« Prev Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion Next »

§ 79. Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion.

1. The full title of the first edition is "Christia | nae Religionis Insti | tutio totam fere pietatis summam et quic | quid est in doctrina salutis cognitu ne- | cessarium, complectens: omnibus pie | tatis studiosis lectu dignissi | mum opus, ac re- | cens edi- | tum. | Praefatio| ad Chri | stianissimum Regem Francae, qua | hic ei liber pro confessione fidei | offertur. | Joanne Calvino | Nouiodunensi authore. | Basileae, | M. D. XXXVI." The dedicatory Preface is dated ’X. Calendas Septembres’ (i.e. August 23), without the year; but at the close of the book the month of March, 1536, is given as the date of publication. The first two French editions (1541 and 1545) supplement the date of the Preface correctly: "De Basle le vingt-troysiesme d’Aoust mil cinq cent trente cinq." The manuscript, then, was completed in August, 1535, but it took nearly a year to print it.

2. The last improved edition from the pen of the author (the fifth Latin) is a thorough reconstruction, and bears the title: "Institutio Chri | stianae Religionis, in libros qua | tuor nunc primum digesta, certisque distincta capitibus, ad aptissimam | methodum: aucta etiam tam magna accessione ut propemodum opus | novum haberi possit. | Joanne Calvino authore. | Oliva Roberti Stephani. | Genevae. | M. D. LIX." The subsequent Latin editions are reprints of the ed. of 1559, with an index by Nic. Colladon, another by Marlorat. The Elzevir ed. Leyden, 1654, fol., was especially esteemed for its beauty and accuracy. A convenient modern ed. by Tholuck (Berlin, 1834, 2d ed. 1846).

3. The first French edition appeared without the name and place of the printer (probably Michel du Bois at Geneva), under the title: "Institution de la religion chrestienne en laquelle est comprinse une somme de piété.... composée en latin par J. Calvin et translatée par luy mesme. Avec la préface addressée au tres chrestien Roy de France, François premier de ce nom: par laquelle ce présent livre luy esi offert pour confession de Foy. M. D. XLI." 822 pp. 8°, 2d ed. Genève, Jean Girard, 1545; 3d ed. 1551; 4th ed. 1553; 5th ed. 1554; 6th ed. 1557; 7th ed. 1560, in fol.; 8th ed. 1561, in 8°; 9th ed. 1561, in 4°; 10th ed. 1562, etc.; 15th ed. Geneva, 1564. Elzevir ed. Leyden, 1654.

4. The Strassburg editors devote the first four volumes to the different editions of the Institutes in both languages. Vol, I. contains the editio princeps Latina of Basel, 1536 (pp. 10–247), and the variations of six editions intervening between the first and the last, viz., the Strassburg editions of 1539, 1543, 1545, and the Geneva editions of 1550, 1553, 1554 (pp. 253–1152); vol. II., the editio postrema of 1559 (pp. 1–1118); vols. III. and IV., the last edition of the French translation, or free reproduction rather (1560), with the variations of former editions.

5. The question of the priority of the Latin or French text is now settled in favor of the former. See Jules Bonnet, in the Bulletin de la Société de l’histoire du protestantisme français for 1858, vol. VI. p. 137 sqq., Stähelin, vol. I. p. 55, and the Strassburg editors of the Opera, in the ample Prolegomena to vols. I. and III. Calvin himself says expressly (in the Preface to his French ed. 1541), that he first wrote the Institutes in Latin ("premièrement l’ay mis en latin"), for readers of all nations, and that he translated or reproduced them afterwards for the special benefit of Frenchmen ("l’ay aussi translaté en notre langage"). In a letter to his friend, François Daniel, dated Lausanne, Oct. 13, 1536, he writes that he began the French translation soon after the publication of the Latin (Letters, ed. Bonnet, vol. I. p. 21), but it did not appear till 1541, under the title given above. The erroneous assertion of a French original, so often repeated (by Bayle, Maimbourg, Basnage, and more recently by Henry, vol. I. p. 104; III. p. 177; Dorner, Gesch. der protest. Theol. p. 375; also by Guizot, H. B. Smith, and Dyer), arose from confounding the date of the Preface as given in the French editions (23 Aug., 1535), with the later date of publication (March, 1536). It is quite possible, however, that the dedication to Francis I. was first written in French, and this would most naturally account for the earlier date in the French editions.

6. On the differences of the several editions, comp. J. Thomas: Histoire de l’instit. chrétienne de J. Calv. Strasbourg, 1859. Alex. Schweizer: Centraldogmen, I. 150 sqq. (Zürich, 1854). Köstlin: Calvin’s Institutio nach Form und Inhalt, in the "Studien und Kritiken" for 1868.

7. On the numerous translations, see above, pp. 225, 265; Henry, Vol. III. Beilagen, 178–189; and La France Prot. III. 553.

In the ancient and venerable city of Basel, on the borders of Switzerland, France, and Germany—the residence of Erasmus and Oecolampadius, the place where a reformatory council had met in 1430, and where the first Greek Testament was printed in 1516 from manuscripts of the university library John Calvin, then a mere youth of twenty-six years, and an exile from his native land, finished and published, twenty years after the first print of the Greek Testament, his Institutes of the Christian Religion, by which he astonished the world and took at once the front rank among the literary champions of the evangelical faith.

This book is the masterpiece of a precocious genius of commanding intellectual and spiritual depth and power. It is one of the few truly classical productions in the history of theology, and has given its author the double title of the Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas of the Reformed Church.452452    Kampschulte, a Roman Catholic historian, and others, call him "the Aristotle;" Martin, a liberal French historian, and others, call him—more appropriately—"the Thomas Aquinas," of Protestantism.

The Roman Catholics at once perceived the significance of the Institutio, and called it the Koran and Talmud of heresy.453453    Florimond de Raemond: "l’Alcoran ou plutôt le Talmud de l’hérésie." It was burned by order of the Sorbonne at Paris and other places, and more fiercely and persistently persecuted than any book of the sixteenth century; but, we must add, it has found also great admirers among Catholics who, while totally dissenting from its theological system and antipopish temper, freely admit its great merits in the non-polemical parts.454454    See the testimonies of Bossuet, and especially of Kampschulte, quoted in 68, p. 285 sq.

The Evangelicals greeted the Institutio at once with enthusiastic praise as the clearest, strongest, most logical, and most convincing defence of Christian doctrines since the days of the apostles. A few weeks after its publication Bucer wrote to the author: "It is evident that the Lord has elected you as his organ for the bestowment of the richest fulness of blessing to his Church."455455    "Videmur nobis agnoscere, dominum instituisse tui ustum ecclesiis suis uberrimum concedere, eisque tuo ministerio latissime commodare." Herminjard, IV. 118.

Nor is this admiration confined to orthodox Protestants. Dr. Baur, the founder of the Tübingen school of historical critics, declares this book of Calvin to be "in every respect a truly classical work, distinguished in a high degree by originality and acuteness of conception, systematic consistency, and clear, luminous method."456456    Dogmengeschichte, vol. III. 27. And Dr. Hase pointedly calls it "the grandest scientific justification of Augustinianism, full of religious depth with inexorable consistency of thought."457457    Kirchengeschichte, p. 405 (11th edition).

The Institutio is not a book for the people, and has not the rousing power which Luther’s Appeal to the German Nobility, and his tract on Christian Freedom exerted upon the Germans; but it is a book for scholars of all nations, and had a deeper and more lasting effect upon them than any work of the Reformers. Edition followed edition, and translations were made into nearly all the languages of Europe.458458    Many editors print, as a motto, the distich of the Hungarian, Paul Thurius:
   Praeter apostolicas post Christi temporachartas,

   Huic peperere libro saecula nulla parem."

Calvin gives a systematic exposition of the Christian religion in general, and a vindication of the evangelical faith in particular, with the apologetic and practical aim of defending the Protestant believers against calumny and persecution to which they were then exposed, especially in France. He writes under the inspiration of a heroic faith that is ready for the stake, and with a glowing enthusiasm for the pure Gospel of Christ, which had been obscured and deprived of its effect by human traditions, but had now risen from this rubbish to new life and power. He combines dogmatics and ethics in organic unity.

He plants himself firmly on the immovable rock of the Word of God, as the only safe guide in matters of faith and duty. He exhibits on every page a thorough, well-digested knowledge of Scripture which is truly astonishing. He does not simply quote from it as a body of proof texts, in a mechanical way, like the scholastic dogmaticians of the seventeenth century, but he views it as an organic whole, and weaves it into his system. He bases the authority of Scripture on its intrinsic excellency and the testimony of the Holy Spirit speaking through it to the believer. He makes also judicious and discriminating use of the fathers, especially St. Augustin, not as judges but as witnesses of the truth, and abstains from those depreciatory remarks in which Luther occasionally indulged when, instead of his favorite dogma of justification by faith, he found in them much ascetic monkery and exaltation of human merit. "They overwhelm us," says Calvin, in the dedicatory Preface, "with senseless clamors, as despisers and enemies of the fathers. But if it were consistent with my present design, I could easily support by their suffrages most of the sentiments that we now maintain. Yet while we make use of their writings, we always remember that ’all things are ours,’ to serve us, not to have dominion over us, and that ’we are Christ’s alone’ (1 Cor. 3:21–23), and owe him universal obedience. He who neglects this distinction will have nothing certain in religion; since those holy men were ignorant of many things, frequently at variance with each other, and sometimes even inconsistent with themselves." He also fully recognizes the indispensable use of reason in the apprehension and defence of truth and the refutation of error, and excels in the power of severe logical argumentation; while he is free from scholastic dryness and pedantry. But he subordinates reason and tradition to the supreme authority of Scripture as he understands it.

The style is luminous and forcible. Calvin had full command of the majesty, dignity, and elegance of the Latin Ianguage. The discussion flows on continuously and melodiously like a river of fresh water through green meadows and sublime mountain scenery. The whole work is well proportioned. It is pervaded by intense earnestness and fearless consistency which commands respect even where his arguments fail to carry conviction, or where we feel offended by the contemptuous tone of his polemics, or feel a shudder at his decretum horribile.

Calvin’s system of doctrine agrees with the (ecumenical creeds in theology and Christology; with Augustinianism in anthropology and soteriology, but dissents from the mediaeval tradition in ecclesiology, sacramentology, and eschatology. We shall discuss the prominent features of this system in the chapter on Calvin’s Theology.

The Institutio was dedicated to King Francis I. of France (1494–1547), who at that time cruelly persecuted his Protestant subjects. As Justin Martyr and other early Apologists addressed the Roman emperors in behalf of the despised and persecuted sect of the Christians, vindicating them against the foul charges of atheism, immorality, and hostility to Caesar, and pleading for toleration, so Calvin appealed to the French monarch in defence of his Protestant countrymen, then a small sect, as much despised, calumniated, and persecuted, and as moral and innocent as the Christians in the old Roman empire, with a manly dignity, frankness, and pathos never surpassed before or since. He followed the example set by Zwingli who addressed his dying confession of faith to the same sovereign (1531). These appeals, like the apologies of the ante-Nicene age, failed to reach or to affect the throne, but they moulded public opinion which is mightier than thrones, and they are a living force to-day.

The preface to the Institutio is reckoned among the three immortal prefaces in literature. The other two are President De Thou’s preface to his History of France, and Casaubon’s preface to Polybius. Calvin’s preface is superior to them in importance and interest. Take the beginning and the close as specimens.459459    I have made use of the faithful translation of John Allen, compared with the Latin original.

"When I began this work, Sire, nothing was farther from my thoughts than writing a book which would afterwards be presented to your Majesty. My intention was only to lay down some elementary principles, by which inquirers on the subject of religion might be instructed in the nature of true piety. And this labor I undertook chiefly for my countrymen, the French, of whom I apprehend multitudes to be hungering and thirsting after Christ, but saw very few possessing any real knowledge of him. That this was my design the book itself proves by its simple method and unadorned composition. But when I perceived that the fury of certain wicked men in your kingdom had grown to such a height, as to have no room in the land for sound doctrine, I thought I should be usefully employed, if in the same work I delivered my instructions to them, and exhibited my confession to you, that you may know the nature of that doctrine, which is the object of such unbounded rage to those madmen who are now disturbing the country with fire and sword. For I shall not be afraid to acknowledge, that this treatise contains a summary of that very doctrine, which, according to their clamors, deserves to be punished with imprisonment, banishment, proscription, and flames, and to be exterminated from the face of the earth. I well know with what atrocious insinuations your ears have been filled by them, in order to render our cause most odious in your esteem; but your clemency should lead you to consider that if accusation be accounted a sufficient evidence of guilt, there will be an end of all innocence in words and actions."

"But I return to you, Sire. Let not your Majesty be at all moved by those groundless accusations with which our adversaries endeavor to terrify you; as that the sole tendency and design of this new gospel, for so they call it, is to furnish a pretext for seditions, and to gain impunity for all crimes. ’For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace;’ nor is ’the Son of God,’ who came to destroy ’the works of the devil, the minister of sin.’ And it is unjust to charge us with such motives and designs of which we have never given cause for the least suspicion. Is it probable that we are meditating the subversion of kingdoms? We, who were never heard to utter a factious word, whose lives were ever known to be peaceable and honest while we lived under your government, and who, even now in our exile, cease not to pray for all prosperity to attend yourself and your kingdom! Is it probable that we are seeking an unlimited license to commit crimes with impunity, in whose conduct, though many things may be blamed, yet there is nothing worthy of such severe reproach? Nor have we, by divine grace, profited so little in the gospel, but that our life may be to our detractors an example of chastity, liberality, mercy, temperance, patience, modesty, and every other virtue. It is an undeniable fact, that we sincerely fear and worship God, whose name we desire to be sanctified both by our life and by our death; and envy itself is constrained to bear testimony to the innocence and civil integrity of some of us, who have suffered the punishment of death, for that very thing which ought to be accounted their highest praise. But if the gospel be made a pretext for tumults, which has not yet happened in your kingdom; if any persons make the liberty of divine grace an excuse for the licentiousness of their vices, of whom I have known many; there are laws and legal penalties, by which they may be punished according to their deserts: only let not the gospel of God be reproached for the crimes of wicked men. You have now, Sire, the virulent iniquity of our calumniators laid before you in a sufficient number of instances, that you may not receive their accusations with too credulous an ear.

"I fear I have gone too much into the detail, as this preface already approaches the size of a full apology; whereas, I intended it not to contain our defence, but only to prepare your mind to attend to the pleading of our cause; for though you are now averse and alienated from us, and even inflamed against us, we despair not of regaining your favor, if you will only once read with calmness and composure this our confession, which we intend as our defence before your Majesty. But, on the contrary, if your ears are so preoccupied with the whispers of the malevolent, as to leave no opportunity for the accused to speak for themselves, and if those outrageous furies, with your connivance, continue to persecute with imprisonments, scourges, tortures, confiscations, and flames, we shall indeed, like sheep destined to the slaughter, be reduced to the greatest extremities. Yet shall we in patience possess our souls, and wait for the mighty hand of the Lord, which undoubtedly will in time appear, and show itself armed for the deliverance of the poor from their affliction, and for the punishment of their despisers, who now exult in such perfect security.

"May the Lord, the King of kings, establish your throne in righteousness, and your kingdom with equity."

The first edition of the Institutes was a brief manual containing, in six chapters, an exposition 1) of the Decalogue; 2) of the Apostles’ Creed; 3) of the Lord’s Prayer; 4) of baptism and the Lord’s Supper; 5) of the other so-called Sacraments; 6) of Christian liberty, Church government, and discipline. The second edition has seventeen, the third, twenty-one chapters. In the author’s last edition of 1559, it grew to four or five times its original size, and was divided into four books, each book into a number of chapters (from seventeen to twenty-five), and each chapter into sections. It follows in the main, like every good catechism, the order of the Apostles’ Creed, which is the order of God’s revelation as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The first book discusses the knowledge of God the Creator (theology proper); the second, the knowledge of God the Redeemer (Christology); the third, of the Holy Spirit and the application of the saving work of Christ (soteriology); the fourth, the means of grace, namely, the Church and the sacraments.460460    He himself gives in the preface to the last edition the following account of the successive improvements of the work: "In the first edition of this work, not expecting that success which the Lord in his infinite goodness hath given, I handled the subject for the most part in a superficial manner, as is usual in small treatises. But when I understood that it had obtained from almost all pious persons such a favorable acceptance as I never could have presumed to wish, much less to hope, while I was conscious of receiving far more attention than I had deserved, I thought it would evince great ingratitude, if I did not endeavor at least, according to my humble ability, to make some suitable return for the attentions paid to me;—attentions of themselves calculated to stimulate my industry. Nor did I attempt this only in the second edition, but in every succeeding one the work has been improved by some farther enlargements. But though I repented not the labor then devoted to it, yet I never satisfied myself till it was arranged in the order in which it is now published. And I trust I have here presented to my readers what their judgments will unite in approving. Of my diligent application to the accomplishment of this service for the Church of God, I can produce abundant proof. For, last winter, when I thought that a quartan ague would speedily terminate in my death, the more my disorder increased, the less I spared myself till I had finished this book, to leave it behind me as some grateful return to such kind solicitations of the religious public. Indeed, I would rather it had been done sooner, but it is soon enough, if well enough. I shall think it has appeared at the proper time, when I shall find it to have been more beneficial than before to the Church of God. This is my only wish."

Although the work has been vastly improved under the revising hand of the author, in size and fulness of statement, the first edition contains all the essential features of his system. "Ex ungue leonem." His doctrine of predestination, however, is stated in a more simple and less objectionable form. He dwells on the bright and comforting side of that doctrine, namely, the eternal election by the free grace of God in Christ, and leaves out the dark mystery of reprobation and preterition.461461    See the quotations of the several passages bearing upon this doctrine in Schweizer’s Centraldogmen, I. 150-152, and in Stähelin, I. 66-68. He gives the light without the shade, the truth without the error. He avoids the paradoxes of Luther and Zwingli, and keeps within the limits of a wise moderation. The fuller logical development of his views on predestination and on the Church, dates from his sojourn in Strassburg, where he wrote the second edition of the Institutes, and his Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans.

The following sections on some of his leading doctrines from the last edition give a fair idea of the spirit and method of the work:

The Connection Between the Knowledge of God and the Knowledge of Ourselves.

(Book I. ch. 1, §§ 1, 2.)

1. "True and substantial wisdom principally consists of two parts, the knowledge of God and the knowledge of ourselves. But while these two branches of knowledge are so intimately connected, which of them precedes and produces the other, is not easy to discover. For, in the first place, no man can take a survey of himself but he must immediately turn to the contemplation of God, in whom he ’lives and moves’ (Acts 17:28); since it is evident that the talents which we possess are not from ourselves, and that our very existence is nothing but a subsistence in God alone. These bounties, distilling to us by drops from heaven, form, as it were, so many streams conducting us to the fountain-head. Our poverty conduces to a clearer display of the infinite fulness of God. Especially the miserable ruin, into which we have been plunged by the defection of the first man, compels us to raise our eyes towards heaven not only as hungry and famished, to seek thence a supply for our wants, but, aroused with fear, to learn humility.

"For since man is subject to a world of miseries, and has been spoiled of his divine array, this melancholy exposure discovers an immense mass of deformity. Every one, therefore, must be so impressed with a consciousness of his own infelicity, as to arrive at some knowledge of God. Thus a sense of our ignorance, vanity, poverty, infirmity, depravity, and corruption, leads us to perceive and acknowledge that in the Lord alone are to be found true wisdom, solid strength, perfect goodness, and unspotted righteousness; and so, by our imperfections, we are excited to a consideration of the perfections of God. Nor can we really aspire toward him, till we have begun to be displeased with ourselves. For who would not gladly rest satisfied with himself? Where is the man not actually absorbed in self-complacency, while he remains unacquainted with his true situation, or content with his own endowments, and ignorant or forgetful of his own misery? The knowledge of ourselves, therefore, is not only an incitement to seek after God, but likewise a considerable assistance towards finding him.

2. "On the other hand, it is plain that no man can arrive at the true knowledge of himself, without having first contemplated the divine character, and then descended to the consideration of his own. For such is the native pride of us all, that we invariably esteem ourselves righteous, innocent, wise, and holy, till we are convinced by clear proofs of our unrighteousness, turpitude, folly, and impurity. But we are never thus convinced, while we confine our attention to ourselves and regard not the Lord, who is the only standard by which this judgment ought to be formed." ...

Rational Proofs to Establish the Belief in the Scripture.

(Book I. ch. 8, §§ 1, d 2.)

1. "Without this certainty [that is, the testimony of the Holy Spirit], better and stronger than any human judgment, in vain will the authority of the Scripture be either defended by arguments, or established by the consent of the Church, or confirmed by any other supports; since, unless the foundation be laid, it remains in perpetual suspense. Whilst, on the contrary, when regarding it in a different point of view from common things, we have once religiously received it in a manner worthy of its excellence, we shall then derive great assistance from things which before were not sufficient to establish the certainty of it in our minds. For it is admirable to observe how much it conduces to our confirmation, attentively to study the order and disposition of the divine wisdom dispensed in it, the heavenly nature of its doctrine, which never savors of anything terrestrial, the beautiful agreement of all the parts with each other, and other similar characters adapted to conciliate respect to any writings. But our hearts are more strongly confirmed, when we reflect that we are constrained to admire it more by the dignity of the subjects than by the beauties of the language. For even this did not happen without the particular providence of God, that the sublime mysteries of the kingdom of heaven should be communicated, for the most part, in an humble and contemptible style: lest if they had been illustrated with more of the splendor of eloquence, the impious might cavil that their triumph is only the triumph of eloquence. Now, since that uncultivated and almost rude simplicity procures itself more reverence than all the graces of rhetoric, what opinion can we form, but that the force of truth in the sacred Scripture is too powerful to need the assistance of verbal art? Justly, therefore, does the apostle argue that the faith of the Corinthians was founded ’not in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God,’ because his preaching among them was ’not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit of power’ (1 Cor. 2:4). For the truth is vindicated from every doubt, when, unassisted by foreign aid, it is sufficient for its own support. But that this is the peculiar property of the Scripture, appears from the insufficiency of any human compositions, however artificially polished, to make an equal impression on our minds. Read Demosthenes or Cicero; read Plato, Aristotle, or any others of that class; I grant that you will be attracted, delighted, moved, and enraptured by them in a surprising manner; but if, after reading them, you turn to the perusal of the sacred volume, whether you are willing or unwilling, it will affect you so powerfully, it will so penetrate your heart, and impress itself so strongly on your mind, that, compared with its energetic influence, the beauties of rhetoricians and philosophers will almost entirely disappear; so that it is easy to perceive something divine in the sacred Scriptures, which far surpass the highest attainments and ornaments of human industry.

2. "I grant, indeed, that the diction of some of the prophets is neat and elegant, and even splendid; so that they are not inferior in eloquence to the heathen writers. And by such examples the Holy Spirit hath been pleased to show that he was not deficient in eloquence, though elsewhere he hath used a rude and homely style. But whether we read David, Isaiah, and others that resemble them, who have a sweet and pleasant flow of words, or Amos, the herdsman, Jeremiah, and Zechariah, whose rougher language savors of rusticity; that majesty of the Spirit which I have mentioned is everywhere conspicuous .... With respect to the sacred Scripture, though presumptuous men try to cavil at various passages, yet it is evidently replete with sentences which are beyond the powers of human conception. Let all the prophets be examined, not one will be found who has not far surpassed the ability of men; so that those to whom their doctrine is insipid must be accounted utterly destitute of all true taste ....

11. "If we proceed to the New Testament, by what solid foundations is its truth supported ? Three evangelists recite their history in a low and mean style. Many proud men are disgusted with that simplicity because they attend not to the principal points of doctrine; whence it were easy to infer, that they treat of heavenly mysteries which are above human capacity. They who have a spark of ingenuous modesty will certainly be ashamed, if they peruse the first chapter of Luke. Now the discourses of Christ, a concise summary of which is comprised in these three evangelists, easily exempt their writings from contempt. But John, thundering from his sublimity, more powerfully than any thunderbolt, levels to the dust the obstinacy of those whom he does not compel to the obedience of faith. Let all those censorious critics, whose supreme pleasure consists in banishing all reverence for the Scripture out of their own hearts and the hearts of others, come forth to public view. Let them read the Gospel of John: whether they wish it or not, they will there find numerous passages, which, at least, arouse their indolence and which will even imprint a horrible brand on their consciences to restrain their ridicule; similar is the method of Paul and of Peter, in whose writings, though the greater part be obscure, yet their heavenly majesty attracts universal attention. But this one circumstance raises their doctrine sufficiently above the world, that Matthew, who had before been confined to the profit of his table, and Peter and John, who had been employed in fishing-boats, all plain, unlettered men, had learned nothing in any human school which they could communicate to others. And Paul, from not only a professed but a cruel and sanguinary enemy, being converted to a new man, proves by his sudden and unhoped-for change, that he was constrained, by a command from heaven, to vindicate that doctrine which he had before opposed. Let these deny that the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles; or, at least, let them dispute the credibility of the history: yet the fact itself loudly proclaims that they were taught by the Spirit, who, though before despised as some of the meanest of the people, suddenly began to discourse in such a magnificent manner on the mysteries of heaven ....

13. "Wherefore, the Scripture will then only be effectual to produce the saving knowledge of God, when the certainty of it shall be founded on the internal persuasion of the Holy Spirit. Thus those human testimonies, which contribute to its confirmation, will not be useless, if they follow that first and principal proof, as secondary aids to our imbecility. But those persons betray great folly, who wish it to be demonstrated to infidels that the Scripture is the Word of God, which cannot be known without faith. Augustin, therefore, justly observes, that piety and peace of mind ought to precede in order that a man may understand somewhat of such great subjects."

Meditation on the Future Life.

(Book III. ch. 9, §§ 1, 3, 6.)

1. "With whatever kind of tribulation we may be afflicted, we should always keep the end in view; to habituate ourselves to a contempt of the present life, that we may thereby be excited to meditation on that which is to come. For the Lord, well knowing our strong natural inclination to a brutish love of the world, adopts a most excellent method to reclaim us and rouse us from one insensibility that we may not be too tenaciously attached to that foolish affection. There is not one of us who is not desirous of appearing through the whole course of his life, to aspire and strive after celestial immortality. For we are ashamed of excelling in no respect the brutal herds, whose condition would not be at all inferior to ours, unless there remained to us a hope of eternity after death. But if you examine the designs, pursuits, and actions of every individual, you will find nothing in them but what is terrestrial. Hence that stupidity, that the mental eyes, dazzled with the vain splendor of riches, powers, and honors, cannot see to any considerable distance. The heart also, occupied and oppressed with avarice, ambition, and other inordinate desires, cannot rise to any eminence. In a word, the whole soul, fascinated by carnal allurements, seeks its felicity on earth.

"To oppose this evil, the Lord, by continual lessons of miseries, teaches his children the vanity of the present life. That they may not promise themselves profound and secure peace in it, therefore he permits them to be frequently disquieted and infested with wars or tumults, with robberies or other injuries. That they may not aspire with too much avidity after transient and uncertain riches, or depend on those which they possess, sometimes by exile, sometimes by the sterility of the land, sometimes by a conflagration, sometimes by other means, he reduces them to indigence, or at least confines them within the limits of mediocrity. That they may not be too complacently delighted with conjugal blessings, he either causes them to be distressed with the wickedness of their wives, or humbles them with a wicked offspring, or afflicts them with want or loss of children. But if in all these things he is more indulgent to them, yet that they may not be inflated with vainglory, or improper confidence, he shows them by diseases and dangers the unstable and transitory nature of all mortal blessings. We therefore truly derive advantages from the discipline of the cross, only when we learn that this life, considered in itself, is unquiet, turbulent, miserable in numberless instances, and in no respect altogether happy; and that all its reputed blessings are uncertain, transient, vain, and adulterated with a mixture of many evils; and in consequence of this at once conclude that nothing can be sought or expected on earth but conflict, and that when we think of a crown we must raise our eyes toward heaven. For it must be admitted that the mind is never seriously excited to desire and meditate on the future life, without having previously imbibed a contempt of the present ....

3. "But the faithful should accustom themselves to such a contempt of the present life, as may not generate either hatred of life or ingratitude towards God himself. For this life, though it is replete with innumerable miseries, is yet deservedly reckoned among the divine blessings which must not be despised. Wherefore if we discover nothing of the divine beneficence in it, we are already guilty of no small ingratitude towards God himself. But to the faithful especially it should be a testimony of the divine benevolence, since the whole of it is destined to the advancement of their salvation. For before he openly discovers to us the inheritance of eternal glory, he intends to reveal himself as our Father in inferior instances; and those are the benefits which he daily confers on us. Since this life, then, is subservient to a knowledge of the divine goodness, shall we fastidiously scorn it as though it contained no particle of goodness in it? We must, therefore, have this sense and affection, to class it among the bounties of the divine benignity which are not to be rejected. For if Scripture testimonies were wanting, which are very numerous and clear, even nature itself exhorts us to give thanks to the Lord for having introduced us to the light of life, for granting us the use of it, and giving us all the helps necessary to its preservation. And it is a far superior reason for gratitude, if we consider that here we are in some measure prepared for the glory of the heavenly kingdom. For the Lord has ordained that they who are to be hereafter crowned in heaven, must first engage in conflicts on earth, that they may not triumph without having surmounted the difficulties of warfare and obtained the victory. Another reason is, that here we begin in various blessings to taste the sweetness of the divine benignity, that our hope and desire may be excited after the full revelation of it. When we have come to this conclusion, that our life in this world is a gift of the divine clemency, which as we owe it to him, we ought to remember with gratitude, it will then be time for us to descend to a consideration of its most miserable condition, that we may be delivered from excessive cupidity, to which, as has been observed, we are naturally inclined ....

6." It is certainly true that the whole family of the faithful, as long as they dwell on earth, must be accounted as ’sheep for the slaughter’ (Rom. 8:36), that they may be conformed to Christ their Head. Their state, therefore, would be extremely deplorable, if they did not elevate their thoughts towards heaven, to rise above all sublunary things, and look beyond present appearances (1 Cor. 15:19). On the contrary, when they have once raised their heads above this world, although they see the impious flourishing in riches and honors, and enjoying the most profound tranquillity; though they see them boasting of their splendor and luxury, and behold them abounding in every delight; though they may also be harassed by their wickedness, insulted by their pride, defrauded by their avarice, and may receive from them any other lawless provocations; yet they will find no difficulty in supporting themselves even under such calamities as these. For they will keep in view that day when the Lord will receive his faithful servants into his peaceful kingdom; will wipe every tear from their eyes (Isa. 25:8; Rev. 7:17), invest them with robes of joy, adorn them with crowns of glory, entertain them with his ineffable delights, exalt them to fellowship with His Majesty, and, in a word, honor them with a participation of his happiness. But the impious, who have been great in this world, he will precipitate down to the lowest ignominy; he will change their delights into torments, and their laughter and mirth into weeping and gnashing of teeth; he will disturb their tranquillity with dreadful agonies of conscience, and will punish their delicacy with inextinguishable fire, and even put them in subjection to the pious, whose patience they have abused. For, according to Paul, it is a righteous thing with God, to recompense tribulation to those that trouble the saints, and rest to those who are troubled, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven (2 Thess. 1:6, 7). This is our only consolation, and deprived of this, we must of necessity either sink into despondency of mind, or solace ourselves to our own destruction with the vain pleasures of the world. For even the psalmist confesses that he staggered, when he was too much engaged in contemplating the present prosperity of the impious; and that he could no otherwise establish himself, till he entered the sanctuary of God, and directed his views to the last end of the godly and of the wicked (Ps. 73:2, etc.).

"To conclude in one word, the cross of Christ triumphs in the hearts of believers over the devil and the flesh, over sin and impious men, only when their eyes are directed to the power of the resurrection."

Christian Liberty.

(Book 3, ch. 19, § 9.)

1. "It must be carefully observed, that Christian liberty is in all its branches a spiritual thing; all the virtue of which consists in appeasing terrified consciences before God, whether they are disquieted and solicitous concerning the remission of their sins, or are anxious to know if their works, which are imperfect and contaminated by the defilements of the flesh, be acceptable to God, or are tormented concerning the use of things that are indifferent. Wherefore those are guilty of perverting its meaning, who either make it the pretext of their irregular appetites, that they may abuse the divine blessings to the purposes of sensuality, or who suppose that there is no liberty but what is used before men, and therefore in the exercise of it totally disregard their weak brethren.

2. "The former of these sins is the more common in the present age. There is scarcely any one whom his wealth permits to be sumptuous, who is not delighted with luxurious splendor in his entertainments, in his dress, and in his buildings; who does not desire a pre-eminence in every species of luxury; who does not strangely flatter himself on his elegance. And all these things are defended under the pretext of Christian liberty. They allege that they are things indifferent. This, I admit, provided they be indifferently used. But where they are too ardently coveted, proudly boasted, or luxuriously lavished, these things, of themselves otherwise indifferent, are completely polluted by such vices. This passage of Paul makes an excellent distinction respecting things which are indifferent: ’Unto the pure, all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving, is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled’ (Titus 1:15). For why are curses denounced on rich men, who ’receive their consolation,’ who are ’satiated,’ who ’now laugh,’ who ’lie on beds of ivory,’ who ’join field to field,’ who ’have the harp and lyre, and the tabret, and wine in their feasts?’ (Luke 6:24, 25; Amos 6:1; Isa. 5:8). Ivory and gold and riches of all kinds are certainly blessings of divine providence, not only permitted, but expressly designed for the use of men; nor are we anywhere prohibited to laugh, or to be satiated with food, or to annex new possessions to those already enjoyed by ourselves or by our ancestors, or to be delighted with musical harmony, or to drink wine. This, indeed, is true; but amidst an abundance of all things, to be immersed in sensual delights, to inebriate the heart and mind with present pleasures, and perpetually to grasp at new ones, these things are very remote from a legitimate use of the divine blessings. Let them banish, therefore, immoderate cupidity, excessive profusion, vanity, and arrogance; that with a pure conscience they may make a proper use of the gifts of God. When their hearts shall be formed to this sobriety, they will have a rule for the legitimate enjoyment of them. On the contrary, without this moderation, even the common pleasures of the vulgar are chargeable with excess. For it is truly observed, that a proud heart frequently dwells under coarse and ragged garments, and that simplicity and humility are sometimes concealed under purple and fine linen.

3. "Let all men in their respective stations, whether of poverty, of competence, or of splendor, live in the remembrance of this truth, that God confers his blessings on them for the support of life, not of luxury; and let them consider this as the law of Christian liberty, that they learn the lesson which Paul had learned, when he said: ’I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: everywhere and in all things I am intrusted, both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need’ (Phil. 4:11, 12)."

The Doctrine of Election.

(Book 3, ch. 21, § 1.)

1. "Nothing else [than election by free grace] will be sufficient to produce in us suitable humility, or to impress us with a due sense of our great obligations to God. Nor is there any other basis for solid confidence, even according to the authority of Christ, who, to deliver us from all fear and render us invincible amidst so many dangers, snares, and deadly conflicts, promises to preserve in safety all whom the Father has committed to his care .... The discussion of predestination, a subject of itself rather intricate, is made very perplexed and therefore dangerous by human curiosity, which no barriers can restrain from wandering into forbidden labyrinths, and soaring beyond its sphere, as if determined to leave none of the divine secrets unscrutinized or unexplored .... The secrets of God’s will which he determined to reveal to us, he discovers in his Word; and these are all that he foresaw would concern us, or conduce to our advantage ....

2." Let us bear in mind, that to desire any other knowledge of predestination than what is unfolded in the Word of God, indicates as great folly, as a wish to walk through impassable roads, or to see in the dark. Nor let us be ashamed to be ignorant of some things relative to a subject in which there is a kind of learned ignorance (aliqua docta ignorantia) ....

3. "Others desirous of remedying this evil, will leave all mention of predestination to be as it were buried .... Though their moderation is to be commended in judging that mysteries ought to be handled with such great sobriety, yet as they descend too low, they leave little influence on the mind of man which refuses to submit to unreasonable restraints .... The Scripture is the school of the Holy Spirit, in which as nothing necessary and useful to be known is omitted, so nothing is taught which it is not beneficial to know .... Let us permit the Christian man to open his heart and his ears to all the discourses addressed to him by God, only with this moderation, that as soon as the Lord closes his sacred mouth, he shall also desist from further inquiry .... ’The secret things,’ says Moses (Deut. 29:29), ’belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us, and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of his law.’

5. "Predestination, by which God adopts some to the hope of life, and adjudges others to eternal death, no one, desirous of the credit of piety, dares absolutely to deny .... Predestination we call the eternal decree of God, by which he has determined in himself, what he would have to become of every individual of mankind. For they are not all created with a similar destiny; but eternal life is fore-ordained for some, and eternal damnation for others. Every man, therefore, being created for one or the other of these ends, we say, he is predestinated either to life or to death. This God has not only testified in particular persons, but has given as specimen of it in the whole posterity of Abraham, which should evidently show the future condition of every nation to depend upon his decision (Deut. 32:8, 9)."

« Prev Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection