(Calvin, Institutes on the Christian Religion 1, part 3)

The Epistle to the Reader 
[Prefixed to the second edition, published at Strasburg in 1539.] 
    In the First Edition of this work, having no expectation of the 
success which God has, in his goodness, been pleased to give it, I 
had, for the greater part, performed my office perfunctorily, as is 
usual in trivial undertakings. But when I perceived that almost all 
the godly had received it with a favour which I had never dared to 
wish, far less to hope for, being sincerely conscious that I had 
received much more than I deserved, I thought I should be very 
ungrateful if I did not endeavour, at least according to my humble 
ability, to respond to the great kindness which had been expressed 
towards me, and which spontaneously urged me to diligence. I 
therefore ask no other favour from the studious for my new work than 
that which they have already bestowed upon me beyond my merits. I 
feel so much obliged, that I shall be satisfied if I am thought not 
to have made a bad return for the gratitude I owe. This return I 
would have made much earlier, had not the Lord, for almost two whole 
years, exercised me in an extraordinary manner. But it is soon 
enough if well enough. I shall think it has appeared in good season 
when I perceive that it produces some fruit to the Church of God. I 
may add, that my object in this work was to prepare and train 
students of theology for the study of the Sacred Volume, so that 
they might both have an easy introduction to it, and be able to 
proceed in it, with unfaltering step, seeing I have endeavoured to 
give such a summary of religion in all its parts, and have digested 
it into such an order as may make it not difficult for any one, who 
is rightly acquainted with it, to ascertain both what he ought 
principally to look for in Scripture, and also to what head he ought 
to refer whatever is contained in it. Having thus, as it were, paved 
the way, I shall not feel it necessary, in any Commentaries on 
Scripture which I may afterwards publish, to enter into long 
discussions of doctrines or dilate on common places, and will, 
therefore, always compress them. In this way the pious reader will 
be saved much trouble and weariness, provided he comes furnished 
with a knowledge of the present work as an essential prerequisite. 
As my Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans will give a specimen 
of this plan, I would much rather let it speak for itself than 
declare it in words. Farewell, dear reader, and if you derive any 
fruit from my labours, give me the benefit of your prayers to the 
    Strasbourg, 1st August 1539. 
Subject of the Present Work 
[Prefixed to the French Edition, published at Geneva in 1545.] 
    In order that my Readers may be the better able to profit by 
the present work, I am desirous briefly to point out the advantage 
which they may derive from it. For by so doing I will show them the 
end at which they ought to aim, and to which they ought to give 
their attention in reading it. 
    Although the Holy Scriptures contain a perfect doctrine, to 
which nothing can be added - our Lord having been pleased therein to 
unfold the infinite treasures of his wisdom - still every person, 
not intimately acquainted with them, stands in need of some guidance 
and direction, as to what he ought to look for in them, that he may 
not wander up and down, but pursue a certain path, and so attain the 
end to which the Holy Spirit invites him. 
    Hence it is the duty of those who have received from God more 
light than others to assist the simple in this matter, and, as it 
were, lend them their hand to guide and assist them in finding the 
sum of what God has been pleased to teach us in his word. Now, this 
cannot be better done in writing than by treating in succession of 
the principal matters which are comprised in Christian philosophy. 
For he who understands these will be prepared to make more progress 
in the school of God in one day than any other person in three 
months, inasmuch as he, in a great measure, knows to what he should 
refer each sentence, and has a rule by which to test whatever is 
presented to him. 
    Seeing, then, how necessary it was in this manner to aid those 
who desire to be instructed in the doctrine of salvation, I have 
endeavoured, according to the ability which God has given me, to 
employ myself in so doing, and with this view have composed the 
present book. And first I wrote it in Latin, that it might be 
serviceable to all studious persons, of what nation soever they 
might be; afterwards, desiring to communicate any fruit which might 
be in it to my French countrymen, I translated it into our own 
tongue. I dare not bear too strong a testimony in its favour, and 
declare how profitable the reading of it will be, lest I should seem 
to prize my own work too highly. However I may promise this much, 
that it will be a kind of key opening up to all the children of God 
a right and ready access to the understanding of the sacred volume. 
Wherefore, should our Lord give me henceforth means and opportunity 
of composing some Commentaries, I will use the greatest possible 
brevity, as there will be no occasion to make long digressions, 
seeing that I have in a manner deduced at length all the articles 
which pertain to Christianity. 
    And since we are bound to acknowledge that all truth and sound 
doctrine proceed from God, I will venture boldly to declare what I 
think of this work, acknowledging it to be God's work rather than 
mine. To him, indeed, the praise due to it must be ascribed. My 
opinion of the work then is this: I exhort all, who reverence the 
word of the Lord, to read it, and diligently imprint it on their 
memory, if they would, in the first place, have a summary of 
Christian doctrine, and, in the second place, an introduction to the 
profitable reading both of the Old and New Testament. When they 
shall have done so, they will know by experience that I have not 
wished to impose upon them with words. Should any one be unable to 
comprehend all that is contained in it, he must not, however, give 
it up in despair; but continue always to read on, hoping that one 
passage will give him a more familiar exposition of another. Above 
all things, I would recommend that recourse be had to Scripture in 
considering the proofs which I adduce from it. 
Epistle to the Reader 
[Prefixed to the last Edition, revised by the Author.] 
    In the First Edition of this work, having not the least 
expectation of the success which God, in his boundless goodness, has 
been pleased to give it, I had, for the greater part, performed my 
task in a perfunctory manner, (as is usual in trivial undertakings;) 
but when I understood that it had been received, by almost all the 
pious with a favour which I had never dared to ask, far less to hope 
for, the more I was sincerely conscious that the reception was 
beyond my deserts, the greater I thought my ingratitude would be, 
if, to the very kind wishes which had been expressed towards me, and 
which seemed of their own accord to invite me to diligence, I did 
not endeavour to respond, at least according to my humble ability. 
This I attempted not only in the Second Edition, but in every 
subsequent one the work has received some improvement. But though I 
do not regret the labour previously expended, I never felt satisfied 
until the work was arranged in the order in which it now appears. 
Now I trust it will approve itself to the judgement of all my 
readers. As a clear proof of the diligence with which I have 
laboured to perform this service to the Church of God, I may be 
permitted to mention, that last winter, when I thought I was dying 
of quartan ague, the more the disorder increased, the less I spared 
myself, in order that I might leave this book behind me, and thus 
make some return to the pious for their kind urgency. I could have 
wished to give it sooner, but it is soon enough if good enough. I 
shall think it has appeared in good time when I see it more 
productive of benefit than formerly to the Church of God. This is my 
only wish. 
    And truly it would fare ill with me if, not contented with the 
approbation of God alone, I were unable to despise the foolish and 
perverse censures of ignorant as well as the malicious and unjust 
censures of ungodly men. For although, by the blessing of God, my 
most ardent desire has been to advance his kingdoms and promote the 
public good, - although I feel perfectly conscious, and take God and 
his angels to witness, that ever since I began to discharge the 
office of teacher in the Church, my only object has been to do good 
to the Church, by maintaining the pure doctrine of godliness, yet I 
believe there never was a man more assailed, stung, and torn by 
calumny [as well by the declared enemies of the truth of God, as by 
many worthless persons who have crept into his Church - as well by 
monks who have brought forth their frocks from their cloisters to 
spread infection wherever they come, as by other miscreants not 
better than they.] After this letter to the reader was in the press, 
I had undoubted information that, at Augsburg, where the Imperial 
Diet was held, a rumour of my defection to the papacy was 
circulated, and entertained in the courts of the princes more 
readily than might have been expected. This, forsooth, is the return 
made me by those who certainly are not unaware of numerous proofs of 
my constancy - proofs which, while they rebut the foul charge, ought 
to have defended me against it, with all humane and impartial 
judges. But the devil, with all his crew, is mistaken if he imagines 
that, by assailing me with vile falsehoods, he can either cool my 
zeal, or diminish my exertions. I trust that God, in his infinite 
goodness, will enable me to persevere with unruffled patience in the 
course of his holy vocation. Of this I give the pious reader a new 
proof in the present edition. 
    I may further observe, that my object in this work has been, so 
to prepare and train candidates for the sacred office, for the study 
of the sacred volume, that they may both have an easy introduction 
to it, and be able to prosecute it with unfaltering step; for, if I 
mistake not, I have given a summary of religion in all its parts, 
and digested it in an order which will make it easy for any one, who 
rightly comprehends it, to ascertain both what he ought chiefly to 
look for in Scripture, and also to what head he ought to refer 
whatever is contained in it. Having thus, as it were, paved the way, 
as it will be unnecessary, in any Commentaries on Scripture which I 
may afterwards publish, to enter into long discussions of doctrinal 
points, and enlarge on commonplaces, I will compress them into 
narrow compass. In this way much trouble and fatigue will be spared 
to the pious reader, provided he comes prepared with a knowledge of 
the present work as an indispensable prerequisite. The system here 
followed being set forth as in a mirror in all my Commentaries, I 
think it better to let it speak for itself than to give any verbal 
explanation of it. 
    Farewell, kind reader: if you derive any benefit from my 
labours, aid me with your prayers to our heavenly Father. 
    Geneva, 1st August 1559. 
         The zeal of those whose cause I undertook, 
         Has swelled a short defence into a book. 
    "I profess to be one of those who, by profiting, write, and by 
writing profit."--Augustine, Epist. 7. 
Method and Arrangement, or Subject of the Whole Work 
[From an Epitome of the Institutions, by Gaspar Olevian.] 
    The subject handled by the author of these Christian Institutes 
is twofold: the former, the knowledge of God, which leads to a 
blessed immortality; and the latter, (which is subordinate to the 
former,) the knowledge of ourselves. With this view the author 
simply adopts the arrangement of the Apostles' Creed, as that with 
which all Christians are most familiar. For as the Creed consists of 
four parts, the first relating to God the Father, the second to the 
Son, the third to the Holy Spirit, and the fourth to the Church, so 
the author, in fulfilment of his task, divides his Institutes into 
four parts, corresponding to those of the Creed. Each of these parts 
it will now be proper to explain separately. 
    I. The first article of the Apostles' Creed is concerning God 
the Father, the creation, preservation, and government of the 
universe, as implied in his omnipotence. Accordingly, the First Book 
of the Institutes treats of the knowledge of God, considered as the 
Creator, Preserver, and Governor of the world, and of every thing 
contained in it. It shows both wherein the true knowledge of the 
Creator consists, and what the end of this knowledge is, chap. 1 and 
2; that it is not learned at school, but that every one is 
self-taught it from the womb, chap. 3. Such, however, is man's 
depravity, that he stifles and corrupts this knowledge, partly by 
ignorance, partly by wicked design; and hence does not by means of 
it either glorify God as he ought, or attain to happiness, chap. 4. 
This inward knowledge is aided from without, namely by the creatures 
in which, as in a mirror, the perfections of God may be 
contemplated. But man does not properly avail himself of this 
assistance, and hence to those to whom God is pleased to make 
himself more intimately known for salvation, he communicates his 
written word. This leads to a consideration of the Holy Scriptures, 
in which God has revealed that not the Father only, but along with 
the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit, is that Creator of heaven and 
earth, whom, in consequence of our innate depravity we were unable, 
either from innate natural knowledge, or the beautiful mirror of the 
world, to know so as to glorify. Here the author treats of the 
manifestation of God in Scripture; and in connection with it, of the 
one divine essence in three persons. But, lest man should lay the 
blame of his voluntary blindness on God, the author shows in what 
state man was created at first, introducing dissertations on the 
image of God, free will, and original righteousness. The subject of 
Creation being thus disposed of, the preservation and government of 
the world is considered in the three last chapters, which contain a 
very full discussion of the doctrine of Divine Providence. 
    II. As man, by sinning, forfeited the privileges conferred on 
him at his creation, recourse must be had to Christ. Accordingly, 
the next article in the Creed is, "And in Jesus Christ his only Son, 
&c.". In like manner, the Second Book of the Institutes treats of 
the knowledge of God considered as a Redeemer in Christ, And showing 
man his falls conducts him to Christ the Mediator. Here the subject 
of original sin is considered, and it is shown that man has no means 
within himself, by which he can escape from guilt, and the impending 
curse: that, on the contrary, until he is reconciled and renewed, 
every thing that proceeds from him is of the nature of sin. This 
subject is considered as far as the 6th chapter. Man being thus 
utterly undone in himself, and incapable of working out his own cure 
by thinking a good thought, or doing what is acceptable to God, must 
seek redemption without himself viz., in Christ. The end for which 
the Law was given, was not to secure worshipers for itself, but to 
conduct them unto Christ. This leads to an exposition of the Moral 
Law. Christ was known to the Jews under the Law as the author of 
salvation, but is more fully revealed under the Gospel in which he 
was manifested to the world. Hence arises the doctrine concerning 
the similarity and difference of the two Testaments, the Old and the 
New, the Law and the Gospel. These topics occupy as far as the 12th 
chapter. It is next shown that, in order to secure a complete 
salvation, it was necessary that the eternal Son of God should 
become man, and assume a true human nature. It is also shown in what 
way these two natures constitute one person. In order to purchase a 
full salvation by his own merits, and effectually apply it, Christ 
was appointed to the offices of Prophet, Priest, and King. The mode 
in which Christ performs these offices is considered, and also 
whether in point of fact he did accomplish the work of redemption. 
Here an exposition is given of the articles relating to Christ's 
death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven. In conclusion, it is 
proved that Christ is rightly and properly said to have merited 
divine grace and salvation for us. 
    III. So long as Christ is separated from us we have no benefit 
from him. We must be ingrafted in him like branches in the vine. 
Hence the Creed, after treating of Christ, proceeds in its third 
article, "I believe in the Holy Spirit", - the Holy Spirit being the 
bond of union between us and Christ. In like manner, the Third Book 
of the Institutes treats of the Holy Spirit which unites us to 
Christ, and, in connection with it, of faith, by which we embrace 
Christ with a double benefit, viz., that of gratuitous righteousness 
which he imputes to us, and regeneration, which he begins in us by 
giving us repentance. In order to show the worthlessness of a faith 
which is not accompanied with a desire of repentance, the author, 
before proceeding to a full discussion of justification, treats at 
length from chapter 3-10 of repentance, and the constant study of it 
- repentance, which Christ, when apprehended by faith, begets in us 
by his Spirit. Chapter 11 treats of the primary and peculiar benefit 
of Christ when united to us by the Holy Spirit, viz., justification. 
This subject is continued to the 20th chapter, which treats of 
prayer, the hand, as it were, to receive the blessings which faith 
knows to be treasured up for it with God, according to the word of 
promise. But, as the Holy Spirit, who creates and preserves our 
faith, does not unite all men to Christ, who is the sole author of 
salvation, chapter 21 treats of the eternal election of God, to 
which it is owing that we, in whom he foresaw no good which he had 
not previously bestowed, are given to Christ, and united to him by 
the effectual calling of the Gospel. This subject is continued to 
the 25th chapter, which treats of complete regeneration and 
felicity, namely, the final resurrection to which we must raise our 
eyes, seeing that, in regard to fruition, the happiness of the godly 
is only begun in this world. 
    IV. Since the Holy Spirit does not ingraft all men into Christ, 
or endue them with faith, and those whom he does so endue he does 
not ordinarily endue without means, but uses for that purpose the 
preaching of the Gospel and the dispensation of the Sacraments, 
together with the administration of all kinds of discipline, the 
Creed contains the following article, "I believe in the Holy 
Catholic Church", namely, that Church which, when lying in eternal 
death, the Father, by gratuitous election, freely reconciled to 
himself in Christ, and endued with the Holy Spirit, that, being 
ingrafted into Christ, it might have communion with him as its 
proper head; whence flow perpetual remission of sins, and full 
restoration to eternal life. Accordingly the Church is treated of in 
the first fourteen chapters of the Fourth Book, which thereafter 
treats of the means which the Holy Spirit employs in calling us 
effectually from spiritual death, and preserving the Church, in 
other words, Baptism and the Lord's Supper. These means are, as it 
were, the royal sceptre of Christ, by which, through the efficacy of 
his Spirit, he commences his spiritual reign in the Church, advances 
it from day to day, and after this life, without the use of means, 
finally perfects it. This subject is continued to the 20th chapter. 
    And because civil governments are, in this life, the hospitable 
entertainers (hospitia) of the Church (though civil government is 
distinct from the spiritual kingdom of Christ,) the author shows how 
great blessings they are, blessings which the Church is bound 
gratefully to acknowledge, until we are called away from this 
tabernacle to the heavenly inheritance, where God will be all in 
    Such is the arrangement of the Institutes which may be thus 
summed up: Man being at first created upright, but afterwards being 
not partially but totally ruined, finds his entire salvation out of 
himself in Christ, to whom being united by the Holy Spirit freely 
given without any foresight of future works, he thereby obtains a 
double blessing, viz., full imputation of righteousness, which goes 
along with us even to the grave, and the commencement of 
sanctification, which daily advances till at length it is perfected 
in the day of regeneration or resurrection of the body, and this, in 
order that the great mercy of God may be celebrated in the heavenly 
mansions, throughout eternity. 

Calvin, Institutes on the Christian Religion, Volume 1
(continued in part 4...)

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