(Calvin, Institutes on the Christian Religion 1, part 12)

Chapter 14 
14. In the creation of the world, and all things in it, the true God 
distinguished by certain marks from fictitious gods. 
In this chapter commences the second part of Book First, viz., the 
knowledge of man. Certain things premised. I. The creation of the 
world generally, (s. 1 and 2.) II. The subject of angels considered, 
(s. 3-13.) III. Of bad angels or devils, (s. 13-20;) and, IV. The 
practical use to be made of the history of the creation, (s. 20-22.) 
1. The mere fact of creation should lead us to acknowledge God, but 
    to prevent our falling away to Gentile fictions, God has been 
    pleased to furnish a history of the creation. An impious 
    objection, Why the world was not created sooner? Answer to it. 
    Shrewd saying of an old man. 
2. For the same reason, the world was created, not in an instant, 
    but in six days. The order of creation described, showing that 
    Adam was not created until God had, with infinite goodness made 
    ample provision for him. 
3. The doctrine concerning angels expounded. 1. That we may learn 
    from them also to acknowledge God. 2. That we may be put on our 
    guard against the errors of the worshippers of angels and the 
    Manichees. Manicheeism refuted. Rule of piety. 
4. The angels created by God. At what time and in what order it is 
    inexpedient to inquire. The garrulity of the Pseudo-Dionysius. 
5. The nature, offices, and various names of angels. 
6. Angels the dispensers of the divine beneficence to us. 
7. A kind of prefects over kingdoms and provinces, but specially the 
    guardians of the elect. Not certain that every believer is 
    under the charge of a single angel. Enough, that all angels 
    watch over the safety of the Church. 
8. The number and orders of angels not defined. Why angels said to 
    be winged. 
9. Angels are ministering spirits and spiritual essences. 
10. The heathen error of placing angels on the throne of God 
    refuted. 1. By passages of Scripture. 
11. Refutation continued. 2. By inferences from other passages. Why 
    God employs the ministry of angels. 
12. Use of the doctrine of Scripture concerning the holy angels. 
13. The doctrine concerning bad angels or devils reduced to four 
    heads. 1. That we may guard against their wiles and assaults. 
14. That we may be stimulated to exercises of piety. Why one angel 
    in the singular number often spoken of. 
15. The devil being described as the enemy of man, we should 
    perpetually war against him. 
16. The wickedness of the devil not by creation but by corruption. 
    Vain and useless to inquire into the mode, time, and character 
    of the fall of angels. 
17. Though the devil is always opposed in will and endeavour to the 
    will of God, he can do nothing without his permission and 
18. God so overrules wicked spirits as to permit them to try the 
    faithful, and rule over the wicked. 
19. The nature of bad angels. They are spiritual essences endued 
    with sense and intelligence. 
20. The latter part of the chapter briefly embracing the history of 
    creation, and showing what it is of importance for us to know 
    concerning God. 
21. The special object of this knowledge is to prevent us, through 
    ingratitude or thoughtlessness, from overlooking the 
    perfections of God. Example of this primary knowledge. 
22. Another object of this knowledge, viz., that perceiving how 
    these things were created for our use, we may be excited to 
    trust in God, pray to him, and love him. 
    1. Although Isaiah justly charges the worshipers of false gods 
with stupidity, in not learning from the foundations of the earth, 
and the circle of the heavens, who the true God is (Isa. 40: 21;) 
yet so sluggish and grovelling is our intellect, that it was 
necessary he should be more clearly depicted, in order that the 
faithful might not fall away to Gentile fictions. the idea that God 
is the soul of the world, though the most tolerable that 
philosophers have suggested, is absurd; and, therefore, it was of 
importance to furnish us with a more intimate knowledge in order 
that we might not wander to and fro in uncertainty. Hence God was 
pleased that a history of the creation should exist - a history on 
which the faith of the Church might lean without seeking any other 
God than Him whom Moses sets forth as the Creator and Architect of 
the world. First, in that history, the period of time is marked so 
as to enable the faithful to ascend by an unbroken succession of 
years to the first origin of their race and of all things. This 
knowledge is of the highest use not only as an antidote to the 
monstrous fables which anciently prevailed both in Egypt and the 
other regions of the world, but also as a means of giving a clearer 
manifestation of the eternity of God as contrasted with the birth of 
creation, and thereby inspiring us with higher admiration. We must 
not be moved by the profane jeer, that it is strange how it did not 
sooner occur to the Deity to create the heavens and the earth, 
instead of idly allowing an infinite period to pass away, during 
which thousands of generations might have existed, while the present 
world is drawing to a close before it has completed its six 
thousandth year. Why God delayed so long it is neither fit nor 
lawful to inquire. Should the human mind presume to do it, it could 
only fail in the attempt, nor would it be useful for us to know what 
God, as a trial of the modesty of our faith, has been pleased 
purposely to conceal. It was a shrewd saying of a good old man, who 
when some one pertly asked in derision what God did before the world 
was created, answered he made a hell for the inquisitive, (August. 
Confess., lib. 11 c. 12.) This reproof, not less weighty than 
severe, should repress the tickling wantonness which urges many to 
indulge in vicious and hurtful speculation. 
    In fine, let us remember that that invisible God, whose wisdom, 
power, and justice, are incomprehensible, is set before us in the 
history of Moses as in a mirror, in which his living image is 
reflected. For as an eye, either dimmed by age or weakened by any 
other cause, sees nothing distinctly without the aid of glasses, so 
(such is our imbecility) if Scripture does not direct us in our 
inquiries after God, we immediately turn vain in our imaginations. 
Those who now indulge their petulance, and refuse to take warning, 
will learn, when too late, how much better it had been reverently to 
regard the secret counsels of God, than to belch forth blasphemies 
which pollute the face of heaven. Justly does Augustine complain 
that God is insulted whenever any higher reason than his will is 
demanded. (Lib. de Gent.) He also in another place wisely reminds us 
that it is just as improper to raise questions about infinite 
periods of time as about infinite space. (De Civit. Dei.) However 
wide the circuit of the heavens may be, it is of some definite 
extent. But should any one expostulate with God that vacant space 
remains exceeding creation by a hundred-fold, must not every pious 
mind detest the presumption? Similar is the madness of those who 
charge God with idleness in not having pleased them by creating the 
world countless ages sooner than he did create it. In their cupidity 
they affect to go beyond the world, as if the ample circumference of 
heaven and earth did not contain objects numerous and resplendent 
enough to absorb all our senses; as if, in the period of six 
thousand years, God had not furnished facts enough to exercise our 
minds in ceaseless meditation. Therefore, let us willingly remain 
hedged in by those boundaries within which God has been pleased to 
confine our persons, and, as it were, enclose our minds, so as to 
prevent them from losing themselves by wandering unrestrained. 
    2. With the same view Moses relates that the work of creation 
was accomplished not in one moment, but in six days. By this 
statement we are drawn away from fiction to the one God who thus 
divided his work into six days, that we may have no reluctance to 
devote our whole lives to the contemplation of it. For though our 
eyes, in what direction soever they turn, are forced to behold the 
works of God, we see how fleeting our attention is, and holy quickly 
pious thoughts, if any arise, vanish away. Here, too, objection is 
taken to these progressive steps as inconsistent with the power of 
God, until human reason is subdued to the obedience of faith, and 
learns to welcome the calm quiescence to which the sanctification of 
the seventh day invited us. In the very order of events, we ought 
diligently to ponder on the paternal goodness of God toward the 
human race, in not creating Adam until he had liberally enriched the 
earth with all good things. Had he placed him on an earth barren and 
unfurnished; had he given life before light, he might have seemed to 
pay little regard to his interest. But now that he has arranged the 
motions of the sun and stars for man's use, has replenished the air, 
earth, and water, with living creatures, and produced all kinds of 
fruit in abundance for the supply of food, by performing the office 
of a provident and industrious head of a family, he has shown his 
wondrous goodness toward us. These subjects, which I only briefly 
touch, if more attentively pondered, will make it manifest that 
Moses was a sure witness and herald of the one only Creator. I do 
not repeat what I have already explained, viz., that mention is here 
made not of the bare essence of God, but that his eternal Wisdom and 
Spirit are also set before us, in order that we may not dream of any 
other God than Him who desires to be recognised in that express 
    3. But before I begin to treat more fully of the nature of man, 
(chap. 15 and B. 2 c. 1,) it will be proper to say something of 
angels. For although Moses, in accommodation to the ignorance of the 
generality of men, does not in the history of the creation make 
mention of any other works of God than those which meet our eye, 
yet, seeing he afterwards introduces angels as the ministers of God, 
we easily infer that he for whom they do service is their Creator. 
Hence, though Moses, speaking in popular language, did not at the 
very commencement enumerate the angels among the creatures of God, 
nothing prevents us from treating distinctly and explicitly of what 
is delivered by Scripture concerning them in other places. For if we 
desire to know God by his works, we surely cannot overlook this 
noble and illustrious specimen. We may add that this branch of 
doctrine is very necessary for the refutation of numerous errors. 
The minds of many are so struck with the excellence of angelic 
natures, that they would think them insulted in being subjected to 
the authority of God, and so made subordinate. Hence a fancied 
divinity has been assigned them. Manes, too, has arisen with his 
sect, fabricating to himself two principles - God and the devil, 
attributing the origin of good things to God, but assigning all bad 
natures to the devil as their author. Were this delirium to take 
possession of our minds, God would be denied his glory in the 
creation of the world. For, seeing there is nothing more peculiar to 
God than eternity and "autousia", i. e. self-existence, or existence 
of himself, if I may so speak, do not those who attribute it to the 
devil in some degree invest him with the honour of divinity? And 
where is the omnipotence of God, if the devil has the power of 
executing whatever he pleases against the will, and notwithstanding 
of the opposition of God? But the only good ground which the 
Manichees have, viz., that it were impious to ascribe the creation 
of any thing bad to a good God, militates in no degree against the 
orthodox faith, since it is not admitted that there is any thing 
naturally bad throughout the universe; the depravity and wickedness 
whether of man or of the devil, and the sins thence resulting, being 
not from nature, but from the corruption of nature; nor, at first, 
did anything whatever exist that did not exhibit some manifestation 
of the divine wisdom and justice. To obviate such perverse 
imaginations, we must raise our minds higher than our eyes can 
penetrate. It was probably with this view that the Nicene Creed, in 
calling God the creator of all things, makes express mention of 
things invisible. My care, however, must be to keep within the 
bounds which piety prescribes, lest by indulging in speculations 
beyond my reach, I bewilder the reader, and lead him away from the 
simplicity of the faith. And since the Holy Spirit always instructs 
us in what is useful, but altogether omits, or only touches 
cursorily on matters which tend little to edification, of all such 
matters, it certainly is our duty to remain in willing ignorance. 
    4. Angels being the ministers appointed to execute the commands 
of God, must, of course, be admitted to be his creatures, but to 
stir up questions concerning the time or order in which they were 
created, (see Lombard, lib. 2 dist. 2, sqq.,) bespeaks more 
perverseness than industry. Moses relates that the heavens and the 
earth were finished, with all their host; what avails it anxiously 
to inquire at what time other more hidden celestial hosts than the 
stars and planets also began to be? Not to dwell on this, let us 
here remember that on the whole subject of religion one rule of 
modesty and soberness is to be observed, and it is this, in obscure 
matters not to speak or think, or even long to know, more than the 
Word of God has delivered. A second rule is, that in reading the 
Scriptures we should constantly direct our inquiries and meditations 
to those things which tend to edification, not indulge in curiosity, 
or in studying things of no use. And since the Lord has been pleased 
to instruct us, not in frivolous questions, but in solid piety, in 
the fear of his name, in true faith, and the duties of holiness, let 
us rest satisfied with such knowledge. Wherefore, if we would be 
duly wise, we must renounce those vain babblings of idle men, 
concerning the nature, ranks, and number of angels, without any 
authority from the Word of God. I know that many fasten on these 
topics more eagerly, and take greater pleasure in them than in those 
relating to daily practice. But if we decline not to be the 
disciples of Christ, let us not decline to follow the method which 
he has prescribed. In this way, being contented with him for our 
master, we will not only refrain from, but even feel averse to, 
superfluous speculations which he discourages. None can deny that 
Dionysus (whoever he may have been) has many shrewd and subtle 
disquisitions in his Celestial Hierarchy, but on looking at them 
more closely, every one must see that they are merely idle talk. The 
duty of a Theologian, however, is not to tickle the ear, but confirm 
the conscience, by teaching what is true, certain, and useful. When 
you read the work of Dionysus, you would think that the man had come 
down from heaven, and was relating, not what he had learned, but 
what he had actually seen. Paul, however, though he was carried to 
the third heaven, so far from delivering any thing of the kind, 
positively declares, that it was not lawful for man to speak the 
secrets which he had seen. Bidding adieu, therefore, to that 
nugatory wisdom, let us endeavour to ascertain from the simple 
doctrine of Scripture what it is the Lord's pleasure that we should 
know concerning angels. 
    5. In Scripture, then, we uniformly read that angels are 
heavenly spirits, whose obedience and ministry God employs to 
execute all the purposes which he has decreed, and hence their name 
as being a kind of intermediate messengers to manifest his will to 
men. The names by which several of them are distinguished have 
reference to the same office. They are called hosts, because they 
surround their Prince as his court, - adorn and display his majesty, 
- like soldiers, have their eyes always turned to their leader's 
standard, and are so ready and prompt to execute his orders, that 
the moment he gives the nod, they prepare for, or rather are 
actually at work. In declaring the magnificence of the divine 
throne, similar representations are given by the prophets, and 
especially by Daniel, when he says, that when God stood up to 
judgement, "thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand 
times ten thousand stood before him," (Dan. 7: 10.) As by these 
means the Lord wonderfully exerts and declares the power and might 
of his hand, they are called virtues. Again, as his government of 
the world is exercised and administered by them, they are called at 
one time Principalities, at another Powers, at another Dominions, 
(Col. 1: 16; Eph. 1: 21.) Lastly, as the glory of God in some 
measure dwells in them, they are also termed Thrones; though as to 
this last designation I am unwilling to speak positively, as a 
different interpretation is equally, if not more congruous. To say 
nothing, therefore, of the name of Thrones, the former names are 
often employed by the Holy Spirit in commendation of the dignity of 
angelic service. Nor is it right to pass by unhonoured those 
instruments by whom God specially manifests the presence of his 
power. Nay, they are more than once called Gods, because the Deity 
is in some measure represented to us in their service, as in a 
mirror. I am rather inclined, however, to agree with ancient 
writers, that in those passages wherein it is stated that the angel 
of the Lord appeared to Abraham, Jacob, and Moses, Christ was that 
angel. Still it is true, that when mention is made of all the 
angels, they are frequently so designated. Nor ought this to seem 
strange. For if princes and rulers have this honour given them, 
because in their office they are vicegerents of God, the supreme 
King and Judge, with far greater reason may it be given to angels, 
in whom the brightness of the divine glory is much more 
conspicuously displayed. 
    6. But the point on which the Scriptures specially insist is 
that which tends most to our comfort, and to the confirmation of our 
faith, namely, that angels are the ministers and dispensers of the 
divine bounty towards us. Accordingly, we are told how they watch 
for our safety, how they undertake our defence, direct our path, and 
take heed that no evil befall us. There are whole passages which 
relate, in the first instance, to Christ, the Head of the Church, 
and after him to all believers. "He shall give his angels charge 
over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in 
their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone." Again, "The 
angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him, and 
delivereth them." By these passages the Lord shows that the 
protection of those whom he has undertaken to defend he has 
delegated to his angels. Accordingly, an angel of the Lord consoles 
Hagar in her flight, and bids her be reconciled to her mistress. 
Abraham promises to his servant that an angel will be the guide of 
his journey. Jacob, in blessing Ephraim and Manasseh, prays "The 
angel which redeemed me from all evil bless the lads." So an angel 
was appointed to guard the camp of the Israelites; and as often as 
God was pleased to deliver Israel from the hands of his enemies, he 
stirred up avengers by the ministry of angels. Thus, in fine, (not 
to mention more,) angels ministered to Christ, and were present with 
him in all straits. To the women they announced his resurrection; to 
the disciples they foretold his glorious advent. In discharging the 
office of our protectors, they war against the devil and all our 
enemies, and execute vengeance upon those who afflict us. Thus we 
read that an angel of the Lord, to deliver Jerusalem from siege, 
slew one hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the camp of the 
king of Assyria in a single night. 
    7. Whether or not each believer has a single angel assigned to 
him for his defence, I dare not positively affirm. When Daniel 
introduces the angel of the Persian and the angel of the Greeks, he 
undoubtedly intimates that certain angels are appointed as a kind of 
presidents over kingdoms and provinces. Again, when Christ says that 
the angels of children always behold the face of his Father, he 
insinuates that there are certain angels to whom their safety has 
been entrusted. But I know not if it can be inferred from this, that 
each believer has his own angel. This, indeed, I hold for certain, 
that each of us is cared for, not by one angel merely, but that all 
with one consent watch for our safety. For it is said of all the 
angels collectively, that they rejoice "over one sinner that 
repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons which need no 
repentance." It is also said, that the angels (meaning more than 
one) carried the soul of Lazarus into Abraham's bosom. Nor was it to 
no purpose that Elisha showed his servant the many chariots of fire 
which were specially allotted him. 
    There is one passage which seems to intimate somewhat more 
clearly that each individual has a separate angel. When Peter, after 
his deliverance from prison, knocked at the door of the house where 
the brethren were assembled, being unable to think it could be 
himself, they said that it was his angel. This idea seems to have 
been suggested to them by a common belief that every believer has a 
single angel assigned to him. Here, however, it may be alleged, that 
there is nothing to prevent us from understanding it of any one of 
the angels to whom the Lord might have given the charge of Peter at 
that particular time, without implying that he was to be his, 
perpetual guardian, according to the vulgar imagination, (see Calvin 
on Mark 5: 9,) that two angels a good and a bad, as a kind of genii, 
are assigned to each individual. After all, it is not worthwhile 
anxiously to investigate a point which does not greatly concern us. 
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. 
    8. Those who presume to dogmatize on the ranks and numbers of 
angels, would do well to consider on what foundation they rest. As 
to their rank, I admit that Michael is described by David as a 
mighty Prince, and by Jude as an Archangel. Paul also tells us, that 
an archangel will blow the trumpet which is to summon the world to 
judgement. But how is it possible from such passages to ascertain 
the gradations of honour among the angels to determine the insignia, 
and assign the place and station of each? Even the two names, 
Michael and Gabriel, mentioned in Scripture, or a third, if you 
choose to add it from the history of Tobit, seem to intimate by 
their meaning that they are given to angels in accommodation to the 
weakness of our capacity, though I rather choose not to speak 
positively on the point. As to the number of angels, we learn from 
the mouth of our Saviour that there are many legions, and from 
Daniel that there are many myriads. Elisha's servant saw a multitude 
of chariots, and their vast number is declared by the fact, that 
they encamp round about those that fear the Lord. It is certain that 
spirits have no bodily shape, and yet Scripture, in accommodation to 
us, describes them under the form of winged Cherubim and Seraphim; 
not without cause, to assure us that when occasion requires, they 
will hasten to our aid with incredible swiftness, winging their way 
to us with the speed of lightning. Farther than this, in regard both 
to the ranks and numbers of angels, let us class them among those 
mysterious subjects, the full revelation of which is deferred to the 
last day, and accordingly refrain from inquiring too curiously, or 
talking presumptuously. 
    9. There is one point, however, which though called into doubt 
by certain restless individuals, we ought to hold for certain viz., 
that angels are ministering spirits (Heb. 1: 14;) whose service God 
employs for the protection of his people, and by whose means he 
distributes his favours among men, and also executes other works. 
The Sadducees of old maintained, that by angels nothing more was 
meant than the movements which God impresses on men, or 
manifestations which he gives of his own power, (Acts 23: 8.) But 
this dream is contradicted by so many passages of Scriptures that it 
seems strange how such gross ignorance could have had any 
countenance among the Jews. To say nothing of the passages I have 
already quoted, passages which refer to thousands and legions of 
angels, speak of them as rejoicing, as bearing up the faithful in 
their hands, carrying their souls to rest, beholding the face of 
their Father, and so forth: there are other passages which most 
clearly prove that they are real beings possessed of spiritual 
essence. Stephen and Paul say that the Law was enacted in the hands 
of angels. Our Saviour, moreover says that at the resurrection the 
elect will be like angels; that the day of judgement is known not 
even to the angels; that at that time he himself will come with the 
holy angels. However much such passages may be twisted, their 
meaning is plain. In like manner, when Paul beseeches Timothy to 
keep his precepts as before Christ and his elect angels, it is not 
qualities or inspirations without substance that he speaks of, but 
true spirits. And when it is said, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, 
that Christ was made more excellent than the angels, that the world 
was not made subject to them, that Christ assumed not their nature, 
but that of man, it is impossible to give a meaning to the passages 
without understanding that angels are blessed spirits, as to whom 
such comparisons may competently be made. The author of that Epistle 
declares the same thing when he places the souls of believers and 
the holy angels together in the kingdom of heaven. Moreover, in the 
passages we have already quoted, the angels of children are said to 
behold the face of God, to defend us by their protection, to rejoice 
in our salvation, to admire the manifold grace of God in the Church, 
to be under Christ their head. To the same effect is their frequent 
appearance to the holy patriarchs in human form, their speaking, and 
consenting to be hospitably entertained. Christ, too, in consequence 
of the supremacy which he obtains as Mediator, is called the Angel, 
(Mal. 3: 1.) It was thought proper to touch on this subject in 
passing, with the view of putting the simple upon their guard 
against the foolish and absurd imaginations which, suggested by 
Satan many centuries ago, are ever and anon starting up anew 
    10. It remains to give warning against the superstition which 
usually begins to creep in, when it is said that all blessings are 
ministered and dispensed to us by angels. For the human mind is apt 
immediately to think that there is no honour which they ought not to 
receive, and hence the peculiar offices of Christ and God are 
bestowed upon them. In this ways the glory of Christ was for several 
former ages greatly obscured, extravagant eulogiums being pronounced 
on angels without any authority from Scripture. Among the 
corruptions which we now oppose, there is scarcely any one of 
greater antiquity. Even Paul appears to have had a severe contest 
with some who so exalted angels as to make them almost the superiors 
of Christ. Hence he so anxiously urges in his Epistle to the 
Colossians, (Col. 1: 16, 20,) that Christ is not only superior to 
all angels, but that all the endowments which they possess are 
derived from him; thus warning us against forsaking him, by turning 
to those who are not sufficient for themselves, but must draw with 
us at a common fountain. As the refulgence of the Divine glory is 
manifested in them, there is nothing to which we are more prone than 
to prostrate ourselves before them in stupid adoration, and then 
ascribe to them the blessings which we owe to God alone. Even John 
confesses in the Apocalypse, (Rev. 19: 10; 22: 8, 9,) that this was 
his own case, but he immediately adds the answer which was given to 
him, "See thou do it not; I am thy fellow servant: worship God." 
    11. This danger we will happily avoid, if we consider why it is 
that Gods instead of acting directly without their agency, is wont 
to employ it in manifesting his power, providing for the safety of 
his people, and imparting the gifts of his beneficence. This he 
certainly does not from necessity, as if he were unable to dispense 
with them. Whenever he pleases, he passes them by, and performs his 
own work by a single nod: so far are they from relieving him of any 
difficulty. Therefore, when he employs them it is as a help to our 
weakness, that nothing may be wanting to elevate our hopes or 
strengthen our confidence. 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. I admit 
that after we have a simple assurance of the divine protection, it 
is improper in us still to look round for help. But since for this 
our weakness the Lord is pleased, in his infinite goodness and 
indulgence, to provide, it would ill become us to overlook the 
favour. Of this we have an example in the servant of Elisha, (2 
Kings 6: 17,) who, seeing the mountain encompassed by the army of 
the Assyrians, and no means of escape, was completely overcome with 
terror, and thought it all over with himself and his master. Then 
Elisha prayed to God to open the eyes of the servant, who forthwith 
beheld the mountain filled with horses and chariots of fire; in 
other words, with a multitude of angels, to whom he and the prophet 
had been given in charge. Confirmed by the vision he received 
courage, and could boldly defy the enemy, whose appearance 
previously filled him with dismay. 
    12. Whatever, therefore, is said as to the ministry of angels, 
let us employ for the purpose of removing all distrust, and 
strengthening our confidence in God. 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 of his aid, but 
let us adopt the sentiment of Elisha, that more are for us than 
against us. How preposterous, therefore, is it to allow ourselves to 
be led away from God by angels who have been appointed for the very 
purpose of assuring us of his more immediate presence to help us? 
But we are so led away, if angels do not conduct us directly to him 
- making us look to him, invoke and celebrate him as our only 
defender - if they are not regarded merely as hands moving to our 
assistance just as he directs - if they do not direct us to Christ 
as the only Mediator on whom we must wholly depend and recline, 
looking towards him, and resting in him. Our minds ought to give 
thorough heed to what Jacob saw in his vision, (Gen. 28: 12,) - 
angels descending to the earth to men, and again mounting up from 
men to heaven, by means of a ladder, at the head of which the Lord 
of Hosts was seated, intimating that it is solely by the 
intercession of Christ that the ministry of angels extends to us, as 
he himself declares, "Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the 
angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man," (John 
1: 51.) Accordingly, the servant of Abraham, though he had been 
commended to the guardianship of an angel, (Gen. 24: 7,) does not 
therefore invoke that angel to be present with him, but trusting to 
the commendation, pours out his prayers before the Lord, and 
entreats him to show mercy to Abraham. As God does not make angels 
the ministers of his power and goodness, that he may share his glory 
with them, so he does not promise his assistance by their 
instrumentality, that we may divide our confidence between him and 
them. Away, then, with that Platonic philosophy of seeking access to 
God by means of angels and courting them with the view of making God 
more propitious, (Plat. in Epinomide et Cratylo,) - a philosophy 
which presumptuous and superstitious men attempted at first to 
introduce into our religion, and which they persist in even to this 
    13. The tendency of all that Scripture teaches concerning 
devils is to put us on our guard against their wiles and 
machinations, that we may provide ourselves with weapons strong 
enough to drive away the most formidable foes. For when Satan is 
called the god and ruler of this world, the strong man armed, the 
prince of the power of the air, the roaring lion, the object of all 
these descriptions is to make us more cautious and vigilant, and 
more prepared for the contest. This is sometimes stated in distinct 
terms. For Peter, after describing the devil as a roaring lion going 
about seeking whom he may devour, immediately adds the exhortation, 
"whom resist steadfast in the faith," (1 Pet. 5: 9.) And Paul, after 
reminding us that we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but 
against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the 
darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places, 
immediately enjoins us to put on armour equal to so great and 
perilous a contest, (Ephes. 6: 12.) Wherefore, let this be the use 
to which we turn all these statements. Being forewarned of the 
constant presence of an enemy the most daring, the most powerful, 
the most crafty, the most indefatigable, the most completely 
equipped with all the engines and the most expert in the science of 
war, let us not allow ourselves to be overtaken by sloth or 
cowardice, but, on the contrary, with minds aroused and ever on the 
alert, let us stand ready to resist; and, knowing that this warfare 
is terminated only by death, let us study to persevere. Above all, 
fully conscious of our weakness and want of skill, let us invoke the 
help of God, and attempt nothing without trusting in him, since it 
is his alone to supply counsel, and strength, and courage, and arms. 
    14. That we may feel the more strongly urged to do so, the 
Scripture declares that the enemies who war against us are not one 
or two, or few in number, but a great host. Mary Magdalene is said 
to have been delivered from seven devils by which she was possessed; 
and our Saviour assures us that it is an ordinary circumstance, when 
a devil has been expelled, if access is again given to it, to take 
seven other spirits, more wicked than itself, and resume the vacant 
possession. Nay, one man is said to have been possessed by a whole 
legion. By this, then, we are taught that the number of enemies with 
whom we have to war is almost infinite, that we may not, from a 
contemptuous idea of the fewness of their numbers, be more remiss in 
the contest, or from imagining that an occasional truce is given us, 
indulge in sloth. In one Satan or devil being often mentioned in the 
singular number, the thing denoted is that domination of iniquity 
which is opposed to the reign of righteousness. For, as the Church 
and the communion of saints has Christ for its head, so the faction 
of the wicked and wickedness itself, is portrayed with its prince 
exercising supremacy. Hence the expression, "Depart, ye cursed, into 
everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels," (Matth. 
25: 41.) 
    15. One thing which ought to animate us to perpetual contest 
with the devil is, that he is everywhere called both our adversary 
and the adversary of God. 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 are animated with 
proper zeal to maintain the Kingdom of Christ, v. e must wage 
irreconcilable war with him who conspires its ruin. Again, 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. But such is the character given to Satan in the third 
chapter of Genesis, where he is seen seducing man from his 
allegiance to God, that he may both deprive God of his due honour, 
and plunge man headlong in destruction. Such, too, is the 
description given of him in the Gospels, (Matth. 13: 28,) where he 
is called the enemy, and is said to sow tares in order to corrupt 
the seed of eternal life. In one word, in all his actions we 
experience the truth of our Saviour's description, that he was "a 
murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth," (John 8: 
44.) Truth he assails with lies, light he obscures with darkness. 
The minds of men he involves in error; he stirs up hatred, inflames 
strife and war, and all in order that he may overthrow the kingdom 
of God, and drown men in eternal perdition with himself. Hence it is 
evident that his whole nature is depraved, mischievous, and 
malignant. There must be extreme depravity in a mind bent on 
assailing the glory of God and the salvation of man. This is 
intimated by John in his Epistle, when he says that he "sinneth from 
the beginning," (1 John 3: 8,) implying that he is the author, 
leader, and contriver of all malice and wickedness. 
    16. But as the devil was created by God, we must remember that 
this malice which we attribute to his nature is not from creation, 
but from depravation. Every thing damnable in him he brought upon 
himself, by his revolt and fall. Of this Scripture reminds us, lest, 
by believing that he was so created at first, we should ascribe to 
God what is most foreign to his nature. For this reason, Christ 
declares, (John 8: 44,) that Satan, when he lies, "speaketh of his 
own," and states the reason, "because he abode not in the truth." By 
saying that he abode not in the truth, he certainly intimates that 
he once was in the truth, and by calling him the father of lies, he 
puts it out of his power to charge God with the depravity of which 
he was himself the cause. But although the expressions are brief and 
not very explicit, they are amply sufficient to vindicate the 
majesty of God from every calumny. And what more does it concern us 
to know of devils? Some murmur because the Scripture does not in 
various passages give a distinct and regular exposition of Satan's 
fall, its cause, mode, date, and nature. But as these things are of 
no consequence to us, it was better, if not entirely to pass them in 
silence, at least only to touch lightly upon them. The Holy Spirit 
could not deign to feed curiosity with idle, unprofitable histories. 
We see it was the Lord's purpose to deliver nothing in his sacred 
oracles which we might not learn for edification. Therefore, instead 
of dwelling on superfluous matters, let it be sufficient for us 
briefly to hold, with regard to the nature of devils, that at their 
first creation they were the angels of God, but by revolting they 
both ruined themselves, and became the instruments of perdition to 
others. As it was useful to know this much, it is clearly taught by 
Peter and Jude; "God," they say, "spared not the angels that sinned, 
but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of 
darkness to be reserved unto judgement," (2 Pet. 2: 4; Jude ver. 6.) 
And Paul, by speaking of the elect angels, obviously draws a tacit 
contrast between them and reprobate angels. 
    17. With regard to the strife and war which Satan is said to 
wage with God, it must be understood with this qualification, that 
Satan cannot possibly do anything against the will and consent of 
God. For we read in the history of Job, that Satan appears in the 
presence of God to receive his commands, and dares not proceed to 
execute any enterprise until he is authorised. In the same way, when 
Ahab was to be deceived, he undertook to be a lying spirit in the 
mouth of all the prophets; and on being commissioned by the Lord, 
proceeds to do so. For this reason, also, the spirit which tormented 
Saul is said to be an evil spirit from the Lord, because he was, as 
it were, the scourge by which the misdeeds of the wicked king were 
punished. In another place it is said that the plagues of Egypt were 
inflicted by God through the instrumentality of wicked angels. In 
conformity with these particular examples, Paul declares generally 
that unbelievers are blinded by God, though he had previously 
described it as the doing of Satan. It is evident, therefore, that 
Satan is under the power of God, and is so ruled by his authority, 
that he must yield obedience to it. Moreover, though we say that 
Satan resists God, and does works at variance with His works, we at 
the same time maintain that this contrariety and opposition depend 
on the permission of God. I now speak not of Satan's will and 
endeavour, but only of the result. For the disposition of the devil 
being wicked, he has no inclination whatever to obey the divine 
will, but, on the contrary, is wholly bent on contumacy and 
rebellion. This much, therefore, he has of himself, and his own 
iniquity, that he eagerly, and of set purpose, opposes God, aiming 
at those things which he deems most contrary to the will of God. 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. 
    18. God thus turning the unclean spirits hither and thither at 
his pleasure, employs them in exercising believers by warring 
against them, assailing them with wiles, urging them with 
solicitations, pressing close upon them, disturbing, alarming, and 
occasionally wounding, but never conquering or oppressing them; 
whereas they hold the wicked in thraldom, exercise dominion over 
their minds and bodies, and employ them as bond-slaves in all kinds 
of iniquity. Because believers are disturbed by such enemies, they 
are addressed in such exhortations as these: "Neither give place to 
the devil;" "Your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh 
about seeking whom he may devour; whom resist steadfast in the 
faith," (Eph. 4: 27; 1 Pet. 5: 8.) Paul acknowledges that he was not 
exempt from this species of contest when he says, that for the 
purpose of subduing his pride, a messenger of Satan was sent to 
buffet him, (2 Cor. 12: 7.) This trial, therefore, is common to all 
the children of God. But as the promise of bruising Satan's head 
(Gen. 3: 15) applies alike to Christ and to all his members, 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 
labour on through the whole course of their lives, so as ultimately 
to gain the victory, though they meet with occasional defeats. We 
know how David, through the just anger of God, was left for a time 
to Satan, and by his instigation numbered the people, (2 Sam. 24: 
1;) nor without cause does Paul hold out a hope of pardon in case 
any should have become ensnared by the wiles of the devil, (2 Tim. 
2: 26.) Accordingly, he elsewhere shows that the promise above 
quoted commences in this life where the struggle is carried on, and 
that it is completed after the struggle is ended. His words are, 
"The God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly," (Rom. 
16: 20.) In our Head, indeed, this victory was always perfect, 
because the prince of the world "had nothing" in him, (John 14: 30;) 
but in us, who are his members, it is now partially obtained, and 
will be perfected when we shall have put off our mortal flesh, 
through which we are liable to infirmity, and shall have been filled 
with the energy of the Holy Spirit. In this way, when the kingdom of 
Christ is raised up and established, that of Satan falls, as our 
Lord himself expresses it, "I beheld Satan as lightning fall from 
heaven," (Luke 10: 18.) By these words, he confirmed the report 
which the apostles gave of the efficacy of their preaching. In like 
manner he says, "When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his 
goods are in peace. But when a stronger than he shall come upon him, 
and overcome him, he taketh from him all his armour wherein he 
trusted, and divideth his spoils," (Luke 11: 21, 22.) And to this 
end, Christ, by dying, overcame Satan, who had the power of death, 
(Heb. 2: 14,) and triumphed over all his hosts that they might not 
injure the Church, which otherwise would suffer from them every 
moment. For, (such being our weakness, and such his raging fury,) 
how could we withstand his manifold and unintermitted assaults for 
any period, however short, if we did not trust to the victory of our 
leader? God, therefore, does not allow Satan to have dominion over 
the souls of believers, but only gives over to his sway the impious 
and unbelieving, whom he deigns not to number among his flock. For 
the devil is said to have undisputed possession of this world until 
he is dispossessed by Christ. In like manner, he is said to blind 
all who do not believe the Gospel, and to do his own work in the 
children of disobedience. And justly; for all the wicked are vessels 
of wrath, and, accordingly, to whom should they be subjected but to 
the minister of the divine vengeance? In fine, they are said to be 
of their father the devil. For as believers are recognised to be the 
sons of God by bearing his image, so the wicked are properly 
regarded as the children of Satan, from having degenerated into his 
    19. Having above refuted that nugatory philosophy concerning 
the holy angels, which teaches that they are nothing but good 
motions or inspirations which God excites in the minds of men, we 
must here likewise refute those who foolishly allege that devils are 
nothing but bad affections or perturbations suggested by our carnal 
nature. The brief refutation is to be found in passages of Scripture 
on this subject, passages neither few nor obscure. First, when they 
are called unclean spirits and apostate angels, (Matth. 12: 43; 
Jude, verse 6,) who have degenerated from their original, the very 
terms sufficiently declare that they are not motions or affections 
of the mind, but truly, as they are called, minds or spirits endued 
with sense and intellect. In like manner, when the children of God 
are contrasted by John, and also by our Saviour, with the children 
of the devil, would not the contrast be absurd if the term devil 
meant nothing more than evil inspirations? And John adds still more 
emphatically, that the devil sinneth from the beginning, (1 John 3: 
8.) In like manner, when Jude introduces the archangel Michael 
contending with the devil, (Jude, verse 9,) he certainly contrasts a 
wicked and rebellious with a good angel. To this corresponds the 
account given in the Book of Job, that Satan appeared in the 
presence of God with the holy angels. But the clearest passages of 
all are those which make mention of the punishment which, from the 
judgement of God, they already begin to feel, and are to feel more 
especially at the resurrection, "What have we to do with thee, 
Jesus, thou Son of God? art thou come hither to torment us before 
the time?" (Matth. 8: 29;) and again, "Depart, ye cursed, into 
everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels," (Matth. 
25: 41.) Again, "If God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast 
them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness to be 
reserved unto judgement," &c., (2 Pet. 2: 4.) How absurd the 
expressions, that devils are doomed to eternal punishment, that fire 
is prepared for them, that they are even now excruciated and 
tormented by the glory of Christ, if there were truly no devils at 
all? But as all discussion on this subject is superfluous for those 
who give credit to the Word of God, while little is gained by 
quoting Scripture to those empty speculators whom nothing but 
novelty can please, I believe I have already done enough for my 
purpose, which was to put the pious on their guard against the 
delirious dreams with which restless men harass themselves and the 
simple. The subject, however, deserved to be touched upon, lest any, 
by embracing that errors should imagine they have no enemy and 
thereby be more remiss or less cautious in resisting. 
    20. Meanwhile, being placed in this most beautiful theatre, let 
us not decline to take a pious delight in the clear and manifest 
works of God. For, as we have elsewhere observed, though not the 
chief, it is, in point of order, the first evidence of faiths 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. Wherefore, in order 
that we may apprehend with true faith what it is necessary to know 
concerning God, it is of importance to attend to the history of the 
creation, as briefly recorded by Moses and afterwards more copiously 
illustrated by pious writers, more especially by Basil and Ambrose. 
From this history we learn that God, by the power of his Word and 
his Spirit, created the heavens and the earth out of nothing; that 
thereafter he produced things inanimate and animate of every kind, 
arranging an innumerable variety of objects in admirable order, 
giving each kind its proper nature, office, place, and station; at 
the same time, as all things were liable to corruption, providing 
for the perpetuation of each single species, cherishing some by 
secret methods, and, as it were, from time to time instilling new 
vigour into them, and bestowing on others a power of continuing 
their race, so preventing it from perishing at their own death. 
Heaven and earth being thus most richly adorned, and copiously 
supplied with all things, like a large and splendid mansion 
gorgeously constructed and exquisitely furnished, at length man was 
made - man, by the beauty of his person and his many noble 
endowments, the most glorious specimen of the works of God. But, as 
I have no intention to give the history of creation in detail, it is 
sufficient to have again thus briefly touched on it in passing. I 
have already reminded my reader, that the best course for him is to 
derive his knowledge of the subject from Moses and others who have 
carefully and faithfully transmitted an account of the creation. 
    21. It is unnecessary to dwell at length on the end that should 
be aimed at in considering the works of God. The subject has been in 
a great measure explained elsewhere, and in so far as required by 
our present work, may now be disposed of in a few words. Undoubtedly 
were one to attempt to speak in due terms of the inestimable wisdom, 
power, justice, and goodness of God, in the formation of the world, 
no grace or splendour of diction could equal the greatness of the 
subject. Still there can be no doubt that the Lord would have us 
constantly occupied with such holy meditation, in order that, while 
we contemplate the immense treasures of wisdom and goodness 
exhibited in the creatures as in so many mirrors, we may not only 
run our eye over them with a hasty, and, as it were, evanescent 
glance, but dwell long upon them, seriously and faithfully turn them 
in our minds, and every now and then bring them to recollection. But 
as the present work is of a didactic nature, we cannot fittingly 
enter on topics which require lengthened discourse. Therefore, in 
order to be compendious, let the reader understand that he has a 
genuine apprehension of the character of God as the Creator of the 
world; first, if he attends to the general rule, never thoughtlessly 
or obliviously to overlook the glorious perfections which God 
displays in his creatures; and, secondly, if he makes a self 
application of what he sees, so as to fix it deeply on his heart. 
The former is exemplified when we consider how great the Architect 
must be who framed and ordered the multitude of the starry host so 
admirably, that it is impossible to imagine a more glorious sight, 
so stationing some, and fixing them to particular spots that they 
cannot move; giving a freer course to others yet setting limits to 
their wanderings; so tempering the movement of the whole as to 
measure out day and night, months, years, and seasons, and at the 
same time so regulating the inequality of days as to prevent every 
thing like confusion. The former course is, moreover, exemplified 
when we attend to his power in sustaining the vast mass, and guiding 
the swift revolutions of the heavenly bodies, &c. These few examples 
sufficiently explain what is meant by recognising the divine 
perfections in the creation of the world. Were we to attempt to go 
over the whole subject we should never come to a conclusion, there 
being as many miracles of divine power, as many striking evidences 
of wisdom and goodness, as there are classes of objects, nay, as 
there are individual objects, great or small, throughout the 
    22. The other course which has a closer relation to faith 
remains to be considered, viz., that while we observe how God has 
destined all things for our good and salvation, we at the same time 
feel his power and grace, both in ourselves and in the great 
blessings which he has bestowed upon us; thence stirring up 
ourselves to confidence in him, to invocation, praise, and love. 
Moreover, as I lately observed, the Lord himself, by the very order 
of creation, has demonstrated that he created all things for the 
sake of man. Nor is it unimportant to observe, that he divided the 
formation of the world into six days, though it had been in no 
respect more difficult to complete the whole work, in all its parts, 
in one moment than by a gradual progression. But he was pleased to 
display his providence and paternal care towards us in this, that 
before he formed man, he provided whatever he foresaw would be 
useful and salutary to him. How ungrateful, then, were it to doubt 
whether we are cared for by this most excellent Parent, who we see 
cared for us even before we were born! How impious were it to 
tremble in distrust, lest we should one day be abandoned in our 
necessity by that kindness which, antecedent to our existence, 
displayed itself in a complete supply of all good things! Moreover, 
Moses tells us that everything which the world contains is liberally 
placed at our disposal. This God certainly did not that he might 
delude us with an empty form of donation. Nothing, therefore, which 
concerns our safety will ever be wanting. To conclude, in one word; 
as often as we call God the Creator of heaven and earth, let us 
remember that the distribution of all the things which he created 
are in his hand and power, but that we are his sons, whom he has 
undertaken to nourish and bring up in allegiance to him, that we may 
expect the substance of all good from him alone, and have full hope 
that he will never suffer us to be in want of things necessary to 
salvation, so as to leave us dependent on some other source; that in 
everything we desire we may address our prayers to him, and, in 
every benefit we receive, acknowledge his hand, and give him thanks; 
that thus allured by his great goodness and beneficence, we may 
study with our whole heart to love and serve him. 

Calvin, Institutes on the Christian Religion, Volume 1
(continued in part 13...)

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