Blog 62: 2.8.8 - 2.8.14
There is more to obedience to God's commandments than meets the eye! Calvin's reason? The law is full of synecdoche.
Synecdoche?--that un-spellable figure of speech from High School English in which the whole of something is used to refer to a part, or a part is used to designate the whole.
In other words (actually Calvin's): "He who would confine his understanding of the law within the narrowness of the words deserves to be laughed at" (II.8.8). If it were not so sad, Calvin would have a good chortle to himself.
But Calvin never laughs with a lofty spirit. He wants to help us understand how to use the law. Here, then, are two simple Calvin-principles for reading the Decalogue:
1. Ask: What is the reason for this commandment?
2. Ask: What is the grace or pattern of obedience which stands in antithesis to the sin which is forbidden? Learn that it is this which pleases God.
Unintentionally Calvin here gives us a clue to why he was such a superb interpreter of Scripture. He asked the simple question: "What is the point here?" Thus the point of "don't kill" is not merely to forbid the outward act of murder; the command carries in its bosom the responsibility to do all we can to help our neighbor.
Why then express the commandments this way? God emphasizes the worst expressions of a sin to warn us about the true nature of what may seem to us to be lesser expressions.
The Decalogue comes in two tables. Commandments one through four deal with our relation to God; five through ten to man his image. This is the gospel order: worship is the foundation for ethics, godliness for righteousness. And to encourage his people to holiness God "attracts them with sweetness by declaring himself God of the Church." He is the Lord our God.