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Calvin'sInstitutes of the Christian Religion is one of the most important and straightforward works of theology ever written, yet so few people actually read it.
The Christian Heritage Series presents all four books of the Institutes in complete, unabridged, easy-to-read volumes. John Calvin certainly writes good theology, but he also writes with beauty and clarity—and both these aspects are captured in Beveridge’s translation. Calvin is concerned that readers not be puffed up with new knowledge, rather he wants us to be drawn to the majesty and holiness of God in order to know our sin and our need for grace. Read this classic to grow closer to God.
“What accords better and more aptly with faith than to acknowledge ourselves divested of all virtue that we may be clothed by God, devoid of all goodness that we may be filled by Him, the slaves of sin that He may give us freedom, blind that He may enlighten, lame that He may cure, and feeble that He may sustain us; to strip ourselves of all ground of glorying that He alone may shine forth glorious, and we be glorified in him?”~From Book I of the Institutes
Book 1 of theInstitutesis about the knowledge of God the creator. As Calvin observes, the knowledge of God and the knowledge of man are inextricably intertwined, and if we are to know ourselves rightly, we must have a knowledge of God’s holiness and majesty. However, since the human mind is an idol factory, our knowledge is so tainted and dim that we live in death and ignorance unless God’s grace intervenes. Here Calvin discusses God, natural law, human sinfulness, Scripture, the Trinity, and providence.
“The Word of God leaves no half life to man, but teaches, that, in regard to life and happiness, he has utterly perished. Paul, when he speaks of our redemption, says not that the half dead are cured (Eph. 2:5, 6; 5:14) but that those who were dead are raised up.”~From Book II of the Institutes
Book 2 of theInstitutesis about the knowledge of God the redeemer—Jesus Christ. Calvin captures the completeness of our redemption, explaining the depths of our sinfulness and the ways that Jesus Christ is present in both the old and new covenants. The law is a picture of Christ’s righteousness, and the gospel is the declaration of Christ’s redemption of us. Whether he’s unpacking the ten commandments or describing Christ as prophet, priest, and king, Calvin makes Jesus and his work on the cross the center of our theology.
“[Our] renewal, indeed, is not accomplished in a moment, a day, or a year, but by uninterrupted, sometimes even by slow progress God abolishes the remains of carnal corruption in His elect, cleanses them from pollution, and consecrates them as His temples, restoring all their inclinations to real purity, sothatduring their whole lives they may practice repentance, and know that death is the only termination to this warfare.”~From Book III of theInstitutes
Book 3 of theInstitutesis about the mode of procuring the grace of Christ, or what we might call individual salvation. Calvin does not get lost in technical terminology or relegate faith to mere intellectual belief. Instead, our individual salvation is the work of the Holy Spirit and results in faith, repentance, justification, and sanctification. Whether he is arguing against Catholic errors such as Purgatory or teaching about predestination or Christian liberty, Calvin shows the beauty of the utterly free forgiveness that we have in Jesus and how He who began a good work in us will surely complete it.
“For as God, regenerating us in baptism, ingrafts us into the fellowship of His Church, and makes us His by adoption, so we have said that He performs the office of a provident parent, in continually supplying the food by which He may sustain and preserve us in the life to which He has begotten us by His word. Moreover, Christ is the only food of our soul, and, therefore, our heavenly Father invites us to Him, that, refreshed by communion with Him, we may ever and anon gather new vigor until we reach the heavenly immortality.”~From Book IV of theInstitutes
Book 4 of theInstitutesis about the external helps by which God brings us in fellowship with Christ, three of the most notable being the Church, the sacraments, and the civil government. For Calvin, the Christian walk is never something an individual does in isolation, but involves pastors, elders, and deacons who preach the word, administer the sacraments, and exercise church discipline. Furthermore, God uses the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper to remind us of His grace towards us, and uses the magistrate as His deacon, taking vengeance on evil-doers and rewarding the righteous.