It’s All About Jesus! John Calvin on the Purpose and Meaning of Scripture

Writing the preface to the Genevan Bible of 1550, John Calvin set out to provide the reader with a sure guide for mining the riches out of the depths of the Word of God. What is this sure guide? Calvin almost waxes poetical when he states:

Now, since you have heard that the Gospel presents to you JESUS CHRIST, in whom all the Promises and Gifts of GOD are accomplished; and declares to you that He was sent from the FATHER, came down to Earth, Conversed with men, Completed all that was necessary for our Salvation; as it had been Predicted in the Law and the Prophets: it ought to be very certain and clear to you, that the Treasures of Paradise are open to you, and the Riches of GOD spread before you, and the Life Eternal revealed to you. “For this is Life Eternal, to known one “only True GOD; and Him whom He sent, JESUS “CHRIST,” in whom he has fixed the Beginning, the Middle, and the End of our Salvation.

This is Isaac, the well-beloved Son of his Father, who was offered in Sacrifice, and yet for all that did not succumb to the power of Death. This is the Good Shepherd, Jacob, taking such great care of the Sheep of which he has the charge. This is the Good and Pitying Brother, Joseph, who in his glory was not ashamed to recognise his Brothers, contemptible and object as they were. This is the Great Priest and Bishop Melchiseder, who has made an eternal sacrifice, once for all men. This is the Sovereign Law-giver Moses, writing his law, by his Spirit, on the tables of our hearts. This is the Faithful Captain and Guide Joshua, to conduct us to the promised land. This is the Noble and Victorious King David, subduing under his hand every rebellious power. This is the Magnificent and Triumphant King Solomon, governing his people in peace and 130816-004-e1c66273prosperity. This is the Strong and Mighty Samson, who, by his death, overwhelmed all his enemies. And even every Good which can be Imagined or Desired is found in one alone, JESUS CHRIST.

For He Humbled Himself, to Exalt us; He made Himself a Servant, to set us Free; He became Poor, to Enrich us; He was Sold, to Buy us back; a Captive, to Deliver us; Condemned, to procure our Pardon; He was made a Curse, that we might be Blessed; the Oblation for sins, for our Justification; His face was marred, to re-beautify ours; He Died, that we might have Life. In such sort that, by Him, Hardness is softened; Wrath appeased; Darkness made light; Iniquity turned into Righteousness; Weakness is made Strength; Despair is consoled; Sin is resisted; Shame is despised; Fear is emboldened; Debt is paid; Labour is lightened; Sorrow turned into joy; Misfortune into blessing; Difficulties are made easy; Disorder made order; Division into union; Ignominy is ennobled; Rebellion subjected; Threat is threatened; Ambush is ambushed; Assault assailed; Striving is overpowered; War is warred against; Vengeance is avenged on; Torment tormented; Damnation damned; Destruction destroyed; Hell burned up; Death is killed; Mortality changed to Immortality.

In short, Pity has swallowed up all misery; and Goodness, all wretchedness. For all those things, which used to be the arms with which the Devil combated us, and the Sting of Death, are, to draw us forward, turned into instruments from which we can derive profit. So that we can boast with the Apostle, saying, “O Hell! “where is thy Victory? O Death! where is thy “Sting?” And thence it comes, that by such a spirit as CHRIST promised His Elect, We no longer live, but CHRIST lives in us; and we are, by the Spirit, seated in heavenly places, until the world shall be no longer a world to us, in that we have our conversation in Him: but we are content, whatever may be our Country, Place, Condition, Clothes, Food, and other like things: and are comforted in Tribulation; in Sorrow, are joyful; under Abuse, glorified; in Poverty, abounding; in Nakedness made warm; patient of Evil; in Death, living.

This is the whole of what we should seek in the Scriptures: to be well acquainted with JESUS CHRIST, and the Infinite Riches which are comprised in Him; and which are, by Him, offered to us from GOD His Father. For if the Law and the Prophets be most carefully searched, there is not to be found in them one word which does not refer and lead to Him. And in fact, since all the treasures of Wisdom and Knowledge are hid in Him, it is not well to have any other end or object; unless we wish, as with deliberate intention, to turn ourselves away from the light of Truth, to go astray into the thick darkness of Falsehood.

Moreover, St. Paul, in another passage, rightly says, “That he did not account it of any value to Know all “things, if he did not Know CHRIST and Him “Crucified.” For however much to the carnal mind that Knowledge may seem a common and contemptible thing; nevertheless, the acquiring of it is sufficient to occupy us all our life. And we shall not have lost our time, though we employ all our Study, and apply all our Understanding to profit by it. What more could we ask, for the Spiritual Teaching of our souls, than to known GOD; to be transformed into Him; to have His Glorious Image impressed upon us; and to be partakers of His Righteousness? to be heirs of His Kingdom? to possess it fully to the end? Now, it is thus, that from the commencement He gave Himself to our contemplation; and now more clearly gives Himself in the Person of His CHRIST. It is not then allowable that we turn ourselves away and wander here and there, however little it may be; but our understanding must be altogether stayed at this point, to learn in the Scriptures to know only JESUS CHRIST, in order to be, by Him, conducted straight to the FATHER, who contains within Himself all Perfection.[1]

What, according to John Calvin, is Scripture all about? In a word, Jesus! If we read Scripture without seeing Jesus in all its parts, we have not truly read Scripture.

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[1] Calvin, J., 1850. Christ the End of the Law: Being the Preface to the Geneva Bible of 1550, London: William Tegg, & Co. pp.28-33.

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