Blog 68: 2.8.47 - 2.8.52

Paul Helm

Calvin's distinctive way of setting forth of the true purpose of the law is now apparent. And so bearing false witness stands for having a general regard for truth, for God is truth, and we should tell the truth, and not merely avoid telling lies. In our truth-telling we should aim to help others, to build them up, and so not slander them nor speak evil of them nor deceive them of what is lawfully theirs, which includes their good name. So - no jokes at another's expense if these have a tendency to drag him down, as they usually do have.

However, Calvin strikes a different note regarding covetousness. He reckons that covetousness refers to the first workings of those desires that lead to the forming of evil intentions to lie,  to steal, to commit adultery and the rest. So the last commandment undergirds all the rest. Not only should we not act in accordance with our evil intentions, nor have such intentions, we should explicitly guard against the tendency we have to form them - this tendency is covetousness, the common denominator of all those sins forbidden in the Second Table. It is interesting that Calvin does not here mention the special place that the forbidding of covetousness has in Romans 7.

Summarising, keeping the law from the heart, embracing love to God and love to neighbour,  has to do with the re-forming and the shining of the image of God. (One might even say that Calvin sees the Law an instrument for cultivating virtues rather than keeping a set of rules.)  The fact that sometimes Scripture lays particular emphasis upon the Second Table should not lead us to think that the commandments of the First Table may be taken for granted.