Published on May 25, 2017 by Steve West

Westminster John Knox, 1960 | 1734 pages

A Brief Book Summary from Books At a Glance – Part 2


Editor’s Note:  This is Part 2 of our six-part summary of John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can catch up on Part 1 here.



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

Chapter 1 By the Fall and Revolt of Adam the Whole Human Race was Delivered to the Curse, and Degenerated from its Original Condition; the Doctrine of Original Sin
Chapter 2 Man Has Now Been Deprived of Freedom of Choice and Bound Over to Miserable Servitude
Chapter 3 Only Damnable Things Come Forth from Man’s Corrupt Nature
Chapter 4 How God Works in Men’s Hearts
Chapter 5 Refutation of the Objections Commonly Put Forward in Defense of Free Will
Chapter 6 Fallen Man Ought to Seek Redemption in Christ
Chapter 7 The Law Was Given, Not to Restrain the Folk of the Old Covenant Under Itself, but to Foster Hope of Salvation in Christ Until His Coming
Chapter 8 Explanation of the Moral Law (the Ten Commandments)
Chapter 9 Christ, Although He Was Known to the Jews Under the Law, Was at Length Clearly Revealed Only in the Gospel
Chapter 10 The Similarity of the Old and New Testaments
Chapter 11 The Difference Between the Two Testaments
Chapter 12 Christ Had to Become Man in Order to Fulfill the Office of Mediator
Chapter 13 Christ Assumed the True Substance of Human Flesh
Chapter 14 How the Two Natures of the Mediator Make One Person
Chapter 15 To Know the Purpose for Which Christ Was Sent by the Father, and What He Conferred Upon Us, We Must Look Above All at Three Things in Him: The Prophetic Office, Kingship, and Priesthood
Chapter 16 How Christ Has Fulfilled the Function of Redeemer to Acquire Salvation for Us. Here, also, His Death and Resurrection are Discussed, as Well as His Ascent Into Heaven
Chapter 17 Christ Rightly and Properly Said to Have Merited God’s Grace and Salvation for Us



Chapters 1-2

If human beings are to know themselves, they must understand that they were created upright in the image of God, but they have fallen into sin and become corrupted. People love themselves and are blind to their own faults. They need to recognize what we were created to be, but also our lack of moral ability. In pride and unfaithfulness, Adam refused to submit to God and obey him. He held God’s Word in contempt and listened to Satan. Adam’s fall affected all of creation and all of his posterity, who inherit his corruption. Adam had been entrusted with the gifts for the whole human race, and he lost them. Original sin is a hereditary depravity and corruption. It affects our entire nature and soul—no faculty is left unstained; sin and depravity overwhelm the entire person. God did not originally create us as depraved creatures, but we have been corrupted.

Due to our sin natures, we are no longer free. Yet this does not excuse our sin, nor does it justify our lack of pursuing righteousness. Whatever good we do is by the grace of God. Philosophers have contended that people are good enough, and our reason is strong enough, for our wills to be able to choose what is right. This view of free will was also accepted by many of the church Fathers. Part of the reason why they did so was that they did not want to give people an excuse for sin and spiritual laziness. What free will actually is was not clearly defined. Free will is not able to empower people to do good works. It is not even strong enough to cooperate with God’s grace, apart from God’s gift of regeneration. Augustine argued for free will, but then came to see that Adam had lost free will in his abuse of his own freedom. We are now slaves to sin, not free. Even the Fathers who taught free will, however, in other places of their works ascribed every good thing that we do to the grace of God. We cannot claim anything for our own merit without defrauding God of his glory and honor. Trusting in ourselves and our wills, even just a little bit, is sinful. It is the humility that recognizes our depravity and God’s power that brings him glory. God has not annihilated all of our faculties, but still allows human beings to reason and to know. Nevertheless, our sinful blindness keeps us from seeing God as we ought. God still preserves in us a knowledge of earthly things, so we operate with the basic understandings needed for human society. We are able to profitably engage in arts and sciences, learning and discovering. This ability should cause us all to thank God, since it comes from him. The image of God has not been eradicated in us.

Everyone has some natural insight, but spiritual insight is lost entirely. Only in regeneration do we gain spiritual understanding, knowing God, his salvation, and learning how to live accordingly. Apart from grace we love darkness and cannot see the light. It is only when the Lord opens our eyes that we are able to see, and no one can come to Christ unless the Father draws them. The natural man cannot accept the things of God; the Spirit is necessary. God has given us a conscience so that we have a sense of right and wrong—this means that sin is not based merely on ignorance. Yet conscience can be seared and twisted, and it does not produce proper knowledge of God. We cannot know God or live rightly without the Holy Spirit. Every person experiences a partial desire to do good which they are unable to fulfill. The desire to truly do what is good, and the power to follow it through, can only come from the Spirit. We can only take credit for our sin—anything good in us comes from God.


Chapters 3-5

The flesh is against God and cannot submit to him and please him, and all of humanity in its nature is flesh. Apart from regeneration, the entire human race is corrupt in the flesh, and this is not merely because of custom and imitation, it is due to our fallen nature. God’s grace sometimes acts as a restraining force that keeps us from sinning as much as we would, but this work of grace is less than regeneration. In grace God allows some people to be more virtuous than others, even though they may not be saved. People cannot do what is right—they must sin. But their sin is culpable, since they are not forced by external powers to do so; we sin willingly. The very fact that only God’s grace and gift of regeneration can change our wills is proof of how depraved we are. If the Lord did not first work in us to change our wills, we would be incapable of cooperating with grace. God gives the elect a new heart which is inclined to the good and able to will rightly in accordance with his grace. Scripture records prayers of God’s people asking him to change their hearts, since only he can do that divine work. We can do nothing good without Christ’s power, and God is the one who works in us so we can will and do what is pleasing to him. God does not meet us halfway. . .

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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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