True Godliness

Blogging The Institutes

Excerpts taken from Institutes of the Christian Religion (1541 Edition) by John Calvin

Translation by Robert White

Chapter 1: The knowledge of God


The believing heart does not haphazardly forge for itself some kind of god. Rather it looks to him who is the true and only God. It does not ascribe to him whatever qualities it pleases but is content to take him as he shows himself to be: it is always careful not to depart from God’s will through headstrong pride. Knowing him thus, and understanding that he governs all things by his providence, it confidently accepts him as guardian and protector, and thus entrusts itself to his keeping, since it knows him to be the author of all that is good.

A contrite heart doesn’t work to construct a god acceptable to its own liking. On the contrary it willingly accepts the testimony of Scripture of who God is, of what it tells us is pleasing and acceptable to Him. A believing heart is a trusting heart. God’s providence over all creation and world events gives Christians security and comfort. This faith helps believers overcome sufferings and trials. They are ordained by God for His purposes and our eternal good (Rom 8:28 ESV).

Furthermore, it is not mere fear of his vengeance which holds the heart back from sinning. It is because it loves and reveres him as its Father and fears him as its Lord; even if hell did not exist it would dread to offend him. That is what is meant by pure and true religion – namely faith joined with unfeigned fear of God, the word ‘fear’ comprising both love for the righteousness which God has commanded in his law, and reverence, freely and wholeheartedly given, for his majesty.

Love cannot be perfected in mortal fear (1 John 4:18). The two are polar opposites – they repel each other. Calvin brings up a vital point: if hell did not exist as a place of punishment for rebels against God’s righteousness, a renewed heart would still tremble to dare disappoint Him; not out of fear of divine reprisal but from a deep, abiding love which desires to honor His glory and conform to the image of His Son. Love is the primary driving force for the company of the redeemed.

Hell does not burn to keep us at bay from our sins. Instead, God’s glory shines to draw us close to His side. It is God’s goodness that brings us to repentance (Rom 2:4), not the threat of descent into the eternal gloom of outer darkness. Not one person has ever been redeemed this way, nor will one ever be.

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