I’m experiencing mixed feelings about coming to the end of a year of reading daily through Calvin’s Institutes. On one hand, it’s taken a lot of effort to avoid getting behind—some days required serious mental fortitude to get through. On the other had, it has been a marvelous learning experience, full of surprises and wonderfully edifying insights. Certainly, my appreciation for Calvin only increased as I read, due to his pastoral heart and his seemingly comprehensive grasp of the entire Bible’s contents. It never ceases to amaze me that such a work could be produced prior to the advent of computerized concordances and modern word processors.
Today’s reading, section 4.20.24-27, provides a great example. Contemplating the Christians duty to civil authority, he reasons from numerous scriptures that Christians are bound to obey even wicked magistrates, because their authority comes directly from God.
Here’s a sample of how he gets at this:
“When we hear that a king has been ordained by God, let us at once call to mind those heavenly edicts with regard to honoring and fearing a king; then we shall not hesitate to hold a most wicked tyrant in the place where the Lord has deigned to set him. Samuel, when he warned the people of Israel what sort of things they would suffer from their kings, said: "This shall be the right of the king that will reign over you: he will take your sons and put them to his chariot to make them his horsemen and to plow his fields and reap his harvest, and make his weapons. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. Finally, he will take your fields, your vineyards, and your best olive trees and will give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards, and will give it to his eunuchs and servants. He will take your menservants, maidservants, and asses and set them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks and you will be his servants" [1 Sam. 8:11—17, with omissions; cf. Hebrew]. Surely, the kings would not do this by legal right, since the law trained them to all restraint [Deut. 17:16 ff.]. But it was called a right in relation to the people, for they had to obey it and were not allowed to resist. It is as if Samuel had said: The willfulness of kings will run to excess, but it will not be your part to restrain it; you will have only this left to you: to obey their commands and hearken to their word.”
All in all, reading the entirety of the Institutes has been a demanding but satisfying journey.