Institutes of the Christian Religion
John Calvin

These pages: Institutes of the Christian Religion
Dedication and Book I
Book II: II–VIII; VII–XVI (here)
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


VIIIAn Exposition of the Moral Law

Now, since the Lord, when about to deliver a rule of perfect righteousness, referred all the parts of it to his own will, this shows that nothing is more acceptable to him than obedience. This is worthy of the most diligent observation, since the licentiousness of the human mind is so inclined to the frequent invention of various services in order to merit his favour. For this irreligious affectation of religion, which is a principle innate in the human mind, has betrayed itself in all ages, and betrays itself even in the present day; for men always take a pleasure in contriving some way of attaining righteousness, which is not agreeable to the Divine word. Hence, among those which are commonly esteemed good works, the precepts of the law hold a very contracted station, the numberless multitude of human inventions occupying almost the whole space.

IX For men generally understand the virtue which is opposite to any vice to be an abstinence from that vice; but we affirm that it goes further, even to the actual performance of the opposite duty.



XLIX For an intention, as we have before observed in explaining the former commandments, is a deliberate consent of the will, when the mind has been enslaved by any unlawful desire. Concupiscence may exist without such deliberation or consent, when the mind is only attracted and stimulated by vain and corrupt objects. As the Lord, therefore, has hitherto commmanded our wills, efforts, and actions to be subject to the law of love, so now he directs that the conceptions of our minds be subject to the same regulation, lest any of them be corrupt and perverted, and give our hearts an improper impulse. As he has forbidden our minds to be inclined and persuaded to anger, hatred, adultery, rapine, and falsehood, so now he prohibits them from being instigated to these vices.
LII The disposition of the heart was not visible, and the ceremonies were diligently performed by hypocrites; but the works of charity are such as enable us to give a certain evidence of righteousness. But the same occurs in the Prophets so frequently, that it must be familiar to the reader who is but tolerably conversant with them. For in almost all cases when they exhort to repentance, they omit the first table, and insist on faith, judgment, mercy, and equity. Nor do they by this method neglect the fear of God, but require substantial proof of it from those marks. It is well known that when they treat of the observation of the law, they generally insist on the second table; because it is in it that the love of righteousness and integrity is principally discovered.
LIX Let the children of God know that all sin is mortal; because it is a rebellion against the will of God, which necessarily provokes his wrath; because it is a transgression of the law, against which the Divine judgment is universally denounced; and that the offences of the saints are venial, not of their own nature, but because they obtain pardon through the mercy of God.
XIThe Difference of the Two Testaments
XIII It is not reasonable, they say, that God, who is perpetually consistent with himself, should undergo so great a change as afterwards to disallow what he had once enjoined and commanded. I reply, that God ought not therefore to be deemed mutable, because he has accommodated different forms to different ages, as he knew would be suitable for each. If the husbandman prescribes different employments to his family in the winter, from those which he allots them in the summer, we must not therefore accuse him of inconstancy, or impute to him a deviation from the proper rules of agriculture, which are connected with the perpetual course of nature. Thus, also, if a father instructs, governs, and manages his children one way in infancy, another in childhood, and another in youth, we must not therefore charge him with being inconstant, or forsaking his own designs. Why, then, do we stigmatize God with the character of inconstancy, because he has made an apt and suitable distinction between different times? [...] It is a proof, therefore, of the constancy of God, that he has delivered the same doctrine in all ages, and perseveres in requiring the same worship of his name which he commanded from the beginning. By changing the external form and mode, he has discovered no mutability in himself, but has so far accommodated himself to the capacity of men, which is various and mutable.
XIIThe Necessity of Christ Becoming Man in Order to Fulfill the Office of Mediator
I Our situation was truly deplorable, unless the Divine majesty itself would descend to us; for we could not ascend to it. Thus it was necessary that the Son of God should become Immanuel, that is, God with us; and this in order that there might be a mutual union and coalition between his Divinity and the nature of man; for otherwise the proximity could not be sufficiently near, nor could the affinity be sufficiently strong, to authorize us to hope that God would dwell with us. So great was the discordance between our pollution and the perfect purity of God. Although man had remained immaculately innocent, yet his condition would have been too mean for him to approach to God without a Mediator. What, then, can he do, after having been plunged by his fatal fall into death and hell, defiled with so many blemishes, putrefying in his own corruption, and, in a word, overwhelmed with every curse?
II It was his office to swallow up death; who could do this, but he who was life itself? It was his to overcome sin; who could accomplish this, but righteousness itself? It was his to put to flight the powers of the world and of the air; who could do this, but a power superior both to the world and to the air? Now, who possesses life or righteousness, or the empire and power of heaven, but God alone? Therefore the most merciful God, when he determined on our redemption, became himself our Redeemer in the person of his only begotten Son!
XIIIChrist’s Assumption of Real Humanity
IV [...] although the infinite essence of the Word is united in one person with the nature of man, yet we have no idea of its incarceration or confinement. For the Son of God miraculously descended from heaven, yet in such a manner that he never left heaven; he chose to be miraculously conceived in the womb of the Virgin, to live on the earth, and to be suspended on the cross; and yet he never ceased to fill the universe, in the same manner as from the beginning.
XIVThe Union of the Two Natures Constituting the Person of the Mediator
IV For it is surprising how much ignorant persons, and even some who are not altogether destitute of learning, are perplexed by such forms of expression, as they find attributed to Christ, which are not exactly appropriate either to his Divinity or to his humanity. This is for want of considering that they are applicable to his complex person, consisting of God and man, and to his office of Mediator. [...] They lay hold of the properties of his humanity, to destroy his Divinity; on the other hand, they catch at the attributes of his Divinity, to destroy his humanity; and by what is spoken of both natures united, but is applicable separately to neither, they attempt to destroy both. Now, what is this but to contend that Christ is not man, because he is God; that he is not God, because he is man; and that he is neither man nor God, because he is at once both man and God? We conclude, therefore, that Christ, as he is God and man, composed of these two natures united, yet not confounded, is our Lord and the true Son of God, even in his humanity; though not on account of his humanity.



XVIChrist’s Execution of the Office of a Redeemer to Procure Our Salvation. His Death, Resurrection, and Ascension to Heaven
X If Christ had merely died a corporeal death, no end would have been accomplished by it; it was requisite, also, that he should feel the severity of the Divine vengeance, in order to appease the wrath of God, and satisfy his justice. Hence it was necessary for him to contend with the powers of hell and the horror of eternal death. [...] Therefore it is no wonder, if he be said to have descended into hell, since he suffered that death which the wrath of God inflicts on transgressors.
XIII For how was it possible for him by dying to liberate us from death, if he had himself remained under its power? how could he have obtained the victory for us, if he had been vanquished in the contest? Wherefore we ascribe our salvation partly to the death of Christ, and partly to his resurrection; we believe that sin was abolished, and death destroyed, by the former; that righteousness was restored, and life established, by the latter; yet so that the former discovers its power and efficacy in us by means of the latter.

His resurrection is properly followed in the Creed by his ascension to heaven. For though Christ began to make a more illustrious display of his glory and power at his resurrection, having now laid aside the abject and ignoble condition of this mortal life, and the ignominy of the cross, yet his ascension into heaven was the real commencement of his reign. [...] Now, he proposes a consolation for his corporeal absence, that he “will not leave them comfortless, or orphans, but will come again to them,” in a manner invisible indeed, but more desirable; because they were then taught by a more certain experience that the authority which he enjoys, and the power which he exercises, is sufficient for the faithful, not only to procure them a blessed life, but to insure them a happy death. And, indeed, we see how largely he then increased the effusions of his Spirit, how greatly he advanced the magnificence of his reign, and what superior power he exerted both in assisting his friends, and in defeating his enemies.

text checked (see note) Aug 2012

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