Front Page Titles (by Subject) Introduction - The Institutes of the Christian Religion
Introduction - John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion 
The Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1846). 2 volumes in 1.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
- Institutions of the Christian Religion.
- Prefatory Address to His Most Christian Majesty, the Most Mighty and Illustrious Monarch, Francis, King of the French, His Sovereign; 1 John Calvin Prays Peace and Salvation In Christ. 2
- The Epistle to the Reader.
- Subject of the Present Work.
- Epistle to the Reader.
- Method and Arrangement, Or Subject of the Whole Work.
- General Index of Chapters.
- Book First.: of the Knowledge of God the Creator.
- Chapter I.: The Knowledge of God and of Ourselves Mutually Connected.—nature of the Connection.
- Chapter II.: What It Is to Know God.—tendency of This Knowledge.
- Chapter III.: The Knowledge of God Naturally Implanted In the Human Mind.
- Chapter IV.: The Knowledge of God Stifled Or Corrupted, Ignorantly Or Maliciously.
- Chapter V.: The Knowledge of God Conspicuous In the Creation and Continual Government of the World.
- Chapter VI.: The Need of Scripture, As a Guide and Teacher, In Coming to God As a Creator.
- Chapter VII.: The Testimony of the Spirit Necessary to Give Full Authority to Scripture. the Impiety of Pretending That the Credibility of Scripture Depends On the Judgment of the Church.
- Chapter VIII.: The Credibility of Scripture Sufficiently Proved, In So Far As Natural Reason Admits.
- Chapter IX.: All the Principles of Piety Subverted By Fanatics, Who Substitute Revelations For Scripture.
- Chapter X.: In Scripture, the True God Opposed, Exclusively, to All the Gods of the Heathen.
- Chapter XI.: Impiety of Attributing a Visible Form to God.—the Setting Up of Idols a Defection From the True God.
- Chapter XII.: God Distinguished From Idols, That He May Be the Exclusive Object of Worship.
- Chapter XIII.: The Unity of the Divine Essence In Three Persons Taught, In Scripture, From the Foundation of the World.
- Chapter XIV.: In the Creation of the World, and All Things In It, the True God Distinguished By Certain Marks From Fictitious Gods.
- Chapter XV.: State In Which Man Was Created. the Faculties of the Soul—the Image of God—free Will—original Righteousness.
- Chapter XVI.: The World, Created By God, Still Cherished and Protected By Him. Each and All of Its Parts Governed By His Providence.
- Chapter XVII.: Use to Be Made of the Doctrine of Providence.
- Chapter XVIII.: The Instrumentality of the Wicked Employed By God, While He Continues Free From Every Taint. 1
- Book Second.: of the Knowledge of God the Redeemer, In Christ, As First Manifested to the Fathers, Under the Law, and Thereafter to Us Under the Gospel.
- Chapter I.: Through the Fall and Revolt of Adam, the Whole Human Race Made Accursed and Degenerate. of Original Sin.
- Chapter II.: Man Now Deprived of Freedom of Will, and Miserably Enslaved.
- Chapter III.: Everything Proceeding From the Corrupt Nature of Man Damnable.
- Chapter IV.: How God Works In the Hearts of Men.
- Chapter V.: The Arguments Usually Alleged In Support of Free Will Refuted.
- Chapter VI.: Redemption For Man Lost to Be Sought In Christ.
- Chapter VII.: The Law Given, Not to Retain a People For Itself, But to Keep Alive the Hope of Salvation In Christ Until His Advent.
- Chapter VIII.: Exposition of the Moral Law.
- First Commandment.: I Am the Lord Thy God, Which Brought Thee Out of the Land of Egypt, Out of the House of Bondage. Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods Before Me.
- Second Commandment.: Thou Shalt Not Make Unto Thee Any Graven Image, Or Any Likeness of Anything That Is In Heaven Above, Or That Is In the Earth Beneath, Or That Is In the Water Under the Earth: Thou Shalt Not Bow Down Thyself to Them, Nor Serve Them.
- Third Commandment.: Thou Shalt Not Take the Name of the Lord Thy God In Vain.
- Fourth Commandment.: Remember the Sabbath Day to Keep It Holy. Six Days Shalt Thou Labour and Do All Thy Work: But the Seventh Day Is the Sabbath of the Lord Thy God. In It Thou Shalt Not Do Any Work, &c.
- Fifth Commandment.: Honour Thy Father and Thy Mother, That Thy Days May Be Long Upon the Land Which the Lord Thy God Giveth Thee.
- Sixth Commandment.: Thou Shalt Not Kill.
- Seventh Commandment.: Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery.
- Eight Commandment.: Thou Shalt Not Steal.
- Ninth Commandment.: Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness Against Thy Neighbour.
- Tenth Commandment.: Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbour’s House, Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbour’s Wife, Nor His Man-servant, Nor His Maid-servant, Nor His Ox, Nor His Ass, Nor Any Thing That Is Thy Neighbour’s.
- Chapter IX.: Christ, Though Known to the Jews Under the Law, Yet Only Manifested Under the Gospel.
- Chapter X.: The Resemblance Between the Old Testament and the New. 1
- Chapter XI.: The Difference Between the Two Testaments.
- Chapter XII.: Christ, to Perform the Office of Mediator, Behoved to Become Man.
- Chapter XIII.: Christ Clothed With the True Substance of Human Nature.
- Chapter XIV.: How Two Natures Constitute the Person of the Mediator.
- Chapter XV.: Three Things Chiefly to Be Regarded In Christ—viz. His Offices of Prophet, King, and Priest.
- Chapter XVI.: How Christ Performed the Office of Redeemer In Procuring Our Salvation. the Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Christ.
- Chapter XVII.: Christ Rightly and Properly Said to Have Merited Grace and Salvation For Us.
- Book Third: the Mode of Obtaining the Grace of Christ. the Benefits It Confers, and the Effects Resulting From It.
- Chapter I.: The Benefits of Christ Made Available to Us By the Secret Operation of the Spirit.
- Chapter II.: Of Faith. the Definition of It. Its Peculiar Properties.
- Chapter III.: Regeneration By Faith. of Repentance.
- Chapter IV.: Penitence, As Explained In the Sophistical Jargon of the Schoolmen, Widely Different From the Purity Required By the Gospel. of Confession and Satisfaction.
- Chapter V.: Of the Modes of Supplementing Satisfaction—viz., Indulgences and Purgatory.
- Chapter VI.: The Life of a Christian Man. Scriptural Arguments Exhorting to It.
- Chapter VII.: A Summary of the Christian Life. of Self-denial. 1
- Chapter VIII.: Of Bearing the Cross—one Branch of Self-denial.
- Chapter IX.: Of Meditating On the Future Life.
- Chapter X.: How to Use the Present Life, and the Comforts of It.
- Chapter XI.: Of Justification By Faith. Both the Name and the Reality Defined.
- Chapter XII.: Necessity of Contemplating the Judgment-seat of God, In Order to Be Seriously Convinced of the Doctrine of Gratuitous Justification.
- Chapter XIII.: Two Things to Be Observed In Gratuitous Justification.
- Chapter XIV.: The Beginning of Justification. In What Sense Progressive.
- Chapter XV.: The Boasted Merit of Works Subversive Both of the Glory of God, In Bestowing Righteousness, and of the Certainty of Salvation.
- Chapter XVI.: Refutation of the Calumnies By Which It Is Attempted to Throw Odium On This Doctrine.
- Chapter XVII.: The Promises of the Law and the Gospel Reconciled.
- Chapter XVIII.: The Righteousness of Works Improperly Inferred From Rewards.
- Chapter XIX.: Of Christian Liberty.
- Chapter XX.: Of Prayer—a Perpetual Exercise of Faith. the Daily Benefits Derived From It.
- Chapter XXI.: Of the Eternal Election, By Which God Has Predestinated Some to Salvation, and Others to Destruction.
- Chapter XXII.: This Doctrine Confirmed By Proofs From Scripture.
- Chapter XXIII.: Refutation of the Calumnies By Which This Doctrine Is Always Unjustly Assailed.
- Chapter XXIV.: Election Confirmed By the Calling of God. the Reprobate Bring Upon Themselves the Righteous Destruction to Which They Are Doomed.
- Chapter XXV.: Of the Last Resurrection.
- Book Fourth.: of the Holy Catholic Church.
- Chapter I.: Of the True Church. Duty of Cultivating Unity With Her, As the Mother of All the Godly.
- Chapter II.: Comparison Between the False Church and the True.
- Chapter III.: Of the Teachers and Ministers of the Church. Their Election and Office.
- Chapter IV.: Of the State of the Primitive Church, and the Mode of Government In Use Before the Papacy.
- Chapter V.: The Ancient Form of Government Utterly Corrupted By the Tyranny of the Papacy.
- Chapter VI.: Of the Primacy of the Romish See.
- Chapter VII.: Of the Beginning and Rise of the Romish Papacy, Till It Attained a Height By Which the Liberty of the Church Was Destroyed, and All True Rule Overthrown.
- Chapter VIII.: Of the Power of the Church In Articles of Faith. the Unbridled Licence of the Papal Church In Destroying Purity of Doctrine.
- Chapter IX.: Of Councils and Their Authority. 1
- Chapter X.: Of the Power of Making Laws. the Cruelty of the Pope and His Adherents, In This Respect, In Tyrannically Oppressing and Destroying Souls.
- Chapter XI.: Of the Jurisdiction of the Church, and the Abuses of It, As Exemplified In the Papacy.
- Chapter XII.: Of the Discipline of the Church, and Its Principal Use In Censures and Excommunication.
- Chapter XIII.: Of Vows. the Miserable Entanglements Caused By Vowing Rashly.
- Chapter XIV.: Of the Sacraments.
- Chapter XV.: Of Baptism.
- Chapter XVI.: PÆdobaptism. Its Accordance With the Institution of Christ, and the Nature of the Sign.
- Chapter XVII.: Of the Lord’s Supper, and the Benefits Conferred By It.
- Chapter XVIII. 1: Of the Popish Mass. How It Not Only Profanes, But Annihilates the Lord’s Supper.
- Chapter XIX.: Of the Five Sacraments, Falsely So Called. Their Spuriousness Proved, and Their True Character Explained.
- Of Confirmation. 2
- Of Penitence.
- Of Extreme Unction, So Called.
- Of Ecclesiastical Orders.
- Of Marriage.
- Chapter XX.: Of Civil Government.
- One Hundred Aphorisms, * Containing, Within a Narrow Compass, the Substance and Order of the Four Books of the Institutes of the Christian Religion.
- Book I.
- Book II.
- Book III.
- Book IV.
The publication in English of another edition of the opus magnum of Christian theology is an event fraught with much encouragement. Notwithstanding the decadence so patent in our present-day world and particularly in the realm of Christian thought and life, the publishers have confidence that there is sufficient interest to warrant such an undertaking. If this faith is justified we have reason for thanksgiving to God. For what would be a better harbinger of another Reformation than widespread recourse to the earnest and sober study of the Word of God which would be evinced by the readiness carefully to peruse The Institutes of the Christian Religion.
Dr. B. B. Warfield in his admirable article, “On the Literary History of the Institutes,” has condensed for us the appraisal accorded Calvin’s work by the critics who have been most competent to judge. Among these tributes none expresses more adequately, and none with comparable terseness, the appraisal which is Calvin’s due than that of the learned Joseph Scaliger, “Solus inter theologos Calvinus.”
It would be a presumptuous undertaking to try to set forth all the reasons why Calvin holds that position of eminence in the history of Christian theology. By the grace and in the overruling providence of God there was the convergence of multiple factors, and all of these it would be impossible to trace in their various interrelations and interactions. One of these, however, calls for special mention. Calvin was an exegete and biblical theologian of the first rank. No other one factor comparably served to equip Calvin for the successful prosecution of his greatest work which in 1559 received its definitive edition.
The attitude to Scripture entertained by Calvin and the principles which guided him in its exposition are nowhere stated with more simplicity and fervor than in the Epistle Dedicatory to his first commentary, the commentary on the epistle to the Romans. “Such veneration,” he says, “we ought indeed to entertain for the Word of God, that we ought not to pervert it in the least degree by varying expositions; for its majesty is diminished, I know not how much, especially when not expounded with great discretion and with great sobriety. And if it be deemed a great wickedness to contaminate any thing that is dedicated to God, he surely cannot be endured, who, with impure, or even with unprepared hands, will handle that very thing, which of all things is the most sacred on earth. It is therefore an audacity, closely allied to a sacrilege, rashly to turn Scripture in any way we please, and to indulge our fancies as in sport; which has been done by many in former times” (English Translation, Grand Rapids, 1947, p. xxvii).
It was Calvin preeminently who set the pattern for the exercise of that sobriety which guards the science of exegesis against those distortions and perversions to which allegorizing methods are ever prone to subject the interpretation and application of Scripture. The debt we owe to Calvin in establishing sound canons of interpretation and in thus directing the future course of exegetical study is incalculable. It is only to be lamented that too frequently the preaching of Protestant and even Reformed communions has not been sufficiently grounded in the hermeneutical principles which Calvin so nobly exemplified.
One feature of Calvin’s exegetical work is his concern for the analogy of Scripture. He is always careful to take account of the unity and harmony of Scripture teaching. His expositions are not therefore afflicted with the vice of expounding particular passages without respect to the teaching of Scripture elsewhere and without respect to the system of truth set forth in the Word of God. His exegesis, in a word, is theologically oriented. It is this quality that lies close to that which was par excellence his genius.
However highly we assess Calvin’s exegetical talent and product, his eminence as an exegete must not be allowed to overshadow what was, after all, his greatest gift. He was par excellence a theologian. It was his systematizing genius preeminently that equipped him for the prosecution and completion of his masterpiece.
When we say that he was par excellence a theologian we must dissociate from our use of this word every notion that is suggestive of the purely speculative. No one has ever fulminated with more passion and eloquence against “vacuous and meteoric speculation” than has Calvin. And no one has ever been more keenly conscious that the theologian’s task was the humble and, at the same time, truly noble one of being a disciple of the Scripture. “No man,” he declares, “can have the least knowledge of true and sound doctrine, without having been a disciple of the Scripture. Hence originates all true wisdom, when we embrace with reverence the testimony which God hath been pleased therein to deliver concerning himself. For obedience is the source, not only of an absolutely perfect and complete faith, but of all right knowledge of God” (Inst. I, vi, 2). In the words of William Cunningham: “In theology there is, of course, no room for originality properly so called, for its whole materials are contained in the actual statements of God’s word; and he is the greatest and best theologian who has most accurately apprehended the meaning of the statements of Scripture — who, by comparing and combining them, has most fully and correctly brought out the whole mind of God on all the topics on which the Scriptures give us information — who classifies and digests the truths of Scripture in the way best fitted to commend them to the apprehension and acceptance of men — and who can most clearly and forcibly bring out their scriptural evidence, and most skillfully and effectively defend them against the assaults of adversaries . . . Calvin was far above the weakness of aiming at the invention of novelties in theology, or of wishing to be regarded as the discoverer of new opinions” (The Reformers and the Theology of the Reformation, Edinburgh, 1866, p. 296). As we bring even elementary understanding to bear upon our reading of the Institutes we shall immediately discover the profound sense of the majesty of God, veneration for the Word of God, and the jealous care for faithful exposition and systematization which were marked features of the author. And because of this we shall find the Institutes to be suffused with the warmth of godly fear. The Institutes is not only the classic of Christian theology; it is also a model of Christian devotion. For what Calvin sought to foster was that “pure and genuine religion” which consists in “faith united with the serious fear of God, such fear as may embrace voluntary reverence and draw along with it legitimate worship such as is prescribed in the law” (Inst. I, ii, 2).
* * *
The present edition is from the translation made by Henry Beveridge in 1845 for the Calvin Translation Society. The reader may be assured that the translation faithfully reflects the teaching of Calvin but must also bear in mind that no translation can perfectly convey the thought of the original. It may also be added that a more adequate translation of Calvin’s Institutes into English is a real desideratum. In fulfilling this need the translator or translators would perform the greatest service if the work of translation were supplemented by footnotes in which at crucial points, where translation is difficult or most accurate translation impossible, the Latin text would be reproduced and comment made on its more exact import. Furthermore, footnotes which would supply the reader with references to other places in Calvin’s writings where he deals with the same subject would be an invaluable help to students of Calvin and to the cause of truth. Admittedly such work requires linguistic skill of the highest order, thorough knowledge of Calvin’s writings, and deep sympathy with his theology. It would also involve prodigious labour. We may hope that the seed being sown by the present venture on the part of the Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company may bear fruit some day in such a harvest.
Professor of Systematic Theology,
Westminster Theological Seminary.