…and, if one has faith, all “common” things created by God are sanctified–made-holy–to us. Without faith, they are profane to us, because we profane God, the giver of every good gift. This is the thrust of Calvin’s comments on 1 Timothy 4.4-5 (“For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer”). The “holy” and the “profane” are mutually exclusive categories. Everything made by God is in the former category objectively, and becomes so to us subjectively if we receive whatever God has made with thanksgiving.
5 For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer This is the confirmation of the preceding clause, if it be received with Thanksgiving. And it is an argument drawn from contrast; for “holy” and “profane” are things contrary to each other. Let us now see what is the sanctification of all good things, which belong to the sustenance of the present life. Paul testifies that it consists of “the word of God and prayer.” But it ought to be observed, that this word must be embraced by faith, in order that it may be advantageous; for, although God himself sanctifies all things by the Spirit of his mouth, yet we do not obtain that benefit but by faith. To this is added “prayer;” for, on the one hand, we ask from God our daily bread, according to the commandment of Christ, (Matthew 6:11;) and, on the other hand we offer thanksgiving to Him for His goodness.
Now Paul’s doctrine proceeds on this principle, that there is no good thing, the possession of which is lawful, unless conscience testify that it is lawfully our own. And which of us would venture to claim for himself a single grain of wheat, if he were not taught by the word of God that he is the heir of the world? Common sense, indeed, pronounces, that the wealth of the world is naturally intended for our use; but, since dominion over the world was taken from us in Adam, everything that we touch of the gifts of God is defiled by our pollution; and, on the other hand, it is unclean to us, till God graciously come to our aid, and by ingrafting us into his Son, constitutes us anew to be lords of the world, that we may lawfully use as our own all the wealth with which he supplies us.
Justly, therefore, does Paul connect lawful enjoyment with “the word”, by which alone we regain what was lost in Adam; for we must acknowledge God as our Father, that we may be his heirs, and Christ as our Head, that those things which are his may become ours. Hence it ought to be inferred that the use of all the gifts of God is unclean, unless it be accompanied by true knowledge and calling on the name of God; and that it is a beastly way of eating, when we sit down at table without any prayer; and, when we have eaten to the full, depart in utter forgetfulness of God.
There is therefore a parallel between our common meals and the Lord’s Supper, both of which are blessed by the Lord. Yet Calvin is quick to point out that this parallel does not make them identical. The “spiritual sacraments” are owed a greater degree of reverence, because in the eating and drinking of the elements by faith, we are nourished spiritually.
And if such sanctification is demanded in regard to common food, which, together with the belly, is subject to corruption, what must we think about spiritual sacraments? If “the word,” and calling on God through faith, be not there, what remains that is not profane? Here we must attend to the distinction between the blessing of the sacramental table and the blessing of a common table; for, as to the food which we eat for the nourishment of our body, we bless it for this purpose, that we may receive it in a pure and lawful manner; but we consecrate, in a more solemn manner, the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper, that they may be pledges to us of the body and blood of Christ.
There are two great gifts to which Calvin averts here, then: the great gift of the sanctification of all things–even the most common food–to us (that is, the opening of all of “common” life as a field of holiness and thanksgiving to God, the opening out of the action of the divine goodness onto our entire lives and not just some “religious” bits here and there); and the even greater gift of our nourishment by the life-giving body and blood of our savior; and both are apprehended, owned, appropriated by faith in what God says to and of the world in his word and Word.