Repentance: the Fruit of Faith


1. Repentance as a consequence of faith

Even though we have taught in part how faith possesses Christ, and how through it we enjoy his benefits, this would still remain obscure if we did not add an explanation of the effects we feel. With good reason, the sum of the gospel is held to consist in repentance and forgiveness of sins [Luke 24:47; Acts 5:31]. Any discussion of faith, therefore, that omitted these two topics would be barren and mutilated and well-nigh useless. Now, both repentance and forgiveness of sins—that is, newness of life and free reconciliation—are conferred on us by Christ, and both are attained by us through faith. As a consequence, reason and the order of teaching demand that I begin to discuss both at this point. However, our immediate transition will be from faith to repentance. For when this topic is rightly understood it will better appear how man is justified by faith alone, and simple pardon; nevertheless actual holiness of life, so to speak, is not separated from free imputation of righteousness. Now it ought to be a fact beyond controversy that repentance not only constantly follows faith, but is also born of faith.3 For since pardon and forgiveness are offered through the preaching of the gospel e(b)in order that the sinner, freed from the tyranny of Satan, the yoke of sin, and the miserable bondage of vices, may cross over into the Kingdom of God, surely no one can embrace the grace of the gospel without betaking himself from the errors of his past life into the right way, and applying his whole effort to the practice of repentance. There are some, however, who suppose that repentance precedes faith,4 rather than flows from it, or is produced by it as fruit from a tree. Such persons have never known the power of repentance, band are moved to feel this way by an unduly slight argument.

2. Repentance has its foundation in the gospel, which faith embraces

Christ, they say, and John in their preaching first urge the people to repentance,5 then add that the Kingdom of Heaven has come near [Matt. 3:2; 4:17]. Such was the command the apostles received to preach; such was the order Paul followed, as Luke reports [Acts 20:21]. Yet while they superstitiously cling to the joining together of syllables, they disregard the meaning that binds these words together. For while Christ the Lord and John preach in this manner: "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand" [Matt. 3:2], do they not derive the reason for repenting from grace itself and the promise of salvation? Accordingly, therefore, their words mean the same thing as if they said, "Since the Kingdom of Heaven has come near, repent." For Matthew, when he has related that John so preached, teaches that the prophecy of Isaiah had been fulfilled in him: "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: prepare the way of the Lord, make straight the paths of our God" [Matt. 3:3; Isa. 40:3]. But in the prophet that voice is bidden to begin with comfort and glad tidings [Isa. 40:1–2]. Yet, when we refer the origin of repentance to faith we do not imagine some space of time during which it brings it to birth; but we mean to show that a man cannot apply himself seriously to repentance without knowing himself to belong to God. But no one is truly persuaded that he belongs to God unless he has first recognized God's grace. These matters will be more clearly discussed in what follows. Perhaps some have been deceived by the fact that many are overwhelmed by qualms of conscience or compelled to obedience before they are imbued with the knowledge of grace, nay, even taste it. And this is the initial fear that certain people reckon among the virtues, for they discern that it is close to true and just obedience.6 But here it is not a question of how variously Christ draws us to himself, or prepares us for the pursuit of godliness. I say only that no uprightness can be found except where that Spirit reigns that Christ received to communicate to his members. Secondly, I say that, according to the statement of the psalm: "There is propitiation with thee … that thou mayest be feared" [Ps. 130:4, Comm.], no one will ever reverence God but him who trusts that God is propitious to him. No one will gird himself willingly to observe the law but him who will be persuaded that God is pleased by his obedience. This tenderness in overlooking and tolerating vices is a sign of God's fatherly favor. Hosea's exhortation also shows this: "Come, let us return to Jehovah; for he has torn, and he will heal us; he has stricken, and he will cure us" [Hos. 6:1, cf. Vg.]. For the hope of pardon is added like a goad, that men may not sluggishly lie in their sins. But lacking any semblance of reason is the madness of those who, that they may begin from repentance, prescribe to their new converts certain days during which they must practice penance, and when these at length are over, admit them into communion of the grace of the gospel. I am speaking of very many of the Anabaptists, especially those who marvelously exult in being considered spiritual; and of their companions, the Jesuits, and like dregs. obviously, that giddy spirit brings forth such fruits that it limits to a paltry few days a repentance that for the Christian man ought to extend throughout his life.

3. Mortification and vivification

But ascertain men well versed in penance, even long before these times, meaning to speak simply and sincerely according to the rule of Scripture, said that it consists of two parts: mortification and vivification. Mortification they explain as sorrow of soul and dread conceived from the recognition of sin and the awareness of divine judgment. For when anyone has been brought into a true knowledge of sin, he then begins truly to hate and abhor sin; then he is heartily displeased with himself, he confesses himself miserable and lost and wishes to be another man. Furthermore, when he is touched by any sense of the judgment of God (for the one straightway follows the other) he then lies stricken and overthrown; humbled and cast down he trembles; he becomes discouraged and despairs. This is the first part of repentance, commonly called "contrition." "Vivification" they understand as the consolation that arises out of faith. That is, when a man is laid low by the consciousness of sin and stricken by the fear of God, and afterward looks to the goodness of God—to his mercy, grace, salvation, which is through Christ—he raises himself up, he takes heart, he recovers courage, and as it were, returns from death to life. Now these words, if only they have a right interpretation, express well enough the force of repentance; but when they understand vivification as the happiness that the mind receives after its perturbation and fear have been quieted, I do not agree. It means, rather, the desire to live in a holy and devoted manner, a desire arising from rebirth; as if it were said that man dies to himself that he may begin to live to God.

4. Penance under law and under gospel

Others, because they saw the various meanings of this word in Scripture, posited two forms of repentance. To distinguish them by some mark, they called one "repentance of the law." Through it the sinner, wounded by the branding of sin and stricken by dread of God's wrath, remains caught in that disturbed state and cannot extricate himself from it. The other they call "repentance of the gospel." Through it the sinner is indeed sorely afflicted, but rises above it and lays hold of Christ as medicine for his wound, comfort for his dread, the haven of his misery.11 They offer as examples of "repentance of the law" Cain [Gen. 4:13], Saul [1 Sam. 15:30], and Judas [Matt. 27:4]. While Scripture recounts their repentance to us, it represents them as acknowledging the gravity of their sin, and afraid of God's wrath; but since they conceived of God only as Avenger and Judge, that very thought overwhelmed them. Therefore their repentance was nothing but a sort of entryway of hell, which they had already entered in this life, and had begun to undergo punishment before the wrath of God's majesty. We see "gospel repentance" in all those who, made sore by the sting of sin but aroused and refreshed by trust in God's mercy, have turned to the Lord. When Hezekiah received the message of death, he was stricken with fear. But he wept and prayed, and looking to God's goodness, he recovered confidence [2 Kings 20:2; Isa. 38:2]. The Ninevites were troubled by a horrible threat of destruction; but putting on sackcloth and ashes, they prayed, hoping that the Lord might be turned toward them and be turned away from the fury of his wrath [Jonah 3:5, 9]. David confessed that he sinned greatly in taking a census of the people, but he added, "O Lord, … take away the iniquity of thy servant" [2 Sam. 24:10]. When he was rebuked by Nathan, David acknowledged his sin of adultery, and he fell down before the Lord, but at the same time he awaited pardon [2 Sam. 12:13, 16]. Such was the repentance of those who felt remorse of heart at Peter's preaching; but, trusting in God's goodness, they added: "Brethren, what shall we do?" [Acts 2:37]. Such, also, was Peter's own repentance; he wept bitterly indeed [Matt. 26:75; Luke 22:62], but he did not cease to hope.

(Repentance defined: explanation of its elements, mortification of the flesh and vivification of the spirit, 5–9)

5. Definition

Although all these things are true, yet the word "repentance" itself, so far as I can learn from Scripture, is to be understood otherwise. For their inclusion of faith under repentance disagrees with what Paul says in Acts: "Testifying both to Jews and Gentiles of repentance to God, and of faith … in Jesus Christ" [Acts 20:21]. There he reckons repentance and faith as two different things. What then? Can true repentance stand, apart from faith? Not at all. But even though they cannot be separated, they ought to be distinguished. As faith is not without hope, yet faith and hope are different things, so repentance and faith, although they are held together by a permanent bond, require to be joined rather than confused.

Indeed, I am aware of the fact that the whole of conversion to God is understood under the term "repentance," and faith is not the least part of conversion; but in what sense this is so will very readily appear when its force and nature are explained. The Hebrew word for "repentance" is derived from conversion or return; the Greek word, from change of mind or of intention. And the thing itself corresponds closely to the etymology of both words. The meaning is that, departing from ourselves, we turn to God, and having taken off our former mind, we put on a new. b(a)On this account, in my judgment, repentance can thus be well defined: it is the true turning of our life to God, a turning that arises from a pure and earnest fear of him; and it consists in the mortification of our flesh and of the old man, and in the vivification of the Spirit.

In that sense we must understand all those preachings by which either the prophets of old or the apostles later exhorted men of their time to repentance. For they were striving for this b(a)one thing: that, confused by their sins and pierced by the fear of divine judgment, they should fall down and humble themselves before him whom they had offended, and with true repentance return into the right path. Therefore these words are used interchangeably in the same sense: "Turn or return to the Lord," "repent," and "do penance" [Matt. 3:2]. Whence even the Sacred History says that "penance is done after God," where men who had lived wantonly in their own lusts, neglecting him, begin to obey his Word [1 Sam. 7:2–3] and are ready to go where their leader calls them. And John and Paul use the expression "Producing fruits worthy of repentance" [Luke 3:8; Acts 26:20; cf. Rom. 6:4] for leading a life that demonstrates and testifies in all its actions repentance of this sort.

6. Repentance as turning to God

But before we go farther, it will be useful to explain more clearly the definition that we have laid down. We must examine repentance mainly under three heads. First, when we call it a "turning of life to God," we require a transformation, not only in outward works, but in the soul itself. Only when it puts off its old nature does it bring forth the fruits of works in harmony with its renewal. The prophet, wishing to express this change, bids whom he calls to repentance to get themselves a new heart [Ezek. 18:31]. Moses, therefore, intending to show how the Israelites might repent and be duly turned to the Lord, often teaches that it be done with "all the heart" and "all the soul" [Deut. 6:5; 10:12; 30:2, 6, 10]. This expression we see frequently repeated by the prophets [Jer. 24:7]. Moses also, in calling it "circumcision of heart," searches the inmost emotions [Deut. 10:16; 30:6]. No passage, however, better reveals the true character of repentance than Jer., ch. 4: "If you return, O Israel," says the Lord, "return to me.… Plow up your arable land and do not sow among thorns. Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and remove the foreskin of your hearts" [vs. 1, 3–4]. See how he declares that they will achieve nothing in taking up the pursuit of righteousness unless wickedness be first of all cast out from their inmost heart. And to move them thoroughly he warns them that it is with God that they have to deal,16 with whom shifts avail nothing, for He hates a double heart [cf. James 1:8]. Isaiah for this reason satirizes the gauche efforts of hypocrites who were actively striving after outward repentance in ceremonies while they made no effort to undo the burden of injustice with which they bound the poor [Isa. 58:6]. There he also beautifully shows in what duties unfeigned repentance properly consists.

7. Repentance as induced by the fear of God?

The second point was our statement that repentance proceeds from an earnest fear of God. For, before the mind of the sinner inclines to repentance, it must be aroused by thinking upon divine judgment. When this thought is deeply and thoroughly fixed in mind—that God will someday mount his judgment seat to demand a reckoning of all words and deeds—it will not permit the miserable man to rest nor to breathe freely even for a moment without stirring him continually to reflect upon another mode of life whereby he may be able to stand firm in that judgment. For this reason, Scripture often mentions judgment when it urges to repentance, as in the prophecy of Jeremiah: "Lest perchance my wrath go forth like fire …, and there be no one to quench it, because of the evil of your doings" [Jer. 4:4 p.]. In Paul's sermon to the Athenians: "Although God has hitherto overlooked the times of this ignorance, he now calls upon all men everywhere to repent because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in equity" [Acts 17:30–31, cf. Vg.]. And in many other passages.

Sometimes by punishments already inflicted Scripture declares God to be judge in order that sinners may reflect on the greater punishments that threaten if they do not repent in time. You have an example of this in Deut., ch. 29 [vs. 19 ff.]. Inasmuch as conversion begins with dread and hatred of sin, the apostle makes "the sorrow … according to God" the cause of repentance [2 Cor. 7:10, cf. Vg.]. He calls it "sorrow … according to God" when we not only abhor punishment but hate and abominate sin itself, because we know that it displeases God. And no wonder! For if we were not sharply pricked, the slothfulness of our flesh could not be corrected. Indeed, these prickings would not have sufficed against its dullness and blockishness had God not penetrated more deeply in unsheathing his rods. There is, besides, an obstinacy that must be beaten down as if with hammers. Therefore, the depravity of our nature compels God to use severity in threatening us. For it would be vain for him gently to allure those who are asleep. I do not list the texts that we repeatedly come upon. There is also another reason why fear of God is the beginning of repentance. For even though the life of man be replete with all the virtues, if it is not directed to the worship of God, it can indeed be praised by the world; but in heaven it will be sheer abomination, since the chief part of righteousness is to render to God his right and honor, of which he is impiously defrauded when we do not intend to subject ourselves to his control.

8. Mortification and vivification as component parts of repentance

In the third place it remains for us to explain our statement that repentance consists of two parts: namely, mortification of the flesh and vivification of the spirit. The prophets express it clearly—although simply and rudely, in accordance with the capacity of the carnal folk—when they say: "Cease to do evil, and do good" [Ps. 36:8, 3, 27, conflated, Vg.]. Likewise, "Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do good; seek judgment; help the oppressed." [Isa. 1:16–17, cf. Vg., etc.] For when they recall man from evil, they demand the destruction of the whole flesh, which is full of evil and of perversity. It is a very hard and difficult thing to put off ourselves and to depart from our inborn disposition. Nor can we think of the flesh as completely destroyed unless we have wiped out whatever we have from ourselves. But since all emotions of the flesh are hostility against God [cf. Rom. 8:7], the first step toward obeying his law is to deny our own nature. Afterward, they designate the renewal by the fruits that follow from it—namely, righteousness, judgment, and mercy. It would not be enough duly to discharge such duties unless the mind itself and the heart first put on the inclination to righteousness, judgment, and mercy. That comes to pass when the Spirit of God so imbues our souls, steeped in his holiness, with both new thoughts and feelings, that they can be rightly considered new. Surely, as we are naturally turned away from God, unless self-denial precedes, we shall never approach that which is right. Therefore, we are very often enjoined to put off the old man, to renounce the world and the flesh, to bid our evil desires farewell, to be renewed in the spirit of our mind [Eph. 4:22–23]. Indeed, the very word "mortification" warns us how difficult it is to forget our previous nature. For from "mortification" we infer that we are not conformed to the fear of God and do not learn the rudiments of piety, unless we are violently slain by the sword of the Spirit and brought to nought. As if God had declared that for us to be reckoned among his children our common nature must die!

9. Rebirth in Christ!

Both things happen to us by participation in Christ. For if we truly partake in his death, "our old man is crucified by his power, and the body of sin perishes" [Rom. 6:6 p.], that the corruption of original nature may no longer thrive. If we share in his resurrection, through it we are raised up into newness of life to correspond with the righteousness of God. Therefore, in a word, I interpret repentance as regeneration, whose sole end is to restore in us the image of God that had been disfigured and all but obliterated through Adam's transgression. So the apostle teaches when he says: "Now we, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from glory to glory even as from the Spirit of the Lord" [2 Cor. 3:18]. Likewise, another passage: "Be ye renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new man which is after God created in righteousness and holiness of truth" [Eph. 4:23, Vg.]. "Putting on the new man … who is being renewed into the knowledge and the image of him who created him." [Col. 3:10, cf. Vg.] Accordingly, we are restored by this regeneration through the benefit of Christ into the righteousness of God; from which we had fallen through Adam. In this way it pleases the Lord fully to restore whomsoever he adopts into the inheritance of life. And indeed, this restoration does not take place in one moment or one day or one year; but through continual and sometimes even slow advances God wipes out in his elect the corruptions of the flesh, cleanses them of guilt, consecrates them to himself as temples renewing all their minds to true purity that they may practice repentance throughout their lives and know that this warfare will end only at death. All the greater is the depravity of that foul wrangler and apostate Staphylus, who babbles that I confuse the state of present life with heavenly glory when from Paul I interpret the image of God [2 Cor. 4:4] as "true holiness and righteousness" [cf. Eph. 4:24]. As if when anything is defined we should not seek its very integrity and perfection. Now this is not to deny a place for growth; rather I say, the closer any man comes to the likeness of God, the more the image of God shines in him. In order that believers may reach this goal, God assigns to them a race of repentance, which they are to run throughout their lives.

(Believers experience sanctification, but not sinless perfection in this life, 10–15)

10. Believers are still sinners

Thus, then, are the children of God freed through regeneration from bondage to sin. Yet they do not obtain full possession of freedom so as to feel no more annoyance from their flesh, but there still remains in them a continuing occasion for struggle whereby they may be exercised; and not only be exercised, but also better learn their own weakness. In this matter all writers of sounder judgment agree that there remains in a regenerate man a smoldering cinder of evil,19 from which desires continually leap forth to allure and spur him to commit sin. They also admit that the saints are as yet so bound by that disease of concupiscence that they cannot withstand being at times tickled and incited either to lust or to avarice or to ambition, or to other vices. And we do not need to labor much over investigating what ancient writers thought about this; Augustine alone will suffice for this purpose, since he faithfully and diligently collected the opinions of all. Let my readers, therefore, obtain from him whatever certainty they desire concerning the opinion of antiquity.

But between Augustine and us we can see that there is this difference of opinion: while he concedes that believers, as long as they dwell in mortal bodies, are so bound by inordinate desires that they are unable not to desire inordinately, yet he dare not call this disease "sin." Content to designate it with the term "weakness," he teaches that it becomes sin only when either act or consent follows the conceiving or apprehension of it, that is, when the will yields to the first strong inclination. We, on the other hand, deem it sin when man is tickled by any desire at all against the law of God. Indeed, we label "sin" that very depravity which begets in us desires of this sort. We accordingly teach that in the saints, until they are divested of mortal bodies, there is always sin; for in their flesh there resides that depravity of inordinate desiring which contends against righteousness. And Augustine does not always refrain from using the term "sin," as when he says: "Paul calls by the name 'sin,' the source from which all sins rise up into carnal desire. As far as this pertains to the saints, it loses its dominion on earth and perishes in heaven." By these words he admits that in so far as believers are subject to the inordinate desires of the flesh they are guilty of sin.

11. In believers sin has lost its dominion; but it still dwells in them

God is said to purge his church of all sin, in that through baptism he promises that grace of deliverance, and fulfills it in his elect [Eph. 5:26–27]. This statement we refer to the guilt of sin, rather than to the very substance of sin. God truly carries this out by regenerating his own people, so that the sway of sin is abolished in them. For the Spirit dispenses a power whereby they may gain the upper hand and become victors in the struggle. But sin ceases only to reign; it does not also cease to dwell in them. Accordingly, we say that the old man was so crucified [Rom. 6:6], and the law of sin [cf. Rom. 8:2] so abolished in the children of God, that some vestiges remain; not to rule over them, but to humble them by the consciousness of their own weakness. And we, indeed, admit that these traces are not imputed, as if they did not exist; but at the same time we contend that this comes to pass through the mercy of God, so that the saints—otherwise deservedly sinners and guilty before God—are freed from this guilt. And it will not be difficult for us to confirm this opinion, since there are clear testimonies to the fact in Scripture. What clearer testimony do we wish than what Paul exclaims in the seventh chapter of Romans? First, Paul speaks there as a man reborn [Rom. 7:6]. This we have shown in another place, and Augustine proves it with unassailable reasoning.23 I have nothing to say about the fact that he uses the words "evil" and "sin," so that they who wish to cry out against us can cavil at those words; yet who will deny that opposition to God's law is evil? Who will deny that hindrance to righteousness is sin? Who, in short, will not grant that guilt is involved wherever there is spiritual misery? But Paul proclaims all these facts concerning this disease.

Then we have a reliable indication from the law by which we can briefly deal with this whole question. For we are bidden to "love God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our faculties" [Deut. 6:5; Matt. 22:37]. Since all the capacities of our soul ought to be so filled with the love of God, it is certain that this precept is not fulfilled by those who can either retain in the heart a slight inclination or admit to the mind any thought at all that would lead them away from the love of God into vanity. What then? To be stirred by sudden emotions, to grasp in sense perception, to conceive in the mind—are not these powers of the soul? Therefore, when these lay themselves open to vain and depraved thoughts, do they not show themselves to be in such degree empty of the love of God? For this reason, he who does not admit that all desires of the flesh are sins, but that that disease of inordinately desiring which they call "tinder" is a wellspring of sin, must of necessity deny that the transgression of the law is sin.

12. What does "natural corruption" mean?

It may seem absurd to some that all desires by which man is by nature affected are so completely condemned—although they have been bestowed by God himself, the author of nature.25 To this I reply that we do not condemn those inclinations which God so engraved upon the character of man at his first creation, that they were eradicable only with humanity itself, but only those bold and unbridled impulses which contend against God's control. Now, all man's faculties are, on account of the depravity of nature, so vitiated and corrupted that in all his actions persistent disorder and intemperance threaten because these inclinations cannot be separated from such lack of restraint. Accordingly, we contend that they are vicious. Or, if you would have the matter summed up in fewer words, we teach that all human desires are evil, and charge them with sin—not in that they are natural, but because they are inordinate. Moreover, we hold that they are inordinate because nothing pure or sincere can come forth from a corrupt and polluted nature.

Nor does this teaching disagree as much with that of Augustine as appears on the surface. While he is too much afraid of the odium that the Pelagians endeavored to saddle upon him, he sometimes refrains from using the word "sin." Yet when he writes that, while the law of sin still remains in the saints, guilt alone is removed, he indicates clearly enough that he does not disagree very much with our meaning.

13. Augustine as witness to the sinfulness of believers

We shall bring forward some other statements from which it will better appear what he thought. In the second book of his treatise Against Julian, he says: "This law of sin is both remitted by spiritual regeneration and remains in mortal flesh. Remitted, namely, because guilt has been removed in the sacrament by which believers are regenerated. But it remains because it prompts the desires against which believers contend." Another passage: "Therefore, the law of sin which was also in the members of the great apostle himself is remitted in baptism, not ended." Another passage: "Ambrose called the law of sin 'iniquity,' the guilt of which was removed in baptism although it itself remains. For it is iniquitous that 'the flesh inordinately desires against the Spirit' " [Gal. 5:17]. Another passage: "Sin is dead in that guilt with which it held us; and until it be cured by the perfection of burial, though dead, it still rebels." The passage in Book V is even clearer: "Blindness of heart is at once sin, punishment of sin, and the cause of sin—sin because by it a man does not believe in God; punishment of sin because by it a proud heart is punished with due punishment; the cause of sin when something is committed through the error of the blind heart. In the same way, inordinate desire of the flesh, against which the good spirit yearns, is at once sin, the punishment of sin, and the cause of sin: it is sin because there inheres in it disobedience against the mind's dominion; the punishment of sin because it is in payment for the deserts of him who is disobedient; the cause of sin in him who consents by rebellion, or in him born by contagion." Here he calls it sin without any ambiguity because when error is laid low and truth strengthened he fears slanders less. In like manner, in Homily 41 on John, where without contention he speaks according to his very own understanding: If you serve the law of sin with your flesh, do what the apostle himself says: "Let not sin … reign in your mortal body to obey its lusts" [Rom. 6:12]. He does not say: "Let it not be," but "Let it not reign." So long as you live, sin must needs be in your members. At least let it be deprived of mastery. Let not what it bids be done. Those who claim that inordinate desire is no sin commonly quote James' saying by way of objection: "Desire after it has conceived, gives birth to sin" [James 1:15]. But this can be refuted without trouble. For unless we understand that he is speaking solely concerning evil works or actual sins, not even evil intention will be considered sin. But from the fact that he calls shameful acts and evil deeds the "offspring of inordinate desire" and applies the name "sin" to them, it straightway follows that inordinately desiring is an evil thing and damnable before God.

14. Against the illusion of perfection

Certain Anabaptists of our day conjure up some sort of frenzied excess instead of spiritual regeneration. The children of God, they assert, restored to the state of innocence, now need not take care to bridle the lust of the flesh, but should rather follow the Spirit as their guide, under whose impulsion they can never go astray. It would be incredible that a man's mind should fall into such madness, if they did not openly and haughtily blab this dogma of theirs. The thing is indeed monstrous! But it is fitting that those who have persuaded their minds to turn God's truth into falsehood should suffer such punishments for their sacrilegious boldness. Shall all choice between dishonest and honest, righteous and unrighteous, good and evil, virtue and vice, be thus taken away? "Such difference arises," they say, "from the curse of old Adam, from which we have been freed through Christ." Therefore, there will now be no difference between fornication and chastity, integrity and cunning, truth and falsehood, fair dealing and extortion. "Take away," say the Anabaptists, "vain fear—the Spirit will command no evil of you if you but yield yourself, confidently and boldly, to his prompting."30 Who would not be astonished at these monstrosities? Yet it is a popular philosophy among those who are blinded by the madness of lusts and have put off common sense.

But what sort of Christ, I beseech you, do they devise for us? And what sort of Spirit do they belch forth? For we recognize one Christ and one Spirit of Christ, whom the prophets have commended, the gospel proclaims as revealed to us, and of whom we hear no such thing. That Spirit is no patron of murder, fornication, drunkenness, pride, contention, avarice, or fraud; but the author of love, modesty, sobriety, moderation, peace, temperance, truth. The Spirit is not giddy—to run headlong, thoughtless, through right and wrong—but is full of wisdom and understanding rightly to discern between just and unjust. The Spirit does not stir up man to dissolute and unbridled license; but, according as it distinguishes between lawful and unlawful, it teaches man to keep measure and temperance. Yet why should we spend more effort in refuting this brutish madness? For Christians the Spirit of the Lord is not a disturbing apparition, which they have either brought forth in a dream or have received as fashioned by others. Rather, they earnestly seek a knowledge of him from the Scriptures, where these two things are taught concerning him.

First, he has been given to us for sanctification in order that he may bring us, purged of uncleanness and defilement, into obedience to God's righteousness. This obedience cannot stand except when the inordinate desires to which these men would slacken the reins have been tamed and subjugated. Second, we are purged by his sanctification in such a way that we are besieged by many vices and much weakness so long as we are encumbered with our body. Thus it comes about that, far removed from perfection, we must move steadily forward, and though entangled in vices, daily fight against them. From this it also follows that we must shake off sloth and carelessness, and watch with intent minds lest, unaware, we be overwhelmed by the stratagems of our flesh. Unless, perchance, we are confident that we have made greater progress than the apostle, who was still harassed by an angel of Satan [2 Cor. 12:7] "whereby his power was made perfect in weakness" [2 Cor. 12:9], and who in his own flesh unfeignedly represented that division between flesh and spirit [cf. Rom. 7:6 ff.].


Calvin, J. (2011). Institutes of the Christian Religion  (J. T. McNeill, Ed., F. L. Battles, Trans.) (Vol. 1, pp. 592–607). Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.

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