Institutes of the Christian Religion
John Calvin

These pages: Institutes of the Christian Religion
Book I: Dedication–XII; XIII–XVIII (here)
Book II
Book III
Book IV



index pages:

Institutes of the Christian Religion

translated by John Allen

from the 1559 Latin edition, with comparison to French translations

Book I: On the Knowledge of God the Creator


XIIIOne Divine Essence, Containing Three Persons, Taught in the Scriptures from the Beginning
I The Anthropomorphites also, who imagined God to be corporeal, because the Scripture frequently ascribes to him a mouth, ears, eyes, hands, and feet, are easily refuted. For who, even of the meanest capacity, understands not, that God lisps, as it were, with us, just as nurses are accustomed to speak to infants? Wherefore, such forms of expression do not clearly explain the nature of God, but accommodate the knowledge of him to our narrow capacity; to accomplish which, the Scripture must necessarily descend far below the height of his majesty.



II It follows, therefore, if the testimony of the Apostles be credited, that there are in God three hypostases. And, as the Latins have expressed the same thing by the word person, it is too fastidious and obstinate to contend about so clear a matter. If we wish to translate word for word, we may call it subsistence. Many, in the same sense, have called it substance.
V But I have found, by long and frequent experience, that those who pertinaciously contend about words, cherish some latent poison; so that it were better designedly to provoke their resentment, than to use obscure language for the sake of obtaining their favour.
XVII The names of Father, Son, and Spirit, certainly imply a real distinction; let no one suppose them to be mere epithets, by which God is variously designated from his works; but it is a distinction, not a division.
XIVThe True God Clearly Distinguished in the Scripture from All Fictitious Ones by the Creation of the World
I [...] the continuance of the world, now advancing to its last end, has not yet reached six thousand years. For the reason why God deferred it so long, it would be neither lawful nor expedient to inquire; because, if the human mind strive to penetrate it, it will fail a hundred times in the attempt; nor, indeed, could there be any utility in the knowledge of that which God himself, in order to prove the modesty of our faith, has purposely concealed. Great shrewdness was discovered by a certain pious old man, who, when some scoffer ludicrously inquired what God had been doing before the creation of the world, replied that he had been making hell for over curious men. This admonition, no less grave than severe, should repress the wantonness which stimulates many, and impels them to perverse and injurious speculations.
XIII Wherefore, having been perviously warned that we are perpetually threatened by an enemy, and an enemy desperately bold and extremely strong, skilled in every artifice, indefatigable in diligence and celerity, abundantly provided with all kinds of weapons, and most expert in the science of war, let us make it the grand object of our attention, that we suffer not ourselves to be oppressed with slothfulness and inactivity, but, on the contrary, arousing and collecting all our courage, be ready for a vigorous resistance; and as this warfare is terminated only by death, let us encourage ourselves to perseverance. But, above all, conscious of weakness and ignorance, let us implore the assistance of God, nor attempt any thing but in reliance on him; since he alone can supply us with wisdom, and strength, and courage, and armour.
XVThe State of Man at His Creation, the Faculties of the Soul, the Divine Image, Free Will, and the Original Purity of His Nature
VI I admit, then, in the first place, that there are five senses, which Plato would rather call organs, by which all objects are conveyed into a common sensory, as into a general repository; that next follows the fancy or imagination, which discerns the objects apprehended by the common sensory; next reason, to which belongs universal judgment; lastly, the understanding, which steadily and quietly contemplates the objects revolved and considered by reason. And thus to the understanding, reason, and imagination, the three intellectual faculties of the soul, correspond also the three appetitive ones—the will, whose place it is to choose those things which the understanding and reason propose to it; the irascible faculty, which embraces the things offered to it by reason and imagination; and the concupiscible faculty, which apprehended the objects presented by the imagination and sensation.
XVIGod’s Preservation and Support of the World by His Power and His Government of Every Part of It by His Providence
II [...] it must be observed that the providence of God, as it is taught in Scripture, is opposed to fortune and fortuitous accidents. Now, since it has been the common persuasion in all ages, and is also in the present day almost the universal opinion, that all things happen fortuitously, it is certain that every correct sentiment concerning providence is not only obscured, but almost buried in oblivion by this erroneous notion.



III But if the government of God be thus extended to all his works, it is a puerile cavil to limit it to the influence and course of nature. And they not only defraud God of his glory, but themselves of a very useful doctrine, who confine the Divine providence within such narrow bounds, as though he permitted all things to proceed in an uncontrolled course, according to a perpetual law of nature; for nothing would exceed the misery of man, if he were exposed to all the motions of the heaven, air, earth, and waters. Besides, this notion would shamefully diminish the singular goodness of God towards every individual. [...] But they who ascribe just praise to the Divine omnipotence, receive from this a double advantage. In the first place, he must have ample ability to bless them, who possesses heaven and earth, and whose will all the creatures regard so as to devote themselves to his service. And, secondly, they may securely repose in his protection, to whose will are subject all those evils which can be feared from any quarter; by whose power Satan is restrained, with all his furies, and all his machinations; on whose will depends all that is inimical to our safety; nor is there any thing else by which those immoderate and superstitious fears, which we frequently feel on the sight of dangers, can be corrected or appeased.
VI Who, likewise, does not leave lots to the blindness of fortune? Yet the Lord leaves them not, but claims the disposal of them himself. He teaches us that it is not by any power of their own that lots are cast into the lap and drawn out; but the only thing which could be ascribed to chance, he declares to belong to himself.
IX I say, then, that, notwithstanding the ordination of all things by the certain purpose and direction of God, yet to us they are fortuitous: not that we suppose fortune holds any dominion over the world and mankind, and whirls about all things at random, for such folly ought to be far from the breast of a Christian; but because the order, reason, end, and necessity of events are chiefly concealed in the purpose of God, and not comprehended by the mind of man, those things are in some measure fortuitous, which must certainly happen according to the Divine will. For they present no other appearance, whether they are considered in their own nature, or are estimated according to our knowledge and judgment. [...] What God decrees, must necessarily come to pass; yet it is not by absolute or natural necessity.
XVIIThe Proper Application of This Doctrine to Render It Useful to Us

How, then, it will be inquired, is the term repentance to be understood, when attributed to God? I reply, in the same manner as all the other forms of expression, which describe God to us after the manner of men. For, since our infirmity cannot reach his sublimity, the description of him which is given to us, in order that we may understand it, must be lowered to the level of our capacity. His method of lowering it, is to represent himself to us, not as he is in himself, but according to our perception of him. Though he is free from all perturbation of mind, he declares that he is angry with sinners. As, therefore, when we hear that God is angry, we ought not to imagine any commotion in him, but rather to consider this expression as borrowed from our perception, because God carries the appearance of one who is very angry, whenever he executes judgment,—so neither by the term repentance ought we to understand any thing but a change of actions; because men are accustomed to express their dissatisfaction with themselves by changing their actions. Since every change among men, therefore, is a correction of that which displeases them, and correction proceeds from repentance, therefore the term repentance is used to signify that God makes a change in his works. Yet, at the same time, there is no alteration in his counsel or his will, nor any change in his affections; but how sudden soever the variation may appear to the eyes of men, he perpetually and regularly prosecutes what he has foreseen, approved, and decreed from eternity.

XVIIIGod Uses the Agency of the Impious, and Inclines Their Minds to Execute His Judgments, Yet Without the Least Stain of His Perfect Purity
IV Let it be remembered, that whilst God by means of the impious fulfils his secret decrees, they are not excusable, as though they were obedient to his precepts, which they wantonly and intentionally violate.

text checked (see note) Aug 2012

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