Jean Calvin.

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Non tamen omnino potuit mors invida totum
ToUere Calvinum terris; sterna manebunt
Ingenii monumenta tui: et livoris iniqui
Languida paulatim cum flamma resederit, omnes
lleligio qua pura nitet se fundet in oras
Faraa tui. Buchanax. Poemat.







William Fry, Printer.




XHE English Reader is here presented with a Trans-
lation of one of the principal theological productions
of the sixteenth century. Few persons, into whose
hands this translation is likely to fall, will require to
be informed that the author of the original work was
one of an illustrious triumvirate, who acted the most
' conspicuous part in what has been generally and justly
denominated The Reformation. Of that important
revolution in ecclesiastical affairs, so necessary to the
interests of true religion, and productive of such im-
mense advantages even to civil society, Luther,
ZuiNGLE, and Calvin, were honoured, by the provi-
dence of God, to be the most highly distinguished
instruments. It is no degradation to the memory of
the many other ornaments of that age, to consider them
as brilliant satellites in the firmament of the Church,
revolving round these primary luminaries, to whom
they were indebted for much of that lustre which
they diffused over the earth; while they were all to-


gcther revolving around one and the same common
centre, though, it must be confessed, with considerable
varieties of approximation, velocity, and obliquity in
their courses; yet all deriving more or less copious com-
munications of light from the great Sun of the moral
system, the true Light of the world.

Differing in the powers of their minds as well as in
the temperament of their bodily constitutions, placed
in different circumstances, and called to act in different
scenes, these leading Reformers, though engaged in
the same common cause, displayed their characteristic
and peculiar excellencies; which, it is no disparage-
ment of that cause to admit, were likewise accompanied
by peculiar failings. It is not the design of this Pre-
face to pourtray and discriminate their respective cha-
racters. They alike devoted their lives and labours to
rescue Christianity from the absurdities, superstitions,
and vices by which it had been so deplorably deformed,
mutilated, and obscured, and to recal the attention of
mankind from the doubtful traditions of men to the .
unerring word of God. But while they were all dis-
tinguished Reformers, Calvin has been generally ac-
knowledged to have been the most eminent theologian
of the three.

Such was the superiority of the talents and attain-
ments of Calvin to those of most other great men, that
the strictest truth is in danger of being taken for exagge-
ration. It is impossible for any candid and intelligent
person to liavc even a slight acquaintance with his writ-


ings, without admiring his various knowledge, extensive
learning, profound penetration, solid judgnient, acute
reasoning, pure morality, and fervent piety.

His Commentaries on the Scriptures have been
celebrated for a juster method of exposition than had
been exhibited by any preceding writer. Above a hun-
dred years after his death, Pool, the Author of the Synop-
sis, in the preface to that valuable work, says; " Calvin's
Commentaries abound in solid discussions of theologi-
cal subjects, and practical improvements of them. Sub-
sequent writers have borrowed most of their materials
from Calvin, and his interpretations adorn the books
even of those who repay the obligation by reproaching
their master." And nothing can more satisfactorily evince
the high estimation to which they are still entitled from
the biblical student, than the following testimony given
after the lapse of another century by the late learned
bishop Horsley: '* I hold the memory of Calvin in high
veneration; his works have a place in my library; and,
in the study of the Holy Scriptures, he is one of the
commentators whom I frequently consult."

But perhaps of all the writings of Calvin none has
excited so much attention as his Institutes of the
Christian Religion.

His original design in commencing this work is stated
by himself, in the beginning of his Dedication, to have
been to supply his countrymen, the French, with an
elementary compendium for their instruction in the prin-


ciples of true religion. But we learn from Beza, that, by
the time of its completion, existing circumstances fur-
nished the Author with an additional motive for sending
it into the world, during his residence at Basil, whither
he had retired to avoid the persecution which was then
raging in France against all the dissentients from th&
Church of Rome. Francis the First, king of France,
courted the friendship of the Protestant princes of Ger-
manv; and knowing their detestation of the cruelties
which he employed against his subjects of the reformed
religion, he endeavoured to excuse his conduct by al-
leging, that he caused none to be put to death except
some fanatics; who, so far from taking the word of God
as the rule of their faith, gave themselves up to the im-
pulses of their disordered imaginations, and even openly
avowed a contempt for magistrates and sovereign princes.
Unable to bear such foul aspersions of his brethren,
Calvin determined on the immediate publication of this
Treatise, which he thought would serve as an answer
to the calumnies circulated by the enemies of the truth,
and as an apology for his pious and persecuted country-

The Dedication to Francis is one of the most mas-
terly compositions of modern times. The purity, elegance,
and energy of style; the bold, yet respectful, freedom of
address; the firm attachment to the Divine word; the
Christian fortitude in the midst of persecution; the
triumphant refutation of the calumnies of detractors; with
other qualities which distinguish this celebrated remon-
strance, will surely permit no reader of taste or piety


to withhold his concurrence from the general admiration
which it has received.

The Author composed this Treatise in Latin and
French; and though at its first appearance it was little
more than an outline of what it afterwards became, it
was received with uncommon approbation, and a second
edition was soon required. How many editions it passed
through during his life, it is difficult, if not impossible,
now to ascertain; but it obtained a very extensive cir-
culation, and was reprinted several times, and every time
was further improved and enlarged by him, till in the
year 1559, twenty-three years after the first impression,
he put the finishing hand to his work, and published it
in Latin and French, with his last corrections and addi-

The circulation which it enjoyed was not confined to
persons capable of reading it in the languages in which
it was written. It was translated into High Dutch, Low
Dutch, Italian, and Spanish.

Soon after the publication of the Author's last edition,
it was translated from the Latin into English. In this
language it appears to have reached six editions in the
life of the Translator. A reflection on the small number
of persons who may be supposed to have had inclination
and ability to read such a book at that period, compared
with the number of readers in the present age, may
excite some wonder that there should have been a de-
mand for so many editions. But no surprise at this cir.

Vol. L b


cumstance will be felt by any person acquainted with
the high estimation in which the works of the Author
were held, by the venerable Reformers of the Church of
England, and their immediate successors, as well as by
the great majority of religious people in this country.
This is not a question of opinion, but an undeniable fact.
Dr. Heylyn, the admirer and biographer of Archbishop
Laud, speaking of the early part of the seventeenth cen-
tury, says, that Calvin's *' Book of Institutes was, for
the most part, the foundation on which the young di-
vines of those times did build their studies." The great
Dr. Saunderson, who was Chaplain to King Charles the
First, and after the restoration of Charles the Second was
created Bishop of Lincoln, says; " When I began to set
myself to the study of divinity as my proper business,^
Calvin's Institutions were recommended to me, as they
were generally to all young scholars in those times, as
the best and perfectest system of divinity, and the fittest
to be laid as a ground- work in the study of this pro-
fession. And indeed my expectation was not at all de-
ceived in the reading of those Institutions."*-

* It is not uncommon, among persons of a certain class, to repre-
sent the leading principles of Calvin as unfavourable to practical
relii^ion, and to that kind of preaching which is adapted to affect
the hearts and consciences of the hearers. A reference to the most
able and intelligent theologians and preachers who have held those
principles, and uj)()n whom they may reasonably be concluded to
have exerted their genuine and fullest influence, will amply evince
the inaccuracy of this representation. Of the excellent divine quoted
above, King Charles the First was wont to say, that "he carried his
cars to hear oihcr preachers, but his conscience to hear Mr, Sauii*


The great changes which have taken place in our lan-
guage render it difficult to form a correct opinion of the
merits of Mr. Norton's translation, which was first pub-
lished about two hundred and fifty years ago. It must
give rather a favourable idea of its execution, that it was
carefully revised by the Reverend David Whitehead, a
man of learning and piety, who, in the reign of Henry
the Eighth, was nominated by Archbishop Cranmer to
a bishopric in Ireland, and soon after the accession of
Queen Elizabeth, was solicited by that Princess to fill
the metropolitan See of Canterbury, but declined the
preferment. But, whatever were the merits or defects of
that translation at its first appearance, it has long been too
antiquated, uncouth, and obscure, to convey any just
idea of the original work, and abounds with passages
which, to the modern English reader, cannot but be aU
together unintelligible.

The intrinsic excellence of the book, its importance in
the history of theological controversy, the celebrity of
the author, the application of his name to designate the
leading principles of the system he maintained, and the
frequent collision of sentiment respecting various parts
of that system, combine with other considerations to
render it a matter of wonder, that it has not been long
ago given to the English public in a new dress. The
importance of it has also been much increased by the
recent controversy respecting Calvinism, commenced by
Dr. Tomline, the present Bishop of Lincoln, in which
such direct and copious reference has been made to the
writings of this Reformer, and especially to his Chris-


TiAN Institutes. These circumstances and considera-
tions have led to the present translation and publication,
which, from the very respectable encouragement it has
received, the Translator trusts will be regarded a^ an
acceptable service to the religious public.

Among the different methods of translation, which
have been recommended, he has adopted that which apr
peared to him best fitted to the present undertaking,
A servile adherence to the letter of the original, the style
of which is so very remote from the English idiom, he
thought would convey a very inadequate representation
of the work; such extreme fidelity, to use an expres-
sion of Cowper's, being seldom successful, even in a
faithful transmission of the precise sentiments of the
Author to the mind of the reader. A mere attention to
the ideas and sentiments of the original, to the neglect
of its style and manner, would expose the Translator
of a treatise of this nature to no small danger of misre-
presenting the meaning of the Author, by too frequent
and unnecessary deviations from his language. He has,
therefore, aimed at a medium between servility and
looseness, and endeavoured to follow the style of the
original as far as the respective idioms of the Latin and
English would admit.

After the greater part of the work had been translated,
he had the happiness to meet with an edition in French,
of which he has availed himself in translating the re-
mainder, and in the revision of what he had translated
Ijcforc. Every person, who understands any two langua^


ges, will be aware that the ambiguity of one will some-
times be explained by the precision of another: and,
notwithstanding the acknowledged superiority of the
Latin to the French in most of the qualities which con-
stitute the excellence of a language, the case of the
article is not the only instance in which Calvin's French
elucidates his Latin.

The Scriptural quotations which occur in the work,
the Translator has given, generally, in the words of our
common English version; sometimes according to the
readings in the margin of that version; and, in a few
instances, he has literally translated the version adopted
by the Author, where the context required his peculiar
reading to be preserved. Almost all the writers of
that age, writing chiefly in a dead language, were
accustomed to speak of their adversaries in terms
which the polished manners of the modern times have
discarded, and which would now be deemed illiberal
and scurrilous. Where these cases occur, the Trans-
lator has not thought himself bound to a literal render^
ing of every v/ord, or at liberty to refine them entirely
away, but has adopted such expressions as he appre^
hends will give a faithful representation of the spirit of
the author to modern readers.

Intending this work as a complete system of theo-
logy, the Author has made it the repository of his senti^
ments on all points of faith and practice. The whole
being distributed into four parts, in conformity to the
Apostle's Creed, and this plan beins^ very diiFerent from


that of most other bodies of divmity, the Translator
has borrowed from the Latin edition of Amsterdam
a very perspicuous General Syllabus, which will give
the reader a clear view of the original design and plan of
the treatise.

He would not be understood to represent these Insti-
tutes as a perfect summary of Christian doctrines and
morals, or to profess an unqualified approbation of all
the sentiments they contain. This is a homage to which
no uninspired writings can ever be entitled. But the
simplicity of method; the freedom from the barbarous
terms, captious questions, minute distinctions, and
intricate subtilties of many other divines; the clear-
ness and closeness of argument; the complete refutation
of the advocates of the Roman church, sometimes by
obvious conclusions from their professed principles, some-
times by clear proofs of the absurdities they involve;
the intimate knowledge of ecclesiastical history; the fa-^
miliar acquaintance with former theological controversies;
the perspicuity of scriptural interpretation; and the uni-
form spirit of genuine piety, which pervade the book,
cannot escape the observation of any judicious reader.

It has been advised by some persons that the trans-
lation should be accompanied by a few notes, to eluci-
date and enforce some passages and to correct others:
but, on all the consideration the Translator has been
able to give to this subject, he has thought it would be
best to content himself with the humble office of placing
the smtiments of Calvin before the reader with all the


fidelity in his power, without any addition or limitation.
He hopes that the present publication will serve the
cause of true religion, and that the reputation of the
work itself will sustain no diminution from the form in
which it now appears.

London, May 12, 1813.

P. S. Many persons have expressed a wish that tlie
present edition of the Institutes should be preceded by
a Life of the Author. But, to attempt doing any thing
like justice to the subject, would require at least another
volume, which could not be composed without more
time and labour than the Translator has hitherto been
able to devote to it. He now intends, however, to take
every opportunity of collecting materials for the purpose,
and will feel himself much obliged by any communica-
tions relative to the subject itself, or to sources from
which the requisite information may be derived.







In the first edition of this work, not expecting that suc-
cess which the Lord in his infinite goodness hath given,
I handled the subject for the most part in a superficial
manner, as is usual in small treatises. But when I under-
stood that it had obtained from almost all pious persons
such a favourable acceptance as I never could have pre-
sumed to wish, much less to hope; while I was conscious
of receiving far more attention than I had deserved, I
thought it would evince great ingratitude, if I did not en-
deavour at least, according to my humble ability, to make
some suitable return for the attentions paid to me;— at-
tentions of themselves calculated to stimulate my indus-
try. Nor did I attempt this only in the second edition;
but in every succeeding one the work has been improved
by some farther enlargements. But though I repented not
the labour then devoted to it, yet I never satisfied myself,
till it was arranged in the order in which it is now pub-
Vot. I. A


lished: and I trust I have here presented to my readers
what their judgments will unite in approving. Of my
diligent application to the accomplishment of this service
for the Church of God, I can produce abundant proof.
For, last winter, when I thought that a quartan ague would
speedily terminate in my death, the more my disorder
increased, the less I spared myself, till I had finished this
book, to leave it behind me, as some grateful return to
such kind solicitations of the religious public. Indeed, I
would rather it had been done sooner, but it is soon
enough, if well enough. I shall think it has appeared at
the proper time, when I shall find it to have been more
beneficial than before to the Church of God. This is my
only wish.

I should indeed be ill requited for my labour, if I did
not content myself with the approbation of God alone,
despising equally the foolish and perverse judgments of
ignorant men, and the calumnies and detractions of the
wicked. For though God hath wholly devoted my mind
to study the enlargement of his kingdom, and the pro-
motion of general usefulness; and I have the testimony
of my own conscience, of angels, and of God himself, that
since I undertook the ofHce of a teacher in the church, I
have had no other object in view than to profit the church
by maintaining the pure doctrine of godliness; yet I sup-
pose there is no man more slandered or calumniated than
myself. When this Preface was actually in the press, I
had certain information, that at Augsburg, were the States
of the Empire were assembled, a report had been circula-


ted, of my defection to the papacy, and received with un-
becoming eagerness in the courts of the princes. This is
the gratitude of those who cannot be unacquainted with
th^ numerous proofs of my constancy, which not only re-
fute such a foul calumny, but, with all equitable and hu-
mane judges, ought to preserve me from it. But the devil,
with all his host, is deceived, if he think to overwhelm
me with vile falsehoods, or to render me more timid,
indolent, or dilatory, by such indignities. For I trust that
God in his infinite goodness will enable me to persevere
with patient constancy in the career of his holy calling:
of which I afford my pious readers a fresh proof in this

Now my design in this work has been to prepare and
qualify students of theology for the reading of the divine
word, that they may have an easy introduction to it, and
be enabled to proceed in it without any obstruction. For
I think I have given such a comprehensive summary, and
orderly arrangement of all the branches of religion, that,
with proper attention, no person will find any difficulty in
determining what ought to be the principal objects of his
research in the Scripture, and to what end he ought to
refer any thing it contains. This way therefore being pre-
pared, if I should hereafter publish any expositions of the
Scripture, I shall have no need to introduce long discus-
sions respecting doctrines, or digressions on common
topics, and therefore shall always compress them within
a narrow compass. This will relieve the pious reader from
great trouble and tediousness, provided he come previous-


ly furnished with the necessary information, by a know-
ledge of the present work. But as the reason of this design
is very evident in my numerous Commentaries, I would
rather have it known from the fact itself, than from my

Farewell, friendly reader, and if you receive any benefit
from my labours, let me have the assistance of your prayers
with God our Father.

Geneva, Ut August^ 1559,


To His Most Christian Majesty, Francis, King of the
French and his Sovereign, John Calvin wisheth peace
and salvation in Christ,

When I began this work, Sire, nothing was farther
from my thoughts than writing a book which would
afterwards be presented to your Majesty. My intention
was only to lay down some elementary principles, by
which inquirers on the subject of religion might be
instructed in the nature of true piety. And this labour I
undertook chiefly for my countrymen, the French, of
whom I apprehended multitudes to be hungering and
thirsting after Christ, but saw very few possessing any
real knowledge of him. That this was my design, the
book itself proves by its simple method and unadorned
composition. But when I perceived that the fury of cer-
tain wicked men in your kingdom had grown to such a
height, as to leave no room in the land for sound doctrine,
I thought I should be usefully employed, if in the same
work I delivered my instructions to them, and exhibited
my confession to you, that you may know the nature of
that doctrine, which is the object of such unbounded
rage to those madmen, who are now disturbing your
kingdom with fire and sword. For I shall not be afraid to
acknowledge, that this treatise contains a summary of
that very doctrine, which, according to their clamours,


deserves to be punished with imprisonment, banishment,
proscription, and flames, and to be exterminated from the
face of the earth. I well know with what atrocious insinua-
tions your ears have been filled by them, in order to render
our cause most odious in your esteem; but your clemency
should lead you to consider, that if accusation be ac-
counted a sufficient evidence of guilt, there will be an
end of all innocence in words and actions. If any one in-
deed, with a view to bring an odium upon the doctrine
which I am endeavouring to defend, should allege that
it has long ago been condemned by the general consent,
and suppressed by many judicial decisions, this will be
only equivalent to saying, that it has been sometimes
violently rejected through the influence and power of its
adversaries, and sometimes insidiously and fraudulently
oppressed by falsehoods, artifices, and calumnies. Vio-
lence is displayed, when sanguinary sentences are passed
against it without the cause being heard; and fraud, when
it is unjustly accused of sedition and mischief. Lest any

Online LibraryJean CalvinInstitutes of the Christian religion (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 54)