And so it begins. For Calvin it begins with a few notes to the reader (1559 edition). Due to the success of the first edition of the Institutes (1536), Calvin was encouraged to improve upon his work throughout later publications. We learn that Calvin was never fully satisfied with the Institutes until the arrangement of the order in this edition.
Throughout his personal trials of sickness and attack from enemies we find Calvin relating his hopes for this work – to bear “some richer fruit for the Church of God than heretofore,” “to spread his Kingdom and to further the public good,” “to benefit the church by maintaining the pure doctrine of godliness,” and “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.”
With the Institutes Calvin believes that he has “so embraced the sum of religion in all its parts, and in such an order” that if we can learn and digest this work we will be enabled to study Scripture more profitably. To this end, Calvin suggests that IF he ever publishes any “interpretations of Scripture” they will be condensed, because the reader will be able to use his interpretations with his Institutes as their complement. (Click here if you don’t know if Calvin published any “interpretations.”)
From the French Edition of 1560, we also have a few pages on the subject matter of the Institutes, or what benefit Calvin believes we might receive from our study of this work. This benefit is to direct us in what we should look for in Scripture. Those who have not spent much time in the study of Scripture, or who do not have a general idea of the main “themes” of Scripture can profit from those who have studied to direct us in these matters. This is done by providing the reader with “the sum of what God meant to teach us in his Word.” Therefore, Calvin will deal with these “chief and weightiest matters” so we might profit more from our study of Scripture.
Calvin completes this section with his exhortation, that if we want a sum of the Christian doctrine and a way to better benefit from the reading the entirety of Scripture, we should put this work to memory. If we become discouraged because we do not understand all that is there, we should continue in hope that a further passage will explain the former. And to utilize Scripture to examine all that Calvin sets forth.