Institutes of the Christian Religion
John Calvin

These pages: Institutes of the Christian Religion
Dedication and Book I
Book II: II–VII (here); VIII–XVI
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 II: On the Knowledge of God the Redeemer in Christ Which Was Revealed First to the Fathers Under the Law, and Since to Us in the Gospel
IIMan, in His Present State, Despoiled of Freedom of Will, and Subjected to a Miserable Slavery
IV What free will is, though the expression frequently occurs in all writers, few have defined. Yet Origen appears to have advanced a position to which they all assented, when he calls it a power of reason to discern good and evil, of will to choose either. Nor does Augustine differ from him, when he teaches that it is a power of reason and will, by which good is chosen when grace assists; and evil, when grace is wanting. Bernard, while he affects greater subtlety, has expressed himself with more obscurity; he says, it is a consent on account of the liberty of will, which cannot be lost, and the judgment of reason, which cannot be avoided. The definition of Anselm is not sufficiently plain, who states it to be a power of preserving rectitude for its own sake. Therefore Peter Lombard and the schoolmen have rather adopted the definition of Augustine, because it was more explicit, and did not exclude the grace of God, without which they perceived that the will had no power of itself. But they also make such additions of their own, as they conceived to be either better, or conducive to further explication. [...] We see where they represent the power of free will to be placed; that is, in the reason and will. It now remains briefly to inquire how much they attribute respectively to each.


Free will

XIV These instances, therefore, plainly prove, that men are endued with a general apprehension of reason and understanding. Yet it is such a universal blessing, that every one for himself ought to acknowledge it as the peculiar favour of God.

Themistius, another philosopher, with more truth, teaches that the human understanding is very rarely deceived in the universal definition, or in the essence of a thing; but that it falls into error, when it proceeds further, and descends to the consideration of particular cases. There is no man, who, if he be interrogated in a general way, will not affirm homicide to be criminal; but he who conspires the death of his enemy, deliberates on it as a good action. The adulterer will condemn adultery, but will privately flatter himself in his own. Here lies the ignorance—when a man, proceeding to a particular case, forgets the rule which he had just fixed as a general proposition. [...] sometimes the turpitude of the crime so oppresses the conscience of the sinner, that, no longer imposing on himself under the false image of virtue, he rushes into evil with the knowledge of his mind and the consent of his will. This state of mind produced these expressions, which we find in a heathen poet: “I see the better path, and approve it; I pursue the worse.” Wherefore the distinction of Aristotle between incontinence and intemperance appears to me to be highly judicious. Where incontinence predominates, he says, that by the perturbation of the affections or passions, the mind is deprived of particular knowledge, so that in its own evil actions it observes not that criminality which it generally discovers in similar actions committed by other persons; and that when the perturbation has subsided, penitence immediately succeeds; that intemperance is not extinguished or broken by a sense of sin, but, on the contrary, obstinately persists in the choice of evil which it has made.




Wherefore, as Plato has before been deservedly censured for imputing all sins to ignorance, so also we must reject the opinion of those who maintain that all sins proceed from deliberate malice and pravity. For we too much experience how frequently we fall into error even when our intention is good. Our reason is overwhelmed with deceptions in so many forms, is obnoxious to so many errors, stumbles at so many impediments, and is embarrassed in so many difficulties, that it is very far from being a certain guide.



IIIEvery Thing That Proceeds from the Corrupt Nature of Man Worthy of Condemnation
V Bernard properly observes, that we all have a power to will; but that to will what is good, is an advantage; to will what is evil, a defect. Therefore simply to will belongs to man; to will what is evil, to corrupt nature; to will what is good, to grace. Now, when I assert that the will, being deprived of its liberty, is necessarily drawn or led into evil, I should wonder, if any one considered it as a harsh expression, since it has nothing in it absurd, nor is it unsanctioned by the custom of good men. It offends those who know not how to distinguish between necessity and compulsion. But if any one should ask them, whether God is not necessarily good, and whether the devil is not necessarily evil,—what answer will they make? For there is such a close connection between the goodness of God and his Deity, that his being God is not more necessary than his being good. But the devil is by his fall so alienated from communion with all that is good, that he can do nothing but what is evil. But if any one should sacrilegiously object, that little praise is due to God for his goodness, which he is constrained to preserve,—shall we not readily reply, that his inability to do evil arises from his infinite goodness, and not from the impulse of violence? Therefore, if a necessity of doing well impairs not the liberty of the Divine will in doing well; if the devil, who cannot but do evil, nevertheless sins voluntarily; who then will assert that man sins less voluntarily, because he is under a necessity of sinning?
XIV Thus there is left to man such a free will, if we choose to give it that appellation, [...] that he can neither be converted to God nor continue in God but by grace; and that all the ability which he has is derived from grace.
IVThe Operation of God in the Hearts of Men
VII But I maintain, [...] that God, whenever he designs to prepare the way for his providence, inclines and moves the wills of men even in external things, and that their choice is not so free, but that its liberty is subject to the will of God. That your mind depends more on the influence of God, than on the liberty of your own choice, you must be constrained to conclude, whether you are willing or not, from this daily experience, that in affairs of no perplexity your judgment and understanding frequently fail; that in undertakings not arduous your spirits languish; on the other hand, in things the most obscure, suitable advice is immediately offered; in things great and perilous, your mind proves superior to every difficulty.

Here let the reader remember, that the ability of the human will is not to be estimated from the event of things, as some ignorant men are preposterously accustomed to do. For they conceive themselves fully and ingeniously to establish the servitude of the human will, because even the most exalted monarchs have not all their desires fulfilled. But this ability, of which we speak, is to be considered within man, and not to be measured by external success. For in the dispute concerning free will, the question is not, whether a man, notwithstanding external impediments, can perform and execute whatever he may have resolved in his mind, but whether in every case his judgment exerts freedom of choice, and his will freedom of inclination.

VIRedemption for Lost Man to be Sought in Christ
I For though God is pleased still to manifest his paternal kindness to us in various ways, yet we cannot, from a contemplation of the world, conclude that he is our Father, when our conscience disturbs us from within, and convinces us that our sins afford a just reason why God should abandon us, and no longer esteem us as his children. We are also chargeable with stupidity and ingratitude; for our minds, being blinded, do not perceive the truth; and all our senses being corrupted, we wickedly defraud God of his glory. [...] Wherefore, though the preaching of the cross is not agreeable to human reason, we ought, nevertheless, to embrace it with all humility, if we desire to return to God our Creator, from whom we have been alienated, and to have him reassume the character of our Father.
VIIThe Law Given, Not to Confine the Ancient People to Itself, but to Encourage Their Hope of Salvation in Christ, till the Time of His Coming
V If we inquire from the remotest period of antiquity, I assert that there never has existed a saint, who, surrounded with a body of death, could attain to such a degree of love, as to love God with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his mind; and, moreover, that there never has been one, who was not the subject of some inordinate desire. [...] I add that it is absurd to dispute concerning the power of God, in opposition to his veracity; and that, therefore, it affords no room for cavilling, when any one maintains that to be impossible, which the Scriptures declare will never happen.

But for the better elucidation of the subject, let us state, in a compendious order, the office and use of what is called the moral law. It is contained, as far as I understand it, in these three points. The first is, that while it discovers the righteousness of God, that is, the only righteousness which is acceptable to God, it warns every one of his own unrighteousness, places it beyond all doubt, convicts, and condemns him. For it is necessary that man, blinded and inebriated with self-love, should thus be driven into a knowledge of himself, and a confession of his own imbecility and impurity.


The second office of the law is, to cause those who, unless constrained, feel no concern for justice and rectitude, when they hear its terrible sanctions, to be at least restrained by a fear of its penalties. And they are restrained, not because it internally influences or affects their minds, but because, being chained, as it were, they refrain from external acts, and repress their depravity within them, which otherwise they would have wantonly discharged. This makes them neither better nor more righteous in the Divine view.


The third use of the law, which is the principal one, and which is more nearly connected with the proper end of it, relates to the faithful, in whose hearts the Spirit of God already lives and reigns. For although the law is inscribed and engraven on their hearts by the finger of God,—that is, although they are so excited and animated by the direction of the Spirit, that they desire to obey God,—yet they derive a twofold advantage from the law. For they find it an excellent instrument to give them, from day to day, a better and more certain understanding of the Divine will to which they aspire, and to confirm them in the knowledge of it. [...] In the next place, as we need not only instruction, but also exhortation, the servant of God will derive this further advantage from the law; by frequent meditation on it he will be excited to obedience, he will be confirmed in it, and restrained from the slippery path of transgression.

text checked (see note) Aug 2012

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