Saturday, January 24, 2009

Calvin's Institutes 1.7.3 - 1.8.1

We finished the last time looking at how rather than Scripture being founded on the church, the church is founded on Scripture.

In 1.7.3 Calvin deals with the objection that Augustine claimed the opposite for in his response to the Manichees Augustine wrote, "For my part, I should not believe the gospel except as moved by the authority of the catholic church." Calvin points out that to understand that statement one needs to look at the context and what the Manichees claimed pointing out, "He is simply teaching that there would be no certainty of the gospel for unbeliever to win them to Christ if the consensus of the church did not impel them." Later Calvin stated,
He only meant to indicate what we also confess as true: those who have not yet been illuminated by the Spirit of God are rendered teachable by reverence for the church, so that they may persevere in learning faith in Christ from the gospel. Thus, he avers, the authority of the church is an introduction through which we are prepared for faith in the gospel.
This brought Calvin to deal with that witness of the Holy Spirit to people of the divine origin of Scripture. "Credibility of doctrine is not established until we are persuaded beyond doubt that God is its Author." So what we find in the writings of the prophets and apostles is not a highlighting of their ability or an abundance of rational proofs. Instead, they proclaimed God's name. This did not mean some did not have great skill and wisdom and ability, but at the same time others were simple untrained men. Instead it is to point out that,
[T]hey who strive to build up firm faith in the Scripture through disputation are doing things backwards . . . even if anyone clears God's Sacred Word from man's evil speaking, he will not at once imprint upon their hearts that certainty which piety requires.

Thus, the testimony of the Spirit is better and necessary for the Word of God to find acceptance in a person's heart. Unless the Spirit writes it on a person's heart, it does not affect them as it must. So Calvin ended chapter 7 stating,
Whenever, then, the fewness of believers disturbs us, let the converse come to mind, that only those to whom it is given can comprehend the mysteries of God [cf. Matt 13:11].
With this Calvin started into chapter 8 to show that while rational proofs are not sufficient for the Spirit must work in one's heart, that does not mean there are not such proofs. Yet, it is only when one actually aprehends Scripture as the very Word of God that such proofs are of any benefit. He wrote,
Scripture is superior to all human wisdom. Unless this certainty, higher and stronger than any human judgment, be present, it will be vain to fortify the authority of Scripture by arguments, to establish it by common agreement of the church, of to comfirm it with other helps. For unless this foundation is laid, its authority will always remain in doubt.

The remainder of chapter 8 deals with this in more depth.


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