The Institutes (10)

Book 1 Chapter 7 Sections 1-5

Scripture is given by God so that we are not left to wallow in the darkness of our own blindness. With Scripture, the Holy Spirit penetrates the fog and shows us God “aright” to use a Puritanism. Calvin brings this up in chapter seven; it’s implied that he’s arguing for Holy Spirit-given Scriptural authority against two forms of error: 1) the error of the Catholic Church, who bases the authority of Scripture in the church, and 2) the error of the skeptic, who says that Calvin’s contentions are “mere opinion.”

In all honesty, Calvin does much better against the first error, rather than the second. Against the skeptic, Calvin seems to argue for a objective feeling that the Holy Spirit gives that is “more excellent than all reason.” While I agree that the inward testimony of the Holy Spirit is enough to quell doubt, it isn’t enough to present to a dark world. The Scriptures themselves are the remedy, coupled with the changed lives of believers. Written Word and living word…

… but to confront the skeptics, Calvin first points out how the Scriptures are not founded on the Church, but vice-versa:

… a most pernicious error widely prevails that Scripture has only so much weight as in conceded to it by the consent of the church. As if the eternal and inviolable trust of God depended upon the decision of men… but such wrangles are neatly refuted by just one word of the apostle. He testifies that the church is “built upon the foundation of the prophets and apostles.” If the teaching of the prophets and apostles is the foundation, this must have had authority before the church began to exist…

As to their question – how can we be assured that this has sprung from God unless we have recourse to the decree of the church? – it is as if someone asked: Whence will we learn to distinguish light from darkness, white from black, sweet from bitter? Indeed, Scripture exhibits fully as clear evidence of its own truth as which and black things do of their color, or sweet and bitter things do of their taste.

The Scriptures show themselves to be clearly different… otherworldly. What man would come up with a religion like Biblical Christianity? Every major religion gives its proponents reason to claim power, except Christianity! Instead, we find in the Scriptures that only God has power, and we’re to trust in Him to the exclusion of our own impulsive will! The Scriptures cannot come from man’s own thinking; they must be from God.

Calvin also warns, and quite rightly so:

… they who strive to build up firm faith in Scripture through disputation are doing things backwards. For my part, although I do not excel either in great dexterity or eloquence, if I were struggling against… despisers of God, who seek to appear shrewd and witty in disparaging Scripture, I am confident it would not be difficult for me to silence their clamorous voices… The same Spirit, who has spoken through the mouths of the prophets must penetrate into our hearts to persuade us that they faithfully proclaimed what had been divinely commanded.

The proof of the Holy Spirit is internal… a settled assurance, and external, in a regenerated life. So Calvin says:

Illumined by his power, we believe neither by our own nor by anyone else’s judgment that Scripture is from God; but above human judgment we affirm with utter certainty (just as if we were gazing upon the majesty of God himself) that it has flowed to us from the very mouth of God by the ministry of men. We seek no proofs, no marks of genuineness upon which our judgment may lean; but we subject our judgment and wit to it as to a thing far beyond any guesswork!

By this power we are drawn and inflamed, knowingly and willingly, to obey him, yet also more vitally and more effectively than by mere human willing or knowing!

We are God’s disciples by His own doing, not our mere will or attempts to know Him. He has revealed Himself to man, and quickened us to see Him. So he says:

… if we turn pure eyes and upright senses toward it, the majesty of God will immediately come to view, subdue our bold rejection, and compel us to obey.

There is indeed power in the Word through the Holy Spirit! Rather than man’s reason, or the church’s interpretation being authoritative, God speaking through the Word is alone objectively authoritative. Calvin will continue to address the authority of Scripture over the next two chapters.

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