by John Calvin
Translation Henry Beveridge, Esq
Edinburgh: Printed for The Calvin Translation Society, 1845, 1848 pages
Subject of the Present Work
In order that my Readers may be the better able to profit by the present work, I am desirous briefly to point out the advantage which they may derive from it. For by so doing I will show them the end at which they ought to aim, and to which they ought to give their attention in reading it.
Although the Holy Scriptures contain a perfect doctrine, to which nothing can be added - our Lord having been pleased therein to unfold the infinite treasures of his wisdom - still every person, not intimately acquainted with them, stands in need of some guidance and direction, as to what he ought to look for in them, that he may not wander up and down, but pursue a certain path, and so attain the end to which the Holy Spirit invites him.
Hence it is the duty of those who have received from God more light than others to assist the simple in this matter, and, as it were, lend them their hand to guide and assist them in finding the sum of what God has been pleased to teach us in his word. Now, this cannot be better done in writing than by treating in succession of the principal matters which are comprised in Christian philosophy. For he who understands these will be prepared to make more progress in the school of God in one day than any other person in three months, inasmuch as he, in a great measure, knows to what he should refer each sentence, and has a rule by which to test whatever is presented to him.
Seeing, then, how necessary it was in this manner to aid those who desire to be instructed in the doctrine of salvation, I have endeavoured, according to the ability which God has given me, to employ myself in so doing, and with this view have composed the present book. And first I wrote it in Latin, that it might be serviceable to all studious persons, of what nation soever they might be; afterwards, desiring to communicate any fruit which might be in it to my French countrymen, I translated it into our own tongue. I dare not bear too strong a testimony in its favour, and declare how profitable the reading of it will be, lest I should seem to prize my own work too highly. However I may promise this much, that it will be a kind of key opening up to all the children of God a right and ready access to the understanding of the sacred volume. Wherefore, should our Lord give me henceforth means and opportunity of composing some Commentaries, I will use the greatest possible brevity, as there will be no occasion to make long digressions, seeing that I have in a manner deduced at length all the articles which pertain to Christianity.
And since we are bound to acknowledge that all truth and sound doctrine proceed from God, I will venture boldly to declare what I think of this work, acknowledging it to be God's work rather than mine. To him, indeed, the praise due to it must be ascribed. My opinion of the work then is this: I exhort all, who reverence the word of the Lord, to read it, and diligently imprint it on their memory, if they would, in the first place, have a summary of Christian doctrine, and, in the second place, an introduction to the profitable reading both of the Old and New Testament. When they shall have done so, they will know by experience that I have not wished to impose upon them with words. Should any one be unable to comprehend all that is contained in it, he must not, however, give it up in despair; but continue always to read on, hoping that one passage will give him a more familiar exposition of another. Above all things, I would recommend that recourse be had to Scripture in considering the proofs which I adduce from it.
Table of Contents
Original Translator's Preface
Prefatory Address to King Francis I of France.
Epistle to the Reader
Method and Arrangement. By Gaspar Olevian.
BOOK I. THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD THE CREATOR.
1. The Knowledge of God and That of Ourselves Are Connected. How They are Interrelated.
2. What it is to Know God, and to What Purpose the Knowledge of Him Tends.
3. The Knowledge of God Has Been Naturally Implanted in the Minds of Men.
4. This Knowledge is Either Smothered of Corrupted, Partly by Ignorance, Partly by Malice.
5. The Knowledge of God Shines Forth in the Fashioning of the Universe and the Continuing Government of It.
6. Scripture is Needed as Guide and Teacher for Anyone Who Would Come to God the Creator.
7. Scripture Must Be Confirmed by the Witness of the Spirit. Thus May Its Authority Be Established as Certain; and It is a Wicked Falsehood that Its Credibility Depends on the Judgment of the Church.
8. So Far as Human Reason Goes, Sufficiently Firm Proofs Are At Hand to Establish the Credibility of Scripture.
9. Fanatics, Abandoning Scripture and Flying Over to Revelation, Cast Down All the Principles of Godliness.
10. Scripture, to Correct All Superstition, Has Set the True God Alone Over Against All the Gods of the Heathen.
11. It is Unlawful to Attribute a Visible Form to God, and Generally Whoever Sets Up Idols Revolts Against the True God.
12. How God Is to Be So Distinguished from Idols that Perfect Honor May Be Given to Him Alone.
13. In Scripture, from the Creation Onward, We Are Taught One Essence of God, Which Contains Three Persons.
14. Even in the Creation of the Universe and of All Things, Scripture by Unmistakable Marks Distinguishes the True God from False Gods.
15. Discussion of Human Nature as Created, of the Faculties of the Soul, of the Image of God, of Free Will, and of the Original Integrity of Man's Nature.
16. God by His Power Nourishes and Maintains the World Created by Him, and Rules Its Several Parts by His Providence.
17. How We May Apply This Doctrine to Our Greatest Benefit.
18. God So Uses the Works of the Ungodly, and So Bends Their Minds to Carry Out His Judgments, that He Remains Pure from Every Stain.
BOOK II. THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD THE REDEEMER IN CHRIST, FIRST DISCLOSED TO THE FATHERS UNDER THE LAW, AND THEN TO US IN THE GOSPEL. 1. By the Fall and Revolt of Adam the Whole Human Race Was Delivered to the Curse, and Degenerated from Its Original Condition; the Doctrine of Original Sin.
2. Man Has Now Been Deprived of Freedom of Choice and Bound Over to Miserable Servitude.
3. Only Damnable Things Come Forth from Man's Corrupt Nature.
4. How God Works in Men's Hearts.
5. Refutation of the Objections Commonly Put Forward in Defense of Free Will.
6. Fallen Man Ought to Seek Redemption in Christ.
7. The Law Was Given, Not to Restrain the Folk of the Old Covenant Under Itself, but to Foster Hope of Salvation in Christ Until His Coming.
8. Explanation of the Moral Law (the Ten Commandments).
9. Christ, Although He Was Known to the Jews Under the Law, Was at Length Clearly Revealed Only in the Gospel.
10. The Similarity of the Old and New Testaments.
11. The Difference Between the Two Testaments.
12. Christ Had to Become Man in Order to Fulfill the Office of Mediator.
13. Christ Assumed the True Substance of Human Flesh.
14. How the Two Natures of the Mediator Make One Person.
15. To Know the Purpose for Which Christ Was Sent by the Father, and What He Conferred Upon Us, We Must Look Above All at Three Things in Him: the Prophetic Office, Kingship, and Priesthood.
16. How Christ Has Fulfilled the Function of Redeemer to Acquire Salvation for Us. Here, Also, His Death and Resurrection Are Discussed, as Well as His Ascent Into Heaven.
17. Christ Rightly and Properly Said to Have Merited God's Grace and Salvation for Us.
BOOK III. THE WAY IN WHICH WE RECEIVE THE GRACE OF CHRIST: WHAT BENEFITS COME TO US FROM IT, AND WHAT EFFECTS FOLLOW. 1. The Things Spoken Concerning Christ Profit Us by the Secret Working of the Spirit.
2. Faith: Its Definition Set Forth, and Its Properties Explained.
3 Our Regeneration by Faith: Repentance.
4. How Far from the Purity of the Gospel Is All That the Sophists in Their Schools Prate About Repentance; Discussion of Confession and Satisfaction.
5. The Supplements That They Add to Satisfactions, Namely, Indulgences and Purgatory.
6. The Life of the Christian Man; and First, by What Arguments Scripture Urges Us to It.
7. The Sum of the Christian Life: The Denial of Ourselves.
8. Bearing the Cross, a Part of Self-denial.
9. Meditation on the Future Life.
10. How We Must Use the Present Life and Its Helps.
11. Justification by Faith: First the Definition of the Word and of the Matter.
12. We Must Lift Up Our Minds to God's Judgment Seat that We May Be Firmly Convinced of His Free Justification.
13. Two Things to Be Noted in Free Justification.
14. The Beginning of Justification and Its Continual Progress.
15. Boasting About the Merits of Works Destroys Our Praise of God for Having Bestowed Righteousness, as Well as Our Assurance of Salvation.
16. Refutation of the False Accusations by Which the Papists Try to Cast Odium Upon This Doctrine.
17. The Agreement of the Promises of the Law and of the Gospel.
18. Works Righteousness Is Wrongly Inferred from Reward.
19. Christian Freedom.
20. Prayer, Which is the Chief Exercise of Faith, and by Which We Daily Receive God's Benefits.
21. Eternal Election, by Which God Has Predestined Some to Salvation, Others to Destruction.
22. Confirmation of This Doctrine from Scriptural Testimonies.
23. Refutation of the False Accusations with Which This Doctrine Has Always Been Unjustly Burdened.
24. Election Is Confirmed by God's Call; Moreover, the Wicked Bring Upon Themselves the Just Destruction to Which They Are Destined.
25. The Final Resurrection.
BOOK IV. THE EXTERNAL MEANS OR AIDS BY WHICH GOD INVITES US INTO THE SOCIETY OF CHRIST AND HOLDS US THEREIN.
1. Of the true Church. Duty of cultivating unity with her, as the mother of all the godly.
2. Comparison between the false church and the true.
3. Of the teachers and ministers of the Church. Their election and office.
4. Of the state of the primitive Church, and the mode of government in use before the papacy.
5. The ancient form of government utterly corrupted by the tyranny of the papacy.
6. Of the primacy of the Romish see.
7. 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.
8. Of the power of the church in articles of faith. The unbridled license of the papal church in destroying purity of doctrine.
9. Of councils and their authority.
10. Of the power of making laws. The cruelty of the pope and his adherents, in this respect, in tyrannically oppressing and destroying souls.
11. Of the jurisdiction of the church and the abuses of it, as exemplified in the papacy.
12. Of the discipline of the Church, and its principal use in censures and excommunication.
13. Of vows. The miserable entanglements caused by vowing rashly.
14. Of the sacraments.
15. Of Baptism.
16. Paedobaptism. Its accordance with the institution of Christ, and the nature of the sign.
17.Of the Lord's Supper, and the benefits conferred by it.
18. Of the Popish mass. How it not only profanes, but annihilates the Lord's Supper.
19. Of the five sacraments, falsely so called. Their spuriousness proved, and their true character explained.
20. Of civil government.