Calvin on Man's Knowledge (and supression) of God

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Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
This thread has been discussing an apologetic approach wrt Natural Revelation. I think these observations from Calvin are very useful in discussing how man knows, what man knows, and what man does with that knowledge.




1. The knowledge of God being manifested to all makes the reprobate
without excuse. Universal belief and acknowledgement of the existence
of God.

2. Objection--that religion and the belief of a Deity are the
inventions of crafty politicians. Refutation of the objection. This
universal belief confirmed by the examples of wicked men and Atheists.

3. Confirmed also by the vain endeavours of the wicked to banish all
fear of God from their minds. Conclusion, that the knowledge of God is
naturally implanted in the human mind.

1. That there exists in the human minds and indeed by natural instinct,
some sense of Deity, we hold to be beyond dispute, since God himself,
to prevent any man from pretending ignorance, has endued all men with
some idea of his Godhead, the memory of which he constantly renews and
occasionally enlarges, that all to a man being aware that there is a
God, and that he is their Maker, may be condemned by their own
conscience when they neither worship him nor consecrate their lives to
his service. Certainly, if there is any quarter where it may be
supposed that God is unknown, the most likely for such an instance to
exist is among the dullest tribes farthest removed from civilisation.
But, as a heathen tells us, [54] there is no nation so barbarous, no
race so brutish, as not to be imbued with the conviction that there is
a God. Even those who, in other respects, seem to differ least from the
lower animals, constantly retain some sense of religion; so thoroughly
has this common conviction possessed the mind, so firmly is it stamped
on the breasts of all men. Since, then, there never has been, from the
very first, any quarter of the globe, any city, any household even,
without religion, this amounts to a tacit confession, that a sense of
Deity is inscribed on every heart. Nay, even idolatry is ample evidence
of this fact. For we know how reluctant man is to lower himself, in
order to set other creatures above him. Therefore, when he chooses to
worship wood and stone rather than be thought to have no God, it is
evident how very strong this impression of a Deity must be; since it is
more difficult to obliterate it from the mind of man, than to break
down the feelings of his nature,--these certainly being broken down,
when, in opposition to his natural haughtiness, he spontaneously
humbles himself before the meanest object as an act of reverence to

2. It is most absurd, therefore, to maintain, as some do, that religion
was devised by the cunning and craft of a few individuals, as a means
of keeping the body of the people in due subjection, while there was
nothing which those very individuals, while teaching others to worship
God, less believed than the existence of a God. I readily acknowledge,
that designing men have introduced a vast number of fictions into
religion, with the view of inspiring the populace with reverence or
striking them with terror, and thereby rendering them more obsequious;
but they never could have succeeded in this, had the minds of men not
been previously imbued with that uniform belief in God, from which, as
from its seed, the religious propensity springs. And it is altogether
incredible that those who, in the matter of religion, cunningly imposed
on their ruder neighbours, were altogether devoid of a knowledge of
God. For though in old times there were some, and in the present day
not a few are found who deny the being of a God, yet, whether they will
or not, they occasionally feel the truth which they are desirous not to
know. We do not read of any man who broke out into more unbridled and
audacious contempt of the Deity than C. Caligula, [55] and yet none
showed greater dread when any indication of divine wrath was
manifested. Thus, however unwilling, he shook with terror before the
God whom he professedly studied to condemn. You may every day see the
same thing happening to his modern imitators. The most audacious
despiser of God is most easily disturbed, trembling at the sound of a
falling leaf. How so, unless in vindication of the divine majesty,
which smites their consciences the more strongly the more they
endeavour to flee from it. They all, indeed, look out for hiding-places
where they may conceal themselves from the presence of the Lord, and
again efface it from their mind; but after all their efforts they
remain caught within the net. Though the conviction may occasionally
seem to vanish for a moment, it immediately returns, and rushes in with
new impetuosity, so that any interval of relief from the gnawing of
conscience is not unlike the slumber of the intoxicated or the insane,
who have no quiet rest in sleep, but are continually haunted with dire
horrific dreams. Even the wicked themselves, therefore, are an example
of the fact that some idea of God always exists in every human mind.

3. All men of sound Judgment will therefore hold, that a sense of Deity
is indelibly engraven on the human heart. And that this belief is
naturally engendered in all, and thoroughly fixed as it were in our
very bones, is strikingly attested by the contumacy of the wicked, who,
though they struggle furiously, are unable to extricate themselves from
the fear of God. Though Diagoras, [56] and others of like stamps make
themselves merry with whatever has been believed in all ages concerning
religion, and Dionysus scoffs at the Judgment of heaven, it is but a
Sardonian grin; for the worm of conscience, keener than burning steel,
is gnawing them within. I do not say with Cicero, that errors wear out
by age, and that religion increases and grows better day by day. For
the world (as will be shortly seen) labours as much as it can to shake
off all knowledge of God, and corrupts his worship in innumerable ways.
I only say, that, when the stupid hardness of heart, which the wicked
eagerly court as a means of despising God, becomes enfeebled, the sense
of Deity, which of all things they wished most to be extinguished, is
still in vigour, and now and then breaks forth. Whence we infer, that
this is not a doctrine which is first learned at school, but one as to
which every man is, from the womb, his own master; one which nature
herself allows no individual to forget, though many, with all their
might, strive to do so. Moreover, if all are born and live for the
express purpose of learning to know God, and if the knowledge of God,
in so far as it fails to produce this effect, is fleeting and vain, it
is clear that all those who do not direct the whole thoughts and
actions of their lives to this end fail to fulfil the law of their
being. This did not escape the observation even of philosophers. For it
is the very thing which Plato meant (in Phoed. et Theact.) when he
taught, as he often does, that the chief good of the soul consists in
resemblance to God; i.e., when, by means of knowing him, she is wholly
transformed into him. Thus Gryllus, also, in Plutarch (lib. guod bruta
anim. ratione utantur), reasons most skilfully, when he affirms that,
if once religion is banished from the lives of men, they not only in no
respect excel, but are, in many respects, much more wretched than the
brutes, since, being exposed to so many forms of evil, they continually
drag on a troubled and restless existence: that the only thing,
therefore, which makes them superior is the worship of God, through
which alone they aspire to immortality.

[54] "Intelligi necesse est deos, quoniam insitas eorum vel potius
innatas cognitiones habemus.--Quae nobis natura informationem deorum
ipsorum dedit, eadem insculpsit in mentibus ut eos aeternos et beatos
haberemus."--Cic. de Nat. Deor. lib. 1 c. 17.--"Itaque inter omnes
omnium gentium summa constat; omnibus enim innatum est, et in animo
quasi insculptum esse deos."--Lib. 2. c. 4. See also Lact. Inst. Div.
lib. 3 c. 10.

[55] Suet. Calig. c. 51.

[56] Cic. De Nat. Deor. lib. 1 c. 23. Valer. Max. lib. 1. c. 1.




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

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 regard 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 hath 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 Judgment,
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 1:2, 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 Judgment extorts Judgment 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. 1). 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.

Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
Chapter 5:




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 body.

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

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

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 goodness.

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 fortune.

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 antiquity.

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 world.

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. [57] 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 [58] 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 call 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 vantage-ground, 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 Virgil: [59] --

"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." [60]

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, [61] 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." [62]

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. [63] 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 hands.

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 Judgment 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
unrighteous 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 Judgment; 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. 6-9).

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? [64] 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 [65] 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. [66] 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." [67]
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 Judgment, 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 errors.

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.

[57] Augustinus: Astrologia magnum religiosis argumentum, tormentumque

[58] See Aristot. Hist. Anim. lib. i. c. 17; Macrob. in Somn. Scip lib.
2 c. 12; Boeth. De Definitione.

[59] Aeneid, 6 724, sq. See Calvin on Acts 17:28 Manil. lib. 1. Astron.

[60] Dryden's Virgil, AEneid, Book 4 1. 980-990.

[61] Georgic 4. 220. Plat. in Tim. Arist. lib. 1 De Animo. See also
Metaph. lib. 1. Merc. Trismegr. in Pimandro.

[62] Dryden's Virgil, Book 4. 1. 252-262.

[63] He maintains, in the beginning of the First Book, that nothing is
produced of nothing, but that all things are formed out of certain
primitive materials. He also perverts the ordinary course of generation
into an argument against the existence of God. In the Fifth Book,
however, he admits that the world was born and will die.

[64] Plato in Timaeos. See also Cic. De Nat. Deorum, lib. 1 ; Plut. De
Philos Placitis, lib. i.

[65] Cicero : Qui deos esse dixerunt tanta sunt in varietate ac
dissensione, ut eorum molestum sit enumerare sententias.--Cicero, De
Nat Deorum, lib. 1 and 2. Lactant Inst. Div. lib. 1 &c.

[66] Plutarch. lib. De Iside et Osiride.

[67] Cicero, De Nat. Deor. lib. 1.


Puritan Board Post-Graduate

This is a timely post, especially in light of the ridulous film (Religulous) that came out over the weekend. "The fool has said in his heart there is no God."
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