The truth was there. John Calvin had found it. The burning question for him now was—how to clearly and logically set it forth. He was the man who saw this need. He was the man to do it.
The doctrines of the Reformed faith were new. No, they were of old—did not Augustine, centuries ago, teach these things? Did not Paul, the apostle, too? But they were new now. Rome had covered them up and held them down for so long!
Luther had poured the first sprinkle of moisture onto the dormant seed, and it sprouted. But there was still much confusion. The ground was still dry. God gave Calvin a pitcher of water to make the seedling grow. Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion filled a large part of that pitcher.
What was this work called the Institutes? Instruction. Instruction in true Christianity. It was a clear and logical explanation of the doctrines in Scripture, a catechism, and a confession of faith. It was instruction in theology for preachers and common people alike, and a defense of the Reformed faith over against Rome and the Anabaptists. It was a defense of the sorely persecuted saints in France and elsewhere, and an application of doctrine to a life of godliness—what Calvin called piety.
Calvin was only twenty-four years old when he began this monumental task. He studied amidst thousands of books in his friend’s library in France. Two years later the first edition was published in six chapters. Calvin worked on the Institutes, expanding and developing it for the next twenty-three years. But the original truths he set forth in the beginning never changed.
John Calvin accomplished and endured much in his life. He could not stay in France. He went to Geneva, Switzerland, as an exile and a pastor. Then he was thrown out of Geneva. Then he was invited back, and he graciously—reluctantly—returned with his new wife. But he returned to more mockery and persecution. He was often ill. Still, he diligently preached and taught with amazing strength of mind and will. He established a university in Geneva. Theodore Beza and many other reformers came there to learn how to preach the truths of sovereign grace. He wrote numerous commentaries and letters, commentaries we still reach for today when we have questions. He died in the Lord in 1564.
But it can be argued that the work that endured with the most force and influence was his clear, consistent teaching in the Institutes. The final edition was published in 1559 with eighty chapters. The work itself grew like a seedling, nourished and hoed. It was a work that greatly influenced the Reformed creeds. It is a work we would do well to read today.
Five hundred years ago…a man was born who said, “Let us find the truth!” And he did. Let us thank God for raising up such men. Let us today love the truth that was then found. And let us grow in it.