All at Sea with Calvin?

Iain D Campbell

I remember where I was when I got my very first copy of Calvin's Institutes.

I was crossing the Minch on the Caledonian Macbrayne ferry that takes over two and a half hours to travel between my native Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides and the mainland of Scotland. A Free Church elder who is now retired was working on board the ferry, and he used to enjoy the company of believers on board. A good journey for him was having fellowship with the Lord's people at sea. Of course, some of the Lord's dear people didn't have his sea legs, and the Minch can be quite choppy.

Anyway, he had obtained a copy of the Institutes. He told me he found them heavy going, and he thought I would appreciate the book. I hadn't started in University at a time so I was an under-undergraduate, and here was this seasoned believer giving me this great book. I still have that edition on my shelves, and, until very recently, it was the only printed version of the Institutes I owned.

I just looked through the contents of this volume with which I had not developed any familiarity, and I said 'YES!', probably as the ferry heaved to starboard (not that I know what that means). Of course, I knew Calvin, and I had been well schooled in Calvinism - but here it was - a book on what it is to know God, what God it is we know, what the effects of sin are, what the law is for, how Christ is a perfect Mediator, what the Holy Spirit does, what faith, justification and liberty are, what the true church is - and so on.

A manual of doctrine. And it resonated with everything I believed and had been taught. I was all at sea with Calvin's Institutes, if you will.

In another sense, even in the middle of the ocean, I knew I had come home.