Growth in godliness: John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion

John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion is a masterpiece of theology. This year I have set out to read the entire English translation. I am already struck by the pastoral gems I find scattered throughout the book. Calvin, as I have recently discovered, had a very pastoral heart and sensitivity to the Christian life. He was just as gifted as an experiential preacher as he was a theologian. On the topic of our growth in godliness, I recently came across this jewel:

“But no one in this earthly prison of the body has sufficient strength to press on with due eagerness, and weakness so weighs down the greater number that, with wavering and limping and even creeping along the ground, they move at a feeble rate. Let each one of us, then, proceed according to the measure of his puny capacity and set out upon the journey we have begun. No one shall set out so inauspiciously as not daily to make some headway, though it be slight. Therefore, let us not cease so to act that we may make some unceasing progress in the way of the Lord. And let us not despair at the slightness of our success; for even though attainment may not correspond to desire, when today outstrips yesterday the effort is not lost. Only let us look toward our mark with sincere simplicity and aspire to our goal; not fondly flattering ourselves, nor excusing our own evil deeds, but with continuous effort striving toward this end: that we may surpass ourselves in goodness until we attain to goodness itself. It is this, indeed, which through the whole course of life we seek and follow. But we shall attain it only when we have cast off the weakness of the body, and are received into full fellowship with him.”

John Calvin [1509-1564]
Institutes of the Christian Religion, McNeill and Battles, eds., p. 689.

3 thoughts on “Growth in godliness: John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion

  1. Tony,
    I wanted to echo your thought and thank you for this gem. Just this week I began “Of Prayer” and everyday Calvin digs deeper into the depths of practicality and usefulness in spurring me on into Christ exalting prayer. Also, Christian Classics Ethereal Library has “Institutes” and a ton of other goodies for free in thier online database, ccel.org. just a thought. thanks brother.

  2. Tony,
    Great quote and welcome back! May your studies over the next few months be blessed. On your theme of Calvin’s pastoral heart, it is interesting that by the 1559 edition of the Institutes, Calvin had moved the topic of predestination from Book 1 (where it should go under strict theological logic) to Book 3 (where it fits better for pastoral reasons). Even his ordering is pastoral!

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