JOHN CALVIN (1509-1564) entered college in Paris at the age of 14 and began a course of studies in the Classics and then in Law. But by 1533, Calvin tells us: ‘God compelled me by a sudden conversion’. Finding, within a year or so, that many were coming to him to be taught Reformation doctrine, the ‘timid, soft and pusillanimous’ (his own words!) Calvin went to Basle to seek refuge and quiet. But many were suffering cruelly in France for their new-found Reformation faith.
Calvin felt he should write to the French king to vindicate the sufferers by giving the king a summary of the true Christian religion. In 1536, the first edition of The Institutes appeared – a slender volume of six chapters and 520 pages. Edition after edition followed, each larger than the former, till the work finally reached eighty chapters and half-a-million words! What began as an evangelistic tract, ended as a manual of profound theology, an abridged version of which is offered here.
Through exploring in turn the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Calvin’s Institutes sought to achieve a “knowledge of ourselves” in light of “knowledge of God”. This work, foundational to theological thought for five centuries, is presented here in a faithfully edited version – perfect for enriching Bible Studies or devotionals.
John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion stands like a majestic castle in the history of the Protestant Reformed tradition. Many Christians, intimidated by its size and scope, stand outside its gates, honouring it from a distance and wondering what lies inside. Here is an opportunity to wonder no more! Read, feast and rejoice!
~R. Carlton Wynne, Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics, Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania