Read Through Calvin’s Institutes: January Quotes

February 1, 2013 — 1 Comment

john calvin

At the beginning of the year, I started re-reading through Calvin’s Institutes. I saw that Bliss Spillar had put together an online reading group, but wanted to see how a month of keeping up with the reading went. I previously told you about my intention to read the church fathers, and of course there are the 6 big books I’m plodding through as well. Add to that reading for my teaching responsibilities, and now I’m back to having an unruly reading list. I didn’t want to overbook myself, so January was a trial month.

The results of the trial are that I decided to stick with Calvin and drop the fathers. Not permanently, because hey, it’s a 7 year trek. But, I found my reading in Calvin more soul-stirring and devotionally beneficial. Also, I think it’s a tad shorter than the father’s pace. Either way, I really enjoyed my time in Calvin and was reminded how impactful the Institutes were the first time I read through them (even though the pace then was a little frantic).

All that being said, at the end of every month, I’m going to post some quotes I found particularly compelling or interesting. Thankfully I’m reading out of Logos this time around, so Ctrl + C is my new best friend.

Let’s start with Calvin’s the bookends of Calvin’s opening section:

OUR wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But as these are connected together by many ties, it is not easy to determine which of the two precedes and gives birth to the other.

Every person, therefore, on coming to the knowledge of himself, is not only urged to seek God, but is also led as by the hand to find him. (I.i.1)

Then his bookends for section 2 of chapter 1:

On the other hand, it is evident that man never attains to a true self-knowledge until he have previously contemplated the face of God, and come down after such contemplation to look into himself.

But though the knowledge of God and the knowledge of ourselves are bound together by a mutual tie, due arrangement requires that we treat of the former in the first place, and then descend to the latter. (I.i.2)

Calvin continues on about knowledge of God:

For although no man will now, in the present ruin of the human race, perceive God to be either a father, or the author of salvation, or propitious in any respect, until Christ interpose to make our peace; still it is one thing to perceive that God our Maker supports us by his power, rules us by his providence, fosters us by his goodness, and visits us with all kinds of blessings, and another thing to embrace the grace of reconciliation offered to us in Christ. (I.ii.1)

And then about legit Christianity:

Such is pure and genuine religion, namely, confidence in God coupled with serious fear—fear, which both includes in it willing reverence, and brings along with it such legitimate worship as is prescribed by the law. And it ought to be more carefully considered that all men promiscuously do homage to God, but very few truly reverence him. On all hands there is abundance of ostentatious ceremonies, but sincerity of heart is rare. (I.ii.2)

On innate knowledge of God:

THAT there exists in the human minds and indeed by natural instinct, some sense of Deity, we hold to be beyond dispute, since God himself, to prevent any man from pretending ignorance, has endued all men with some idea of his Godhead, the memory of which he constantly renews and occasionally enlarges, that all to a man being aware that there is a God, and that he is their Maker, may be condemned by their own conscience when they neither worship him nor consecrate their lives to his service.

Therefore, when he chooses to worship wood and stone rather than be thought to have no God, it is evident how very strong this impression of a Deity must be; since it is more difficult to obliterate it from the mind of man, than to break down the feelings of his nature,—these certainly being broken down, when, in opposition to his natural haughtiness, he spontaneously humbles himself before the meanest object as an act of reverence to God. (I.iii.1)

On the incomprehensibility of God:

His essence, indeed, is incomprehensible, utterly transcending all human thought; but on each of his works his glory is engraven in characters so bright, so distinct, and so illustrious, that none, however dull and illiterate, can plead ignorance as their excuse. (I.v.1)

On the knowledge of God in creation:

THEREFORE, though the effulgence which is presented to every eye, both in the heavens and on the earth, leaves the ingratitude of man without excuse, since God, in order to bring the whole human race under the same condemnation, holds forth to all, without exception, a mirror of his Deity in his works, another and better help must be given to guide us properly to God as a Creator. (

On the source of sound doctrine:

If true religion is to beam upon us, our principle must be, that it is necessary to begin with heavenly teaching, and that it is impossible for any man to obtain even the minutest portion of right and sound doctrine without being a disciple of Scripture. Hence, the first step in true knowledge is taken, when we reverently embrace the testimony which God has been pleased therein to give of himself. For not only does faith, full and perfect faith, but all correct knowledge of God, originate in obedience. And surely in this respect God has with singular Providence provided for mankind in all ages. (

On Satanic counterfeiting:

I am not unaware, that as Satan often apes God, that he may by a fallacious resemblance the better insinuate himself into the minds of the simple, so he craftily disseminated the impious errors with which he deceived miserable men in an uncouth and semi-barbarous style, and frequently employed obsolete forms of expression in order to cloak his impostures. (I.vii.3)

On the necessity of extrabiblical words (in regard to discussing the Trinity):

If they call it a foreign term, because it cannot be pointed out in Scripture in so many syllables, they certainly impose an unjust law—a law which would condemn every interpretation of Scripture that is not composed of other words of Scripture. (I.xiii.3)

On the Trinity:

It seems to me, that nothing can be more admirable than the words of Gregory Nanzianzen: “ʼΟυ φθάνω το ἕι νοη̂σαι, καὶ τοι̂ς τρισὶ περιλάμπομαι οὐ φθάνω τὰ τρία διελει̂ν καὶ εὶς τὸ ἑν ἀναφέρομαι” (Greg. Nanzian. in Serm. de Sacro Baptis.). “I cannot think of the unity without being irradiated by the Trinity: I cannot distinguish between the Trinity without being carried up to the unity.” Therefore, let us beware of imagining such a Trinity of persons as will distract our thoughts, instead of bringing them instantly back to the unity. The words Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, certainly indicate a real distinction, not allowing us to suppose that they are merely epithets by which God is variously designated from his works. Still they indicate distinction only, not division. (I.xiii.17)

On the divinity of the Spirit:

Thus, too, the Spirit is called God absolutely by Christ himself. For nothing prevents us from holding that he is the entire spiritual essence of God, in which are comprehended Father, Son, and Spirit. This is plain from Scripture. For as God is there called a Spirit, so the Holy Spirit also, in so far as he is a hypostasis of the whole essence, is said to be both of God and from God. (I.xiii.20)

I’ve been sharing more quotes on Twitter using the hashtag #Calvin and #ICR. I’m planning to do more of that kind of thing (with other books), so I may end up needing to make a page on here explaining hashtags, which if you were curious, should be used like this, not to say things like #grateful or #humbled in order to indicate your emotional state regarding the status you just posted.

All in all though I’m looking forward to another month with Calvin, and if you’re down, it’s probably not too late to try and catch up if you can squeeze some extra reading in your schedule!


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I’m an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let’s connect!

One response to Read Through Calvin’s Institutes: January Quotes

  1. I’m actually reading through the Institutes.

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