In his prefatory address to his last edition of Institutes, Calvin pens a letter to the King of France. While this prefatory letter contains many great statements, one line in particular stood out to me as I read:
Your duty, most serene Prince, is, not to shut either your ears or mind against a cause involving such mighty interests as these: how the glory of God is to be maintained on the earth inviolate, how the truth of God is to preserve its dignity, how the kingdom of Christ is to continue amongst us compact and secure. The cause is worthy of your ear, worthy of your investigation, worthy of your throne.
John Calvin and Henry Beveridge, vol. 1, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2010), 6.
Besides the shear beauty of the sentence, I believe Calvin’s call to the seriousness of the need for all readers to carefully consider the doctrines of God. Not just for the sake of it being a good endeavor for one’s soul, but that the cause is “worthy.” All that Calvin poured over into Institutes, the laying out of layer upon layer of systematic doctrine, is worthy of your ear, your investigation, and while I doubt any royalty will stumble upon this blog post, it is worthy of your very life, your throne.
From the outset of Institutes, Calvin reminds all readers, including the King, the there is something greater out there that has worth beyond ourselves and it is becoming of us to seek to know and understand it.
In my last post I commented on what I feel like is one of the most commonly quoted pieces of John Calvin. The irony, of course, is that the quote comes from the first line of his first book in Institutes of the Christian Religion. It got me thinking to some of my favorite quotes of Calvin. Ironically, I fall into my own joke when I find one of my favorite quotes from the early chapters of Institutes.
In chapter VI of Book I, Calvin is helping readers understand the importance of Scripture in knowing God. I have always kept the image he painted in my mind when I explain the importance of God’s Word to people. I love it and, if you’ve never read it, I hope you enjoy it just as much.
For as the aged, or those whose sight is defective, when any book, however fair, is set before them, though they perceive that there is something written, are scarcely able to make out two consecutive words, but, when aided by glasses, begin to read distinctly, so Scripture, gathering together the impressions of Deity, which, till then, lay confused in our minds, dissipates the darkness, and shows us the true God clearly.
John Calvin and Henry Beveridge, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2010).
As always, Calvin communicates in such a clear and compelling manner. I can’t help but read and shake my head yes. I really love this quote. How about you? What’s your favorite Calvin quote?
OUR wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But as these are connected together by many ties, it is not easy to determine which of the two precedes, and gives birth to the other.
John Calvin and Henry Beveridge, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2010).
I laugh almost every time I hear this quote, or some variation on it, attributed to Calvin. It isn’t the quote itself that makes me laugh, or that it isn’t form Calvin, rather it is the fact that of all the beautiful and majestic things that Calvin penned in his life, I find that people quote this more than anything else. The reason? Because it is the very first chapter of the very first book of Calvin’s Institutes. While I don’t know how much Calvin people have read who quote this, I can’t help but think the frequency of this section’s use is directly related to the amount of Calvin they have read. If people would but dig further into Calvin (um, say, past the first page), oh the depths of treasures he would share and they would have an over abundance of quotes to recite.
Alas, I challenge you. Listen up when you hear someone say, “John Calvin said…” Statistically, I’m betting this quote will follow more than any other.
It can easily be said that the summary of the Christian Life is one that is in constant self-denial. To what exactly it takes for one to be consistent in this may be at hard times to see. Understanding that the christian is not of his own, but only to seek the glory of God obeying His will can at times get hard living in the fallen flesh. However self-denial is still commanded of the Lord’ people. He who neglects it, deceived either by pride or hypocrisy, rushes on destruction. John Calvin provides quite the wisdom dealing with this issue in his Institutes 3.7.2 saying,
Hence follows the other principle, that we are not to seek our own, but the Lord’s will, and act with a view to promote his glory. Great is our proficiency, when, almost forgetting ourselves, certainly postponing our own reason, we faithfully make it our study to obey God and his commandments. For when Scripture enjoins us to lay aside private regard to ourselves, it not only divests our minds of an excessive longing for wealth, or power, or human favour, but eradicates all ambition and Continue Reading…
The act of justification cannot happen without one coming to the realization of their sin and asking for forgiveness and repenting for that in-which their sin has offended God. Calvin writes on this matter saying,
It is proper to consider what the dreadful iniquity is which is not to be pardoned. The definition which Augustine somewhere gives—viz. that it is obstinate perverseness, with distrust of pardon, continued till death,—scarcely agrees with the words of Christ, that it shall not be forgiven in this world. For either this is said in vain, or it may be committed in this world. But if Augustine’s definition is correct, the sin is not committed unless persisted in till death. Others say, that the sin against the Holy Spirit consists in Continue Reading…
According to the Washington Post, 92% percent of America answered that they believed in God when asked. However believing and knowing God are two totally separate things. Knowing God consist more than just believing that he exists, but actually having an interest in obeying His commands, giving Him glory and worshiping Him for life. Calvin writes on this matter;
By the knowledge of God, I understand that by which we not only conceive that there is some God, but also apprehend what it is for our interest, and conducive to his glory, what, in short, it is befitting to know concerning him. For, properly speaking, we cannot say that God is known where there is no religion or piety. I am not now referring to that species of knowledge by which men, in themselves lost and under curse, apprehend God as a Redeemer in Christ the Mediator. I speak only of that simple and primitive knowledge, to which the mere course of nature would have conducted us, had Adam stood upright. For although no man will now, in the present ruin of the human race, perceive God to be either a father, or the author of salvation, or propitious in any respect, until Christ interpose to make our peace; still it is one thing to Continue Reading…
Absurd fictions of opponents first refuted, and then certain passages of Scripture explained. Answer by a negative. Confirmation of the answer, Calvin writes;
Enough would seem to have been said on the subject of man’s will, were there not some who endeavour to urge him to his ruin by a false opinion of liberty, and at the same time, in order to support their own opinion, assail ours. First, they gather together some absurd inferences, by which they endeavour to bring odium upon our doctrine, as if it were abhorrent to common sense, and then they oppose it with certain passages of Scripture (infra, sec. 6). Both devices we shall dispose of in their order. If sin, say they, is necessary, it ceases to be sin; if it is voluntary, it may be avoided. Such, too, were the weapons with which Pelagius assailed Augustine. But we are unwilling to crush them by the weight of his name, until we have satisfactorily disposed of the objections themselves. I deny, therefore, that sin ought to be the less imputed because Continue Reading…
Every evangelical knows of the fall of mankind, but what did that have to do with you or me? Why would have Adam’s fall, better yet how could have one single piece of fruit have such infliction and such vengeance on the whole of human race? John Calvin helps explain exactly what happen at the fall and its implications to humanity saying;
As the act which God punished so severely must have been not a trivial fault, but a heinous crime, it will be necessary to attend to the peculiar nature of the sin which produced Adam’s fall, and provoked God to inflict such fearful vengeance on the whole human race. The common idea of sensual intemperance is childish. The sum and substance of all virtues could not consist in abstinence from a single fruit amid a general abundance of every delicacy that could be desired, the earth, with happy fertility, yielding not only abundance, but also endless variety. We must, therefore, look deeper than sensual intemperance. The prohibition to touch the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was a trial of obedience, that Adam, by observing it, might prove Continue Reading…
Wisdom is the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment. But where does one find his or her’s wisdom in a day and age that seems to claim so many truths. John Calvin helps break down how the evil of man can still yet be used for the good things of God and how God uses that to lead His people to find Him.
Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But as these are connected together by many ties, it is not easy to determine which of the two precedes and gives birth to the other. For, in the first place, no man can survey himself without forthwith turning his thoughts towards the God in whom he lives and moves; because it is perfectly obvious, that the endowments which we possess cannot possibly be from ourselves; nay, that our very being is nothing else than subsistence in God alone. In the second place, those blessings which unceasingly distil to us from heaven, Continue Reading…
One of my favorite quotes from Calvin appears in his discussion of the doctrine of election in his Institutes (III, XXI). The doctrine has been the subject of no small controversy for as long as the church has been in existence. Calvin responds to those who keep the doctrine from the people of God in an attempt to protect them. His balanced response powerfully refutes such a position:
Therefore, in order to keep the legitimate course in this matter, we must return to the word of God, in which we are furnished with the right rule of understanding. For Scripture is the school of the Holy Spirit, in which as nothing useful and necessary to be known has been omitted, so nothing is taught but what it is of importance to know. Every thing, therefore delivered in Scripture on the subject of predestination, we must beware of keeping from the faithful, lest we seem either maliciously to deprive them of the blessing of God, or to accuse and scoff at the Spirit, as having divulged what ought on any account to be suppressed. Let us, I say, allow the Christian to unlock his mind and ears to all the words of God which are addressed to him, provided he do it with this moderation—viz. that whenever the Lord shuts his sacred mouth, he also desists from inquiry. The best rule of sobriety is, not only in learning to follow wherever God leads, but also when he makes an end of teaching, to cease also from wishing to be wise. The danger which they dread is not so great that we ought on account of it to turn away our minds from the oracles of God. There is a celebrated saying of Solomon, “It is the glory of God to conceal a thing,” (Prov. 25:2). But since both piety and common sense dictate that this is not to be understood of every thing, we must look for a distinction, lest under the pretence of modesty and sobriety we be satisfied with a brutish ignorance. This is clearly expressed by Moses in a few words, “The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us, and to our children for ever,” (Deut. 29:29). We see how he exhorts the people to study the doctrine of the law in accordance with a heavenly decree, because God has been pleased to promulgate it, while he at the same time confines them within these boundaries, for the simple reason that it is not lawful for men to pry into the secret things of God. (Institutes, III, XXI, 3.)
Check out our Institutes Collection, which includes three English editions (translations by Norton, Allen, and Beveridge), the 1559 Latin edition, and the 1560 French edition. Get all of these and more at an even better deal in our Calvin 500 Collection.