Calvin’s Institutes — Family Devotional Edition
Natural Support for Scripture
It is not without an admirable arrangement of Providence that the sublime mysteries of the kingdom of heaven have for the greater part been delivered with a contemptible meanness of words. Had they been adorned with a more splendid eloquence, the wicked might have caviled and alleged that this constituted all their force. But now, when an unpolished simplicity almost bordering on rudeness makes a deeper impression than the loftiest flights of oratory, what does it indicate if not that the Holy Scriptures are too mighty in the power of truth to need the rhetorician’s art?
There is good ground, then, for the Apostle’s declaration that the faith of the Corinthians was founded not on “the wisdom of men,” but on “the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:5), this speech and preaching among them having been “not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Cor. 2:5). For the truth is vindicated in opposition to every doubt, when, unsupported by foreign aid, it has its sole sufficiency in itself.
No human writings, however skillfully composed, are at all capable of affecting us in a similar way. Read Demosthenes or Cicero, read Plato, Aristotle, or any other of that class: you will, I admit, feel wonderfully allured, pleased, moved, enchanted; but turn from them to the reading of the Holy Bible, and whether you will or not, it will so affect you, so pierce your heart, so work its way into your very marrow, that the impression of orators and philosophers will almost disappear, making it manifest that in the Holy Bible there is a truth divine, a something which makes it immeasurably superior to all the gifts and graces attainable by man.
I am aware of what certain miscreants mutter in corners to assail divine truth. They ask, how do we know that Moses and the prophets wrote the books which now bear their names? They even dare to question whether there ever was a Moses. Were any one to question whether there ever was a Plato, or an Aristotle, or a Cicero, would not the rod or the whip be deemed the fit chastisement of such folly? The law of Moses has been wonderfully preserved, more by divine providence than by human care; and though, owing to the negligence of the priests, it lay for a short time buried—from the time when it was found by good King Josiah (2 Kings 22:8; 2 Chron. 34:15)—it has continued in the hands of men and been transmitted in unbroken succession from generation to generation. Scarcely an age passed during which its authority was not confirmed and renewed. Were the books of Moses unknown to those who had the Psalms of David in their hands? To sum up the whole in one word, it is certain beyond dispute that these writings were passed down from hand to hand, being transmitted in an unbroken series from the fathers.
When we proceed to the New Testament, how solid are the pillars by which its truth is supported! Three evangelists give a narrative in a mean and humble style. Those who have the least particle of candor must be ashamed of their criticism when they read the first chapter of Luke. Even our Savior’s discourses ought to prevent everyone from treating their writings with contempt. John, again, strikes down more powerfully than any thunderbolt the petulance of those who refuse to submit to the obedience of faith. Let all those acute censors whose highest pleasure it is to banish a reverential regard of Scripture from their own and other men’s hearts come forward; let them read the Gospel of John, and, willing or unwilling, they will find a thousand sentences which will at least arouse them from their sloth—nay, which will burn into their consciences as with a hot iron and check their derision.
One circumstance which is sufficient of itself to exalt their doctrine above the world is that Matthew, formerly fixed down to his money table, and Peter and John, who were employed with their little boats, being all rude and illiterate, had never learned in any human school that which they delivered to others. Paul, moreover, who had not only been an avowed but a cruel and bloody foe, being changed into a new man, shows, by the sudden and undesired change, that a heavenly power had compelled him to preach the doctrine he once destroyed. Let those dogs deny that the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles, or, if not, let them refuse credit to the history; still the very circumstances proclaim that the Holy Spirit must have been the teacher of those who, formerly contemptible among the people, suddenly began to discourse so magnificently of heavenly mysteries.
Again, with what confidence does it become us to subscribe to a doctrine attested and confirmed by the blood of so many saints? They, when once they had embraced it, hesitated not boldly and intrepidly, and even with great alacrity, to meet death in its defense. Being transmitted to us with such an earnest, who of us shall not receive it with firm and unshaken conviction? It is therefore no small proof of the authority of Scripture that it was sealed with the blood of so many witnesses, especially when it is considered that in bearing testimony to the faith, they met death not with fanatical enthusiasm (as erring spirits are sometimes wont to do), but with a firm and constant, yet sober godly zeal.
There are other reasons, neither few nor feeble, by which the dignity and majesty of the Scriptures may be not only proved to the pious, but also completely vindicated against the cavils of slanderers. These, however, cannot of themselves produce a firm faith in Scripture until our heavenly Father manifests his presence in it and thereby secures implicit reverence for it. Only when its certainty is founded on the inward persuasion of the Holy Spirit does Scripture suffice to give a saving knowledge of God. Still, the human testimonies which go to confirm it will not be without effect if they are used in subordination to that chief and highest proof as secondary helps to our weakness. It is foolish, however, to attempt to prove to infidels that Scripture is the Word of God. This it cannot be known to be except by faith.
Questions for Devotion
- To what do we attribute Scripture’s power and effects when it is so simple and basic?
- How does Scripture compare to the writings of the classical philosophers and orators?
- In what ways is Scripture seen as trustworthy or unique, apart from the Spirit?
- Are such proofs good for use against unbelievers, or only for the edification of the saints?
- What more is necessary for full certainty that Scripture is the Word of God?