May 22, 2024

5 Cites in Calvin’s Institutes

Stephen Nichols
5 Cites in Calvin’s Institutes

John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion have been cherished by students of theology for centuries. Today, Stephen Nichols opens the Institutes and points us to five portions of this influential book.


Welcome back to another episode of 5 Minutes in Church History. Last week we visited five sites in Calvin’s Geneva, and today we will look at five cites or citations in Calvin’s Institutes. The first actually comes from the preface, which was addressed to King Francis I of France, and Calvin writes, “When I first set my hand to this work, nothing was farther from my mind, most glorious King, than to write something that might be afterward offered to your majesty. My purpose was solely to transmit certain rudiments by which those who are touched with any zeal for religion might be shaped to true godliness. And I undertook this labor, especially for our French countrymen, very many of whom I knew to be hungering and thirsting for Christ. But I saw very few who had been duly imbued with even a slight knowledge of Him.” And so there it is, the original audience for Calvin’s Institutes, his fellow French countrymen.

The next cite comes from those opening lines of book one “On the knowledge of God,” and with these famous words, Calvin writes, “Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts, the knowledge of God and the knowledge of ourselves.” He’ll go on to close this first paragraph with this line, “Accordingly, the knowledge of ourselves not only arouses us to seek God, but also as it were, leads us by the hand to find him.”

Well, our third cite in Calvin’s Institutes comes from book two, chapter twelve. This is on Christ as the God man and Calvin writes, “It was imperative that He who was to become a Redeemer be true God and true man. It was his task to follow up death: who but the Life could do this? It was his task to conquer sin: who but very Righteousness could do this? It was His task to route the powers of world and error: who but a power higher than world and error could do this? Now, where does life or righteousness or lordship and authority of heaven lie but within God alone? Therefore, our most merciful God when He willed that we be redeemed, made Himself our redeemer in the person of His only begotten Son.” And so, we have Christ, the God man.

For this next citation, we are turning to Calvin on justification. And here he writes, “Now he is justified who is reckoned in that condition, not of a sinner, but of a righteous man.” He says, “He is justified by faith who grasps the righteousness of Christ through faith and clothed in it appears in God’s sight, not as a sinner, but as a righteous man.” And then he offers this summary definition, “Therefore, we explain justification simply as the acceptance with which God receives us into his favor as righteous men. And we say that it consists in the remission of sins and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.”

Well, for our last cite in Calvin’s Institutes, let’s turn to his thoughts on vocation. This was a very important doctrine for the Reformers, and Calvin writes this, “The Lord bids each one of us in all of life’s actions to look to his callings. And he has named these various kinds of living vocations. Therefore, each individual has his own kind of living assigned to him by the Lord as a sort of century post so that he may not heedlessly wander about throughout life.” The century Post was a rather prized position. You had to be a significant, well-trained guard. And so, Calvin likens all our professions and at one point, Calvin is going to say, “Whether you are a pot washer or a pastor, you have your century post from God.” Well, there it is, five citations from Calvin’s Institutes and I’m Steve Nichols, and thanks for listening to 5 Minutes in Church History.