This is Christian psychology at its best. Pastor Calvin dissecting the heart–
So blindly do we all rush in the direction of self-love, that every one thinks he has a good reason for exalting himself and despising all others in comparison. If God has bestowed on us something not to be repented of, trusting to it, we immediately become elated, and not only swell, but almost burst with pride. The vices with which we abound we both carefully conceal from others, and flatteringly represent to ourselves as minute and trivial, nay, sometimes hug them as virtues. When the same qualities which we admire in ourselves are seen in others, even though they should be superior, we, in order that we may not be forced to yield to them, maliciously lower and carp at them; in like manner, in the case of vices, not contented with severe and keen animadversion, we studiously exaggerate them. Hence the insolence with which each, as if exempted from the common lot, seeks to exalt himself above his neighbour, confidently and proudly despising others, or at least looking down upon them as his inferiors. The poor man yields to the rich, the plebeian to the noble, the servant to the master, the unlearned to the learned, and yet every one inwardly cherishes some idea of his own superiority. Thus each flattering himself, sets up a kind of kingdom in his breast; the arrogant, to satisfy themselves, pass censure on the minds and manners of other men, and when contention arises, the full venom is displayed. Many bear about with them some measure of mildness so long as all things go smoothly and lovingly with them, but how few are there who, when stung and irritated, preserve the same tenor of moderation? For this there is no other remedy than to pluck up by the roots those most noxious pests, self-love and love of victory (φιλονεικία καὶ φιλαυτία). This the doctrine of Scripture does. For it teaches us to remember, that the endowments which God has bestowed upon us are not our own, but His free gifts, and that those who plume themselves upon them betray their ingratitude. “Who maketh thee to differ,” saith Paul, “and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” (1 Cor. 4:7). Then by a diligent examination of our faults let us keep ourselves humble. Thus while nothing will remain to swell our pride, there will be much to subdue it. Again, we are enjoined, whenever we behold the gifts of God in others, so to reverence and respect the gifts, as also to honour those in whom they reside. God having been pleased to bestow honour upon them, it would ill become us to deprive them of it. Then we are told to overlook their faults, not, indeed, to encourage by flattering them, but not because of them to insult those whom we ought to regard with honour and good will. In this way, with regard to all with whom we have intercourse, our behaviour will be not only moderate and modest, but courteous and friendly. The only way by which you can ever attain to true meekness, is to have your heart imbued with a humble opinion of yourself and respect for others.
* Institutes III, vii, 4
This is one of my favorite passages in Calvin’s writings.
Doctrine is not an affair of the tongue, but of the life; is not apprehended by the intellect and memory merely, like other branches of learning; but is received only when it possesses the whole soul, and finds its seat and habitation in the inmost recesses of the heart …. To doctrine in which our religion is contained we have given the first place, since by it our salvation commences; but it must be transfused into the breast, and pass into the conduct, and so transform us into itself, as not to prove unfruitful. If philosophers are justly offended, and banish from their company with disgrace those who, while professing an art which ought to be the mistress of their conduct, convert it into mere loquacious sophistry, with how much better reason shall we detest those flimsy sophists who are contented to let the Gospel play upon their lips, when, from its efficacy, it ought to penetrate the inmost affections of the heart, fix its seat in the soul, and pervade the whole man a hundred times more than the frigid discourses of philosophers?
Institutes III, vi, 4.
I first read the following a few months ago. It stood out to me as an excellent articulation of the relationship between works and justification by faith alone.
This passage exists within The Institutes of the Christian Religion’s third book entitled “The mode of obtaining the grace of Christ. The benefits it confers, and the effects resulting from it” (especially note the “benefits” and “effects” “resulting from” grace received). In this section Calvin seeks to refute the idea that the reformers “destroy good works, and give encouragement to sin” by their doctrine of justification by faith alone. On the contrary, Calvin desires to prove that “justification by faith establishes the necessity of good works” (emphasis mine).
Our last sentence may refute the impudent calumny of certain ungodly men, who charge us, first, with destroying good works and leading men away from the study of them, when we say, that men are not justified, and do not merit salvation by works; and, secondly, with making the means of justification too easy, when we say that it consists in the free remission of sins, and thus alluring men to sin to which they are already too much inclined. These calumnies, I say, are sufficiently refuted by that one sentence; however, I will briefly reply to both. The allegation is that justification by faith destroys good works. … They pretend to lament that when faith is so highly extolled, works are deprived of their proper place. But what if they are rather ennobled and established? We dream not of a faith which is devoid of good works, nor of a justification which can exist without them: the only difference is, that while we acknowledge that faith and works are necessarily connected, we, however, place justification in faith, not in works. Continue reading
The following is a summary of and reflection upon an abridged version of Calvin’s Institutes produced by Tony Lane and Hilary Osborne (see it here on Amazon). I should note that I did not read the final book, Book IV: Outward Means by which God Helps Us, in its entirety; and therefore, it was directly not taken into consideration in the writing of this review.
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Calvin’s understanding of how men know God, know themselves, and the relationship between these two types of knowledge is seemingly foundational to the entirety of his theology (1:1:1). For Calvin, knowledge of self is intrinsically linked to knowledge of God while knowledge of God results in proper assessment of self (1:1:1). Genuine knowledge of self necessarily assumes knowledge of God. One cannot fully grasp the existence of the creature apart from his fundamental relationship to his Creator and Sustainer (1:1:1). Comprehension of man’s falleness assumes an ideal, one that is rooted in God’s creative-design; transgression implies the reality of Judge (1:1:1). On the other hand, without knowledge of God, no one ever truly knows himself (1:1:2). Lacking insight into the purpose for which He was created, ignorance of his original nature and its divine intent flourish. Unaware of God’s standard of righteousness, man consequently assesses his moral condition inaccurately (2:1:1).