I’ve started (again) to read John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. Undoubtedly it’s one of the most important books of the sixteenth-century Reformation. Luther had kicked things off in 1517, and the first edition of the Institutes was published in 1536. It was subsequently revised and enlarged several times, with the final edition being that of 1559. (I’m reading that final version neither in Latin nor in French, I confess, but in the English edition of McNeill and Battles.)

It’s a book with a dual purpose. First, it was written for those seeking to understand the Scriptures, “to guide them and help them to find the sum of what God meant to teach us in his Word” (p.6) by providing “a sum of Christian doctrine” (p.8). It was meant as a companion to Calvin’s commentaries on the various books of the Bible, so that in those commentaries he would “have no need to undertake long doctrinal discussions, and to digress” (p.5).

The second purpose is as a defence of the teachings of the Reformation. The book includes a “Prefatory Address to King Francis I of France”, under whose rule some of those spreading these doctrines were being “shackled with irons, some beaten with rods, some led about as laughingstocks, some proscribed, some most savagely tortured, some forced to flee” (p.14), and some had even suffered “the punishment of death” (p.30). Calvin’s Institutes were intended to demonstrate that the doctrines of the Reformation were not deserving of such outrage, but were nothing but the doctrines of the historic, orthodox Christian faith, and that it was the Papacy of his day that had departed from this.

I’m planning to write brief summaries and reflections along the way, mainly to help me to digest what I’ve been reading. The projected outline of those posts is below, and links will appear in due course. (Don’t hold your breath.)

I’ll also be listening to a series of lectures on the Institutes by David Calhoun of Covenant Theological Seminary (also available on iTunes and via The Gospel Coalition with accompanying PDFs). (There are plenty of lecture courses available there, by the way, and it’s an excellent resource.)

Comments welcome, and don’t forget to subscribe to future posts, either using the “Subscribe” link at the top right, or using your favourite aggregator (I’m using Feedly at the moment).

Book One. The Knowledge of God the Creator

Book Two. The Knowledge of God the Redeemer in Christ, First Disclosed to the Fathers Under the Law, and Then to Us in the Gospel

Book Three. The Way in Which We Receive the Grace of Christ: What Benefits Come to Us from It, and What Effects Follow

Book Four. The External Means or Aids by Which God Invites Us Into the Society of Christ and Holds Us Therein

  • The church and its government (1-4, 73pp)
  • The Papacy (5-11, 145pp)
  • Church discipline and vows (12-13, 47pp)
  • Sacraments and baptism (14-16, 83pp)
  • The Lord’s Supper (17-18, 89pp)
  • False sacraments (19, 37pp)
  • Civil government (20, 40pp)