The Affectual Effect of Calvin’s Institutes

Jonathan Edwards once wrote a book titled “The Religious Affections” highlighting the power God has upon man in the affections.  Primarily Edwards speaks of the heart and it’s ability to be transformed by the calling God gifts to us through His Son Jesus Christ.  Books are few and far between that discuss the matters of both the heart and the affections, especially in the seminary where most assigned readings affect a cognitive growth in the mind versus an enlarging of the heart.  John Calvin writes an able medium between both the mind and the heart in his Institutes of the Christian Religion that is both pastoral and theologically academic.  Few have elucidated a response from the reader as strong as the persistent page turn of conviction and religious affection in the Institutes.

The Institutes is a treasure trove of theological advancement from the enslavement to tradition as a source of theology to scripture as the sole source (sola scriptura).  Calvin architects his systematic theology frequently with a pastoral emphasis, after all the Institutes was first written as a small book emphasizing piety that could be carried in your back pocket.  His pastoral tongue speaks volumes to the reader with an ear to listen.  Hear this statement from Calvin on hypocrisy in the life of a Christian:

“For where they ought to have remained consistently obedient throughout life, they boldly rebel against him in almost all their deeds, and are zealous to placate him merely with a  few paltry sacrifices.  Where they ought to serve him in sanctity of life and integrity of heart, they trump up frivolous trifles and worthless little observances with which to win his favor.  Nay, more, with greater license they sluggishly lie in their own filth, because they are confident that they can perform their duty toward him by ridiculous acts of expiation” (I.v.4)

As sinners we are by definition consistent hypocrites.  Our will longs for a true worship of God, glorifying him with our “every breath”, yet our will is corrupted and we are unable to act in a consistent manner with our lofty will.  This passage speaks directly into all of our lives as ones who have “fallen short of the glory of God” and have exchanged God-worship for self-worship.  We cannot merely placate him with a few paltry sacrifices nor worthless little observances with which to win his favor.  Man does not reconcile himself to God by win[ning] his favor.  God’s favor is a gift granted to us in Christ, something which is unmerited and can never be earned.  How right is Calvin’s exclamation that all who seek to win the favor of God do so by ridiculous acts of expiation.  Christ alone expiates our sin and by no means does he do so on the grounds of our goodness or ability to elicit a response of grace.  How Pelagian we as Christians can often be, convincing ourselves that we can earn God’s favor.  This is an anathema that should be cast far from our minds and faith.  Our salvation rests upon God alone and our response is one only of worship and gratitude in His abundant grace.

We ought to think long and hard about the hypocritical observances that we as Christians exhibit as a Pelagian means of restitution, be that of prayer, tithing, morality or worship.  May we, as children through Christ to the Father, worship God not with vain observances that are self serving, but with worship that is truly awarded to God most high.  May our worship, the life that we live in response to God’s grace in Christ, exhibit truth in that it be focused upon the glory of God and not exchanged for the false glory of man.  May all that we do be done for the worship of our Lord, not of our own desires and paltry hopes to save ourselves.  May we above all know of the redeeming love and grace that God has given us freely in His Son Jesus Christ and rejoice with arms wide open.  May the words of saints such as Calvin elucidate responses that draw us away from ourselves and into an ever renewing conviction into true worship of our most gracious God.

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