Institutes of the Christian Religion
John Calvin

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


XIVThe Commencement and Continual Progress of Justification
X Wherefore God does not impute to us for righteousness that remission of sins, of which we have spoken, once only, (as some foolishly imagine,) in order that, having obtained pardon for our past lives, we may afterwards seek righteousness by the law; which would be only sporting with us, and deluding us by a fallacious hope. For since perfection is unobtainable by us, as long as we are in this mortal body, and the law denounces death and judgment on all whose works are not completely and universally righteous, it will always have matter of accusation and condemnation against us, unless it be prevented by the Divine mercy continually absolving us by a perpetual remission of our sins. Wherefore it will ever be true, as we asserted at the beginning, that if we be judged according to our demerits, whatever be our designs or undertakings, we are nevertheless with all our endeavours and all our pursuits, deserving of death and destruction.

But if we advert to the four kinds of causes, which the philosophers direct us to consider in the production of effects, we shall find none of them consistent with works in the accomplishment of our salvation. For the Scripture every where proclaims, that the efficient cause of eternal life being procured for us, was the mercy of our heavenly Father, and his gratuitous love towards us; that the material cause is Christ and his obedience, by which he obtained a righteousness for us; and what shall we denominate the formal and instrumental cause, unless it be faith? [...] The final cause the apostle declares to be, both the demonstration of the Divine righteousness and the praise of the Divine goodness, in a passage in which he also expressly mentions the other three causes.

Note (Hal’s):
The passage cited, which Calvin discusses in detail, begins at Romans 3:23.

— end note

XVBoasting of the Merit of Works, Equally Subversive of God’s Glory in the Gift of Righteousness, and of the Certainty of Salvation

Thus the Sorbonic schools, those sources of all kinds of errors, have deprived us of justification by faith, which is the substance of all piety. They grant, indeed, in words, that a man is justified by faith formed; but this they afterwards explain to be, because faith renders good works effectual to justification; so that their mention of faith has almost the appearance of mockery, since it could not be passed over in silence, while the Scripture is so full of it, without exposing them to great censure. And not content with this, they rob God of part of the praise of good works, and transfer it to man. Perceiving that good works avail but little to the exaltation of man, and that they cannot properly be denominated merits if they be considered as the effects of Divine grace, they derive them from the power of free-will; which is like extracting oil from a stone. They contend, that though grace be the principal cause of them, yet that this is not to the exclusion of free-will, from which all merit originates.

XVIA Refutation of the Injurious Calumnies of the Papists Against This Doctrine
I Do you wish, then, to obtain righteousness in Christ? You must first possess Christ; but you cannot possess him without becoming a partaker of his sanctification; for he cannot be divided. Since, then, the Lord affords us the enjoyment of these blessings only in the bestowment of himself, he gives them both together, and never one without the other. Thus we see how true it is that we are justified, not without works, yet not by works; since union with Christ, by which we are justified, contains sanctification as well as righteousness.
XVIIThe Harmony Between the Promises of the Law and Those of the Gospel
IV There cannot indeed be adduced a single syllable of the Scripture, which is not in harmony with this doctrine; That there is no other cause for God’s reception of man into his love, than his knowledge that man, if abandoned by him, would be utterly lost; and because it is not his will to abandon him to perdition, he displays his mercy in his deliverance. Now, we see that this acceptance is irrespective of the righteousness of man, but is an unequivocal proof of the Divine goodness towards miserable sinners, who are infinitely unworthy of so great a favour.
XII In a word, he is not disputing concerning the method of justification, but requiring of believers a righteousness manifested in good works. And as Paul contends for justification independent of works, so James will not allow those to be accounted righteous, who are destitute of good works. The consideration of this object will extricate us from every difficulty. For the principal mistake of our adversaries consists in supposing, that James describes the method of justification, while he only endeavours to destroy the corrupt security of those who make vain pretences to faith, in order to excuse their contempt of good works. Into whatever forms, therefore, they pervert the words of James, they will extort nothing but these two truths—that a vain notion of faith cannot justify; and that the faithful, not content with such an imagination, manifest their righteousness by their good works.
XVIIIJustification from Works Not to Be Inferred from the Promise of a Reward
IV So, likewise, it will occasion no inconvenience, if we consider holiness of life as the way, not which procures our admission into the glory of the heavenly kingdom, but through which the elect are conducted by their God to the manifestation of it; since it is his good pleasure to glorify them whom he has sanctified. Only let us not imagine a reciprocal relation of merit and reward which is the error into which the sophists fell, for want of considering the end which we have stated. But how preposterous is it, when the Lord calls our attention to one end, for us to direct our views to another! Nothing is clearer, than that the promise of a reward to good works is designed to afford some consolation to the weakness of our flesh, but not to inflate our minds with vain-glory. Whoever, therefore, infers from this, that there is any merit in works, or balances the work against the reward, errs very widely from the true design of God.
XXOn Prayer, the Principal Exercise of Faith, and the Medium of Our Daily Reception of Divine Blessings

But some will say, Does he not, without information, know both our troubles and our necessities; so that it may appear unnecessary to solicit him with our prayers, as if he were inattentive or sleeping, till aroused by our voice? But such reasoners advert not to the Lord’s end in teaching his people to pray; for he has appointed it not so much for his own sake as for ours. [...] Wherefore, although, when we are stupid and insensible to our own miseries, he vigilantly watches and guards us, and sometimes affords us unsolicited succour, yet it highly concerns us assiduously to supplicate him, that our heart may be always inflamed with a serious and ardent desire of seeking, loving, and worshipping him, while we accustom ourselves in all our necessities to resort to him as our sheet anchor.



XV The Scripture relates that the Lord has complied with some prayers, which nevertheless did not arise from a calm or well-regulated heart. [...] Whence it seems deducible, that prayers not conformable to the rules of the Divine word, are nevertheless efficacious. I reply, first, that a permanent rule is not annulled by particular examples; secondly, that peculiar emotions have sometimes been excited in a few individuals, causing a distinction between them and men in general. [...] But we must remark, further, that God is not always pleased with the prayers which he grants; but that, as far as examples are concerned, there are undeniable evidences of the Scripture doctrine, that he succours the miserable, and hears the groans of those who under the pressure of injustice implore his aid; that he therefore executes his judgments, when the complaints of the poor arise to him, though they are unworthy of the least favourable attention.
XLVI Let others confide as they please in the native abilities and powers of free-will, which they suppose themselves to possess,—let it be sufficient for us, to stand and be strong in the power of God alone. But this petition comprehends more than at first appears. For if the Spirit of God is our strength for fighting the battle with Satan, we shall not be able to gain the victory, till, being full of him, we shall have laid aside all the infirmity of our flesh.
XXIEternal Election, or God’s Predestination of Some to Salvation, and of Others to Destruction
I First, then, let them remember that when they inquire into predestination, they penetrate the inmost recesses of Divine wisdom, where the careless and confident intruder will obtain no satisfaction to his curiosity, but will enter a labyrinth from which he will find no way to depart. For it is unreasonable that man should scrutinize with impunity those things which the Lord has determined to be hidden in himself; and investigate, even from eternity, that sublimity of wisdom which God would have us to adore and not comprehend, to promote our admiration of his glory.
V When we attribute foreknowledge to God, we mean that all things have ever been, and perpetually remain, before his eyes, so that to his knowledge nothing is future or past, but all things are present; and present in such a manner, that he does not merely conceive of them from ideas formed in his mind, as things remembered by us appear present to our minds, but really beholds and sees them as if actually placed before him. And this foreknowledge extends to the whole world, and to all the creatures.
XXIITestimonies of Scripture in Confirmation of This Doctrine
I We teach nothing but what experience has proved, that God has always been at liberty to bestow his grace on whom he chooses.
VIII A difficult question was raised—Whether it was a just procedure in God to favour with his grace certain particular persons. This Paul could have decided by a single word, if he had pleaded the consideration of works. Why, then, does he not do this, but rather continue his discourse involved in the same difficulty? Why, but from necessity? for the Holy Spirit, who spoke by his mouth, never laboured under the malady of forgetfulness. Without any evasion or circumlocution, therefore, he answers, that God favours his elect because he will, and has mercy because he will.
XXIIIA Refutation of the Calumnies Generally, But Unjustly, Urged Against This Doctrine
VIII To be ignorant of things which it is neither possible nor lawful to know, is to be learned: an eagerness to know them, is a species of madness.
XI We confess the guilt to be common, but we say, that some are relieved by Divine mercy. They say, Let it relieve all. But we reply, Justice requires that he should likewise show himself to be a just judge in the infliction of punishment. When they object to this, what is it but attempting to deprive God of the opportunity to manifest his mercy, or to grant it to him, at least, on the condition that he wholly abandon his justice?
XII They carry their blasphemies much further, by asserting, that any one who is reprobated by God will labour to no purpose if he endeavour to approve himself to him by innocence and integrity of life; but here they are convicted of a most impudent falsehood. For whence could such exertion originate but from election?
XXIVElection Confirmed by the Divine Call. The Destined Destruction of the Reprobate Procured by Themselves
III Others [...] suspend election on that which is subsequent to it; as though it were doubtful and ineffectual till it is confirmed by faith. That this is its confirmation to us is very clear; that it is the manifestation of God’s secret counsel before concealed, we have already seen; but all that we are to understand by this, is that what was before unknown is verified, and as it were ratified with a seal. But it is contrary to the truth to assert, that election has no efficacy till after we have embraced the gospel, and that this circumstance gives it all its energy. The certainty of it, indeed, we are to seek here; for if we attempt to penetrate to the eternal decree of God, we shall be ingulfed in the profound abyss. But when God has discovered it to us, we must ascend to loftier heights, that the cause may not be lost in the effect.
IV Satan never attacks believers with a more grievous or dangerous temptation, than when he disquiets them with doubts of their election, and stimulates to an improper desire of seeking it in a wrong way. I call it seeking in a wrong way, when miserable man endeavours to force his way into the secret recesses of Divine wisdom, and to penetrate even to the highest eternity, that he may discover what is determined concerning him at the tribunal of God. [...] But though the discussion of predestination may be compared to a dangerous ocean, yet, in traversing over it, the navigation is safe and serene, and I will also add pleasant, unless any one freely wishes to expose himself to danger. For as those who, in order to gain an assurance of their election, examine into the eternal counsel of God without the word, plunge themselves into a fatal abyss, so they who investigate it in a regular and orderly manner, as it is contained in the word, derive from such inquiry the benefit of peculiar consolation. Let this, then, be our way of inquiry; to begin and end with the calling of God.
XIV That the reprobate obey not the word of God, when made known to them, is justly imputed to the wickedness and depravity of their hearts, provided it be at the same time stated, that they are abandoned to this depravity because they have been raised up, by a just but inscrutable judgment of God, to display his glory in their condemnation.
XVII We know the promises to be effectual to us only when we receive them by faith; on the contrary, the annihilation of faith is at once an abolition of the promises. If this is their nature, we may perceive that there is no discordance between these two things—God’s having appointed from eternity on whom he will bestow his favour and exercise his wrath, and his proclaiming salvation indiscriminately to all. Indeed, I maintain that there is the most perfect harmony between them. For his sole design in thus promising, is to offer his mercy to all who desire and seek it, which none do but those whom he has enlightened, and he enlightens all whom he has predestinated to salvation. [...] But why does he mention all? It is in order that the consciences of the pious may enjoy the more secure satisfaction, seeing that there is no difference between sinners, provided they have faith; and, on the other hand, that the impious may not plead the want of an asylum to flee to from the bondage of sin, while they ungratefully reject that which is offered to them.
XXVThe Final Resurrection
I To the accumulation of miseries which generally oppress us, are added the mockeries of the profane, with which our simplicity is assailed; while voluntarily renouncing the allurements of present advantage or pleasure, we seem to pursue happiness, which is concealed from our view, like a shadow that continually eludes our grasp. In a word, above and below, before and behind, we are beset by violent temptations, which our minds would long ago have been incapable of sustaining, if they had not been detached from terrestrial things, and attached to the heavenly life, which is apparently at a remote distance. He alone, therefore, has made a solid proficiency in the gospel who has been accustomed to continual meditation on the blessed resurrection.
VII For God does not collect fresh materials from the four elements for the fabrication of men, but calls the dead out of their sepulchres. And this the plainest reason dictates. For if death, which originated in the fall of man, be adventitious, and not necessary to our nature, the restoration effected by Christ belongs to the same body which was thus rendered mortal.

text checked (see note) Sep 2012

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