Thursday, January 01, 2009

0 The Institutes: Subject Matter of the Present Work

Also prepended to the Institutes proper is a note summarizing the subject matter of the work - again, as is all prefatory material in general, this note gives useful context for the study of the Institutes. Calvin gives here, in very brief terms, the grand scope of his aim for the project.

His purpose, in brief, is to present the reader with the pattern of the Scriptures, as a guide - the big picture structure of the tapestry of Scripture. One of the chief values of this work, as with any sysetmatic theology, is that Scripture is set within the context of Scripture itself and God's redemptive work. A chief hermeneutical principle is at play here - namely that Scripture must intepret Scripture - and many who forget this rule are left at times to be tossed to and fro "by every wind of doctrine." Calvin aims to present the big picture, and the primary teachings of God's Word, so that one might better be guided in studying God's revelation in His Word. Calvin writes:
Although Holy Scripture contains a perfect doctrine, to which one can add nothing, since in it our Lord has meant to display the infinite treasures of his wisdom, yet a person who has not much practice in it has good reason for some guidance and direction, to know what he ought to look for in it, in order not to wander hither and thither, but to hold to a sure path, that he may always be pressing toward the end to which the Holy Spirit calls him. (p. 6, Institutes of the Christian Religion)
Later in this introductory piece he adds:
Thus, I exhort all those who have reverence for the Lord's Word, to read it, and to impress it diligently upon their memory, if they wish to have, first, a sum of Christian doctrine, and, secondly, a way to benefit greatly from reading the Old as well as the New Testament. (p. 8, Institutes of the Christian Religion)
In setting forth this purpose, Calvin takes a humble approach - one which instructs us all in anything we do, particularly in those things in which we are aiming to serve His body. That is, for anything that is praiseworthy, Calvin asks that those wont to heap praise and thanksgiving upon his head would direct that praise and thanksgiving to God, the source of all that is good:
Since we must recognize that all truth and sound doctrine proceed from God, I shall in all simplicity dare fearlessly to protest what I think of this work; I shall recognize that it is God's more than mine. And, in truth, any praise for it must be rendered to him. (p. 7, Institutes of the Christian Religion)
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Calvin rightly instructs his readers to be good Bereans - this is a mark of a humble, godly teacher. All who aim to teach the flock of God must submit themselves and EVERYTHING they teach, indeed everything they do, to the canon, the rule, of Scripture. He concludes this section with the following wise words:
Above all, I must urge him to have recourse to Scripture in order to weigh the testimonies that I adduce from it. (p. 8, Institutes of the Christian Religion)
Amen, brother John. To God be all praise and glory - and to Him the supremacy in everything, for He is the Supreme Arbiter, and Scripture His perfect revelation and rule to judge all things we might write.



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