Calvin – Institutes: Eclectic Notes with Comments


Calvin’s argument against the Romish practice of appealing to the institutional Church in determining/validating the Scriptures is brilliant: he argues from Ephesians 2:20 – the doctrine of the prophets and apostles are the foundation of the Church. That being the case, Calvin notes the former must have its certainty before the latter (you cannot justify the former on the basis of the latter).

“Nothing, 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.”


“…that our faith in doctrine is not established until we have a perfect conviction that God is its author.”

Men cannot ascend to God through mere human knowledge; such an ascent will always require the illumination of the Spirit because the “testimony of the Spirit is superior to reason.”


Calvin talks about the rude (read “simple” or “mere”) comprehensibility of Scripture. This is not something to look down on (as some do), in fact, it actually indicates that the “Holy Scriptures are too mighty in power of truth to need the rhetorician’s art.”

Scripture is sufficient. Calvin examines the text and argues from the text why we should believe that Moses was a real servant and prophet from God, etc.


The sheer number of saints who have laid down their life and given their blood is also an indication that these truly are the Holy Scriptures…not as a primary means of certainty but secondary—since only our Father gives a firm faith in Scripture, nevertheless, these secondary helps assist us.


He is combating the errors of the Libertines – “Hence it is easy to understand that we must give diligent heed both to the reading and hearing of Scripture, if we would obtain any benefit from the Spirit of God, and, on the contrary, that any spirit which passes by the wisdom of God’s word, and suggests any other doctrine, is deservedly suspected of vanity and falsehood.”


In Scripture God opposes the gods of the heathens – “The knowledge of God, which is set before us in the Scriptures, is designed for the same purpose as that which shines in creation—viz. that we may thereby learn to worship him with perfect integrity of heart and unfeigned obedience, and also to depend entirely on his goodness.” – the heathens don’t follows the Scriptures, instead, they follow false gods, therefore, they refuse to learn to worship the true God with perfect integrity of heart and unfeigned obedience, this means the heathens are not depending entirely on God’s goodness.


Calvin is discussing the impiety of attributing a visible form to God (which would involve icons/setting up of idols). “But God makes no comparison between images, as if one were more, and another less befitting; he rejects, without exception, all shapes and pictures, and other symbols by which the superstitious imagine they can bring him near to them.”

“God sometimes appeared in the form of a man, but this was in anticipation of the future revelation of Christ…” Typological interpretation, that.

“The Lord, however, not only forbids any image of himself to be erected by a statuary, but to be formed by any artist whatever, because every such image is sinful and insulting to his majesty.” And this is one of many reasons why Protestants still “Protest” today.


Contrary to Romish teaching, images are not books for the unlearned – “…when we teach that all human attempts to give a visible shape to God are vanity and lies, we do nothing more than state verbatim what the prophets taught.”

Calvin is very astute: he notes that errors are not originated by icons/images, however, they are fuel for a fire — a fire of increasing error. “Whosoever, therefore, is desirous of being instructed in the true knowledge of God must apply to some other teacher than images.”

Sound doctrine carries more information/theology than a thousand images; the one cross of Christ vs. thousands of silver and gold crosses/images.

“And daily experience shows, that the flesh is always restless until it has obtained some figment like itself, with which it may vainly solace itself as a representation of God. In consequence of this blind passion men have, almost in all ages since the world began, set up signs on which they imagined that God was visibly depicted to their eyes.” (Calvin’s context is the idolatry noted in the patriarchs, etc., and he is pointing out that images/idols have always been a vice of man.)

Calvin is speaking against those who say, “What we’re doing isn’t idolatry, we don’t call the wood or stone God – we worship the invisible God in the visible image – this image raises our senses/lifts our thoughts to God.” Calvin says, “And your point is???” Calvin says he is only saying what the prophets said: “You people who say you are not doing this are in fact doing this” (read, committing idolatry).


What Calvin is discussing is not a matter of linguistics (difference in words/understanding/inference). He says what is really happening is that the idolaters are throwing dust in the eyes of the ignorant (they are betraying them). Calvin doesn’t care if you want to church it up and call it “servants of images,” he will not budge…he knows that even though you use a different word the content of what you are doing is idolatry, it is worshiping an image.

It is unbecoming of churches to posit images other than “those living symbols which the Lord has consecrated by his own word: I mean the Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, with the other ceremonies.”

Calvin wonders: Why use the devices of man, or rely upon the wit of man? Isn’t God’s will good enough? Aren’t Christ’s commands enough?

Relying on images is idolatry because they become a crutch…the believer relying on them as much as (and in contradiction to faithful belief) on the living God.


Light of Divine Providence will set a soul free, giving it comfort and freedom in the safety of the Lord (confidence too). The Lord is at work everywhere; therefore, our confidence never fails. The greatest of miseries are contributed to a weak understanding/ignorance of God’s providence.


Calvin gives several Biblical illustrations of God’s providential hand at the helm, directing the wickedness of men and devils (and the Satan): it is God who blinds men, especially the reprobate (we cannot say it is Satan blinding them, he has no power in and of himself to do so) — “The sum of the whole is this, — since the will of God is said to be the cause of all things, all the counsels and actions of men must be held to be governed by his providence; so that he not only exerts his power in the elect, who are guided by the Holy Spirit, but also forces the reprobate to do him service.”