Blog: Men's Study

Letters and Prefatory Address
Posted March 19, 2018 by Judson Marvel

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If you make time for more study, there are three letters worth reading before our next meeting.  The first letter is Calvin’s letter to the reader for the 1559 edition of the Institutes.  The 1559 edition was the last revision he completed.  He revised the original (1536 edition) four more times. 

The second to last sentence of the first paragraph explains that he was satisfied with this final edition: “Although I did not regret the labor spent, I was never satisfied until the work had been arranged in the order now set forth.” 

In the fourth paragraph, Calvin explains the purpose of his work: “Moreover, it has been my purpose in this labor to prepare and instruct candidates in sacred theology for the reading of the divine Word, in order that they may be able both to have easy access to it and to advance in it without stumbling.”  In the same paragraph, he explains how the Institutes relate to his commentaries on Scripture.

The second letter pertains to the subject matter of the Institutes.  Calvin explains the relation between the Bible and the Institutes: “Although Holy Scripture contains a perfect doctrine, to which one can add nothing, since in it our Lord has meant to display the infinite treasures of his wisdom, yet a person who has not much practice in it has good reason for some guidance and direction, to know what he ought to look for in it, in order not to wander hither and thither, but to hold to a sure path, that he may always be pressing toward the end to which the Holy Spirit calls him.” 

The third and longer letter is the letter attached to the original 1536 edition.  In the first paragraph, he explains why he wrote the Institutes: “My purpose was solely to transmit certain rudiments by which those who are touched with any zeal for religion might be shaped to true godliness.”  However, the persecution of French Protestants led Calvin to write this “Prefatory Address” to King Francis I of France as a confession of faith.  Calvin pleads for the persecuted evangelicals.  In his plea, he boldly claims that the ideal king must serve God’s glory in his kingly rule, suggesting that King Francis must stop the unjust persecution in order to be an ideal king.  The remaining content of the “Prefatory Address” outlines and addresses the chargest against the Evangelicals.  Throughout the “Prefatory Address,” notice how Calvin writes in a respectful manner toward King Francis I. 

Question: How does Calvin see the Institutes relating to Scripture and his commentaries?


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