Saturday, 19 September 2015

Chapter II What it is to know God and to what purpose the knowledge of Him tends

Piety is the requisite for the knowledge of God

What does the twenty first century mind think of when the word piety is mentioned ? Some sort of sentimental religiosity, something to do with monks and nuns/  if we consult the Oxford English Dictionary then the definition we find is “devout, religious, hypocritically virtuous, dutiful”.  In the second chapter of the Institutes Calvin begins to explore the knowledge of God and suggests that Piety is necessary for such knowledge.  Can this be true for us today?  Can God be known where there is no piety?

Some people today would say that they know God every time they see creation- the beauty of a sunset, the intricacy of an orchid, the colour of a kingfisher.  But Calvin would argue that the revelation of God in creation is only a basis for a sound natural theology if the first man, Adam had remained without sin and so Calvin contends that we cannot know God “until Christ the mediator comes forward to reconcile Him to us”.  We may be capable of feeling God’s providence, his goodness and experience His blessings but it is something else to know “the grace of reconciliation offered to us in Christ”.

Two aspects of the character of God point to this:  1. The fashioning of the universe shows God as creator and 2. The face of Christ shows Him as redeemer.  We cannot apprehend God until we honour these features of His constitution.  He sustains, regulates, preserves and rules the universe.  It is in this that piety is to be located: no wisdom or light exists that does not come from Him and we will not acknowledge him “unless we establish complete happiness in Him”

By Calvin’s definition of piety then it is certainly necessary to know God. The modern definition is more likely to lead us away from God – would you agree?  For someone who is hypocritically virtuous is unlikely to be giving glory to God in their lives, do you think?