Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Book Review: The Institutes of the Christian Religion

The Institutes of Christian ReligionFor the non-fiction reading challenge I read John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion. I know I mentioned it before on here but I ended up reading an abridged version. I started out reading an unabridged version but it was just too much so after some debating I went ahead and got an abridged version that my cousin recommended and I loved it. It is edited by Tony Lane and Hilary Osborne.

In this book, Calvin lays out a beautiful overlay of Christianity: A systematic theology. I took extensive notes while reading it. Copying out my favorite parts in a notebook. I actually didn't have too much room left in the notebook when I finished the book. Even in the abridged version there were definitely things that went over my head and sometimes I'd have to re-read a paragraph multiple times to try and get what Calvin was saying. This is a heady book but absolutely worth it if you're passionate about understanding God's Word at a deeper level.

I want to share a few of my favorite quotes with you. I have a whole notebook full, as you know, but don't worry, I won't include all of them. Some of them are kind of long but they are worth the read.
"Thus from the feeling of our own ignorance, vanity, power, infirmity, and-what is more- depravity and corruption, we recognize that the true light of wisdom, sound virtue, full abidance of every good, and purity of righteousness rests in the Lord alone. To this extent we are prompted by our own ills to contemplate the good things of God; and we cannot seriously aspire to Him before we begin to become displeased with ourselves. The knowledge of ourselves not only arouses us to seek God, but also, as it were, leads us by the hand to find Him." 
"What in us seems perfection itself corresponds ill to the purity of God."
"Man is never significantly touched and affected by the awareness of his lowly state until he has compared himself with Gods's majesty."
"Although our mind cannot apprehend God without rendering some honor to Him, it will not suffice simply to hold that there is one whom all ought to honor and adore, unless we are also persuaded that He is the foundation of every good, and that we must seek nothing elsewhere than in Him. This I take to mean that not only does He sustain this universe by His boundless might, regulate it by His wisdom, preserve it by His goodness and especially rule making by His righteousness and judgment, bear with in His mercy, watch over it by His protection; but also that no drop will be found either of wisdom and light or of righteousness or power or recited or of genuine truth, which does not flow from Him and of which He is not the cause." 
"They do not therefore apprehend God as He offers himself, but imagine Him as they have fashioned Him in their own presupposition. They think that any zeal for religion, however preposterous is sufficient. They do not realize that true religion ought to be conformed to God's will as to a universal rule; that God ever remains like Himself and is not a specter or phantasm to be transformed according to anybody's whim. They are not so restrained by that pretend fear of God from wallowing blithely in their own sins and flattering themselves and preferring to indulge their fleshly intemperance rather than restrain it by the bridle of the Holy Spirit. For where they ought to have remained consistently obedient throughout life, they boldly rebel against Him in almost all their deeds, and are zealous to placate Him merely with a few platy sacrifices. Where they ought to serve Him in sanity of life and integrity of heart, they trump up frivolous trifles and worthless little observances with which to win His favor. With greater license they sluggishly lie in their own filth because they are confident that they can preform their duty toward Him by ridiculous acts of expiation. Then while their trust ought to have been placed in Him, they neglect Him and rely upon themselves."  
"We ought not to rack our brains about God; but rather, we should contemplate Him in His works. We are called to a knowledge of God; not that knowledge which, content with empty speculation, merely flits in the brain, but that which will be sound and fruitful if we duly perceive it, and if it takes root in the heart." 
"Scripture has its authority from God, not from the church. While the church receives and gives its seals of approval to the scriptures, it does not thereby render authentic what is otherwise doubtful or controversial. We should not acquiesce in mere opinion, but should rely on sure and firm truth. As God alone is a fit witness of Himself in His Word, so also the Word will not find acceptance in men's hearts before it is sealed by the inward testimony of the spirit." 
"The Holy Spirit is recognized in His agreement with scripture."
"The scripture invites us first to fear God and then to trust Him."
 "Surely God's infinity ought to make us afraid to try to measure Him by our own senses. Indeed, His spiritual nature forbids our imagining anything earthly or carnal of Him." 
"Let us not take it in our hearts either to seek out God anywhere else than in His sacred Word, or to think anything about Him that is not prompted by His Word, or to speak anything that is not taken from that Word."
"The depravity and malice both of man and of the devil, or that sins that arise therefrom do not spring from nature, but rather from the corruption of nature."  
"We ought to hold to one rule of modesty and sobriety: not to speak or guess, or even to seek to know, concerning obscure matters anything except what has been imparted to us by Gods' word. Furthermore, in the reading of scripture we ought ceaselessly to endeavor to seek out and meditate upon those things which make for edification. Let us not indulge in curiosity or in the investigation of unprofitable things. Because the Lord walled to instructs us, not in fruitless questions, but in sound godliness, in the far of His name in true trust and in the duty of holiness, let us be satisfied with this knowledge." 
"The theologians task is not to divert the ears with chatter, but to strengthen consciences by teaching things true, sure and profitable." 
"Recognize that God has destined all things for our good and salvation but at the same time feel His power and grace in ourselves and in the great benefits He has conferred upon us and so to bestir ourselves to trust, invoke, praise and love Him."
"No necessity was imposed upon God of giving man other than a mediocre and even transitory will, that from mans' fall He might gather occasion for His own glory."
"There is a great difference between what is fitting for a man to will and what is fitting for God, and to what end the will of each is directed, so that it be either approved or disapproved. For through the bad wills of evil men God fulfills what He righteously wills."
 "There is a general belief in the mistaken idea that man has everything he needs for a good and happy life. Teaching man to rely on himself can be no more that sweet seduction, because everyone who is deluded by it will be ruined. We are merely persisting in rushing headlong to destructing when we trust in our own ability. If we listen to teachers who get us to dwell on our good qualities, then far from making progress in self-knowledge, we will be sunk in the most disastrous ignorance. The person who assesses himself by the standard of divine justice finds no grounds for confidence and so, the more thorough his self examination, the greater his despair." 
"In considering man's self-knowledge, it seems right to think about it like this. First, he should think about the purpose for which he was made ,and the splendid qualities he was given, to spur him on to meditate on worship of God and the future life. Second he should consider the faculties he has not go, so that when he is aware of this, all his confidence will evaporate and he will be ashamed. The effect of the first is to teach a person what his duty is, and of the second to make him realize how far he can fulfill it." 
"When the will is ensnared by sin, it cannot start to be good, let alone maintain good ways."
"Everything good in the will is entirely the result of grace. All the good qualities which believes possess are due to God."
"It is only our weakness and depravity that prevent us from enjoying the happiness which the law offers. So divine grace is made even sweeter, God's march even lovier because it proclaims that He is never weary of doing good and showering us with His gifts." 
 "We must never measure God's glory by our ability. Whatever he may be He remains the same, the friend of righteousness and the enemy of unrighteousness."
"We assess our powers and see that they are not only inadequate for fulfilling the law, but good for nothing."
 "There is not a syllable in the law which gives a ruling as to what a man must do or not do for the advantage of his own carnal nature." 
"The gospel has not succeeded the law in such a way as to usher in a different plan of salvation. On the contrary, it confirms the law and proves that everything it promised is fulfilled."  
"Those who rob Christ of divinity or humanity either detract from His glory or obscure His goodness."  
"It is important for us to remember that He has taken our place, so that we may not spend all our lives in trepidation and anxiety, as if the punishment we deserve, but which the Son of God took to Himself, was still hanging over us." 
"As he became victories over death by rising again, so the victory of our faith is because of His resurrection. By His death sin was taken away and by His resurrection righteousness was restored." 
"Take away the Word and there will be no faith. Faith includes not merely the knowledge that God exists, but especially a realization of his will toward us. We need to know not only what He is in Himself, but also the character He choses to reveal to us. Faith is the knowledge of the divine will toward us, discard from His word. Its prerequisite is a conviction of the turret of God. It is not enough to believe that God is true and cannot lie or deceive, unless you feel firmly convinced that every word proceeds from Him is sacred, absolute truth."
"Faith is a firm and sure knowledge of God's favor toward us, based on the turret of a free promise in Christ, revelaed to our minds and sealed on our hearts by the Holy Spirit." 
"Repentance not only follows faith but is produced by it."
"A man cannot honesty know about repentance unless he knows he belongs to God. But no one is really convinced He is of God until He has accepted His offer of love. No one will ever honor God if he does not believe that God forgives him. No one will every willingly obey the law, if he is not convinced that his efforts are pleasing to God." 
"Repentance is a true conversion of our life to God, spraining from real and stolen fear of God; it consists also in putting to death our flesh and the quickening of the Spirit."
"Sin no longer reigns, but it still remains."
"Doctrine is not a matter of talk but of life."
 "By service, I do not mean simply verbal obedience, but the state of mind which, stripped of carnal desires, implicitly obeys the call of God's spirit." 
"The Chrsitian ought to be disciplined to think that throughout his life he is dealign with God." 
"It is possible to carry out every good deed, as far as the external act goes, but to do it in the wrong way."
"Everyone should think that he owes himself to his neighbors, and that the only limit to his generosity is the end of his resources."
"Unless you understand first of all what your position is before God, and the judgement He has to pass on you, you have no foundation on which salvation can be built or on which true godliness can flourish."
"The distinction between the law and the gospel is obvious: The former gives justification to works whereas the latter bestows it freely without any help from works."   
 "We must meditate on God as He is portrayed in scripture, not in our puny little minds." 
"We may think ourselves superior to, or equal with, other men, but this means nothing to God and it is His judgment alone which counts." 
"The object of righteousness is the service of God: nothing else will do. The ungodly may preform acts that seem good but their motives are evil because they are not seeking to see God. So their beds are sinful."
"Since perfection is altogether unattainable as long as we are in the flesh, the law pronounces death and judgment on all who have not attained perfect righteousness, there will always be good reason to accuse and convict us unless God intervenes in His mercy." 
"We are justified not without, and yet not by, works."
"If they try to measure it (salvation) by their good works they will wallow in uncertainty."
"Anyone who imagines that he can obtain justification by works in any way has an endless task, because he is a debtor to the whole law."
"If we know God as the sovereign giver of all good, who invites us to pass on our requests, and yet we don't bother to come to Him; it won't help one bit."  
 "We should only ask what God allows." 
"God's decision about het elect is based on His free mercy with no reference to human deserving. Equally, those whom He dooms to destruction are shut off from eternal life by His perfect, but incomprehensible judgment."  
"Doctrinal matters are not all of equal importance. Some are essential to truth faith and there are other matters, which can be controversial, but do not destroy the unity of faith. Matters non-essential should not be the basis of arguments among Chrsitains. Of course it is good to have complete agreement, but as no one has perfect knowledge, we must either have no church at all or forgive errors in things which do not destroy the basis of salvation. I'm not condoning error, however trivial, nor trying to encourage it."
"Of course we do not excuse shallow Chrsitian living: it is far too common and the Lord has to correct it, especially if weaker consciences are offended. But it is also a sin to be unloving and unnecessarily severe." 
"Forgiveness of sins is not only the basis on which we first enter the church; it is also the basis upon which the Lord keeps us there. There would not be much point in receiving a pardon which has no further value. God's mercy would be futile and false if it was only I given once." 
I could not more highly recommend this book. Even if you are not reformed in theology I think you find in it a wealth of wisdom.

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