Sunday, January 17, 2010

Calvin's Great Circular Reference

Before I start explaining what I mean by "Calvin's Great Circular Reference", I want to quickly explain the numbering system that I am using. It is the standard system when referencing the Institutes. The first number is the book (there are 4). The second number is chapter (I think there are 80). The third number is the section. Now that I have cleared that up...

Fellow computer geeks and spreadsheet users should instantly recognize what a circular reference is. In Excel, when a formula contains a reference to the cell in which it is placed, it is impossible to calculate the formula and it gives you a circular reference error.

Similarly Calvin opens with what seems like faulty logic if you were just to read the section titles and not what is contained within the text. He presents the reader with the idea that without knowledge of yourself, you cannot really know God. And vice versa, without knowledge of God, you cannot really know yourself.

Until we see what a miserable state we are in, we cannot see that all goodness comes from God. We must see that the world is corrupt and we are totally depraved before we can recognize the majesty of God. But, we must recognize how pure and good that God is, before we can see what miserable wretches that we are. We will never really how bad off we are until we have compared ourselves to God.

It is like I am enjoying a good cup of Emeril's coffee again this morning. I only know that it is a good cup of coffee because I have had Maxwell House before. If I had never had Maxwell House, I would not be able to see what a good cup of coffee that Emeril brews, but I also would never have known how terrible a cup of Maxwell House is without ever having experienced truly good coffee.

If you ever think you might be interested in reading the Institutes, find the book online or in your church library and read this first chapter. It won't take more than about 10 minutes and it is some of the most profound prose ever written.

1 comment:

  1. The Battles/McNeill version of the Institutes is one of my prized possessions. Even opening a volume and reading at random is like participating in the best worship service. It makes me recall the finest worship services I've attended, and they were actually Sunday School classes, led by the then Stated Clerk of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Ed Davis. The praise of God's glory exuded everything that was said, just like reading this edition of Calvin's writing. Reading this book is a very uplifting experience.

    Sorry to reply to an older post!


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