EXTRACTS FROM THE “INSTITUTES.”
IN laying before the reader an outline of the Institutes, the course I have decided to follow is both methodical and simple. I shall give extracts from Calvin’s great work, arranged in a manner that is likely to be very helpful to every reader; hoping also that it will be useful for reference. The advantage of this is obvious. It is allowing the author to speak for himself.
The selection of these extracts has been the most laborious contribution to this book; but in all such labor there is profit.
Instead of availing myself of the labors of others, I have carefully read the Institutes for the purpose of making the following selections:—
1.—THE HOLY SCRIPTURES. “Let it therefore be held as fixed, that those who are inwardly taught by the Holy Spirit acquiesce implicitly in Scripture; that Scripture, carrying its own evidence along with it, deigns not to submit to proofs and arguments, but owes the full conviction with which we ought to receive it to the testimony of the Spirit.
Enlightened by Him, we no longer believe, either on our own judgment or that of others, that the Scriptures are from God; but, in a way superior to human judgment, feel perfectly assured as much so as if we beheld the divine image visibly impressed on it— that it came to us, by the instrumentality of men, from the very mouth of God. We ask not for proofs or probabilities on which to rest our judgment, but we submit our intellect and judgment to it as too transcendent for us to estimate.”
2.—THE FALL OF MAN. “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 anything which remains is fearful deformity; and, therefore, our deliverance begins with that renovation which we obtain from Christ, who is, therefore, called the second Adam, because He restores us to true and substantial integrity.”
3.—CORRUPTION OF HUMAN NATURE. “It is necessary only to remember, that man at his first creation, was very different from all his posterity; who, deriving their origin from him after he was corrupted, received a hereditary taint. At first every part of the soul was formed to rectitude. There was soundness of mind and freedom of will to choose the good. If anyone objects that it was placed, as it were, in a slippery position, because its power was weak, I answer, that the degree conferred was sufficient to take away every excuse. For surely the Deity could not be tied down to this condition—to make man such, that he either could not or would not sin. Such a nature might have been more excellent; but to expostulate with God as if He had been bound to confer this nature on man, is more than unjust, seeing He had full right to determine how much or how little He would give. Why He did not sustain him by the virtue of perseverance is hidden in His counsel; it is ours to keep within the bounds of soberness. Man had received the power, if he had the will, but he had not the will which would have given the power; for this will would have been followed by perseverance. Still, after he had received so much, there is no excuse for his having spontaneously brought death upon himself. 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.”
4.—THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD. “Hence, our Savior, after declaring that even a sparrow falls not to the ground without the will of His Father, immediately makes the application, that being more valuable than many sparrows, we ought to consider that God provides more carefully for us. He even extends this so far, as to assure us that the hairs of our head are all numbered. What more can we wish, if not even a hair of our head can fall, save in accordance with His will? I speak not merely of the human race in general. God having chosen the Church for His abode, there cannot be a doubt, that in governing it, He gives singular manifestations of His paternal care. “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. For as he justly shudders at the idea of chance, so he can confidently commit himself to God. 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 in so far as God their Master is pleased to permit.”
5.—THE SOVEREIGN WILL OF GOD. “Their first objection—that if nothing happens without the will of God, He must have two contrary wills, decreeing by a secret counsel what He has openly forbidden in His law—is easily disposed of. But before I reply to it, I would again remind my readers that this cavil is directed not against me, but against the Holy Spirit, who certainly dictated this confession to that holy man Job, ‘The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away,’ when, after being plundered by robbers, he acknowledges that their injustice and mischief was a just chastisement from God. And what says the Scripture elsewhere?”
6.—GOD NOT THE AUTHOR OF SIN.
In the same way is solved, or rather spontaneously vanishes, another objection viz., If God not only uses the agency of the wicked, but also governs their counsels and affections, He is the Author of all their sins; and therefore men, in executing what God has decreed, are unjustly condemned, because they are obeying His will. Here will is improperly con-founded with precept, though it is obvious, from innumerable examples, that there is the greatest difference between them.”
7.—ORIGINAL SIN. “How far sin has seized both on the mind and heart, we shall shortly see. Here I only wish briefly to observe, that the whole man, from the crown of the head to the sole of the foot, is so deluged, as it were, that no part remains exempt from sin, and, therefore, everything which proceeds from him is imputed as sin.
Thus Paul says, that all carnal thoughts and affections are enmity against God, and consequently death ( Romans 8:7). “Let us have done, then, with those who dare to inscribe the name of God on their vices, because we say that men are born vicious.
The divine workmanship, which they ought to look for in the nature of Adam, when still entire and uncorrupted, they absurdly expect to find in their depravity. The blame of our ruin rests with our own carnality, not with God, its only cause being our degeneracy from our original condition. And let no one here clamor that God might have provided better for our safety by preventing Adam’s fall. This objection, which, from the daring presumption implied in it, is odious to every pious mind, relates to the mystery of predestination, which will afterwards be considered in its own place (Tertull. de Praescript. Calvin, Lib. de Predest.). 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.”
8.—PREDESTINATION. “When we attribute foreknowledge to God, our meaning is, that all things have always been under His eyes, and His sight, as present.
And we call predestination the eternal decree of God, whereby He determined with Himself what He would have to become of every man. For men are not created to like estate; but for some eternal life, and for some eternal death, is appointed. Whereby His free election is made manifest, seeing it lieth in His will, what shall be the estate of every nation. Whereof God showed a token in the whole issue of Abraham. “There is also a certain special election, wherein appeareth more plainly the grace of God, seeing that of the same stock of Abraham God rejected some, as Ishmael, Esau, and at length almost all the Ten Tribes of Israel.”
9.—FREE WILL. “In this way, then, man is said to have free will, not because he has a free choice of good and evil, but because he acts voluntarily, and not by compulsion. This is perfectly true: but why should so small a matter have been dignified with so proud a title? An admirable freedom! that man is not forced to be the servant of sin, while he is, however, ejqelodoulov (a voluntary slave); his will being bound by the fetters of sin. I abominate mere verbal disputes, by which the Church is harassed to no purpose; but I think we ought religiously to eschew terms which imply some absurdity, especially in subjects where error is of pernicious consequence.
How few are there who, when they hear free will attributed to man, do not immediately imagine that he is the master of his mind and will in such a sense, that he can of himself incline himself either to good or evil? It may be said that such dangers are removed by carefully expounding the meaning to the people. But such is the proneness of the human mind to go astray, that it will more quickly draw error from one little word, than truth from a lengthened discourse. Of this, the very term in question furnishes too strong a proof.”
10.—USE OF EXHORTATIONS. “Still it is insisted, that exhortations are vain, warnings superfluous, and rebukes absurd, if the sinner possesses not the power to obey. When similar suggestions were urged against Augustine, he was obliged to write his book, ‘De Correptione et Gratia,’ where he has fully disposed of them. The substance of his answer to his opponents is this: ‘O, man! learn from the precept what you ought to do; learn from correction, that it is your own fault you have not the power; and learn in prayer, whence it is that you may receive the power.’ “But it will be asked, why are they now admonished of their duty, and not rather left to the guidance of the Spirit? Why are they urged with exhortations when they cannot hasten any faster than the Spirit impels them? and why are they chastised, if at any time they go astray, seeing that this is caused by the necessary infirmity of the flesh? ‘O, man! who art thou that repliest against God?’ If, in order to prepare us for the grace which enables us to obey exhortation, God sees meet to employ exhortation, what is there in such an arrangement for you to carp and scoff at? Had exhortations and reprimands no other profit with the godly than to convince them of sin, they could not be deemed altogether useless. Now, when, by the Spirit of God acting within, they have the effect of inflaming their desire of good, of arousing them from lethargy, of destroying the pleasure and honeyed sweetness of sin, making it hateful and loathsome, who will presume to cavil at them as superfluous?”
11.— UNIVERSAL AND SPECIAL CALLING. “There is a double kind of calling, universal, whereby God, through the outward preaching of the Word, biddeth all men come to Him, as well good as evil. And there is also another special calling, whereof, for the most part He vouchsafeth the faithful only, which He bringeth to pass by the inward illumination of the Spirit, so that the Word preached doth take root, and settle in their hearts; and yet He doth sometimes make those also partakers thereof, whom He doth illuminate only for a season; then afterwards He forsaketh them for their unthankfulness, and striketh them with greater blindness.”
12.—THE SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST. “To such a degree was Christ dejected, that in the depth of His agony He was forced to exclaim, ‘My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?’ The view taken by some, that He here expressed the opinion of others rather than His own conviction, is most improbable; for it is evident that the expression was wrung from the anguish of His inmost soul. We do not, however, insinuate that God was ever hostile to Him or angry with Him.
How could He be angry with the beloved Son, with whom His soul was well pleased? or how could He have appeased the Father by His intercession for others if He was hostile to Himself? But this we say, that He bore the weight of the divine anger; that, smitten and afflicted, He experienced all the signs of an angry and avenging God.”
13.—RESURRECTION OF CHRIST. “Our salvation may be thus divided between the death and the resurrection of Christ: by the former, sin was abolished and death annihilated; by the latter, righteousness was restored and life revived, the power and efficacy of the former being still bestowed upon us by means of the latter. Paul accordingly affirms, that He was declared to be the Son of God by His resurrection ( Romans 1:4), because He then fully displayed that heavenly power which is both a bright mirror, of His divinity, and a sure support of our faith; as he also elsewhere teaches, that ‘though He was crucified through weakness, yet He liveth by the power of God’ ( 2 Corinthians 13:4).
In the same sense, in another passage, treating of perfection, he says, ‘That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection’ ( Philippians 3:10).
Immediately after he adds, ‘being made conformable unto His death.’ In perfect accordance with this is the passage in Peter, that God raised Him up from the dead, and gave Him glory, that your faith and hope might be in God’ (1 Peter 1:21).”
14.—CHRIST THE JUDGE. “It is most consolatory to think, that judgment is vested in Him who has already destined us to share with Him in the honor of judgment ( Matthew 19:28); so far is it from being true, that He will ascend the judgment-seat for our condemnation. How could a most merciful prince destroy his own people? How could the head disperse its own members? How could the advocate condemn his clients? For if the Apostle, when contemplating the interposition of Christ, is bold to exclaim, ‘Who is he that condemneth?’ ( Romans 8:33), much more certain is it that Christ, the Intercessor, will not condemn those whom He has admitted to His protection. It certainly gives no small security, that we shall be sisted at no other tribunal than that of our Redeemer, from whom salvation is to be expected; and that He who in the Gospel now promises eternal blessedness, will then as Judge ratify His promise. The end for which the Father has honored the Son by committing all judgment to Him ( John 5:22), was to pacify the consciences of His people when alarmed at the thought of judgment.”
15.—THE HOLY SPIRIT’S WORK. “We must now see in what way we become possessed of the blessings which God has bestowed on His only begotten Son, not for private use, but to enrich the poor and needy. And the first thing to be attended to is that so long as we are without Christ and separated from Him nothing which He suffered and did for the salvation of the human race is of the least benefit to us. To communicate to us the blessings which He received from the Father He must become ours and dwell in us. Accordingly He is called our Head, and the first-born among many brethren, while, on the other hand, we are said to be ingrafted into Him and clothed with Him, all which He possesses being, as I have said, nothing to us until we become one with Him. And although it is true that we obtain this by faith, yet since we see that all do not indiscriminately embrace the report of Christ which is made by the Gospel, the very nature of the case teaches us to ascend higher, and inquire into the secret efficacy of the Spirit, to which it is owing that we enjoy Christ and all His blessings.”
16.—REPENTANCE. “God, indeed, declares that He would have all men to repent, and addresses exhortations in common to all. Their efficacy, however, depends on the spirit of regeneration. It were easier to create us at first than for us by our own strength to acquire a more excellent nature. Wherefore, in regard to the whole process of regeneration, it is not without cause we are called God’s ‘workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them’ ( Ephesians 2:10).
Those whom God is pleased to rescue from death He quickens by the spirit of regeneration; not that repentance is properly the cause of salvation, but because, as already seen, it is inseparable from the faith and mercy of God, for, as Isaiah declares, ‘The Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob.’ This, indeed, is a standing truth, that wherever the fear of God is in vigor the Spirit has been carrying on His saving work.”
We may fitly close this selection of holy truths by simply adding the “golden chain” of Romans 8:— “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren. Moreover, whom He did predestinate, them He also called; and whom He called, them He also justified; and whom He justified, them He also glorified.” ( Romans 8:28-30)