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Institutes of the Christian Religion: Books 1-4

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John Calvin

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Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion is one of the most important and straightforward works of theology ever written, yet so few people actually read it.

The Christian Heritage Series presents all four books of the Institutes in complete, unabridged, easy-to-read volumes. John Calvin certainly writes good theology, but he also writes with beauty and clarity—and both these aspects are captured in Beveridge’s translation. Calvin is concerned that readers not be puffed up with new knowledge, rather he wants us to be drawn to the majesty and holiness of God in order to know our sin and our need for grace. Read this classic to grow closer to God.

Book 1

“What accords better and more aptly with faith than to acknowledge ourselves divested of all virtue that we may be clothed by God, devoid of all goodness that we may be filled by Him, the slaves of sin that He may give us freedom, blind that He may enlighten, lame that He may cure, and feeble that He may sustain us; to strip ourselves of all ground of glorying that He alone may shine forth glorious, and we be glorified in him?” ~From Book I of the Institutes

Look Inside the Book

Book 1 of the Institutes is about the knowledge of God the creator. As Calvin observes, the knowledge of God and the knowledge of man are inextricably intertwined, and if we are to know ourselves rightly, we must have a knowledge of God’s holiness and majesty. However, since the human mind is an idol factory, our knowledge is so tainted and dim that we live in death and ignorance unless God’s grace intervenes. Here Calvin discusses God, natural law, human sinfulness, Scripture, the Trinity, and providence.  

"Of those shelved classics warranting a dusting off, Book I of Calvin’s Institutes is among the most deserving. This is not because it offers much that is new; the treasures Calvin offers are not those to be unearthed only through possession of secret coordinates. As with so many literary gems, the trouble is not a lack of access but a dearth of appreciation for what lies hidden in plain sight, the contents more assumed than actually explored. The reader who takes the time to ponder the riches here will not be disappointed. He will find that this is not just a good old book, worth reading solely for its inherent literary value. More than this, it is a volume with critical import for today, as its pages soundly sketch the realm, made visible by divine revelation, that conditions our present situation." ~From Timothy G. Harmon’s Introduction


Book 2

“The Word of God leaves no half life to man, but teaches, that, in regard to life and happiness, he has utterly perished. Paul, when he speaks of our redemption, says not that the half dead are cured (Eph. 2:5, 6; 5:14) but that those who were dead are raised up.” ~From Book II of the Institutes

Look Inside the Book

Book 2 of the Institutes is about the knowledge of God the redeemer—Jesus Christ. Calvin captures the completeness of our redemption, explaining the depths of our sinfulness and the ways that Jesus Christ is present in both the old and new covenants. The law is a picture of Christ’s righteousness, and the gospel is the declaration of Christ’s redemption of us. Whether he’s unpacking the ten commandments or describing Christ as prophet, priest, and king, Calvin makes Jesus and his work on the cross the center of our theology.

“Please remember that Calvin’s goal in writing the Institutes was not to distill out of Scripture the “theology things” that we all ought to be thinking. To do so would be to attempt to replace Scripture. Rather, his goal was to give us a map so that we could run back into Scripture and better understand what we find there. And as we read book II of the Institutes, what we find is that throughout Scripture what we should always see is Christ set before us.” ~From Ben Merkle’s Introduction

Book 3

“[Our] renewal, indeed, is not accomplished in a moment, a day, or a year, but by uninterrupted, sometimes even by slow progress God abolishes the remains of carnal corruption in His elect, cleanses them from pollution, and consecrates them as His temples, restoring all their inclinations to real purity, so that during their whole lives they may practice repentance, and know that death is the only termination to this warfare.” ~From Book III of the Institutes

Look Inside the Book

Book 3 of the Institutes is about the mode of procuring the grace of Christ, or what we might call individual salvation. Calvin does not get lost in technical terminology or relegate faith to mere intellectual belief. Instead, our individual salvation is the work of the Holy Spirit and results in faith, repentance, justification, and sanctification. Whether he is arguing against Catholic errors such as Purgatory or teaching about predestination or Christian liberty, Calvin shows the beauty of the utterly free forgiveness that we have in Jesus and how He who began a good work in us will surely complete it.

“But if you have picked up on any of the caricatures of John Calvin, you may be surprised to find him describing faith and repentance, justification and election, and holiness and heaven in ways that are startlingly moving. Do not let me mislead you, Calvin was a theologian and an academic. Calvin was a stern spiritual general of the church. His work is at war with the world, the flesh, and the devil, and he does not take the battle lightly. Paragraph after paragraph consists of volley after volley in which Calvin meticulously aims and fires the Word of God at sinful hearts, lofty arguments, and arrogant corruptions in the world and the church.... And yet, through the meticulous barrage, just when you might be tempted to think him some kind of Biblical or theological machine, his words crest again with an unmistakable light and warmth.” ~From Toby Sumpter’s Introduction


Book 4

“For as God, regenerating us in baptism, ingrafts us into the fellowship of His Church, and makes us His by adoption, so we have said that He performs the office of a provident parent, in continually supplying the food by which He may sustain and preserve us in the life to which He has begotten us by His word. Moreover, Christ is the only food of our soul, and, therefore, our heavenly Father invites us to Him, that, refreshed by communion with Him, we may ever and anon gather new vigor until we reach the heavenly immortality.” ~From Book IV of the Institutes

Look Inside the Book

Book 4 of the Institutes is about the external helps by which God brings us in fellowship with Christ, three of the most notable being the Church, the sacraments, and the civil government. For Calvin, the Christian walk is never something an individual does in isolation, but involves pastors, elders, and deacons who preach the word, administer the sacraments, and exercise church discipline. Furthermore, God uses the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper to remind us of His grace towards us, and uses the magistrate as His deacon, taking vengeance on evil-doers and rewarding the righteous.

“John Calvin was one of the eminent servants of Christ in the history of the church, and we should cultivate a demeanor of gratitude whenever we are given the opportunity to reflect on his contributions.... Returning to the teaching of the great Reformer himself will be a great protection against this kind of foolishness—the error of claiming the heritage of great men that you have almost nothing in common with. And guarding against this error may not be as daunting as you thought. As C.S. Lewis once pointed out, the great books often offer a great deal more clarity than the commentaries on them do.” ~From Douglas Wilson’s Introduction

THE CHRISTIAN HERITAGE SERIES: The authors in the Christian Heritage Series paid a high price for the words you see before you. Not all paid with blood, but each spent his life fighting for the truth. This faithful sacrifice has become a rich inheritance for the Church in our day, even though it is often neglected. The Christian Heritage Series aims to put these important theological classics on every Christian’s bookshelf in colorful, well-crafted, and affordable volumes, with introductions written by those that love the books and their heritage.

AUTHOR: John Calvin

INTRODUCTION: Tim Harmon, Ben Merkle, Toby J. Sumpter, Douglas Wilson

TRANSLATOR: Henry Beveridge


PAGE COUNT: 400, 474, 736, 782

SIZE: 5.5x8.5"

BINDING: Paperback

ISBN-10: 1952410541, 195241055X, 1952410568, 1952410576

ISBN-13: 978-1952410543, 978-1952410550, 978-1952410567, 978-1952410574

PUB. DATE: October 27, 2020 (first published in 1559)

Customer Reviews

Based on 9 reviews
Peter Olujobi
Institutes of the Christian Religion: Books 1-4

Five starts but the book doesn’t sit well/ opens well like a bible for reading. It’s really discouraging when I’m trying to read and the book closes up, and when I open it stresses the spine of the book

Joe Jewart
A Treasure!

I've been a Calvinist for years, but it is my first time to read systematically through the Institutes. I'm currently on book 2. I love the translation, the layout, and the review questions with answers. It's been truly beneficial and edifying.

Brady Ledebur
Can't Wait to Read!

I recently purchased Calvin's Institutes 1-4. I have read numerous excerpts in the past for school but, have not read the full work. The separate volumes give the vast magnitude of Calvin's writings and all that they cover. Look forward to reading them in their entirety! Thanks Canon Press!

Alex Hofacker
Great buy!

I have always wanted to work through Calvin's Institutes and the format and study questions really helped me dig deeper.

Ryan Holst

Institutes of the Christian Religion: Books 1-4