But now I realise that to skip the place of senses and reason and evidence is to neglect much of the first chapters of the Institutes, and half of what scholars call the two-fold character of the knowledge of God. That is, the first half, in which is situated Calvin’s attitude to natural theology; the created order and human nature. And with this neglect was another, that of what Calvin thought Paul was doing in his preaching in Lystra and Athens. (Acts 14 and 17)
What do these neglected or misinterpreted chapters of the Institutes say? They say that nature witnesses to God, that this witness is recognised really but not fully or immaculately by the reason, the senses and the conscience of the human race. Particularly the conscience, perhaps. Even the public atheist cannot silence the witness of his conscience. Further, that given these witnesses is planted in the human, the race is therefore culpable, accountable. Consider the titles of some of the chapters in Book I: ‘The Knowledge of God Naturally Implanted in the Human Mind’ (I.3); ‘The Knowledge of God Stifled or Corrupted, Ignorantly or Maliciously’ (I.4); ‘The Knowledge of God Conspicuous in the Creation, and Continual Government of the World’ (1.5). Only then, with these positions in place, does Calvin introduce special revelation, the Scripture.
Let us then know, that the sons of Cain, though deprived of the Spirit of regeneration, were yet endued with gifts of no despicable kind; just as the experience of all ages teaches us how widely the rays of divine light have shone on unbelieving nations, for the benefit of the present life; and we see, at the present time, that the excellent gifts of the Spirit are diffused through the whole human race. Moreover liberal arts and sciences have descended to us from the heathen. We are, indeed, compelled to acknowledge that we have received astronomy, and the other parts of philosophy, medicine, and the order of civil government, from them. (Genesis 4.20)
Nature and grace and the 'system of doctrine'
[For those interested in historical theology, and particularly the theology of the Reformed Orthodox, the Junius Institute [http://www.juniusinstitute.org/] has a programme of Colloquia. The latest to be streamed is a lecture by Richard Muller on William Ames and divine ideas. Follow the recording at: