The Institutes (13)

Book 1 Chapter 8 Sections 11-13

Calvin closes this chapter on rational evidence for Scripture with a brief interlude on what he’s already brought out: the content of Scripture being otherworldly. But in this case, he brings out how the apostles themselves were changed by the words of Christ, which modern Christians claim are found in Scripture:

… this one fact raises [the Apostles] doctrine more than enough above the world: Matthew, previously tied to the fain of his table, Peter and John going about in their boats- all of them rude, uneducated men – had learned nothing in the school of men that they could pass on to others. Paul, not only a sworn but fierce and murderous enemy, was converted into a new man; this sudden and unhoped-for change shows that he was compelled by heavenly authority to affirm a doctrine that he had assailed.

These men weren’t at the top of the food chain, so to speak. There wasn’t anything in it for them… they were all killed for their faith, with an explicit command that they weren’t to strike back at their persecutors! Calvin deals with that in relation to all the martyrs:

It is no moderate approbation of Scripture that it has been sealed by the blood of so many witnesses, especially when we reflect that they died to render testimony to the faith; not with fanatic excess (as erring spirits are sometimes accustomed to do), but with a firm and constant, yet sober, zeal toward God.

So the martyrs died for the testimony of Scripture, even long after there were no longer witnesses of the events that took place in the New Testament. On top of that, God has brought the Church around the Scriptures in such a way that it has been preserved for their good. And yet, the Church alone can not be held responsible for the protection of the Scriptures. For millennia, the Scriptures have been protected despite the non-violence of Christians in the face of the Scripture’s destruction. Calvin draws out the logical conclusion:

The whole power of earth has armed itself to destroy [the Scriptures], yet all these efforts have gone up in smoke. How could it, assailed so strongly from every side, have resisted if it had relied upon human protection alone?

So Calvin closes off this chapter with these words of summary:

… Scripture will ultimately suffice for a saving knowledge of God only when its certainty is founded upon the inward persuasion of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, these human testimonies which exist to confirm it will not be vain if, as secondary aids to our feebleness, they follow that chief and highest testimony.

And then, in a interesting point, he writes:

But those who wish to prove to unbelievers that Scripture is the Word of God are acting foolishly, for only by faith can this be known. Augustine therefore justly warns that godliness and peace of mind ought to come first if a man is to understand anything of such great matters.

Without holiness no one will see God… all the Scripture, in of itself, will not enable man to see the truth. Natural man lacks the understanding needed to see and savor God, so the Spirit must come. Secondary evidences indeed… I must remember that in all my conversing with those who do not know Christ. He offers Himself as proof… we should do the same to the unbelieving, sometimes weary, sometimes hostile world.


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