JOHN CALVIN – INSTITUTES OF THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION
John Calvin. Institutes of the Christian Religion (Vol.1 of 2). Translated by John Allen. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication. 1813. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg, 2014. Retrieved 2019, from https://www.gutenberg.org/files/45001/45001-h/45001-h.html
BOOK I. ON THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD THE CREATOR.
Chapter I. The Connection Between The Knowledge Of God And The Knowledge Of Ourselves.
True and substantial wisdom principally consists of two parts, the knowledge of God, and the knowledge of ourselves. But, while these two branches of knowledge are so intimately connected, which of them precedes and produces the other, is not easy to discover. For, in the first place, no man can take a survey of himself but he must immediately turn to the contemplation of God, in whom he “lives and moves;” since it is evident that the talents which we possess are not from ourselves, and that our very existence is nothing but a subsistence in God alone. These bounties, distilling to us by drops from heaven, form, as it were, so many streams conducting us to the fountain-head. Our poverty conduces to a clearer display of the infinite fulness of God. Especially, the miserable ruin, into which we have been plunged by the defection of the first man, compels us to raise our eyes towards heaven, not only as hungry and famished, to seek thence a supply for our wants, but, aroused with fear, to learn humility. For, since man is subject to a world of miseries, and has been spoiled of his divine array, this melancholy exposure discovers an immense mass of deformity: every one, therefore, must be so impressed with a consciousness of his own infelicity, as to arrive at some knowledge of God. Thus a sense of our ignorance, vanity, poverty, infirmity, depravity, and corruption, leads us to perceive and acknowledge that in the Lord alone are to be found true wisdom, solid strength, perfect goodness, and unspotted righteousness; and so, by our imperfections, we are excited to a consideration of the perfections of God. Nor can we really aspire toward him, till we have begun to be displeased with ourselves. For who would not gladly rest satisfied with himself? where is the man not actually absorbed in self-complacency, while he remains unacquainted with his true situation, or content with his own endowments, and ignorant or forgetful of his own misery? The knowledge of ourselves, therefore, is not only an incitement to seek after God, but likewise a considerable assistance towards finding him.
II. On the other hand, it is plain that no man can arrive at the true knowledge of himself, without having first contemplated the divine character, and then descended to the consideration of his own. For, such is the native pride of us all, we invariably esteem ourselves righteous, innocent, wise, and holy, till we are convinced, by clear proofs, of our unrighteousness, turpitude, folly, and impurity. But we are never thus convinced, while we confine our attention to ourselves, and regard not the Lord, who is the only standard by which this judgment ought to be formed. Because, from our natural proneness to hypocrisy, any vain appearance of righteousness abundantly contents us instead of the reality; and, every thing within and around us being exceedingly defiled, we are delighted with what is least so, as extremely pure, while we confine our reflections within the limits of human corruption. So the eye, accustomed to see nothing but black, judges that to be very white, which is but whitish, or perhaps brown. Indeed, the senses of our bodies may assist us in discovering how grossly we err in estimating the powers of the soul. For if at noon-day we look either on the ground, or at any surrounding objects, we conclude our vision to be very strong and piercing; but when we raise our eyes and steadily look at the sun, they are at once dazzled and confounded with such a blaze of brightness, and we are constrained to confess, that our sight, so piercing in viewing terrestrial things, when directed to the sun, is dimness itself. Thus also it happens in the consideration of our spiritual endowments. For as long as our views are bounded by the earth, perfectly content with our own righteousness, wisdom, and strength, we fondly flatter ourselves, and fancy we are little less than demigods. But, if we once elevate our thoughts to God, and consider his nature, and the consummate perfection of his righteousness, wisdom, and strength, to which we ought to be conformed,—what before charmed us in ourselves under the false pretext of righteousness, will soon be loathed as the greatest iniquity; what strangely deceived us under the title of wisdom, will be despised as extreme folly; and what wore the appearance of strength, will be proved to be most wretched impotence. So very remote from the divine purity is what seems in us the highest perfection.
III. Hence that horror and amazement with which the Scripture always represents the saints to have been impressed and disturbed, on every discovery of the presence of God. For when we see those, who before his appearance stood secure and firm, so astonished and affrighted at the manifestation of his glory, as to faint and almost expire through fear,—we must infer that man is never sufficiently affected with a knowledge of his own meanness, till he has compared himself with the Divine Majesty. Of this consternation we have frequent examples in the Judges and Prophets; so that it was a common expression among the Lord’s people—“We shall die, because we have seen God.” Therefore the history of Job, to humble men with a consciousness of their pollution, impotence, and folly, derives its principal argument from a description of the Divine purity, power, and wisdom. And not without reason. For we see how Abraham, the nearer he approached to behold the glory of the Lord, the more fully acknowledged himself to be but “dust and ashes;” and how Elias could not bear his approach without covering his face, his appearance is so formidable. And what can man do, all vile and corrupt, when fear constrains even the cherubim themselves to veil their faces? This is what the prophet Isaiah speaks of—“the moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed, when the Lord of hosts shall reign:” that is, when he shall make a fuller and nearer exhibition of his splendour, it shall eclipse the splendour of the brightest object besides. But, though the knowledge of God and the knowledge of ourselves be intimately connected, the proper order of instruction requires us first to treat of the former, and then to proceed to the discussion of the latter.
Chapter II. The Nature And Tendency Of The Knowledge Of God.
By the knowledge of God, I intend not merely a notion that there is such a Being, but also an acquaintance with whatever we ought to know concerning Him, conducing to his glory and our benefit. For we cannot with propriety say, there is any knowledge of God where there is no religion or piety. I have no reference here to that species of knowledge by which men, lost and condemned in themselves, apprehend God the Redeemer in Christ the Mediator; but only to that first and simple knowledge, to which the genuine order of nature would lead us, if Adam had retained his innocence. For though, in the present ruined state of human nature, no man will ever perceive God to be a Father, or the Author of salvation, or in any respect propitious, but as pacified by the mediation of Christ; yet it is one thing to understand, that God our Maker supports us by his power, governs us by his providence, nourishes us by his goodness, and follows us with blessings of every kind, and another to embrace the grace of reconciliation proposed to us in Christ. Therefore, since God is first manifested, both in the structure of the world and in the general tenor of Scripture, simply as the Creator, and afterwards reveals himself in the person of Christ as a Redeemer, hence arises a twofold knowledge of him; of which the former is first to be considered, and the other will follow in its proper place. For though our mind cannot conceive of God, without ascribing some worship to him, it will not be sufficient merely to apprehend that he is the only proper object of universal worship and adoration, unless we are also persuaded that he is the fountain of all good, and seek for none but in him. This I maintain, not only because he sustains the universe, as he once made it, by his infinite power, governs it by his wisdom, preserves it by his goodness, and especially reigns over the human race in righteousness and judgment, exercising a merciful forbearance, and defending them by his protection; but because there cannot be found the least particle of wisdom, light, righteousness, power, rectitude, or sincere truth which does not proceed from him, and claim him for its author: we should therefore learn to expect and supplicate all these things from him, and thankfully to acknowledge what he gives us. For this sense of the divine perfections is calculated to teach us piety, which produces religion. By piety, I mean a reverence and love of God, arising from a knowledge of his benefits. For, till men are sensible that they owe every thing to God, that they are supported by his paternal care, that he is the Author of all the blessings they enjoy, and that nothing should be sought independently of him, they will never voluntarily submit to his authority; they will never truly and cordially devote themselves to his service, unless they rely upon him alone for true felicity.
II. Cold and frivolous, then, are the speculations of those who employ themselves in disquisitions on the essence of God, when it would be more interesting to us to become acquainted with his character, and to know what is agreeable to his nature. For what end is answered by professing, with Epicurus, that there is a God, who, discarding all concern about the world, indulges himself in perpetual inactivity? What benefit arises from the knowledge of a God with whom we have no concern? Our knowledge of God should rather tend, first, to teach us fear and reverence; and, secondly, to instruct us to implore all good at his hand, and to render him the praise of all that we receive. For how can you entertain a thought of God without immediately reflecting, that, being a creature of his formation, you must, by right of creation, be subject to his authority? that you are indebted to him for your life, and that all your actions should be done with reference to him? If this be true, it certainly follows that your life is miserably corrupt, unless it be regulated by a desire of obeying him, since his will ought to be the rule of our conduct. Nor can you have a clear view of him without discovering him to be the fountain and origin of all good. This would produce a desire of union to him, and confidence in him, if the human mind were not seduced by its own depravity from the right path of investigation. For, even at the first, the pious mind dreams not of any imaginary deity, but contemplates only the one true God; and, concerning him, indulges not the fictions of fancy, but, content with believing him to be such as he reveals himself, uses the most diligent and unremitting caution, lest it should fall into error by a rash and presumptuous transgression of his will. He who thus knows him, sensible that all things are subject to his control, confides in him as his Guardian and Protector, and unreservedly commits himself to his care. Assured that he is the author of all blessings, in distress or want he immediately flies to his protection, and expects his aid. Persuaded of his goodness and mercy, he relies on him with unlimited confidence, nor doubts of finding in his clemency a remedy provided for all his evils. Knowing him to be his Lord and Father, he concludes that he ought to mark his government in all things, revere his majesty, endeavour to promote his glory, and obey his commands. Perceiving him to be a just Judge, armed with severity for the punishment of crimes, he keeps his tribunal always in view, and is restrained by fear from provoking his wrath. Yet he is not so terrified at the apprehension of his justice, as to wish to evade it, even if escape were possible; but loves him as much in punishing the wicked as in blessing the pious, because he believes it as necessary to his glory to punish the impious and abandoned, as to reward the righteous with eternal life. Besides, he restrains himself from sin, not merely from a dread of vengeance, but because he loves and reveres God as his Father, honours and worships him as his Lord, and, even though there were no hell, would shudder at the thought of offending him. See, then, the nature of pure and genuine religion. It consists in faith, united with a serious fear of God, comprehending a voluntary reverence, and producing legitimate worship agreeable to the injunctions of the law. And this requires to be the more carefully remarked, because men in general render to God a formal worship, but very few truly reverence him; while great ostentation in ceremonies is universally displayed, but sincerity of heart is rarely to be found.
Chapter IV. This Knowledge Extinguished Or Corrupted, Partly By Ignorance, Partly By Wickedness.
While experience testifies that the seeds of religion are sown by God in every heart, we scarcely find one man in a hundred who cherishes what he has received, and not one in whom they grow to maturity, much less bear fruit in due season. Some perhaps grow vain in their own superstitions, while others revolt from God with intentional wickedness; but all degenerate from the true knowledge of him. The fact is, that no genuine piety remains in the world. But, in saying that some fall into superstition through error, I would not insinuate that their ignorance excuses them from guilt; because their blindness is always connected with pride, vanity, and contumacy. Pride and vanity are discovered, when miserable men, in seeking after God, rise not, as they ought, above their own level, but judge of him according to their carnal stupidity, and leave the proper path of investigation in pursuit of speculations as vain as they are curious. Their conceptions of him are formed, not according to the representations he gives of himself, but by the inventions of their own presumptuous imaginations. This gulf being opened, whatever course they take, they must be rushing forwards to destruction. None of their subsequent attempts for the worship or service of God can be considered as rendered to him; because they worship not him, but a figment of their own brains in his stead. This depravity Paul expressly remarks: “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.” He had before said, “they became vain in their imaginations.” But lest any should exculpate them, he adds that they were deservedly blinded, because, not content within the bounds of sobriety, but arrogating to themselves more than was right, they wilfully darkened, and even infatuated themselves with pride, vanity, and perverseness. Whence it follows, that their folly is inexcusable, which originates not only in a vain curiosity, but in false confidence, and an immoderate desire to exceed the limits of human knowledge.
III. Thus is overthrown the vain excuse pleaded by many for their superstition; for they satisfy themselves with any attention to religion, however preposterous, not considering that the Divine Will is the perpetual rule to which true religion ought to be conformed; that God ever continues like himself; that he is no spectre or phantasm, to be metamorphosed according to the fancy of every individual. It is easy to see how superstition mocks God with hypocritical services, while it attempts to please him. For, embracing only those things which he declares he disregards, it either contemptuously practises, or even openly rejects, what he prescribes and declares to be pleasing in his sight. Persons who introduce newly-invented methods of worshipping God, really worship and adore the creature of their distempered imaginations; for they would never have dared to trifle in such a manner with God, if they had not first feigned a god conformable to their own false and foolish notions. Wherefore the apostle pronounces a vague and unsettled notion concerning the Deity to be ignorance of God. “When ye knew not God, (says he,) ye did service unto them which by nature were no gods.” And in another place he speaks of the Ephesians as having been “without God,” while they were strangers to a right knowledge of the only true God. Nor, in this respect, is it of much importance, whether you imagine to yourself one god or more; for in either case you depart and revolt from the true God, and, forsaking him, you have nothing left you but an execrable idol. We must therefore decide, with Lactantius, that there is no legitimate religion unconnected with truth.
IV. Another sin is, that they never think of God but against their inclinations, nor approach him till their reluctance is overcome by constraint; and then they are influenced, not by a voluntary fear, proceeding from reverence of the Divine Majesty, but by a servile and constrained fear, extorted by the divine judgment, which they dread because it is inevitable, at the same time that they hate it. Now, to impiety, and to this species of it alone, is applicable that assertion of Statius, that fear first made gods in the world. They, whose minds are alienated from the righteousness of God, earnestly desire the subversion of that tribunal, which they know to be established for the punishment of transgressions against it. With this disposition, they wage war against the Lord, who cannot be deprived of his judgment; but when they apprehend his irresistible arm to be impending over their heads, unable to avert or evade it, they tremble with fear. That they may not seem altogether to despise him, whose majesty troubles them, they practise some form of religion; at the same time not ceasing to pollute themselves with vices of every kind, and to add one flagitious act to another, till they have violated every part of God’s holy law, and dissipated all its righteousness. It is certain, at least, that they are not prevented by that pretended fear of God from enjoying pleasure and satisfaction in their sins, practising self-adulation, and preferring the indulgence of their own carnal intemperance to the salutary restraints of the Holy Spirit. But that being a false and vain shadow of religion, and scarcely worthy even to be called its shadow,—it is easy to infer the wide difference between such a confused notion of God, and the piety which is instilled only into the minds of the faithful, and is the source of religion. Yet hypocrites, who are flying from God, resort to the artifices of superstition, for the sake of appearing devoted to him. For whereas the whole tenor of their life ought to be a perpetual course of obedience to him, they make no scruple of rebelling against him in almost all their actions, only endeavouring to appease him with a few paltry sacrifices. Whereas he ought to be served with sanctity of life and integrity of heart, they invent frivolous trifles and worthless observances, to conciliate his favour. They abandon themselves to their impurities with the greater licentiousness, because they confide in being able to discharge all their duty to him by ridiculous expiations. In a word, whereas their confidence ought to be placed on him, they neglect him, and depend upon themselves or on other creatures. At length they involve themselves in such a vast accumulation of errors, that those sparks which enable them to discover the glory of God are smothered, and at last extinguished by the criminal darkness of iniquity. That seed, which it is impossible to eradicate, a sense of the existence of a Deity, yet remains; but so corrupted as to produce only the worst of fruits. Yet this is a further proof of what I now contend for, that an idea of God is naturally engraved on the hearts of men, since necessity extorts a confession of it, even from reprobates themselves. In the moment of tranquillity, they facetiously mock the Divine Being, and with loquacious impertinence derogate from his power. But if any despair oppress them, it stimulates them to seek him, and dictates concise prayers, which prove that they are not altogether ignorant of God, but that what ought to have appeared before had been suppressed by obstinacy.
Chapter VI. The Guidance And Teaching Of The Scripture Necessary To Lead To The Knowledge Of God The Creator.
Though the light which presents itself to all eyes, both in heaven and in earth, is more than sufficient to deprive the ingratitude of men of every excuse, since God, in order to involve all mankind in the same guilt, sets before them all, without exception, an exhibition of his majesty, delineated in the creatures,—yet we need another and better assistance, properly to direct us to the Creator of the world. Therefore he hath not unnecessarily added the light of his word, to make himself known unto salvation, and hath honoured with this privilege those whom he intended to unite in a more close and familiar connection with himself. For, seeing the minds of all men to be agitated with unstable dispositions, when he had chosen the Jews as his peculiar flock, he enclosed them as in a fold, that they might not wander after the vanities of other nations. And it is not without cause that he preserves us in the pure knowledge of himself by the same means; for, otherwise, they who seem comparatively to stand firm, would soon fall. For, as persons who are old, or whose eyes are by any means become dim, if you show them the most beautiful book, though they perceive something written, but can scarcely read two words together, yet, by the assistance of spectacles, will begin to read distinctly,—so the Scripture, collecting in our minds the otherwise confused notions of Deity, dispels the darkness, and gives us a clear view of the true God. This, then, is a singular favour, that, in the instruction of the Church, God not only uses mute teachers, but even opens his own sacred mouth; not only proclaims that some god ought to be worshipped, but at the same time pronounces himself to be the Being to whom this worship is due; and not only teaches the elect to raise their view to a Deity, but also exhibits himself as the object of their contemplation. This method he hath observed toward his Church from the beginning; beside those common lessons of instruction, to afford them also his word; which furnishes a more correct and certain criterion to distinguish him from all fictitious deities. And it was undoubtedly by this assistance that Adam, Noah, Abraham, and the rest of the patriarchs, attained to that familiar knowledge which distinguished them from unbelievers. I speak not yet of the peculiar doctrine of faith which illuminated them into the hope of eternal life. For, to pass from death to life, they must have known God, not only as the Creator, but also as the Redeemer; as they certainly obtained both from his word. For that species of knowledge, which related to him as the Creator and Governor of the world, in order, preceded the other. To this was afterwards added the other internal knowledge, which alone vivifies dead souls, and apprehends God, not only as the Creator of the world, and as the sole Author and Arbiter of all events, but also as the Redeemer in the person of the Mediator. But, being not yet come to the fall of man and the corruption of nature, I also forbear to treat of the remedy. Let the reader remember, therefore, that I am not yet treating of that covenant by which God adopted the children of Abraham, and of that point of doctrine by which believers have always been particularly separated from the profane nations, since that is founded on Christ; but am only showing how we ought to learn from the Scripture, that God, who created the world, may be certainly distinguished from the whole multitude of fictitious deities. The series of subjects will, in due time, lead us to redemption. But, though we shall adduce many testimonies from the New Testament, and some also from the Law and the Prophets, in which Christ is expressly mentioned, yet they will all tend to prove, that the Scripture discovers God to us as the Creator of the world, and declares what sentiments we should form of him, that we may not be seeking after a deity in a labyrinth of uncertainty.
II. But, whether God revealed himself to the patriarchs by oracles and visions, or suggested, by means of the ministry of men, what should be handed down by tradition to their posterity, it is beyond a doubt that their minds were impressed with a firm assurance of the doctrine, so that they were persuaded and convinced that the information they had received came from God. For God always secured to his word an undoubted credit, superior to all human opinion. At length, that the truth might remain in the world in a continual course of instruction to all ages, he determined that the same oracles which he had deposited with the patriarchs should be committed to public records. With this design the Law was promulgated, to which the Prophets were afterwards annexed, as its interpreters.—For, though the uses of the law were many, as will be better seen in the proper place; and particularly the intention of Moses, and of all the prophets, was to teach the mode of reconciliation between God and man, (whence also Paul calls Christ “the end of the law,”)—yet I repeat again, that, beside the peculiar doctrine of faith and repentance, which proposes Christ as the Mediator, the Scripture distinguishes the only true God by certain characters and titles, as the Creator and Governor of the world, that he may not be confounded with the multitude of false gods. Therefore, though every man should seriously apply himself to a consideration of the works of God, being placed in this very splendid theatre to be a spectator of them, yet he ought principally to attend to the word, that he may attain superior advantages. And, therefore, it is not surprising, that they who are born in darkness grow more and more hardened in their stupidity; since very few attend to the word of God with teachable dispositions, to restrain themselves within the limits which it prescribes, but rather exult in their own vanity. This, then, must be considered as a fixed principle, that, in order to enjoy the light of true religion, we ought to begin with the doctrine of heaven; and that no man can have the least knowledge of true and sound doctrine, without having been a disciple of the Scripture. Hence originates all true wisdom, when we embrace with reverence the testimony which God hath been pleased therein to deliver concerning himself. For obedience is the source, not only of an absolutely perfect and complete faith, but of all right knowledge of God. And truly in this instance God hath, in his providence, particularly consulted the true interests of mankind in all ages.
III. For, if we consider the mutability of the human mind,—how easy its lapse into forgetfulness of God; how great its propensity to errors of every kind; how violent its rage for the perpetual fabrication of new and false religions,—it will be easy to perceive the necessity of the heavenly doctrine being thus committed to writing, that it might not be lost in oblivion, or evaporate in error, or be corrupted by the presumption of men. Since it is evident, therefore, that God, foreseeing the inefficacy of his manifestation of himself in the exquisite structure of the world, hath afforded the assistance of his word to all those to whom he determined to make his instructions effectual,—if we seriously aspire to a sincere contemplation of God, it is necessary for us to pursue this right way. We must come, I say, to the word, which contains a just and lively description of God as he appears in his works, when those works are estimated, not according to our depraved judgment, but by the rule of eternal truth. If we deviate from it, as I have just observed, though we run with the utmost celerity, yet, being out of the course, we shall never reach the goal. For it must be concluded, that the light of the Divine countenance, which even the Apostle says “no man can approach unto,” is like an inexplicable labyrinth to us, unless we are directed by the line of the word; so that it were better to halt in this way, than to run with the greatest rapidity out of it. Therefore David, inculcating the necessity of the removal of superstitions out of the world, that pure religion may flourish, frequently introduces God as “reigning;” by the word “reigning,” intending, not the power which he possesses, and which he exercises in the universal government of nature, but the doctrine in which he asserts his legitimate sovereignty; because errors can never be eradicated from the human heart, till the true knowledge of God is implanted in it.
IV. Therefore the same Psalmist, having said, that “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth his handy-work; day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge,” afterwards proceeds to the mention of the word: “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple: the statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.” For, though he also comprehends other uses of the law, yet he suggests, in general, that, since God’s invitation of all nations to him by the view of heaven and earth is ineffectual, this is the peculiar school of the children of God. The same is adverted to in the twenty-ninth Psalm, where the Psalmist, having preached the terrors of the Divine voice, which in thunders, in winds, in showers, in whirlwinds, and in tempests, shakes the earth, makes the mountains tremble, and breaks the cedars, adds, at length, towards the close, “in his temple doth every one speak of his glory;” because unbelievers are deaf to all the voices of God, which resound in the air. So, in another Psalm, after describing the terrible waves of the sea, he concludes thus: “Thy testimonies are very sure: holiness becometh thine house, O Lord, for ever.” Hence also proceeds the observation of Christ to the Samaritan woman, that her nation and all others worshipped they knew not what; and that the Jews were the only worshippers of the true God. For, since the human mind is unable, through its imbecility, to attain any knowledge of God without the assistance of his sacred word, all mankind, except the Jews, as they sought God without the word, must necessarily have been wandering in vanity and error.
IV. It must be maintained, as I have before asserted, that we are not established in the belief of the doctrine till we are indubitably persuaded that God is its Author. The principal proof, therefore, of the Scriptures is every where derived from the character of the Divine Speaker. The prophets and apostles boast not of their own genius, or any of those talents which conciliate the faith of the hearers; nor do they insist on arguments from reason; but bring forward the sacred name of God, to compel the submission of the whole world. We must now see how it appears, not from probable supposition, but from clear demonstration, that this use of the divine name is neither rash nor fallacious. Now, if we wish to consult the true interest of our consciences; that they may not be unstable and wavering, the subjects of perpetual doubt; that they may not hesitate at the smallest scruples,—this persuasion must be sought from a higher source than human reasons, or judgments, or conjectures—even from the secret testimony of the Spirit. It is true that, if we were inclined to argue the point, many things might be adduced which certainly evince, if there be any God in heaven, that he is the Author of the Law, and the Prophecies, and the Gospel. Even though men of learning and deep judgment rise up in opposition, and exert and display all the powers of their minds in this dispute, yet, unless they are wholly lost to all sense of shame, this confession will be extorted from them, that the Scripture exhibits the plainest evidences that it is God who speaks in it, which manifests its doctrine to be divine. And we shall soon see, that all the books of the sacred Scripture very far excel all other writings. If we read it with pure eyes and sound minds, we shall immediately perceive the majesty of God, which will subdue our audacious contradictions, and compel us to obey him. Yet it is acting a preposterous part, to endeavour to produce sound faith in the Scripture by disputations. Though, indeed, I am far from excelling in peculiar dexterity or eloquence, yet, if I were to contend with the most subtle despisers of God, who are ambitious to display their wit and their skill in weakening the authority of Scripture, I trust I should be able, without difficulty, to silence their obstreperous clamour. And, if it were of any use to attempt a refutation of their cavils, I would easily demolish the boasts which they mutter in secret corners. But though any one vindicates the sacred word of God from the aspersions of men, yet this will not fix in their hearts that assurance which is essential to true piety. Religion appearing, to profane men, to consist wholly in opinion, in order that they may not believe any thing on foolish or slight grounds, they wish and expect it to be proved by rational arguments, that Moses and the prophets spake by divine inspiration. But I reply, that the testimony of the Spirit is superior to all reason. For, as God alone is a sufficient witness of himself in his own word, so also the word will never gain credit in the hearts of men, till it be confirmed by the internal testimony of the Spirit. It is necessary, therefore, that the same Spirit, who spake by the mouths of the prophets, should penetrate into our hearts, to convince us that they faithfully delivered the oracles which were divinely intrusted to them. And this connection is very suitably expressed in these words: “My Spirit that is upon thee, and my word which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, for ever.” Some good men are troubled that they are not always prepared with clear proof to oppose the impious, when they murmur with impunity against the divine word; as though the Spirit were not therefore denominated a “seal,” and “an earnest,” for the confirmation of the faith of the pious; because, till he illuminate their minds, they are perpetually fluctuating amidst a multitude of doubts.
V. Let it be considered, then, as an undeniable truth, that they who have been inwardly taught by the Spirit, feel an entire acquiescence in the Scripture, and that it is self-authenticated, carrying with it its own evidence, and ought not to be made the subject of demonstration and arguments from reason; but it obtains the credit which it deserves with us by the testimony of the Spirit. For though it conciliate our reverence by its internal majesty, it never seriously affects us till it is confirmed by the Spirit in our hearts. Therefore, being illuminated by him, we now believe the divine original of the Scripture, not from our own judgment or that of others, but we esteem the certainty, that we have received it from God’s own mouth by the ministry of men, to be superior to that of any human judgment, and equal to that of an intuitive perception of God himself in it. We seek not arguments or probabilities to support our judgment, but submit our judgments and understandings as to a thing concerning which it is impossible for us to judge; and that not like some persons, who are in the habit of hastily embracing what they do not understand, which displeases them as soon as they examine it, but because we feel the firmest conviction that we hold an invincible truth; nor like those unhappy men who surrender their minds captives to superstitions, but because we perceive in it the undoubted energies of the Divine power, by which we are attracted and inflamed to an understanding and voluntary obedience, but with a vigour and efficacy superior to the power of any human will or knowledge. With the greatest justice, therefore, God exclaims by Isaiah, that the prophets and all the people were his witnesses; because, being taught by prophecies, they were certain that God had spoken without the least fallacy or ambiguity. It is such a persuasion, therefore, as requires no reasons; such a knowledge as is supported by the highest reason, in which, indeed, the mind rests with greater security and constancy than in any reasons; it is, finally, such a sentiment as cannot be produced but by a revelation from heaven. I speak of nothing but what every believer experiences in his heart, except that my language falls far short of a just explication of the subject. I pass over many things at present, because this subject will present itself for discussion again in another place. Only let it be known here, that that alone is true faith which the Spirit of God seals in our hearts. And with this one reason every reader of modesty and docility will be satisfied: Isaiah predicts that “all the children” of the renovated Church “shall be taught of God.” Herein God deigns to confer a singular privilege on his elect, whom he distinguishes from the rest of mankind. For what is the beginning of true learning but a prompt alacrity to hear the voice of God? By the mouth of Moses he demands our attention in these terms: “Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? or, Who shall descend into the deep? The word is even in thy mouth.” If God hath determined that this treasury of wisdom shall be reserved for his children, it is neither surprising nor absurd, that we see so much ignorance and stupidity among the vulgar herd of mankind. By this appellation I designate even those of the greatest talents and highest rank, till they are incorporated into the Church. Moreover, Isaiah, observing that the prophetical doctrine would be incredible, not only to aliens, but also to the Jews, who wished to be esteemed members of the family, adds, at the same time, the reason—Because the arm of the Lord will not be revealed to all. Whenever, therefore, we are disturbed at the paucity of believers, let us, on the other hand, remember that none, but those to whom it was given, have any apprehension of the mysteries of God.
Chapter VIII. Rational Proofs To Establish The Belief Of The Scripture.
Without this certainty, better and stronger than any human judgment, in vain will the authority of the Scripture be either defended by arguments, or established by the consent of the Church, or confirmed by any other supports; since, unless the foundation be laid, it remains in perpetual suspense. Whilst, on the contrary, when, regarding it in a different point of view from common things, we have once religiously received it in a manner worthy of its excellence, we shall then derive great assistance from things which before were not sufficient to establish the certainty of it in our minds. For it is admirable to observe how much it conduces to our confirmation, attentively to study the order and disposition of the Divine Wisdom dispensed in it, the heavenly nature of its doctrine, which never savours of any thing terrestrial, the beautiful agreement of all the parts with each other, and other similar characters adapted to conciliate respect to any writings. But our hearts are more strongly confirmed, when we reflect that we are constrained to admire it more by the dignity of the subjects than by the beauties of the language. For even this did not happen without the particular providence of God, that the sublime mysteries of the kingdom of heaven should be communicated, for the most part, in a humble and contemptible style; lest, if they had been illustrated with more of the splendour of eloquence, the impious might cavil that their triumph is only the triumph of eloquence. Now, since that uncultivated and almost rude simplicity procures itself more reverence than all the graces of rhetoric, what opinion can we form, but that the force of truth in the sacred Scripture is too powerful to need the assistance of verbal art? Justly, therefore, does the apostle argue that the faith of the Corinthians was founded, “not in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God,” because his preaching among them was, “not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” For the truth is vindicated from every doubt, when, unassisted by foreign aid, it is sufficient for its own support. But that this is the peculiar property of the Scripture, appears from the insufficiency of any human compositions, however artificially polished, to make an equal impression on our minds. Read Demosthenes or Cicero; read Plato, Aristotle, or any others of that class; I grant that you will be attracted, delighted, moved, and enraptured by them in a surprising manner; but if, after reading them, you turn to the perusal of the sacred volume, whether you are willing or unwilling, it will affect you so powerfully, it will so penetrate your heart, and impress itself so strongly on your mind, that, compared with its energetic influence, the beauties of rhetoricians and philosophers will almost entirely disappear; so that it is easy to perceive something divine in the sacred Scriptures, which far surpasses the highest attainments and ornaments of human industry.
II. I grant, indeed, that the diction of some of the prophets is neat and elegant, and even splendid; so that they are not inferior in eloquence to the heathen writers. And by such examples the Holy Spirit hath been pleased to show, that he was not deficient in eloquence, though elsewhere he hath used a rude and homely style. But whether we read David, Isaiah, and others that resemble them, who have a sweet and pleasant flow of words, or Amos the herdsman, Jeremiah, and Zechariah, whose rougher language savours of rusticity,—that majesty of the Spirit, which I have mentioned, is every where conspicuous.
XII. Besides, there are also other very substantial reasons why the consent of the Church should have its weight. For it is not an unimportant consideration, that, since the publication of the Scripture, so many generations of men should have agreed in voluntarily obeying it; and that however Satan, together with the whole world, has endeavoured by strange methods to suppress or destroy it, or utterly to erase and obliterate it from the memory of man, yet it has always, like a palm-tree, risen superior to all opposition, and remained invincible. Indeed, there has scarcely ever been a sophist or orator of more than common abilities, who has not tried his strength in opposing it; yet they have all availed nothing. All the powers of the earth have armed themselves for its destruction; but their attempts have all evaporated into smoke. How could it have so firmly resisted attacks on every quarter, if it had been supported only by human power? Indeed, an additional proof of its Divine origin arises from this very circumstance, that, notwithstanding all the strenuous resistance of men, it has, by its own power, risen superior to every danger. Moreover, not one city, or one nation, only, has conspired to receive and embrace it; but, as far as the world extends, it has obtained its authority by the holy consent of various nations, who agreed in nothing besides. And as such an agreement of minds, so widely distant in place, and so completely dissimilar in manners and opinions, ought to have great influence with us, since it is plain that it was effected only by the power of heaven, so it acquires no small weight from a consideration of the piety of those who unite in this agreement; not indeed of all, but of those, who, it hath pleased the Lord, should shine as luminaries in his Church.
Chapter IX. The Fanaticism Which Discards The Scripture, Under The Pretence Of Resorting To Immediate Revelations, Subversive Of Every Principle Of Piety.
Persons who, abandoning the Scripture, imagine to themselves some other way of approaching to God, must be considered as not so much misled by error as actuated by frenzy. For there have lately arisen some unsteady men, who, haughtily pretending to be taught by the Spirit, reject all reading themselves, and deride the simplicity of those who still attend to (what they style) the dead and killing letter. But I would ask them, what spirit that is, by whose inspiration they are elevated to such a sublimity, as to dare to despise the doctrine of the Scripture, as puerile and mean. For, if they answer that it is the Spirit of Christ, how ridiculous is such an assurance! for that the apostles of Christ, and other believers in the primitive Church, were illuminated by no other Spirit, I think they will concede. But not one of them learned, from his teaching, to contemn the Divine word; they were rather filled with higher reverence for it, as their writings abundantly testify. This had been predicted by the mouth of Isaiah. For where he says, “My Spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, for ever,” he does not confine people under the old dispensation to the external letter, as though they were children learning to read, but declares, that it will be the true and complete felicity of the new Church, under the reign of Christ, to be governed by the word of God, as well as by his Spirit. Whence we infer, that these persons are guilty of detestable sacrilege, in disjoining these two things, which the prophet has connected in an inviolable union. Again; Paul, after he had been caught up into the third heaven, did not cease to study the doctrine of the law and the prophets; as he also exhorted Timothy, a teacher of more than common excellence, to “give attendance to reading.” And worthy of remembrance is his eulogium on the Scripture, that it “is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be perfect.” How diabolical, then, is that madness which pretends that the use of the Scripture is only transient and temporary, which guides the sons of God to the highest point of perfection! I would also ask them another question—whether they have imbibed a different spirit from that which the Lord promised to his disciples? Great as their infatuation is, I do not think them fanatical enough to hazard such an avowal. But what kind of Spirit did he promise? One, truly, who should “not speak of himself,” but suggest and instil into their minds those things which he had orally delivered. The office of the Spirit, then, which is promised to us, is not to feign new and unheard of revelations, or to coin a new system of doctrine, which would seduce us from the received doctrine of the Gospel, but to seal to our minds the same doctrine which the Gospel delivers.
II. Hence we readily understand that it is incumbent on us diligently to read and attend to the Scripture, if we would receive any advantage or satisfaction from the Spirit of God; (thus also Peter commends those who studiously attended to the doctrine of the prophets, which yet might be supposed to have retired after the light of the Gospel was risen;) but, on the contrary, that if any spirit, neglecting the wisdom of the word of God, obtrude on us another doctrine, he ought justly to be suspected of vanity and falsehood. For, as Satan transforms himself into an angel of light, what authority will the Spirit have with us, unless we can distinguish him by the most certain criterion? We find him clearly designated, indeed, in the word of the Lord; but these unhappy men are fondly bent on delusion, even to their own destruction, seeking a spirit rather from themselves than from him. But they plead, that it is unworthy of the Spirit of God, to whom all things ought to be subject, to be made subject to the Scripture; as though it were ignominious to the Holy Spirit to be every where equal and uniform, in all things invariably consistent with himself. If he were to be conformed to the rules of men, or of angels, or of any other beings, I grant he might then be considered as degraded, or even reduced to a state of servitude; but while he is compared with himself, and considered in himself, who will assert that he is thereby injured? This is bringing him to the test of examination. I confess it is. But it is the way which he has chosen for the confirmation of his majesty among us. We ought to be satisfied, as soon as he communicates himself to us. But, lest the spirit of Satan should insinuate himself under his name, he chooses to be recognized by us from his image, which he hath impressed in the Scriptures. He is the author of the Scriptures: he cannot be mutable and inconsistent with himself. He must therefore perpetually remain such as he has there discovered himself to be. This is not disgraceful to him; unless we esteem it honourable for him to alter and degenerate from himself.
III. But their cavilling objection, that we depend on “the letter that killeth,” shows, that they have not escaped the punishment due to the despisers of the Scripture. For it is sufficiently evident, that Paul is there contending against the false apostles, who, recommending the law to the exclusion of Christ, were seducing the people from the blessings of the New Covenant, in which the Lord engages to engrave his law in the minds of believers, and to inscribe it on their hearts. The letter therefore is dead, and the law of the Lord slays the readers of it, where it is separated from the grace of Christ, and only sounds in the ears, without affecting the heart. But if it be efficaciously impressed on our hearts by the Spirit,—if it exhibit Christ,—it is the word of life, “converting the soul, making wise the simple,” &c. But in the same place the Apostle also calls his preaching “the ministration of the Spirit;” doubtless intending, that the Holy Spirit so adheres to his own truth, which he hath expressed in the Scriptures, that he only displays and exerts his power where the word is received with due reverence and honour. Nor is this repugnant to what I before asserted, that the word itself has not much certainty with us, unless when confirmed by the testimony of the Spirit. For the Lord hath established a kind of mutual connection between the certainty of his word and of his Spirit; so that our minds are filled with a solid reverence for the word, when by the light of the Spirit we are enabled therein to behold the Divine countenance; and, on the other hand, without the least fear of mistake, we gladly receive the Spirit, when we recognize him in his image, that is, in the word. This is the true state of the case. God did not publish his word to mankind for the sake of momentary ostentation, with a design to destroy or annul it immediately on the advent of the Spirit; but he afterwards sent the same Spirit, by whose agency he had dispensed his word, to complete his work by an efficacious confirmation of that word. In this manner Christ opened the understanding of his two disciples; not that, rejecting the Scriptures, they might be wise enough of themselves, but that they might understand the Scriptures. So when Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to “quench not the Spirit,” he does not lead them to empty speculations independent of the word; for he immediately adds, “despise not prophesyings;” clearly intimating, that the light of the Spirit is extinguished when prophecies fall into contempt. What answer can be given to these things, by those proud fanatics, who think themselves possessed of the only valuable illumination, when, securely neglecting and forsaking the Divine word, they, with equal confidence and temerity, greedily embrace every reverie which their distempered imaginations may have conceived? A very different sobriety becomes the children of God; who, while they are sensible that, exclusively of the Spirit of God, they are utterly destitute of the light of truth, yet are not ignorant that the word is the instrument, by which the Lord dispenses to believers the illumination of his Spirit. For they know no other Spirit than that who dwelt in and spake by the apostles; by whose oracles they are continually called to the hearing of the word.
Chapter XII. God Contradistinguished From Idols, That He May Be Solely And Supremely Worshipped.
We said, at the beginning, that the knowledge of God consists not in frigid speculation, but is accompanied by the worship of him. We also cursorily touched on the right method of worshipping him, which will be more fully explained in other places. I now only repeat, in few words, that whenever the Scripture asserts that there is but one God, it contends not for the bare name, but also teaches, that whatever belongs to the Deity, should not be transferred to another. This shows how pure religion differs from idolatry. The Greek word ευσεβεια certainly signifies right worship, since even blind mortals, groping in the dark, have always perceived the necessity of some certain rule, that the worship of God may not be involved in disorder and confusion. Although Cicero ingeniously and correctly derives the word religion from a verb signifying “to read over again,” or “to gather again;” yet the reason he assigns for it, that good worshippers often recollect, and diligently reconsider what is true, is forced and far-fetched. I rather think the word is opposed to a liberty of wandering without restraint; because the greater part of the world rashly embrace whatever they meet with, and also ramble from one thing to another; but piety, in order to walk with a steady step, collects itself within its proper limits. The word superstition also appears to me to import a discontent with the method and order prescribed, and an accumulation of a superfluous mass of vain things. But to leave the consideration of words, it has been generally admitted, in all ages, that religion is corrupted and perverted by errors and falsehoods; whence we infer, that when we allow ourselves any thing from inconsiderate zeal, the pretext alleged by the superstitious is altogether frivolous. Although this confession is in the mouths of all, they betray, at the same time, a shameful ignorance, neither adhering to the one true God, nor observing any discrimination in his worship, as we have before shown. But God, to assert his own right, proclaims that he is “jealous,” and will be a severe avenger, if men confound him with any fictitious deity; and then, to retain mankind in obedience, he defines his legitimate worship. He comprises both in his law, where he first binds the faithful to himself, as their sole legislator; and then prescribes a rule for the right worship of him according to his will. Now, of the law, since the uses and ends of it are various, I shall treat in its proper place: at present, I only remark, that it sets up a barrier to prevent men turning aside to corrupt modes of worship. Let us remember, what I have already stated, that, unless every thing belonging to Divinity remain in God alone, he is spoiled of his honour, and his worship is violated. And here it is necessary to animadvert more particularly on the subtle fallacies of superstition. For it revolts not to strange gods, in such a manner as to appear to desert the supreme God, or to degrade him to a level with others; but, allowing him the highest place, it surrounds him with a multitude of inferior deities, among whom it distributes his honours; and thus, in a cunning and hypocritical manner, the glory of Divinity is divided among many, instead of remaining wholly in one. Thus the ancient idolaters, Jews as well as Gentiles, imagined one God, the Father and Governor of all, and subordinate to him a vast multitude of other deities; to whom, in common with the supreme God, they attributed the government of heaven and earth. Thus the saints, who departed out of this life some ages ago, are exalted to the society of God, to be worshipped, and invoked, and celebrated like him. We suppose, indeed, the glory of God not to be sullied with this abomination; whereas it is, in a great measure, suppressed and extinguished, except that we retain some faint notion of his supreme power; but, at the same time, deceived with such impostures, we are seduced to the worship of various deities.
Chapter XIII. One Divine Essence, Containing Three Persons; Taught In The Scriptures From The Beginning.
What is taught in the Scriptures concerning the immensity and spirituality of the essence of God, should serve not only to overthrow the foolish notions of the vulgar, but also to refute the subtleties of profane philosophy. One of the ancients, in his own conception very shrewdly, said, that whatever we see, and whatever we do not see, is God. But he imagined that the Deity was diffused through every part of the world. But, although God, to keep us within the bounds of sobriety, speaks but rarely of his essence, yet, by those two attributes, which I have mentioned, he supersedes all gross imaginations, and represses the presumption of the human mind. For, surely, his immensity ought to inspire us with awe, that we may not attempt to measure him with our senses; and the spirituality of his nature prohibits us from entertaining any earthly or carnal speculations concerning him. For the same reason, he represents his residence to be “in heaven;” for though, as he is incomprehensible, he fills the earth also; yet, seeing that our minds, from their dulness, are continually dwelling on the earth, in order to shake off our sloth and inactivity, he properly raises us above the world. And here is demolished the error of the Manichees, who, by maintaining the existence of two original principles, made the devil, as it were, equal to God. This certainly was both dividing the unity of God, and limiting his immensity. For their daring to abuse certain testimonies of Scripture betrayed a shameful ignorance; as the error itself evidenced an execrable madness. The Anthropomorphites also, who imagined God to be corporeal, because the Scripture frequently ascribes to him a mouth, ears, eyes, hands, and feet, are easily refuted. For who, even of the meanest capacity, understands not, that God lisps, as it were, with us, just as nurses are accustomed to speak to infants? Wherefore, such forms of expression do not clearly explain the nature of God, but accommodate the knowledge of him to our narrow capacity; to accomplish which, the Scripture must necessarily descend far below the height of his majesty.
Chapter XIV. The True God Clearly Distinguished In The Scripture From All Fictitious Ones By The Creation Of The World.
Although Isaiah brings a just accusation of stupidity against the worshippers of fictitious deities, for not having learned, from the foundations of the earth, and the circuit of the heavens, who was the true God, yet such is the slowness and dulness of our minds, as to induce a necessity for a more express exhibition of the true God, lest the faithful should decline to the fictions of the heathen. For, since the most tolerable description given by the philosophers, that God is the soul of the world, is utterly vain and worthless, we require a more familiar knowledge of him, to prevent us from wavering in perpetual uncertainty. Therefore he hath been pleased to give us a history of the creation, on which the faith of the Church might rest, without seeking after any other God than him whom Moses has represented as the former and builder of the world. The first thing specified in this history is the time, that by a continued series of years the faithful might arrive at the first original of the human race, and of all things. This knowledge is eminently useful, not only to contradict the monstrous fables formerly received in Egypt and other countries, but also to give us clearer views of the eternity of God, and to fill us with greater admiration of it. Nor ought we to be moved with that profane sneer, that it is marvellous that God did not form the design of creating heaven and earth at an earlier period, but suffered an immeasurable duration to pass away unemployed, since he could have made them many thousands of ages before; whereas the continuance of the world, now advancing to its last end, has not yet reached six thousand years. For the reason why God deferred it so long, it would be neither lawful nor expedient to inquire; because, if the human mind strive to penetrate it, it will fail a hundred times in the attempt; nor, indeed, could there be any utility in the knowledge of that which God himself, in order to prove the modesty of our faith, has purposely concealed. Great shrewdness was discovered by a certain pious old man, who, when some scoffer ludicrously inquired what God had been doing before the creation of the world, replied that he had been making hell for over curious men. This admonition, no less grave than severe, should repress the wantonness which stimulates many, and impels them to perverse and injurious speculations. Lastly, let us remember that God, who is invisible, and whose wisdom, power, and justice, are incomprehensible, has placed before us the history of Moses, as a mirror which exhibits his lively image. For as eyes, either dim through age, or dull through any disease, see nothing distinctly without the assistance of spectacles, so, in our inquiries after God, such is our imbecility, without the guidance of the Scripture we immediately lose our way. But those who indulge their presumption, since they are now admonished in vain, will perceive too late, by their horrible destruction, how much better it would have been to look up to the secret counsels of God with reverential awe, than to disgorge their blasphemies to darken the heaven. Augustine justly complains, that it is an offence against God, to inquire for any cause of things, higher than his will. He elsewhere prudently cautions us, that it is as absurd to dispute concerning an infinite duration of time, as concerning an infinite extent of place. However extensive the circuit of the heavens, yet certainly it has some dimensions. Now, if any one should expostulate with God, that the vacuity of space is a hundred times larger, would not such arrogance be detested by all pious persons? The same madness is chargeable on those who censure the inaction of God, for not having, according to their wishes, created the world innumerable ages before. To gratify their inordinate curiosity, they desire to pass beyond the limits of the world; as though, in the very ample circumference of heaven and earth, we were not surrounded by numerous objects capable of absorbing all our senses in their inestimable splendour; as though, in the course of six thousand years, God had not given us lessons sufficient to exercise our minds in assiduous meditation on them. Then let us cheerfully remain within these barriers with which God has been pleased to circumscribe us, and as it were to confine our minds, that they might not be wandering in the boundless regions of uncertain conjecture.
II. To the same purpose is the narration of Moses, that the work of God was completed, not in one moment, but in six days. For by this circumstance also we are called away from all false deities to the only true God, who distributed his work into six days, that it might not be tedious to us to occupy the whole of life in the consideration of it. For though, whithersoever we turn our eyes, they are constrained to behold the works of God, yet we see how transient our attention is, and, if we are touched with any pious reflections, how soon they leave us again. Here, also, human reason murmurs, as though such progressive works were inconsistent with the power of Deity; till, subdued to the obedience of faith, it learns to observe that rest, to which the sanctification of the seventh day invites us.
VII. We are constrained to depart a little from this mode of instruction, because the philosophers, being ignorant of the corruption of nature proceeding from the punishment of the fall, improperly confound two very different states of mankind. Let us, therefore, submit the following division—that the human soul has two faculties which relate to our present design, the understanding and the will. Now, let it be the office of the understanding to discriminate between objects, as they shall respectively appear deserving of approbation or disapprobation; but of the will, to choose and follow what the understanding shall have pronounced to be good; to abhor and avoid what it shall have condemned. Here let us not stay to discuss those subtleties of Aristotle, that the mind has no motion of itself, but that it is moved by the choice, which he also calls the appetitive intellect. Without perplexing ourselves with unnecessary questions, it should be sufficient for us to know that the understanding is, as it were, the guide and governor of the soul; that the will always respects its authority, and waits for its judgment in its desires. For which reason Aristotle himself truly observed, that avoidance and pursuit in the appetite, bear a resemblance to affirmation and negation in the mind. How certain the government of the understanding is in the direction of the will, we shall see in another part of this work. Here we only intend to show that no power can be found in the soul, which may not properly be referred to one or the other of those two members. But in this manner we comprehend the sense in the understanding, which some distinguish thus: sense, they say, inclines to pleasure, whereas the understanding follows what is good; that thence it happens that the appetite of sense becomes concupiscence and lust, and the affection of the understanding becomes will. But instead of the word “appetite,” which they prefer, I use the word “will,” which is more common.
VIII. God has furnished the soul of man, therefore, with a mind capable of discerning good from evil, and just from unjust; and of discovering, by the light of reason, what ought to be pursued or avoided; whence the philosophers called this directing faculty το ἠγεμονικον, the principal or governing part. To this he has annexed the will, on which depends the choice. The primitive condition of man was ennobled with those eminent faculties; he possessed reason, understanding, prudence, and judgment, not only for the government of his life on earth, but to enable him to ascend even to God and eternal felicity. To these was added choice, to direct the appetites, and regulate all the organic motions; so that the will should be entirely conformed to the government of reason. In this integrity man was endued with free will, by which, if he had chosen, he might have obtained eternal life. For here it would be unreasonable to introduce the question respecting the secret predestination of God, because we are not discussing what might possibly have happened or not, but what was the real nature of man.
Chapter XVII. The Proper Application Of This Doctrine To Render It Useful To Us.
As the minds of men are prone to vain subtleties, there is the greatest danger that those who know not the right use of this doctrine will embarrass themselves with intricate perplexities. It will therefore be necessary to touch in a brief manner on the end and design of the Scripture doctrine of the Divine ordination of all things. And here let it be remarked, in the first place, that the providence of God is to be considered as well in regard to futurity, as in reference to that which is past; secondly, that it governs all things in such a manner as to operate sometimes by the intervention of means, sometimes without means, and sometimes in opposition to all means; lastly, that it tends to show the care of God for the whole human race, and especially his vigilance in the government of the Church, which he favours with more particular attention. It must also be observed, that, although the paternal favour and beneficence of God, or the severity of his justice, is frequently conspicuous in the whole course of his providence, yet sometimes the causes of events are concealed, so that a suspicion intrudes itself, that the revolutions of human affairs are conducted by the blind impetuosity of fortune; or the flesh solicits us to murmur, as though God amused himself with tossing men about like tennis-balls. It is true, indeed, if we were ready to learn with quiet and sober minds, that the final issue sufficiently proves the counsels of God to be directed by the best of reasons; that he designs either to teach his people the exercise of patience, or to correct their corrupt affections and subdue the licentiousness of their appetites, or to constrain them to the practice of self-denial, or to arouse them from their indolence; and, on the other hand, to abase the proud, to disappoint the cunning of the wicked, and to confound their machinations.
BOOK II. On The Knowledge Of God The Redeemer In Christ, Which Was Revealed First To The Fathers Under The Law, And Since To Us In The Gospel.
Chapter I. The Fall And Defection Of Adam The Cause Of The Curse Inflicted On All Mankind, And Of Their Degeneracy From Their Primitive Condition. The Doctrine Of Original Sin.
There is much reason in the old adage, which so strongly recommends to man the knowledge of himself. For if it be thought disgraceful to be ignorant of whatever relates to the conduct of human life, ignorance of ourselves is much more shameful, which causes us, in deliberating on subjects of importance, to grope our way in miserable obscurity, or even in total darkness. But in proportion to the utility of this precept ought to be our caution not to make a preposterous use of it; as we see some philosophers have done. For while they exhort man to the knowledge of himself, the end they propose is, that he may not remain ignorant of his own dignity and excellence: nor do they wish him to contemplate in himself any thing but what may swell him with vain confidence, and inflate him with pride. But the knowledge of ourselves consists, first, in considering what was bestowed on us at our creation, and the favours we continually receive from the Divine benignity, that we may know how great the excellence of our nature would have been, if it had retained its integrity; yet, at the same time, recollecting that we have nothing properly our own, may feel our precarious tenure of all that God has conferred on us, so as always to place our dependence upon him. Secondly, we should contemplate our miserable condition since the fall of Adam, the sense of which tends to destroy all boasting and confidence, to overwhelm us with shame, and to fill us with real humility. For as God, at the beginning, formed us after his own image, that he might elevate our minds both to the practice of virtue, and to the contemplation of eternal life, so, to prevent the great excellence of our species, which distinguishes us from the brutes, from being buried in sottish indolence, it is worthy of observation, that the design of our being endued with reason and intelligence is, that, leading a holy and virtuous life, we may aspire to the mark set before us of a blessed immortality. But we cannot think upon that primeval dignity, without having our attention immediately called to the melancholy spectacle of our disgrace and ignominy, since in the person of the first man we are fallen from our original condition. Hence arise disapprobation and abhorrence of ourselves, and real humility; and we are inflamed with fresh ardour to seek after God, to recover in him those excellences of which we find ourselves utterly destitute.
II. This is what the truth of God directs us to seek in the examination of ourselves: it requires a knowledge that will abstract us from all confidence in our own ability, deprive us of every cause of boasting, and reduce us to submission. We must observe this rule, if we wish to reach the proper point of knowledge and action. I am aware of the superior plausibility of that opinion, which invites us rather to a consideration of our goodness, than to a view of our miserable poverty and ignominy, which ought to overwhelm us with shame. For there is nothing more desired by the human mind than soothing flatteries; and therefore, it listens with extreme credulity, to hear its excellences magnified. Wherefore it is the less wonderful that the majority of mankind have fallen into such a pernicious error. For, an immoderate self-love being innate in all men, they readily persuade themselves that there is nothing in them which justly deserves to be an object of aversion. Thus, without any extraneous support, this very false opinion, that man has in himself sufficient ability to insure his own virtue and happiness, generally prevails. But if some prefer more modest sentiments, though they concede something to God, in order to avoid the appearance of arrogating every thing to themselves, yet they make such a distribution, that the principal cause of boasting and confidence always remains with them. If they hear any discourse that flatters the pride already operating spontaneously in their hearts, nothing can gratify them more. Therefore every one who in his preaching has kindly extolled the excellence of human nature, has received great applause from almost all ages. But such a commendation of human excellence as teaches man to be satisfied with himself, only enamours him of his own amiableness, and thus produces an illusion which involves those who assent to it in most dreadful perdition. For to what purpose is it for us, relying on every vain confidence, to deliberate, to determine, and to attempt things which we think tend to our advantage, and in our first efforts, to find ourselves destitute of sound understanding and true virtue, yet securely to proceed, till we fall into destruction? But this must be the fate of all who confide in the efficacy of their own virtue. Whosoever, therefore, attends to such teachers as amuse us with a mere exhibition of our virtues, will make no progress in the knowledge of himself, but will be absorbed in the most pernicious ignorance.
III. Therefore, whilst the truth of God agrees in this point with the common consent of all mankind, that the second branch of wisdom consists in the knowledge of ourselves, yet with respect to the knowledge itself there is no small disagreement. For, according to carnal apprehension, a man is thought to be well acquainted with himself, when, confiding in his own understanding and integrity, he assumes a presumptuous boldness, incites himself to the duties of virtue, and, declaring war against vice, uses his most strenuous endeavours to adhere to what is fair and honourable. But he, who inspects and examines himself by the rule of the Divine judgment, finds nothing that can raise his mind to a genuine confidence; and the more fully he has examined himself, the greater is his dejection; till, entirely discarding all confidence, he leaves himself no ability for the proper conduct of his life. Yet it is not the will of God that we should forget the primitive dignity conferred by him on our father Adam, which ought justly to awaken us to the pursuit of righteousness and goodness. For we cannot reflect on our original condition, and on the end of our creation, without being excited to meditate on immortality, and to aspire after the kingdom of God. But this reflection is so far from elating us with pride, that it rather produces humility. For what is that original condition? That from which we are fallen. What is that end of our creation? That from which we are wholly departed; so that we should lament the miseries of our present state, and in the midst of our lamentation, aspire after the dignity which we have lost. Now, when we say that man should behold in himself nothing that might elate him with pride, we mean that there is nothing in him in the confidence of which he ought to be proud. Wherefore we may divide the knowledge man ought to have of himself into these two parts. First, he should consider the end of his being created and endued with such estimable gifts; a reflection which may excite him to the consideration of Divine worship, and of a future life. Secondly, he should examine his own ability, or rather his want of ability, the view of which may confound and almost annihilate him. The former consideration is adapted to acquaint him with his duty, the latter with his power to perform it. We shall treat of them both in regular order.
Chapter II. Man, In His Present State, Despoiled Of Freedom Of Will, And Subjected To A Miserable Slavery.
Since we have seen that the domination of sin, from the time of its subjugation of the first man, not only extends over the whole race, but also exclusively possesses every soul, it now remains to be more closely investigated, whether we are despoiled of all freedom, and, if any particle of it yet remain, how far its power extends. But, that we may the more easily discover the truth of this question, I will first set up by the way a mark, by which our whole course must be regulated. The best method of guarding against error is to consider the dangers which threaten us on every side. For when man is declared to be destitute of all rectitude, he immediately makes it an occasion of slothfulness; and because he is said to have no power of himself for the pursuit of righteousness, he totally neglects it, as though it did not at all concern him. On the other hand, he cannot arrogate any thing to himself, be it ever so little, without God being robbed of his honour, and himself being endangered by presumptuous temerity. Therefore, to avoid striking on either of these rocks, this will be the course to be pursued—that man, being taught that he has nothing good left in his possession, and being surrounded on every side with the most miserable necessity, should, nevertheless, be instructed to aspire to the good of which he is destitute, and to the liberty of which he is deprived; and should be roused from indolence with more earnestness, than if he were supposed to be possessed of the greatest strength. The necessity of the latter is obvious to every one. The former, I perceive, is doubted by more than it ought to be. For this being placed beyond all controversy, that man must not be deprived of any thing that properly belongs to him, it ought also to be manifest how important it is that he should be prevented from false boasting. For if he was not even then permitted to glory in himself, when by the Divine beneficence he was decorated with the noblest ornaments, how much ought he now to be humbled, when, on account of his ingratitude, he has been hurled from the summit of glory to the abyss of ignominy! At that time, I say, when he was exalted to the most honourable eminence, the Scripture attributes nothing to him, but that he was created after the image of God; which certainly implies that his happiness consisted not in any goodness of his own, but in a participation of God. What, then, remains for him now, deprived of all glory, but that he acknowledge God, to whose beneficence he could not be thankful, when he abounded in the riches of his favour? and that he now, at least, by a confession of his poverty, glorify him, whom he glorified not by an acknowledgment of his blessings? It is also no less conducive to our interests than to the Divine glory, that all the praise of wisdom and strength be taken away from us; so that they join sacrilege to our fall, who ascribe to us any thing more than truly belongs to us. For what else is the consequence, when we are taught to contend in our own strength, but that we are lifted into the air on a reed, which being soon broken, we fall to the ground. Though our strength is placed in too favourable a point of view, when it is compared to a reed. For it is nothing but smoke, whatever vain men have imagined and pretend concerning it. Wherefore it is not without reason, that that remarkable sentence is so frequently repeated by Augustine, that free will is rather overthrown than established even by its own advocates. It was necessary to premise these things for the sake of some, who, when they hear that human power is completely subverted in order that the power of God may be established in man, inveterately hate this whole argument, as dangerous and unprofitable; which yet appears to be highly useful to us, and essential to true religion.
Chrysostom says, “Since God has placed good and evil things in our power, he has given us freedom of choice; and he constrains not the unwilling, but embraces the willing.” Again: “Oftentimes a bad man, if he will, is changed into a good one; and a good one falls into inactivity, and becomes bad; because God has given us naturally a free will, and imposes no necessity upon us, but, having provided suitable remedies, permits the event to depend entirely on the mind of the patient.”
VIII. But if we regard the authority of the fathers—though they have the term continually in their mouths, they at the same time declare with what extent of signification they use it. First of all, Augustine, who hesitates not to call the will a slave. He expresses his displeasure in one place against those who deny free will; but he declares the principal reason for it, when he says, “Only let no man dare so to deny the freedom of the will, as to desire to excuse sin.” Elsewhere he plainly confesses, that the human will is not free without the Spirit, since it is subject to its lusts, by which it is conquered and bound. Again: that when the will was overcome by the sin into which it fell, nature began to be destitute of liberty. Again: that man, having made a wrong use of his free will, lost both it and himself. Again: that free will is in a state of captivity, so that it can do nothing towards righteousness. Again: that the will cannot be free, which has not been liberated by Divine grace. Again: that the Divine justice is not fulfilled, while the law commands, and man acts from his own strength; but when the Spirit assists, and the human will obeys, not as being free, but as liberated by God. And he briefly assigns the cause of all this, when, in another place, he tells us, that man at his creation received great strength of free will, but lost it by sin. Therefore, having shown that free will is the result of grace, he sharply inveighs against those who arrogate it to themselves without grace. “How, then,” says he, “do miserable men dare to be proud of free will, before they are liberated, or of their own strength, if they have been liberated?” Nor do they consider that the term free will signifies liberty. But “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” If, therefore, they are the slaves of sin, why do they boast of free will? “For of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage.” But if they have been liberated, why do they boast as of their own work? Are they so much at liberty as to refuse to be the servants of him who says, “Without me ye can do nothing”? Besides, in another place, also, he seems to discountenance the use of that expression, when he says that the will is free, but not liberated; free from righteousness, enslaved to sin. This sentiment he also repeats and applies in another place, where he maintains that man is not free from righteousness, but by the choice of his will, and that he is not made free from sin, but by the grace of the Saviour. He who declares that human liberty is nothing but an emancipation or manumission from righteousness, evidently exposes it to ridicule as an unmeaning term. Therefore, if any man allows himself the use of this term without any erroneous signification, he will not be troubled by me on that account: but because I think that it cannot be retained without great danger, and that, on the contrary, its abolition would be very beneficial to the Church, I would neither use it myself, nor wish it to be used by others who may consult my opinion.
Chapter IV. The Operation Of God In The Hearts Of Men.
It has now, I apprehend, been sufficiently proved, that man is so enslaved by sin, as to be of his own nature incapable of an effort, or even an aspiration, towards that which is good. We have also laid down a distinction between coaction and necessity, from which it appears that while he sins necessarily, he nevertheless sins voluntarily. But since, while he is devoted to the servitude of the devil, he seems to be actuated by his will, rather than by his own, it remains for us to explain the nature of both kinds of influence. There is also this question to be resolved, whether any thing is to be attributed to God in evil actions, in which the Scripture intimates that some influence of his is concerned. Augustine somewhere compares the human will to a horse, obedient to the direction of his rider; and God and the devil he compares to riders. “If God rides it, he, like a sober and skilful rider, manages it in a graceful manner; stimulates its tardiness; restrains its immoderate celerity; represses its wantonness and wildness; tames its perverseness, and conducts it into the right way. But if the devil has taken possession of it, he, like a foolish and wanton rider, forces it through pathless places, hurries it into ditches, drives it down over precipices, and excites it to obstinacy and ferocity.” With this similitude, as no better occurs, we will at present be content.
VII. Some one will object, that these are peculiar examples, to the rule of which, things ought by no means universally to be reduced. But I maintain, that they are sufficient to prove that for which I contend; that God, whenever he designs to prepare the way for his providence, inclines and moves the wills of men even in external things, and that their choice is not so free, but that its liberty is subject to the will of God. That your mind depends more on the influence of God, than on the liberty of your own choice, you must be constrained to conclude, whether you are willing or not, from this daily experience, that in affairs of no perplexity your judgment and understanding frequently fail; that in undertakings not arduous your spirits languish; on the other hand, in things the most obscure, suitable advice is immediately offered; in things great and perilous, your mind proves superior to every difficulty.
VI. Our adversaries are very laborious in collecting testimonies of Scripture; and this with a view, since they cannot refute us with their weight, to overwhelm us with their number. But as in battles, when armies come to close combat, the weak multitude, whatever pomp and ostentation they may display, are soon defeated and routed, so it will be very easy for us to vanquish them, with all their multitude. For as all the passages, which they abuse in their opposition to us, when properly classed and distributed, centre in a very few topics, one answer will be sufficient for many of them; it will not be necessary to dwell on a particular explication of each. Their principal argument they derive from the precepts; which they suppose to be so proportioned to our ability, that whatever they can be proved to require, it necessarily follows we are capable of performing. They proceed, therefore, to a particular detail of them, and by them measure the extent of our strength.
XV. Hence it appears that the grace of God, in the sense in which this word is used when we treat of regeneration, is the rule of the Spirit for directing and governing the human will. He cannot govern it unless he correct, reform, and renovate it; whence we say that the commencement of regeneration is an abolition of what is from ourselves; nor unless he also excite, actuate, impel, support, and restrain it; whence we truly assert, that all the actions which proceed from this are entirely of the Spirit. At the same time, we fully admit the truth of what Augustine teaches, that the will is not destroyed by grace, but rather repaired; for these two things are perfectly consistent—that the human will may be said to be repaired, when, by the correction of its depravity and perverseness, it is directed according to the true standard of righteousness; and also that a new will may be said to be created in man, because the natural will is so vitiated and corrupted, that it needs to be formed entirely anew. Now, there is no reason why we may not justly be said to perform that which the Spirit of God performs in us, although our own will contributes nothing of itself, independently of his grace. And, therefore, we should remember what we have before cited from Augustine, that many persons labour in vain to find in the human will some good, properly its own. For whatever mixture men study to add from the power of free will to the grace of God, is only a corruption of it; just as if any one should dilute good wine with dirty or bitter water. But although whatever good there is in the human will, proceeds wholly from the internal influence of the Spirit, yet because we have a natural faculty of willing, we are, not without reason, said to do those things, the praise of which God justly claims to himself; first, because whatever God does in us, becomes ours by his benignity, provided we do not apprehend it to originate from ourselves; secondly, because the understanding is ours, the will is ours, and the effort is ours, which are all directed by him to that which is good
VI. But for the better elucidation of the subject, let us state, in a compendious order, the office and use of what is called the moral law. It is contained, as far as I understand it, in these three points. The first is, that while it discovers the righteousness of God, that is, the only righteousness which is acceptable to God, it warns every one of his own unrighteousness, places it beyond all doubt, convicts, and condemns him. For it is necessary that man, blinded and inebriated with self-love, should thus be driven into a knowledge of himself, and a confession of his own imbecility and impurity. Since, unless his vanity be evidently reproved, he is inflated with a foolish confidence in his strength, and can never be brought to perceive its feebleness as long as he measures it by the rule of his own fancy. But as soon as he begins to compare it to the difficulty of the law, he finds his insolence and pride immediately abate. For how great soever his preconceived opinion of it, he perceives it immediately pant under so heavy a load, and then totter, and at length fall. Thus, being instructed under the tuition of the law, he lays aside that arrogance with which he was previously blinded. He must also be cured of the other disease, of pride, with which, we have observed, he is afflicted. As long as he is permitted to stand in his own judgment, he substitutes hypocrisy instead of righteousness; contented with which, he rises up with I know not what pretended righteousnesses, in opposition to the grace of God. But when he is constrained to examine his life according to the rules of the law, he no longer presumes on his counterfeit righteousness, but perceives that he is at an infinite distance from holiness; and also that he abounds with innumerable vices, from which he before supposed himself to be pure. For the evils of concupiscence are concealed in such deep and intricate recesses, as easily to elude the view of man. And it is not without cause that the Apostle says, “I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet;” because, unless it be stripped of its disguises, and brought to light by the law, it destroys the miserable man in so secret a manner, that he does not perceive its fatal dart.
VII. Thus the law is like a mirror, in which we behold, first, our impotence; secondly, our iniquity, which proceeds from it; and lastly, the consequence of both, our obnoxiousness to the curse; just as a mirror represents to us the spots on our face. For when a man is destitute of power to practise righteousness, he must necessarily fall into the habits of sin.
X. The second office of the law is, to cause those who, unless constrained, feel no concern for justice and rectitude, when they hear its terrible sanctions, to be at least restrained by a fear of its penalties. And they are restrained, not because it internally influences or affects their minds, but because, being chained, as it were, they refrain from external acts, and repress their depravity within them, which otherwise they would have wantonly discharged. This makes them neither better nor more righteous in the Divine view. For although, being prevented either by fear or by shame, they dare not execute what their minds have contrived, nor openly discover the fury of their passions, yet their hearts are not disposed to fear and obey God; and the more they restrain themselves, the more violently they are inflamed within; they ferment, they boil, ready to break out into any external acts, if they were not prevented by this dread of the law. And not only so, they also inveterately hate the law itself, and execrate God the lawgiver, so that, if they could, they would wish to annihilate him whom they cannot bear, either in commanding that which is right, or in punishing the despisers of his majesty. In some, indeed, this state of mind is more evident, in others more concealed; but it is really the case of all who are yet unregenerate, that they are induced to attend to the law, not by a voluntary submission, but with reluctance and resistance, only by the violence of fear. But yet this constrained and extorted righteousness is necessary to the community, whose public tranquillity is provided for by God in this instance, while he prevents all things being involved in confusion, which would certainly be the case, if all men were permitted to pursue their own inclinations. Moreover, it is useful even to the children of God, to be exercised by its discipline before their vocation, while they are destitute of the Spirit of sanctification, and are absorbed in carnal folly. For when the dread of Divine vengeance restrains them even from external licentiousness, although, their minds being not yet subdued, they make but a slow progress at present, yet they are in some measure accustomed to bear the yoke of righteousness; so that when they are called, they may not be entirely unaccustomed to its discipline, as a thing altogether unknown. To this office of the law the Apostle appears particularly to have referred, when he says, “that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient; for the ungodly and for sinners; for unholy and profane; for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers; for manslayers, for whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for men-stealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine.” For he here signifies that it restrains the violence of the carnal desires, which would otherwise indulge themselves in the most unbounded licentiousness.
XI. But we may apply to both what he elsewhere asserts, that to the Jews “the law was a schoolmaster to bring them to Christ;” for there are two kinds of persons who are led to Christ by its discipline. Some, whom we mentioned in the first place, from too much confidence either in their own strength or in their own righteousness, are unfit to receive the grace of Christ, till they have first been stripped of every thing. The law, therefore, reduces them to humility by a knowledge of their own misery, that thus they may be prepared to pray for that of which they before supposed themselves not destitute. Others need a bridle to restrain them, lest they abandon themselves to carnal licentiousness, to such a degree as wholly to depart from all practice of righteousness. For where the Spirit does not yet reign, there is sometimes such a violent ebullition of the passions, as to occasion great danger of the soul that is under their influence being swallowed up in forgetfulness and contempt of God; which would certainly be the case, if the Lord did not provide this remedy against it. Those, therefore, whom he has destined to the inheritance of his kingdom, if he do not immediately regenerate them, he keeps under fear by the works of the law till the time of his visitation; not that chaste and pure fear which ought to be felt by his children, but a fear which is, nevertheless, useful to train them, according to their capacity, to true piety. Of this we have so many proofs, that there is no need to adduce any example. For all who have lived for a considerable time in ignorance of God will confess it to have been their experience, that they were constrained by the law to a certain kind of fear and reverence of God, till, being regenerated by his Spirit, they began to love him from their hearts.
Nor is religion only the head of righteousness, but the very soul of it, constituting all its life and vigour; for without the fear of God, men preserve no equity and love among themselves. We therefore call the worship of God the principle and foundation of righteousness, because, if that be wanting, whatever equity, continence, and temperance men may practise among themselves, it is all vain and frivolous in the sight of God. We assert also that it is the source and soul of righteousness; because men are taught by it to live temperately and justly with one another, if they venerate God as the judge of right and wrong. In the first table, therefore, he instructs us in piety and the proper duties of religion, in which his majesty is to be worshipped; in the second he prescribes the duties which the fear of his name should excite us to practise in society. For this reason our Lord, as the evangelists inform us, summarily comprised the whole law in two principal points—that we love God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our strength; and that we love our neighbour as ourselves. Of the two parts in which he comprehends the whole law, we see how he directs one towards God, and assigns the other to men.
XII. But, although the whole law is contained in these two principal points, yet our God, in order to remove every pretext of excuse, has been pleased in the ten commandments more diffusely and explicitly to declare, as well those things which relate to our honour, love, and fear of him, as those which pertain to that charity, which he commands us for his sake to exercise towards men. Nor is it a useless study to examine into the division of the commandments; provided you remember it is a subject of such a nature, that every man ought to be at liberty to judge of it, and that we ought not contentiously to oppose any who may differ from us respecting it. But we are under a necessity of touching on this topic, lest the reader should despise or wonder at the division that we shall adopt, as a novel invention. That the law is divided into ten precepts, is beyond all controversy, being frequently established by the authority of God himself. The question, therefore, is not concerning the number of the precepts, but concerning the manner of dividing them.
XV. Next follows a recital of his kindness, which ought to produce a most powerful effect upon our minds, in proportion to the detestable guilt of ingratitude, even among men. He reminded the Israelites, indeed, of a favour which they had recently experienced, but which, on account of its magnitude and concomitant miracles, being worthy of everlasting remembrance, might also have an influence on succeeding generations. Besides, it was particularly suitable to the present occasion, when the law was about to be published; for the Lord suggests that they were liberated from a miserable slavery in order that they might serve the author of their liberty with a promptitude of reverence and obedience. To retain us in the true and exclusive worship of himself, he generally distinguishes himself by certain epithets, by which he discriminates his sacred name from all idols and fictitious deities. For, as I have before observed, such is our proneness to vanity and presumption, that as soon as God is mentioned, our mind is unable to guard itself from falling into some vain imagination. Therefore, when God intends to apply a remedy to this evil, he adorns his majesty with certain titles, and thus circumscribes us with barriers, that we may not run into various follies, and presumptuously invent to ourselves some new deity, discarding the living God, and setting up an idol in his stead. For this reason the Prophets, whenever they intend a proper designation of him, invest him, and as it were surround him, with those characters under which he had manifested himself to the people of Israel. Yet, when he is called “the God of Abraham,” or “the God of Israel,” when he is said to reside “between the cherubim,” “in the temple,” “at Jerusalem,” these and similar forms of expression do not confine him to one place, or to one nation; they are only used to fix the thoughts of the pious on that God, who, in the covenant which he has made with Israel, has given such a representation of himself, that it is not proper to deviate in the smallest instance from such a model. Nevertheless, let it be concluded, that the deliverance of the Jews is mentioned to induce them to devote themselves with more alacrity to the service of God, who justly claims a right to their obedience. But, that we may not suppose this to have no relation to us, it behoves us to consider, that the servitude of Israel in Egypt was a type of the spiritual captivity, in which we are all detained, till our celestial Deliverer extricates us by the power of his arm, and introduces us into the kingdom of liberty.
Secondly, we should not rashly and preposterously abuse his holy word and adorable mysteries to the purposes of ambition, of avarice, or of amusement; but as they bear an impression of the dignity of his name, they should always receive from us the honour and esteem which belong to them.
The Fifth Commandment.
Honour thy father and thy mother; that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.
XXXV. The end of this precept is, that since the Lord God desires the preservation of the order he has appointed, the degrees of preëminence fixed by him ought to be inviolably preserved. The sum of it, therefore, will be, that we should reverence them whom God has exalted to any authority over us, and should render them honour, obedience, and gratitude. Whence follows a prohibition to derogate from their dignity by contempt, obstinacy, or ingratitude.
XXXVI. Wherefore it ought not to be doubted that God here lays down a universal rule for our conduct; namely, that to every one, whom we know to be placed in authority over us by his appointment, we should render reverence, obedience, gratitude, and all the other services in our power. Nor does it make any difference, whether they are worthy of this honour, or not. For whatever be their characters, yet it is not without the appointment of the Divine providence, that they have attained that station, on account of which the supreme Legislator has commanded them to be honoured. He has particularly enjoined reverence to our parents, who have brought us into this life; which nature itself ought to teach us.
The Tenth Commandment.
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.
XLIX. The end of this precept is, that, since it is the will of God that our whole soul should be under the influence of love, every desire inconsistent with charity ought to be expelled from our minds. The sum, then, will be, that no thought should obtrude itself upon us, which would excite in our minds any desire that is noxious, and tends to the detriment of another. To which corresponds the affirmative precept, that all our conceptions, deliberations, resolutions, and undertakings, ought to be consistent with the benefit and advantage of our neighbours. But here we meet with what appears to be a great and perplexing difficulty. For if our previous assertions be true, that the terms adultery and theft comprehend the licentious desire, and the injurious and criminal intention, this may be thought to have superseded the necessity of a separate command being afterwards introduced, forbidding us to covet the possessions of others. But we shall easily solve this difficulty by a distinction between intention and concupiscence. For an intention, as we have before observed in explaining the former commandments, is a deliberate consent of the will, when the mind has been enslaved by any unlawful desire. Concupiscence may exist without such deliberation or consent, when the mind is only attracted and stimulated by vain and corrupt objects. As the Lord, therefore, has hitherto commanded our wills, efforts, and actions to be subject to the law of love, so now he directs that the conceptions of our minds be subject to the same regulation, lest any of them be corrupt and perverted, and give our hearts an improper impulse. As he has forbidden our minds to be inclined and persuaded to anger, hatred, adultery, rapine, and falsehood, so now he prohibits them from being instigated to these vices.
L. Nor is it without cause that he requires such consummate rectitude. For who can deny that it is reasonable for all the powers of our souls to be under the influence of love? But if any one deviate from the path of love, who can deny that that soul is in an unhealthy state? Now, whence is it, that your mind conceives desires prejudicial to your neighbour, but that, neglecting his interest, you consult nothing but your own? For if your heart were full of love, there would be no part of it exposed to such imaginations. It must therefore be destitute of love, so far as it is the seat of concupiscence. Some one will object, that it is unreasonable, that imaginations, which without reflection flutter about in the mind, and then vanish away, should be condemned as symptoms of concupiscence, which has its seat in the heart. I reply, that the present question relates to that kind of imaginations, which, when they are presented to our understandings, at the same time strike our hearts, and inflame them with cupidity; since the mind never entertains a wish for any thing after which the heart is not excited to pant. Therefore God enjoins a wonderful ardour of love, which he will not allow to be interrupted even by the smallest degree of concupiscence. He requires a heart admirably well regulated, which he permits not to be disturbed with the least emotion contrary to the law of love. Do not imagine that this doctrine is unsupported by any great authority; for I derived the first idea of it from Augustine. Now, though the design of the Lord was to prohibit us from all corrupt desires, yet he has exhibited, as examples, those objects which most generally deceive us with a fallacious appearance of pleasure; that he might not leave any thing to concupiscence, after having driven it from those objects towards which it is most violently inclined. Behold, then, the second table of the law, which sufficiently instructs us in the duties we owe to men for the sake of God, on regard to whom the whole rule of love depends. The duties taught in this second table, therefore, we shall inculcate in vain, unless our instruction be founded on the fear and reverence of God. To divide the prohibition of concupiscence into two precepts, the discerning reader, without any comment of mine, will pronounce to be a corrupt and violent separation of what is but one. Nor is the repetition of this phrase, “Thou shalt not covet,” any objection against us; because, having mentioned the house or family, God enumerates the different parts of it, beginning with the wife. Hence it clearly appears that it ought to be read, as it is correctly read by the Hebrews, in one continued connection; and in short, that God commands, that all that every man possesses remain safe and entire, not only from any actual injury or fraudulent intention, but even from the least emotion of cupidity that can solicit our hearts.
LI. But what is the tendency of the whole law, will not now be difficult to judge: it is to a perfection of righteousness, that it may form the life of man after the example of the Divine purity. For God has so delineated his own character in it, that the man who exemplifies in his actions the precepts it contains, will exhibit in his life, as it were, an image of God. Wherefore, when Moses would recall the substance of it to the remembrance of the Israelites, he said, “And now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, to keep the commandments of the Lord?” Nor did he cease to reiterate the same things to them, whenever he intended to point out the end of the law. The tendency of the doctrine of the law is to connect man with his God, and, as Moses elsewhere expresses it, to make him cleave to the Lord in sanctity of life. Now, the perfection of this sanctity consists in two principal points, already recited—“that we love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our strength, and with all our mind; and our neighbour as ourselves.” And the first is, that our souls be completely filled with the love of God. From this the love of our neighbour will naturally follow; as the Apostle signifies, when he says, that “the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned.” Here we find a good conscience and faith unfeigned, that is, in a word, true piety, stated to be the grand source from which charity is derived. He is deceived, therefore, who supposes that the law teaches nothing but certain rudiments and first principles of righteousness, by which men are introduced to the commencement, but are not directed to the true goal of good works; since beyond the former sentence of Moses, and the latter of Paul, nothing further can be wanted to the highest perfection. For how far will he wish to proceed, who will not be content with this instruction, by which man is directed to the fear of God, to the spiritual worship of him, to the observance of his commands, to persevering rectitude in the way of the Lord, to purity of conscience, and sincere faith and love? Hence we derive a confirmation of the foregoing exposition of the law, which traces and finds in its precepts all the duties of piety and love. For they who attend merely to dry and barren elements, as though it taught them but half of the Divine will, are declared by the Apostle to have no knowledge of its end.
LIV. Here, then, we must rest, that our life will then be governed according to the will of God, and the prescriptions of his law, when it is in all respects most beneficial to our brethren. But we do not find in the whole law one syllable, that lays down any rule for a man respecting those things which he should practise or omit for his carnal convenience. And surely, since men are born in such a state, that they are entirely governed by an immoderate self-love,—a passion which, how great soever their departure from the truth, they always retain,—there was no need of a law which would inflame that love, already of itself too violent. Whence it plainly appears, that the observance of the commandments consists not in the love of ourselves, but in the love of God and of our neighbour; that his is the best and most holy life, who lives as little as possible to himself; and that no man leads a worse or more iniquitous life, than he who lives exclusively to himself, and makes his own interest the sole object of his thoughts and pursuits. Moreover, the Lord, in order to give us the best expression of the strength of that love which we ought to exercise towards our neighbours, has regulated it by the standard of our self-love, because there was no stronger or more vehement affection. And the force of the expression must be carefully examined; for he does not, according to the foolish dreams of some sophists, concede the first place to self-love, and assign the second to the love of our neighbour; but rather transfers to others that affection of love which we naturally restrict to ourselves. Whence the Apostle asserts that “charity seeketh not her own.” Nor is their argument, that every thing regulated by any standard is inferior to the standard by which it is regulated, worthy of the least attention. For God does not appoint our self-love as the rule, to which our love to others should be subordinate; but whereas, through our natural depravity, our love used to terminate in ourselves, he shows that it ought now to be diffused abroad; that we may be ready to do any service to our neighbour with as much alacrity, ardour, and solicitude, as to ourselves.
XVII. We may learn, then, even from this confession of David, that the holy fathers under the Old Testament were not ignorant, that God rarely or never in this world gives his servants those things which he promises them, and that, therefore, they elevated their minds to the sanctuary of God, where they had a treasure in reserve which is not visible amid the shadows of the present life. This sanctuary was the last judgment, which, not being discernible by their eyes, they were contented to apprehend by faith. Relying on this confidence, whatever events might befall them in the world, they, nevertheless, had no doubt that there would come a time when the Divine promises would be fulfilled.
XLII. Now, wherever this living faith shall be found, it must necessarily be attended with the hope of eternal salvation as its inseparable concomitant, or rather must originate and produce it; since the want of this hope would prove us to be utterly destitute of faith, however eloquently and beautifully we might discourse concerning it. For if faith be, as has been stated, a certain persuasion of the truth of God, that it can neither lie, nor deceive us, nor be frustrated,—they who have felt this assurance, likewise expect a period to arrive when God will accomplish his promises, which, according to their persuasion, cannot but be true; so that, in short, hope is no other than an expectation of those things which faith has believed to be truly promised by God. Thus faith believes the veracity of God, hope expects the manifestation of it in due time; faith believes him to be our Father, hope expects him always to act towards us in this character; faith believes that eternal life is given to us, hope expects it one day to be revealed; faith is the foundation on which hope rests, hope nourishes and sustains faith. For as no man can have any expectations from God, but he who has first believed his promises, so also the imbecility of our faith must be sustained and cherished by patient hope and expectation, lest it grow weary and faint. For which reason, Paul rightly places our salvation in hope. For hope, while it is silently expecting the Lord, restrains faith, that it may not be too precipitate; it confirms faith, that it may not waver in the Divine promises, or begin to doubt of the truth of them; it refreshes it, that it may not grow weary; it extends it to the farthest goal, that it may not fail in the midst of the course, or even at the entrance of it. Finally, hope, by continually renewing and restoring faith, causes it frequently to persevere with more vigour than hope itself. But in how many cases the assistance of hope is necessary to the establishment of faith, will better appear, if we consider how many species of temptations assail and harass those who have embraced the word of God. First, the Lord, by deferring the execution of his promises, frequently keeps our minds in suspense longer than we wish; here it is the office of hope to obey the injunction of the prophet—“though it tarry, wait for it.” Sometimes he not only suffers us to languish, but openly manifests his indignation: in this case it is much more necessary to have the assistance of hope, that, according to the language of another prophet, we may “wait upon the Lord that hideth his face from Jacob.” Scoffers also arise, as Peter says, and inquire, “Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.” And the flesh and the world whisper the same things into our ears. Here faith must be supported by the patience of hope, and kept fixed on the contemplation of eternity, that it may consider “a thousand years as one day.”
Chapter VIII. Bearing The Cross, Which Is A Branch Of Self-Denial.
But it becomes a pious mind to rise still higher, even to that to which Christ calls his disciples; that every one should “take up his cross.” For all whom the Lord has chosen and honoured with admission into the society of his saints, ought to prepare themselves for a life, hard, laborious, unquiet, and replete with numerous and various calamities. It is the will of their heavenly Father to exercise them in this manner, that he may have a certain proof of those that belong to him. Having begun with Christ his first begotten Son, he pursues this method towards all his children. For though Christ was above all others the beloved Son, in whom the Father was always well pleased, yet we see how little indulgence and tenderness he experienced; so that it may be truly said, not only that he was perpetually burdened with a cross during his residence on earth, but that his whole life was nothing but a kind of perpetual cross. The apostle assigns the reason, that it was necessary for him to “learn obedience by the things which he suffered.”Why, then, should we exempt ourselves from that condition, to which it behoved Christ our head to be subject; especially since his submission was on our account, that he might exhibit to us an example of patience in his own person? Wherefore the apostle teaches, that it is the destination of all the children of God “to be conformed to him.” It is also a source of signal consolation to us, in unpleasant and severe circumstances, which are esteemed adversities and calamities, that we partake of the sufferings of Christ; that as he from a labyrinth of all evils entered into the glory of heaven, so we are conducted forward through various tribulations to the same glory; for Paul teaches us, that when we “know the fellowship of his sufferings,” we also apprehend “the power of his resurrection;” that while we are conformed to his death, we are thus prepared to partake of his glorious resurrection. How much is this adapted to alleviate all the bitterness of the cross, that the more we are afflicted by adversities, our fellowship with Christ is so much the more certainly confirmed! By this communion the sufferings themselves not only become blessings to us, but afford considerable assistance towards promoting our salvation.
II. Besides, our Lord was under no necessity of bearing the cross, except to testify and prove his obedience to his Father; but there are many reasons which render it necessary for us to live under a continual cross. First, as we are naturally too prone to attribute every thing to our flesh, unless we have, as it were, ocular demonstration of our imbecility, we easily form an extravagant estimate of our strength, presuming that whatever may happen, it will remain undaunted and invincible amidst all difficulties. This inflates us with a foolish, vain, carnal confidence; relying on which, we become contumacious and proud, in opposition to God himself, just as though our own powers were sufficient for us without his grace. This arrogance he cannot better repress, than by proving to us from experience, not only our great imbecility, but also our extreme frailty. Therefore he afflicts us with ignominy, or poverty, or loss of relatives, or disease, or other calamities; to the bearing of which being in ourselves unequal, we ere long sink under them. Thus being humbled, we learn to invoke his strength, which alone causes us to stand erect under a load of afflictions. Moreover, the greatest saints, though sensible that they stand by the grace of God, not by their own strength, are nevertheless more secure than they ought to be of their fortitude and constancy, unless he leads them by the discipline of the cross into a deeper knowledge of themselves. This presumption insinuated itself even into David: “In my prosperity I said, I shall never be moved; Lord, by thy favour thou hast made my mountain to stand strong. Thou didst hide thy face, and I was troubled.” For he confesses that his senses were so stupefied and benumbed by prosperity, that disregarding the grace of God, on which he ought to have depended, he relied on himself, so as to promise himself a permanent standing. If this happened to so great a prophet, who of us should not be fearful and cautious? Though in prosperity, therefore, they have flattered themselves with the notion of superior constancy and patience, yet when humbled by adversity, they learn that this was mere hypocrisy. Admonished by such evidences of their maladies, believers advance in humility, and, divested of corrupt confidence in the flesh, betake themselves to the grace of God; and when they have applied to it, they experience the presence of the Divine strength, in which they find abundant protection.
III. This is what Paul teaches, that “tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience.” For the promise of God to believers, that he will assist them in tribulations, they experience to be true, when they patiently stand supported by his power, which they certainly could not do by their own strength. Patience, therefore, affords a proof to the saints, that God will really give the assistance he has promised in every time of need. This also confirms their hope; for it would be too much ingratitude not to rely on the truth of God for the future, which they have hitherto experienced to be constant and certain. We see now what a series of benefits we derive from the cross. For, subverting the opinion which we have falsely preconceived of our own strength, and detecting our hypocrisy, with which we are enamoured, it expels pernicious and carnal confidence; when we are thus humbled, it teaches us to rely upon God alone, which keeps us from sinking under afflictions. And victory is followed by hope; inasmuch as the Lord, by the performance of his promises, establishes his truth for the future. Though these were the only reasons that could be given, they are sufficient to show the necessity of the discipline of the cross. For it is no small advantage to be divested of a blind self-love, that we may be fully conscious of our imbecility; to be affected with a sense of our imbecility, that we may learn to be diffident of ourselves; to be diffident of ourselves, that we may transfer our confidence to God; to depend with unreserved confidence on God, that, relying on his assistance, we may persevere unconquered to the end; to stand in his grace, that we may know his veracity in his promises; to experience the certainty of his promises, that our hope may thereby be strengthened.
IV. The Lord has also another end in afflicting his children; to try their patience, and teach them obedience. Not, indeed, that they can perform any other obedience to him than that which he has given them; but he is pleased in this manner, by clear evidences, to exhibit and testify the graces which he has conferred on his saints, that they may not be concealed in inactivity within them. Therefore, in giving an open manifestation of the strength and constancy in suffering, with which he has furnished his servants, he is said to try their patience. Hence these expressions, that “God did tempt Abraham,” and prove his piety, from the circumstance of his not refusing to sacrifice his own and only son. Wherefore Peter states, that our faith is tried by tribulations, just as gold is tried by fire in a furnace. Now, who can say that it is not necessary for this most excellent gift of patience, which a believer has received from his God, to be brought forward into use, that it may be ascertained and manifested? For otherwise men will never esteem it as it deserves. But if God himself acts justly, when, to prevent the virtues which he has conferred on believers from being concealed in obscurity and remaining useless and perishing, he furnishes an occasion for exciting them,—there is the best of reasons for the afflictions of the saints, without which they would have no patience. By the cross they are also, I say, instructed to obedience; because they are thus taught to live, not according to their own inclination, but according to the will of God. If every thing succeeded with them according to their wishes, they would not know what it is to follow God. But Seneca mentions that this was an ancient proverb, when they would exhort any one to bear adversity with patience, “Follow God.” This implied that man submitted to the yoke of God, only when he resigned himself to his corrections. Now, if it is most reasonable that we should prove ourselves in all things obedient to our heavenly Father, we certainly ought not to deny him the use of every method to accustom us to practise this obedience.
V. Yet we do not perceive how necessary this obedience is to us, unless we at the same time reflect on the great wantonness of our flesh to shake off the Divine yoke, as soon as we have been treated with a little tenderness and indulgence. The case is exactly the same as with refractory horses, which, after having been pampered for some days in idleness, grow fierce and untamable, and regard not the rider, to whose management they previously submitted. And we are perpetual examples of what God complains of in the people of Israel; when we are “waxen fat,” and are “covered with fatness,” we kick against him who has cherished and supported us. The beneficence of God ought to have allured us to the consideration and love of his goodness; but since such is our ingratitude, that we are rather constantly corrupted by his indulgence, it is highly necessary for us to be restrained by some discipline from breaking out into such petulance. Therefore, that we may not be made haughty by an excessive abundance of wealth, that we may not become proud on being distinguished with honours, that we may not be rendered insolent by being inflated with other advantages, mental, corporeal, or external, the Lord himself, as he foresees will be expedient, by the remedy of the cross, opposes, restrains, and subdues the haughtiness of our flesh; and that by various methods, adapted to promote the benefit of each individual. For we are not all equally afflicted with the same diseases, or all in need of an equally severe method of cure. Hence we see different persons exercised with different kinds of crosses. But whilst the heavenly Physician, consulting the health of all his patients, practises a milder treatment towards some, and cures others with rougher remedies, yet he leaves no one completely exempted, because he knows we are all diseased, without the exception of a single individual.
VI. But what means have we of humbling ourselves, except by submitting, all poor and destitute, to the Divine mercy? For I do not call it humility, if we suppose that we have any thing left. And hitherto they have taught a pernicious hypocrisy, who have connected these two maxims—that we should entertain humble thoughts of ourselves before God, and that we should attach some dignity to our own righteousness. For if we address to God a confession which is contrary to our real sentiments, we are guilty of telling him an impudent falsehood; but we cannot think of ourselves as we ought to think, without utterly despising every thing that may be supposed an excellence in us. When we hear, therefore, from the Psalmist, that “God will save the afflicted people, but will bring down high looks,” let us consider, first, that there is no way of salvation till we have laid aside all pride, and attained sincere humility; secondly, that this humility is not a species of modesty, consisting in conceding to God a small portion of what we might justly claim, as they are called humble among men, who neither haughtily exalt themselves nor behave with insolence to others, while they nevertheless entertain some consciousness of excellence: this humility is the unfeigned submission of a mind overwhelmed with a weighty sense of its own misery and poverty; for such is the uniform description of it in the word of God.
JOHN CALVIN – INSTITUTES OF THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION
John Calvin. Institutes of the Christian Religion (Vol.2 of 2). Translated by John Allen. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg, 2021. Retrieved 2022, from https://www.gutenberg.org/files/64392/64392-h/64392-h.htm
THE COMMENCEMENT AND CONTINUAL PROGRESS OF JUSTIFICATION.
For the further elucidation of this subject, let us examine what kind of righteousness can be found in men during the whole course of their lives. Let us divide them into four classes. For either they are destitute of the knowledge of God, and immerged in idolatry; or, having been initiated by the sacraments, they lead impure lives, denying God in their actions, while they confess him with their lips, and belong to Christ only in name; or they are hypocrites, concealing the iniquity of their hearts with vain disguises; or, being regenerated by the Spirit of God, they devote themselves to true holiness. In the first of these classes, judged of according to their natural characters, from the crown of the head to the sole of the foot there will not be found a single spark of goodness; unless we mean to charge the Scripture with falsehood in these representations which it gives of all the sons of Adam—that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked;” that “every imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth;” that “the thoughts of man are vanity; that there is no fear of God before his eyes;” that “there is none that understandeth, none that seeketh after God;” in a word, “that he is flesh,” a term expressive of all those works which are enumerated by Paul—“adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders,” and every impurity and abomination that can be conceived. This is the dignity, in the confidence of which they must glory. But if any among them discover that integrity in their conduct which among men has some appearance of sanctity, yet, since we know that God regards not external splendour, we must penetrate to the secret springs of these actions, if we wish them to avail any thing to justification. We must narrowly examine, I say, from what disposition of heart these works proceed. Though a most extensive field of observation is now before us, yet, since the subject may be despatched in very few words, I shall be as compendious as possible.
II. In the first place, I do not deny, that whatever excellences appear in unbelievers, they are the gifts of God. I am not so at variance with the common opinion of mankind, as to contend that there is no difference between the justice, moderation, and equity of Titus or Trajan, and the rage, intemperance, and cruelty of Caligula, or Nero, or Domitian; between the obscenities of Tiberius and the continence of Vespasian; and, not to dwell on particular virtues or vices, between the observance and the contempt of moral obligation and positive laws. For so great is the difference between just and unjust, that it is visible even in the lifeless image of it. For what order will be left in the world, if these opposites be confounded together? Such a distinction as this, therefore, between virtuous and vicious actions, has not only been engraven by the Lord in the heart of every man, but has also been frequently confirmed by his providential dispensations. We see how he confers many blessings of the present life on those who practise virtue among men. Not that this external resemblance of virtue merits the least favour from him; but he is pleased to discover his great esteem of true righteousness, by not permitting that which is external and hypocritical to remain without a temporal reward. Whence it follows, as we have just acknowledged, that these virtues, whatever they may be, or rather images of virtues, are the gifts of God; since there is nothing in any respect laudable which does not proceed from him.
III. Nevertheless the observation of Augustine is strictly true—that all who are strangers to the religion of the one true God, however they may be esteemed worthy of admiration for their reputed virtue, not only merit no reward, but are rather deserving of punishment, because they contaminate the pure gifts of God with the pollution of their own hearts. For though they are instruments used by God for the preservation of human society, by the exercise of justice, continence, friendship, temperance, fortitude, and prudence, yet they perform these good works of God very improperly; being restrained from the commission of evil, not by a sincere attachment to true virtue, but either by mere ambition, or by self-love, or by some other irregular disposition. These actions, therefore, being corrupted in their very source by the impurity of their hearts, are no more entitled to be classed among virtues, than those vices which commonly deceive mankind by their affinity and similitude to virtues. Besides, when we remember that the end of what is right is always to serve God, whatever is directed to any other end, can have no claim to that appellation. Therefore, since they regard not the end prescribed by Divine wisdom, though an act performed by them be externally and apparently good, yet, being directed to a wrong end, it becomes sin… in all their celebrated actions, were guilty of sin, inasmuch as, being destitute of the light of faith, they did not direct those actions to that end to which they ought to have directed them; that consequently they had no genuine righteousness; because moral duties are estimated not by external actions, but by the ends for which such actions are designed.
THE TRUE AND FALSE CHURCH COMPARED.
We have already stated the importance which we ought to attach to the ministry of the word and sacraments, and the extent to which our reverence for it ought to be carried, so as to account it a perpetual mark and characteristic of the Church. That is to say, that wherever that exists entire and uncorrupted, no errors and irregularities of conduct form a sufficient reason for refusing the name of a Church. In the next place, that the ministry itself is not so far vitiated by smaller errors, as to be considered on that account less legitimate. It has further been shown, that the errors which are entitled to this forgiveness are those by which the grand doctrine of religion is not injured, which do not suppress the points in which all believers ought to agree as articles of faith, and which, in regard to the sacraments, neither abolish nor subvert the legitimate institution of their Author. But as soon as falsehood has made a breach in the fundamentals of religion, and the system of necessary doctrine is subverted, and the use of the sacraments fails, the certain consequence is the ruin of the Church, as there is an end of a man’s life when his throat is cut, or his heart is mortally wounded. And this is evident from the language of Paul, when he declares the Church to be “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner-stone.” If the foundation of the Church be the doctrine of the prophets and apostles, which enjoins believers to place their salvation in Christ alone, how can the edifice stand any longer, when that doctrine is taken away? The Church, therefore, must of necessity fall, where that system of religion is subverted which alone is able to sustain it. Besides, if the true Church be “the pillar and ground of truth,” that certainly can be no Church where delusion and falsehood have usurped the dominion.
II. As this is the state of things under the Papacy, it is easy to judge how much of the Church remains there. Instead of the ministry of the word, there reigns a corrupt government, composed of falsehoods, by which the pure light is suppressed or extinguished. An execrable sacrilege has been substituted for the supper of the Lord. The worship of God is deformed by a multifarious and intolerable mass of superstitions. The doctrine, without which Christianity cannot exist, has been entirely forgotten or exploded. The public assemblies have become schools of idolatry and impiety. In withdrawing ourselves, therefore, from the pernicious participation of so many enormities, there is no danger of separating ourselves from the Church of Christ. The communion of the Church was not instituted as a bond to confine us in idolatry, impiety, ignorance of God, and other evils; but rather as a mean to preserve us in the fear of God, and obedience of the truth. I know that the Papists give us the most magnificent commendations of their Church, to make us believe that there is no other in the world; and then, as if they had gained their point, they conclude all who dare to withdraw themselves from that Church which they describe, to be schismatics, and pronounce all to be heretics who venture to open their mouths in opposition to its doctrine. But by what reasons do they prove theirs to be the true Church? They allege from ancient records what formerly occurred in Italy, in France, in Spain; that they are descended from those holy men, who by sound doctrine founded and raised the Churches in these countries, and confirmed their doctrine and the edification of the Church by their blood; and that the Church, thus consecrated among them, both by spiritual gifts, and by the blood of martyrs, has been preserved by a perpetual succession of bishops, that it might never be lost. They allege the importance attached to this succession by Irenæus, Tertullian, Origen, Augustine, and others. To those who are willing to attend me in a brief examination of these allegations, I will clearly show that they are frivolous, and manifestly ridiculous. I would likewise exhort those who advance them, to pay a serious attention to the subject, if I thought my arguments could produce any effect upon them; but as their sole object is to promote their own interest by every method in their power, without any regard to truth, I shall content myself with making a few observations, with which good men, and inquirers after truth, may be able to answer their cavils. In the first place, I ask them, why they allege nothing respecting Africa, and Egypt, and all Asia. It is because, in all those countries, there has been a failure of this sacred succession of bishops, by virtue of which they boast that the Church has been preserved among them. They come to this point, therefore, that they have the true Church, because from its commencement it has never been destitute of bishops, for that some have been succeeded by others in an uninterrupted series. But what if I oppose them with the example of Greece? I ask them again, therefore, why they assert that the Church has been lost among the Greeks, among whom there has never been any interruption of that succession of bishops, which they consider as the sole guard and preservative of the Church? They call the Greeks schismatics. For what reason? Because, it is pretended, they have lost their privilege by revolting from the Apostolical see. But do not they much more deserve to lose it, who have revolted from Christ himself? It follows, therefore, that their plea of uninterrupted succession is a vain pretence, unless the truth of Christ, which was transmitted from the fathers, be permanently retained pure and uncorrupted by their posterity.
III. The pretensions of the Romanists, therefore, in the present day, are no other than those which appear to have been formerly set up by the Jews, when they were reproved by the prophets of the Lord for blindness, impiety, and idolatry. For as the Jews boasted of the temple, the ceremonies, and the priesthood, in which things they firmly believed the Church to consist; so, instead of the Church, the Papists produce certain external forms, which are often at a great distance from the Church, and are not at all necessary to its existence. Wherefore we need no other argument to refute them, than that which was urged by Jeremiah against that foolish confidence of the Jews: “Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, are these.” For the Lord acknowledges no place as his temple, where his word is not heard and devoutly observed. So, though the glory of God resided between the cherubim in the sanctuary, and he had promised his people that he would make it his permanent seat, yet when the priests had corrupted his worship by perverse superstitions, he departed, and left the place without any sanctity. If that temple which appeared to be consecrated to the perpetual residence of God, could be forsaken and desecrated by him, there can be no reason for their pretending that God is so attached to persons or places, or confined to external observances, as to be constrained to remain among those who have nothing but the name and appearance of the Church…
IV. In the same manner, the Romanists in the present day harass us, and terrify ignorant persons with the name of the Church, though there are no greater enemies to Christ than themselves. Although they may pretend therefore to the temple, the priesthood, and other similar forms, this vain glitter, which dazzles the eyes of the simple, ought by no means to induce us to admit the existence of a Church, where we cannot discover the word of God…
V. With respect to the charge which they bring against us of heresy and schism, because we preach a different doctrine from theirs, and submit not to their laws, and hold separate assemblies for prayers, for baptism, for the administration of the Lord’s supper, and other sacred exercises, it is indeed a most heavy accusation, but such as by no means requires a long or laborious defence. The appellations of heretics and schismatics are applied to persons who cause dissension, and destroy the communion of the Church. Now, this communion is preserved by two bonds—agreement in sound doctrine, and brotherly love. Between heretics and schismatics, therefore, Augustine makes the following distinction—that the former corrupt the purity of the faith by false doctrines, and that the latter break the bond of affection, sometimes even while they retain the same faith. But it is also to be remarked, that this union of affection is dependent on the unity of faith, as its foundation, end, and rule. Let us remember, therefore, that, whenever the unity of the Church is enjoined upon us in the Scripture, it is required, that, while our minds hold the same doctrines in Christ, our wills should likewise be united in mutual benevolence in Christ. Therefore, Paul, when he exhorts us to it, assumes as a foundation, that there is “one Lord, one faith, and one baptism.” And when he inculcates our being “like-minded, and having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind,” he immediately adds, that this should be in Christ, or according to Christ; signifying that all union which is formed without the word of the Lord, is a faction of the impious, and not an association of believers.
VII. But it will be still more evident, in what estimation we ought to hold all the Churches who have submitted to the tyranny of the Roman pontiff, if we compare them with the ancient Church of Israel, as delineated by the prophets. There was a true Church among the Jews and the Israelites, while they continued to observe the laws of the covenant; because they then obtained from the favour of God those things which constitute a Church. They had the doctrine of truth in the law; the ministry of it was committed to the priests and prophets; they were initiated into the Church by the sign of circumcision; and were exercised in other sacraments for the confirmation of their faith. There is no doubt that the commendations, with which the Lord has honoured his Church, truly belonged to their society. But after they deserted the law of the Lord, and fell into idolatry and superstition, they partly lost this privilege. For who would dare to refuse the title of a Church to those among whom God deposited the preaching of his word, and the observance of his mysteries? On the other hand, who would dare to give the appellation of a Church, without any exception, to that society, where the word of God is openly and fearlessly trampled under foot; where its ministry, the principal sinew, and even the soul of the Church, is discontinued?
VIII. What, then, it will be said, was there no particle of a Church left among the Jews from the moment of their defection to idolatry? The answer is easy. In the first place, I observe, that in this defection there were several degrees. Nor will we maintain the fall of Judah, and that of Israel, to have been exactly the same, at the time when they both began to depart from the pure worship of God. When Jeroboam made the calves, in opposition to the express prohibition of God, and dedicated a place which it was not lawful to use for the oblation of sacrifices, in this case religion was totally corrupted. The Jews polluted themselves with practical impieties and superstitions, before they made any unlawful changes in the external forms of religion. For though they generally adopted many corrupt ceremonies in the time of Rehoboam, yet as the doctrine of the law, and the priesthood, and the rites which God had instituted, were still preserved at Jerusalem, believers had in that kingdom a tolerable form of a Church. Among the Israelites, there was no reformation down to the reign of Ahab, and in his time there was an alteration for the worse. Of the succeeding kings, even to the subversion of the kingdom, some resembled Ahab, and others, who would be a little better, followed the example of Jeroboam; but all, without exception, were impious idolaters. In Judah there were various changes; some kings corrupted the worship of God with false and groundless superstitions, and others restored religion from its abuses; till, at length, the priests themselves polluted the temple of God with idolatrous and abominable rites.
IX. Now, however the Papists may extenuate their vices, let them deny, if they can, that the state of religion is as corrupt and depraved among them, as it was in the kingdom of Israel, in the time of Jeroboam. But they practise a grosser idolatry, and their doctrine is equally, if not more, impure. God is my witness, and all men who are endued with moderate judgment, and the fact itself declares, that in this I am guilty of no exaggeration. Now, when they try to drive us into the communion of their Church, they require two things of us—first, that we should communicate in all their prayers, sacraments, and ceremonies; secondly, that whatever honour, power, and jurisdiction, Christ has conferred upon his Church, we should attribute the same to theirs. With respect to the first point, I confess that the prophets who were at Jerusalem, when the state of affairs there was very corrupt, neither offered up sacrifices apart from others, nor held separate assemblies for prayer. For they had the express command of God, that they were to assemble in the temple of Solomon; and they knew that the Levitical priests, because they had been ordained by the Lord as ministers of the sacrifices, and had not been deposed, however unworthy they might be of such honour, still retained the lawful possession of that place. But, what is the principal point of the whole controversy, they were not constrained to join in any superstitious worship; on the contrary, they engaged in no service that was not of Divine institution. But what resemblance is there to this among the Papists? We can scarcely assemble with them on a single occasion, without polluting ourselves with open idolatry. The principal bond of their communion is certainly the mass, which we abominate as the greatest sacrilege. Whether we are right or wrong in this, will be seen in another place. It is sufficient, at present, to show that, in this respect, our case is different from that of the prophets, who, though they were present at the sacrifices of impious persons, were never compelled to use, or to witness, any ceremonies but those which God had instituted. And if we wish to have an example entirely similar, we must take it from the kingdom of Israel. According to the regulations of Jeroboam, circumcision continued, sacrifices were offered, the law was regarded as sacred, the people invoked the same God whom their fathers had worshipped; yet, on account of novel ceremonies invented in opposition to the Divine prohibitions, God disapproved and condemned all that was done there. Show me a single prophet, or any pious man, who even once worshipped or offered sacrifice at Bethel. They knew that they could not do it without contaminating themselves with sacrilege. We have established this point, therefore, that the attachment of pious persons to the communion of the Church, ought not to be carried to such an extent, as to oblige them to remain in it, if it degenerated into profane and impure rites.
XII. While we refuse, therefore, to allow to the Papists the title of the Church, without any qualification or restriction, we do not deny that there are Churches among them. We only contend for the true and legitimate constitution of the Church, which requires not only a communion in the sacraments, which are the signs of a Christian profession, but above all, an agreement in doctrine. Daniel and Paul had predicted that Antichrist would sit in the temple of God. The head of that cursed and abominable kingdom, in the Western Church, we affirm to be the Pope. When his seat is placed in the temple of God, it suggests, that his kingdom will be such, that he will not abolish the name of Christ, or the Church. Hence it appears, that we by no means deny that Churches may exist, even under his tyranny; but he has profaned them by sacrilegious impiety, afflicted them by cruel despotism, corrupted and almost terminated their existence by false and pernicious doctrines, like poisonous potions; in such Churches, Christ lies half buried, the gospel is suppressed, piety exterminated, and the worship of God almost abolished; in a word, they are altogether in such a state of confusion, that they exhibit a picture of Babylon, rather than of the holy city of God. To conclude, I affirm that they are Churches, inasmuch as God has wonderfully preserved among them a remnant of his people, though miserably dispersed and dejected, and as there still remain some marks of the Church, especially those, the efficacy of which neither the craft of the devil nor the malice of men can ever destroy. But, on the other hand, because those marks, which we ought chiefly to regard in this controversy, are obliterated, I affirm, that the form of the legitimate Church is not to be found either in any one of their congregations, or in the body at large.
THE RISE AND PROGRESS OF THE PAPAL POWER TO ITS PRESENT EMINENCE, ATTENDED WITH THE LOSS OF LIBERTY TO THE CHURCH, AND THE RUIN OF ALL MODERATION.
XXV. Some persons think us too severe and censorious, when we call the Roman pontiff Antichrist. But those who are of this opinion do not consider that they bring the same charge of presumption against Paul himself, after whom we speak, and whose language we adopt. And lest any one should object, that we improperly pervert to the Roman pontiff those words of Paul, which belong to a different subject, I shall briefly show that they are not capable of any other interpretation than that which applies them to the Papacy. Paul says, that Antichrist “sitteth in the temple of God.” In another place, also, the Holy Spirit, describing his image in the person of Antiochus, declares that his kingdom will consist in “speaking great words,” or blasphemies, “against the Most High.” Hence we conclude, that it is rather a tyranny over the souls of men, than over their bodies, which is erected in opposition to the spiritual kingdom of Christ. And in the next place, that this tyranny is one which does not abolish the name of Christ or of his Church, but rather abuses the authority of Christ, and conceals itself under the character of the Church, as under a mask. Now, though all the heresies and schisms which have existed from the beginning belong to the kingdom of Antichrist, yet when Paul predicts an approaching apostasy, he signifies by this description that that seat of abomination shall then be erected, when a universal defection shall have seized the Church, notwithstanding many members, dispersed in different places, persevere in the unity of the faith. But when he adds, that even in his days “the mystery of iniquity” did “already work” in secret what it was afterwards to effect in a more public manner, he gives us to understand that this calamity was neither to be introduced by one man, nor to terminate with one man. Now, when he designates Antichrist by this character,—that he would rob God of his honour in order to assume it to himself,—this is the principal indication which we ought to follow in our inquiries after Antichrist, especially where such pride proceeds to a public desolation of the Church. As it is evident therefore that the Roman pontiff has impudently transferred to himself some of the peculiar and exclusive prerogatives of God and Christ, it cannot be doubted that he is the captain and leader of this impious and abominable kingdom.
XXIX. But it affords me no pleasure to contend with them in such fooleries, and therefore I return from the digression. To confine Christ, and the Holy Spirit, and the Church, to one particular place, so that whoever presides there, even though he be a devil, must, nevertheless, be deemed the vicar of Christ, and the head of the Church, because that place was formerly the see of Peter, I maintain to be not only impious and dishonourable to Christ, but altogether absurd and repugnant to common sense. The Roman pontiffs for a long time have either been totally indifferent to religion, or have shown themselves its greatest enemies. They are no more made the vicars of Christ, therefore, by the see which they occupy, than an idol is to be taken for God, because it is placed in his temple. Now, if a judgment is to be formed on their conduct, let the pontiffs answer for themselves in what part of it they can at all be recognized as bishops. In the first place, the mode of life generally pursued at Rome, not only without any opposition from them, but with their connivance, and even tacit approbation, is altogether disgraceful to bishops, whose duty it is to restrain the licentiousness of the people by a rigid discipline. I will not, however, be so severe against them as to charge them with the faults of other persons. But while both themselves and their families, with almost the whole college of cardinals, and the whole host of their clergy, are so abandoned to all kinds of debauchery, impurity, and obscenity, and to every species of enormity and crime, that they resemble monsters rather than men, they prove themselves to have no just claim to the character of bishops. They need not be afraid, however, that I shall proceed to a further disclosure of their turpitude. For it is unpleasant to meddle with such abominable pollution, and it is necessary to spare chaste ears. Besides, I conceive, I have more than sufficiently proved what I intended, that even if Rome had anciently been the head of all Churches, yet at the present day she is not worthy of being accounted one of the smallest toes of the Church’s feet.
THE POWER OF LEGISLATION, IN WHICH THE POPE AND HIS ADHERENTS HAVE MOST CRUELLY TYRANNIZED OVER THE MINDS, AND TORTURED THE BODIES, OF MEN.
… But do we think it a matter of little importance to deprive the Lord of his kingdom, which he claims to himself, in such a peremptory manner? And it is taken away from him whenever he is worshipped with laws of human invention, whereas he requires himself to be honored as the sole legislator of his own worship. And that no one may suppose it to be a thing of trivial importance, let us hear in what estimation it is held by the Lord. “Forasmuch,” he says, “as this people draw near me with their mouth, but their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men; therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder; for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid.” Again: “In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” When the children of Israel polluted themselves by various idolatries, the cause of all the evil is attributed to the impure mixture which they made by devising new modes of worship in violation of the commands of God. Therefore, the sacred history relates that the strangers who had been transplanted by the king of Assyria from Babylon to inhabit Samaria, were torn in pieces and devoured by wild beasts, “because they knew not the statutes or ordinances of the God of the land.” Though they had committed no fault in the ceremonies, yet vain pomp would not have been approved by God; but he did not fail to punish the violation of his worship, when men introduced new inventions inconsistent with his word. Hence it is afterwards stated, that being terrified with that punishment, they adopted rites prescribed in the law; yet because they did not yet worship the true God aright, it is twice repeated that “they feared the Lord,” and, at the same time, that “they feared not the Lord.” Whence we conclude, that part of the reverence which is paid to him consists in our worshipping him in a simple adherence to his commands, without the admixture of any inventions of our own. Hence the frequent commendations of pious kings, that they “walked in all his commandments, and turned not aside to the right hand or to the left.” I go still further: though in some services of human invention there appears no manifest impiety, yet as soon as ever men have departed from the command of God, it is severely condemned by the Holy Spirit. The altar of Ahaz, the model of which was brought from Damascus, might seem to be an addition to the ornaments of the temple, because his design was to offer sacrifices upon it to God alone, with a view to perform these services in a more splendid manner than upon the ancient and original altar; yet we see how the Holy Spirit detests such audacity, for no other reason than because all the inventions of men in the worship of God are impure corruptions. And the more clearly the will of God is revealed to us, the more inexcusable is our presumption in making any such attempt. Wherefore the guilt of Manasseh is justly aggravated by the circumstance of his having “built” new “altars in the house of the Lord, of which the Lord said, In Jerusalem will I put my name;” because such conduct was like an avowed rejection of the authority of God.
XXIV. Many persons wonder why the Lord so severely threatens that he would “do a marvellous work among the people,” whose “fear toward him” was “taught by the precepts of men,” and pronounces that he is “worshipped in vain” by “the commandments of men.” But if such persons would consider what it is to follow the word of God alone in matters of religion, that is, of heavenly wisdom, they would immediately perceive it to be for no trivial reason that the Lord abominates such corrupt services, which are rendered to him according to the caprice of the human mind. For, though persons who obey such laws for the worship of God, have a certain appearance of humility in this their obedience, yet they are very far from being humble before God, to whom they prescribe the same laws which they observe themselves. This is the reason why Paul requires us to be so particularly cautious against being deceived by the traditions of men, and will-worship, that is, voluntary worship, invented by men, without the word of God. And so indeed it is, that our own wisdom, and that of all other men, must become folly in our esteem, that we may allow God alone to be truly wise. This is very far from being the case with those who study to render themselves acceptable to him by petty observances of human contrivance, and obtrude upon him, in opposition to his commands, a hypocritical obedience, which in reality is rendered to men. This was the conduct of men in former ages; the same has happened within our own remembrance, and still happens in those places where the authority of the creature is more regarded than that of the Creator; where religion, if religion it deserves to be called, is polluted with more numerous and senseless superstitions than ever disgraced the worship of paganism. For what could proceed from the minds of men but things carnal, foolish, and truly expressive of their authors?
XXVI. Why, then, it is inquired, was it the will of Christ that men should submit to those intolerable burdens which were imposed upon them by the scribes and Pharisees? I ask, on the other hand, Why did Christ, in another place, direct men to “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees?” by leaven, according to the interpretation given us by the evangelist, intending every doctrine of their own that they mixed with the pure word of God. What can we wish for plainer, than when he commands us to avoid and beware of all their doctrine? Hence it is very evident to us, that in the other passage our Lord did not intend that the consciences of his disciples should be harassed with the traditions of the Pharisees; and the words themselves, if they are not perverted, convey no such meaning. For, being about to deliver a severe invective against the conduct of the Pharisees, our Lord only prefaced it by instructing his hearers, that though they would see nothing in their lives worthy of imitation, yet they should continue to practise those things which were taught by them in their discourses, when they were sitting in the chair of Moses, that is to say, when they were expounding the law. His only design, therefore, was to guard the people against being induced to despise the doctrine by the bad examples of those who taught it…
XXVII. But, as many ignorant persons, when they hear that the consciences of men ought not to be bound by human traditions, and that it is in vain to worship God by such services, immediately conclude the same rule to be applicable to all the laws which regulate the order of the Church, we must also refute their error. It is easy, indeed, to be deceived in this point, because it does not immediately appear, at the first glance, what a difference there is between the one and the other; but I will place the whole subject in such a clear light, in a few words, that no one may be misled by the resemblance….