Staying within the Limits of Revelation

In Calvin’s treatise called “God’s Eternal Predestination and Secret Providence” (an awesome piece of writing!) the Reformer continually calls his readers to stay within the limits of what God has revealed to us concerning predestination and providence.  Here’s one of the more memorable lines (one of many):

“Those who seek to know more than God has revealed are madmen.”

He uses Augustine several times to reiterate the point.  Here’s one quote of Augustine he used.

“When men ask us why God did this or that, our answer is to be, ‘Because it was his will.’  If they go on to inquire, Why did he so will it? our reply should be, ‘Now you ask what is greater and higher than the will of God itself.  You ask what none can find out.’  Let human rashness, then, keep itself within bounds.  Let it never seek after that which is not, lest it should not find that which is.”

One more by Calvin:

“Into this mirror [Christ] let the eye of our faith ever fixedly look.  Let it not desire to penetrate where access to its sight is not given.”

I always love this emphasis by Augustine and Calvin.  It is easy for knowledge-seekers to go where we should not go – we need constant reminders to stay within the limits of scripture, and stay humbly there.  It really means staying at the feet of Jesus, the sum and substance of scripture.  Wise Christians will not be afraid to say “I do not know” when asked certain deep questions.  This is part of the epistemological humility that we should pray for and seek to exhibit.

shane lems

2 thoughts on “Staying within the Limits of Revelation”

  1. Add Calvin’s commentary of Romans 9 to your list:

    “Must they avoid every thought of predestination? By no means: for as the Holy Spirit has taught us nothing but what it behooves us to know, the knowledge of this would no doubt be useful, provided it be confined to the word of God. Let this then be our sacred rule, to seek to know nothing concerning it, except what Scripture teaches us: when the Lord closes his holy mouth, let us also stop the way, that we may not go farther. But as we are men, to whom foolish questions naturally occur, let us hear from Paul how they are to be met.”

    God’s will is so different and contrary to our own wills and thinking that confronting it is often uncomfortable and even painful. Yet Calvin and Augustine never cite our own discomfort as a reason to desist from our questions. In fact they encourage us to penetrate beyond the obvious in our study. We ought to struggle with these concepts because we ought to know the God who has created and redeemed us a clearly as we can within his revelation. The key, as these quotes plainly illustrate, is to keep our theology in tension by keeping our curiosity on a leash tethered to God’s Word.

    BTW, I like the new look!


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