Illumined and Comprehending

Institutes 2.2.18 – 2.2.23

The relationship of human reason to the Kingdom of God, specifically, the knowledge of God, the knowledge of God’s fatherly favor toward believers and the method by which we regulate our conduct in accordance to Divine Law, is Calvin’s subject in this reading.

With respect to the knowledge of God and His favors toward men, Calvin says that even the most ingenious thinkers are “blinder than moles” with respect to the things of God. Even though they may border on being thoughtful about these aspects of God’s nature, their remarks are “somewhat of a giddy imagination” at best.

It is said that man is “intoxicated with a false opinion of our own discernment” regarding spiritual matters. Calvin then proves from Scripture that man is spiritually blind and incapable of comprehending the true light of God. (John 1:4,5) For this reason,

… it is said that believers, in embracing Christ, are “born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God,” (John 1:13); in other words, that the flesh has no capacity for such sublime wisdom as to apprehend God, and the things of God, unless illumined by His Spirit.” (2.2.19)

Several verses are used to show that man’s knowledge of God is the result of the initiative that the LORD takes toward us, verses such as Psalm 36:9, I Corinthians 12:3, John 3:27, Deuteronomy 29:2-4, Jeremiah 24:7, John 6:44. These verses intimate “that in spiritual things the human mind is wise only in so far as he enlightens it.” (2.2.20)

“It thus appears that none can enter the kingdom of God save those whose minds have been renewed by the enlightening of the Holy Spirit.” (I Corinthians 2:14,9: 1:20) (2.2.20)

In Section 21, Calvin addresses our inability to understand God’s paternal favor toward us because of the spiritual darkness in which we live and walk without the Holy Spirit. It is only by His grace that the eyes of our understanding are illumined and we are enabled to understand the mysteries of God.

The knowledge of the method of properly regulating man’s conduct is the subject of the last two sections of this reading. According to Calvin, it is in this area of knowledge that man seems to have more discernment than he does in the knowledge of God and His favors.

Romans 2:14 and 15 tell us that the Gentiles have the law of righteousness naturally engraven on their minds. Calvin defines natural law as the “judgement of conscience distinguishing sufficiently between just and unjust.” Because of this we cannot say that man is altogether blind to the rule of life. Much more so, the reality is that natural law renders man inexcusable and deprives him of all pretext of ignorance regarding sin.

The interesting thing is that while man condemns sin in “the general definition or essence of the matter,” that is, sin is wrong, when it “descends to particulars”, namely my sin, man “forgets the rule which he had laid down in the general case.”


In this reading, Calvin has used many of the well-known New Testament verses that speak about our spiritual deadness and the darkness and blindness that prevent us from truly understanding and knowing the truth of God, His salvation in Christ and His favors toward those who are His.

He has spoken about the Spirit of regeneration and the wondrous and special energy that He exercises within us to form “the ear to hear and the mind to understand” the things of God. (2.2.20)

We have been told, and with this we would agree, that “none can enter the kingdom of God save those whose minds have been renewed by the enlightening of the Holy Spirit.”

I am eternally thankful that my LORD took the initiative with me, enlightened the eyes of my understanding, and brought me to faith for the forgiveness of my sins.

” … one thing I do know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.”

(John 9:25b)

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