The Institutes of the Christian Religion (1)

Just finished the first book of Calvin’s Institutes, which covers the knowledge of God and the knowledge of man, and how those two are intricately connected. But even before that, he prefaces the whole thing with a letter to Francis I, the king of France. In it, he makes a sustained and persuasive argument against the 16th-century Catholic Church and for an orthodox understanding of faith that is firmly rooted in the Word and true grace. It’s rather good… good for Christians to read to see how to argue for the faith. An excerpt:

The sight of God’s glory defiled with manifest blasphemies does not much trouble them [the beuracracy of the Catholic Church], provided no one raises a finger against the primacy of the Apostolic See and against the authority of Holy Mother Church. Why, therefore, do they fight with such ferocity and bitterness for the Mass, purgatory, pilgrimages, and trifles of that sort, denying that there can be true godliness without a most explicit faith, so to speak, in such things, even though they prove nothing of them from God’s Word? Unless for them their “God is the belly”; their kitchen their religion! If these are taken away, they believe that they will not be Christians, not even men!

For, even though some glut themselves sumptuously while others gnaw upon meager crusts, still all live out of the same pot, a pot that without this fuel would not only grow cold but freeze through and through. Consequently, the one most concerned about his belly proves the sharpest contender for his faith. In fine, all men strive to goal: to keep either their rule intact or their belly full. No one gives the slightest indication of sincere zeal.

Calvin certainly wasn’t lacking in sincere zeal, as the whole book seems to indicate. This is not an intellectual exercise; this is real, pastoral theology even. It was originally designed to be for the layman… only in the later editions did it take on more of the difficult questions of his (and our) day. He spends plenty of this first book punching both Catholicism and heretical cults straight in the face.

I’ll blog about more of that in the days to come. The plan is to spend the remainder of the summer and part of the fall blogging my way through the Institutes. You know, for all the controversy that the name “Calvin” brings up today and the calls of man-centeredness that his name supposedly represents, I’m finding him to be incredibly precise in his interpretation of Scripture. This is the best thing I’m getting out of my reading: everything is based on Scripture! This is the only thing we have to offer anyone: no clever tricks or arguments. Just God through His Word. I pray it’s a boon for the faith of those that read this blog.


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  1. #1 by Martyn Link on July 2, 2009 - 12:06 pm

    Great to see you are reading the Institutes, and thanks for your thoughts on Book 1, I am in the middle of Book 3 and have found it a really stimulating journey. I’ve been blogging my journey throughout the first half of 2009 – you’d be welcome to stop by!
    Enjoy the next book, I will check in to see what you think…

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