The Law’s Pedagogical Purpose!

John Calvin had an extremely high view of revelation, his heart was captivated and he enjoyed a full assurance that divine revelation asserted a final authority in every area of the believer’s life. He understood that the divine Law was educational. It showed, revealed the righteousness of God and thereby also reflected the sinfulness of man. In this sense, the function of the moral Law had three parts to it. First, revealing that righteousness alone that is acceptable to God. Second, it warns, informs, convicts. Lastly, it condemns all of man’s righteousness, “for man”, he says, “is blinded, drunk with self-love, and so he must be made to know and to confess, he must be told, he must be educated concerning his weakness, his impurity and it is the function of the Law of God that does this”. Man, Calvin taught, needs to be convinced of his vanity or else he will be filled with insane confidence concerning his own mental and moral powers. He will never, never, be persuaded to recognise the reality of his state as long as he measures himself by the measure of his own choice, i.e., his righteousness, his morality, or his respectability. Let him compare himself and his imagined powers with the divine Law, says Calvin, and his bravado evaporates. Whatever huge opinion he has of himself and his own moral and mental powers, he soon sees himself and all that he has and all that he is, in and of himself, and it staggers, it totters and finally it falls under so heavy a weight as the Law of God.

So it is the education of the Law that rids man of his arrogance that previously blinded him. He looks into the mirror of God’s Law and he sees himself as he is, that is, as God sees him, and he certainly is not, as he previously thought, the fairest of them all. But rather he sees himself as a righteous and a holy, sin-hating God sees him. It reveals the sinfulness of man. Another aspect of sin’s disease and sickness is that man’s pride needs to be demolished, says Calvin. As long as he stands in his judgement, hypocrisy passes for righteousness, when he is pleased with this he stands against, opposed to the grace of God, by countless acts of counterfeit righteousness. Calvin, of course, understood this well, because this was himself, this was the pre-Christian John Calvin. In his religious life-style, he had built up and strengthened his self-righteousness and of course, the severity of his struggle was in proportion to his strong self-righteousness. He saw himself as being blameless in life. He was so punctual and particular in the discharge of all his acts of devotion, he was a student par excellence, and all this served to nourish this self- righteousness powerfully. When Calvin would have read Paul’s Pharisaic track record in Philippians, he would have seen a reflection of himself. This was John Calvin and every true believer before conversion.

(©️ James R Hamilton, February 2020)

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