Jehan Cauvin (10 July 1509 Noyon – 27 May 1564 Geneva)
Self-Denial Gives Us the Right Attitude toward Our Fellow Man
Self-denial has respect partly to men and partly (more especially) to God. For when Scripture enjoins us in regard to our fellow men, to prefer them in honor to ourselves, and sincerely labor to promote their advantages (Rom 12:10; Phi 2:3), [God] gives us commands that our mind is utterly incapable of obeying until its natural feelings are suppressed. For so blindly do we all rush in the direction of self-love that everyone thinks he has a good reason for exalting himself and despising all others in comparison. If God has bestowed on us something not to be repented of, trusting to it, we immediately become elated; [we] not only swell, but almost burst with pride. The vices with which we abound we both carefully conceal from others and flatteringly represent to ourselves as minute and trivial, nay, sometimes hug them as virtues. When the same qualities that we admire in ourselves are seen in others, even though they should be superior, we, in order that we may not be forced to yield to them, maliciously lower and carp at them. In like manner, in the case of vices, not contented with severe and keen animadversion, we studiously exaggerate them. Hence the insolence with which each, as if exempted from the common lot, seeks to exalt himself above his neighbor, confidently and proudly despising others, or at least looking down upon them as his inferiors. The poor man yields to the rich, the plebeian to the noble, the servant to the master, the unlearned to the learned, and yet every one inwardly cherishes some idea of his own superiority. Thus each, flattering himself, sets up a kind of kingdom in his breast. The arrogant, to satisfy themselves, pass censure on the minds and manners of other men; and when contention arises, the full venom is displayed. Many bear about with them some measure of mildness so long as all things go smoothly and lovingly with them; but how few are there who, when stung and irritated, preserve the same tenor of moderation? For this there is no other remedy than to pluck up by the roots those most noxious pests, self-love and love of victory. This the doctrine of Scripture does, for it teaches us to remember that the endowments that God has bestowed upon us are not our own but His free gifts; those who plume themselves upon them betray their ingratitude. “Who maketh thee to differ,” says Paul, “and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? Now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” (1Co 4:7). Then by a diligent examination of our faults let us keep ourselves humble. Thus, while nothing will remain to swell our pride, there will be much to subdue it. Again, we are enjoined, whenever we behold the gifts of God in others, so to reverence and respect the gifts, as also to honor those in whom they reside. God having been pleased to bestow honor upon them, it would ill become us to deprive them of it. Then we are told to overlook their faults, not indeed to encourage by flattering them, but not because of them to insult those whom we ought to regard with honor and good will. In this way, with regard to all with whom we [deal], our behavior will be not only moderate and modest, but also courteous and friendly. The only way by which you can ever attain to true meekness is to have your heart imbued with a humble opinion of yourself and respect for others.
Self-Renunciation Leads to Proper Helpfulness toward Our Neighbors
How difficult it is to perform the duty of seeking the good of our neighbor (Mat 12:33; Luk 10:29-36)! Unless you leave off all thought of yourself and in a manner cease to be yourself, you will never accomplish it. How can you exhibit those works of charity that Paul describes unless you renounce yourself and become wholly devoted to others? “Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked,” etc. (1Co 13:4-5) Were it the only thing required of us to seek not our own, nature would not have the least power to comply: she so inclines us to love ourselves only, that she will not easily allow us carelessly to pass by ourselves and our own interests that we may watch over the interests of others, nay, spontaneously to yield our own rights and resign them to another. But Scripture, to conduct us to this, reminds us that whatever we obtain from the Lord is granted on the condition of our employing it for the common good of the church. Therefore, the legitimate use of all our gifts is a kind and liberal communication of them with others. There cannot be a surer rule or a stronger exhortation to the observance of it than when we are taught that all the endowments that we possess are divine deposits entrusted to us for the very purpose of being distributed for the good of our neighbor (1Pe 4:10). But Scripture proceeds still farther when it likens these endowments to the different members of the body (1Co 12:12). No member has its function for itself or applies it for its own private use, but transfers it to its fellow-members. Nor does it derive any other advantage from it than that which it receives in common with the whole body. Thus, whatever the pious man can do, he is bound to do for his brethren, not consulting his own interest in any other way than by striving earnestly for the common edification of the church. Let this, then, be our method of showing good will and kindness: regarding everything that God has bestowed upon us by which we can aid our neighbor, we are His stewards and are bound to give account of our stewardship. Moreover, the only right mode of administration is that which is regulated by love. In this way, we shall not only unite the study of our neighbor’s advantage with a regard to our own, but also make the latter subordinate to the former.
(On Self Denial – Institutes)
Something dramatic happened in his perception of reality as he read the Scriptures for himself. He heard in them the voice of God and saw the majesty of God:
Now this power which is peculiar to Scripture is clear from the fact that, of human writings, however artfully polished, there is none capable of affecting us at all comparably. Read Demosthenes or Cicero; read Plato, Aristotle, and others of that tribe. They will, I admit, allure you, delight you, move you, enrapture you in wonderful measure. But betake yourself from them to this sacred reading. Then, in spite of yourself, so deeply will it affect you, so penetrate your heart, so fix itself in your very marrow, that, compared with its deep impressions, such vigor as the orators and philosophers have will nearly vanish. Consequently, it is easy to see that the Sacred Scriptures, which so far surpass all gifts and g races of human endeavor, breathe something divine.
After this discovery, Calvin was utterly bound to the Word of God.
The Bible is the very Word of God. He said:
The law and the prophecies are not teaching delivered by the will of men, but dictated by the Holy Ghost…. We owe the Scripture the same reverence which we owe to God, because it has proceeded from Him alone, and has nothing of man mixed with it.
Man never attain true Self Knowledge until he has previously contemplated the face of God, and came down after such a contemplation to look into himself. (Calvin)
Without knowledge of God there is no knowledge of self
It is evident that man never attains to a true self-knowledge until he have previously contemplated the face of God, and come down after such contemplation to look into himself. For (such is our innate pride) we always seem to ourselves just, and upright, and wise, and holy, until we are convinced, by clear evidence, of our injustice, vileness, folly, and impurity. Convinced, however, we are not, if we look to ourselves only, and not to the Lord also. (John Calvin)