Saturday, March 28, 2009
On Ecclesiastes by John Calvin
All future events being uncertain to us, seem in suspense as if ready to take either direction. Still, however, the impression remains seated in our hearts, that nothing will happen which the Lord has not provided. In this sense the term event is repeatedly used in Ecclesiastes, because, at first glance, men do not penetrate to the primary causes which lies concealed. And yet, what is taught in Scripture of the secret providence of God was never so completely effaced from the human heart, as that some sparks did not always shine in the darkness.
To charge the intellect with perpetual blindness, so as to leave it no intelligence of any description whatever, is repugnant not only to the Word of God, but to common experience. We see that there has been implanted in the human mind a certain desire of investigating truth, to which it would never aspire unless some relish for truth antecedently existed.
There is, therefore, now, in the human mind, discernment to this extent, that it is naturally influenced by the love of truth, the neglect of which in lower animals is proof of their gross and irrational nature. Still it is true that this love of truth fails before it reaches the goal, forthwith falling away into vanity.
As the human mind is unable, from dullness, to pursue the right path of investigation, and, after various wanderings, stumbling every now and then like one groping in the darkness, at length gets completely bewildered, so its whole procedure proves how unfit it is to search the truth and find it. Then it labors under another serious defect, in that it frequently fails to discern what the knowledge is which it should study to acquire. Hence, under the influence of a vain curiousity, it torments itself with superfluous and useless discussions, either not adverting at all to the things necessary to be known, or casting only a cursory and contemtuous glance at them. At all events it scarcely ever studies them in sober earnest.
Profane writers are constantly complaining of this perverse procedure, and yet almost all of them are found pursuing it. Hence Solomon, throughout the Book of Ecclesiastes, after enumerating all the studies in which men think they attain the highest wisdom, pronounces them vain and frivolous.
Still, however, man's efforts are not always so utterly fruitless as not to lead to some result, especially when his direction is directed to inferior objects. Nay, even with regard to superior objects, though he is more careless in investigating them, he makes some little progress. Here, however, his ability is more limited, and he is never more sensible of his weakness than when he attempts to soar above the sphere of the present life...
Grant that man recieved at his creation a power of acquiring life or death; what, then, if we, on the other hand, can reply that he has lost it? Assuredly, I have no intention to contradict Solomon, who assserts that "God has made man upright;" that "they have sought out many inventions" but since man, by degenerating, has made a shipwreck of himself and all his blessings, it certainly does not follow, that everything attributed to his nature, as originally constituted, applies to it now when vitiated and degenerate.
Therefore, not only to my opponents, but to the author of Ecclestiasticus himself (whoever he may have been) this is my answer:
If you mean to tell man that in himself there is a power of acquiring salvation, your authority with us is not so great as, in the least degree, to prejudice the undoubted word of God; but if wishing only to curb the malignity of the fleshy which by transferring the blame of its own wickedness to God, is wont to catch at a vain defense, you say that rectitude was given to man, in order to make it apparent he was the cause of his own destruction, I willingly assent.
Only agree with me in this, that it is by his own fault he is stript of the ornaments in which the Lord first attired him, and then let us unite in acknowledging that what he now wants is a physician, and not a defender.
- Institutes of the Christian Religion-
"the race is not to the swift, nor battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to the men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all"- Ecclesiastes 9/11
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