Our Monday jolt of Calvin for this week comes from his discussion of the Law in Institutes 2.7.8. The Law pronounces a curse on all who, taking their beginning from unbelief, disobey its demands and binds the wayward to condemnation and destruction.
But why? In order to serve the divine clemency: so that the wayward might flee to God himself in Christ for rescue, “taking refuge in his mercy.” In a beautiful image, Calvin depicts the sinner–formerly naked, poor, blind, having no hope and without God in the world–as clothed in the mercy of Christ. We “cover [ourselves] entirely up with it,” renouncing ourselves and so finding ourselves in Christ as he looks upon us not in wrath but in gentleness.
For as we turn our eyes away from our wretched condition and pitiful estate, we find to our surprise that we meet the gracious gaze of one who had looked upon us in love and full of pity long before we knew we needed to be found. Thus he is our very present help in trouble: though we are all weakness, false and full of sin, he is our refuge and strength. The Psalmist cries out to God, “Take hold of shield and buckler and rise for my help!” In Christ we learn that such prayers are not in vain, and so lay hold of the truth of what another Psalmist says: “He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.”
But while the unrighteousness and condemnation of all are attested by the law, it does not follow (if we make the proper use of it) that we are immediately to give up all hope and rush headlong on despair. No doubt, it has some such effect upon the reprobate, but this is owing to their obstinacy. With the children of God the effect is different. The Apostle testifies that the law pronounces its sentence of condemnation in order “that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God,” (Rom. 3:19). In another place, however, the same Apostle declares, that “God has concluded them all in unbelief;” not that he might destroy all, or allow all to perish, but that “he might have mercy upon all,” (Rom. 11:32); in other words, that divesting themselves of an absurd opinion of their own virtue, they may perceive how they are wholly dependent on the hand of God; that feeling how naked and destitute they are, they may take refuge in his mercy, rely upon it, and cover themselves up entirely with it; renouncing all righteousness and merit, and clinging to mercy alone, as offered in Christ to all who long and look for it in true faith. In the precepts of the law, God is seen as the rewarder only of perfect righteousness (a righteousness of which all are destitute), and, on the other hand, as the stern avenger of wickedness. But in Christ his countenance beams forth full of grace and gentleness towards poor unworthy sinners.