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Calvin’s Institutes in a Nutshell

The other day I stumbled across a great feature of the Henry Beveridge translation of John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion in my Logos library. At the end of the book, Beveridge includes One Hundred Aphorisms, containing, within a narrow compass, the substance and order of the four books of the Institutes of the Christian Religion, by Rev. William Pringle. Essentially, Pringle has boiled down the four books of Institutes into 100 bullet points. And these are simply “light” observations. Pringle really brings out the depth of the various sections he references from Institutes. For example, here is what Pringle has to say about Calvin’s section on self-denial:

50. The sum of the Christian life is denial of ourselves.

51. The ends of this self-denial are four. 1. That we may devote ourselves to God as a living sacrifice. 2. That we may not seek our own things, but those which belong to God and to our neighbour. 3. That we may patiently bear the cross, the fruits of which are—acknowledgment of our weakness, the trial of our patience, correction of faults, more earnest prayer, more cheerful meditation on eternal life. 4. That we may know in what manner we ought to use the present life and its aids, for necessity and delight. Necessity demands that we possess all things as though we possessed them not; that we bear poverty with mildness, and abundance with moderation; that we know how to endure patiently fulness, and hunger, and want; that we pay regard to our neighbour, because we must give account of our stewardship; and that all things correspond to our calling. The delight of praising the kindness of God ought to be with us a stronger argument.

1 John Calvin and Henry Beveridge, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2010), 566-67.

Having this resource will certainly help anyone looking to see the bird’s eye view of Institutes, or refresh and review the essence of Calvin’s work.

John Calvin on Heart and Words in Worship

People have a lot of opinions when it comes to worship in church services. There are those who enjoy lots of instruments and loud music, while others prefer choirs and organs. More than just style, people have preferences about whether to use hymns, psalms, or modern lyrics. As I’ve thought about these things, John Calvin has helped me by reminding me that more than just music and words, the heart is equally, if not more, important. Music and lyrics can be spot on, but if the heart is far off, then it is an offense to God.

Hence it is perfectly clear that neither words nor singing (if used in prayer) are of the least consequence, or avail one iota with God, unless they proceed from deep feeling in the heart. Nay, rather they provoke his anger against us, if they come from the lips and throat only, since this is to abuse his sacred name, and hold his majesty in derision. This we infer from the words of Isaiah, which, though their meaning is of wider extent, go to rebuke this vice also: “Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men: therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid,” (Isa. 29:13.) Still we do not condemn words or singing, but rather greatly commend them, provided the feeling of the mind goes along with them. For in this way the thought of God is kept alive on our minds, which, from their fickle and versatile nature, soon relax, and are distracted by various objects, unless various means are used to support them. Besides, since the glory of God ought in a manner to be displayed in each part of our body, the special service to which the tongue should be devoted is that of singing and speaking, inasmuch as it has been expressly created to declare and proclaim the praise of God. This employment of the tongue is chiefly in the public services which are performed in the meeting of the saints. In this way the God whom we serve in one spirit and one faith, we glorify together as it were with one voice and one mouth; and that openly, so that each may in turn receive the confession of his brother’s faith, and be invited and incited to imitate it.

Institutes of the Christian Religion III, xx, 31.

The College Days of John Calvin

Last night I was looking through my Logos library, searching for something to read before bed. William Blackburn’s book, College Days of Calvin, caught my eye. While I wasn’t able to find out much about Blackburn online, the little I did find seems to indicate that he was a fairly prolific biographer, particularly of those involved in the Reformation.

His book is a fascinating glimpse into the young and formative years of John Calvin. While much of the book is worth sharing, I was particularly impressed with Blackburn’s account of Calvin’s encounter with the one only referred to as, the hermit of Livry. The hermit’s presentation of the Gospel and evangelistic vigor was both encouraging and convicting. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. In fact, his presentation was so grand that, as Blackburn accounts, the hermit of Livry is later seen as such a threat to the Catholic Church that he is burned at the stake for sharing the Gospel.

I’ve included Calvin’s encounter with the hermit below:

Continue Reading…

To the Ministers of the Church of Basle

Here is the opening of a letter John Calvin wrote to the ministers of the church of Basle regarding the persecution in France.

GENEVA, 13th November 1537. The urgent business on account of which we have thought it right to send this person by express to you may be stated in few words. A new outbreak of the cruel rage of the ungodly has burst forth at Nismes, as the place is now called, no mean city, a town of Languedoc, against the unhappy brethren who reside there, scattered up and down, and that at a time when we might have suspected nothing of the kind. Not very long ago we had obtained letters from the town councils of Strasbourg and Basle, by which the safety and personal security of all those, who were then imprisoned throughout France on account of religion, was commended to the care of Count William. That eminent person, as was reported, had obtained of the king that they should all be set at liberty. We rested secure in this expectation, until word was brought to us, that the fire of persecution was again raging in that quarter. Two persons have been burnt, concerning the manner of whose death you will hear from the eye-witness himself, for he can relate to you in Latin what he has narrated in detail to us. Continue Reading…

Calvin on Baptismal Mode

I’ve been reading about baptism lately and came across this comment by John Calvin (Institutes IV, xv, 19) on the issue of mode.

Whether the person baptised is to be wholly immersed, and that whether once or thrice, or whether he is only to be sprinkled with water, is not of the least consequence: churches should be at liberty to adopt either, according to the diversity of climates, although it is evident that the term baptise means to immerse, and that this was the form used by the primitive Church.

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).

Institutes I, v, 9

We see there is no need of a long and laborious train of argument in order to obtain proofs which illustrate and assert the Divine Majesty. The few which we have merely touched, show them to be so immediately within our reach in every quarter, that we can trace them with the eye, or point to them with the finger. And here we must observe again (see chap. 2 s. 2), that the knowledge of God which we are invited to cultivate is not that which, resting satisfied with empty speculation, only flutters in the brain, but a knowledge which will prove substantial and fruitful wherever it is duly perceived, and rooted in the heart. The Lord is manifested by his perfections. When we feel their power within us, and are conscious of their benefits, Continue Reading…

John Calvin: Myth and Reality Starts Tomorrow

The “John Calvin: Myth and Reality” conference starts tomorrow and runs through Saturday (April 16–18). It is located in Grand Rapids, MI at Calvin Theological Seminary.

Speakers include:

  • Richard Mouw, President of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, CA, and author of Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004)
  • Richard Muller, P. J. Zondervan Professor of Historical Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, MI, and author of After Calvin: Studies in the Development of a Theological Tradition (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2003) as well as General Editor of Baker Academic’s Texts and Studies in Reformation and Post-Reformation Thought
  • John L. Thompson, Professor of Historical Theology and Gaylen and Susan Byker Profressor of Reformed Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, CA and author of Reading the Bible with the Dead: What you can Learn from the History of Exegesis That You Can’t Learn from Exegesis Alone (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007)

For more information about Calvin 500 conferences, visit our Conferences page.

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