In the previous chapters, Calvin has been explaining how the knowledge of God is manifested in his creation and providence but more explicitly in His Word. In Chapter seven, Calvin starts his dissertation on how the knowledge of God is to be primarily found in the Scriptures by expounding the authority of Scripture. Often times I think that those who disagree with major doctrines, particularly soteriology, do so because they do not fully understand what the authority of Scripture is, or possibly they disagree because they have a skewed view of man. Yet that subject shall be left to debate on a later date.
First Calvin discusses how the authority of Scripture cannot be derived from man but from the Spirit of God. As I think about the answer to this, I am reminded of my early childhood when I was catechised from the Children’s Catechism where it asked, “Who wrote the Bible? Holy men who were taught by the Holy Spirit.” Of course this is made simpler for little children to understand but Calvin explains it “as 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 recognized, unless are believed to have come from heaven, as directly as if God had been heard giving utterance to them.” Calvin also deals with a serious error that has arisen that Scripture has importance only because the Church allows it. It is also asked whether the Scriptures really come from God or not, to which the Holy Spirit is greatly insulted; one hears such talk often these days. Some have said that the reverence of the Scriptures and the books that are made canon are decided by the church.
Calvin refutes these popular questions and views, not with his own words, but the words of the apostle Paul, “the Church is ‘built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets.’ ” Then he makes this statement, ” 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;” in a nutshell this means that the Church would not have existed without the words and teachings of the apostles and prophets. This makes the Church’s authority over Scripture null and void for how can a child have authority over its parent? So how can we be assured that Scripture comes from God without being instituted by the Church? It is Scripture that justifies itself, thus making it more authoritative than anything else in the world.
One thing I really like about Calvin is that he quotes the church fathers very well; after all, if we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us, we will be able to understand the world and other matters very well. In this chapter he quotes the venerable church father Augustine on the subject of the authority of Scriptures. Augustine had once said that he would have not believed the gospel if he were not moved by the authority of the church to do so. Calvin uses this statement to say that those who misunderstand this quote should understand that Augustine was debating the Manichees who said that they had truth outside the gospel. What Augustine is really saying is that unbelievers would have no certainty of the gospel were they not influenced by the Church.
Calvin went on to say that our faith in doctrine is not established until we have a perfect conviction that God is its author. The highest proof of Scripture is uniformly obtained from the character of God himself. The writers of Scripture do not boast their own skill in writing or speaking but they appeal to the sacred name of God, “in order that the whole world may be compelled to submission.” It is so interesting to me that this book, written in the sixteenth century, is still so practical today and we find the same situations in regard to opposition to Christianity; nothing is new under the sun. Today we still struggle with men who 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.” Calvin upholds this with a verse from Isaiah 59:21, “My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children’s offspring,” says the LORD, “from this time forth and forevermore.”
Calvin concludes with a very important statement about apologetics; namely that Scripture carries its own evidence with it and does not condescend to submit to proofs and arguments but is made truth by the testimony of the Holy Spirit. We can only admire it as being too transcendant; something that cannot be proved by anything finite. Calvin also makes the statement that God was pleased to have given his children this treasure of intelligence and that it is no wonder that there is so much ignorance and stupidity in mankind. Even the chosen, who are not yet saved, are in that generality of mankind. Then he ends the chapter with the statement, ” that none can comprehend the mysteries of God save those to whom it is given.” It is a select few who know it and even to those who know the truth about God, there is still so much mystery left. That is why no one outside the body of Christ can understand it and why they condemn it as myth.