Friday, January 23, 2009

0 The Institutes: The Scriptures - God's Word

Chapter 8 of The Institutes is a multifaceted panegyric of God's Holy Word by our elder brother in the faith. He addresses in sections 1-4 (the reading for January 21) the pure majesty of Scripture in its antiquity and in the clear superiority of its character compared to ANY human writing. He isn't discussing here style or eloquence, or remarking about the beauty of a turn of phrase, but rather expressing the fact, clear to anyone who is able to read the Word with understanding, that its content - the truth it expresses, and the glorious revelation of God that it is - is what sets it apart from anything else ever conceived.

God's word is spoken through human agents - and the variety of their writings shows forth, so that in some places, expressions sublime ring forth with God's truth - in others, the simple words of a herdsman proclaim in a much less refined manner the glory of God. The thoughts and teachings therein, however, are above ALL human wisdom, and are without compare in all of human history. Calvin pithily expresses this in the following:
As far as Sacred Scripture is concerned, however much froward men try to gnaw at it, nevertheless it clearly is crammed with thoughts that could not be humanly conceived. Let each of the prophets be looked into: none will be found who does not far exceed human measure. Consequently, those for whom prophetic doctrine is tasteless ought to be thought of as lacking taste buds. (p. 83, Institutes of the Christian Religion)
I very much appreciate Calvin's wit, particularly in phrases such as the above - if prophetic doctrine is tasteless to someone, then there can only be one reason. Very well put. :)

He follows this discussion in the remainder of the chapter (the reading for January 22) with several arguments to those whose hearts have been changed - who look at Scripture as God's Word, and understand it as his perfect revelation to man - these are arguments often used by some as though they were sufficient to prove Scripture to the unbeliever... arguments which Calvin denies (and I with him) are able to do so by force of logic. They are, as Calvin wrote earlier, nevertheless useful for the strengthening of the faith of the believer.

Among these are the records of miracles (his discussion of Moses's miracles and their veracity in section 6 is particularly interesting and worthwhile) and the confirmation and fulfillment of various prophecies in sections 7 and 8. These things the modern liberal scholar dismisses almost with a wave of a hand... which shows the presuppositions with which they read Scripture. The Word is FULL of fulfilled prophecies, particularly of Christ our King - but to the dead, such arguments and demonstrations fall on lifeless ears. Calvin sums up this chapter, with the following words:
There are other reasons, neither few nor weak, for which the dignity and majesty of Scripture are not only affirmed in godly hearts, but brilliantly vindicated against the wiles of its disparagers; yet of themselves these are not strong enough to provide a firm faith, until our Heavenly Father, revealing his majesty there, lifts reverence for Scripture beyond the realm of controversy. Therefore 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. 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. (p. 92, Institutes of the Christian Religion)
Scripture is either accepted as God's Word a priori, or it is rejected as such, and deemed to be merely the collected words of men in a similar way. One cannot be argued from one side of this divide to the other - but may cross over only under the guidance of the gracious gift of the Holy Spirit. Attempting to prove Scripture to one who will not accept it as God's word is both foolish and bad stewardship of time... rather, time is better spent in learning and conveying the truth of God's Word in an understandable manner. Let it be so done in our churches.



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