From Your Pastor: John Calvin’s ‘Institutes of the Christian Religion,’ Part 4

Calvin’s ‘Institutes’: Theological Content and Growth

Yale Church historian and Calvinian scholar Bruce Gordon writes that Calvin’s ‘Institutes’ went through revisions for more than twenty years because they embodied and reflected Calvin’s continuous study of Scripture, his deepening grasp of the theological tradition of patristic and medieval fathers, his pastoral experience, and the doctrinal controversies he was involved in over the years. Herman Selderhuis described this colorfully: “The ‘Institutes’ had drifted into the market as a sailboat, but by 1559 it had grown into a cargo ship, increasing from six to eighty chapters.”

Caspar Olevianus (1536-1587), now famous as the co-author of the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), seemed to have a real knack for concisely articulating biblical truths, summarized succinctly Calvin’s ‘Institutes’ in this way:

Man being at first created upright, but afterwards being not partially but totally ruined, finds his entire salvation out of himself in Christ, to whom being united by the Holy Spirit freely given, without any foresight of future works, he thereby obtains a double blessing—namely, full imputation of righteousness, which goes along with us even to the grave, and the commencement of sanctification, which daily advances till at length it is perfected in the day of regeneration or resurrection of the body, and this, in order that the great mercy of God may be celebrated in the heavenly mansions throughout eternity.

There are three primary editions of the “Institutes” from 1536 to 1559. The 1536 Institutes might be called “A Catechetical Institutes” (6 chapters). It is focused on grounding God’s people in the biblical faith like a catechism. The format was borrowed from Calvin’s first generation Reformation father, Martin Luther. It has six chapters: 1) Faith; 2) Commandments; 3) Lord’s Prayer; 4) Sacraments; 5) False Sacraments of Roman Catholicism; and 6) Christian Freedom and the relationship of the Christian to the church and the state. This 1536 first edition is a summary of the Christian faith that is like a catechism.

The second, and larger edition of 1539/1541 might be called “A Thematical, Biblical-Theological Institutes” (17 chapters). It is a noticeably larger expanision with seventeen chapters: 1) Knowledge of God; 2) Knowledge of Man and Freewill; 3) The Law; 4) Faith (Apostle’s Creed); 5) Repentance; 6) Justification by Faith and Good Works; 7) Similarities and Differences between the Old and New Testaments; 8) Predestination and Providence; 9) Prayer (Lord’s Prayer); 10) Sacraments; 11) Baptism; 12) Lord’s Supper; 13) Five Ceremonies Falsely Called Sacraments (contra Roman Catholicism); 14) Christian Freedom; 15) Power of the Church; 16) Civil Government; and 17) The Christian Life. This 1539/1541 edition is a handbook on the Christian Faith to help believers to study their bibles and to know the word of God. The format of this edition was built on Calvin’s comprehensive study of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, as well as some influences from Reformation fathers, Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560), (particularly Melanchthon’s Lutheran Theology entitled “Loci Communes” published first in 1521).

Here is an overview and summary of each chapter of Calvin’s ‘Institutes’ (1541 edition) with a memorable quote from Calvin for catechetical instruction for Christ’s Church:

  • Preface to King Francis I: “True Christians, True Church”
  • The Knowledge of God: “Covenant revealed knowledge of God as He is toward us”

Calvin: “All the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: knowledge of God and knowledge of ourselves.”

  • The Knowledge of Man and Free Will: “Covenant-image-bearer, but fallen through covenant breaking, and thus no longer free, but enslaved to sin”

Calvin: “Man, having been created in God’s image, was endowed with gifts and superior powers which testified to His Creator’s extraordinary generosity toward him…Through his ingratitude, he quickly made himself unworthy of all the benefits which God had given him. The heavenly image he bore therefore erased; being estranged from God by sin he was likewise deprived of his share in the blessings which can only be had in Him.”

  • The Law: “An enchanted mirror that reveals holy, just, good, and all-wise God, the reason for man’s existence, and the perfect, righteous, good man”

Calvin: “The Law reveals our need of God’s mercy … The Law is a standard of perfect righteousness.”

  • Faith, with an Explanation of the Apostle’s Creed: “Faith that is given by God that is not perfect, but rests entirely upon God’s truth with confidence and assurance”

Calvin: A firm and certain knowledge of God’s goodwill to us which, being founded on the free promise given in Jesus Christ, is revealed to our minds and sealed in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.”

  • Repentance: “The entire Christian Life from beginning to end should be characterized by repentance”

Calvin: “The essence of repentance is that, taking leave of ourselves, we turn to God, and forsaking our former thoughts and intentions we adopt new ones …It is a turning of our life to follow God and the path which He shows us, a turning produced by a genuine and unfeigned fear of God, and consisting in mortification of our flesh and of the old man, and in vivification of the Spirit.”

  • Justification by Faith and the Merits of Works: “Declared righteous based on the merit of Christ’s works, all of our works in Him accepted as His sons when brought in sincerity”

Calvin: “It teaches us to look away from our works and to look only to God’s mercy and to the perfect holiness of Christ …. A man is righteous not in himself but because Christ’s righteousness is made over to him by imputation.”

  • The Similarity and Difference between the Old and New Testaments: “One God, One People, One Covenant Story”

Calvin: “The covenant made with the fathers of old, in its substance and reality, is so similar to ours that it can be said to be the very same. It differs only in the way it is dispensed.”

  • The Predestination and Providence of God: “True believers will never lose their faith; true believers will never lose their way”

Calvin: “We can predestination God’s eternal counsel by which He has determined what He wishes to do with each and every person … Thus, according to the end for which a person has been created, we say that he is predestined to death or life … Providence is what we call the order which God observes in governing the world and in directing all things.”

  • Prayer, with an Explanation of Our Lord’s Prayer: “Faith makes itself known from one’s heart in communion and union with God”

Calvin: “We are taught by faith to know that all the goodness which we need and which we ourselves lack is in God and in His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom the Father has placed all the bounty of His blessing and grace, so that we may all draw from Him as from a most plentiful spring. It…remains for us to seek from Him what we know to be in Him, and to ask Him for it in prayer and supplication.”

  • The Sacraments: “Visible words of promises that bring the very presence of Christ and His grace, received by faith, sealed by the Holy Spirit”

Calvin: “It is an outward sign by which our Lord represents and testifies His goodwill toward us, in order to sustain and strengthen the weakness of our faith.”

  • Baptism: “Outward sign of an inward reality of regeneration and cleansing from sin authenticated by the Holy Spirit”

Calvin: “In the Gospel our washing and sanctification are proclaimed to us, and that by baptism this proclamation and message are signed and sealed.”

  • The Lord’s Supper: Outward sign of an inward reality of growth in faith and sanctification in Christ, authenticated by the Holy Spirit”

Calvin: “We call it the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist, because in it we are spiritually fed and nourished by the goodness of our Lord, and we in turn give Him thanks for His kindness.”

  • The Five Ceremonies Falsely Called Sacraments: Confirmation, Penance, Extreme Unction, Ecclesiastical Orders, and Marriage: “Primary tenants of ‘Romanism’/False Medieval Roman Catholic Religion of Idolatry”

Calvin: “…Belief in the seven sacraments has been so common among men and so widely discussed in debates and sermons, that from very early times it has been rooted in men’s hearts and is still embedded there. I thus thought it worthwhile to consider separately and more closely the remaining five, which are generally counted among the Lord’s sacraments, and having revealed their complete falsity, to show the untutored what they are like and how, up until now, they have been wrongly taken for sacraments.”

  • Christian Freedom: “Free to live as one was created to live under the authority of God and His Word, enjoying peace of conscience”

Calvin: “Freedom from bondage to the law in Christ … Freedom to obey without constraint God’s will … Freedom in the use of indifferent things.”

  • The Power of the Church: “Possessing the keys to the kingdom of God (special grace), given graciously by grace by Christ, to be administered as steward-servants under the authority of God’s special revelation in His Word”

Calvin: “Power is conferred solely by God’s Word. Those who rightly use such power look on themselves simply as Christ’s servants and as stewards of the mysteries of God.”

  • Civil Government: “Possessing the sword of the kingdom of God (common grace), given graciously by Christ, to be administered as steward-servants under the authority of God’s general revelation in His creation and in conscience”

Calvin: “Magistrates are God’s servants/ministers … They must remember that they are deputies of God, they must make every effort and take every care in all they do to represent to men an image of God’s providence, protection, goodness, mildness and justice.”

  • The Christian Life: “Lifelong learning that we are not our own, we are God’s, and we are therefore to learn to be like Christ in our love to God and neighbor, specifically in our self-denial in our cross-bearing pilgrimage, stewardship, and meditation upon the future life.

Calvin: “Scripture teaches that holiness is the purpose of our calling, which we must constantly keep in view if we would truly respond to God … A golden rule: we are not our own …Let us therefore forget ourselves as much as we can—ourselves and everything around us.”

In 1559, the descriptive heading (“book jacket blurb”) of the ‘Institutes’ read: “[The Institutes of the Christian Religion] now first arranged in four books and divided by definite headings in a very convenient manner so that it can almost be regarded as a new book.” The third, and final edition of 1559 might be called “A Mature, Pastoral-Theological Textbook” – Calvin’s Magnum Opus. It is expanded to four books or volumes, and eighty chapters. Calvin was especially quite pleased with the final edition and described it as practically a new book. What is remarkable about this is that in this more expansive and detailed treatment, Calvin’s content and argument are virtually unchanged.

“For I believe I have so embraced the sum of religion in all its parts, and have arranged it in such an order, that if anyone rightly grasps it, it will not be difficult for him to determine what he ought especially to seek in Scripture, and to that end he ought to relate its contents.” – Calvin’s preface of the 1559 ‘Institutes’

The contents of the 1559 edition as as follows: Book I: Knowledge of God the Creator: focusing on topics such as Triune God, Creation and Providence. This first book is what is termed “Theology Proper” in the study of systematic theology. Book II: Knowledge of God the Redeemer: focusing on the Person and Work of Jesus Christ for sinners; what is often termed “Christology” (Christology for Calvin is at the center of all of his theological teaching, from God’s predestination to covenant, to the fall of man, to redemption, to his understanding of word and sacrament, and to his teaching on the church of Jesus Christ). Book III: Knowledge of God the Spirit and the Application of Christ’s Redemption for Sinners. This focuses on God’s Spirit in uniting believers to all the blessing and benefits of Christ. This third book is called “Pneumatology”. Book IV: Knowledge of Christ the King, Lord of His Church. This fourth book focuses on the Church, Sacraments, Christian Freedom, including the relationship of the Christian to the church and the state. This fourth book is called “Ecclesiology”. The ‘Institutes’ is one of the most influential books ever written and has profoundly affected the course of history, and particularly has influenced mankind’s understanding of God, man, sin, grace, Christ, church, sacraments, the Christian life, along with music, the arts, literature, political theory, and so much more. Calvin in an amazingly brief section on his teaching concerning the civil authorities, planted the seeds for the birth of liberty in the modern world.


What are some of the Characteristics of the Institutes

“Biblical, Systematic, Polemical, Pastoral and Devotional”

Biblical: Calvin is teaching his students to always be learning between two primary errors: Ignorance on the one side and extreme curiosity on the other. “Speak where the Scripture speaks, and be silent where it is silent”. ‘Institutes’ is ultimately intended to be a guide and theological handbook to studying the Bible.

Systematic: Calvin gives a systematic, God-centered world and life view drawn completely from Holy Scripture and from the faithful and biblical writings of the fathers of the faith, who also drew from the well of Scripture. ‘Institutes’ has been described as “thoroughly logical and consistent, and gives the mind an organized way of thinking about God and His ways”. This can lead to faithful meditation on Scripture. His system was to be consistently Scriptural, and to achieve maximum clarity of presentation (McGrath).

Polemical: Calvin sought always to pastorally inform, but also to warn against and defend the truth against heresy and schismatics. Calvin’s primary antagonists and “conversation partners” were Roman Catholics, Anabaptists (“Libertines” or “Radical Reformers”), Lutherans, and Nicodemites. The ‘Institutes’ has been described as a ‘Book of Antitheses’. As Warfield taught however, Calvin’s aim was primarily constructive, not destructive; Calvin was seeking to rebuild the church after mean years of theological error in the Medieval Roman Catholic church.

Pastoral: Calvin writes with hungry souls in mind. Calvin was passing on to others what he knew and had experienced about God himself. “[Calvin’s double purpose in writing the ‘Institutes’] seeks to witness to the revelation of God in scripture, and it seeks to do so in language capable of moving hearts, minds, and wills of its audience toward an ever-deepening life of faith” (Serene Jones). Calvin sought brevity and clarity against the Medieval Scholastics whom he described their method as “so twisted, involved, tortuous, and puzzling…a kind of species of secret magic”.

Devotional: Warfield wrote: “It is not the head but the heart which made [Calvin] a theologian and it is not the head but the heart which he primarily addresses in his theology…” Calvin’s theology was with an aim to glorify the triune God, through loving Him with our hearts, minds, souls, strength, and our neighbor as ourselves. Piety or godliness was Calvin’s goal in writing the ‘Institutes’. Elsie McKee summarizes Calvin’s devotional goal:

“…Intensely personal but never individualistic. Woven through with the great doctrines of justification by faith and regeneration of life, the glory of God and providence. Undergirded with prayer, proclaimed in word and shared in sacraments, sung in psalms. Embodied in action and demanding respect for the neighbor and solidarity with those who suffer in spirit, mind, or body. Not an easy or comfortable piety; it asks for one’s all. Sturdy and down to earth, lived in the mundane context of daily work, yet always conscious of the presence of the transcendent God and the high calling of living before God. An energizing, lifelong response to God’s liberating claim, God’s righteous mercy, God’s compelling love, a belonging that is all our joy. ‘We are not our own…We are God’s!”

Let us pray with Calvin:

“Grant, Almighty God, since we are all lost in ourselves, that we may desire to obtain life where it is laid up for us and where you do manifest it, namely, in your Son. And grant that we so embrace this grace that has been exhibited to us in the sacrifice of His death that we may be regenerated by His Spirit. And thus being born again, may we devote ourselves wholly to you and so glorify your name in this world that we may at length be partakers of that glory that the same, your only Begotten Son, has acquired for us. Amen.”

To be continued…

Next study: Calvin’s Reformation of the Church in Geneva


Bibliography/For Further Reading

Beach, J. Mark. Piety’s Wisdom.

Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion (1541, Calvin’s Own Essentials Edition).

__________ Edited by John T. McNeill. Institutes of the Christian Religion (2 Volumes)

__________ Truth for All Time: A Brief Outline of the Christian Faith (trans. by Stuart Olyott).

Calhoun, David B. Knowing God and Ourselves: Reading Calvin’s Institutes Devotionally.

Godfrey, W. Robert. John Calvin: Pilgrim and Pastor.

Gordon, Bruce. John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion: A Biography.

_________. Calvin.

Hall, David W. and Lillback, Peter A. A Theological Guide to Calvin’s Institutes: Essays and Analysis (Calvin 500 Series).

Lane, Anthony N. S. A Reader’s Guide to Calvin’s Institutes.

Lawson, Steven J. The Expository Genius of John Calvin

McKee, Elsie Anne, ed. John Calvin: Writings on Pastoral Piety (Classics of Western Spirituality).

Parker, T. H. L. Calvin: An Introduction to His Thought

Schaff, Philip. History of the Christian Church, Vol. VIII: The Swiss Reformation

Selderhuis, Herman J. John Calvin: A Pilgrim’s Life.

________. The Calvin Handbook.

________. Calvin’s Theology of the Psalms.

Wendel, Francois. Calvin: Origins and Development of His Religious Thought

From Your Pastor: John Calvin’s ‘Institutes of the Christian Religion,’ Part 3

The Knowledge of God

“For I believe I have so embraced the sum of religion in all its parts, and have arranged it in such an order, that if anyone rightly grasps it, it will not be difficult for him to determine what he ought especially to seek in Scripture, and to that end he ought to relate its contents.” – Calvin’s preface of the 1559 ‘Institutes’

In 1536, young, twenty-something John Calvin would pen a theological classic that would place it in the stream of earlier Christian classics such as Saint Anselm’s ‘Why God Became Man’, Thomas Aquinas’ ‘Summa Theologiae’, and Thomas a Kempis’ ‘The Imitation of Christ’. This book was the ‘Institutes of the Christian Religion’.

As the quotation from Calvin from his preface of the 1559 edition of ‘Institutes’ states, it was Calvin’s desire to explain Scripture with a deep desire for Christians to know what they believed, and to worship and serve God. Calvin was not interested in just explaining the truth, nor in merely understanding the truth, but He desired to study with the goal of doxology, or the worship and service of God.Piety or godliness was Calvin’s primary concern. Calvin’s thinking can be summed up with the Apostle Paul: O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God…For from Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever! Amen (Romans 11:33-36). The knowledge of God was to lead to exalt the Triune God through transformative change and godly worship, all for His glory alone (Psalm 115:1)! There are three important biblical ideas found in the ‘Institutes’: 1) Knowledge of God; 2) True Religion; and 3) Piety. Calvin wrote:

I understand that by which we not only conceive that there is some God, but also apprehend what it is for our interest, and conducive to His glory, what, in short, it is befitting to know concerning Him. For, properly speaking, we cannot say that God is known where there is no religion or piety.

Calvin believed that God had revealed Himself in Holy Scripture so that sinful creatures could know how to enjoy an intimate relationship with the true and living God, to perform true worship of Him, and to live godly lives before Him. He wrote how we can test if our theology is actually true and biblical; he said: “Truth that does not seek to transform the knower is only the empty ghost of knowledge.” Further he wrote that “the theologian should find himself continually drawn on and inspired in his theological quest by a desire for communion and union with God.” As was said of the great Aurelius Augustine (387-430 AD): “Truth entire entered the whole man.”

Calvin believed with Anselm before him in the priority of faith as a gift of God that humbly submits to God’s revelation in Holy Scripture. Thus to have true knowledge, one must be given true faith. Our Lord Jesus said clearly: “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority” (John 7:17; cf. Eph. 2:8-10; Heb. 11:1, 6). This biblical-theological methodology of gaining knowledge is summarized as “faith seeking understanding” (Fides Quaerens Intellectum). In fact, Calvin believed with Anselm that the Christian ought to advance through faith in God’s revelation to true knowledge, not to come through knowledge to faith, nor, if she cannot know, recede from faith. But when one is about to attain knowledge, she rejoices; and if unable to understand, she reverences that which she is unable to grasp. In other words, whether one gets it or just grasps at it, it is to bring the Christian to her knees in adoration and glorious praise!

Contrasted with the speculative theology of much of the Medieval Roman Catholics, Calvin’s ‘Institutes’ focused man’s knowledge of God on what God had revealed about Himself. While the Medieval Scholastics tended to emphasize in their theological methodology “What is God in Himself?” (His essence), Calvin believed that one’s methodology of knowing began by asking “Who is God as He is toward us?” (His covenant revelation to His creatures). The focus of Calvin was on how has God revealed Himself in covenant toward us, as He has revealed Himself in Holy Scripture.

This true knowledge of God as it is revealed is with the purpose to invite us to fear God, to trust Him, and to worship Him with purity of life and genuine obedience as we depend upon His goodness toward us. You might say that Calvin and the faithful Medieval interpreters before him had everything in common metaphysically (having to do with God’s essence or being) concerning the knowledge of God, but almost nothing in common epistemologically (how one knows what they know). This was aggravated by two very different understandings of what a sinful man has the ability to do. For Calvin, though man was created reasonable with the ability to think (Eccl. 7:29), without the initiating power of God freeing man’s mind to faith, man would just irrationally refuse the reasonable revelation that is around, within, and in front of him (cf. Rom. 1:19-25; 1 Cor. 2:9-14)!

This was a remarkable change in doing theology. There is a strong covenantal influence upon Calvin’s theology both in form (methodology) and content (teaching/substance). For Calvin, knowledge of God was not God’s knowledge, but what humans can know of Him. Calvin warned that on the path to true wisdom and sound knowledge, one is to be one’s guard against three errors: (1) Ignorance (about God’s revelation), (2) Inappropriate and excessive curiosity (asking questions about God that hasn’t been revealed), and (3) Theological knowledge that did not transform one’s heart and life. This reveals the heart of Calvin as a theologian, to be a pastor-theologian. He desires to inform, to speak where Scripture speaks and to be silent where Scripture is silent (Deut. 29:29), and to expect personal transformation by the Spirit through true theological knowledge. This was the true and sound wisdom of his thesis:

“All the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: knowledge of God and knowledge of ourselves.”

True knowledge of God and sound and biblical wisdom understood that God’s existence was self-evident, though man refused to recognize this because of sin, that faith is to be seeking understanding and is not equal with reason because reason has been tainted by sin, and that arguments for the existence of God must never form our theological foundation, because the best one can do with what they know is to suppress, smother and corrupt the truth into idolatries and mythologies. Arguments for the existence of God could be props and good supports for faith, but only revelation from Holy Scripture should be the Christian’s foundation. What good is it if God has clearly revealed Himself, yet man denies it, or perverts it, or corrupts it, or seeks to smother it? What good is it to prove a god, but to not acknowledge the True and Living Triune God? Calvin taught that this was at best to commit idolatry and to rob the true God of his honor and glory!

Calvin knew that man’s whole self was tainted and marred by sin, and must be freed by God’s grace and power to be submissive from the heart to Scriptural revelation as it is revealed by the Spirit. God has clearly revealed Himself within man, and in creation, and so natural revelation is clear and natural theology is possible from what God has revealed. However, though the natural revelation is clear, because of sin’s taint on man’s heart and mind, natural theology is impossible. Man will never properly use the clear revelation in the “light of nature” to find the one and living true Triune God, but only idolatry or “my-theology” (mythology).

Though man can know much about God in creation and conscience, man’s understanding and heart smothers and corrupts this truth. Therefore, though God is clearly revealed, He has been kind to grant to us Holy Scripture. Calvin used the imagery of spectacles to describe what Scripture did for sinful man:

Just as old and bleary-eyed men or those with weak vision, if you thrust before them a most beautiful volume, even if they recognize it to be some sort of writing, yet can scarcely construe two words, but with the aid of spectacles will begin to read distinctly: so scripture, gathering up the otherwise confused knowledge of God in our minds, having dispersed our dullness, clearly shows us the true God.

Calvin’s ‘Institutes’ was his life’s teaching and writing project to help Christians to understand Holy Scripture and to have the spectacles that sinful man needed, while fully dependent upon the illuminating and enlightening of the work of the Holy Spirit. Calvin wrote:

“By this power [of the Holy Spirit] we are drawn and inflamed, knowingly and willingly, to obey Him, yet also more vitally and more effectively than by human willing or knowing” (Institutes, 1.7.5, 1559 edition).



To be continued…


Let us pray with Calvin:

“Grant, Almighty God, that since it is the principal part of our happiness that in our pilgrimage through this world there is open to us a familiar access to you by faith, O grant that we may be able to come with a pure heart into your presence. And when our lips are polluted, O purify us by your Spirit, so that we may not only pray to you with the mouth but also prove that we do this sincerely, without any dissimulations, and that we earnestly seek to spend our whole life in glorifying your name; until being at length gathered into your celestial kingdom, we may be truly and really united to you, and be made partakers of that glory, which has been brought forth for us by the blood of your only begotten Son. Amen.”


Next Study: Calvin’s Institutes, Part 4: Theological Content and Growth of Institutes



Bibliography/For Further Reading

Beach, J. Mark. Piety’s Wisdom: A Summary of Calvin’s Institutes with Study Questions.

Beeke, J, Hall, David W., and Haykin, Michael. Theology Made Practical: New Studies on John Calvin and His Legacy.

Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion (1541, Calvin’s Own Essentials Edition).

__________ Edited by John T. McNeill. Institutes of the Christian Religion (2 Volumes)

Calhoun, David B. Knowing God and Ourselves: Reading Calvin’s Institutes Devotionally.

Godfrey, W. Robert. John Calvin: Pilgrim and Pastor.

Gordon, Bruce. John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion: A Biography.

_________. Calvin.

Hall, David W. and Lillback, Peter A. A Theological Guide to Calvin’s Institutes: Essays and Analysis (Calvin 500 Series).

Lane, Anthony N. S. A Reader’s Guide to Calvin’s Institutes.

Lawson, Steven J. The Expository Genius of John Calvin

McKee, Elsie Anne, ed. John Calvin: Writings on Pastoral Piety (Classics of Western Spirituality).

Parker, T. H. L. Calvin: An Introduction to His Thought

Schaff, Philip. History of the Christian Church, Vol. VIII: The Swiss Reformation

Selderhuis, Herman J. John Calvin: A Pilgrim’s Life.

________. The Calvin Handbook.

________. Calvin’s Theology of the Psalms.

Wendel, Francois. Calvin: Origins and Development of His Religious Thought


From Your Pastor: John Calvin’s ‘Institutes of the Christian Religion,’ Part 2

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12).

Calvin addressed his ‘Institutes’ to King Francis I of France to seek to prove to him that reformed believers made up the one true, holy, apostolic, catholic church. Reformed believers were not sectarians nor troublemakers, but the true and faithful reformed catholic church. And because of this, reformed believers should be protected from severe and harsh persecution by the Roman Catholics in France. Calvin wrote to the king:

…Observing that certain wicked men had stirred up such fury in your kingdom that no place remained for wholesome doctrine, I thought it worthwhile to use the present book both for the instruction of those I had originally meant to teach, and as a confession of faith for yourself, so that you might know what this teaching is which so inflames the rage of those who today, by fire and sword, are troubling your kingdom. For I am not at all ashamed to say that here I have included almost the full sum of that very teaching which they [Roman Catholics] believe should be punished by prison, exile, banishment and fire, and which they shout should be driven from both land and sea.

….It is thus with good reason, most illustrious King, that I ask you to acquaint yourself thoroughly with this case, which up till now has been handled in a muddled way, with no respect for legal process, and with reckless zeal rather than with judicial calm and gravity…God’s poor little church has been either devoured by cruel deaths, driven into exile, or so overawed by threats and terrors that it dares not utter a word…In the meantime no one steps forward to offer a defense against their furious assaults (Prefatory Address to King Francis, ‘Institutes of the Christian Religion’).

Calvin as the trained lawyer, bravely wrote his ‘Institutes’ as an apologetic or defense against severe persecution in France by the Roman Catholic authorities. Calvin knew he had to speak up to oppose this tyranny and persecution, and so he appealed to King Francis I, whom he honored as a Lord and servant of God (Rom. 13:1ff).

Calvin’s ‘Institutes’ was written as an apologetic to defend suffering, persecuted Christians, but it is also a theology of suffering. Calvin teaches the reformed believers in the ‘Institutes’ how as Christians to understand their suffering and persecution, and how to trust in God’s fatherly kindness and good providence. In fact, one of Calvin’s most profoundly useful and practical teachings from Scripture is concerning God’s providence. He encouraged believers to meditate upon the fact that God orchestrates wisely and well all things that happen in our lives. He wrote:

“But anyone who has been taught by Christ’s lips that all the hairs of his head are numbered…will consider that all events are governed by God’s secret plan… [and] directed by God’s ever-present hand” (‘Institutes’, I.16.2, 1559 edition).

Calvin advised that when trouble comes in like a flood, and sorrow threatens to drown the heart with pain, believers can find spiritual comfort in knowing that the Lord ultimately willed it. Calvin advised all Christians to be prepared for a hard life, knowing all the difficult times have been ordained by a loving Heavenly Father who uses them to make us holy, humble, honest and Christ-like. Calvin wrote:

There are a thousand illnesses which constantly assail us, one after another. At one time the plague torments us, at another, war. Frost or hail may bring barrenness, and as a result threaten to impoverish us. Death may deprive us of wife, children, or other kin…Such things cause men to curse their life and to hate the day they were born; they rail against heaven and the light itself, insult God…accuse him of bring cruel and unjust.

By contrast, the believer should, in the midst of these things, be conscious of God’s mercy and of His fatherly good will…. Mindful that his heavenly Father is both just and kind in the chastisements he sends, he will learn to be patient. In short, whatever happens, he knows that everything comes from the Lord’s hand, and he will accept it calmly and not ungratefully…God’s hand alone governs fate, both good and bad.

…For all whom the Lord has adopted and received among the number of his children must prepare themselves for a tough, difficult life, full of toils and countless troubles. It is our heavenly Father’s good pleasure to test his servants in this way and thus to train them. This was the pattern which he began in Christ, His first-born Son, and which He continues in all His other children (‘Institutes’, chap. 17, 1541 edition).

Calvin lists some of the hard things that might happen to a believer in any given day, and thus the need to know our Heavenly Father’s kindness and help. He wrote:

Embark upon a ship, you are one step away from death. Mount a horse, if one foot slips, your life is imperiled. Go through the city street, you are subject to as many dangers as there are tiles on the roofs. If there is a weapon in your hand or a friend’s, harm awaits. All the fierce animals you see are armed for your destruction. But if you try to shut yourself up in a walled garden, seemingly delightful, there a serpent sometimes lies hidden. Your house, continually in danger of fire, threatens in the daytime to impoverish you, at night even to collapse upon you. Your field, since it is exposed to hail, frost, drought, and other calamities, threatens you with barrenness, and hence, famine.

I pass over poisonings, ambushes, robberies, open violence, which in part besiege us at home, in part dog us abroad. Amid these tribulations must not man be most miserable, since, but half alive in life, he weakly draws his anxious and languid breath, as if he had a sword perpetually hanging over his neck” (‘Institutes’, 1.17.10, 1559 edition).

Calvin knew from biblical teaching that the doctrine of providence teaches believers that God is in control, and, confidently knowing that, our fear and anxiety can give way to comfort, assurance, and courage in the face of danger and especially in times of persecution. Calvin’s ‘Institutes’ armed reformed believers with the sword of biblical truth so that they could live their lives free from worry and anxiety, and full of joy in fellowship with their Savior, even in times of treacherous persecution.

And the persecution in France was long and treacherous during Calvin’s time. Studying theology and confessing one’s faith was no joke; it was a serious matter, as it should always be. As late moderns, we can find ourselves taking for granted what we believe and know (if we are interested in it at all!). We might admit that we can often study theology just for the thrill of more knowledge, but we should be reminded that in Calvin’s time the study of biblical, reformed theology and the profession of one’s faith was a matter of life and death (and this is the same for the majority of Christians throughout the world today!). Remember the words of our Lord Jesus:

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:18-19).


To get a taste of the awful persecution during Calvin’s time, let us listen to an eye-witness description of the execution of a reformed evangelical in France (this is from the testimony of a German Roman Catholic student who was studying in Paris, France):

“I saw two [evangelicals/reformed believers] burned there [in Paris, France]. Their death inspired in me differing sentiments. If you had been there, you would have hoped for a less severe punishment for these poor unfortunates….The first was a very young man, not yet with a beard…he was the son of a cobbler. He was brought in front of the judges and condemned to have his tongue cut out and burned straight afterward. Without changing the expression of his face, the young man presented his tongue to the executioner’s knife, sticking it out as far as he could.

The executioner pulled it out even further with pincers, cut it off, and hit the sufferer several times on the tongue and threw it in the young man’s face. Then he was put into a tipcart, which was driven to the place of execution, but, to see him, one would think that he was going to a feast….When the chain had been placed around his body, I could not describe to you with what equanimity of soul and with what expression in his features he endured the cries of elation and the insults of the crowd that were directed towards him. He did not make a sound, but from time to time he spat out the blood that was filling his mouth, and he lifted his eyes to heaven, as if he was waiting some miraculous rescue.

When his head was covered in sulphur, the executioner showed him the fire with a menacing air; but the young man, without being scared, let it be known, by a movement of his body, that he was giving himself willingly to be burned” (Testimony of a German Roman Catholic student named Eustache Knobelsdorf in 1542).

Many who studied the theology of the ‘Institutes’ with Calvin went back to France as missionaries of the true evangelical faith and were martyred. For many of the reformed Christians who became pastors, to receive an ordination certificate in theology for ministry was at the same time a death certificate. This should remind us that theology is something we are called to live out as much as to teach.

Calvin’s ‘Institutes’ was to be a book of theology about the clear truths of the Bible. It was also a book that biblically taught reformed believers how to suffer under God’s sovereign hand and trust in God’s good providence. As one theologian has put it, Calvin’s teaching on predestination teaches that a believer will never lose their faith, and his teaching on providence teaches that a believer can never lose their way. All that happens to us is planned and ordained by our God and Heavenly Father for His glory and the believer’s good.

Let us pray with Calvin:

“Grant, Omnipotent God, since our life is exposed to innumerable dangers, that we may flee to you and resign ourselves wholly to your will, that we may know that you are the guardian of our life, so that not a hair of our head can fall without your hidden permission. May we also learn to ask of you the spirit of wisdom and discretion, so that you yourself may guide our steps, as it is not in us to defend our life from those many intrigues by which we are on every side surrounded, the whole world being opposed to us, so that we may proceed in the course of our pilgrimage under your care and protection, until we shall be removed into that blessed rest laid up for us in heaven by Christ our Lord. Amen.”

To be continued…

Next Study: Calvin’s ‘Institutes of the Christian Religion’, Part 3: True Knowledge

From Your Pastor: John Calvin’s ‘Institutes of the Christian Religion,’ Part 1

“All the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: knowledge of God and knowledge of ourselves.” – John Calvin

The risen and ascended Christ gives men gifts and grace to serve His Church. John Calvin was one of those graciously gifted men to teach and bless His Church. Calvin understood his call as a teacher to benefit God’s people. He wrote: “God has filled my mind with zeal to spread his Kingdom and to further the public good and since I undertook the office of teacher in the church, I have had no other purpose than to benefit the church by maintaining the pure doctrine of godliness.” Amazingly, by God’s grace, at the tender age of twenty-six years old, and only 1-3 years after his conversion, Calvin maturely and faithfully penned a pastoral, theological classic of biblical truth that became a publishing sensation. The full title of the work was:

“The Institutes of the Christian Religion, Embracing Almost the Whole Sum of Piety & Whatever is Necessary to Know of the Doctrine of Salvation: A work Most Worthy to Be Read by All Persons Zealous for Piety”.

The term “institutes” may seem strange to us as a title today, but it was frequently used in sixteenth-century titles. “Institutes” simply means “Principles” or “Instruction”. Calvin’s ‘Institutes’ (or “Principles of, or Instruction in the Christian Religion”) is a manual to teach believers what to believe biblically concerning God, and what duty God requires of man. Note the specific twofold intention of his extended title: (1) to embrace the whole sum of piety (godly doctrine), and (2) to be read by all persons zealous for piety (godly living). For John Calvin, true and biblical piety is devoted living unto God. It is a proper attitude toward God and obedience to Him; it is true and godliness from the heart. Piety is a godliness that is lived out from one’s knowledge of God’s good character, and especially in light of His saving mercies in Christ. Piety, or godliness for Calvin, is the essence of true biblical Christianity.

When one opens the ‘Institutes of the Christian Religion’, the fresh and fragrant wind of biblical Christianity blows with the gospel aroma of Christ. This fresh fragrance is particularly heightened for one familiar with the blessed Thomas Aquinas’ work ‘Summa Theologicae’, the primary theological textbook of the Middle Ages. One need only compare the beginning of Thomas’ and Calvin’s works, and one will notice that Thomas begins his book with the argument for the existence of God, while Calvin begins his book with the assumption of the existence of God. Calvin begins the ‘Institutes’ with the revelation of the true and living Triune God who has spoken finally and authoritatively and clearly in Holy Scripture. The ‘Institutes’ thus begins foundationally on Scripture alone and purposefully breaks with the speculative theology of even the best of the medieval Scholastics or Schoolmen in both form and content. Reason, experience, and biblical tradition are important, but one must begin a work of the principles of Christianity on Scripture alone.

After the ‘Institutes’ was published, the Reformers received the book as the clearest, most biblical exposition and defense of the Christian faith since the time of the apostles. Pastor Martin Bucer (Butzer of Strassburg who was a loving father, and mature pastoral mentor to Calvin) after reading the ‘Institutes’ wrote Calvin and said: “It is evident that the Lord has elected you as his organ for the bestowment of the richest fullness of blessing to his Church.” Contrastly, the Roman Catholic Church was immediately threatened by its doctrinal and biblical substance and called it the “Koran and Talmud of heresy”. Church historian Philip Schaff wrote that the ‘Institutes’ was “more fiercely and persistently persecuted than any book of the sixteenth century”. And what did Calvin teach that was so fiercely opposed, so radical and revolutionary to medieval Roman Catholic Theology?? Just this:

By Christ’s righteousness then are we made righteous and become fulfillers of the law. This righteousness we put on as our own, and surely God accepts it as ours, reckoning us holy, pure, and innocent… ‘Christ is made righteousness, sanctification and redemption for us’ [1 Cor. 1:30]…this is received by faith. This true faith is a firm conviction of mind whereby we determine with ourselves that God’s truth is so certain, and faith itself is a sure and certain possession of those things God has promised us.

….God offers to us and gives us in Christ our Lord all these benefits, which include free forgiveness of sins, peace and reconciliation with God, the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit. They are ours if we embrace and receive them with sure faith, utterly trusting and, as it were, leaning upon divine goodness…In short, if we partake of Christ, in Him we shall possess all the heavenly treasures and gifts of the Holy Spirit, which lead us into life and salvation.

Calvin’s ‘Institutes’ clearly teaches that God’s authoritative revelation for life and godliness is found in Holy Scripture alone, and that this glorious Gospel message is that salvation is by grace alone in Christ alone through faith alone, though that faith is not alone—it is a working faith!

The Spirit of Christ was graciously returning His church to her apostolic foundation and replanting her roots in Holy Scripture. Calvin’s system of doctrine in the ‘Institutes’ is not only supported ingeniously by Scripture, but his doctrine agrees with the biblically faithful ecumenical creeds and councils of the Church, affirming the truth that was articulated in theology and Christology at Nicea (325 AD), Constantinople (381 AD), and Chalcedon (451 AD). Additionally, Calvin’s teaching agrees with such extremely influential church fathers as Irenaeus, Augustine, John Chrysostom, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus, and later with the wonderful teaching of Bernard of Clairvaux (Augustine and Bernard were Calvin’s two primary influences). Calvin was continuing the biblical theology of Augustinianism in his anthropology (doctrine of man) and soteriology (doctrine of salvation). Yet he also made brilliant distinctions and corrections of the Medieval Church’s incorrect teaching on ecclesiology (doctrine of church) and sacramentology (doctrine of sacraments), and thus he was “reformed” in life and doctrine.

It is most important to note that Calvin and the Reformed Protestants of the Sixteenth Century were not sectarians separating from the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of Christ as criticized by Rome, but were seeking to be faithful to her through submission to Holy Scripture. When Calvin wrote Francis I of France in his preface in the ‘Institutes’ he remarked that while the reformers did not have as visible an outward unity in the churches as at Rome, they were nevertheless unified in their teaching of Scripture.

Additionally, Calvin respectfully challenged the thinking of Francis I by explaining to him that the reason why many could not see the true church in the reformers’ teaching was because Medieval Roman Catholic error had veiled the eyes of man with their unbiblical and sinful traditions for too long. Calvin was a true apostolic-reformed-catholic teacher who demonstrated in his ‘Institutes’ the singular foundation of scripture for life and godliness for the whole church (“apostolic”), and the continuity with the church fathers that revealed a unified, historical witness to the essentials of the Christian faith (“catholic” or “universal” not “Roman catholic”). We should desire today to seek to be faithful apostolic-reformed-catholic-Christians in a similar way.

This theological work of the ‘Institutes’ was to be Calvin’s primary focus for the remainder of his life. He would often expand and revise it as he learned more biblical truth and theology, but remarkably (!), he would never take from or edit anything out of it (!). Calvin’s profound and biblical, foundational thesis statement remained the same:

“All the wisdom we possess, that is to say true and sound wisdom, consists in two parts: knowledge of God and ourselves.”

There is much to learn, meditate upon, and pray concerning this blessed and deeply wise statement of God’s revelation.

Let us pray with Calvin:

Almighty God, since you have deigned in your mercy to gather us to your church, and to enclose us within the boundaries of your word, by which you preserve us in the true and right worship of your majesty, O grant that we may continue contented in this obedience to you. And though Satan may, in many ways, attempt to draw us here and there, and we be also ourselves inclined to evil, O grant that being confirmed in faith and united to you by that sacred bond, we may constantly abide under the restraing of your word.

May we cleave to Christ, your only begotten Son, who has joined us forever to Himself. May we never by any means turn aside from you, but be, on the contrary, confirmed in the faith of His gospel, until at length He will receive us all into His kingdom. Amen.


To be continued…


Next Study: Calvin’s ‘Institutes of the Christian Religion’, Part 2- Theology and Apologetics


[i] Bibliography/For Further Reading

Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion (1541, Calvin’s Own Essentials Edition).

__________ Edited by John T. McNeill. Institutes of the Christian Religion (2 Volumes)

Calhoun, David B. Knowing God and Ourselves: Reading Calvin’s Institutes Devotionally.

Godfrey, W. Robert. John Calvin: Pilgrim and Pastor.

Gordon, Bruce. John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion: A Biography.

_________. Calvin.

Hall, David W. and Lillback, Peter A. A Theological Guide to Calvin’s Institutes: Essays and Analysis (Calvin 500 Series).

Lane, Anthony N. S. A Reader’s Guide to Calvin’s Institutes.

Lawson, Steven J. The Expository Genius of John Calvin

McKee, Elsie Anne, ed. John Calvin: Writings on Pastoral Piety (Classics of Western Spirituality).

Parker, T. H. L. Calvin: An Introduction to His Thought

Schaff, Philip. History of the Christian Church, Vol. VIII: The Swiss Reformation

Selderhuis, Herman J. John Calvin: A Pilgrim’s Life.

________. The Calvin Handbook.

________. Calvin’s Theology of the Psalms.

Wendel, Francois. Calvin: Origins and Development of His Religious Thought


From Your Pastor: John Calvin’s Pilgrim Life and Pastoral Teachings: “Calvin the Young Scholar and His ‘Sudden Conversion’”

“I offer my heart, promptly and sincerely.” – John Calvin

Theodore Beza (1519-1605), Calvin’s successor as pastor in Geneva, wrote one of the first biographies of his ministerial mentor after his death. He wrote of Calvin: “Having been a spectator of his conduct for sixteen years…I can now declare, that in him all men may see a most beautiful example of the Christian character, an example which it is as easy to slander as it is difficult to imitate.” On Calvin’s deathbed in 1564, just 26 days from the day of his death, Calvin would transparently and honestly confess to some of the church leaders of Geneva:

I have had many infirmities which you have been obliged to bear with, and what is more, all I have done has been worth nothing…I have willed what is good, that my vices have always displeased me, and that the root of the fear of God has been in my heart; and you may say that the disposition was good; and I pray you, that the evil be forgiven me, and if there was any good, that you conform yourselves to it and make it an example.

These dying words are of a repentant sinner saved by God’s good grace, that was called by God to imperfectly, but faithfully and sincerely to fulfill God’s call upon his life as pastor and leader. What a exemplary and humble legacy he leaves for all of God’s servants, to recognize the good that one has done in sincerity and fear of the Lord, but at the same time to be fully aware of the need of a Savior until we shall see Him face to face! (1 Jo. 3:1-3). Who, indeed, is sufficient for these things of ministry?! Apart from Christ we can do nothing; in Him, we can do all things! (John 15:1-5; 2 Cor. 2:16b; Phil. 4:13).

John Calvin was born as a man of the church, a covenant child reared within the medieval Roman Catholic church in France. He was a brilliant young scholar known for his “quick intelligence and excellent memory” who by God’s grace and good providence was granted the opportunity of an ideal education. In fact, throughout his young life, Calvin received the best education that one could receive in France at that time.  He studied the humanities, law, philosophy and theology, and was knowledgeable and able in all of these subjects.  He studied at the most prestigious universities in France: Orleans, Bourges, and Paris from 1528 to 1533. Calvin had the opportunity to profit intellectually from some of the most notable professors in France and Europe at that time. He studied first for the priesthood, then under the influence of his father, he was the dutiful son who studied law for a time at his father’s direction..

Yet though the young Calvin was full of knowledge, he didn’t possess that most important wisdom and knowledge: true knowledge of God and of himself revealed by the Holy Spirit in regeneration through the Holy Scriptures. Until around ca. 1533, when Calvin was in his early twenties, he was suddenly converted to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and to the truths of biblical Christianity. The influence of the Reformation from Switzerland (through the influence of Ulrich Zwingli) and Germany (through the influence of Martin Luther) were taking hold in places in France and the ideas of the reformation were being discussed at the universities he had attended.

Calvin was a Christ-focused man who rarely cared to write about himself. He was truly a “know-nothing” as the Apostle Paul. He made it his aim to “know nothing” but Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor. 2:1-5). But by God’s good grace, in Calvin’s commentary on the Psalms, he did indeed write about himself and leave to posterity his conversion story concerning the sovereign goodness and mercy of the Lord in his life. He wrote:

When I was as yet a very little boy, my father had destined me for the study of theology. But afterwards, when he considered that the legal profession commonly raised those who followed it to wealth, this prospect induced him suddenly to change his purpose. Thus it came to pass, that I was withdrawn from the study of philosophy, and was put to the study of the law. To this pursuit I endeavored faithfully to apply myself, in obedience to the will of my father; but God, by the sweet guidance of his providence, at length gave a different direction to my course.

And first, since I was to obstinately devoted to the superstitions of Popery to be easily extricated from so profound an abyss of mire, God by a sudden conversion subdued and brought my mind to a teachable frame, which was more hardened in such matters than might have been expected from one at my early period of life. Having thus received some taste and knowledge of true godliness, I was immediately inflamed with so intense a desire to make progress therein, that although I did not altogether leave off my [humanist] studies, I yet pursued them with less ardour.

I was quite surprised to find that before a year had elapsed, all who had any desire after purer doctrine were continually coming to me to learn, although I myself was as yet but a mere novice and tyro [beginner]. Being of a disposition somewhat unpolished and bashful, which led me always to love the shade and retirement, I then began to seek some secluded corner where I might be withdrawn from the public view; but so far from being able to accomplish the object of my desire, all my retreats were like public schools. In short, whilst my one great object was to live in seclusion without being known, God so led me about through different turnings and changes, that he never permitted me to rest in any place, until, in spite of my natural disposition, he brought me forth to public notice (Calvin, Commentary on the Psalms, Vol. 1, preface, xl-xli).

John Calvin, experienced a “sudden” or unexpected conversion by the sovereign grace of God’s Spirit. Calvin’s knowledge of the gospel and the sovereignty of God in salvation was not merely a biblical-theological knowledge, it was also an experiential knowledge. Calvin had experienced God’s wonderful and powerful saving grace in Christ. Calvin said later in his life that his conversion from Roman Catholicism to the gospel of the Reformation was because “God himself produced the change.”  As Calvin understood the gospel of grace in Christ for the first time in his life, he was driven to a deeper sense of his sin and the mercies of God found in Jesus Christ.  He said: “Only one haven of salvation is left open for our souls, and that is the mercy of God in Christ. We are saved by grace- -not by our merits, not by our works.”

Within a year after Calvin’s conversion, though Calvin desired the quiet of a study for theological reading and writing, through the sovereign will of God, Calvin was thrust into the theological spotlight, and became the leading and most influential pastor, teacher and theologian of the Reformation. The influential person that God used as a means to direct Calvin to become an important reformer in Geneva was Pastor William (Guillaume) Farel (1489-1565). Farel had been a faithful and influential pastor, and an important early Reformer in Geneva, as well as a popular and fiery preacher as Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli before him, but he could not have done the work of John Calvin. The Psalmist writes:

“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. 16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them” (ESV Psalm 139:13-16).

Before the foundation of the world God had ordained John Calvin to become an important reformer of His beloved Church. John Calvin (or Jean Cauvin) was born on July 10th, 1509, twenty-five years after Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli in Noyon, France, an old cathedral city in the northern province of Picardy.  John Calvin was twenty-five years younger than Luther. When Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the door at the Castle Church at Wittenburg, Calvin was a young French boy of 8 years of age. Though God used many men like William Farel in Geneva and Luther in Germany, Calvin was exceptionally and uniquely gifted by God to be a profoundly biblical-theological thinker and organizer who became God’s theological architect of the Reformation that would influence the church in Geneva, throughout Europe, and eventually the world

A significant event happened for Calvin that is similar to Luther’s nailing of his Ninety-Five Theses at Wittenberg.  On October 10th, 1533, a friend of Calvin’s, a man named Nicolas Cop had been elected rector of the University of Paris.  As was the common practice, Cop was called to delivery the inauguration sermon on All Saints Day, November 1st.  The sermon was from the Gospel of Matthew 5:3: “Blessed are the poor in spirit” and most scholars believe Calvin had a hand in writing this sermon for his friend. What was memorable about this sermon, other than it was perhaps one of the first sermons John Calvin penned, was that it specifically aimed critically at the abuses of Medieval Roman Catholicism and the unbiblical doctrines taught by the Romish Scholastic Theologians who taught at the university.  In the sermon, Calvin had written, and Cop read for all to hear: “They [the Scholastic teachers] teach nothing of faith, nothing of the love of God, nothing of the remission of sins, nothing of grace, nothing of justification; or if they do so, they pervert and undermine it all by their laws and sophistries. I beg you, who are present, not to tolerate nay longer these heresies and abuses”– -and the war upon Roman Catholicism was declared. Note the primary concerns of the reformers then, and still today in this brief quotation: The importance of faith alone receiving by grace alone the love of God through the justifying grace of Christ’s work for sinners, to bring about repentance and the forgiveness of sins.

After he became a convinced and convicted reformer of Christ’s Church, Calvin became an exile from his home in France because of the persecutions occurring there, and thus experienced the first challenges of what it meant to be a persecuted Christian pilgrim for the Gospel, bearing his cross in daily service to his Lord. During these years 1533-1536, as a young convert to the Reformation, Calvin wandered as a faithful evangelist of the biblical gospel of Christ, and officially renounced his devotedness to the Roman Church. Calvin was becoming a renowned and respected evangelist-preacher in Southern France, Switzerland, and Italy.

In 1536, John Calvin would be elected pastor and teacher of theology at Geneva by the elders and the council and with the consent of the whole people. And the world would never be the same by God’s good grace and providence. It was during this time, he desired to write the first edition of a handbook on Christianity to defend the true reformed faith, to humbly plead on behalf of the persecuted Christians in France, and to especially help Christians who had come to understand the true gospel so that they could read, interpret, and understand their bibles. This book became a runaway bestseller and publishing sensation immediately, and made Calvin a famous pastor and theologian. This book was entitled simply ‘The Institutes in the Christian Religion”.

Let us pray with Calvin:

“Grant, Almighty God, that since it is the principal part of our happiness that in our pilgrimage through this world there is open to us a familiar access to you by faith, O grant that we may be able to come with a pure heart into your presence. And when our lips are polluted, O purify us by your Spirit, so that we may not only pray to you with the mouth but also prove that we do this sincerely, without any dissimulations, and that we earnestly seek to spend our whole life in glorifying your name; until being at length gathered into your celestial kingdom, we may be truly and really united to you, and be made partakers of that glory, which has been brought forth for us by the blood of your only begotten Son. Amen.”


To be continued…


Next Study: Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion


[i] Bibliography/For Further Reading

Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion (1541, Calvin’s Own Essentials Edition).

__________ Edited by John T. McNeill. Institutes of the Christian Religion (2 Volumes)

Calhoun, David B. Knowing God and Ourselves: Reading Calvin’s Institutes Devotionally.

Godfrey, W. Robert. John Calvin: Pilgrim and Pastor.

Gordon, Bruce. John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion: A Biography.

_________. Calvin.

Hall, David W. and Lillback, Peter A. A Theological Guide to Calvin’s Institutes: Essays and Analysis (Calvin 500 Series).

Lane, Anthony N. S. A Reader’s Guide to Calvin’s Institutes.

Lawson, Steven J. The Expository Genius of John Calvin

McKee, Elsie Anne, ed. John Calvin: Writings on Pastoral Piety (Classics of Western Spirituality).

Parker, T. H. L. Calvin: An Introduction to His Thought

Schaff, Philip. History of the Christian Church, Vol. VIII: The Swiss Reformation

Selderhuis, Herman J. John Calvin: A Pilgrim’s Life.

________. The Calvin Handbook.

________. Calvin’s Theology of the Psalms.

Wendel, Francois. Calvin: Origins and Development of His Religious Thought

From Your Pastor: John Calvin’s Pilgrim Life and Pastoral Teachings

July 10th, 2009, marked the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin (1509-1564). This year of 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of reformer Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses on the Castle Church at Wittenberg. As we celebrate together this blessed occasion of the special working of God’s glorious Spirit, let us seek as a congregation to remember our father in the faith, John Calvin.

As God’s holy and beloved people in Christ, it is important to remember our forefathers and foremothers before us. In fact, the Scripture teaches us to “Remember our leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” (Heb. 13:7). Surely this encourages God’s people to honor our faithful leaders and teachers who live with us as well as those who have lived before us. Our celebration of John Calvin’s life and teaching in the next few months is not intended merely to celebrate a man of flesh and blood like you and me, but to celebrate God’s good work by His Spirit in and through the man John Calvin. God was at work by His Spirit in the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, and we can “remember our leaders” and “consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” today, by God’s good grace.

John Calvin was first and foremost a Christian who loved the Lord Jesus Christ. Calvin craved earnestly for God to be glorified in every aspect of the Christian’s life. Calvin taught that the motive of man’s existence should be zeal for the glory of God “For we are born first of all for God, and not for ourselves.” Calvin’s life demonstrated the life of the persevering pilgrim and a faithful pastor-shepherd of God’s flock. As a biblical, reformed-catholic, pastor-theologian, Calvin stands with Augustine and Thomas Aquinas in his sweet Christian influence and able theological mind. His theology reveals a thorough and in-depth knowledge of the Holy Scriptures and an ability to clearly make the truth of Scripture known. Calvin’s goal and commitment in study, writing, preaching, and teaching was always “clarity and brevity” to the glory of the Triune God. He desired to clearly present God’s truth in as brief a manner as possible (though what he described as brief might seem a bit lengthy to American Christians today!). The brevity and clarity that Calvin sought was in reaction to the often confusing and labyrinthine theology practiced in the medieval church by the Scholastics or Schoolmen, as they were known.

“For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10).

When one reads Calvin’s writings, one is struck by the fact that this is a fellow pilgrim along the way, seeking the Eternal City, and desiring to know God and himself according to the Scriptures. His writings reveal a heart that is stirred by the love and grace of God and a dedication to making these scriptures known systematically to the people of God so that they can confess the true faith of our fathers. As a loving pastor, Calvin desired God’s people to know Holy Scripture in order to have a true knowledge of God and themselves, and to live out this truth by God’s grace for the glory of God. As a faithful servant and churchman, Calvin’s goal was to organize churches and the worship of the congregation under the Lordship of Christ the King according to scriptural teaching alone. Calvin fervently believed in the supremacy of Christ the King over both creation and redemption, and His teaching over both Church and State. He believed that all of life should be Reformed according to Holy Scripture.

John Calvin’s influence was tremendous and he was in many ways like none who had preceded him as a theologian and churchman; perhaps no other man has been more loved as well as hated in the history of Christianity. Especially influential were his untiring and ceaseless literary labors that historian Schaff described in this way: “The literary activity of Calvin, whether we look at the number or at the importance of works, is not surpassed by any ecclesiastical writer, ancient or modern, and excites double astonishment when we take into consideration the shortness of his life, the frailty of his health, and the multiplicity of his other labors as a teacher, preacher, church ruler, and correspondent.” 

As we will learn more about in future studies, Calvin’s Institutes in the Christian Religion is one of the most biblical, clearest, and influential books of pastoral theology ever to be written. Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion (or “Principles of the Christian Religion”) is not strictly speaking a summa theologiae (“summary of theology” like Thomas Aquinas), but more precisely as it was written by a persevering pilgrim and faithful pastor, it is an astoundingly, warm-hearted summa pietatis (“summary of piety/godliness”). It is a book about Christian piety, or how to rightly cultivate godliness and true spirituality in the fear of the LORD, learning to more biblically and effectively love and serve God and neighbor by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Institutes is a book aimed at making all biblical theology pastoral and practical for the glory of the Triune God! Church historian Philip Schaff said of Calvin’s Institutes: “This book is the masterpiece of a precocious genius of commanding intellectual and spiritual depth and power.  It is one of the few truly classical productions in the history of theology, and has given its author the double title of the Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas of the Reformed Church.” James (Jacob) Arminius, the father of what men call describe as “Arminianism” today commented on Calvin’s able ability as exegete and theologian; Arminius wrote of Calvin:

“Next to the study of the Scriptures which I earnestly inculcate, I exhort my pupils to peruse Calvin’s Commentaries which I extol in loftier terms than Helmich himself [a Dutch divine, d. 1608]; for I affirm that Calvin excels beyond comparison in the interpretation of Scripture and that his commentaries ought to be more highly valued than all that is handed down to us by the library of the fathers; so that I acknowledge him to have possessed above most others, or rather above all other men, what may be called an eminent spirit of prophecy.  His Institutes ought to be studied after the Heidelberg Catechism [the most important biblical confession of his time], as containing a fuller explanation, but with discrimination, like the writings of all men [my emphasis].”

Irony of ironies, that the father of Arminianism praised John Calvin in such a way! If only Arminius had also by God’s good Spirit inculcated some of Calvin’s humility and drank more deeply at the Fountains of Olympia. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing indeed!


Let us pray with Calvin:

“O Lord, you are our Creator, and we are the work of your hands. You are our Shepherd, we are your flock. You are our Redeemer, we are the people you have bought back. You are our God, we are your inheritance.

Therefore, be not angry against us, to correct us in your wrath. Recall not our iniquity to punish it, but discipline us gently in your kindliness. Be mindful that your name is called upon among us and that we bear your mark and badge.

Undertake rather the work you have already begun in us by your grace, in order that the whole earth may recognize that you are our God and our Savior. Amen.”


To be continued…


Next Study: Calvin’s Early Life and Conversion


[i] Bibliography/For Further Reading

Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion (1541, Calvin’s Own Essentials Edition).

__________ Edited by John T. McNeill. Institutes of the Christian Religion (2 Volumes)

Calhoun, David B. Knowing God and Ourselves: Reading Calvin’s Institutes Devotionally.

Godfrey, W. Robert. John Calvin: Pilgrim and Pastor.

Gordon, Bruce. John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion: A Biography.

_________. Calvin.

Hall, David W. and Lillback, Peter A. A Theological Guide to Calvin’s Institutes: Essays and Analysis (Calvin 500 Series).

Lane, Anthony N. S. A Reader’s Guide to Calvin’s Institutes.

Lawson, Steven J. The Expository Genius of John Calvin

McKee, Elsie Anne, ed. John Calvin: Writings on Pastoral Piety (Classics of Western Spirituality).

Parker, T. H. L. Calvin: An Introduction to His Thought

Schaff, Philip. History of the Christian Church, Vol. VIII: The Swiss Reformation

Selderhuis, Herman J. John Calvin: A Pilgrim’s Life.

________. The Calvin Handbook.

________. Calvin’s Theology of the Psalms.

Wendel, Francois. Calvin: Origins and Development of His Religious Thought

From Your Pastor: John Calvin and the Reformation of Piety

John Calvin’s piety is beautifully reflected in his affectionate prayer: “My heart I offer to you, O LORD, promptly and sincerely.” For Calvin, piety was an essential part of the true Christian life. He defined piety as the essence of true godliness.[2] Calvin warmly asserted that “True piety exists when 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.” Piety, then, is “reverence joined with love of God which the knowledge of His benefits induces”.[3]

Because God is a good and kind Heavenly Father in Christ, piety is faith in action, being lived out, or faith obediently working through love (cf. Gal. 5:6). In fact, all true knowledge of God in Jesus Christ will lead to true piety and godly practice. Joel Beeke writes that for Calvin, theological understanding and practical piety, truth and usefulness, were inseparable.[4] Consequentially, where there is no true piety, there is no true knowledge of God. The true knowledge of God, wrote Calvin, “should serve first to teach us fear and reverence” of God and this fear will be manifested in godly living.[5]

As one Calvinian scholar wrote, “Piety is the context for all of Calvin’s theology.”[6] Calvin’s remarkable Institutes of the Christian Religion is not strictly a “Summa theologia” or “summary of theology” (as with the theological writings of Thomas Aquinas), but more precisely a “Summa Pietatis” or “summary of piety”.[7] In fact, the subtitle of the first edition of the Institutes in 1536 stated, “Embracing almost the whole sum of piety & whatever is necessary to know of the doctrine of salvation: A work most worthy to be read by all persons zealous for piety” [my emphasis].[8]

Note the specific twofold intention (explanation-description) of this subtitle of the Institutes: (1) to embrace the whole sum of piety, and (2) to be read by all persons zealous for piety. Piety is a godliness that is lived out from one’s knowledge of God’s character and especially in light of His saving mercies in Christ. Piety is living “self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age” because God’s grace has appeared in Christ to make believers “zealous for good works” (Titus 2:11-14).[9] From Calvin’s earliest writings, we see this idea of piety emphasized and encapsulated. For instance, in Calvin’s first catechism he wrote for Christians to learn the basics of the Christian faith, he wrote:

True piety consists in a sincere feeling which loves God as Father as much as it fears and reverences Him as Lord, embraces His righteousness, and dreads offending Him worse than death.[10]

We learn theology ultimately so that we will possess piety, or devoted living unto God. Knowledge of God, or the study of theology, is for the goal of glorifying God through piety; to rightly live for Him, think about Him, worship Him, and serve Him.

Because Calvin was a reforming catholic, it should be noted that Calvin’s spirituality or piety was not completely new, but consistent to some degree to earlier devotional writers of the Medieval period. We see in John Calvin a piety or spirituality that is particularly Reformed and catholic, and consistent with much good spiritual teaching that came before him, particularly in Bernard of Clairvaux (d. 1153) and Thomas a Kempis (d. 1471). Calvin stood in a stream that flowed broad and deep from faithful servants of the Middle Ages.

Bernard and Thomas were not, strictly speaking, forerunners of the Reformation, but they contributed a pre-reformation devotional legacy that should be appreciated, especially as we see their tremendous influence in both Calvin (and the later English Puritan forefathers, particularly Richard Sibbes).[11] Calvinian scholar, Professor Dennis Tamburello writes that the Reformation was at least as much a “spiritual phenomenon as it was a dogmatic one. The Reformers drew from the well of medieval spirituality in numerous ways, perhaps not all of them direct or even conscious.”[12] In fact, particularly Thomas a Kempis’ fabulously popular and influential devotional book, The Imitation of Christ served as a channel through which Augustinian, Bernardian, and Franciscan spiritualities influenced the sixteenth century and those who followed.”[13]

Though there are continuities in Calvin’s theology and piety with his Medieval fathers, there are significant differences and emphases as well.[14] In contrast to Medieval spirituality or piety, especially as it has been handed down to us in Thomas a Kempis’ devotional classic The Imitation of Christ, Calvin’s focus in his theology and piety was on the Person and Work of Christ primarily, and the believer’s union with Him. For Calvin, his priority was focused more on Christ as the Mediator, and substitutionary, atoning sacrifice for sinners, then secondarily upon Christ’s example for Christians follow and to learn piety. As de Reuver wrote helpfully that for Thomas and other Medieval spiritual teachers: “…The soteriological dimension of Christ’s saving work was overshadowed by its exemplary features…”[15] To put it as clearly as possible, for Calvin all true knowledge of God and true piety flowed forth from the Person and Work of Christ, and because of the believer’s union with Him by the Spirit. Jesus Christ is the believer’s example, but first and foremost He is the believer’s Savior and Lord.

Furthermore, other differences in emphases should be noted. The teaching on union with Christ was emphasized in Medieval teachers such as Thomas a Kempis, but not as clearly and focused as with Calvin. For Calvin, this union with Christ by His Spirit brought about both justification and sanctification in the believer, both a declaration of a righteous standing and a growing in that righteousness (a unique, once for all imputation of righteousness in justification and an ongoing impartation of righteousness in sanctification). For Thomas, the believer’s sanctification was given the priority over her justification. In fact, justification was completely subsumed under sanctification and not made as distinct from it, bringing theological confusion to many.

Calvin has been rightly called the “Theologian of the Holy Spirit” because he stressed the Spirit-wrought faith that God must give to believers to take hold of Christ as Savior and Mediator, over Thomas’ and other Medieval teachers’ stress merely on love (that they basically believed all men were capable of if they tried hard enough). For Calvin, the knowledge of God and true piety was only possible because of God’s initiating and powerful grace revealed to believers in their regeneration. The power of the Spirit was an ongoing need for every believer as He illuminated the Word of God, helped believers to understand theology, and live out godly lives of piety. Though justification and sanctification were distinct, they were never to be confused or separated. Without this distinction, true piety was impossible. To stress sanctification apart from justification as the foundation, was to fall into legalism; to stress justification apart from sanctification was to fall into antinomianism. Neither legalism or antinomianism could produce the true life of piety that brought glory to God and peace to the believer.Calvin’s piety can be called a “common folk’s piety”. This was godly living that all could enjoy no matter their calling or season of life. Whereas the Medieval Roman Catholic teachers were primarily teaching how to live the monastic life in separation and oftentimes in complete hatred of the world, Calvin taught that we serve the Lord and fulfill our call to pious lives in the world, in living out our piety or godliness in our families, congregations and workplaces.[16] For Calvin, piety was an “everyman’s pursuit” not just a pursuit of a select and spiritual elite who would turn away from the world or particularly marriage to enter the monastery. Hesselink writes that Calvinist piety “embraces all the day-by-day concerns of life, in family and neighborhood, education and culture, business and politics.”[17] These differences should be noted between Calvin and the Medieval teachers while appreciating the catholic unity and work of the Holy Spirit throughout church history.

As Christians in the 21st century, let us keep in mind that the Reformation was not only a theological or doctrinal reformation, but also, very importantly, a reformation of piety and spirituality. Let us be reformed and always reforming in our doctrine as well as in our lives (semper reformanda!). As we seek to understand the wonderful truths of the Reformation, let us also embrace their aspirations and pantings after true piety. For, as Calvin would say, if you have true theology, you will possess true piety by God’s grace through His Spirit, all for the glory of God. As believers at KCPC, then, let us seek a true piety that is biblical, theologically sound, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and possessed by us through our union with Christ as our piety increasingly adorns the Gospel, and is displayed for all the world to see, all to the glory of God!

Let this be our prayer: “Grant, Almighty God, that as you have been pleased to adopt us as your people for this end, that we may be ingrafted as it were into the body of your Son, and be made conformable to our head,–O grant, that through our whole life we may strive to seal in our hearts the faith of our election, that we may be the more stimulated to render you true obedience, and that your glory may also be made known through us; and those whom you have chosen together with us may we labor to bring together, that we may unanimously celebrate you as the Author of our salvation, and so ascribe to you the glory of your goodness, that having cast away and renounced all confidence in our own virtue, we may be led to Christ only as the fountain of your election, in whom also is set before us the certainty of our salvation through your gospel, until we shall at length be gathered into that eternal glory which He has procured for us by His own blood. Amen.” – John Calvin

IN Christ’s love,

Pastor Biggs


[1] This is an excerpt from Fear of the LORD in Union with Christ: Spiritual Root and Fruit- The Fear of the LORD in the Writings of John Calvin (1509-1564) and Richard Sibbes (1577-1635), Charles R. Biggs (2016). Unpublished paper submitted for partial completion of Th.M. degree at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, MI.

[2] There have been two terms used in the history of the Christian church to describe an earnest desire after God: devotion and pietas. Devotio signified a total dedication and devotion to God in worship and service. This was a fundamental attitude of the creature before his Creator. Devotio in the medieval period ultimately meant to leave the world for the monastic life. In distinction, the term pietas, or piety described godliness, devoutness, religiousness. Humility was the foundation of true pietas. The term used by Calvin was pietas because of the monastic associations of the other term devotio, though the person who possesses true pietas, would also possess devotio but just not in the monastic context for Calvin. See Lucien Joseph Richard, The Spirituality of John Calvin (Atlanta, Ga: John Knox Press, 1974), 78-88, 93.

[3] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.2.1, Kindle Edition.

[4] Joel Beeke, The Soul of Life: The Piety of John Calvin (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books), 2013, pgs. 28-52.

[5] Elsie Annie McKee, ed. John Calvin: Writings on Pastoral Piety (New York: Paulist Press, 2001), Kindle Edition, 2016, Location 979.

[6]  Dennis E. Tamburello, Union with Christ: John Calvin and the Mysticism of St. Bernard (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994), 102. Hesselink noted that “It could be said that pietas was [Calvin’s] entire theological direction and goal, rather than merely one theme in his theology.” Quoted in I. John Hesselink, Calvin’s First Catechism: A Commentary (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox, 2997), 45.

[7] The Institutes are not a summary of theology, like merely doctrinal or systematic theology, but a summary of piety, or what it means to live the spiritual life with God.

[8] Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1536 Edition (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust), 2008.

[9] See Calvin’s fuller exposition of Titus 2:11-14 in his Institutes, 3.6-8.

[10] I. J. Hesselink, Calvin’s First Catechism: A Commentary, (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox), 46-47. It is interesting to note that even earlier than this summary, Calvin wrote in 1536: “True godliness [consists]…of a pure and true zeal which loves God as a real Father and looks up to him as a real Lord; it embraces his righteousness and detests offending him more than it does dying.” From Truth for All Time: A Brief Outline of the Christian Faith (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2008), 4. This shows that for Calvin early in his Christian life and theology, the fear of the Lord was understood to be a glorious combination of zeal for God, and a looking up humbly in submission to him as Lord.

[11] Arie de Riveur, Sweet Communion: Trajectories of Spirituality from the Middle Ages through the Further Reformation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 102.

[12] Dennis E. Tamburello, Union with Christ: John Calvin and the Mysticism of St. Bernard (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994), 108.

[13] Lucien J. Richard, The Spirituality of John Calvin (Atlanta, GA: John Knox Press, 1974), 21.

[14] Tamburello offers some helpful comparisons and contrasts between Bernard and Calvin’s spirituality. This is helpful in seeing the great similarities in Bernard and Calvin, the influence of them upon Calvin and Sibbes, but this also highlights the significant differences: 1) For Calvin, union with Christ is not of works but all of grace; 2) Not a union of essences, but of a spiritual union, not a union of equals (Creator-creature distinction is present in Calvin); 3) A union of wills; 4) We are to seek to love God unselfishly for His glory; there is to be reverence joined with love of God; 5) Authentic love manifests itself in a love of neighbor; 6) True knowledge of God is experiential; 7) Union with God is specifically union with Christ the Mediator; 8) Church is indispensable context for union (with some differences); 9) Sanctification is a life-long work; 10) The spiritual marriage imagery for spiritual intimacy with Christ is useful. Differences particularly between Bernard and Calvin: 1) Bernard more interested in contemplative life, whereas Calvin’s teaching is for every person; 2) Calvin has a disdain for the monastic life and to be withdrawn from one’s vocation in the world; 3) Bernard’s thoughts on union pivots on love, Calvin’s focus is more on faith; 4) Calvin emphasizes the ordinary means of grace more than Bernard; 5) Bernard subsumes sanctification under justification, Calvin distinguishes justification and sanctification without separation or confusion. Union with Christ: John Calvin and the Mysticism of St. Bernard (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994), 105-108.

[15] de Reuver, Sweet Communion, 148.

[16] Calvin, Institutes, III.6-10.

[17] Hesselink, Calvin’s First Catechism, 47.

From Your Pastor: All the Righteousness We Will Ever Need!


This week marks the 499th Anniversary of the Reformation of the 16th century.  It was on October 31st 1517 that God, through a man named Martin Luther, graciously helped His church to rediscover the truth that the Holy Scriptures must be the Christian’s only infallible rule of faith and life.  From those Holy Scriptures, Luther came to rediscover the glorious heart of the Gospel: Sinners are declared righteous, or justified before God by faith alone in Christ alone, because of grace alone, all for the glory of God alone. Sinful man does not (can not!) cooperate with God’s grace to bring justification. Rather, man receives the perfect righteousness of Christ alone through the instrumentation of faith that is a gift of God (Rom. 3:21-22, 28; cf. Eph. 2:8-10). Luther learned that all the righteousness he would ever need would be given to Him in Christ; for every need, for every perfect requirement of God, Christ was the help, the hope, and the perfect provision of the righteousness of God the Father to believing sinners.

The false teaching of thinking one could cooperate with God’s grace to bring about the righteousness God required was nothing new to the Medieval church and time of the Reformation. You may recall that in the time of Jesus’ ministry, many of the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law opposed Jesus vehemently because he disagreed with their teaching of salvation by cooperation with God’s grace.  Essentially, the Pharisees taught that man could cooperate with God within the covenant, and eventually do enough good works to merit their salvation and hope before God (Rom. 10:1-3; cf. Phil. 3:7-14). Contrastly, Jesus taught that God required personal perfection to the Law (Matthew 5:48; cf. Gal. 3:10-13; Rom. 10:5) so that those who had ears to hear would come to the end of their self-righteousness and repent and find their only hope of righteousness in His merit—in his personal and perfect law-keeping for them, received by faith alone (Rom. 10:4; Gal. 3:19, 25-29).

During the Medieval period, again the Pharisaical teaching of attempting to cooperate within the visible Church to attain enough merits to achieve a righteousness before God was taught and believed by many. This error sadly eclipsed the true, saving and wonderful Gospel of Jesus. This robbed God of the glory due to Him alone! When God called Martin Luther, he was a spiritually struggling monk who was attempting to achieve this perfect righteousness that God required of him. Luther was trying to cooperate by faith with God’s grace to be saved.  However, he realized because of the depth of his sins and the perfect righteousness of God there was no hope or spiritual comfort in this teaching. This was no good news at all!  Luther struggled with his works before God, realizing they were not always done with the right motives and pure faith, and if God was to judge His works according to His perfect standard of righteousness, then only damnation and judgment awaited Him.

By God’s good grace, Luther had a friend and Father-Confessor within the Augustinian cloister by the name of Johann von Staupitz that shared the Gospel with Martin Luther. This is what Staupitz told Luther to seek to comfort him with Gospel tidings:

“Why do you torment yourself with all these speculations and these high thoughts of your works before God?  Look at the wounds of Jesus Christ, to the blood that he has shed for you: it is there that the grace of God will appear to you. Instead of torturing yourself on account of your sins, throw yourself in your Redeemer’s arms. Trust in him- – in the righteousness and merits of his life- -in the atonement of his death.  Do not shrink back; God is not angry with you, it is you who are angry with God. Listen to the Son of God not your own thoughts; meditate on His Word to you.  Jesus became man to give you the assurance of divine favor. He says to you: You are my sheep; you hear my voice; no man shall pluck you out of my strong hand.” –John Staupitz to Martin Luther, ca. 1509.

This is a summary of the gospel of grace that was rediscovered during the Reformation. We must be reminded that as sinners saved by grace, there will always be a temptation to earn our salvation before God- -to merely try harder- -and work harder, seeking to appease God, and hoping that He will forgive us and give us a right standing before him because of what we have done. But it is not what we have done, or could ever do that counts. It is what God has done for us in Christ through His perfect life and His atoning, substitutionary death. God punishes sin justly and also justifies those who believe (Rom. 3:24-26).

The Gospel of Grace humbles sinners. Sinners cannot keep God’s law, and even our best works and efforts before God are tainted with sin (Rom. 3:9-10, 23). The Good news declares to sinners that the righteousness that God requires- -God mercifully supplies – -not from within us, or from our works, or our best cooperation with God, but our righteousness is found in the righteousness and merits of Christ alone! In Christ, all who believe find a strong Savior and the comforting assurance of God’s love.  In Christ, all believers stand declared righteous based not on our own works for God, but upon Christ’s perfect works for God. God imputes our sins to Christ, and imputes Christ’s perfect record or righteousness to us through faith alone! Christ’s perfection is given to us, and our sins are placed on him (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Beloved of God, and to all sinners who feel the heavy weight of your sins, and the hopelessness of your condition before a holy God: All are justified or declared righteous before God because of Christ’s merits given to us as a free gift (Rom. 3:23-28)! Let us live as loved and forgiven people this day, confident in God’s grace, not in our works. Let God’s grace and love toward wicked and undeserving sinners such as ourselves humble us, and let us live gratefully and obediently unto Him! (Rom. 3:27, 31). Let us remember as God’s people that all the righteousness we will ever need is given to us in Christ. For every need we have, for every perfect requirement of God, Christ is our help, our hope, and the perfect provision of righteousness from God the Father to believing sinners. Let us humbly rejoice!


In Christ’s love,

Pastor Biggs

Happy 499th Reformation Day!

From Your Pastor: The “Solas” of the Reformation


This month we have the privilege of celebrating the 499th anniversary of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century. October 31st is the occasion when many Reformed congregations gratefully remember the Spirit of God’s work through Martin Luther in hammering his 95 Theses on the church door at Wittenberg Germany that was the means through which God brought a fresh recovery of His Gospel to His church. The Reformation was one of the greatest revivals in the history of the church.

As heirs of this reformation and revival, and as those thankful for the knowledge of the Gospel of grace, there are five fruits that are worth memorizing and remembering each year at this time. These five fruits of the Reformation are five “solas” or “alones” that are important for us never to forget. These “solas” highlight God’s absolute mercy and passionate grace for His dear, lost, and helpless children, whom He has rescued through the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. The ‘solas’ are ‘Sola Scriptura’ (Scripture Alone), ‘Sola Fide’ (Faith Alone), ‘Sola Gratia’ (Grace Alone), ‘Solus Christus’ (Christ Alone), and ‘Soli Deo Gloria’ (To God be Glory Alone!). Let’s look briefly at each of these:

Sola Scriptura: Scripture alone stresses that the God-breathed-out, inerrant Word of God is foundational and sufficient for all life and godliness (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:3-4). Biblical creeds and confessions are helpful aids to God’s people, and we embrace tradition insofar as it is taught in Scripture. Scripture alone means that the last word and final authority for matters of life and doctrine are to be found in the Holy Scriptures. Scripture is to be preached by the power of the Holy Spirit as a primary means of saving and sanctifying sinners (2 Tim. 4:1ff).

Sola Fide: Faith is a gift of God, an instrument whereby believers receive as a gift all of the perfect righteousness that we need to stand before a holy God. The righteousness God requires is the righteousness found in Christ (Rom. 3:24-26, 4:5; 2 Cor. 5:21). Faith alone stresses that Christ does all the work that is required for one to be saved, and we receive this as a gift. We are not saved through faith and our works, but through Christ’s works alone received by faith. However, it is important to note that while we are saved by faith alone, we are saved not by a faith that is alone; it is a working faith that responds to God’s grace with obedience (Eph. 2:8-10).

Sola Gratia: Grace alone teaches that we are not saved in our cooperating with God in salvation. We are utterly helpless and unable to do anything good before God in our sinfulness (Rom. 3:23). Apart from Christ we can do nothing (John 15:5) and without the gracious, initiating, powerful work of God through HIs Spirit drawing us no one can be saved (Matt. 11:25-27; Tit. 3:4-7; John 6:37, 44). Our salvation is from beginning to end because of God’s mercy, not because of anything God might foresee in us (Rom. 9). We are saved by grace through faith, not of works, so that no one can boast (Eph. 2:8-9).

Solus Christus: Christ alone emphasizes that there is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5). Christ has done all for us that we could never do, nor would want to do in our sinful fallenness. Christ is to be glorified and thanked for His good works for us. Christ is to have our ultimate focus and gratitude (Heb. 12:1-2) because of all He has done for us in His life, death, resurrection, and ascension to God’s right hand. While others may place undue and unbiblical emphasis on saints, Mary, and even angels, our hearts are centered on Christ alone as our loving Savior, Bridegroom, and friend.

Soli Deo Gloria: All that has been achieved for our salvation is to bring glory, honor and praise to the Triune God alone! (Rom. 11:33-36; Rev. 4:11; 5:9-11). We were made for His pleasure, and now live for HIs glory in gratitude for what He has accomplished for us in Christ.

As a congregation, let us memorize these five ‘Solas’ of the Reformation, and reaffirm them, and unashamedly make them known as God’s pilgrim people on the way to the Heavenly City.

In Christ’s love,
Pastor Biggs

“Reformation Righteousness”- 494th Anniversary of the Reformation


“Get over it!” “The Reformation was a historical event that took place years ago; it is irrelevant to me and to modern people.” “Just give me Jesus and I will be happy. What good could come from revisiting the teaching of the Reformation in today’s church?” “I’m interested in what Jesus is doing today.”

These are some of the initial comments one is likely to get from other well-meaning Christians unfamiliar, uninformed, and/or disinterested in the Reformation of the 16th century. Yet, what God did in His goodness during the Reformation was nothing less than the reestablishment of the gospel, the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ, that had been eclipsed by the supposed good works of men.

The Reformation was a time when God allowed light to shine in the darkness of the failed attempts of feeble and sinful men trying to earn righteousness from good works, and only ending in despair before a holy God. In the Reformation, God allowed his grace to come again into glorious sight, so that one could truly know how to be made right or at peace with the living God.

How IS a sinful person to be made right before a holy God?

The Holy Spirit through the light of the Scriptures illumined minds and hearts and reminded needy sinners about salvation, hope, and true life found only in Jesus Christ and his righteousness. The Reformation of the 16th century was a powerful work of the Holy Spirit, and a tremendous revival that awakened the church to the centrality of Christ and His Gospel.

What can the Reformation teach us today? Everything! If we are interested in knowing how we can stop “trying harder” and beating ourselves up when we fail, and learn to rest in the righteousness of Christ alone! What we can learn from the Reformation today is to stop saying “I’ll try harder” and begin saying “CHRIST for me, for me, for me”!

Luther’s Reformation
This week is the 494th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation. On October 31, 1517, a young pastor and Bible teacher in Wittenberg, Germany posted 95 Theses (or “things he wanted to discuss with other pastors and teachers in the church”) on the door of the Castle Church in his home town. Not intending anything other than a discussion with other pastors and teachers, Martin Luther was used by God to begin a reformation of the church by returning to the foundation of Scripture alone. Through the recent invention of the printing press, Martin Luther’s 95 Theses were published and literally spread throughout the world; as we would say today, Luther’s message “went viral”.

Luther had learned that the Bible taught that salvation was not sold by indulgences, or man’s contributed good works, but that grace was God’s alone to give. The Pope at the time of Luther was audaciously offering salvation, hope, and the chance for Uncle Buck to get out of purgatory if the people of the town would pay the right price. Luther’s ’95 Theses’ questioned the authority of the Pope to be able to offer salvation, hope, or redemption for money. These 95 things Luther wanted to discuss caused Luther to seek ultimate authority for the church in the Scriptures and not in the whims of popes and councils, because both had erred; Scripture alone was to be the Church’s ultimate authority and sole rule of faith.

What came from this study of Scripture alone, and asking what Scripture taught concerning man’s salvation, hope and life in Christ, was the realization and experiencing of true salvation, real hope, and the abundant life found only in Christ. The doctrines, or teachings of the Reformation established upon, and found in Scripture alone were: faith alone, grace alone, Christ alone, to the glory of God alone (known today as the ‘Solas’ or the five watchwords of the Reformation: Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Solus Christus, Soli Deo Gloria based upon Sola Scriptura).

Righteousness Revealed from God
What Luther discovered when going to the Scriptures alone was that a righteousness had been revealed from God, not from within himself or from external works, but a righteousness that God provided for all who believe in Christ. God who demanded perfect righteousness of every single human being for salvation and communion with Him, also had provided this perfect righteousness in Jesus to be received by faith alone (Romans 1:17).

ESV Romans 1:16-17: For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

Salvation was found by going to Christ, not by going through the motions of external obedience. This righteousness of Christ was received by faith alone. Christ had a perfect righteousness that we could never obtain as sinners. This is why the Apostle Paul writes (Romans 4:4-5, 8:

“Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness… “Blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin”.

The grace of God was not something man could cooperate with as in the Medieval Roman Catholic theology (as well as in some Evangelical circles today), it was all of grace (Eph. 2:5-10). Grace alone meant that man’s will was in bondage to the flesh, the world and the Devil and the only way that the will could freely choose Christ was for the heart to be regenerated, awakened from the dead, pass from death to life, and this all by grace so that no one could boast, as Paul teaches in Ephesians 2.

ESV Ephesians 2:4-10: But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ- by grace you have been saved- and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,p not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Christ alone was the only Mediator (1 Tim. 2:5), our only Savior and Substitute for sin (Romans 5:10; 2 Corinthians 5:21). The truth of Christ alone was summarized in 1 Corinthians 1:30 and 2 Corinthians 5:21:

1 Corinthians 1:30 He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.

2 Corinthians 5:21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

In the Scriptures above from Paul’s Letters to the Romans, Ephesians, and Corinthians, notice the fullness of Christ’s saving work: God made us alive while still dead in sin (Eph. 2:4). Because we are dead and lack any kind of righteousness before God, Christ is our righteousness, sanctification, and redemption (1 Cor. 1:30). Christ’s righteousness, not ours is our merit before a Holy and Just God. Christ alone is our holiness or sanctification and He is the One who has paid the ransom price by His precious blood to purchase us back and make us children of God.

Also notice the substitutionary quality of Christ alone: Jesus became sin (He who knew no sin). In other words, our sins were laid on his back and he was cursed for us (for us, for us, for us!!! Shout it loudly wherever you are!). His righteousness would cause us to become the righteousness of God through imputation. The perfect righteousness of Christ was imputed to us! This is what Christ alone meant! (2 Cor. 5:21)

And all of this salvation in Christ was for the glory of God alone!
As Romans 11:36 says: “From Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to God be the glory forever and ever!” Our salvation is all for the praise of HIS glorious grace, as Paul teaches in Ephesians 1!

Today’s Reformation
We have a great need for a Reformation today in Christ’s Church as well! We may not have neighbors selling indulgences and literally trying to buy their way out of hell (although you will find some who are sadly doing this).

What we do have today are well-meaning folks who call themselves Christians who are focusing more on what they do for Christ, than what Christ has done for them. Even though the intention is good, the bracelets some wear with the phrase “What Would Jesus Do” (WWJD) seem to focus too much on our doing and not what Christ has already done! Even if you don’t have this slogan on your wall, and don’t wear a bracelet on your arm, your hope and confidence before God is based on what you have done for God more than what Christ has done for you often times.

Be honest about this. Then look to Christ for hope. What a loving and beautiful Savior that calls us constantly to come to the Throne of Grace and find mercy and hope and grace in our time of need (Heb. 4:16)! Christ can give us relief from our selves; Christ can show us His precious and costly blood that has redeemed us; Christ prays for His people with nail-pierced hands that earned righteousness for us and in this we can hope and have great confidence!

I believe that the main focus for Christians every day should be the centrality of Christ and His work for us. In other words we might have a slogan like this (rather than ‘What Would Jesus Do?”): “What Has Jesus Already Done in His Life, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension for Me?”, but then it would be too long of a phrase for a bracelet or a nice bumper sticker; it would be:

“WHJADIHLDRAAFM?” rather than “WWJD?”

Probably not an easy sell or an easy fit on a nice porcelain figurine in a Christian book store. 🙂

Remember beloved of God: “It is well with my soul” because “It is finished!” not because “It is about me and my attempts at righteousness”. We need Reformation today! It is well with your soul because of Christ’s finished work of satisfying God’s wrath for you; it is finished because Jesus has offered Himself as the Lamb of God, the Final Sacrificial offering for sin and is able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him (Heb. 7:25). It is well and it is finished because Jesus was your substitute and God made Jesus who knew no sin to become sin for you, so that you might be righteous in His sight (2 Cor. 5:21). God put Jesus forward as your propitiating sacrifice. Praise God!! Hallelujah!!

Now go and live for JESUS freely as you never have! Go and live and love JESUS AND OTHERS as you never thought you could. Because you couldn’t before because you thought it was your strength, and your works, and this is burdensome and will not lead to love of God and others, but only discouragement, condemnation and doubt!

Go live for Him and be thankful for a Savior- -not merely a helper for good people- -but a real Savior for sinners, who were once enemies of God before they were reconciled by Christ’s grace! (Romans 5:1-11).

It is true that there are some in our day- – these who call themselves Christians!- – who think that the reason they are saved ultimately is not because of grace alone, but because they have cooperated with grace held out to them. This was what the fight in the Reformation was all about! Medieval Roman Catholic theology is quite complex, but it is foundationally a system of earning salvation by cooperating with grace held out to men, who then respond with their faith, and then salvation is merited to them because of their faith, or because of their works, etc.

We focus on the gorgeous and fantastic Greek word “huper” but point it to Christ! What does this mean? “Huper” means “because of” or “on account of”. We are not saved “huper” or “because of” our faith or our works. But we are saved (“Super-Huper Saved!!) “HUPER” or “because of” Christ. Christ saves us through faith.

If Evangelical Christians in our day would stop and think about it, I think they would find their theology to be more Roman Catholic than they would like to admit! The term ‘Protestant’ used to mean that one was opposed to this Medieval theology of salvation by cooperation, but today’s Evangelical Protestant is not so much protesting this way of false salvation as much as they are protesting the Reformed way of thinking. At one time to be a Protestant meant you were protesting a false hope held out to you. Now it seems to mean in many circles that I am protesting against believing what the Reformation taught about grace alone.

We must be warned that this teaching that says you are saved by cooperating with the grace of God will never produce the humility a Christian must have to know and love God.  This kind of “cooperation salvation” makes people boast! It gives people in this world every reason to boast, which is what Paul is trying to prevent in Ephesians 2 where he is explaining grace alone.

If (and I do say “IF”) every person in the world had the same access to grace and the same ability to cooperate with that grace using their so-called ‘free-will’, it would give one person who chose Christ over someone who rejected him every reason to boast. This is the most popular understanding today in Evangelical circles of how someone is saved! Because there is a reason to boast, it therefore undermines the grace of God and promotes the good works, will, and decisions of men (cf. John 1:12-13; Romans 9:10-21). We need Reformation today!

Also, when Christians are brought up and “nurtured” on a diet of “Christ and you” rather than “Christ in you” (which is the hope of glory, Col. 1:28ff), then we are reminded that we have need of a Reformation. When many sermons every Lord’s Day are on examples from Scripture rather than being centered on the Christ of Scripture, men will “dare to be like Daniel’s” while failing to truly know what it means to trust Christ alone, the very Savior of Daniel! The Scriptures speak of Christ (John 3:30; 5:24ff; Luke 24:25ff), and so must we- – speak of Christ alone! We need Reformation today!

When our worship becomes just another opportunity for mindless entertainment rather than focused on God alone and his glory, we can forget that worship is about HIM and not about us. When we are thinking more about “what we are getting out of the sermon” and whether it is meeting our “felt needs”, we are not worshipping in spirit and truth!

Furthermore, when we reach out to the goats and design our worship to make them feel comfortable, we are failing to reach the sheep and failing to hear the true voice of our Shepherd (John 10). Jesus says as Shepherd that His sheep hear his voice in faithful preaching and they will follow him! We must be reminded about all things being done for the glory of God alone- – and not for us (including our salvation- – of course we benefit, but according to Ephesians 1 and Romans 9, salvation is ultimately for God’s glory!) We need Reformation today!

Revival and Reformation
So, in our day, we need to be reminded of the Reformation! If we want revival, we ought to first seek the Reformation of our congregations so that we might return to the foundational authority of Scripture alone and not add a lot of our own modern and “culturally relevant” teachings of men (which we tend to as idolaters, to place on the same level as Scripture just as the Pharisees, or the Medieval Church of Rome which Luther stood against).

We need to return to Scripture alone and rediscover daily the glorious teaching of faith alone- – our righteousness is not our own, but revealed by God to us so that we can have an ‘alien righteousness’ or the righteousness of Christ given to us.

In other words, the good news of Faith alone is that all that we have done in our sins against God, both committing sins positively against him as well as negatively omitting certain things we should have done, Christ has done all of these for us (for us, for us, for us! Shout it again!).

Salvation **is** by works- – but not ours (our works are never good enough) — our salvation is by the work of Christ for us and His earned and merited righteousness, because of the salvation he achieved by loving God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength, and his neighbor as himself. This is given to us by faith alone (and this makes us have really “good news” and hope for the world!).

The Reformation in Our Own Hearts
From this realization of Faith alone, we are reminded daily that it is all of grace alone because of Christ’s work alone, and this all for God’s glory! May we be delivered daily of the Medieval mindset of trying to earn our salvation, even in the sense of cooperating with God. May we be delivered from looking to our failures as well as our successes rather than looking away from both to Christ.

May we find that making lists and checking them twice is a Medieval way, as well as an Old Covenant way to failure, and the a fast and broad way that leads to destruction. Remember, those who make lists come to Christ and say: I prophesied, preached, witnessed, cast out demons and did might works in your name. Christ says to those trusting in their lists “Depart from me – -I never knew you!” (Matt. 7:23ff; 25:41ff).

Jesus says: On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

“Workers of lawlessness” are those who approach a holy God with their own works, rather than crying empty-handedly: “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner- – for Christ sake alone!”

The one who understands grace that is truly gracious is the one that stands before Christ and says: “Nothing in my hands to I bring, simply to your cross do I cling!”

In Philippians 3:4-12, the Apostle Paul gives his list for his confidence in the flesh, then proceeds to discard it. May you discard whatever list you have, whatever thing other than Christ you are trusting in and receive daily by faith the righteousness revealed in Jesus.

Philippians 3:4,7-9: though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more…But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord… That I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith…”

May we not make lists of our own, whether it be our successes leading to self-righteousness, or lists of failures leading to our condemnation, discouragement, and depression.

But may we be as Paul who, putting his lists behind him, who pressed forward to know Christ. Read Philippians 3 carefully again, and remember that this truth will set you free of list making and law keeping that has more in common with Medieval Catholic theology (that Luther fought) and Pharisaical theology (that the Apostle Paul considered “dung”).

Look to Christ and discover anew the Reformation of the 16th Century in your own heart of heart. Remember the vital importance of Scripture alone, faith alone, grace alone, Christ alone, to the glory of God alone!
Soli Deo Gloria!

Ephesians 3:20-21: “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”


In Christ’s love,


Pastor Charles R. Biggs