Calvin’s Institutes — Family Devotional Edition
Truly Knowing the True God
By the knowledge of God, I mean that we not only conceive that there is some God, but also understand what we should know about him for both our interest and his glory. It is one thing to perceive that God our Maker supports us by his power, rules us by his providence, fosters us by his goodness, and visits us with all kinds of blessings, and another thing to embrace the grace of reconciliation offered to us in Christ.
Since our mind cannot conceive of God without rendering some worship to him, it will not be enough simply to hold that he is the only being whom all ought to worship and adore unless we are also persuaded that he is the fountain of all goodness and that we must seek everything in him, and in none but him. We must be persuaded that not a particle of light, or wisdom, or justice, or power, or rectitude, or genuine truth will anywhere be found which does not flow from him. We must learn to expect and ask all things from him, and thankfully ascribe to him whatever we receive. Until men feel that they owe everything to God, they will never submit to him in voluntary obedience. Unless they place their entire happiness in him, they will never yield up their whole selves to him in truth and sincerity.
What use is it to acknowledge some God who has cast off the care of the world and only delights himself in ease? What good does it do to know a God with whom we have nothing to do? Our knowledge should instead teach us reverence and fear, induce us to ask every good thing from him and then, when it is received, ascribe it to him. If you are his workmanship, after all, how can you deny that you are bound by the very law of creation to submit to his authority?—that your life is due to him?—that whatever you do ought to have reference to him?
On the other hand, your idea of his nature is not clear unless you acknowledge him to be the origin and fountain of all goodness. This is why both confidence and a desire of cleaving to him would arise naturally if the depravity of the human mind did not lead it away from the proper course of investigation.
A pious mind does not devise for itself just any kind of God, but looks alone to the one true God; nor does it pretend that God has any character it pleases. He who knows God in this way casts himself entirely upon God’s faithfulness, instantly turns to his protection and trusts his aid, does not doubt that a remedy will be provided for his every time of need, considers himself bound to have respect to his authority in all things, and, in regarding God as a just judge, armed with severity to punish crimes, he keeps the Judgment seat always in his view. Standing in awe of it, he curbs himself, and fears to provoke the Lord’s anger.
Nevertheless, he who knows God is not so terrified by an apprehension of judgment as to wish he could withdraw himself, even if the escape lay before him. He embraces God not less as the avenger of wickedness than as the rewarder of the righteous, because it equally appertains to his glory to store up punishment for the one and eternal life for the other. Besides, it is not the mere fear of punishment that restrains him from sin. Loving and revering God as his father, honoring and obeying him as his master, even if there were no hell, he would revolt at the very idea of offending him.
Questions for Devotion
- Is the knowledge of God more than the knowledge that there is a God? If so, what more?
- Is it possible to separate the knowledge of God from worship? What attribute(s) of God should lead us to proper worship?
- What actions should our knowledge of God produce from us?
- What kinds of things does a pious mind know about the one true God?
- Instead of fear of punishment, what should motivate the Christian’s relation to God?