Knowing God and Ourselves: Reading Calvin’s Institutes Devotionally by David B. Calhoun. Banner of Truth. 360 pages. 2016
I enjoyed two wonderful church history classes with Dr. Calhoun, who recently went home to be with the Lord, at the beginning of my time at Covenant Seminary. For twenty-five years he taught a course on Calvin’s Institutes at Covenant Seminary. The Institutes of the Christian Religion is a manual, a book of basic instruction in the Christian religion. It is a book about Christian piety, about Christian discipleship, about loving and serving God.
The goal of the book is to help students, especially beginning students of Calvin’s Institutes to better understand what they are reading and to encourage them to persist in working through that important, but challenging book. Overall, Dr. Calhoun’s goal is to help the reader understand Calvin. Each chapter begins with the pages in the Institutes to read, a scripture text, a notable quote and a prayer. Each chapter ends “Knowing God and Ourselves”, a short application and meditation on Calvin’s content. Dr. Calhoun tells us that reading the Institutes devotionally is not merely one way of reading Calvin’s book, it is the only way to read it. Calvin intended his book to be a guide and a theological companion to the Bible.
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I didn’t get a chance to take Dr. Calhoun’s class on Calvin’s Institutes, but reading this book may be the next best thing. Below are 25 of my favorite quotes from book:
- For Calvin the attributes of God are simply the sum of what the Bible tells us about God.
- Calvin knows that all is not right with the world. It is not the way it is supposed to be. It is full of sin and evil, suffering and death. The tragedies of life are real calamities. We weep over the trouble of the world, just as Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus.
- A true understanding of God’s providence enables us to exercise ‘patience in adversity’
- Because of God’s restraint, human wickedness is not as total as it could possibly be. Sin, however, does radically affect every part of every person’s nature and life.
- Fallen people can still choose, but they cannot choose good. In that sense they do not have free will; their wills are bound by their sin. But in another sense, people’s wills are ‘free’ because they act wickedly by their own choice and not because they are compelled to do so.
- God does not love us because Christ died for us; Christ died for us because God loves us.
- Union with Christ is the priceless possession of the Christian. Let us strive to experience (feel) it continually in all our thoughts and express it by our words and actions.
- The foundation of assurance is not our works but God’s love for us in Christ.
- Repentance is Calvin’s favorite word for the whole process by which a sinner turns to God and progresses in holiness. For Calvin, it is not merely the start of the Christian life; it is the Christian life.
- Both sanctification and justification come from our union with Christ. Both are received by faith. Justification is based on what Christ has done for us; sanctification, upon what he does in us.
- Justification is accomplished once for all by Christ’s work on the cross; sanctification is accomplished day by day through the work of the Holy Spirit in us.
- He (Calvin) recommended special times of prayer throughout the day and wrote sample prayers for people to use on those occasions: in the morning, when rising; before school or work; before eating; thanksgiving after eating; and before going to sleep at night.
- True prayer is the casting away of all thought of our own glory and worth and in humility giving glory completely to God.
- God chose some to holiness and sonship because it pleased him to do so. Why it pleased him to do so, it has not pleased him to reveal.
- We must never use the doctrine of election to obscure or weaken the freeness of the gospel invitation. People must hear from us what will draw them to Christ, not what will discourage them.
- God’s decree to elect some to salvation cannot rest on their good works, because the decree was made before the foundation of the world and so before the existence of individuals.
- Rather than producing fear and uncertainty in the believer about his or her ultimate destiny, predestination encourages confidence.
- Calvin uses the illustration of the mirror in a double way. God looks in the mirror and sees Christ; the believer looks in the mirror and sees Christ.
- Calvin believed in a literal, physical second coming of Christ, but he had no interest in predicting its date or in describing in detail its nature
- Calvin encourages us to move beyond the pictures of heaven to the reality they point to, that is, our being forever with the Lord and with each other.
- Calvin teaches that there will be different degrees of glory in heaven as there are different gifts on earth. In this way God is simply crowning his own gifts.
- If heaven is fellowship with God, hell is the opposite. It is not a location but the condition of living estranged from God.
- The church is both school and mother. It is the place where we are shaped, taught, and corrected. It is also the place where we are accepted, loved, and nourished.
- Calvin stresses that caring for the poor and needy was the responsibility of all Christians. The deacons are the church’s officers in overseeing this ministry of love to which all are called.
- The Lord’s supper supports, clarifies, and strengthens our union with Christ.
14 New and Upcoming Books You Might Be Interested In. I love to read books in a variety of genres. There are a number of books scheduled to be published in the next few months. Here are 14 of them, along with the book descriptions from Amazon.
BOOK CLUB – Won’t you read along with us?
Providence by John Piper
The providence of God is his purposeful sovereignty by which he will be completely successful in the achievement of his ultimate goal for the universe. God’s providence carries his plans into action, guides all things toward his ultimate goal, and leads to the final consummation.
John Piper draws on a lifetime of theological reflection, biblical study, and practical ministry to lead readers on a stunning tour of the sightings of God’s providence—from Genesis to Revelation—to discover the all-encompassing reality of God’s purposeful sovereignty over all of creation and all of history.
Exploring the goal, nature, and extent of God’s purposes for the world, Piper offers an invitation to know the God who holds all things in his hands yet remains intimately involved in the lives of his people.
You can download the PDF of the book free from Desiring God.
Watch this six-minute video as John Piper talks about the book, and this interview with Dr. Joe Rigney of Bethlehem College & Seminary.
This week we look at Chapter 11: The Designs of the New Covenant. Here are a few takeaways from the chapter:
- The new covenant is God’s way of achieving his ultimate purposes from the beginning—that the glory of who he really is be exalted for the enjoyment and praise of all who will have him as their greatest treasure (cf. Jer. 24:7).
- God’s plan in the new covenant is to communicate his glory in such a way that it is exalted in the way his people enjoy and reflect his excellencies.
- The fear of the Lord is not the opposite of joy in the Lord; it is the depth and seriousness of it.
- The final goal of the new covenant is the overflowing joy of God himself in the joy of his people in the glory of his name.
- The day is coming when loving the Lord will be not just a command in writing, but a creation in the heart. God will give what he commands.
- The ultimate goal of God’s providence is to glorify his grace in beautifying, by the blood of his Son, an undeserving bride, who enjoys and reflects his beauty above everything.