(Calvin, Institutes on the Christian Religion 1, part 7)

Chapter 6. 
6. The need of Scripture, as a guide and teacher, in coming to God 
as a Creator. 
1. God gives his elect a better help to the knowledge of himself, 
    viz., the Holy Scriptures. This he did from the very first. 
2. First, By oracles and visions, and the ministry of the 
    Patriarchs. Secondly, By the promulgation of the Law, and the 
    preaching of the Prophets. Why the doctrines of religion are 
    committed to writing. 
3. This view confirmed, 1. By the depravity of our nature making it 
    necessary in every one who would know God to have recourse to 
    the word; 2. From those passages of the Psalms in which God is 
    introduced as reigning. 
4. Another confirmation from certain direct statements in the 
    Psalms. Lastly, From the words of our Saviour. 
    1. Therefore, though the effulgence which is presented to every 
eye, both in the heavens and on the earth, leaves the ingratitude of 
man without excuse, since God, in order to bring the whole human 
race under the same condemnation, holds forth to all, without 
exception, a mirror of his Deity in his works, another and better 
help must be given to guide us properly to God as a Creator. Not in 
vain, therefore, has he added the light of his Word in order that he 
might make himself known unto salvation, and bestowed the privilege 
on those whom he was pleased to bring into nearer and more familiar 
relation to himself. For, seeing how the minds of men were carried 
to and fro, and found no certain resting-place, he chose the Jews 
for a peculiar people, and then hedged them in that they might not, 
like others, go astray. And not in vain does he, by the same means, 
retain us in his knowledge, since but for this, even those who, in 
comparison of others, seem to stand strong, would quickly fall away. 
For as the aged, or those whose sight is defective, when any books 
however fair, is set before them, though they perceive that there is 
something written are scarcely able to make out two consecutive 
words, but, when aided by glasses, begin to read distinctly, so 
Scripture, gathering together the impressions of Deity, which, till 
then, lay confused in our minds, dissipates the darkness, and shows 
us the true God clearly. God therefore bestows a gift of singular 
value, when, for the instruction of the Church, he employs not dumb 
teachers merely, but opens his own sacred mouth; when he not only 
proclaims that some God must be worshipped, but at the same time 
declares that He is the God to whom worship is due; when he not only 
teaches his elect to have respect to God, but manifests himself as 
the God to whom this respect should be paid. 
    The course which God followed towards his Church from the very 
first, was to supplement these common proofs by the addition of his 
Word, as a surer and more direct means of discovering himself. And 
there can be no doubt that it was by this help, Adam, Noah, Abraham, 
and the other patriarchs, attained to that familiar knowledge which, 
in a manner, distinguished them from unbelievers. I am not now 
speaking of the peculiar doctrines of faith by which they were 
elevated to the hope of eternal blessedness. It was necessary, in 
passing from death unto life, that they should know God, not only as 
a Creator, but as a Redeemer also; and both kinds of knowledge they 
certainly did obtain from the Word. In point of order, however, the 
knowledge first given was that which made them acquainted with the 
God by whom the world was made and is governed. To this first 
knowledge was afterwards added the more intimate knowledge which 
alone quickens dead souls, and by which God is known not only as the 
Creator of the worlds and the sole author and disposer of all 
events, but also as a Redeemer, in the person of the Mediator. But 
as the fall and the corruption of nature have not yet been 
considered, I now postpone the consideration of the remedy, (for 
which, see Book 2 c. 6 &c.) Let the reader then remember, that I am 
not now treating of the covenant by which God adopted the children 
of Abraham, or of that branch of doctrine by which, as founded in 
Christ, believers have, properly speaking, been in all ages 
separated from the profane heathen. I am only showing that it is 
necessary to apply to Scripture, in order to learn the sure marks 
which distinguish God, as the Creator of the world, from the whole 
herd of fictitious gods. We shall afterward, in due course, consider 
the work of Redemption. In the meantime, though we shall adduce many 
passages from the New Testament, and some also from the Law and the 
Prophets, in which express mention is made of Christ, the only 
object will be to show that God, the Maker of the world, is 
manifested to us in Scripture, and his true character expounded, so 
as to save us from wandering up and down, as in a labyrinth, in 
search of some doubtful deity. 
    2. Whether God revealed himself to the fathers by oracles and 
visions, or, by the instrumentality and ministry of men, suggested 
what they were to hand down to posterity, there cannot be a doubt 
that the certainty of what he taught them was firmly engraven on 
their hearts, so that they felt assured and knew that the things 
which they learnt came forth from God, who invariably accompanied 
his word with a sure testimony, infinitely superior to mere opinion. 
At length, in order that, while doctrine was continually enlarged, 
its truth might subsist in the world during all ages, it was his 
pleasure that the same oracles which he had deposited with the 
fathers should be consigned, as it were, to public records. With 
this view the law was promulgated, and prophets were afterwards 
added to be its interpreters. For though the uses of the law were 
manifold, (Book 2 c. 7 and 8,) and the special office assigned to 
Moses and all the prophets was to teach the method of reconciliation 
between God and man, (whence Paul calls Christ "the end of the law," 
Rom. 10: 4;) still I repeat that, in addition to the proper doctrine 
of faith and repentance in which Christ is set forth as a Mediator, 
the Scriptures employ certain marks and tokens to distinguish the 
only wise and true God, considered as the Creator and Governor of 
the world, and thereby guard against his being confounded with the 
herd of false deities. Therefore, while it becomes man seriously to 
employ his eyes in considering the works of God, since a place has 
been assigned him in this most glorious theatre that he may be a 
spectator of them, his special duty is to give ear to the Word, that 
he may the better profit. Hence it is not strange that those who are 
born in darkness become more and more hardened in their stupidity; 
because the vast majority instead of confining themselves within due 
bounds by listening with docility to the Word, exult in their own 
vanity. If true religion is to beam upon us, our principle must be, 
that it is necessary to begin with heavenly teaching, and that it is 
impossible for any man to obtain even the minutest portion of right 
and sound doctrine without being a disciple of Scripture. Hence, the 
first step in true knowledge is taken, when we reverently embrace 
the testimony which God has been pleased therein to give of himself. 
For not only does faith, full and perfect faith, but all correct 
knowledge of God, originate in obedience. And surely in this respect 
God has with singular Providence provided for mankind in all ages. 
    3. For if we reflect how prone the human mind is to lapse into 
forgetfulness of God, how readily inclined to every kind of error, 
how bent every now and then on devising new and fictitious 
religions, it will be easy to understand how necessary it was to 
make such a depository of doctrine as would secure it from either 
perishing by the neglect, vanishing away amid the errors, or being 
corrupted by the presumptuous audacity of men. It being thus 
manifest that God, foreseeing the inefficiency of his image 
imprinted on the fair form of the universe, has given the assistance 
of his Word to all whom he has ever been pleased to instruct 
effectually, we, too, must pursue this straight path, if we aspire 
in earnest to a genuine contemplation of God; - we must go, I say, 
to the Word, where the character of God, drawn from his works is 
described accurately and to the life; these works being estimated, 
not by our depraved judgement, but by the standard of eternal truth. 
If, as I lately said, we turn aside from it, how great soever the 
speed with which we move, we shall never reach the goal, because we 
are off the course. We should consider that the brightness of the 
Divine countenance, which even an apostle declares to be 
inaccessible, (1 Tim. 6: 16,) is a kind of labyrinth, - a labyrinth 
to us inextricable, if the Word do not serve us as a thread to guide 
our path; and that it is better to limp in the way, than run with 
the greatest swiftness out of it. Hence the Psalmist, after 
repeatedly declaring (Psalm 93, 96, 97, 99, &c.) that superstition 
should be banished from the world in order that pure religion may 
flourish, introduces God as reigning; meaning by the term, not the 
power which he possesses and which he exerts in the government of 
universal nature, but the doctrine by which he maintains his due 
supremacy: because error never can be eradicated from the heart of 
man until the true knowledge of God has been implanted in it. 
    4. Accordingly, the same prophet, after mentioning that the 
heavens declare the glory of God, that the firmament sheweth forth 
the works of his hands, that the regular succession of day and night 
proclaim his Majesty, proceeds to make mention of the Word: - "The 
law of the Lord," says he, "is perfect, converting the soul; the 
testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes 
of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the 
Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes," (Psalm 19: 1-9.) For though 
the law has other uses besides, (as to which, see Book 2 c. 7, sec. 
6, 10, 12,) the general meaning is, that it is the proper school for 
training the children of God; the invitation given to all nations, 
to behold him in the heavens and earth, proving of no avail. The 
same view is taken in the 29th Psalm, where the Psalmist, after 
discoursing on the dreadful voice of God, which, in thunder, wind, 
rain, whirlwind, and tempest, shakes the earth, makes the mountains 
tremble, and breaks the cedars, concludes by saying, "that in his 
temple does every one speak of his glory," unbelievers being deaf to 
all God's words when they echo in the air. In like manner another 
Psalm, after describing the raging billows of the sea, thus 
concludes, "Thy testimonies are very sure; holiness becometh thine 
house for ever," (Psalm 93: 5.) To the same effect are the words of 
our Saviour to the Samaritan woman, when he told her that her nation 
and all other nations worshipped they knew not what; and that the 
Jews alone gave worship to the true God, (John 4: 22.) Since the 
human mind, through its weakness, was altogether unable to come to 
God if not aided and upheld by his sacred word, it necessarily 
followed that all mankind, the Jews excepted, inasmuch as they 
sought God without the Word, were labouring under vanity and error. 
Chapter 7. 
7. The testimony of the Spirit necessary to give full authority to 
Scripture. The impiety of pretending that the credibility of 
scripture depends on the judgement of the church. 
1. The authority of Scripture derived not from men, but from the 
Spirit of God. Objection, That Scripture depends on the decision of 
the Church. Refutation, I. The truth of God would thus be subjected 
to the will of man. II. It is insulting to the Holy Spirit. III. It 
establishes a tyranny in the Church. IV. It forms a mass of errors. 
V. It subverts conscience. VI. It exposes our faith to the scoffs of 
the profane. 
2. Another reply to the objection drawn from the words of the 
Apostle Paul. Solution of the difficulties started by opponents. A 
second objection refuted. 
3. A third objection founded on a sentiment of Augustine considered. 
4. Conclusion, That the authority of Scripture is founded on its 
being spoken by God. This confirmed by the conscience of the godly, 
and the consent of all men of the least candour. A fourth objection 
common in the mouths of the profane. Refutation. 
5. Last and necessary conclusion, That the authority of Scripture is 
sealed on the hearts of believers by the testimony of the Holy 
Spirit. The certainty of this testimony. Confirmation of it from a 
passage of Isaiah, and the experience of believers. Also, from 
another passage of Isaiah. 
    1. Before proceeding farther, it seems proper to make some 
observations on the authority of Scripture, in order that our minds 
may not only be prepared to receive it with reverence, but be 
divested of all doubt. 
    When that which professes to be the Word of God is acknowledged 
to be so, no person, unless devoid of common sense and the feelings 
of a man, will have the desperate hardihood to refuse credit to the 
speaker. But since no daily responses are given from heaven, and the 
Scriptures are the only records in which God has been pleased to 
consign his truth to perpetual remembrance, the full authority which 
they ought to possess with the faithful is not recognised, unless 
they are believed to have come from heaven, as directly as if God 
had been heard giving utterance to them. This subject well deserves 
to be treated more at large, and pondered more accurately. But my 
readers will pardon me for having more regard to what my plan admits 
than to what the extent of this topic requires. 
    A most pernicious error has very generally prevailed; viz., 
that Scripture is of importance only in so far as conceded to it by 
the suffrage of the Church; as if the eternal and inviolable truth 
of God could depend on the will of men. With great insult to the 
Holy Spirit, it is asked, who can assure us that the Scriptures 
proceeded from God; who guarantee that they have come down safe and 
unimpaired to our times; who persuade us that this book is to be 
received with reverence, and that one expunged from the list, did 
not the Church regulate all these things with certainty? On the 
determination of the Church, therefore, it is said, depend both the 
reverence which is due to Scripture, and the books which are to be 
admitted into the canon. Thus profane men, seeking, under the 
pretext of the Church, to introduce unbridled tyranny, care not in 
what absurdities they entangle themselves and others, provided they 
extort from the simple this one acknowledgement, viz., that there is 
nothing which the Church cannot do. But what is to become of 
miserable consciences in quest of some solid assurance of eternal 
life, if all the promises with regard to it have no better support 
than man's judgement? On being told so, will they cease to doubt and 
tremble? On the other hand, to what jeers of the wicked is our faith 
subjected - into how great suspicion is it brought with all, if 
believed to have only a precarious authority lent to it by the good 
will of men? 
    2. These ravings are admirably refuted by a single expression 
of an apostle. Paul testifies that the Church is "built on the 
foundation of the apostles and prophets," (Eph. 2: 20.) If the 
doctrine of the apostles and prophets is the foundation of the 
Church, the former must have had its certainty before the latter 
began to exist. Nor is there any room for the cavil, that though the 
Church derives her first beginning from thence, it still remains 
doubtful what writings are to be attributed to the apostles and 
prophets, until her judgement is interposed. For if the Christian 
Church was founded at first on the writings of the prophets, and the 
preaching of the apostles, that doctrine, wheresoever it may be 
found, was certainly ascertained and sanctioned antecedently to the 
Church, since, but for this, the Church herself never could have 
existed. Nothings therefore can be more absurd than the fiction, 
that the power of judging Scripture is in the Church, and that on 
her nod its certainty depends. When the Church receives it, and 
gives it the stamp of her authority, she does not make that 
authentic which was otherwise doubtful or controverted but, 
acknowledging it as the truth of God, she, as in duty bounds shows 
her reverence by an unhesitating assent. As to the question, How 
shall we be persuaded that it came from God without recurring to a 
decree of the Church? it is just the same as if it were asked, How 
shall we learn to distinguish light from darkness, white from black, 
sweet from bitter? Scripture bears upon the face of it as clear 
evidence of its truth, as white and black do of their colour, sweet 
and bitter of their taste. 
    3. I am aware it is usual to quote a sentence of Augustine in 
which he says that he would not believe the gospel, were he not 
moved by the authority of the Church, (Aug. Cont. Epist. Fundament. 
c. 5.) But it is easy to discover from the context, how inaccurate 
and unfair it is to give it such a meaning. He was reasoning against 
the Manichees, who insisted on being implicitly believed, alleging 
that they had the truth, though they did not show they had. But as 
they pretended to appeal to the gospel in support of Manes, he asks 
what they would do if they fell in with a man who did not even 
believe the gospel - what kind of argument they would use to bring 
him over to their opinion. He afterwards adds, "But I would not 
believe the gospel," &c.; meaning, that were he a stranger to the 
faith, the only thing which could induce him to embrace the gospel 
would be the authority of the Church. And is it any thing wonderful, 
that one who does not know Christ should pay respect to men? 
    Augustine, therefore, does not here say that the faith of the 
godly is founded on the authority of the Church; nor does he mean 
that the certainty of the gospel depends upon it; he merely says 
that unbelievers would have no certainty of the gospel, so as 
thereby to win Christ, were they not influenced by the consent of 
the Church. And he clearly shows this to be his meaning, by thus 
expressing himself a little before: "When I have praised my own 
creed, and ridiculed yours, who do you suppose is to judge between 
us; or what more is to be done than to quit those who, inviting us 
to certainty, afterwards command us to believe uncertainty, and 
follow those who invite us, in the first instance, to believe what 
we are not yet able to comprehend, that waxing stronger through 
faith itself, we may become able to understand what eve believe - no 
longer men, but God himself internally strengthening and 
illuminating our minds?" These unquestionably are the words of 
Augustine, (August. Cont. Epist. Fundament. cap. 4;) and the obvious 
inference from them is, that this holy man had no intention to 
suspend our faith in Scripture on the nod or decision of the Church, 
but only to intimate (what we too admit to be true) that those who 
are not yet enlightened by the Spirit of God, become teachable by 
reverence for the Church, and thus submit to learn the faith of 
Christ from the gospel. In this way, though the authority of the 
Church leads us on, and prepares us to believe in the gospel, it is 
plain that Augustine would have the certainty of the godly to rest 
on a very different foundation. 
    At the same time, I deny not that he often presses the 
Manichees with the consent of the whole Church, while arguing in 
support of the Scriptures, which they rejected. Hence he upbraids 
Faustus (lib. 32) for not submitting to evangelical truth - truth so 
well founded, so firmly established, so gloriously renowned, and 
handed down by sure succession from the days of the apostles. But he 
nowhere insinuates that the authority which we give to the 
Scriptures depends on the definitions or devices of men. He only 
brings forward the universal judgement of the Church, as a point 
most pertinent to the cause, and one, moreover, in which he had the 
advantage of his opponents. Any one who desires to see this more 
fully proved may read his short treatises De Utilitate Credendi, 
(The Advantages of Believing,) where it will be found that the only 
facility of believing which he recommends is that which affords an 
introduction, and forms a fit commencement to inquiry; while he 
declares that we ought not to be satisfied with opinion, but to 
strive after substantial truth. 
    4. It is necessary to attend to what I lately said, that our 
faith in doctrine is not established until we have a perfect 
conviction that God is its author. Hence, the highest proof of 
Scripture is uniformly taken from the character of him whose Word it 
is. The prophets and apostles boast not their own acuteness or any 
qualities which win credit to speakers, nor do they dwell on 
reasons; but they appeal to the sacred name of God, in order that 
the whole world may be compelled to submission. The next thing to be 
considered is, how it appears not probable merely, but certain, that 
the name of God is neither rashly nor cunningly pretended. If, then, 
we would consult most effectually for our consciences, and save them 
from being driven about in a whirl of uncertainty, from wavering, 
and even stumbling at the smallest obstacle, our conviction of the 
truth of Scripture must be derived from a higher source than human 
conjectures, judgements, or reasons; namely, the secret testimony of 
the Spirit. It is true, indeed, that if we choose to proceed in the 
way of arguments it is easy to establish, by evidence of various 
kinds, that if there is a God in heaven, the Law, the Prophecies, 
and the Gospel, proceeded from him. Nay, although learned men, and 
men of the greatest talent, should take the opposite side, summoning 
and ostentatiously displaying all the powers of their genius in the 
discussion; if they are not possessed of shameless effrontery, they 
will be compelled to confess that the Scripture exhibits clear 
evidence of its being spoken by God, and, consequently, of its 
containing his heavenly doctrine. We shall see a little farther on, 
that the volume of sacred Scripture very far surpasses all other 
writings. Nay, if we look at it with clear eyes, and unblessed 
judgement, it will forthwith present itself with a divine majesty 
which will subdue our presumptuous opposition, and force us to do it 
    Still, however, it is preposterous to attempt, by discussion, 
to rear up a full faith in Scripture. True, were I called to contend 
with the craftiest despisers of God, I trust, though I am not 
possessed of the highest ability or eloquence, I should not find it 
difficult to stop their obstreperous mouths; I could, without much 
ado, put down the boastings which they mutter in corners, were 
anything to be gained by refuting their cavils. But although we may 
maintain the sacred Word of God against gainsayers, it does not 
follow that we shall forthwith implant the certainty which faith 
requires in their hearts. Profane men think that religion rests only 
on opinion, and, therefore, that they may not believe foolishly, or 
on slight grounds, desire and insist to have it proved by reason 
that Moses and the prophets were divinely inspired. But I answer, 
that the testimony of the Spirit is superior to reason. For as God 
alone can properly bear witness to his own words, so these words 
will not obtain full credit in the hearts of men, until they are 
sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit. The same Spirit, 
therefore, who spoke by the mouth of the prophets, must penetrate 
our hearts, in order to convince us that they faithfully delivered 
the message with which they were divinely entrusted. This connection 
is most aptly expressed by Isaiah in these words, "My Spirit that is 
upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not 
depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out 
of the mouth of thy seed's seed, saith the Lord, from henceforth and 
for ever," (Isa. 59: 21.) Some worthy persons feel disconcerted, 
because, while the wicked murmur with impunity at the Word of God, 
they have not a clear proof at hand to silence them, forgetting that 
the Spirit is called an earnest and seal to confirm the faith of the 
godly, for this very reason, that, until he enlightens their minds, 
they are tossed to and fro in a sea of doubts. 
    5. Let it therefore be held as fixed, that those who are 
inwardly taught by the Holy Spirit acquiesce implicitly in 
Scripture; that Scripture carrying its own evidence along with it, 
deigns not to submit to proofs and arguments, but owes the full 
conviction with which we ought to receive it to the testimony of the 
Spirit. Enlightened by him, we no longer believe, either on our own 
judgement or that of others, that the Scriptures are from God; but, 
in a way superior to human judgement, feel perfectly assured - as 
much so as if we beheld the divine image visibly impressed on it - 
that it came to us, by the instrumentality of men, from the very 
mouth of God. We ask not for proofs or probabilities on which to 
rest our judgement, but we subject our intellect and judgement to it 
as too transcendent for us to estimate. This, however, we do, not in 
the manner in which some are wont to fasten on an unknown object, 
which, as soon as known, displeases, but because we have a thorough 
conviction that, in holding it, we hold unassailable truth; not like 
miserable men, whose minds are enslaved by superstition, but because 
we feel a divine energy living and breathing in it - an energy by 
which we are drawn and animated to obey it, willingly indeed, and 
knowingly, but more vividly and effectually than could be done by 
human will or knowledge. Hence, God most justly exclaims by the 
mouth of Isaiah, "Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, and my 
servant whom I have chosen, that ye may know and believe me, and 
understand that I am he," (Isa. 43: 10.) 
    Such, then, is a conviction which asks not for reasons; such, a 
knowledge which accords with the highest reason, namely knowledge in 
which the mind rests more firmly and securely than in any reasons; 
such in fine, the conviction which revelation from heaven alone can 
produce. I say nothing more than every believer experiences in 
himself, though my words fall far short of the reality. I do not 
dwell on this subject at present, because we will return to it 
again: only let us now understand that the only true faith is that 
which the Spirit of God seals on our hearts. Nay, the modest and 
teachable reader will find a sufficient reason in the promise 
contained in Isaiah, that all the children of the renovated Church 
"shall be taught of the Lord," (Isaiah 54: 13.) This singular 
privilege God bestows on his elect only, whom he separates from the 
rest of mankind. For what is the beginning of true doctrine but 
prompt alacrity to hear the Word of God? And God, by the mouth of 
Moses, thus demands to be heard: "It is not in heavens that thou 
shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto 
us, that we may hear and do it? But the word is very nigh unto thee, 
in thy mouth and in thy heart," (Deut. 30: 12, 14.) God having been 
pleased to reserve the treasure of intelligence for his children, no 
wonder that so much ignorance and stupidity is seen in the 
generality of mankind. In the generality, I include even those 
specially chosen, until they are ingrafted into the body of the 
Church. Isaiah, moreover, while reminding us that the prophetical 
doctrine would prove incredible not only to strangers, but also to 
the Jews, who were desirous to be thought of the household of God, 
subjoins the reason, when he asks, "To whom has the arm of the Lord 
been revealed?" (Isaiah 53: 1.) If at any time, then we are troubled 
at the small number of those who believe, let us, on the other hand, 
call to mind, that none comprehend the mysteries of God save those 
to whom it is given.

Calvin, Institutes on the Christian Religion, Volume 1
(continued in part 8...)

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