John Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion Chapters Summary of Chapters 1 – 10

John Calvin teaches in his Institutes of Christian Religion in Chapters 1 – 10 his beliefs concerning God’s revelation to man in a post fall state , it’s implications on man’s response proving ultimately man only believes in God and offerers Him true reverence and love by the convicting and persuading power of the Holy Spirit to believe His Word wherein His nature and works are revealed as they were initially in creation.

To accomplish this teaching Calvin begins Chapter 1 with a statement which he will answer in the course of the next ten Chapters which is: “Our wisdom [apparently from man’s perspective of who God is] , insofar 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.” {pg 5}.

Calvin elaborates that God has revealed His nature and works as Creator to man in and through His creation and man as a creature knows God as his creator which includes His nature and works [i.e. natural theology – meaning man fully comprehends who God is including His goodness and severity in his natural, unregenerate state]. Yet man does not come to reverence and love God apart from the presentation of His Word and the conviction of His Spirit confirming the Word [in other words through regeneration or salvation].

In Chapter 1 Calvin says man should turn his thoughts towards God because it is obvious to man that his gifts are not from himself and that his very existence is from God. These gifts are a like a stream intended to lead us to God especially in light of our ruin as descendants of Adam and therefore should motivate our return to a relationship with God.

“Thus our feeling of ignorance vanity, want, weakness, in short, depravity and corruption, reminds us that in the Lord, and none but He [certainly not within ourselves] dwell the true light of wisdom, solid virtue and exuberant goodness. We are accordingly urged by our own evil things to consider the good things of God: and, indeed, we cannot aspire to Him in earnest until we have begun to be displeased with ourselves.” {pg 4}

Calvin continues that man cannot attain a true self-knowledge [meaning we know we are sinners – the opposite of God’s nature] without beholding the face of God. The Scripture witnesses to this truth  when the people who come near to God and behold His majesty cry out in terror and fear.

Chapter 2 leads us to understand that the supreme knowledge of God that brings forth our love for Him is the knowledge that everything flows from Him and He is the cause of all things. In His role as creator it is unrealistic to expect man to worship Him unless man perceives He is the source of all that is good and that piety [the union of reverence and love of God] and religion [which springs from piety] are present within man.

If you believe God is your creator and that He cares for His creation then your life should be conformed to His will. The ‘Pious Mind’ does not pursue a God of his own making, would be horrified at the idea of offending his God and thus brings about legitimate worship as prescribed by the Law or Word of God.

In Chapter 3 Calvin writes God has placed a seed of divinity in every man. When man worships wood and stone this act demonstrates the presence of this seed as does men who lead others into religious cults which they could not do unless the seed of divinity already existed within man.

In Chapter 4 Calvin says, even though divinity exists in every man yet in no man does the seed of divinity mature on its own effort. This immature seed produces the following results: man brings God down to his level; man imagines God in his own image; man denies the power of God; he develops a religious zeal that mocks God; man’s worship of God is based on lies; his thoughts of the true God is against his will; man wishes the tribunal that judges them would be overthrown; he continues to indulge in sin and their offerings are an offense to God.

In Chapter 5 Calvin discusses that God has both planted irreversibly the seed of religion within man and showed Himself through His creation. Therefore daily man is confronted with God’s existence and His glorious and beautiful attributes.

Evidence is this is that within creation you see even the most illiterate and ignorant peasant can discern God’s existence and glory; even man’s body bears witness to the genius of it’s maker; babies praise God; man created in God’s image is a greater being than a brute beast; man’s abilities to understand, remember and exist are from a divine creator; God’s power manifests itself in nature; God exercises His control over His creation that ultimately protects us; God’s blessings are His presence, wisdom and reconciliation with His creation; God is our judge: the righteous are blessed by Him;  the wicked and profane receive His judgment; there is a final judgment death; and sometimes wicked sinners are subdued by His mercy and wooed back to Himself with a parents fondness.

However, despite the brightness of God’s glory man remains dull to them and receive no benefits; man has never found God on his own; any religion founded by man was darkness; true religion comes from Mt. Zion; God Himself; though the world shows forth God’s glory it is not enough to convince man to believe; thus should we be stimulated to worship God and look for the hope of the next life; hence men if they remain untaught persevere in error; Even though we have not natural power to believe it is still no excuse.

Chapter 6  Thus God sends His word into the world to teach us Himself since man cannot clear up the confusion of the ‘impressions of Deity’ that have been showed to him through the seed of divinity and creation. Through His Word God declares there is a God to be worshipped and that He is that God.

When the Fathers heard this Word they knew it came forth from God because His Word was written in their hearts; the world speaks to all men of God’s glory yet His Word is where He teaches His people directly; in His providence He gave His Word only to the Jews  which meant all other nations labored in error.

In Chapter 7 Calvin writes that reluctantly men, still hard hearted and stiff necked, will acknowledge the Word is from God but that it has authority only if man says it does. However, Paul writes in Ephesians 2:20 the church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets which means the Word of God and the highest proof of scripture is uniformly from the character of Him whose word it is. Despite this His words will not obtain full credit in the hearts of men until they are sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit.

Chapter 8 Yet the scriptures are clearly effective to the end of making God known. The Scriptures are founded on the power of God (1 Cor. 2:5); the writing of the Holy Spirit is obvious; the Scriptures are not a new invention but surpass antiquity in their existence.

The people witnessed confirmation of the Law and its power through the prophet Moses. The scriptures have survived and born fruit thru centuries inspite of numerous attempts to eradicate them. Authority of scriptures sealed with the blood of the martyrs and the inward persuasion of the Holy Spirit.

Chapter 9 Calvin states The Holy Spirit works to confirm the existing Word of God and not to bring forth new truth. This is a rebuke to those men who say they have the Spirit of Christ yet deny nor have reverence for His Word.

False teachers say the Word is dead which is true to those without grace but when the Spirit impresses the Law upon the heart of a man it becomes the Word of Life. Converting the soul, and making wise the simple.

“We have no great certainty of the word itself until it be confirmed by the testimony of the Spirit.” (pg 45) Jesus said on the road to Emmaus His disciples were to understand the Word. The Spirit illuminates the Word.

In Chapter 10 Calvin concludes: God’s nature and works are revealed in Scripture through the Spirit as they are in natural life. “Moreover the knowledge of God which is set before us in the Scriptures is designed for the same purpose as that which shines in creation, i.e., that we may thereby learn to worship Him with integrity of heart and unfeigned obedience and also to depend entirely on His goodness.”


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