Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin


Shall we, by means of a power of judging implanted in our breast, distinguish between justice and injustice, and yet there be no judge in heaven?

From the power of God we are naturally led to consider his eternity, since that from which all other things derive their origin must necessarily be self-existent and eternal.

Moreover, if it be asked what cause induced him to create all things at first, and now inclines him to preserve them, we shall find that there could be no other cause than his own goodness.

When any one crime calls forth visible manifestations of his anger, it must be because he hates all crimes; and, on the other hand, his leaving many crimes unpunished, only proves that there is a judgment in reserve, when the punishment now delayed shall be inflicted.

the psalmist, after bringing forward examples of this description, infers that those things which men call fortuitous events, are so many proofs of divine providence, and more especially of paternal clemency, furnishing ground of joy to the righteous, and at the same time stopping the mouths of the ungodly.

It is indeed true, that the brightest manifestation of divine glory finds not one genuine spectator among a hundred.

Hence it is obvious, that in seeking God, the most direct path and the fittest method is, not to attempt with presumptuous curiosity to pry into his essence, which is rather to be adored than minutely discussed, but to contemplate him in his works, by which he draws near, becomes familiar, and in a manner communicates himself to us.

our proper course is to contemplate his works, and so refresh ourselves with his goodness.

I am not sure whether it is expedient to borrow analogies from human affairs to express the nature of this distinction.

This distinction is, that to the Father is attributed the beginning of action, the fountain and source of all things; to the Son, wisdom, counsel, and arrangement in action, while the energy and efficacy of action is assigned to the Spirit.

“By those names which denote distinction,” says Augustine, “is meant the relation which they mutually bear to each other, not the very substance by which they are one.”

But it is far safer to rest contented with the relation as taught by him, than get bewildered in vain speculation by subtle prying into a sublime mystery.

Here, if any where, in considering the hidden mysteries of Scripture, we should speculate soberly and with great moderation, cautiously guarding against allowing either our mind or our tongue to go a step beyond the confines of God’s word.

For how can the human mind, which has not yet been able to ascertain of what the body of the sun consists, though it is daily presented to the eye, bring down the boundless essence of God to its little measure?

No, how can it, under its own guidance, penetrate to a knowledge of the substance of God while unable to understand its own?

This knowledge, then, if we would leave to God, we must conceive of him as he has made himself known, and in our inquiries make application to no other quarter than his word.

let us remember that the human mind enters a labyrinth whenever it indulges its curiosity, and thus submit to be guided by the divine oracles, how much soever the mystery may be beyond our reach.

If any one does not think it enough to know that all the orders of the heavenly host are perpetually watching for his safety, I do not see what he could gain by knowing that he has one angel as a special guardian.

Those, again, who limit the care which God takes of each of us to a single angel, do great injury to themselves and to all the members of the church, as if there were no value in those promises of auxiliary troops, who on every side encircling and defending us, embolden us to fight more manfully.

It ought, indeed, to be sufficient for us that the Lord declares himself to be our protector. But when we see ourselves beset by so many perils, so many injuries, so many kinds of enemies, such is our frailty and effeminacy, that we might at times be filled with alarm, or driven to despair, did not the Lord proclaim his gracious presence by some means in accordance with our feeble capacities. For this reason, he not only promises to take care of us, but assures us that he has numberless attendants, to whom he has committed the charge of our safety, that whatever dangers may impend, so long as we are encircled by their protection and guardianship, we are placed beyond all hazard of evil.

Since the Lord has provided us with such protection, let us not be terrified at the multitude of our enemies as if they could prevail notwithstanding his aid, but let us adopt the sentiment of Elisha, that more are for us than against us.

knowing that this warfare is terminated only by death, let us study to persevere.

For, if the glory of God is dear to us, as it ought to be, we ought to struggle with all our might against him who aims at the extinction of that glory.

if we have any anxiety about our own salvation, we ought to make no peace nor truce with him who is continually laying schemes for its destruction.

We see it was the Lord’s purpose to deliver nothing in his sacred oracles which we might not learn for edification.

But as God holds him bound and fettered by the curb of his power, he executes those things only for which permission has been given him, and thus, however unwilling, obeys his Creator, being forced, whenever he is required, to do him service.

I deny that believers can ever be oppressed or vanquished by him. They are often, indeed, thrown into alarm, but never so thoroughly as not to recover themselves. They fall by the violence of the blows, but they get up again; they are wounded, but not mortally. In fine, they labor on through the whole course of their lives, so as ultimately to gain the victory, though they meet with occasional defeats.

For, as we have elsewhere observed, though not the chief, it is, in point of order, the first evidence of faith, to remember to which side soever we turn, that all which meets the eye is the work of God, and at the same time to meditate with pious care on the end which God had in view in creating it.

we cannot clearly and properly know God unless the knowledge of ourselves be added.

the whole tenor of Scripture.

I briefly touch on topics which even profane writers describe with a more splendid eloquence. For pious readers, a simple reference is sufficient.

For though the divine glory is displayed in man’s outward appearance, it cannot be doubted that the proper seat of the image is in the soul.

the image of God extends to everything in which the nature of man surpasses that of all other species of animals.

It cannot be doubted that when Adam lost his first estate he became alienated from God. Wherefore, although we grant that the image of God was not utterly effaced and destroyed in him, it was, however, so corrupted, that any thing which remains is fearful deformity; and, therefore, our deliverance begins with that renovation which we obtain from Christ, who is, therefore, called the second, because he restores us to true and substantial integrity.

the end of regeneration is to form us anew in the image of God.

Hence we infer, that at the beginning the image of God was manifested by light of intellect, rectitude of heart, and the soundness of every part.

Creation, however, is not a transfusion of essence,6 but a commencement of it out of nothing.

But as man was undoubtedly created to meditate on the heavenly life, so it is certain that the knowledge of it was engraved on the soul. And, indeed, man would want the principal use of his understanding if he were unable to discern his felicity, the perfection of which consists in being united to God.

No necessity was laid upon God to give him more than that intermediate and even transient will, that out of man’s fall he might extract materials for his own glory.

But faith must penetrate deeper. After learning that there is a Creator, it must forth with infer that he is also a Governor and Preserver, and that, not by producing a kind of general motion in the machine of the globe as well as in each of its parts, but by a special providence sustaining, cherishing, superintending, all the things which he has made, to the very minutest, even to a sparrow.

Nothing is more natural than for spring, in its turn, to succeed winter, summer spring, and autumn summer; but in this series the variations are so great and so unequal as to make it very apparent that every single year, month, and day is regulated by a new and special providence of God.

God is deemed omnipotent, not because he can act though he may cease or be idle, or because by a general instinct he continues the order of nature previously appointed; but because, governing heaven and earth by his providence, he so overrules all things that nothing happens without his counsel.

The thing to be proved, therefore, is, that single events are so regulated by God, and all events so proceed from his determinate counsel, that nothing happens fortuitously.

both Jeremiah and Solomon attribute to God not power only, but also election and decree.

seeing that those who are discontented with their lot endeavor to shake off a burden which God has imposed upon them.

Those who deny that God holds the reins of government will say that this was contrary to ordinary practice, whereas I infer from it that no wind ever rises or rages without his special command.

Indeed, there could be no serious meaning in our prayer for daily bread, if God did not with paternal hand supply us with food.

Hence we infer, not only that the general providence of God, continuing the order of nature, extends over the creatures, but that by his wonderful counsel they are adapted to a certain and special purpose.

For we do not with the Stoics imagine a necessity consisting of a perpetual chain of causes, and a kind of involved series contained in nature, but we hold that God is the disposer and ruler of all things—that from the remotest eternity, according to his own wisdom, he decreed what he was to do, and now by his power executes what he decreed. Hence we maintain, that by his providence, not heaven and earth and inanimate creatures only, but also the counsels and wills of men are so governed as to move exactly in the course which he has destined.

For if all success is blessing from God, and calamity and adversity are his curse, there is no place left in human affairs for fortune and chance.

What seems to us contingence, faith will recognize as the secret impulse of God.

Here, where calamity takes precedence even of birth, our carnal sense murmurs as if God were unmerciful in thus afflicting those who have not offended. But Christ declares that, provided we had eyes clear enough, we should perceive that in this spectacle the glory of his Father is brightly displayed. We must use modesty, not as it were compelling God to render an account, but so revering his hidden judgments as to account his will the best of all reasons.

that universal, overruling providence from which nothing flows that is not right, though the reasons thereof may be concealed.

If the Lord has marked the moment of our death, it cannot be escaped—it is vain to toil and use precaution.

For he who has fixed the boundaries of our life, has at the same time entrusted us with the care of it, provided us with the means of preserving it, forewarned us of the dangers to which we are exposed, and supplied cautions and remedies, that we may not be overwhelmed unawares.

the Lord has furnished men with the arts of deliberation and caution, that they may employ them in subservience to his providence, in the preservation of their life; while, on the contrary, by neglect and sloth, they bring upon themselves the evils which he has annexed to them.

Hence, I formerly observed, that the providence of God does not interpose simply; but, by employing means, assumes, as it were, a visible form.

No, rather, we rush on, not thinking of what he wishes, but so inflamed by our own passionate lust, that, with destined purpose, we strive against him. And in this way, while acting wickedly, we serve his righteous ordination, since in his boundless wisdom he well knows how to use bad instruments for good purposes.

I concede more—that thieves and murderers, and other evil-doers, are instruments of divine providence, being employed by the Lord himself to execute the judgments which he has resolved to inflict.

The Christian, then, being most fully persuaded, that all things come to pass by the dispensation of God, and that nothing happens fortuitously, will always direct his eye to him as the principal cause of events, at the same time paying due regard to inferior causes in their own place.

If there is no more effectual remedy for anger and impatience, he assuredly has not made little progress who has learned so to meditate on divine providence, as to be able always to bring his mind to this, The Lord willed it, it must therefore be borne; not only because it is unlawful to strive with him, but because he wills nothing that is not just and befitting.

His mind will always be fixed on the providence of God alone, and no consideration of present circumstances will be allowed to withdraw him from the steady contemplation of it.

But when once the light of divine providence has illumined the believer’s soul, he is relieved and set free, not only from the extreme fear and anxiety which formerly oppressed him, but from all care.

This, I say, is his comfort, that his heavenly Father so embraces all things under his power—so governs them at will by his nod—so regulates them by his wisdom, that nothing takes place save according to his appointment; that received into his favor, and entrusted to the care of his angels, neither fire, nor water, nor sword, can do him harm, except insofar as God their master is pleased to permit.

In one word, not to dwell longer on this, give heed, and you will at once perceive that ignorance of providence is the greatest of all miseries, and the knowledge of it the highest happiness.

If the blinding and infatuation of Ahab is a judgment from God, the fiction of bare permission is at an end; for it would be ridiculous for a judge only to permit, and not also to decree, what he wishes to be done at the very time that he commits the execution of it to his ministers.

The sum of the whole is this—since the will of God is said to be the cause of all things, all the counsels and actions of men must be held to be governed by his providence; so that he not only exerts his power in the elect, who are guided by the Holy Spirit, but also forces the reprobate to do him service.

He makes no pretense of not willing what he wills, but while in himself the will is one and undivided, to us it appears manifold, because, from the feebleness of our intellect, we cannot comprehend how, though after a different manner, he wills and wills not the very same thing.

For the things which God rightly wills, he accomplishes by the evil wills of bad men

Thus we must hold, that while by means of the wicked God performs what he had secretly decreed, they are not excusable as if they were obeying his precept, which of set purpose they violate according to their lust.

Our true wisdom is to embrace with meek docility, and without reservation, whatever the holy Scriptures have delivered.

Accordingly, in every age, he who is most forward in extolling the excellence of human nature, is received with the loudest applause.

It is impossible for us to think of our first original, or the end for which we were created, without being urged to meditate on immortality, and to seek the kingdom of God. But such meditation, so far from raising our spirits, rather casts them down, and makes us humble. For what is our original? One from which we have fallen. What the end of our creation? One from which we have altogether strayed, so that, weary of our miserable lot, we groan, and groaning sigh for a dignity now lost.

Augustine, indeed, is not far from the mark, when he says (In Psalmum 19), that pride was the beginning of all evil, because, had not man’s ambition carried him higher than he was permitted, he might have continued in his first estate.

Assuredly, when the word of God is despised, all reverence for him is gone.

From infidelity, again, sprang ambition and pride, together with ingratitude; because Adam, by longing for more than was allotted him, manifested contempt for the great liberality with which God had enriched him.

In fine, infidelity opened the door to ambition, and ambition was the parent of rebellion, man casting off the fear of God, and giving free vent to his lust.

All of us, therefore, descending from an impure seed, come into the world tainted with the contagion of sin. No, before we behold the light of the sun we are in God’s sight defiled and polluted.

But if, out of all controversy, the righteousness of Christ, and thereby life, is ours by communication, it follows that both of these were lost in Adam that they might be recovered in Christ, whereas sin and death were brought in by Adam, that they might be abolished in Christ.

Guilt is from nature, whereas sanctification is from supernatural grace.

Original sin, then, may be defined a hereditary corruption and depravity of our nature, extending to all the parts of the soul, which first makes us obnoxious to the wrath of God, and then produces in us works which in Scripture are termed works of the flesh.

everything which is in man, from the intellect to the will, from the soul even to the flesh, is defiled and pervaded with this concupiscence; or, to express it more briefly, that the whole man is in himself nothing else than concupiscence.

Meanwhile, let us remember that our ruin is attributable to our own depravity, that we may not insinuate a charge against God himself, the Author of nature.

It is plain that this wound was inflicted by sin; and therefore we have no ground of complaint except against ourselves.

All this being admitted, it will be beyond dispute, that free will does not enable any man to perform good works, unless he is assisted by grace; indeed, the special grace which the elect alone receive through regeneration.