I am no fan of John Calvin, namely for both of aforementioned infamous actions (the murder of Servetus and the Doctrine of Election); however, Institutes presents a great and passionate mind filled with a certain amount of humility for his position in God’s Will. Much to the chagrin of many of those who purport to use Calvin today, he is quite the scholastic theologian, combining references from Aristotle to the Church Fathers and beyond to build his theology. He does so to give to his readers a solid base for his theology. It is rooted in Scripture and Tradition, albeit he does tend to weight certain aspects of Tradition (Augustine over Aquinas, for an example) in cementing his theology. I believe he seeks to instill in his readers that he is not breaking with either the Apostles or really with the Church Fathers, but simply offering a way back to the primacy of Scripture and it is a Scripture which is unbroken, united through Christ. Further, I think that he wants them to understand the needed humility in that they are not the ones picking themselves up, but that Grace is a free gift from God. This feeds into the trends of examining God through the idea of sovereignty (v. Bonaventura) especially in Creation. He sees the death of Christ as once and for all, which is soundly presented in the Apostles’ Creed. I rather enjoyed his defense of the phrase, “descended into hell.” Another trend present is the love of God in Christ. Finally, before we move on predestination, I think that a huge trend is the use of Scripture as first and foremost, not as a way to line the Church Fathers up and cast them into hell for disagreeing with the modern view of Scripture, but as a way to test doctrines and give a certain melodious tune to theology.
Regarding Election, Calvin must go this route, I think. He has preached the Gospel and yet, some still do not believe. Why? After all, how can one not see that in their own life, they lack the merits to earn salvation? Indeed, the person who sees that readily turns to Christ. So then, if people are convinced that that only through Grace can they “be saved” then why aren’t they seeking such a standing before God? Further, the entirety of the Old Testament relates to Israel’s Election, in which Israel was chosen and others not to be God’s Holy People. Throughout Scripture is the notion that God has chosen some for his favor (Jacob and Esau) and others he has chosen to be out of his favor. Calvin interprets these things in a “plain sense” fashion, common during his and our day, using the method of Scripture interpreting Scripture.