Published on June 1, 2017 by Steve West

Westminster John Knox, 1960 | 1734 pages


A Brief Book Summary from Books At a Glance – Part 3

Editor’s Note:  This is Part 3 of our six-part summary of John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. To catch up see Part 1 and Part 2.



Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion (1559 Edition) represents his mature theological reflection and has been one of the most influential literary works in Western history. Although it needs to be read firsthand to be fully appreciated, Calvin’s logical analysis and organization makes summarizing the Institutes possible. Calvin divided the Institutes into four books. For the purposes of summarization, the first two books are summarized in one summary each, and the last two are each divided into two summaries. Calvin’s chapters are of very unequal length, and this is reflected in the way the chapters are treated in the summaries.


Table of Contents: Book Three: The Way in Which We Receive the Grace of Christ: What Benefits Come to Us From It, and What Effects Follow [Summary Part 1 of 2, Chapters 1-11]

Chapter 1 The Things Spoken Concerning Christ Profit Us by the Secret Working of the Spirit
Chapter 2 Faith: Its Definition Set Forth, and Its Properties Explained
Chapter 3 Our Regeneration by Faith: Repentance
Chapter 4 How Far from the Purity of the Gospel is All That the Sophists in Their Schools Prate about Repentance; Discussion of Confession and Satisfaction
Chapter 5 The Supplements That They Add to Satisfactions, Namely, Indulgences and Purgatory
Chapter 6 The Life of the Christian Man; and First, by What Arguments Scripture Urges Us to It
Chapter 7 The Sum of the Christian Life: The Denial of Ourselves
Chapter 8 Bearing the Cross, a Part of Self-Denial
Chapter 9 Meditation on the Future Life
Chapter 10 How We Must Use the Present Life and Its Helps
Chapter 11 Justification by Faith: First the Definition of the Word and of the Matter

Chapters 1-2

Unless we are united with Christ and clothed with him, all that he has done cannot benefit us. It is through the work of the Spirit that we are included in Christ; he is the bond that unites us with Christ. The Spirit specially filled and empowered Christ for his ministry. Producing faith in the elect is the great work of the Spirit in us. Only the Spirit can give us light and life, allowing us to understand the things of God. Saving faith is not merely assent to facts or propositions, it is trust in God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent. Although faith is more than assent, it is based on knowledge. This knowledge is imperfect, and even where there is faith there is still error and unbelief. It is in God’s Word and the gospel that we gain the true knowledge of Christ. The gospel is the road that leads us to knowing Christ and having faith in him. We cannot divorce faith from the truths that the Word reveals. When we understand God’s promises of mercy and grace, and see them fulfilled in Christ, we trust him in faith. Faith, then is sure and certain, knowing God’s love as revealed in his promises and fulfilled in Christ, as the Spirit witnesses to our hearts. Where there is no sanctification, there is no saving faith. There are people who are said to believe, but their profession and conviction falls short of genuinely trusting in all that Christ is—assent is insufficient. Even the reprobate may be excited or convicted, but they do not exercise saving faith, which is a gift only for the elect. Those with spurious faith do not persevere in truth, nor do they experience transforming love and sanctification. They do not produce good fruit and in the end show that they do not belong to God.

The word “faith” can have different meanings in different contexts. Sometimes it refers to sound doctrine (i.e. “the faith”), sometimes it refers to holding a belief, and other times it refers to the type of trust that distinguishes believers from unbelievers. Faith is knowledge, although it is not perfect comprehension, since we are finite and cannot fully understand God. Faith is sure and certain, not vacillating endlessly—believers are called to be bold. If we have peace with God we will not live in misery and fear of judgment; we will live in hope and trust in the great benevolence of our Father. Saints do not always have restful minds and zero anxiety, but even in the midst of angst there is ultimate trust. The flesh and the spirit strive against each other, and faith fights unbelief. Yet even small faith clings to God and will have the victory. God’s Word is the weapon of faith against unbelief and temptation, and God ensures that his children will not be cast down forever. It is profitable to fear the Lord, and to recognize that apart from his enabling power we will suffer defeat. We are to be humble and exalt the Lord’s power. We must not look to our own works and merit, but recognize the great reality that Christ is in us. This is what grounds our confidence.

We are to fear the Lord, honoring him and revering him as we ought. Since the Lord abhors evil, we should hate it too, and avoid it. God’s children should not live under the fear of eternal punishment and wrath. Faith does not guarantee earthly prosperity, a long life, health and happiness, but it does guarantee that we will always have God. God is true and will uphold all of his promises, so faith looks to him for life. Even the impious may be scared by threats of punishment, but faith trusts in God’s grace and promises for blessing. Faith discovers God’s promises in the Word, but unless God worked in us we would not receive them. If it wasn’t for the Word, faith would vanish. All of God’s promises are yes and amen in Christ, so faith looks to him. It is in Christ that God’s promises of love are revealed and fulfilled. The Spirit illuminates our minds so we can receive the truth of the Word in faith. Nobody can see Christ and trust him without the Spirit, and without the Spirit nobody can understand the mind of God. Our minds may understand the gospel, but it must also penetrate our hearts. It is by the Spirit that we know we are in Christ and have saving faith. Some try to get us to find assurance in our works, and they get us to doubt that we will persevere to the end, but if we have the Spirit he is the guarantee of eternal salvation. Faith precedes love in us and causes us to love God—we will not love God until we understand him through the Spirit. And where there is faith, there is hope of eternal salvation. Hope strengthens and refreshes faith, and they are so interrelated Scripture sometimes uses them interchangeably. They are rooted in the same source.


Chapter 3

Repentance is born of faith. Those who see the truth of the gospel must see their sin and turn away from it—we repent because of grace and God’s promise of salvation. In repentance we hate sin and long for a holy life, living for Christ rather than our sinful nature. Faith and repentance are inseparable in the gospel, but they ought to be distinguished conceptually since they are not identical. When we repent we turn from sin to God, and we turn from our old mind to a new mind. Turning to God requires not only a change in externals, but a change in our souls. Fear of the Lord leads to repentance. Mortification of our sinful flesh and vivification of our spirits are the two parts of repentance. It is in Christ that our old man is mortified by crucifixion, and our spirits are vivified by the resurrection. Even though believers experience regeneration. . .

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Library of Christian Classics: Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion, Volumes 1 & 2

Westminster John Knox, 1960 | 1734 pages

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