15 John Calvin Quotes on Truth, Faith, Salvation, and More

John Calvin (1509–1564) was only eight years old when Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the Wittenburg Church door, yet he became a formative voice in the Protestant Reformation. Calvin’s writing, with works like Institutes of the Christian Religion, and his service to the church at Geneva, Switzerland, helped the Reformation take root in Western Europe—and around the world.

As we prepare for Reformation Day on October 31, take a moment to read this handful of quotes from John Calvin on theology and the Christian life.

On truth

All truth is from God; and consequently, if wicked men have said anything that is true and just, we ought not to reject it, for it has come from God. Besides, all things are of God; and, therefore, why should it not be lawful to dedicate to his glory everything that can properly be employed for such a purpose?1

— From Commentaries on the Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon

The mark of sound doctrine given by our Savior himself is its tendency to promote the glory not of men, but of God. Our Savior having declared this to be the test of doctrine, we are in error if we regard as miraculous works that are used for any other purpose than to magnify the name of God. And it becomes us to remember that Satan has his miracles, which, although they are tricks rather than true wonders, are still such as to delude the ignorant and unwary.2

— From Institutes of the Christian Religion

Whenever . . . we meet with heathen writers, let us learn from that light of truth that is admirably displayed in their works that the human mind, fallen as it is, and corrupted from its integrity, is yet invested and adorned by God with excellent talents. If we believe that the Spirit of God is the only fountain of truth, we will neither reject nor despise the truth itself wherever it may appear, unless we wish to insult the Spirit of God. For the gifts of the Spirit cannot be undervalued without offering contempt and reproach to the Spirit himself.3

— From Institutes of the Christian Religion

On the world 

There is no element and no part of the world which, being touched, as it were, with a sense of its present misery, does not intensely hope for a resurrection.4

— From Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans

Has the Lord adorned flowers with all the beauty that spontaneously presents itself to the eye, and the sweet odor that delights the sense of smell, and shall it be unlawful for us to enjoy that beauty and this odor? What? Has he not so distinguished colors as to make some more agreeable than others? Has he not given qualities to gold and silver, ivory and marble, thereby rendering them precious above other metals or stones? In short, has he not given many things a value without having any necessary use?5

— From Institutes of the Christian Religion

On humanity

If we wish to adhere to the true law of love, our eyes must chiefly be directed not to man, the prospect of whom would impress us with hatred more frequently than with love, but to God who commands that our love to him be diffused among all mankind. This must always be a fundamental maxim with us, that whatever the character of a man may be, still we ought to love him because we love God.6

— From Institutes of the Christian Religion

Until men feel that they owe everything to God, that they are cherished by his paternal care, and that he is the author of all their blessings, so that nothing is to be looked for away from him, they will never submit to him in voluntary obedience. Indeed, unless they place their entire happiness in him, they will never yield up their whole selves to him in truth and sincerity.7

— From Institutes of the Christian Religion

The only haven of safety is in the mercy of God, as manifested in Christ, in whom every part of our salvation is complete. As all mankind are, in the sight of God, lost sinners, we hold that Christ is their only righteousness, since, by his obedience, he has wiped off our transgressions; by his sacrifice, appeased the divine anger; by his blood, washed away our stains; by his cross, borne our curse; and by his death, made satisfaction for us. We maintain that in this way man is reconciled in Christ to God the Father, by no merit of his own, by no value of works, but by gratuitous mercy.8

— From “Reply by John Calvin to Letter by Cardinal Sadolet to the Senate and People of Geneva,” in Tracts Relating to the Reformation

On predestination

The decree, I admit, is dreadful; and yet it is impossible to deny that God foreknew what the end of man was to be before he made him, and foreknew, because he had so ordained by his decree.… Nor ought it to seem absurd when I say that God not only foresaw the fall of the first man, and in him the ruin of his posterity; but also at his own pleasure arranged it. For as it belongs to his wisdom to foreknow all future events, so it belongs to his power to rule and govern them by his hand.9

— From Institutes of the Christian Religion

When they inquire into predestination, let them remember that they are penetrating into the recesses of the divine wisdom, where he who rushes forward securely and confidently, instead of satisfying his curiosity will enter an inextricable labyrinth. For it is not right that man should with impunity pry into things that the Lord has been pleased to conceal within himself, and scan that sublime eternal wisdom that it is his pleasure that we should not apprehend but adore, that therein also his perfections may appear. Those secrets of his will, which he has seen it meet to manifest, are revealed in his word—revealed insofar as he knew to be conducive to our interest and welfare.10

— From Institutes of the Christian Religion

john calvin quotes post

Seeing that God invites all indiscriminately by outward preaching, the only thing that distinguishes his elect from the reprobate is that, allowing the latter to be blind in the light, he presents the former with new eyes, by which they see, and inclines their hearts to obey his word.11

— From Tracts Relating to the Reformation

On faith

The principal hinge on which faith turns is this, that we must not consider the promises of mercy, which the Lord offers, as true only to others and not to ourselves; but rather make them our own, by embracing them in our hearts.12

— From Institutes of the Christian Religion

Then only . . . does Scripture suffice to give a saving knowledge of God when its certainty is founded on the inward persuasion of the Holy Spirit. Still the human testimonies which go to confirm it will not be without effect, if they are used in subordination to that chief and highest proof, as secondary helps to our weakness. But it is foolish to attempt to prove to infidels that the Scripture is the Word of God. This it cannot be known to be, except by faith.13

— From Institutes of the Christian Religion

On prayer

We must . . . beware of imitating the practice that commenced some centuries ago, of imagining that churches are the proper dwellings of God, where he is more ready to listen to us, or of attaching to them some kind of secret sanctity that makes prayer there more holy. For seeing we are the true temples of God, we must pray in ourselves if we would invoke God in his holy temple.14

— From Institutes of the Christian Religion

On the pastor’s work

The pastor ought to have two voices: one for gathering the sheep, and another for warding off and driving away wolves and thieves. The Scripture supplies him with the means of doing both; for he who is deeply skilled in it will be able both to govern those who are teachable, and to refute the enemies of the truth.15

— From Commentaries on the Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon

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For more quotes from John Calvin and the Reformers, pick up 300 Quotations for Preachers from the Reformation, Pastorum Series (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2013).

Delve into John Calvin’s most influential works with the Calvin 500 Collection (108 vols.). The collection contains three English translations of the Institutes, the complete set of Calvin’s Commentaries, and several biographies.

  1. Adapted from John Calvin and William Pringle, Commentaries on the Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 300–01.
  2. John Calvin and Henry Beveridge, Vol. 1, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society, 1845), 11.
  3. Adapted from John Calvin and John Allen, Vol. 1, Institutes of the Christian Religion (New-Haven; Philadelphia: Hezekiah Howe; Philip H. Nicklin, 1816), 288.
  4. John Calvin and John Owen, Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 303.
  5. John Calvin and Henry Beveridge, Vol. 2, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society, 1845), 295.
  6. Adapted from John Calvin and John Allen, Vol. 1, Institutes of the Christian Religion (New-Haven; Philadelphia: Hezekiah Howe; Philip H. Nicklin, 1816), 445–46.
  7. Adapted from John Calvin and Henry Beveridge, Vol. 1, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society, 1845), 52.
  8. John Calvin, “Reply by John Calvin to Letter by Cardinal Sadolet to the Senate and People of Geneva,” in John Calvin, Theodore Beza and Henry Beveridge, Tracts Relating to the Reformation, Volume 1 (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1844), 42.
  9. Adapted from John Calvin and Henry Beveridge, Vol. 2, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society, 1845), 568–69.
  10. Adapted from John Calvin and Henry Beveridge, Vol. 2, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society, 1845), 530–31.
  11. Adapted from John Calvin and Henry Beveridge, Tracts Relating to the Reformation, Volume 3 (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1851), 253.
  12. John Calvin and John Allen, Vol. 2, Institutes of the Christian Religion (New-Haven; Philadelphia: Hezekiah Howe; Philip H. Nicklin, 1816), 30.
  13. Adapted from John Calvin and Henry Beveridge, Vol. 1, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society, 1845), 109.
  14. Adapted from John Calvin and Henry Beveridge, Vol. 2, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society, 1845), 498.
  15. John Calvin and William Pringle, Commentaries on the Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 296.