St. Augustine and John Calvin’s “Chief Rule” of Christianity
I once read the following quote by St. Augustine, one of the most respected Christian thinkers of
“When a certain orator was asked what was the chief rule of eloquence he replied, ‘Delivery.’
What was the second rule? ‘Delivery.’ What was the third rule? ‘Delivery.’ So if you ask me
concerning the precepts of the Christian religion, first, second, third, and always I would
answer, ‘Humility.’ ” (Augustine, quoted by John Calvin, Institutes, 2.2.11).
In reading a book celebrating John Calvin’s 500 th birthday, I discovered that Calvin had reported
this quote in his famous book Institutes of the Christian Religion. Calvin, who was also one of
the greatest Christian thinkers who ever lived, said of Augustine’s quote, “I am exceedingly
delighted in these words.” So they were penned by Augustine and affirmed by Calvin as being
the “chief rule” of Christian practice.
This caused me to think a lot about the subject of spiritual pride in relation to humility. 1
Corinthians 8:1-3 gives us the following challenge: 1) We know that we all possess knowledge.
Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. 2) The man who thinks he knows something does not yet
know as he ought to know. 3) But the man who loves God is known by God. Notice what Paul is
Knowledge by itself produces arrogance, v. 1. My old professor Dr. Toussaint once preached
on this text in chapel and he said the line “knowledge puffs up,” reminded him of a great big bull
frog. Doc was raised on a farm. Bull frogs puff out their chests and croak loudly to attract a
mate. Listen to me they croak! So, if we are spiritually proud we are like bull frogs with inflated
chests calling attention to ourselves and our knowledge. This is a special warning to those of us
who are teachers and are constantly studying, learning and gaining knowledge. We have to be
the most on guard that we don’t act in spiritual pride. We will be prone because of our learning
to treat our families and God’s flock without the care or respect they should receive.
Spiritual knowledge should make us more teachable, not less, v. 2. When v. 2 says, “The man
who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know,” the meaning is obvious.
The more we learn the more we realize we don’t know it all. Dr. Toussaint said that every time
he earned another degree (all the way up to a ThD); it caused him to feel like there was so much
yet to learn. How true that is? There is always more information, another fact, or an additional
application of spiritual truth that we missed. I am often pleased in teaching when class members
will bring out an application I didn’t even consider. I come away thinking, “I missed that!” We
need the insight of others to see more fully.
Spiritual pride is chiefly demonstrated by a lack of love, vv. 1, 3. Love builds up . . . the man
who loves God is known by God, vv. 1, 3. Here we see that the purpose of spiritual knowledge
is to cause us to love God more. That love causes us to act like God in building up the people He
loves. Love is always about others and their growth, not about us and showing how right we are.
If our knowledge causes us to act with impatience, lack of courtesy or contempt toward others
we have lost the “chief rule” of Christian practice which is humility. We may be right, but did
we also love? That’s the test.
Sincerely, trying to learn it,
Pastor Brian (:-})