Taking Calvin Off The Shelf

Published on September 15, 2011 by CT in Blog, Kindling


My bookcase is filled with hundreds of books.  I have not read all of them; in fact, I’ve probably read only half of them.  Some are there because I was overambitious in my book purchasing.  Others are there because I still intend to wade my way through them over time.  Still others are there because, sometimes, it’s just easier to impress people with books on your bookshelf than to actually read them.

One such book is Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin.  The way I’ve thought about it, it’s a really thick book, which he wrote when he was maybe six years old, and it’s had more of an influence on Western thought than perhaps just about any other book, so I assumed it was a book written by a genius meant to be read by geniuses.  Honestly, if I want to know what Calvin wrote about, I can get the basics from Wikipedia.

But I’m working on a book now, and I cracked open the Institutes for a little research.  And by the time I’d read two pages, I realized these were two really good pages.  In fact, there’s a section on God’s sovereignty that I just want to reprint here for you in order to awaken your wonder at the beautiful way in which God worked for His glory in creation.

The context is this:  Calvin is making the case for the sovereignty of God, specifically pointing to God’s role as creator and sustainer of all things meaning that nothing occurs outside of His providence (what he calls the secret counsel of God).  And to those who would suggest that God has acted in creation to make everything out of nothing, and to infuse it with the energy and natural cause to run apart from His sustaining work, he offers this:

“No created object makes a more wonderful or glorious display than the sun.  For, besides illuminating the whole world with its brightness, how admirably does it foster and invigorate all animals by its heat, and fertilize the earth by its rays, warming the seeds of grain in its lap, and thereby calling forth the verdant blade!  This it supports, increases, and strengthens with additional nurture, till it rises into the stalk; and still feeds it with perpetual moisture, till it comes into flower; and from flower to fruit, which it continues to ripen till it attains maturity.  In like manner, by its warmth trees and vines bud, and put forth firs their leaves, then their blossom, then their fruit.”

Now here’s the kicker:

“And the Lord, that he might claim the entire glory of these things as his own, was pleased that light should exist, and that the earth should be replenished with all kinds of herbs and fruits before he made the sun.  No pious man, therefore, will make the sun either the necessary or principal cause of those things which existed before the creation of the sun, but only the instrument which God employs, because he so pleases.”

It’s true.  I looked for myself.  I knew there was light before the sun, but I never made the connection as to why this may be.  Calvin offers an interpretation, but it’s one that bows my knees in awe at the marvelous providence of God, working for His glory, which He will give to no other, and how this working is the greatest gift we could ever receive.

Question:  What’s one book sitting on your shelf that you’ve always meant to read but haven’t yet?