20 Quotes from “Institutes of the Christian Religion: Book Four”

This is the fourth and final post in a four part series. The previous posts had a list of quotes from Book One, Book Two, and Book Three of Calvin’s Institutes. If you’re only going to read the quote lists of this four part volume, I’d encourage you to go back and read those lists as well. If you want to read the whole thing, you can purchase the volume here.

In Book One Calvin took up the topics of God, Scripture, and man’s knowledge of God and himself. Book Two deals primarily with God the Redeemer in Christ. In this he takes us through the topics of the fall, the Law, the incarnation, and the atonement. Book Three is concerned with the way in which we receive the grace of Christ — faith, justification, the Christian life, and more. Here in Book Four, Calvin writes about the external means by which God invites us into the church. In this, he covers topics related the church, the sacraments, and the civil magistrate. For a bit more background on all four books you can read an overview by Ligonier Ministries here.

Here are 20 of my favorite quotes from Book Four. Enjoy!

1. Book 4.1.5

Those who think that the authority of the doctrine is impaired by the insignificance of the men who are called to teach, betray their ingratitude; for among the many noble endowments with which God has adorned the human race, one of the most remarkable is, that he deigns to consecrate the mouths and tongues of men to his service, making his own voice to be heard in them.

2. Book 4.1.10

By these words [in 1 Timothy 3:15] Paul intimates, that to prevent the truth form perishing in the world, the church is its faithful guardian, because God has been pleased to preserve the pure preaching of his word by her instrumentality, and to exhibit himself to us as a parent while he feeds us with spiritual nourishment, and provides what ever is conducive to our salvation.

3. Book 4.1.21

Wherefore as during our whole lives we carry about with us the remains of sin, we could not continue in the church one single moment were we not sustained by the uninterrupted grace of God in forgiving our sins. On the other hand, the Lord has called his people to eternal salvation, and therefore they ought to consider that pardon for their sins is always ready. Hence let us surely hold that if we are admitted and engrafted into the body of the church, the forgiveness of sins has been bestowed, and is daily bestowed on us, in divine liberality, through the intervention of Christ’s merits, and the sanctification of the Spirit.

4. Book 4.3.11

For those whom the Lord has destined for this great office (of pastor) he previously provides with the armor which is requisite for the discharge of it, that they may not come empty and unprepared.

5. Book 4.5.15

For as robbers, after murdering their victims, divide the plunder, so these men, after extinguishing the light of God’s word, as if they had murdered the church, have imagined that whatever had been dedicated to pious uses was set down for prey and plunder.

6. Book 4.7.11

I am unwilling to take much trouble in refuting things which, by their extreme absurdity, plainly refute themselves.

7. Book 4.7.19

It is surely imperious enough for one man to appoint himself the judge of all, while he will not submit to the judgement of any. But what if he tyrannizes over the people of God? if he dissipates and lays wast the kingdom of Christ? if he troubles the whole church? if he convert the pastoral office into robbery? No, though he should be the most abandoned of all, he insists that none can call him to account.

8. Book 4.8.9

Here is the supreme power with which pastors of the church, by whatever name that are called, should be invested–namely, to dare all boldly for the word of God, compelling all the virtue, glory, wisdom, and rank of the world to yield and obey its majesty; to command all from the highest to the lowest, trusting to its power to build up the house of Christ and overthrow the house of Satan; to feed the sheep and chase away the wolves; to instruct and exhort the docile, to accuse, rebuke, and subdue the rebellious and petulant, to bind and loose; in fine, if need be, to fire and fulminate, but all in the word of God.

9. Book 4.10.7

If we duly consider that it is unlawful to transfer to man what God declares to belong only to himself, we shall see that this completely cuts off all the power claimed by those who would take it upon them to order anything in the church without authority from the word of God.

10. Book 4.12.8

For the object of excommunication being to bring the sinner to repentance and remove bad examples, in order that the name of Christ may not be evil spoken of, nor others tempted to the same evil courses: if we consider this we shall easily understand how far severity should be carried, and at what point it ought to cease.

11. Book 4.13.6

For the sacraments are a kind of mutual contracts by which the Lord conveys his mercy to us, and by it eternal life, while we in our turn promise him obedience.

12. Book 4.13.21

For if such is the efficacy of the cross of Christ, that it frees us from the curse of the divine law by which we are held bound, how much more must it rescue us from the extraneous chains which are nothing but the wily nets of Satan? There can be no doubt, therefore, that all on whom Christ shines with the light of his Gospel, he frees from all the snares in which they had entangled themselves through superstition.

13. Book 4.14.1

First, we must attend to what a sacrament is. It seems to me, then, a simple and appropriate definition to say, that it is an external sign, by which the Lord seals on our consciences his promises of good-will toward us, in order to sustain the weakness of our faith, and we in our turn testify our piety toward him, both before himself, and before angels as well as men.

14. Book 4.15.5

By these words (Romans 6:3, 4), he not only exhorts us to imitation of Christ, as if he had said, that we are admonished by baptism, in like manner as Christ died, to die to our lusts, and as he rose, to rise to righteousness; but he traces the matter much higher, that Christ by baptism has mad us partakers of his death, engrafting us into it. And as the twig derives substance and nourishment form the root to which it is attached, so those who receive baptism with true faith truly feel the efficacy of Christ’s death in the mortification of their flesh, and the efficacy of his resurrection in the quickening of the Spirit.

15. Book 4.15.14

For inasmuch as it is appointed to elevate, nourish, and confirm our faith, we are to receive it as from the hand of its author, being firmly persuaded that it is himself who speaks to us by means of the sign; that it is himself who washes and purifies us, and effaces the remembrance of our faults; that it is himself who makes us the partakers of his death, destroys the kingdom of Satan, subdues the power of concupiscence, no, makes us one with himself, that being clothed with him we may be accounted the children of God. These things, I say, we ought to feel as truly and certainly in our mind as we see our body washed, immersed, and surrounded with water.

16. Book 4.16.18

For as he, in order to wipe away the guilt of disobedience which had been committed in our flesh, assumed that very flesh, that in it he might, on our account, and in our stead, perform a perfect obedience, so he was conceived by the Holy Spirit, that, completely pervaded with his holiness in the flesh which he had assumed, he might transfuse it into us.

17. Book 4.17.2

This is the wondrous exchange mad by his boundless goodness. Having become with us the Son of man, he has made us with himself sons of God. By his own descent to the earth he has prepared our ascent to heaven. Having received our mortality, he has bestowed on us his immortality. Having undertaken our weakness, he has made us strong in his strength. Having submitted to our poverty, he has transferred to us his riches. Having taken upon himself the burden of unrighteousness with which we were oppressed, he has clothed us with righteousness.

18. Book 4.17.37

Here, again, we see what the aim of the sacrament is–namely, to keep us in remembrance of Christ’s death. When we are ordered to show for the Lord’s death till he come again, all that is meant is, that we should, with confession of the mouth, proclaim what our faith has recognized in the sacrament–i.e., that the death of Christ is our life.

19.  Book 4.18.17

We do not appear with our gifts in the presence of God without an intercessor. Christ is our Mediator, by whose intervention we offer ourselves and our all to the Father; he is our high priest, who, having entered into the upper sanctuary, opens up an access for us; he is the altar on which we lay our gifts, that whatever we do attempt, we may attempt it in him; he it is, I say, who “hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father” (Rev 1:6).

20. Book 4.19.27

But sacraments as containing a divine promise ought not to be appointed, either by angles or men, but by God only to whom alone it belongs to give the promise.