose the Psalmist, (Ps. 107) mentioning how God, 
in a wondrous manner, often brings sudden and unexpected succour to 
the miserable when almost on the brink of despair, whether in 
protecting them when they stray in deserts, and at length leading 
them back into the right path, or supplying them with food when 
famishing for want, or delivering them when captive from iron 
fetters and foul dungeons, or conducting them safe into harbour 
after shipwreck, or bringing them back from the gates of death by 
curing their diseases, or, after burning up the fields with heat and 
drought, fertilising them with the river of his grace, or exalting 
the meanest of the people, and casting down the mighty from their 
lofty seats: - the Psalmist, after bringing forward examples of this 
description, infers that those things which men call fortuitous 
events, are so many proofs of divine providence, and more especially 
of paternal clemency, furnishing ground of joy to the righteous, and 
at the same time stopping the mouths of the ungodly. But as the 
greater part of mankind, enslaved by error, walk blindfold in this 
glorious theatre, he exclaims that it is a rare and singular wisdom 
to meditate carefully on these works of God, which many, who seem 
most sharp-sighted in other respects, behold without profit. It is 
indeed true, that the brightest manifestation of divine glory finds 
not one genuine spectator among a hundred. Still, neither his power 
nor his wisdom is shrouded in darkness. His power is strikingly 
displayed when the rage of the wicked, to all appearance 
irresistible, is crushed in a single moment; their arrogance 
subdued, their strongest bulwarks overthrown, their armour dashed to 
pieces, their strength broken, their schemes defeated without an 
effort, and audacity which set itself above the heavens is 
precipitated to the lowest depths of the earth. On the other hand, 
the poor are raised up out of the dust, and the needy lifted out of 
the dung hill, (Ps. 113: 7,) the oppressed and afflicted are rescued 
in extremity, the despairing animated with hope, the unarmed defeat 
the armed, the few the many, the weak the strong. The excellence of 
the divine wisdom is manifested in distributing everything in due 
season, confounding the wisdom of the world, and taking the wise in 
their own craftiness, (1 Cor. 3: 19;) in short, conducting all 
things in perfect accordance with reason. 
    9. We see there is no need of a long and laborious train of 
argument in order to obtain proofs which illustrate and assert the 
Divine Majesty. The few which we have merely touched, show them to 
be so immediately within our reach in every quarter, that we can 
trace them with the eye, or point to them with the finger. And here 
we must observe again, (see chap. 2 s. 2,) that the knowledge of God 
which we are invited to cultivate is not that which, resting 
satisfied with empty speculation, only flutters in the brain, but a 
knowledge which will prove substantial and fruitful wherever it is 
duly perceived, and rooted in the heart. The Lord is manifested by 
his perfections. When we feel their power within us, and are 
conscious of their benefits, the knowledge must impress us much more 
vividly than if we merely imagined a God whose presence we never 
felt. Hence it is obvious, that in seeking God, the most direct path 
and the fittest method is, not to attempt with presumptuous 
curiosity to pry into his essence, which is rather to be adored than 
minutely discussed, but to contemplate him in his works, by which he 
draws near, becomes familiar, and in a manner communicates himself 
to us. To this the Apostle referred when he said, that we need not 
go far in search of him, (Acts 17: 27,) because, by the continual 
working of his power, he dwells in every one of us. Accordingly, 
David, (Psalm 145,) after acknowledging that his greatness is 
unsearchable, proceeds to enumerate his works, declaring that his 
greatness will thereby be unfolded. It therefore becomes us also 
diligently to prosecute that investigation of God which so 
enraptures the soul with admiration as, at the same time, to make an 
efficacious impression on it. And, as Augustine expresses it, (in 
Psalm 144,) since we are unable to comprehend Him, and are, as it 
were, overpowered by his greatness, our proper course is to 
contemplate his works, and so refresh ourselves with his goodness. 
    10. By the knowledge thus acquired, we ought not only to be 
stimulated to worship God, but also aroused and elevated to the hope 
of future life. For, observing that the manifestations which the 
Lord gives both of his mercy and severity are only begun and 
incomplete, we ought to infer that these are doubtless only a 
prelude to higher manifestations, of which the full display is 
reserved for another state. Conversely, when we see the righteous 
brought into affliction by the ungodly, assailed with injuries, 
overwhelmed with calumnies, and lacerated by insult and contumely, 
while, on the contrary, the wicked flourish, prosper, acquire ease 
and honour, and all these with impunity, we ought forthwith to 
infer, that there will be a future life in which iniquity shall 
receive its punishment, and righteousness its reward. Moreover, when 
we observe that the Lord often lays his chastening rod on the 
righteous, we may the more surely conclude, that far less will the 
righteous ultimately escape the scourges of his anger. There is a 
well-known passage in Augustine, (De Civitat. Dei, lib. 1 c. 8,) 
"Were all sin now visited with open punishment, it might be thought 
that nothing was reserved for the final judgement; and, on the other 
hand, were no sin now openly punished, it might be supposed there 
was no divine providence." It must be acknowledged, therefore, that 
in each of the works of God, and more especially in the whole of 
them taken together, the divine perfections are delineated as in a 
picture, and the whole human race thereby invited and allured to 
acquire the knowledge of God, and, in consequence of this knowledge, 
true and complete felicity. Moreover, while his perfections are thus 
most vividly displayed, the only means of ascertaining their 
practical operation and tendency is to descend into ourselves, and 
consider how it is that the Lord there manifests his wisdom, power, 
and energy, - how he there displays his justice, goodness, and 
mercy. For although David (Psalm 92: 6) justly complains of the 
extreme infatuation of the ungodly in not pondering the deep 
counsels of God, as exhibited in the government of the human race, 
what he elsewhere says (Psalm 40) is most true, that the wonders of 
the divine wisdom in this respect are more in number than the hairs 
of our head. But I leave this topic at present, as it will be more 
fully considered afterwards in its own place, (Book I. c. 16, see. 
    11. Bright, however, as is the manifestation which God gives 
both of himself and his immortal kingdom in the mirror of his works, 
so great is our stupidity, so dull are we in regard to these bright 
manifestations, that we derive no benefit from them. For in regard 
to the fabric and admirable arrangement of the universe, how few of 
us are there who, in lifting our eyes to the heavens, or looking 
abroad on the various regions of the earth, ever think of the 
Creator? Do we not rather overlook Him, and sluggishly content 
ourselves with a view of his works? And then in regard to 
supernatural events, though these are occurring every day, how few 
are there who ascribe them to the ruling providence of God - how 
many who imagine that they are casual results produced by the blind 
evolutions of the wheel of chance? Even when under the guidance and 
direction of these events, we are in a manner forced to the 
contemplation of God, (a circumstance which all must occasionally 
experience,) and are thus led to form some impressions of Deity, we 
immediately fly off to carnal dreams and depraved fictions, and so 
by our vanity corrupt heavenly truth. This far, indeed, we differ 
from each other, in that every one appropriates to himself some 
peculiar error; but we are all alike in this, that we substitute 
monstrous fictions for the one living and true God - a disease not 
confined to obtuse and vulgar minds, but affecting the noblest, and 
those who, in other respects, are singularly acute. How lavishly in 
this respect have the whole body of philosophers betrayed their 
stupidity and want of sense? To say nothing of the others whose 
absurdities are of a still grosser description, how completely does 
Plato, the soberest and most religious of them all, lose himself in 
his round globe? What must be the case with the rest, when the 
leaders, who ought to have set them an example, commit such 
blunders, and labour under such hallucinations? In like manner, 
while the government of the world places the doctrine of providence 
beyond dispute, the practical result is the same as if it were 
believed that all things were carried hither and thither at the 
caprice of chance; so prone are we to vanity and error. I am still 
referring to the most distinguished of the philosophers, and not to 
the common herd, whose madness in profaning the truth of God exceeds 
all bounds. 
    12. Hence that immense flood of error with which the whole 
world is overflowed. Every individual mind being a kind of 
labyrinth, it is not wonderful, not only that each nation has 
adopted a variety of fictions, but that almost every man has had his 
own god. To the darkness of ignorance have been added presumption 
and wantonness, and hence there is scarcely an individual to be 
found without some idol or phantom as a substitute for Deity. Like 
water gushing forth from a large and copious spring, immense crowds 
of gods have issued from the human mind, every man giving himself 
full license, and devising some peculiar form of divinity, to meet 
his own views. It is unnecessary here to attempt a catalogue of the 
superstitions with which the world was overspread. The thing were 
endless; and the corruptions themselves, though not a word should be 
said, furnish abundant evidence of the blindness of the human mind. 
I say nothing of the rude and illiterate vulgar; but among the 
philosophers who attempted, by reason and learning, to pierce the 
heavens, what shameful disagreement! The higher any one was endued 
with genius, and the more he was polished by science and art, the 
more specious was the colouring which he gave to his opinions. All 
these, however, if examined more closely, will be found to be vain 
show. The Stoics plumed themselves on their acuteness, when they 
said that the various names of God might be extracted from all the 
parts of nature, and yet that his unity was not thereby divided: as 
if we were not already too prone to vanity, and had no need of being 
presented with an endless multiplicity of gods, to lead us further 
and more grossly into error. The mystic theology of the Egyptians 
shows how sedulously they laboured to be thought rational on this 
subject. And, perhaps, at the first glance, some show of probability 
might deceive the simple and unwary; but never did any mortal devise 
a scheme by which religion was not foully corrupted. This endless 
variety and confusion emboldened the Epicureans, and other gross 
despisers of piety, to cut off all sense of God. For when they saw 
that the wisest contradicted each others they hesitated not to infer 
from their dissensions, and from the frivolous and absurd doctrines 
of each, that men foolishly, and to no purpose, brought torment upon 
themselves by searching for a God, there being none: and they 
thought this inference safe, because it was better at once to deny 
God altogether, than to feign uncertain gods, and thereafter engage 
in quarrels without end. They, indeed, argue absurdly, or rather 
weave a cloak for their impiety out of human ignorance; though 
ignorance surely cannot derogate from the prerogatives of God. But 
since all confess that there is no topic on which such difference 
exists, both among learned and unlearned, the proper inference is, 
that the human mind, which thus errs in inquiring after God, is dull 
and blind in heavenly mysteries. Some praise the answer of 
Simonides, who being asked by King Hero what God was, asked a day to 
consider. When the king next day repeated the question, he asked two 
days; and after repeatedly doubling the number of days, at length 
replied, "The longer I consider, the darker the subject appears." 
He, no doubt, wisely suspended his opinion, when he did not see 
clearly: still his answer shows, that if men are only naturally 
taught, instead of having any distinct, solid, or certain knowledge, 
they fasten only on contradictory principles, and, in consequence, 
worship an unknown God. 
    13. Hence we must hold, that whosoever adulterates pure 
religion, (and this must be the case with all who cling to their own 
views,) make a departure from the one God. No doubt, they will 
allege that they have a different intention; but it is of little 
consequence what they intend or persuade themselves to believe, 
since the Holy Spirit pronounces all to be apostates, who, in the 
blindness of their minds, substitute demons in the place of God. For 
this reason Paul declares that the Ephesians were "without God," 
(Eph. 2: 12,) until they had learned from the Gospel what it is to 
worship the true God. Nor must this be restricted to one people 
only, since, in another place, he declares in general, that all men 
"became vain in their imaginations," after the majesty of the 
Creator was manifested to them in the structure of the world. 
Accordingly, in order to make way for the only true God, he condemns 
all the gods celebrated among the Gentiles as lying and false, 
leaving no Deity anywhere but in Mount Zion where the special 
knowledge of God was professed, (Hab. 2: 18, 20.) Among the Gentiles 
in the time of Christ, the Samaritans undoubtedly made the nearest 
approach to true piety; yet we hear from his own mouth that they 
worshipped they knew not what, (John 4: 22;) whence it follows that 
they were deluded by vain errors. In short, though all did not give 
way to gross vice, or rush headlong into open idolatry, there was no 
pure and authentic religion founded merely on common belief. A few 
individuals may not have gone all insane lengths with the vulgar; 
still Paul's declaration remains true, that the wisdom of God was 
not apprehended by the princes of this world, (1 Cor. 2: 8.) But if 
the most distinguished wandered in darkness, what shall we say of 
the refuse? No wonder, therefore, that all worship of man's device 
is repudiated by the Holy Spirit as degenerate. Any opinion which 
man can form in heavenly mysteries, though it may not beget a long 
train of errors, is still the parent of error. And though nothing 
worse should happen, even this is no light sin - to worship an 
unknown God at random. Of this sin, however, we hear from our 
Saviour's own mouth, (John 4: 22,) that all are guilty who have not 
been taught out of the law who the God is whom they ought to 
worship. Nay, even Socrates in Xenophon, (lib. 1 Memorabilia,) lauds 
the response of Apollo enjoining every man to worship the gods 
according to the rites of his country, and the particular practice 
of his own city. But what right have mortals thus to decide of their 
own authority in a matter which is far above the world; or who can 
so acquiesce in the will of his forefathers, or the decrees of the 
people, as unhesitatingly to receive a god at their hands? Every one 
will adhere to his own judgement, sooner than submit to the 
dictation of others. Since, therefore, in regulating the worship of 
God, the custom of a city, or the consent of antiquity, is a too 
feeble and fragile bond of piety; it remains that God himself must 
bear witness to himself from heaven. 
    14. In vain for us, therefore, does Creation exhibit so many 
bright lamps lighted up to show forth the glory of its Author. 
Though they beam upon us from every quarter, they are altogether 
insufficient of themselves to lead us into the right path. Some 
sparks, undoubtedly, they do throw out; but these are quenched 
before they can give forth a brighter effulgence. Wherefore, the 
apostle, in the very place where he says that the worlds are images 
of invisible things, adds that it is by faith we understand that 
they were framed by the word of God, (Heb. 11: 3;) thereby 
intimating that the invisible Godhead is indeed represented by such 
displays, but that we have no eyes to perceive it until they are 
enlightened through faith by internal revelation from God. When Paul 
says that that which may be known of God is manifested by the 
creation of the world, he does not mean such a manifestation as may 
be comprehended by the wit of man, (Rom. 1: 19;) on the contrary, he 
shows that it has no further effect than to render us inexcusable, 
(Acts 17: 27.) And though he says, elsewhere, that we have not far 
to seek for God, inasmuch as he dwells within us, he shows, in 
another passage, to what extent this nearness to God is availing. 
God, says he, "in times past, suffered all nations to walk in their 
own ways. Nevertheless, he left not himself without witness, in that 
he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, 
filling our hearts with food and gladness," (Acts 14: 16, 17.) But 
though God is not left without a witness, while, with numberless 
varied acts of kindness, he woos men to the knowledge of himself, 
yet they cease not to follow their own ways, in other words, deadly 
    15. But though we are deficient in natural powers which might 
enable us to rise to a pure and clear knowledge of God, still, as 
the dullness which prevents us is within, there is no room for 
excuse. We cannot plead ignorance, without being at the same time 
convicted by our own consciences both of sloth and ingratitude. It 
were, indeed, a strange defence for man to pretend that he has no 
ears to hear the truth, while dumb creatures have voices loud enough 
to declare it; to allege that he is unable to see that which 
creatures without eyes demonstrate, to excuse himself on the ground 
of weakness of mind, while all creatures without reason are able to 
teach. Wherefore, when we wander and go astray, we are justly shut 
out from every species of excuse, because all things point to the 
right path. But while man must bear the guilt of corrupting the seed 
of divine knowledge so wondrously deposited in his mind, and 
preventing it from bearing good and genuine fruit, it is still most 
true that we are not sufficiently instructed by that bare and 
simple, but magnificent testimony which the creatures bear to the 
glory of their Creator. For no sooner do we, from a survey of the 
world, obtain some slight knowledge of Deity, than we pass by the 
true God, and set up in his stead the dream and phantom of our own 
brain, drawing away the praise of justice, wisdom, and goodness, 
from the fountain-head, and transferring it to some other quarter. 
Moreover, by the erroneous estimate we form, we either so obscure or 
pervert his daily works, as at once to rob them of their glory and 
the author of them of his just praise. 

Calvin, Institutes on the Christian Religion, Volume 1
(continued in part 7...)

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