Institutes of the Christian Religion (1845)/Book 1/Argument
The First Book treats of the knowledge of God the Creator. But as it is in the creation of man that the divine perfections are best displayed, so man also is made the subject of discourse. Thus the whole book divides itself into two principal heads the former relating to the knowledge of God, and the latter to the knowledge of man. In the first chapter, these are considered jointly; and in each of the following chapters, separately: occasionally, however, intermingled with other matters which refer to one or other of the heads; e.g., the discussions concerning Scripture and images, falling under the former head, and the other three concerning the creation of the world, the holy angels and devils, falling under the latter. The last point discussed, viz., the method of the divine government, relates to both.
With regard to the former head, viz., the knowledge of God, it is shown, in the first place, what the kind of knowledge is which God requires, Chap. II. And, in the second place, (Chap. III.—IX.,) where this knowledge must be sought, namely, not in man; because, although naturally implanted in the human mind, it is stifled, partly by ignorance, partly by evil intent, Chap. III. and IV.; not in the frame of the world: because, although it shines most clearly there, we are so stupid that these manifestations, however perspicuous, pass away without any beneficial result, Chap. V.; but in Scripture, (Chap. VI.,) which is treated of, Chap. VII. IX. In the third place, it is shown what the character of God is, Chap. X. In the fourth place, how impious it is to give a visible form to God, (here images, the worship of them, and its origin, are considered,) Chap. XI. In the fifth place, it is shown that God is to be solely and wholly worshipped, Chap. XII. Lastly, Chap. XIII. treats of the unity of the divine essence, and the distinction of three persons.
With regard to the latter head, viz., the knowledge of man, first, Chap. XIV. treats of the creation of the world, and of good and bad angels, (these all having reference to man.) And then Chap. XV., taking up the subject of man himself, examines his nature and his powers.
The better to illustrate the nature both of God and man, the three remaining Chapters, viz., XVI.—XVIII., proceed to treat of the general government of the world, and particularly of human actions, in opposition to fortune and fate, explaining both the doctrine and its use. In conclusion, it is shown, that though God employs the instrumentality of the wicked, he is pure from sin and from taint of every kind.