Quotes by John Calvin
Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But, while joined by many bonds, which one precedes and brings forth the other is not easy to discern… the knowledge of ourselves not only arouses us to seek God, but also, as it were, leads us by the hand to find Him… [But] it is certain that man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God’s face, and then descends from contemplating him to scrutinize himself.
Where riches hold the dominion of the heart, God has lost His authority. Covetousness makes us the slaves of the devil.
For men have no taste for [God’s power] till they are convinced of their need of it and they immediately forget its value unless they are conditionally reminded by awareness of their own weakness.
Let’s get rid of the inhuman philosophy which only allows necessities. Not only does it wrongly deprive us of legitimate enjoyment of God’s generosity, but it cannot be effected without depriving man of all his senses, reducing him to a block.
To know God as the Master and Bestower of all good things, who invites us to request them of Him, and still not go to Him and ask of Him – this would be of as little profit as for a man to neglect a treasure, buried and hidden in the earth, after it had been pointed out to him.
The external observance of the Sabbath rest is a Jewish ceremonial ordinance and no longer binding on Christians. Sabbatarians surpass the Jews three times over in a crass and carnal Sabbatarian superstition.
Thou. Lord, bruisest me. But I am abundantly satisfied since it is from Thy hand.
The testimony of the Spirit is superior to reason. For as God alone can properly bear witness to His own words, so these words will not obtain full credit in the hearts of men, until they are sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit… For though [Scripture] in its own majesty has enough to command reverence, nevertheless, it then begins truly to touch us when it is sealed in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.
Lawful worship consists in obedience alone.
Children, obey. Why does the apostle use the word obey instead of honor, which has a greater extent of meaning? It is because obedience is the evidence of that honor which children owe to their parents, and is therefore more earnestly enforced.
A dog barks when his master is attacked. I would be a coward if I saw that God’s truth is attacked and yet would remain silent.
All God’s promises depend upon Christ alone. This is a notable assertion and one of the main articles of our faith. It depends in turn upon another principle – that it is only in Christ that God the Father is graciously inclined towards us. His promises are the testimonies of His fatherly goodwill towards us. Thus it follows that they are fulfilled only in Christ… Secondly, we are incapable of possessing God’s promises till we have received the remission of our sins and that comes to us through Christ.
Now, in order that true religion may shine upon us, we ought to hold that it must take its beginning from heavenly doctrine and that no one can get even the slightest taste of right and sound doctrine unless he be a pupil of Scripture.
Faith brings a man empty to God, that he may be filled with the blessings of God.
For until men recognize that they owe everything to God, that they are nourished by His fatherly care, that He is the Author of their every good, that they should seek nothing beyond Him – they will never yield Him willing service. Nay, unless they establish their complete happiness in Him, they will never give themselves truly and sincerely to Him.
No one knows the one-hundredth part of the sin that clings to his soul.
Christ is much more powerful to save, than Adam was to destroy.
Justification is the main hinge on which salvation turns.
We must make the invisible kingdom visible in our midst.
Whether or not each believer has a single angel assigned to him for his defense, I dare not positively affirm.
Those who fall away have never been thoroughly imbued with the knowledge of Christ but only had a slight and passing taste of it.
Now, because no description can deal adequately with the gravity of God’s vengeance against the wicked, their torments and tortures are figuratively expressed to us by physical things, that is, by darkness, weeping, and gnashing of teeth (Mt. 8:12; 22:13), unquenchable fire (Mt. 3:12; Mk. 9:43; Isa. 66:24), an undying worm gnawing at the heart (Isa. 66:24). By such expressions the Holy Spirit certainly intended to confound all our senses with dread.
It is entirely by the intervention of Christ’s righteousness that we obtain justification before God. This is equivalent to saying that man is not just in himself, but that the righteousness of Christ is communicated to him by imputation, while he is strictly deserving of punishment.
The pastor ought to have two voices: one, for gathering the sheep; and another, for warding off and driving away wolves and thieves.
[Many] falsely suppose that the feelings, which God has implanted in us as natural, proceed only from a defect. Accordingly the perfecting of believers does not depend on their casting off all feelings, but on their yielding to them and controlling them, only for proper reason.
[Man never achieves] a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God’s face, and then descends from contemplating Him to scrutinize himself. For we always seem to ourselves righteous and upright and wise and holy – this pride is innate in all of us – unless by clear proofs we stand convinced of our own unrighteousness, foulness, folly, and impurity. Moreover, we are not thus convinced if we look merely to ourselves and not also to the Lord, who is the sole standard by which this judgment must be measured.
Believers do not pray with the view of informing God about things unknown to Him, or of exciting Him to do His duty, or of urging Him as though He were reluctant. On the contrary, they pray in order that they may arouse to seek Him, that they may exercise their faith in meditating on His promises, that they may relieve themselves from their anxieties by pouring them into His bosom; in a word, that they may declare that from Him alone they hope and expect, both for themselves and for others, all good things.
And we know how necessary it was that Christ should come forth as God and man; for salvation cannot be expected in any other way than from God; and Christ must confer salvation on us, and not only be its minister. And then, as He is God, He justifies us, regenerates us, illuminates us into a hope of eternal life; to conquer sin and death is doubtless what only can be effected by divine power. Hence Christ, except He was God, could not have performed what we had to expect from Him. It was also necessary that He should become man, that he might unite us to Himself; for we have no access to God, except we become the friends of Christ; and how can we be so made, except by a brotherly union?
Here is a beautiful antithesis. In ourselves we are scattered, in Christ we are gathered together. By nature we go astray and are driven headlong to destruction, in Christ we find the path that leads us to the gate of salvation. Our sins overwhelm us, but they are laid on Christ by whom we are unburdened. Therefore, when we were perishing and, alienated from God, were hastening to hell, Christ took upon Himself the filthy depths of our sins, to rescue us from eternal destruction.
As Christ is the end of the Law and the Gospel and has within Himself all the treasures of wisdom and understanding, so also is he the mark at which all heretics aim and direct their arrows.
[The one] who judges according to the word and law of the Lord, and forms his judgments by the rule of charity, always begins with subjecting himself to examination, and preserves a proper medium and order in his judgments.
Original sin, therefore, seems to be a hereditary depravity and corruption of our nature, diffused into all parts of the soul, which first makes us liable to God’s wrath, then also brings forth in us those works which Scripture calls “works of the flesh” [Gal. 5:19].
If we believe heaven to be our country, it is better for us to transmit our wealth thither, than to retain it here, where we may lose it by a sudden removal.
We see that our whole salvation and all its parts are comprehended in Christ. We should therefore take care not to derive the least portion of it from anywhere else. If we seek salvation, we are taught by the very name of Jesus that it is of Him. If we seek any other gifts of the Spirit, they will be found in His anointing. If we seek strength, it lies in His dominion; if purity, in His conception; if gentleness, it appears in His birth. For by His birth He was made like us in all respects, that He might learn to feel our pain. If we seek redemption, it lies in His passion; if acquittal, in His condemnation; if remission of the curse, in His cross; if satisfaction, in His sacrifice; if purification, in His blood; if reconciliation, in His descent into hell; if mortification of the flesh, in His tomb; if newness of life, in His resurrection; if immortality, in the same; if inheritance of the Heavenly Kingdom, in His entrance into heaven; if protection, if security, if abundant supply of all blessings, in His Kingdom; if untroubled expectation of judgment, in the power given to Him to judge. In short, since rich store of every kind of good abounds in Him, let us drink our fill from this fountain, and from no other.
Hypocrisy can plunge the mind of a man into a dark abyss, when he believes his own self-flattery instead of God’s verdict.
We should therefore learn that the only good we have is what the Lord has given us gratuitously; that the only good we do is what He does in us; that it is not that we do nothing ourselves, but that we act only when we have been acted upon, in other words under the direction and influence of the Holy Spirit.
Nothing will be ambiguous if we hold fast to what ought to be clear from the foregoing: that there are two kinds of call. There is the general call, by which God invites all equally to Himself through the outward preaching of the word – even those to whom He holds it out as a savor of death (cf. 2 Cor. 2:16), and as the occasion for severer condemnation. The other kind of call is special, which He designs for the most part to give to the believers alone, while by the inward illumination of His Spirit he causes the preached Word to dwell in their hearts.
When divisions are rife in religion, it is bound to happen that what is in men’s minds will soon erupt in real conflict. For while nothing is more effective for joining us together, and there is nothing which does more to unite our minds, and keep them peaceful, than agreement in religion, yet if disagreement has somehow arisen in connection with it, the inevitable result is that men are quickly stirred up to engage in fighting, and there is no other field with fiercer disputes
Let us consider this settled: that no one who has made progress in the school of Christ who does not joyfully await the day of death and final resurrection… Let us not hesitate to await the Lord’s coming, not only with longing, but also with groaning and sighs, as the happiest thing of all. He will come to us as Redeemer.
Men are never duly touched and impressed with a conviction of their insignificance until they have contrasted themselves with the majesty of God.
[The Lord] has given us a table at which to feast, not an altar on which a victim is to be offered; He has not consecrated priests to make sacrifice, but servants to distribute the sacred feast.
We must not think that [God] takes no notice of us, when He does not answer our wishes: for He has a right to distinguish what we actually need.
Those who disrupt form the body of Christ and split its unity into schisms are quite excluded from the hope of salvation, so long as they remain in dissidence of this kind.
The whole life of man until he is converted to Christ is a ruinous labyrinth of wanderings.
Our prayer must not be self-centered. It must arise not only because we feel our own need as a burden we must lay upon God, but also because we are so bound up in love for our fellow men that we feel their need as acutely as our own. To make intercession for men is the most powerful and practical way in which we can express our love for them.
Wherefore all theology, when separated from Christ, is not only vain and confused, but is also mad, deceitful, and spurious; for, though the philosophers sometimes utter excellent sayings, yet they have nothing but what is short-lived, and even mixed up with wicked and erroneous sentiments.
It is a sign of a perverse and treacherous disposition to wound the good name of another, when he has no opportunity of defending himself.
If we recognize the Spirit of God as the unique fountain of truth, we shall never despise the truth wherever it may appear, unless we wish to do dishonor to the Spirit of God.
The excellence of the church does not consist in multitude but in purity.
The church the gathering of God’s children, where they can be helped and fed like babies and then, guided by her motherly care, grow up to manhood in maturity of faith.
Whenever God reproves us, not only in words, but in reality, and reminds us of our sins, we do not so suffer for one fault as to be free for the future, but that until we from the heart repent, He ever sounds in our ears these words, Still God will contend with you: and a real contention is meant.
Repentance 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 the flesh and the renewing of the Spirit.
Let us say something about fasting, because many, for want of knowing its usefulness, undervalue its necessity, and some reject it as almost superfluous; while, on the other hand where the use of it is not well understood, it easily degenerates into superstition. Holy and legitimate fasting is directed to three ends; for we practice it either as a restraint on the flesh, to preserve it from licentiousness, or as a preparation for prayers and pious meditations, or as a testimony of our humiliation in the presence of God when we are desirous of confessing our guilt before him.
In the maxims of the law, God is seen as the rewarder of perfect righteousness and the avenger of sin. But in Christ, His face shines out, full of grace and gentleness to poor, unworthy sinners.
To search for wisdom apart from Christ means not simply foolhardiness but utter insanity.
Wherever we see the Word of God purely preached and heard, there a church of God exists, even if it swarms with many faults.
Can true repentance exist without faith? By no means. But although they cannot be separated, they ought to be distinguished.
Form the feeling of our own ignorance, vanity, poverty, infirmity, and – what is more – depravity and corruption, we recognize that the true light of wisdom, sound virtue, full abundance of every good, and purity of righteousness rest in the Lord alone. To this extent we are prompted by our own ills to contemplate the good things of God; and we cannot seriously aspire to Him before we begin to become displeased with ourselves… Accordingly, the knowledge of ourselves not only arouses us to seek God, but also, as it were, leads us by the hand to find Him.
For where love is wanting, the beauty of all virtue is mere tinsel, is empty sound, is not worth a straw, nay more, is offensive and disgusting.
The Lord bids each one of us in all life’s actions to look to his calling. For He knows with what great restlessness human nature flames, with what fickleness it is borne hither and thither, how its ambition longs to embrace various things at once. Therefore, lest through our stupidity and rashness everything be turned topsy-turvy, He has appointed duties for every man in his particular way of life. And that no one may thoughtlessly transgress his limits, He has named these various kinds of living “callings.” Therefore each individual has his own kind of living assigned to him by the Lord as a sort of sentry post so that he may not heedlessly wander throughout life.
While all men seek after happiness, scarcely one in a hundred looks for it from God.
The word hope I take for faith; and indeed hope is nothing else but the constancy of faith.
Wherever we find the Word of God surely preached and heard, and the sacraments administered according to the institution of Christ, there, it is not to be doubted, is a church of God.
Nothing is more dangerous than to be blinded by prosperity.
Every one of us is, even from his mother’s womb, a master craftsman of idols.
It is beyond dispute that some awareness of God exists in the human mind by natural instinct, since God Himself has given everyone some idea of Him so that no one can plead ignorance.
There is no inconsistency in saying that God rewards good works, provided we understand that nevertheless men obtain eternal life gratuitously.
Prosperity inebriates men, so that they take delights in their own merits.
However many blessings we expect from God, His infinite liberality will always exceed all our wishes and our thoughts.
Men cannot open their eyes without being compelled to see Him [and] wherever you cast your eyes, there is no spot in the universe wherein you cannot discern at least some sparks of His glory.
The fetus, though enclosed in the womb of its mother, is already a human being and it is a monstrous crime to rob it of the life which it has not yet begun to enjoy. If it seems more horrible to kill a man in his own house than in a field, because a man’s house is his place of most secure refuge, it ought surely to be deemed more atrocious to destroy a fetus in the womb before it has come to light.
Assuredly there is but one way in which to achieve what is not merely difficult but utterly against human nature: to love those who hate us, to repay their evil deeds with benefits, to return blessings for reproaches. It is that we remember not to consider men’s evil intention but to look upon the image of God in them, which cancels and effaces their transgressions, and with its beauty and dignity allures us to love and embrace them.
Let us consider this settled, that no one has made progress in the school of Christ who does not joyfully await the day of death and final resurrection.
When Christ returned to heaven, He withdrew His physical presence from our sight. He didn’t stop being with the disciples but by the ascension fulfilled His promise to be with us to the end of the world. As His body was raised to heaven, so His power and reign have spread to the uttermost parts.
Faith…is a steady and certain knowledge of the Divine benevolence towards us, which being founded on the truth of the gratuitous promise in Christ, is both revealed to our minds, and confirmed to our hearts, by the Holy Spirit.
No man should think he is giving less service to the one God when he obeys human laws, pays tax, or bows his head to accept any other burden.
Since no daily responses are given from heaven, and the Scriptures are the only record in which God has been pleased to consign His truth to perpetual remembrance, the full authority which they ought to possess with the faithful is not recognized unless they are believed to have come from heaven as directly as if God had been heard giving utterance to them.
Whatever we think valuable ought to be acknowledged as received from God. If then all the excellency we have is God’s gift, it is very strange that we do not learn humility when God thus binds us to Himself; but that, on the contrary, we abuse His bounty by making it the occasion of pride. This ingratitude has nevertheless ever prevailed in the world. This then is the reason why [God] reduces to nothing all the boastings of the world.
Whomever the Lord has adopted and deemed worthy of His fellowship ought to prepare themselves for a hard, toilsome, and unquiet life, crammed with very many and various kinds of evil. It is the Heavenly Father’s will thus to exercise them so as to put His own children to a definite test. Beginning with Christ, His first-born, He follows this plan with all His children.
I can say as to myself, that I have been assailed on all sides, and have scarcely been able to enjoy repose for a single moment, but have always had to sustain some conflict either from enemies without or within the church.
If the Lord himself teaches that the Church will struggle with the burden of countless sinners until the Day of Judgment, it is obviously futile to look for a Church totally free from faults.
The torture of a bad conscience is the hell of a living soul.
Let us know, then, that the true meaning of Scripture is the natural and obvious meaning; and let us embrace and abide by it resolutely. Let us not only neglect as doubtful, but boldly set aside as deadly corruptions those pretended expositions which lead us away from the natural meaning.
The moment any mention is made of Christian liberty lust begins to boil, or insane commotions arise, if a speedy restraint is not laid on those licentious spirits by whom the best things are perverted into the worst.
[Only those] who have learned well to be earnestly dissatisfied with themselves, and to be confounded with shame at their wretchedness [truly understand the Christian gospel].
When certain days are represented as holy in themselves, when one day is distinguished from another on religious grounds, when holy days are reckoned a part of divine worship, then days are improperly observed… When we, in the present age, make a distinction of days, we do not represent them as necessary, and thus lay a snare for the conscience; we do not reckon one day to be more holy than another; we do not make days to be the same thing with religion and the worship of God; but merely attend to the preservation of order and harmony. The observance of days among us is a free service, and void of all superstition.
[The elect] are gathered into Christ’s flock by a call not immediately at birth, and not all at the same time, but according as it pleases God to dispense His grace to them. But before they are gathered unto that supreme Shepherd, they wander scattered in the wilderness common to all; and they do not differ at all from others except that they are protected by God’s special mercy from rushing headlong into the final ruin of death.
The simple and external demonstration of the Word of God ought, indeed, to suffice fully for the production of faith, did not our blindness and perversity interfere. But such is the propensity of our minds to vanity that they can never adhere to the truth of God, and such is their dullness that they are always blind even to his light. Hence, without the illumination of the Holy Spirit the Word has no effect.
For until men recognize that they owe everything to God, that they are nourished by His fatherly care, that He is the Author of their every good, that they should seek nothing beyond Him — they will never yield Him willing service. Nay, unless they establish their complete happiness in Him, they will never give themselves truly and sincerely to Him.
The gospel is not a doctrine of the tongue, but of life. It cannot be grasped by reason and memory only, but it is fully understood when it possesses the whole soul and penetrates to the inner recesses of the heart.
Hell reigns wherever there is no peace with God.
Even on his deathbed, his friends pleaded with John Calvin to refrain from his labors. He replied: “What! Would you have the Lord find me idle when he comes?”