Published on June 15, 2017 by Steve West

Westminster John Knox, 1960 | 1734 pages

A Brief Book Summary from Books At a Glance – Part 5

Editor’s Note:  This is Part 5 of our six-part summary of John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. To catch up see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.



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 Four:
The External Means or Aids by Which God Invites Us into the Society of Christ and Holds Us Therein [Summary Part 1 of 2: Chapters 1-13]

Chapter 1 The True Church with Which as Mother of All the Godly We Must Keep Unity
Chapter 2 A Comparison of the False and the True Church
Chapter 3 The Doctors and Ministers of the Church, Their Election and Office
Chapter 4 The Condition of the Ancient Church, and the Kind of Government in Use Before the Papacy
Chapter 5 The Ancient Form of Government Was Completely Overthrown by the Tyranny of the Papacy
Chapter 6 The Primacy of the Roman See
Chapter 7 The Origin and Growth of the Roman Papacy Until it Raised Itself to Such a Height that the Freedom of the Church was Oppressed, and All Restraint Overthrown
Chapter 8 The Power of the Church with Respect to Articles of Faith; and How in the Papacy, with Unbridled License, the Church Has Been Led to Corrupt All Purity of Doctrine
Chapter 9 Councils and Their Authority
Chapter 10 The Power of Making Laws, in Which the Pope, with His Supporters, Has Exercised Upon Souls the Most Savage Tyranny and Butchery
Chapter 11 The Jurisdiction of the Church and Its Abuse as Seen in the Papacy
Chapter 12 The Discipline of the Church: Its Chief use in Censures and Excommunication
Chapter 13 Vows; and How Everyone Rashly Taking Them Has Miserably Entangled Himself


Chapters 1-3

God has deposited his truth in the church, and his children are to be cared for and nourished within her. The church consists of all the elect of all ages, united to Christ our Head. We gain great assurance knowing that God designs to bless the church. The church is rightly called a mother and her children grow up under her guidance. In grace, God has given us human teachers and instructors who teach us his Word. Spiritual teaching and preaching of the Word build up the church and sanctifies it. Ministers cannot accomplish anything of lasting good apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. The church can refer to all those who are truly saved, and it can also refer to the visible number of people on earth who profess to know Christ. There are many hypocrites who have been baptized and who partake of the Lord’s Supper in this visible church. God knows, however, who is truly his. A local church must preach and honor the Word, and administer the sacraments. If a church has these two marks there will be fruit, and we should not divide it or leave it. No church has perfect doctrine and practice, but there are major doctrines that must be upheld; if they are, do not quibble over minor issues. God will sift the visible church at the Day of Judgment, so we need to wait for him and not draw hasty judgments. Even the churches in Corinth and Galatia which were plagued by scandal and doctrinal issues were referred to as churches by Paul. No church is perfectly blameless now, but Christ is at work to make his bride holy and without blemish. We must not separate from Christ’s church just because not everyone meets our moral standards. Everyone needs forgiveness of sins, and baptism shows that our sins need cleansing. We have been pardoned and should extend forgiveness to others. Jesus taught us to pray every day for the forgiveness of our sins, and we are to forgive those who sin against us as often as they ask. Both the old and new covenant Scriptures are filled with examples of God’s forgiveness of his people’s sins.

If a church has lost the truth of the major doctrines of the faith, and if it has perverted the sacraments, then it is no longer a church. If Christ is not the cornerstone, and if falsehood drives out truth, the church does not exist. The Roman Catholic Church has perverted the ministry of the Word, rejected sound doctrine, and exists in abuse, immorality, and idolatry. Such is their ignorance that they argue they must be preserved as the true church because of their structures and lineage, but this superstitious trust in externals will not avail. Christ’s sheep will hear his voice, and his true church is established on his Word. We cannot be united with the Roman Church because unity can only be experienced in Christ, and they are not in Christ. We must withdraw because of their heresies—we have to withdraw from Rome to come to Christ. Like Israel in times of apostasy, Rome will not hear the rebuke of God’s Word. They are deep in idolatrous practices. Yet just as God preserved his true church when Israel as a nation was apostate and idolatrous, God in grace has preserved a remnant today, and to the extent that some marks of the true church are still found in some places associated with Rome, there is a remnant amongst them, even though the whole papacy and Roman Church as an institution is not to be recognized as a true church.

God does not need human ministers, but he has ordained to use them. The fact that we will listen to the Word of God even when it is taught by lowly men shows how highly we esteem it. Being bound together in the ministry of the Word fosters love amongst God’s people, and through it all the saints are equipped and grow. Ministers are to be good examples and be honored. The church can never be without pastors and teachers. Apostles, prophets, teachers and pastors were God’s gifts to build up the church. Pastors must serve their church without looking to leave for their own advantage. Church government is ordered by God. Those in leadership must be called by God, and this secret call is ratified and acknowledged publicly by the church. Ministers must fulfill the requirements set out in the Pastoral Epistles. Pastors should be appointed by the people, with other pastors leading the process. Ordination by the laying on of hands is proper.


Chapters 4-5

The early church did not do everything perfectly, but it is helpful to see how they organized their churches. Those who taught were called “presbyters” and in a city one of them was chosen to be a “bishop.” It was agreed that “presbyter” and “bishop” were synonyms, but for practical purposes they were differentiated to meet the needs of the times. The preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments were always their main responsibility. Archbishops were also chosen, with patriarchs over them, but this was rare. Deacons were appointed to. . .

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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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