Institutes of the Christian Religion
John Calvin

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



index pages:

Institutes of the Christian Religion

translated by John Allen

from the 1559 Latin edition, with comparison to French translations


Book III: On the Manner of Receiving the Grace of Christ, the Benefits Which We Derive from It, and the Effects Which Follow It
IIFaith Defined, and Its Properties Described
II Is this faith—to understand nothing, but obediently to submit our understanding to the Church? Faith consists not in ignorance, but in knowledge; and that not only of God, but also of the Divine will. For we do not obtain salvation by our promptitude to embrace as truth whatever the Church may have prescribed, or by our transferring to her the province of inquiry and of knowledge. But when we know God to be a propitious Father to us, through the reconciliation effected by Christ, and that Christ is given to us for righteousness, sanctification, and life,—by this prophecy, I say, not by renouncing our understanding, we obtain an entrance into the kingdom of heaven.
VI We find, therefore, that faith is a knowledge of the will of God respecting us, received from his word. And the foundation of this is a previous persuasion of the Divine veracity; any doubt of which being entertained in the mind, the authority of the word will be dubious and weak, or rather it will be of no authority at all. Nor is it sufficient to believe that the veracity of God is incapable of deception or falsehood, unless you also admit, as beyond all doubt, that whatever proceeds from him is sacred and inviolable truth.
VII When our conscience beholds nothing but indignation and vengeance, how shall it not tremble with fear? And if God be the object of its terror, how should it not fly from him? But faith ought to seek God, not to fly from him. It appears, then, that we have not yet a complete definition of faith; since a knowledge of the Divine will indefinitely, ought not to be accounted faith. But suppose, instead of will,—the declaration of which is often productive of fear and sorrow,—we substitute benevolence or mercy. This will certainly bring us nearer to the nature of faith. For we are allured to seek God, after we have learned that salvation is laid up for us with him; which is confirmed to us by his declaring it to be the object of his care and affection. Therefore we need a promise of grace, to assure us that he is our propitious Father; since we cannot approach to him without it, and it is upon that alone that the human heart can securely depend. [...] For it will be temerity to conclude that God is propitious to us, unless he testify concerning himself, and anticipate us by his invitation, that his will respecting us may be neither ambiguous nor obscure. But we have already seen, that Christ is the only pledge of his love, without whom the tokens of his hatred and wrath are manifest both above and below.

The principal hinge on which faith turns is this—that we must not consider the promises of mercy, which the Lord offers, as true only to others, and not to ourselves; but rather make them our own, by embracing them in our hearts. Hence arises that confidence, which the same apostle in another place calls “peace;” unless any one would rather make peace the effect of confidence. It is a security, which makes the conscience calm and serene before the Divine tribunal, and without which it must necessarily be harassed and torn almost asunder with tumultuous trepidation, unless it happen to slumber for a moment in an oblivion of God and itself.

XVII When we inculcate, that faith ought to be certain and secure, we conceive not of a certainty attended with no doubt, or of a security interrupted by no anxiety; but we rather affirm, that believers have a perpetual conflict with their own diffidence, and are far from placing their consciences in a placid calm, never disturbed by any storms. Yet, on the other hand, we deny, however they may be afflicted, that they ever fall and depart from that certain confidence which they have conceived in the Divine mercy.
XXIV [...] If you consider yourself, condemnation is certain; but since Christ, with all his benefits, is communicated to you, so that all that he has becomes yours, and you become a member of him, and one with him,—his righteousness covers your sins; his salvation supersedes your condemnation; he interposes with his merit, that your unworthiness may not appear in the Divine presence. Indeed, the truth is, that we ought by no means to separate Christ from us, or ourselves from him; but, with all our might, firmly to retain that fellowship by which he has united us to himself.
XXXIII But such is our propensity to error, that our mind can never adhere to Divine truth; such is our dulness, that we can never discern the light of it. Therefore nothing is effected by the word, without the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Whence it appears, that faith is far superior to human intelligence. Nor is it enough for the mind to be illuminated by the Spirit of God, unless the heart also be strengthened and supported by his power. On this point, the schoolmen are altogether erroneous, who, in the discussion of faith, regard it as a simple assent of the undrstanding, entirely neglecting the confidence and assurance of the heart. Faith, therefore, is a singular gift of God in two respects; both as the mind is enlightened to understand the truth of God, and as the heart is established in it. For the Holy Spirit not only originates faith, but increases it by degrees, till he conducts us by it all the way to the heavenly kingdom.
XXXVIII Whence it follows that God neither testifies his love to those whom he prospers with success, nor invariably discovers his hatred against those whom he plunges into affliction. And this observation is designed to reprove the vanity of the human understanding; since it is so extremely stupid respecting things most necessary to be known.
XLII For if faith be, as has been stated, a certain persuasion of the truth of God, that it can neither lie, nor deceive us, nor be frustrated;—they who have felt this assurance, likewise expect a period to arrive when God will accomplish his promises, which, according to their persuasion, cannot but be true; so that, in short, hope is no other than an expectation of those things which faith has believed to be truly promised by God. Thus faith believes the veracity of God, hope expects the manifestation of it in due time; faith believes him to be our Father, hope expects him always to act towards us in this character; faith believes that eternal life is given to us, hope expects it one day to be revealed; faith is the foundation on which hope rests, hope nourishes and sustains faith. For as no man can have any expectations from God, but he who has first believed his promises, so also the imbecility of our faith must be sustained and cherished by patient hope and expectation, lest it grow weary and faint. For which reason, Paul rightly places our salvation in hope. For hope, while it is silently expecting the Lord, restrains faith, that it may not be too precipitate; it confirms faith, that it may not waver in the Divine promises, or begin to doubt of the truth of them; it refreshes it, that it may not grow weary; it extends it to the farthest goal, that it may not fail in the midst of the course, or even at the entrance ot it. Finally, hope, by continually renewing and restoring faith, causes it frequently to persevere with more vigour than hope itself.
IIIOn Repentance
I The substance of the gospel is, not without reason, said to be comprised in “repentance and remission of sins.” Therefore, if these two points be omitted, every controversy concerning faith will be jejune and incomplete, and consequently of little use. Now, since both are conferred on us by Christ, and we obtain both by faith,—that is, newness of life and gratuitous reconciliation,—the regular method of instruction requires me, in this place, to enter on the discussion of both. But our immediate transition will be from faith to repentance; because, when this point is well understood, it will better appear how man is justified by faith alone, and mere pardon, and yet that real sanctity of life (so to speak) is not separated from the gratuitous imputation of righteousness.
V The Hebrew word for repentance denotes conversion or return. The Greek word signifies change of mind and intention. Repentance itself corresponds very well with both etymologies, for it comprehends these two things—that, forsaking ourselves, we should turn to God, and laying aside our old mind, should assume a new one.
IX [...] I assert, that as far as any man approaches to a resemblance of God, so far the image of God is displayed in him. That believers may attain to this, God assigns them the race of repentance to run during their whole life.




If it be thought absurd, that all the natural appetites of man should be thus universally condemned, since they were implanted by God, the author of nature,—we reply, that we by no means condemn those desires, which God implanted so deeply in the nature of man at his first creation that they cannot be eradicated from it without destroying humanity itself, but only those insolent and lawless appetites which resist the commands of God. But now, since, through the depravity of nature, all its powers are so vitiated and corrupted, that disorder and intemperance are visible in all our actions; because the appetites are inseparable from such excesses, therefore we maintain that they are corrupt. Or, if it be wished to have the substance of our opinion in fewer words, we say, that all the desires of men are evil; and we consider them to be sinful, not as they are natural, but because they are inordinate; and we affirm they are inordinate, because nothing pure or immaculate can proceed from a corrupted and polluted nature.

XXII I say, then, that the sin against the Holy Ghost is committed by those who, though they are so overpowered with the splendour of Divine truth that they cannot pretend ignorance, nevertheless resist it with determined malice, merely for the sake of resisting it.
VIndulgences and Purgatory. The Supplements to Their Doctrine of Satisfactions
VI [...] when expiation of sins is sought any where but in the blood of Christ, when satisfaction is transferred to any other, silence becomes dangerous in the extreme. Therefore we should exclaim with all our might, that purgatory is a pernicious fiction of Satan, that it makes void the cross of Christ, that it intolerably insults the Divine mercy, and weakens and overturns our faith. For what is their purgatory, but a satisfaction for sins paid after death by the souls of the deceased?

Note (Hal’s):
I must defer to Calvin’s acquaintance with the popular understanding of purgatory in his time. In particular, it seems to have acquired an extraneously temporal expression, which undoubtedly lent itself well to motivating the purchase of indulgences.

Nevertheless, it seems excessive to treat the misuse as representing the original intent, which was to take seriously the necessity of purgation. Paul declared, “we shall all be changed”; Protestantism sometimes seems to lack appreciation of that change.

— end note

VIThe Life of a Christian. Scriptural Arguments and Exhortations to It
IV We have allotted the first place to the doctrine which contains our religion, because it is the origin of our salvation; but that it may not be unprofitable to us, it must be transfused into our breast, pervade our manners, and thus transform us into itself.
V But I do not so rigorously require evangelical perfection as not to acknowledge as a Christian, one who has not yet attained to it; for then all would be excluded from the Church; since no man can be found who is not still at a great distance from it; and many have hitherto made but a very small progress, whom it would, nevertheless, be unjust to reject. What then? let us set before our eyes that mark, to which alone our pursuit must be directed. Let that be prescribed as the goal towards which we must earnestly tend. For it is not lawful for you to make such a compromise with God, as to undertake a part of the duties prescribed to you in his word, and to omit part of them, at your own pleasure. [...] But since no man in this terrestrial and corporeal prison has strength sufficient to press forward in his course with a due degree of alacrity, and the majority are oppressed with such great debility, that they stagger and halt, and even creep on the ground, and so make very inconsiderable advances,—let us every one proceed according to our small ability, and prosecute the journey we have begun. No man will be so unhappy, but that he may every day make some progress, however small.
VIISummary of the Christian Life. Self-Denial
I O, how great a proficiency has that man made, who, having been taught that he is not his own, has taken the sovereignty and government of himself from his own reason, to surrender it to God! For as compliance with their own inclinations leads men most effectually to ruin, so to place no dependence on our own knowledge or will, but merely to follow the guidance of the Lord, is the only way of safety. Let this, then, be the first step, to depart from ourselves, that we may apply all the vigour of our faculties to the service of the Lord. By service I mean, not that only which consists in verbal obedience, but that by which the human mind, devested of its natural carnality, resigns itself wholly to the direction of the Divine Spirit.
V Let this, then, be our rule for benignity and beneficence,—that whatever God has conferred on us, which enables us to assist our neighbour, we are the stewards of it, and must one day render an account of our stewardship; and that the only right dispensation of what has been committed to us, is that which is regulated by the law of love. Thus we shall not only always connect the study to promote the advantage of others with a concern for our own private interests, but shall prefer the good of others to our own.
XIJustification by Faith. The Name and Thing Defined
III Justification, therefore, is no other than an acquittal from guilt of him who was accused, as though his innocence had been proved. Since God, therefore, justifies us through the mediation of Christ, he acquits us, not by an admission of our personal innocence, but by an imputation of righteousness; so that we, who are unrighteous in ourselves, are considered as righteous in Christ.
XXIII [...] a man is righteous, not in himself, but because the righteousness of Christ is communicated to him by imputation; and this is a point which deserves an attentive consideration. For it supersedes that idle notion, that a man is justified by faith, because faith receives the Spirit of God by whom he is made righteous; which is too repugnant to the foregoing doctrine, ever to be reconcilable to it. For he must certainly be destitute of all righteousness of his own, who is taught to seek a righteousness out of himself.
XIIA Consideration of the Divine Tribunal, Necessary to a Serious Conviction of Gratuitous Justification
I It is easy for any one in the cloisters of the schools, to indulge himself in idle speculations on the merit of works to justify men; but when he comes into the presence of God, he must bid farewull to these amusements, for there the business is transacted with seriousness, and no ludicrous logomachy practised. To this point, then, must our attention be directed, if we wish to make any useful inquiry concerning true righteousness; how we can answer the celestial Judge, when he shall call us to an account. [...] I confess that in the Book of Job mention is made of a righteousness which is superior to the observance of the law. And it will be of use to remember this distinction; because, though any one could satisfy the law, he could not even then stand the scrutiny of that righteousness which exceeds all comprehension.
XIIITwo Things Necessary to Be Observed in Gratuitous Justification
V [...] believers should conclude that they cannot hope for an inheritance in the kingdom of heaven on any other foundation, but because, being ingrafted into the body of Christ, they are gratuitously accounted righteous. For with respect to justification, faith is a thing merely passive, bringing nothing of our own to conciliate the favour of God, but receiving what we need from Christ.

text checked (see note) Sep 2012

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