(Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 4, part 2)

Institutes of the Christian Religion. 
Book Fourth. 
Of the Holy Catholic Church. 
Chapter 1. Of the true Church. Duty of cultivating unity with her, 
as the mother of all the godly. 
    The three divisions of this chapter are, I. The article of the 
Creed concerning the Holy Catholic Church and the Communion of 
Saints briefly expounded. The grounds on which the Church claims our 
reverence, sec. 1-6. II. Of the marks of the Church, sec. 7-9. III. 
The necessity of cleaving to the holy Catholic Church and the 
Communion of Saints. Refutation of the errors of the Novatians, 
Anabaptists, and other schismatics, in regard to this matter, sec. 
1. The Church now to be considered. With her God has deposited 
    whatever is necessary to faith and good order. A summary of 
    what is contained in this Book. Why it begins with the Church. 
2. In what sense the article of the Creed concerning the Church is 
    to be understood. Why we should say, "I believe the Church," 
    not "I believe in the Church." The purport of this article. Why 
    the Church is called Catholic or Universal. 
3. What meant by the Communion of Saints. Whether it is inconsistent 
    with various gifts in the saints, or with civil order. Uses of 
    this article concerning the Church and the Communion of Saints. 
    Must the Church be visible in order to our maintaining unity 
    with her? 
4. The name of Mother given to the Church shows how necessary it is 
    to know her. No salvation out of the Church. 
5. The Church is our mother, inasmuch as God has committed to her 
    the kind office of bringing us up in the faith until we attain 
    full age. This method of education not to be despised. Useful 
    to us in two ways. This utility destroyed by those who despise 
    the pastors and teachers of the Church. The petulance of such 
    despisers repressed by reason and Scripture. For this education 
    of the Church her children enjoined to meet in the sanctuary. 
    The abuse of churches both before and since the advent of 
    Christ. Their proper use. 
6. Her ministry effectual, but not without the Spirit of God. 
    Passages in proof of this. 
7. Second part of the Chapter. Concerning the marks of the Church. 
    In what respect the Church is invisible. In what respect she is 
8. God alone knoweth them that are his. Still he has given marks to 
    discern his children. 
9. These marks are the ministry of the word, and administration of 
    the sacraments instituted by Christ. The same rule not to be 
    followed in judging of individuals and of churches. 
10. We must on no account forsake the Church distinguished by such 
    marks. Those who act otherwise are apostates, deserters of the 
    truth and of the household of God, deniers of God and Christ, 
    violators of the mystical marriage. 
11. These marks to be the more carefully observed, because Satan 
    strives to efface them, or to make us revolt from the Church. 
    The twofold error of despising the true, and submitting to a 
    false Church. 
12. Though the common profession should contain some corruption, 
    this is not a sufficient reason for forsaking the visible 
    Church. Some of these corruptions specified. Caution necessary. 
    The duty of the members. 
13. The immoral lives of certain professors no ground for abandoning 
    the Church. Error on this head of the ancient and modern 
    Cathari. Their first objection. Answer to it from three of our 
    Saviour's parables. 
14. Second objection. Answer from a consideration of the state of 
    the Corinthian Church, and the Churches of Galatia. 
15. Third objection and answer. 
16. The origin of these objections. A description of Schismatics. 
    Their portraiture by Augustine. A pious counsel respecting 
    these scandals and a safe remedy against them. 
17. fourth objection and answer. Answer confirmed by the divine 
18. Another confirmation from the example of Christ and of the 
    faithful servants of God. The appearance of the Church in the 
    days of the prophets. 
19. Appearance of the Church in the days of Christ and the apostles, 
    and their immediate followers. 
20. Fifth objection. Answer to the ancient and modern Cathari, and 
    to the Novatians, concerning the forgiveness of sins. 
21. Answer to the fifth objection continued. By the forgiveness of 
    sins believers are enabled to remain perpetually in the Church. 
22. The keys of the Church given for the express purpose of securing 
    this benefit. A summary of the answer to the fifth objection. 
23. Sixth objection, formerly advanced by the Novatians, and renewed 
    by the Anabaptists. This error confuted by the Lord's Prayer. 
24. A second answer, founded on some examples under the Old 
25. A third answer, confirmed by passages from Jeremiah, Ezekiel, 
    and Solomon. A fourth answer, derived from sacrifices. 
26. A fifth answer, from the New Testament. Some special examples. 
27. General examples. A celebrated passage. The arrangement of the 
28. Objection, that voluntary transgression excludes from the 
29. Last objection of the Novatians, founded on the solemn renewal 
    of repentance required by the Church for more heinous offences. 
    1. In the last Book, it has been shown that by the faith of the 
gospel Christ becomes ours, and we are made partakers of the 
salvation and eternal blessedness procured by him. But as our 
ignorance and sloth (I may add, the vanity of our mind) stand in 
need of external helps, by which faith may be begotten in us, and 
may increase and make progress until its consummation, God, in 
accommodation to our infirmity has added much helps, and secured the 
effectual preaching of the gospel, by depositing this treasure with 
the Church. He has appointed pastors and teachers, by whose lips he 
might edify his people, (Eph. 4: 11;) he has invested them with 
authority, and, in short, omitted nothing that might conduce to holy 
consent in the faith, and to right order. In particular, he has 
instituted sacraments, which we feel by experience to be most useful 
helps in fostering and confirming our faith. For seeing we are shut 
up in the prison of the body, and have not yet attained to the rank 
of angels, God, in accommodation to our capacity, has in his 
admirable providence provided a method by which, though widely 
separated, we might still draw near to him. Wherefore, due order 
requires that we first treat of the Church, of its Government, 
Orders, and Power; next, of the Sacraments; and, lastly, of Civil 
Government; - at the same time guarding pious readers against the 
corruptions of the Papacy, by which Satan has adulterated all that 
God had appointed for our salvation. I will begin with the Church, 
into whose bosom God is pleased to collect his children, not only 
that by her aid and ministry they may be nourished so long as they 
are babes and children, but may also be guided by her maternal care 
until they grow up to manhood, and, finally, attain to the 
perfection of faith. What God has thus joined let not man put 
asunder (Mark 10: 9:) to those to whom he is a Father, the Church 
must also be a mother. This was true not merely under the Law, but 
even now after the advent of Christ; since Paul declares that we are 
the children of a new, even a heavenly Jerusalem, (Gal. 4: 26.) 
    2. When in the Creed we profess to believe the Church, 
reference is made not only to the visible Church of which we are now 
treating, but also to all the elect of God, including in the number 
even those who have departed this life. And, accordingly, the word 
used is "believe," because oftentimes no difference can be observed 
between the children of God and the profane, between his proper 
flock and the untamed herd. The particle "in" is often interpolated, 
but without any probable ground. I confess, indeed, that it is the 
more usual form, and is not unsupported by antiquity, since the 
Nicene Creed, as quoted in Ecclesiastical History, adds the 
preposition. At the same time, we may perceive from early writers, 
that the expression received without controversy in ancient times 
was to believe "the Church," and not "in the Church." This is not 
only the expression used by Augustine, and that ancient writer, 
whoever he may have been, whose treatise, De Symboli Expositione, is 
extant under the name of Cyprian, but they distinctly remark that 
the addition of the preposition would make the expression improper, 
and they give good grounds for so thinking. We declare that we 
believe in God, both because our mind reclines upon him as true, and 
our confidence is fully satisfied in him. This cannot be said of the 
Church, just as it cannot be said of the forgiveness of sins, or the 
resurrection of the body. Wherefore, although I am unwilling to 
dispute about words, yet I would rather keep to the proper form, as 
better fitted to express the thing that is meant, than affect terms 
by which the meaning is ceaselessly obscured. The object of the 
expression is to teach us, that though the devil leaves no stone 
unturned in order to destroy the grace of Christ, and the enemies of 
God rush with insane violence in the same direction, it cannot be 
extinguished, - the blood of Christ cannot be rendered barren, and 
prevented from producing fruit. Hence, regard must be had both to 
the secret election and to the internal calling of God, because he 
alone "knoweth them that are his," (2 Tim. 2: 10;) and as Paul 
expresses it, holds them as it were enclosed under his seal, 
although, at the same time, they wear his insignia, and are thus 
distinguished from the reprobate. But as they are a small and 
despised number, concealed in an immense crowd, like a few grains of 
wheat buried among a heap of chaff, to God alone must be left the 
knowledge of his Church, of which his secret election forms the 
foundation. Nor is it enough to embrace the number of the elect in 
thought and intention merely. By the unity of the Church we must 
understand an unity into which we feel persuaded that we are truly 
ingrafted. For unless we are united with all the other members under 
Christ our head, no hope of the future inheritance awaits us. Hence 
the Church is called Catholic or Universal, (August. Ep. 48,) for 
two or three cannot be invented without dividing Christ; and this is 
impossible. All the elect of God are so joined together in Christ, 
that as they depend on one head, so they are as it were compacted 
into one body, being knit together like its different members; made 
truly one by living together under the same Spirit of God in one 
faith, hope, and charity, called not only to the same inheritance of 
eternal life, but to participation in one God and Christ. For 
although the sad devastation which everywhere meets our view may 
proclaim that no Church remains, let us know that the death of 
Christ produces fruit, and that God wondrously preserves his Church, 
while placing it as it were in concealment. Thus it was said to 
Elijah, "Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel," (1 Kings 19: 
    3. Moreover this article of the Creed relates in some measure 
to the external Church, that every one of us must maintain brotherly 
concord with all the children of God, give due authority to the 
Church, and, in short, conduct ourselves as sheep of the flock. And 
hence the additional expression, the "communion of saints;" for this 
clause, though usually omitted by ancient writers, must not be 
overlooked, as it admirably expresses the quality of the Church; 
just as if it had been said, that saints are united in the 
fellowship of Christ on this condition, that all the blessings which 
God bestows upon them are mutually communicated to each other. This, 
however, is not incompatible with a diversity of graces, for we know 
that the gifts of the Spirit are variously distributed; nor is it 
incompatible with civil order, by which each is permitted privately 
to possess his own means, it being necessary for the preservation of 
peace among men that distinct rights of property should exist among 
them. Still a community is asserted, such as Luke describes when he 
says, "The multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of 
one soul," (Acts 4: 32;) and Paul, when he reminds the Ephesians, 
"There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one 
hope of your calling," (Eph. 4: 4.) For if they are truly persuaded 
that God is the common Father of them all, and Christ their common 
head, they cannot but be united together in brotherly love, and 
mutually impart their blessings to each other. Then it is of the 
highest importance for us to know what benefit thence redounds to 
us. For when we believe the Church, it is in order that we may be 
firmly persuaded that we are its members. In this way our salvation 
rests on a foundation so firm and sure, that though the whole fabric 
of the world were to give way, it could not be destroyed. First, it 
stands with the election of God, and cannot change or fail, any more 
than his eternal providence. Next, it is in a manner united with the 
stability of Christ, who will no more allow his faithful followers 
to be dissevered from him, than he would allow his own members to be 
torn to pieces. We may add, that so long as we continue in the bosom 
of the Church, we are sure that the truth will remain with us. 
    Lastly, we feel that we have an interest in such promises as 
these, "In Mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance," (Joel 
2: 32; Obad. 17;) "God is in the midst of her, she shall not be 
moved," (Ps. 46: 5.) So available is communion with the Church to 
keep us in the fellowship of God. In the very term, communion, there 
is great consolation; because, while we are assured that every thing 
which God bestows on his members belongs to us, all the blessings 
conferred upon them confirm our hope. But in order to embrace the 
unity of the Church in this manner, it is not necessary, as I have 
observed, to see it with our eyes, or feel it with our hands. Nay, 
rather from its being placed in faith, we are reminded that our 
thoughts are to dwell upon it, as much when it escapes our 
perception as when it openly appears. Nor is our faith the worse for 
apprehending what is unknown, since we are not enjoined here to 
distinguish between the elect and the reprobate, (this belongs not 
to us, but to God only,) but to feel firmly assured in our minds, 
that all those who, by the mercy of God the Father, through the 
efficacy of the Holy Spirit, have become partakers with Christ, are 
set apart as the proper and peculiar possession of God, and that as 
we are of the number, we are also partakers of this great grace. 
    4. But as it is now our purpose to discourse of the visible 
Church, let us learn, from her single title of Mother, how useful, 
nay, how necessary the knowledge of her is, since there is no other 
means of entering into life unless she conceive us in the womb and 
give us birth, unless she nourish us at her breasts, and, in short, 
keep us under her charge and government, until, divested of mortal 
flesh, we become like the angels, (Matth. 22: 30.) For our weakness 
does not permit us to leave the school until we have spent our whole 
lives as scholars. Moreover, beyond the pale of the Church no 
forgiveness of sins, no salvation, can be hoped for, as Isaiah and 
Joel testify, (Isa. 37: 32; Joel 2: 32.) To their testimony Ezekiel 
subscribes, when he declares, "They shall not be in the assembly of 
my people, neither shall they be written in the writing of the house 
of Israel," (Ezek. 13: 9;) as, on the other hand, those who turn to 
the cultivation of true piety are said to inscribe their names among 
the citizens of Jerusalem. For which reason it is said in the psalm, 
"Remember me, O Lord, with the favour that thou bearest unto thy 
people: O visit me with thy salvation; that I may see the good of 
thy chosen, that I may rejoice in the gladness of thy nation, that I 
may glory with thine inheritance," (Ps. 106: 4, 6.) By these words 
the paternal favour of God and the special evidence of spiritual 
life are confined to his peculiar people, and hence the abandonment 
of the Church is always fatal. 
    5. But let us proceed to a full exposition of this view. Paul 
says that our Saviour "ascended far above all heavens, that he might 
fill all things. And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and 
some evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting 
of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the 
body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of 
the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the 
measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ," (Eph. 4: 10-13.) 
We see that God, who might perfect his people in a moment, chooses 
not to bring them to manhood in any other way than by the education 
of the Church. We see the mode of doing it expressed; the preaching 
of celestial doctrine is committed to pastors. We see that all 
without exception are brought into the same order, that they may 
with meek and docile spirit allow themselves to be governed by 
teachers appointed for this purpose. Isaiah had long before given 
this as the characteristic of the kingdom of Christ, "My Spirit that 
is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not 
depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out 
of the mouth of thy seed's seed, saith the Lord, from henceforth and 
for ever," (Isa. 59: 21.) Hence it follows, that all who reject the 
spiritual food of the soul divinely offered to them by the hands of 
the Church, deserve to perish of hunger and famine. God inspires us 
with faith, but it is by the instrumentality of his gospel, as Paul 
reminds us, "Faith comes by hearing," (Rom. 10: 17.) God reserves to 
himself the power of maintaining it, but it is by the preaching of 
the gospel, as Paul also declares, that he brings it forth and 
unfolds it. 
    With this view, it pleased him in ancient times that sacred 
meetings should be held in the sanctuary, that consent in faith 
might be nourished by doctrine proceeding from the lips of the 
priest. Those magnificent titles, as when the temple is called God's 
rest, his sanctuary, his habitation, and when he is said to dwell 
between the cherubim, (Ps. 132: 13, 14; 80: 1,) are used for no 
other purpose than to procure respect, love, reverence, and dignity 
to the ministry of heavenly doctrine, to which otherwise the 
appearance of an insignificant human being might be in no slight 
degree derogatory. Therefore, to teach us that the treasure offered 
to us in earthen vessels is of inestimable value, (2 Cor. 4: 7,) God 
himself appears, and as the author of this ordinance requires his 
presence to be recognised in his own institution. Accordingly, after 
forbidding his people to give heed to familiar spirits, wizards, and 
other superstitions, (Lev. 19: 30, 31,) he adds, that he will give 
what ought to be sufficient for all, namely, that he will never 
leave them without prophets. For, as he did not commit his ancient 
people to angels, but raised up teachers on the earth to perform a 
truly angelical office, so he is pleased to instruct us in the 
present day by human means. But as anciently he did not confine 
himself to the law merely, but added priests as interpreters, from 
whose lips the people might inquire after his true meaning, so in 
the present day he would not only have us to be attentive to 
reading, but has appointed masters to give us their assistance. In 
this there is a twofold advantage. For, on the one hand, he by an 
admirable test proves our obedience when we listen to his ministers 
just as we would to himself; while, on the other hand, he consults 
our weakness in being pleased to address us after the manner of men 
by means of interpreters, that he may thus allure us to himself, 
instead of driving us away by his thunder. How well this familiar 
mode of teaching is suited to us all the godly are aware, from the 
dread with which the divine majesty justly inspires them. 
    Those who think that the authority of the doctrine is impaired 
by the insignificance of the men who are called to teach betray 
their ingratitude; for among the many noble endowments with which 
God has adorned the human race, one of the most remarkable is, that 
he deigns to consecrate the mouths and tongues of men to his 
service, making his own voice to be heard in them. Wherefore, let us 
not on our part decline obediently to embrace the doctrine of 
salvation, delivered by his command and mouth; because, although the 
power of God is not confined to external means, he has, however, 
confined us to his ordinary method of teaching, which method, when 
fanatics refuse to observe, they entangle themselves in many fatal 
snares. Pride, or fastidiousness, or emulation, induces many to 
persuade themselves that they can profit sufficiently by reading and 
meditating in private, and thus to despise public meetings, and deem 
preaching superfluous. But since as much as in them lies they loose 
or burst the sacred bond of unity, none of them escapes the just 
punishment of this impious divorce, but become fascinated with 
pestiferous errors, and the foulest delusions. Wherefore, in order 
that the pure simplicity of the faith may flourish among us, let us 
not decline to use this exercise of piety, which God by his 
institution of it has shown to be necessary, and which he so highly 
recommends. None, even among the most petulant of men, would venture 
to say, that we are to shut our ears against God, but in all ages 
prophets and pious teachers have had a difficult contest to maintain 
with the ungodly, whose perverseness cannot submit to the yoke of 
being taught by the lips and ministry of men. This is just the same 
as if they were to destroy the impress of God as exhibited to us in 
doctrine. For no other reason were believers anciently enjoined to 
seek the face of God in the sanctuary, (Ps. 105: 4,) (an injunction 
so often repeated in the Law,) than because the doctrine of the Law, 
and the exhortations of the prophets, were to them a living image of 
God. Thus Paul declares that in his preaching the glory of God shone 
in the face of Jesus Christ, (2 Cor. 4: 6.) The more detestable are 
the apostates who delight in producing schisms in churches, just as 
if they wished to drive the sheep from the fold, and throw them into 
the jaws of wolves. Let us hold, agreeably to the passage we quoted 
from Paul, that the Church can only be edified by external 
preaching, and that there is no other bond by which the saints can 
be kept together than by uniting with one consent to observe the 
order which God has appointed in his Church for learning and making 
progress. For this end, especially, as I have observed, believers 
were anciently enjoined under the Law to flock together to the 
sanctuary; for when Moses speaks of the habitation of God, he at the 
same time calls it the place of the name of God, the place where he 
will record his name, (Exod. 20: 24;) thus plainly teaching that no 
use could be made of it without the doctrine of godliness. And there 
can be no doubt that, for the same reason, David complains with 
great bitterness of soul, that by the tyrannical cruelty of his 
enemies he was prevented from entering the tabernacle, (Psalm 89.) 
To many the complaint seems childish, as if no great loss were 
sustained, not much pleasure lost, by exclusion from the temple, 
provided other amusements were enjoyed. David, however, laments this 
one deprivation, as filling him with anxiety and sadness, 
tormenting, and almost destroying him. This he does because there is 
nothing on which believers set a higher value than on this aid, by 
which God gradually raises his people to heaven. For it is to be 
observed, that he always exhibited himself to the holy patriarchs in 
the mirror of his doctrine in such a way as to make their knowledge 
spiritual. Whence the temple is not only styled his face, but also, 
for the purpose of removing all superstition, is termed his 
footstool, (Psalm 132: 7; 99: 5.) Herein is the unity of the faith 
happily realised, when all, from the highest to the lowest, aspire 
to the head. All the temples which the Gentiles built to God with a 
different intention were a mere profanation of his worship, - a 
profanation into which the Jews also fell, though not with equal 
grossness. With this Stephen upbraids them in the words of Isaiah 
when he says, "Howbeit the Most High dwelleth not in temples made 
with hands; as saith the Prophet, Heaven is my throne," &c., (Acts 
7: 48.) For God only consecrates temples to their legitimate use by 
his word. And when we rashly attempt anything without his order, 
immediately setting out from a bad principle, we introduce 
adventitious fictions, by which evil is propagated without measure. 
It was inconsiderate in Xerxes when, by the advice of the magians, 
he burnt or pulled down all the temples of Greece, because he 
thought it absurd that God, to whom all things ought to be free and 
open, should be enclosed by walls and roofs, as if it were not in 
the power of God in a manner to descend to us, that he may be near 
to us, and yet neither change his place nor affect us by earthly 
means, but rather, by a kind of vehicles, raise us aloft to his own 
heavenly glory, which, with its immensity, fills all things, and in 
height is above the heavens. 
    6. Moreover, as at this time there is a great dispute as to the 
efficacy of the ministry, some extravagantly overrating its dignity, 
and others erroneously maintaining, that what is peculiar to the 
Spirit of God is transferred to mortal man, when we suppose that 
ministers and teachers penetrate to the mind and heart, so as to 
correct the blindness of the one, and the hardness of the other; it 
is necessary to place this controversy on its proper footing. The 
arguments on both sides will be disposed of without trouble, by 
distinctly attending to the passages in which God, the author of 
preaching, connects his Spirit with it, and then promises a 
beneficial result; or, on the other hand, to the passages in which 
God, separating himself from external means, claims for himself 
alone both the commencement and the whole course of faith. The 
office of the second Elias was, as Malachi declares, to "turn the 
heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children 
to their fathers" (Mal. 4: 6.) Christ declares that he sent the 
Apostles to produce fruit from his labours, (John 15: 16.) What this 
fruit is Peter briefly defines, when he says that we are begotten 
again of incorruptible seed, (1 Pet. 1: 23.) Hence Paul glories, 
that by means of the Gospel he had begotten the Corinthians, who 
were the seals of his apostleship, (1 Cor. 4: 15;) moreover, that 
his was not a ministry of the letter, which only sounded in the ear, 
but that the effectual agency of the Spirit was given to him, in 
order that his doctrine might not be in vain, (1 Cor. 9: 2; 2 Cor. 
3: 6.) In this sense he elsewhere declares that his Gospel was not 
in word, but in power, (1 Thess. 1: 5.) He also affirms that the 
Galatians received the Spirit by the hearing of faith, (Gal. 3: 2.) 
In short, in several passages he not only makes himself a 
fellow-worker with God, but attributes to himself the province of 
bestowing salvation, (1 Cor. 3: 9.) All these things he certainly 
never uttered with the view of attributing to himself one iota apart 
from God, as he elsewhere briefly explains. "For this cause also 
thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of 
God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but 
(as it is in truth) the word of God, which effectually worketh also 
in you that believe," (1 Thess. 2: 13.) Again, in another place, "He 
that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the 
circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles," (Gal. 
2: 8.) And that he allows no more to ministers, is obvious from 
other passages. "So then neither is he that planteth any thing, 
neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase," (1 Cor. 
3: 7.) Again, "I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, 
but the grace of God which was with me," (1 Cor. 15: ]0.) And it is 
indeed necessary to keep these sentences in view, since God, in 
ascribing to himself the illumination of the mind and renewal of the 
heart, reminds us that it is sacrilege for man to claim any part of 
either to himself. Still every one who listens with docility to the 
ministers whom God appoints, will know by the beneficial result, 
that for good reason God is pleased with this method of teaching, 
and for good reason has laid believers under this modest yoke. 
    7. The judgement which ought to be formed concerning the 
visible Church which comes under our observation, must, I think, be 
sufficiently clear from what has been said. I have observed that the 
Scriptures speak of the Church in two ways. Sometimes when they 
speak of the Church they mean the Church as it really is before God 
- the Church into which none are admitted but those who by the gift 
of adoption are sons of God, and by the sanctification of the Spirit 
true members of Christ. In this case it not only comprehends the 
saints who dwell on the earth, but all the elect who have existed 
from the beginning of the world. Often, too, by the name of Church 
is designated the whole body of mankind scattered throughout the 
world, who profess to worship one God and Christ, who by baptism are 
initiated into the faith; by partaking of the Lord's Supper profess 
unity in true doctrine and charity, agree in holding the word of the 
Lord, and observe the ministry which Christ has appointed for the 
preaching of it. In this Church there is a very large mixture of 
hypocrites, who have nothing of Christ but the name and outward 
appearance: of ambitious avaricious, envious, evil-speaking men, 
some also of impure lives, who are tolerated for a time, either 
because their guilt cannot be legally established, or because due 
strictness of discipline is not always observed. Hence, as it is 
necessary to believe the invisible Church, which is manifest to the 
eye of God only, so we are also enjoined to regard this Church which 
is so called with reference to man, and to cultivate its communion. 
    8. Accordingly, inasmuch as it was of importance to us to 
recognise it, the Lord has distinguished it by certain marks, and as 
it were symbols. It is, indeed, the special prerogative of God to 
know those who are his, as Paul declares in the passage already 
quoted, (2 Tim. 2: 19.) And doubtless it has been so provided as a 
check on human rashness the experience of every day reminding us how 
far his secret judgements surpass our apprehension. For even those 
who seemed most abandoned, and who had been completely despaired of, 
are by his goodness recalled to life, while those who seemed most 
stable often fall. Hence, as Augustine says, "In regard to the 
secret predestination of God, there are very many sheep without, and 
very many wolves within," (August. Hom. in Joan. 45.) For he knows, 
and has his mark on those who know neither him nor themselves. Of 
those again who openly bear his badge, his eyes alone see who of 
them are unfeignedly holy, and will persevere even to the end, which 
alone is the completion of salvation. On the other hand, foreseeing 
that it was in some degree expedient for us to know who are to be 
regarded by us as his sons, he has in this matter accommodated 
himself to our capacity. But as here full certainty was not 
necessary, he has in its place substituted the judgement of charity, 
by which we acknowledge all as members of the Church who by 
confession of faith, regularity of conduct, and participation in the 
sacraments, unite with us in acknowledging the same God and Christ. 
The knowledge of his body, inasmuch as he knew it to be more 
necessary for our salvation, he has made known to us by surer marks. 
    9. Hence the form of the Church appears and stands forth 
conspicuous to our view. Wherever we see the word of God sincerely 
preached and heard, wherever we see the sacraments administered 
according to the institution of Christ, there we cannot have any 
doubt that the Church of God has some existence, since his promise 
cannot fail, "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, 
there am I in the midst of them," (Matth. 18: 20.) But that we may 
have a clear summary of this subject, we must proceed by the 
following steps: - The Church universal is the multitude collected 
out of all nations, who, though dispersed and far distant from each 
other, agree in one truth of divine doctrines and are bound together 
by the tie of a common religion. In this way it comprehends single 
churches, which exist in different towns and villages, according to 
the wants of human society, so that each of them justly obtains the 
name and authority of the Church; and also comprehends single 
individuals, who by a religious profession are accounted to belong 
to such churches, although they are in fact aliens from the Church, 
but have not been cut off by a public decision. There is, however, a 
slight difference in the mode of judging of individuals and of 
churches. For it may happen in practice that those whom we deem not 
altogether worthy of the fellowship of believers, we yet ought to 
treat as brethren and regard as believers on account of the common 
consent of the Church in tolerating and bearing with them in the 
body of Christ. Such persons we do not approve by our suffrage as 
members of the Church, but we leave them the place which they hold 
among the people of God, until they are legitimately deprived of it. 
With regard to the general body we must feel differently; if they 
have the ministry of the word, and honour the administration of the 
sacraments, they are undoubtedly entitled to be ranked with the 
Church, because it is certain that these things are not without a 
beneficial result. Thus we both maintain the Church universal in its 
unity, which malignant minds have always been eager to dissever, and 
deny not due authority to lawful assemblies distributed as 
circumstances require. 
    10. We have said that the symbols by which the Church is 
discerned are the preaching of the word and the observance of the 
sacraments, for these cannot any where exist without producing fruit 
and prospering by the blessing of God. I say not that wherever the 
word is preached fruit immediately appears; but that in every place 
where it is received, and has a fixed abode, it uniformly displays 
its efficacy. Be this as it may, when the preaching of the gospel is 
reverently heard, and the sacraments are not neglected, there for 
the time the face of the Church appears without deception or 
ambiguity; and no man may with impunity spurn her authority, or 
reject her admonitions, or resist her counsels, or make sport of her 
censures, far less revolt from her, and violate her unity, (see 
Chap. 2 sec. 1, 10, and Chap. 3. sec. 12.) For such is the value 
which the Lord sets on the communion of his Church, that all who 
contumaciously alienate themselves from any Christian society, in 
which the true ministry of his word and sacraments is maintained, he 
regards as deserters of religion. So highly does he recommend her 
authority, that when it is violated he considers that his own 
authority is impaired. For there is no small weight in the 
designation given to her, "the house of God," "the pillar and ground 
of the truth," (1 Tim. 3: 15.) By these words Paul intimates, that 
to prevent the truth from perishing in the world, the Church is its 
faithful guardian, because God has been pleased to preserve the pure 
preaching of his word by her instrumentality, and to exhibit himself 
to us as a parent while he feeds us with spiritual nourishment, and 
provides whatever is conducive to our salvation. Moreover, no mean 
praise is conferred on the Church when she is said to have been 
chosen and set apart by Christ as his spouse, "not having spot or 
wrinkle, or any such thing," (Eph. 5: 27,) as "his body, the fulness 
of him that fillets all in all," (Eph. 1: 23.) Whence it follows, 
that revolt from the Church is denial of God and Christ. Wherefore 
there is the more necessity to beware of a dissent so iniquitous; 
for seeing by it we aim as far as in us lies at the destruction of 
God's truth, we deserve to be crushed by the full thunder of his 
anger. No crime can be imagined more atrocious than that of 
sacrilegiously and perfidiously violating the sacred marriage which 
the only begotten Son of God has condescended to contract with us. 
    11. Wherefore let these marks be carefully impressed upon our 
minds, and let us estimate them as in the sight of the Lord. There 
is nothing on which Satan is more intent than to destroy and efface 
one or both of them - at one time to delete and abolish these marks, 
and thereby destroy the true and genuine distinction of the Church; 
at another, to bring them into contempt, and so hurry us into open 
revolt from the Church. To his wiles it was owing that for several 
ages the pure preaching of the word disappeared, and now, with the 
same dishonest aim, he labours to overthrow the ministry, which, 
however, Christ has so ordered in his Church, that if it is removed 
the whole edifice must fall. How perilous, then, nay, how fatal the 
temptation, when we even entertain a thought of separating ourselves 
from that assembly in which are beheld the signs and badges which 
the Lord has deemed sufficient to characterise his Church! We see 
how great caution should be employed in both respects. That we may 
not be imposed upon by the name of Church, every congregation which 
claims the name must be brought to that test as to a Lydian stone. 
If it holds the order instituted by the Lord in word and sacraments 
there will be no deception; we may safely pay it the honour due to a 
church: on the other hand, if it exhibit itself without word and 
sacraments we must in this case be no less careful to avoid the 
imposture than we were to shun pride and presumption in the other. 
    12. When we say that the pure ministry of the word and pure 
celebration of the sacraments is a fit pledge and earnest, so that 
we may safely recognise a church in every society in which both 
exists our meaning is that we are never to discard it so-long as 
these remain, though it may otherwise teem with numerous faults. 
Nay, even in the administration of word and Sacraments defects may 
creep in which ought not to alienate us from its communion. For all 
the heads of true doctrine are not in the same position. Some are so 
necessary to be known, that all must hold them to be fixed and 
undoubted as the proper essentials of religion: for instance, that 
God is one, that Christ is God, and the Son of God, that our 
salvation depends on the mercy of God, and the like. Others, again, 
which are the subject of controversy among the churches, do not 
destroy the unity of the faith ; for why should it be regarded as a 
ground of dissension between churches, if one, without any spirit of 
contention or perverseness in dogmatising, hold that the soul on 
quitting the body flies to heaven, and another, without venturing to 
speak positively as to the abode, holds it for certain that it lives 
with the Lord? The words of the apostle are, "Let us therefore, as 
many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be 
otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you," (Phil. 3: 
15.) Does he not sufficiently intimate that a difference of opinion 
as to these matters which are not absolutely necessary, ought not to 
be a ground of dissension among Christians? The best thing, indeed, 
is to be perfectly agreed, but seeing there is no man who is not 
involved in some mist of ignorance, we must either have no church at 
all or pardon delusion in those things of which one may be ignorant, 
without violating the substance of religion and forfeiting 
salvation. Here, however, I have no wish to patronise even the 
minutest errors, as if I thought it right to foster them by flattery 
or connivance; what I say is, that we are not on account of every 
minute difference to abandon a church, provided it retain sound and 
unimpaired that doctrine in which the safety of piety consists, and 
keep the use of the sacraments instituted by the Lord. Meanwhile, if 
we strive to reform what is offensive, we act in the discharge of 
duty. To this effect are the words of Paul, "If any thing be 
revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace," 
(1 Cor. 14: 30.) From this it is evident that to each member of the 
Church, according to his measure of grace, the study of public 
edification has been assigned, provided it be done decently and in 
order. In other words, we must neither renounce the communion of the 
Church, nor, continuing in it, disturb peace and discipline when 
duly arranged. 
    13. Our indulgence ought to extend much farther in tolerating 
imperfection of conduct. Here there is great danger of falling, and 
Satan employs all his machinations to ensnare us. For there always 
have been persons who, imbued with a false persuasion of absolute 
holiness, as if they had already become a kind of aerial spirits, 
spurn the society of all in whom they see that something human still 
remains. Such of old were the Cathari and the Donatists, who were 
similarly infatuated. Such in the present day are some of the 
Anabaptists, who would be thought to have made superior progress. 
Others, again, sin in this respect, not so much from that insane 
pride as from inconsiderate zeal. Seeing that among those to whom 
the gospel is preached, the fruit produced is not in accordance with 
the doctrine, they forthwith conclude that there no church exists. 
The offence is indeed well founded, and it is one to which in this 
most unhappy age we give far too much occasion. It is impossible to 
excuse our accursed sluggishness, which the Lord will not leave 
unpunished, as he is already beginning sharply to chastise us. Woe 
then to us who, by our dissolute license of wickedness, cause weak 
consciences to be wounded! Still those of whom we have spoken sin in 
their turn, by not knowing how to set bounds to their offence. For 
where the Lord requires mercy they omit it, and give themselves up 
to immoderate severity. Thinking there is no church where there is 
not complete purity and integrity of conduct, they, through hatred 
of wickedness, withdraw from a genuine church, while they think they 
are shunning the company of the ungodly. They allege that the Church 
of God is holy. But that they may at the same time understand that 
it contains a mixture of good and bad, let them hear from the lips 
of our Saviour that parable in which he compares the Church to a net 
in which all kinds of fishes are taken, but not separated until they 
are brought ashore. Let them hear it compared to a field which 
planted with good seed, is by the fraud of an enemy mingled with 
tares, and is not freed of them until the harvest is brought into 
the barn. Let them hear, in fine, that it is a thrashing floor in 
which the collected wheat lies concealed under the chaff, until, 
cleansed by the fanners and the sieve, it is at length laid up in 
the granary. If the Lord declares that the Church will labour under 
the defect of being burdened with a multitude of wicked until the 
day of judgement, it is in vain to look for a church altogether free 
from blemish, (Matth. 13.) 
    14. They exclaim that it is impossible to tolerate the vice 
which everywhere stalks abroad like a pestilence. What if the 
apostle's sentiment applies here also? Among the Corinthians it was 
not a few that erred, but almost the whole body had become tainted; 
there was not one species of sin merely, but a multitude, and those 
not trivial errors but some of them execrable crimes. There was not 
only corruption in manners, but also in doctrine. What course was 
taken by the holy apostle, in other words, by the organ of the 
heavenly Spirit, by whose testimony the Church stands and falls? 
Does he seek separation from them? Does he discard them from the 
kingdom of Christ? Does he strike them with the thunder of a final 
anathema? He not only does none of these things, but he acknowledges 
and heralds them as a Church of Christ, and a society of saints. If 
the Church remains among the Corinthians, where envyings, divisions, 
and contentions rage; where quarrels, lawsuits and avarice prevail; 
where a crime, which even the gentiles would execrate, is openly 
approved; where the name of Paul, whom they ought to have honoured 
as a father, is petulantly assailed; where some hold the 
resurrection of the dead in derision, though with it the whole 
gospel must fall; where the gifts of God are made subservient to 
ambition, not to charity; where many things are done neither 
decently nor in order. If there the Church still remains, simply 
because the ministration of word and sacrament is not rejected, who 
will presume to deny the title of church to those to whom a tenth 
part of these crimes cannot be imputed? How, I ask, would those who 
act so morosely against present churches have acted to the 
Galatians, who had done all but abandon the gospel, (Gal. 1: 6,) and 
yet among them the same apostle found churches? 
    15. They also object, that Paul sharply rebukes the Corinthians 
for permitting an heinous offender in their communion, and then lays 
down a general sentence, by which he declares it unlawful even to 
eat bread with a man of impure life, (1 Cor. 5: 11, 12.) Here they 
exclaim, If it is not lawful to eat ordinary bread, how can it be 
lawful to eat the Lord's bread? I admit, that it is a great disgrace 
if dogs and swine are admitted among the children of God; much more, 
if the sacred body of Christ is prostituted to them. And, indeed, 
when churches are well regulated, they will not bear the wicked in 
their bosom, nor will they admit the worthy and unworthy 
indiscriminately to that sacred feast. But because pastors are not 
always sedulously vigilant, are sometimes also more indulgent than 
they ought, or are prevented from acting so strictly as they could 
wish; the consequence is, that even the openly wicked are not always 
excluded from the fellowship of the saints. This I admit to be a 
vice, and I have no wish to extenuate it, seeing that Paul sharply 
rebukes it in the Corinthians. But although the Church fail in her 
duty, it does not therefore follow that every private individual is 
to decide the question of separation for himself. I deny not that it 
is the duty of a pious man to withdraw from all private intercourse 
with the wicked, and not entangle himself with them by any voluntary 
tie; but it is one thing to shun the society of the wicked, and 
another to renounce the communion of the Church through hatred of 
them. Those who think it sacrilege to partake the Lord's bread with 
the wicked are in this more rigid than Paul. For when he exhorts us 
to pure and holy communion, he does not require that we should 
examine others, or that every one should examine the whole church, 
but that each should examine himself, (1 Cor. 11: 28, 29.) If it 
were unlawful to communicate with the unworthy, Paul would certainly 
have ordered us to take heed that there were no individual in the 
whole body by whose impurity we might be defiled, but now that he 
only requires each to examine himself, he shows that it does no harm 
to us though some who are unworthy present themselves along with us. 
To the same effect he afterwards adds, "He that eateth and drinketh 
unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself." He says not 
to others, but to himself. And justly; for the right of admitting or 
excluding ought not to be left to the decision of individuals. 
Cognisance of this point, which cannot be exercised without due 
orders as shall afterwards be more fully shown, belongs to the whole 
church. It would therefore be unjust to hold any private individual 
as polluted by the unworthiness of another, whom he neither can nor 
ought to keep back from communion. 
    16. Still, however even the good are sometimes affected by this 
inconsiderate zeal for righteousness, though we shall find that this 
excessive moroseness is more the result of pride and a false idea of 
sanctity, than genuine sanctity itself, and true zeal for it. 
Accordingly, those who are the most forward, and as it were, leaders 
in producing revolt from the Church, have, for the most part, no 
other motive than to display their own superiority by despising all 
other men. Well and wisely, therefore, does Augustine say, "Seeing 
that pious reason and the mode of ecclesiastical discipline ought 
specially to regard the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, 
which the Apostle enjoins us to keep, by bearing with one another, 
(for if we keep it not, the application of medicine is not only 
superfluous but pernicious, and, therefore, proves to be no 
medicine;) those bad sons who, not from hatred of other men's 
iniquities, but zeal for their own contentions, attempt altogether 
to draw away, or at least to divide, weak brethren ensnared by the 
glare of their name, while swollen with pride, stuffed with 
petulance, insidiously calumnious, and turbulently seditious, use 
the cloak of a rigorous severity, that they may not seem devoid of 
the light of truth, and pervert to sacrilegious schism, and purposes 
of excision, those things which are enjoined in the Holy Scriptures, 
(due regard being had to sincere love, and the unity of peace,) to 
correct a brother's faults by the appliance of a immoderate cure," 
(August. Cont. Parmen. cap. 1.) To the pious and placid his advice 
is, mercifully to correct what they can, and to bear patiently with 
what they cannot correct, in love lamenting and mourning until God 
either reform or correct, or at the harvest root up the tares, and 
scatter the chaff, (ibid. cap. 2.) Let all the godly study to 
provide themselves with these weapons, lest, while they deem 
themselves strenuous and ardent defenders of righteousness, they 
revolt from the kingdom of heaven, which is the only kingdom of 
righteousness. For as God has been pleased that the communion of his 
Church shall be maintained in this external society, any one who, 
from hatred of the ungodly, violates the bond of this society, enter 
on a downward course, in which he incurs great danger of cutting 
himself off from the communion of saints. Let them reflect, that in 
a numerous body there are several who may escape their notice, and 
yet are truly righteous and innocent in the eyes of the Lord. Let 
them reflect, that of those who seem diseased, there are many who 
are far from taking pleasure or flattering themselves in their 
faults, and who, ever and anon aroused by a serious fear of the 
Lord, aspire to greater integrity. Let them reflect, that they have 
no right to pass judgement on a man for one act, since the holiest 
sometimes make the moat grievous fall. Let them reflect, that in the 
ministry of the word and participation of the sacraments, the power 
to collect the Church is too great to be deprived of all efficacy, 
by the fault of some ungodly men. Lastly, let them reflect, that in 
estimating the Church, divine is of more force than human judgement. 
    17. Since they also argue that there is good reason for the 
Church being called holy, it is necessary to consider what the 
holiness is in which it excels, lest by refusing to acknowledge any 
church, save one that is completely perfect, we leave no church at 
all. It is true, indeed, as Paul says, that Christ "loved the 
church, and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse 
it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it 
to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any 
such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish," (Eph. 
5: 25-27.) Nevertheless, it is true, that the Lord is daily 
smoothing its wrinkles and wiping away its spots. Hence it follows 
that its holiness is not yet perfect. Such, then, is the holiness of 
the Church: it makes daily progress, but is not yet perfect; it 
daily advances, but as yet has not reached the goal, as will 
elsewhere be more fully explained. Therefore, when the Prophets 
foretell, "Then shall Jerusalem be holy, and there shall no 
strangers pass through her any more;" - "It shall be called, The way 
of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it," (Joel 3: 17; Isa. 
35: 8,) let us not understand it as if no blemish remained in the 
members of the Church; but only that with their whole heart they 
aspire after holiness and perfect purity: and hence, that purity 
which they have not yet fully attained is, by the kindness of God, 
attributed to them. And though the indications of such a kind of 
holiness existing among men are too rare, we must understand, that 
at no period since the world began has the Lord been without his 
Church, nor ever shall be till the final consummation of all things. 
For although, at the very outset, the whole human race was vitiated 
and corrupted by the sin of Adam, yet of this kind of polluted mass 
he always sanctifies some vessels to honour, that no age may be left 
without experience of his mercy. This he has declared by sure 
promises, such as the following: "I have made a covenant with my 
chosen, I have sworn unto David my servant, Thy seed will I 
establish for ever, and build up thy throne to all generations," 
(Ps. 89: 3, 4.) "The Lord has chosen Zion; he has desired it for his 
habitation. This is my rest for ever; here will I dwell," (Ps. 132: 
13,14.) "Thus saith the Lord, which giveth the sun for a light by 
day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by 
night, which divideth the sea when the waves thereof roar; The Lord 
of hosts is his name: If those ordinances depart from before me, 
saith the Lord, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being 
a nation before me for ever," (Jer. 31: 35, 36.) 
    18. On this head, Christ himself, his apostles, and almost all 
the prophets, have furnished us with examples. Fearful are the 
descriptions in which Isaiah, Jeremiah, Joel, Habakkuk, and others, 
deplore the diseases of the Church of Jerusalem. In the people, the 
rulers, and the priests, corruption prevailed to such a degree, that 
Isaiah hesitates not to liken Jerusalem to Sodom and Gomorrah, (Isa. 
1: 10.) Religion was partly despised, partly adulterated, while in 
regard to morals, we every where meet with accounts of theft, 
robbery, perfidy, murder, and similar crimes. The prophets, however, 
did not therefore either form new churches for themselves, or erect 
new altars on which they might have separate sacrifices, but 
whatever their countrymen might be, reflecting that the Lord had 
deposited his word with them, and instituted the ceremonies by which 
he was then worshipped, they stretched out pure hands to him, though 
amid the company of the ungodly. Certainly, had they thought that 
they thereby contracted any pollution, they would have died a 
hundred deaths sooner than suffer themselves to be dragged thither. 
nothing, therefore, prevented them from separating themselves, but a 
desire of preserving unity. But if the holy prophets felt no 
obligation to withdraw from the Church on account of the very 
numerous and heinous crimes, not of one or two individuals, but 
almost of the whole people, we arrogate too much to ourselves, if we 
presume forthwith to withdraw from the communion of the Church, 
because the lives of all accord not with our judgement, or even with 
the Christian profession. 
    19. Then what kind of age was that of Christ and the apostles? 
Yet neither could the desperate impiety of the Pharisees, nor the 
dissolute licentiousness of manners which everywhere prevailed, 
prevent them from using the same sacred rites with the people, and 
meeting in one common temple for the public exercises of religion. 
And why so, but just because they knew that those who joined in 
these sacred rites with a pure conscience were not at all polluted 
by the society of the wicked? If any one is little moved by prophets 
and apostles, let him at least defer to the authority of Christ. 
Well, therefore, does Cyprian say, "Although tares or unclean 
vessels are seen in the Church, that is no reason why we ourselves 
should withdraw from the Church; we must only labour that we may be 
able to be wheat; w e must give our endeavour, and strive as far as 
we can, to be vessels of gold or silver. But to break the earthen 
vessels belongs to the Lord alone, to whom a rod of iron has been 
given: let no one arrogate to himself what is peculiar to the Son 
alone, and think himself sufficient to winnow the floor and cleanse 
the chaff, and separate all the tares by human judgement. What 
depraved zeal thus assumes to itself is proud obstinacy and 
sacrilegious presumption," (Cyprian, lib. 3. Ep. 5.) Let both points 
therefore, be regarded as fixed; first, there is no excuse for him 
who spontaneously abandons the external communion of a church in 
which the word of God is preached and the sacraments are 
administered; secondly, that notwithstanding of the faults of a few 
or of many, there is nothing to prevent us from there duly 
professing our faith in the ordinances instituted by God, because a 
pious conscience is not injured by the unworthiness of another, 
whether he be a pastor or a private individual; and sacred rites are 
not less pure and salutary to a man who is holy and upright, from 
being at the same time handled by the impure. 
    20. Their moroseness and pride proceed even to greater lengths. 
Refusing to acknowledge any church that is not pure from the minutes 
blemish, they take offence at sound teachers for exhorting believers 
to make progress, and so teaching them to groan during their whole 
lives under the burden of sins and flee for pardon. For they 
pretend, that in this way believers are led away from perfection. I 
admit that we are not to labour feebly or coldly in urging 
perfection, far less to desist from urging it; but I hold that it is 
a device of the devil to fill our minds with a confident belief of 
it while we are still in our course. Accordingly, in the Creed 
forgiveness of sins is appropriately subjoined to belief as to the 
Church, because none obtain forgiveness but those who are citizens, 
and of the household of the Church, as we read in the Prophet, (Is. 
33: 24.) The first place, therefore, should be given to the building 
of the heavenly Jerusalem, in which God afterwards is pleased to 
wipe away the iniquity of all who retake themselves to it. I say, 
however, that the Church must first be built; not that there can be 
any church without forgiveness of sins, but because the Lord has not 
promised his mercy save in the communion of saints. Therefore, our 
first entrance into the Church and the kingdom of God is by 
forgiveness of sins, without which we have no covenant nor union 
with God. For thus he speaks by the Prophet, "In that day will I 
make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, and with the 
fowls of heaven, and with the creeping things of the ground: and I 
will break the bow, and the sword, and the battle, out of the earth, 
and will make them to lie down safely. And I will betroth thee unto 
me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and 
in judgement, and in loving-kindness, and in mercies," (Hos. 2: 18, 
19.) We see in what way the Lord reconciles us to himself by his 
mercy. So in another passage, where he foretells that the people 
whom he had scattered in anger will again be gathered together, "I 
will cleanse them from all their iniquity whereby they have sinned 
against me," (Jer. 33: 8.) Wherefore, our initiation into the 
fellowship of the Church is, by the symbol of ablution, to teach us 
that we have no admission into the family of God, unless by his 
goodness our impurities are previously washed away. 
    21. Nor by remission of sins does the Lord only once for all 
elect and admit us into the Church, but by the same means he 
preserves and defends us in it. For what would it avail us to 
receive a pardon of which we were afterwards to have no use? That 
the mercy of the Lord would be vain and delusive if only granted 
once, all the godly can bear witness; for there is none who is not 
conscious, during his whole life, of many infirmities which stand in 
need of divine mercy. And truly it is not without cause that the 
Lord promises this gift specially to his own household, nor in vain 
that he orders the same message of reconciliation to be daily 
delivered to them. Wherefore, as during our whole lives we carry 
about with us the remains of sin, we could not continue in the 
Church one single moment were we not sustained by the uninterrupted 
grace of God in forgiving our sins. On the other hand, the Lord has 
called his people to eternal salvation, and, therefore, they ought 
to consider that pardon for their sins is always ready. Hence let us 
surely hold that if we are admitted and ingrafted into the body of 
the Church, the forgiveness of sins has been bestowed, and is daily 
bestowed on us, in divine liberality, through the intervention of 
Christ's merits and the sanctification of the Spirit. 
    22. To impart this blessing to us, the keys have been given to 
the Church, (Matth. 16: 19; 18: 18.) For when Christ gave the 
command to the apostles, and conferred the power of forgiving sins, 
he not merely intended that they should loose the sins of those who 
should be converted from impiety to the faith of Christ; but, 
moreover, that they should perpetually perform this office among 
believers. This Paul teaches, when he says that the embassy of 
reconciliation has been committed to the ministers of the Church, 
that they may ever and anon in the name of Christ exhort the people 
to be reconciled to God, (2 Cor. 5: 20.) Therefore, in the communion 
of saints our sins are constantly forgiven by the ministry of the 
Church, when presbyters or bishops, to whom the office has been 
committed, confirm pious consciences, in the hope of pardon and 
forgiveness by the promises of the gospel, and that as well in 
public as in private, as the case requires. For there are many who, 
from their infirmity, stand in need of special pacification, and 
Paul declares that he testified of the grace of Christ not only in 
the public assembly, but from house to house, reminding each 
individually of the doctrine of salvation, (Acts 20: 20, 21.) Three 
things are here to be observed. First, Whatever be the holiness 
which the children of God possess, it is always under the condition, 
that so long as they dwell in a mortal body, they cannot stand 
before God without forgiveness of sins. Secondly, This benefit is so 
peculiar to the Church, that we cannot enjoy it unless we continue 
in the communion of the Church. Thirdly, It is dispensed to us by 
the ministers and pastors of the Church, either in the preaching of 
the Gospel or the administration of the Sacraments, and herein is 
especially manifested the power of the keys, which the Lord has 
bestowed on the company of the faithful. Accordingly, let each of us 
consider it to be his duty to seek forgiveness of sins only where 
the Lord has placed it. Of the public reconciliation which relates 
to discipline, we shall speak at the proper place. 
    23. But since those frantic spirits of whom I have spoken 
attempt to rob the Church of this the only anchor of salvation, 
consciences must be more firmly strengthened against this 
pestilential opinion. The Novatians, in ancient times, agitated the 
Churches with this dogma, but in our day, not unlike the Novatians 
are some of the Anabaptists, who have fallen into the same delirious 
dreams. For they pretend that in Baptism, the people of God are 
regenerated to a pure and angelical life, which is not polluted by 
any carnal defilements. But if a man sin after baptism, they leave 
him nothing except the inexorable judgement of God. In short, to the 
sinner who has lapsed after receiving grace they give no hope of 
pardon, because they admit no other forgiveness of sins save that by 
which we are first regenerated. But although no falsehood is more 
clearly refuted by Scripture, yet as these men find means of 
imposition, (as Novatus also of old had very many followers,) let us 
briefly slow how much they rave, to the destruction both of 
themselves and others. In the first place, since by the command of 
our Lord the saints daily repeat this prayer, "Forgive us our 
debts," (Matth. 6: 12,) they confess that they are debtors. Nor do 
they ask in vain; for the Lord has only enjoined them to ask what he 
will give. Nay, while he has declared that the whole prayer will be 
heard by his Father, he has sealed this absolution with a peculiar 
promise. What more do we wish? The Lord requires of his saints 
confession of sins during their whole lives, and that without 
ceasing, and promises pardon. How presumptuous, then, to exempt them 
from sin, or when they have stumbled, to exclude them altogether 
from grace? Then whom does he enjoin us to pardon seventy and seven 
times? Is it not our brethren? (Matth. 18: 22.) And why has he so 
enjoined but that we may imitate his clemency? He therefore pardons 
not once or twice only, but as often as, under a sense of our 
faults, we feel alarmed, and sighing call upon him. 
    24. And to begin almost with the very first commencement of the 
Church: the Patriarchs had been circumcised, admitted to a 
participation in the covenant, and doubtless instructed by their 
father's care in righteousness and integrity, when they conspired to 
commit fratricide. The crime was one which the most abandoned 
robbers would have abominated. At length, softened by the 
remonstrances of Judah, they sold him; this also was intolerable 
cruelty. Simon and Levi took a nefarious revenge on the sons of 
Sichem, one, too, condemned by the judgement of their father. 
Reuben, with execrable lust, defiled his father's bed. Judah, when 
seeking to commit whoredom, sinned against the law of nature with 
his daughter-in-law. But so far are they from being expunged from 
the chosen people, that they are rather raised to be its heads. 
What, moreover, of David? when on the throne of righteousness, with 
what iniquity did he make way for blind lust, by the shedding of 
innocent blood? He had already been regenerated, and, as one of the 
regenerated, received distinguished approbation from the Lord. But 
he perpetrated a crime at which even the gentiles would have been 
horrified, and yet obtained pardon. And not to dwell on special 
examples, all the promises of divine mercy extant in the Law and the 
Prophets are so many proofs that the Lord is ready to forgive the 
offences of his people. For why does Moses promise a future period, 
when the people who had fallen into rebellion should return to the 
Lord? "Then the Lord thy God will turn thy captivity, and have 
compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the 
nations whither the Lord thy God has scattered thee," (Deut. 30: 3.) 
    25. But I am unwilling to begin an enumeration which never 
could be finished. The prophetical books are filled with similar 
promises, offering mercy to a people covered with innumerable 
transgressions. What crime is more heinous than rebellion? It is 
styled divorce between God and the Church, and yet, by his goodness, 
it is surmounted. They say, "If a man put away his wife, and she go 
from him, and become another man's, shall he return unto her again? 
shall not that land be greatly polluted? But thou hast played the 
harlot with many lovers; yet return again unto me, saith the Lord." 
"Return, thou backsliding Israel, saith the Lord; and I will not 
cause mine anger to fall upon you; for I am merciful, saith the 
Lord, and I will not keep anger for ever," (Jer. 3: 1, 12.) And 
surely he could not have a different feeling who declares, "I have 
no pleasure in the death of him that dieth;" "Wherefore turn 
yourselves, and live ye," (Ezek. 18: 23, 32.) Accordingly, when 
Solomon dedicated the temple, one of the uses for which it was 
destined was, that prayers offered up for the pardon of sin, might 
there be heard. "If they sin against thee, (for there is no man that 
sinneth not,) and thou be angry with them, and deliver them to the 
enemy, so that they carry them away captive unto the land of the 
enemy, far or near; yet if they shall rethink themselves in the land 
whither they were carried captives, and repent, and make 
supplication unto thee in the land of them that carried them 
captives, saying, We have sinned, and have done perversely, we have 
committed wickedness; and so return unto thee with all their heart, 
and with all their soul, in the land of their enemies which led them 
away captive, and pray unto thee towards their land, which thou 
gavest unto their fathers, the city which thou hast chosen, and the 
house which I have built for thy name: then hear thou their prayer 
and their supplication in heaven thy dwellingplace, and maintain 
their cause, and forgive thy people that have sinned against thee, 
and all their transgressions wherein they have transgressed against 
thee," (1 Kings 8: 46-50.) Nor in vain in the Law did God ordain a 
daily sacrifice for sins. Had he not foreseen that his people were 
constantly to labour under the disease of sin, he never would have 
appointed these remedies. 
    26. Did the advent of Christ, by which the fulness of grace was 
displayed, deprive believers of this privilege of supplicating for 
the pardon of their sins? If they offended against the Lords were 
they not to obtain any mercy? What were it but to say that Christ 
came not for the salvation, but for the destruction of his people, 
if the divine indulgence in pardoning sin, which was constantly 
provided for the saints under the Old Testament, is now declared to 
have been taken away? But if we give credit to the Scriptures, when 
distinctly proclaiming that in Christ alone the grace and 
loving-kindness of the Lord have fully appeared, the riches of his 
mercy been poured out, reconciliation between God and man 
accomplished, (Tit. 2: 11; 3: 4; 2 Tim. 1: 9, 10,) let us not doubt 
that the clemency of our heavenly Father, instead of being cut off 
or curtailed is in much greater exuberance. Nor are proofs of this 
wanting. Peter, who had heard our Saviour declare that he who did 
not confess his name before men would be denied before the angels of 
God, denied him twice in one night, and not without execration; yet 
he is not denied pardon, (Mark 8: 38.) Those who lived disorderly 
among the Thessalonians, though chastised, are still invited to 
repentance, (2 Thess. 3: 6.) Not even is Simon Magus thrown into 
despair. He is rather told to hope, since Peter invites him to have 
recourse to prayer, (Acts 8: 22.) 
    27. What shall we say to the fact, that occasionally whole 
churches have been implicated in the grossest sins, and yet Paul, 
instead of giving them over to destruction, rather mercifully 
extricated them? The defection of the Galatians was no trivial 
fault, the Corinthians were still less excusable the iniquities 
prevailing among them being more numerous and not less heinous, yet 
neither are excluded from the mercy of the Lord. Nay, the very 
persons who had sinned above others in uncleanness and fornication 
are expressly invited to repentance. The covenant of the Lord 
remains, and ever will remain, inviolable, that covenant which he 
solemnly ratified with Christ the true Solomon, and his members, in 
these words: "If his children forsake my law, and walk not in my 
judgements; if they break my statutes, and keep not my commandments; 
then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their 
iniquity with stripes. Nevertheless, my loving-kindness will I not 
utterly take from him", (Ps. 89: 30-33.) In short, by the very 
arrangement of the Creed, we are reminded that forgiveness of sins 
always resides in the Church of Christ, for after the Church is as 
it were constituted, forgiveness of sins is subjoined. 
    28. Some persons who have somewhat more discernment, seeing 
that the dogma of Novatus is so clearly refuted in scripture, do not 
make every fault unpardonable, but that voluntary transgression of 
the Law into which a man falls knowingly and willingly. Those who 
speak thus allow pardon to those sins only that have been committed 
through ignorance. But since the Lord has in the Law ordered some 
sacrifices to be offered in expiation of the voluntary sins of 
believers, and others to redeem sins of ignorance, (Lev. 4) how 
perverse is it to concede no expiation to a voluntary sin? I hold 
nothing to be more plain, than that the one sacrifice of Christ 
avails to remit the voluntary sins of believers, the Lord having 
attested this by carnal sacrifices as emblems. Then how is David, 
who was so well instructed in the Law, to be excused by ignorance? 
Did David, who was daily punishing it in others, not know how 
heinous a crime murder and adultery was? Did the patriarchs deem 
fratricide a lawful act? Had the Corinthians made so little 
proficiency as to imagine that God was pleased with lasciviousness, 
impurity, whoredom, hatred, and strife? Was Peter, after being so 
carefully warned, ignorant how heinous it was to forswear his 
Master? Therefore, let us not by our malice shut the door against 
the divine mercy, when so benignly manifested. 
    29. I am not unaware, that by the sins which are daily forgiven 
to believers ancient writers have understood the lighter errors 
which creep in through the infirmity of the flesh, while they 
thought that the formal repentance which was then exacted for more 
heinous crimes was no more to be repeated than Baptism. This opinion 
is not to be viewed as if they wished to plunge those into despair 
who had fallen from their first repentance, or to extenuate those 
errors as if they were of no account before God. For they knew that 
the saints often stumble through unbelief, that superfluous oaths 
occasionally escape them, that they sometimes boil with anger, nay, 
break out into open invectives, and labour, besides, under other 
evils, which are in no slight degree offensive to the Lord; but they 
so called them to distinguish them from public crimes, which came 
under the cognisance of the Church, and produced much scandal. The 
great difficulty they had in pardoning those who had done something 
that called for ecclesiastical animadversion, was not because they 
thought it difficult to obtain pardon from the Lord, but by this 
severity they wished to deter others from rushing precipitately into 
crimes, which by their demerits would alienate them from the 
communion of the Church. Still the word of the Lord, which here 
ought to be our only rule, certainly prescribes greater moderation, 
since it teaches that the rigour of discipline must not be stretched 
so far as to overwhelm with grief the individual for whose benefit 
it should specially be designed (2 Cor. 2: 7,) as we have above 
discoursed at greater length.

Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Volume 4
(continued in part 3...)

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