Calvin’s Geneva Catechism (1536-45)
John Calvin initially wrote this confession to instruct children in Reformed theology. It soon became apparent that the document was much to advanced for children and new believers, so in 1542, Calvin replaced his first Geneva Catechism with the French Geneva Catechism of 1542, in which he converted the document into the standard question and answer format. The 373 questions and answers were still geared towards the youth, but it also provides us with an excellent summary of the Reformed doctrine in Geneva. This Catechism was translated into various languages and was a model for the Heidelberg Catechism. The following is from the Latin translation of 1545.
Navigation Note: We've separated this document into 3 pages. The outline is duplicated on each page.
Geneva Catechism Outline
JOHN CALVIN TO THE FAITHFUL MINISTERS OF CHRIST THROUGHOUT EAST FRIESLAND, WHO PREACH THE PURE DOCTRINE OF THE GOSPEL.
SEEING it becomes us to endeavor by all means that unity of faith, which is so highly commended by Paul, shine forth among us, to this end chiefly ought the formal profession of faith which accompanies our common baptism to have reference. Hence it were to be wished, not only that a perpetual consent in the doctrine of piety should appear among all, but also that one CATECHISM were common to all the Churches. But as, from many causes, it will scarcely ever obtain otherwise than that each Church shall have its own Catechism, we should not strive too keenly to prevent this; provided, however, that the variety in the mode of teaching is such, that we are all directed to one Christ, in whose truth being united together; we may grow up into one body and one spirit, and with the same mouth also proclaim whatever belongs to the sum of faith. Catechists not intent on this end, besides fatally injuring the Church, by sowing the materials of dissension in religion, also introduce an impious profanation of baptism. For where can any longer be the utility of baptism unless this remain as its foundation-that we all agree in one faith?
Wherefore, those who publish Catechisms ought to be the more carefully on their guard, lest, by producing anything rashly, they may not for the present only, but in regard to posterity also, do grievous harm to piety, and inflict a deadly wound on the Church.
This much I wished to premise, as a declaration to my readers, that I myself too, as became me, have made it my anxious care not to deliver any thing in this Catechism of mine that is not agreeable to the doctrine received among all the pious. This declaration will not be found vain by those who will read with candor and sound judgment. I trust I have succeeded at least so far that my labor, though it should not satisfy, will be acceptable to all good men, as being in their opinion useful.
In writing it in Latin, though some perhaps will not approve of the design, I have been influenced by many reasons, all of which it is of no use to detail at present. I shall only select such as seem to me sufficient to obviate censure.
First, in this confused and divided state of Christendom, I judge it useful that there should be public testimonies, whereby churches which, though widely separated by space, agree in the doctrine of Christ, may mutually recognize each other. For besides that this tends not a little to mutual confirmation, what is more to be desired than that mutual congratulations should pass between them, and that they should devoutly commend each other to the Lord? With this view, bishops were wont in old time, when as yet consent in faith existed and flourished among all, to send Synodal Epistles beyond sea, by which, as a kind of badges, they might maintain sacred communion among the churches. How much more necessary is it now, in this fearful devastation of the Christian world, that the few churches which duly worship God, and they too scattered and hedged round on all sides by the profane synagogues of Antichrist, should mutually give and receive this token of holy union, that they may thereby be incited to that fraternal embrace of which I have spoken?
But if this is so necessary in the present day, what shall our feelings be concerning posterity, about which I am, so anxious, that I scarcely dare to think? Unless God miraculously send help from heaven, I cannot avoid seeing that the world is threatened with the extremity of barbarism. I wish our children may not shortly feel that this has been rather a true prophecy than a conjecture. The more, therefore, must we labor to gather together, by our writings, whatever remains of the Church shall continue, or even emerge, after our death. Writings of a different class will show what were our views on all subjects in religion, but the agreement which our churches had in doctrine cannot be seen with clearer evidence than from catechisms. For therein will appear, not only what one man or other once taught, but with what rudiments learned and unlearned alike amongst us, were constantly imbued from childhood, all the faithful holding them as their formal symbol of Christian communion. This was indeed my principal reason for publishing this Catechism.
A second reason, which had no little weight with me, was, because I heard that it was desired by very many who hoped it would not be unworthy of perusal. Whether they are right or wrong in so judging is not mine to decide, but it became me to yield to their wish. Nay, necessity was almost laid upon me, and I could not with impunity decline it. For having seven years before published a brief summary of religion, under the name of a Catechism, I feared that if I did not bring forward this one, I should cause (a thing I wished not) that the former should on the other hand be excluded. Therefore if I wished to consult the public good, it behooved me to take care that this one which I preferred should occupy the ground.
Besides, I deem it of good example to testify to the world, that we who aim at the restitution of the Church, are everywhere faithfully exerting ourselves, in order that, at least, the use of the Catechism which was abolished some centuries ago under the Papacy, may now resume its lost rights. For neither can this holy custom be sufficiently commended for its utility, nor can the Papists be sufficiently condemned for the flagrant corruption, by which they not only set it aside, by converting it into puerile trifles, but also basely abuse it to purposes of impure and impious superstition. That spurious Confirmation, which they have substituted in its stead, they deck out like a harlot, with great splendor of ceremonies, and gorgeous shows without number; nay, in their wish to adorn it, they speak of it in terms of execrable blasphemy, when they give out that it is a sacrament of greater dignity than baptism, and call those only half Christians who have not been besmeared with their oil. Meanwhile, the whole proceeding consists of nothing but theatrical gesticulations, or rather the wanton sporting of apes, without any skill in imitation.
To you, my very dear brethren in the Lord, I have chosen to inscribe this work, because some of your body, besides informing me that you love me, and that the most of you take delight in my writings, also expressly requested me by letter to undertake this labor for their sake. Independently of this, it would have been reason sufficient, that what I learned of you long ago, from the statement of grave and pious men, had bound me to you with my whole soul. I now ask what I am confident you will of your own accord do-have the goodness to consult for the utility of this token of my goodwill towards you! Farewell. May the Lord increase you more and more in the spirit of wisdom, prudence, zeal, and fortitude, to the edification of his Church.
GENEVA, 2d December, 1545.
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Master - What is the chief end of human life?
Student- To know God by whom men were created.
Master - What reason have you for saying so?
Student - Because he created us and placed us in this world to be glorified in us. And it is indeed right that our life, of which himself is the beginning, should be devoted to his glory.
Master - What is the highest good of man?
Student - The very same thing.
Master - Why do you hold that to be the highest good?
Student - Because without it our condition is worse than that of the brutes.
Master - Hence, then, we clearly see that nothing worse can happen to a man than not to live to God.
Student - It is so.
Master - What is the true and right knowledge of God?
Student - When he is so known that due honor is paid to him.
Master - What is the method of honoring him duly?
Student - To place our whole confidence in him; to study to serve him during our whole life by obeying his will; to call upon him in all our necessities, seeking salvation and every good thing that can be desired in him; lastly, to acknowledge him both with heart and lips, as the sole Author of all blessings.
Master - To consider these points in their order, and explain them more fully-What is the first head in this division of yours?
Student - To place our whole confidence in God.
Master - How shall we do so?
Student - When we know him to be Almighty and perfectly good.
Master - Is this enough?
Student - Far from it.
Master - Why?
Student - Because we are unworthy that he should exert his power in helping us, and show how good he is by saving us.
Master - What more then is needful?
Student - That each of us should set it down in his mind that God loves him, and is willing to be a Father, and the author of salvation to him.
Master - But whence will this appear?
Student - From his word, in which he explains his mercy to us in Christ, and testifies of his love towards us.
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Master - Then the foundation and beginning of confidence in God is to know him in Christ?
Student - Entirely so.
Master - I should now wish you to tell me in a few words, what the sum of this knowledge is?
Student - It is contained in the Confession of Faith, or rather Formula of Confession, which all Christians have in common. It is commonly called the Apostles’ Creed, because from the beginning of the Church it was ever received among all the pious, and because it either fell from the lips of the Apostles, or was faithfully gathered out of their writings.
Master - Repeat it.
Student - I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried: he descended into hell; the third day he arose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy Catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.
Master - To understand each point more thoroughly, into how many parts shall we divide this confession?
Student - Into four leading ones.
Master - Mention them to me.
Student - The first relates to God the Father; the second to his Son Jesus Christ, which also embraces the whole sum of man’s redemption; the third to the Holy Spirit; the fourth to the Church, and the Divine blessings conferred upon her.
Master - Since there is no God but one, why do you here mention three, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?
Student - Because in the one essence of God, it behooves us to look on God the Father as the beginning and origin, and the first cause of all things; next the Son, who is his eternal Wisdom; and, lastly, the Holy Spirit, as his energy diffused indeed over all things, but still perpetually resident in himself.
Master - You mean then that there is no absurdity in holding that these three persons are in one Godhead, and God is not therefore divided?
Student - Just so.
Master - Now repeat the first part.
Student - " I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth."
Master - Why do you call him Father?
Student - Primarily with reference to Christ who is his eternal Wisdom, begotten of him before all time, and being sent into this world was declared to be his Son. We infer, however, that as God is the Father of Jesus Christ, he is our Father also.
Master - In what sense do you give him the name of Almighty?
Student - Not as having a power which he does not exercise, but as having all things under his power and hand; governing the world by his Providence, determining all things by his will, ruling all creatures as seems to him good.
Master - You do not then suppose an indolent power in God, but consider it such that his hand is always engaged in working, so that nothing is done except through Him, and by his decree.
Student - It is so.
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Master - Why do you add "Creator of heaven, and earth?"
Student - As he has manifested himself to us by works, (Rom. 1:20,) in these too we ought to seek him. Our mind cannot take in his essence. The world itself is, therefore, a kind of mirror in which we may view him in so far as it concerns us to know.
Master - Do you not understand by "heaven and earth" all creatures whatever that exist?
Student - Yes, verily; under these two names all are included, because they are either heavenly or earthly.
Master - But why do you call God a Creator merely, while it is much more excellent to defend and preserve creatures in their state, than to have once made them?
Student - This term does not imply that God created his works at once, and then threw off the care of them. It should rather be understood, that as the world was once made by God, so it is now preserved by him, and that the earth and all other things endure just in as far as they are sustained by his energy, and as it were his hand. Besides, seeing that he has all things under his hand, it follows, that He is the chief ruler and Lord of all. Therefore, by his being "Creator of heaven and earth," we must understand that it is he alone who by wisdom, goodness, and power, guides the whole course and order of nature: who at once sends rain and drought, hail and other storms, as well as calm, who of his kindness fertilizes the earth, and on the contrary, by withholding his hand, makes it barren: from whom come health and disease; to whose power all things are subject, and whose nod they obey.
Master - But what shall we say of wicked men and devils? Shall we say that they too are under him?
Student - Although he does not govern them by his Spirit, he however curbs them by his power as a bridle, so that they cannot even move unless in so far as he permits them. Nay, he even makes them the ministers of his will, so that unwilling and against their own intention, they are forced to execute what to him seems good.
Master - What good redounds to you from the knowledge of this fact?
Student - Very much. It would go ill with us could devils and wicked men do any thing without the will of God, and our minds could never be very tranquil while thinking we were exposed to their caprice. Then only do we rest safely when we know that they are curbed by the will of God, and as it were kept in confinement, so that they cannot do any thing unless by his permission: the more especially that God has engaged to be our guardian, and the prince of our salvation.
Master - Let us now come to the second part.
Student - It is that we believe "in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord."
Master - What does it chiefly comprehend?
Student - That the Son of God is our Savior, and it at the same time explains the method by which he has redeemed us from death, and purchased life.
Master - What is the meaning of the name Jesus which you give to him?
Student - It has the same meaning as the Greek word (Soter.) The Latin has no proper name by which its force may be well expressed. Hence the term Savior (Salvator) was commonly received. Moreover, the angel gave this appellation to the Son of God, by the order of God himself (Matt. 1:21.)
Master - Is this more than if men had given it?
Student - Certainly. For since God wills that he be called so, he must absolutely be so.
Master - What, next, is the force of the name Christ?
Student - By this epithet, his office is still better expressed-for it signifies that he was anointed by the Father to be a King, Priest, and Prophet.
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Master - How do you know that?
Student - First, Because Scripture applies anointing to these three uses; secondly, Because it often attributes the three things which we have mentioned to Christ.
Master - But with what kind of oil was he anointed?
Student - Not with visible oil as was used in consecrating ancient kings, priests, and prophets, but one more excellent, namely, the grace of the Holy Spirit, which is the thing meant by that outward anointing.
Master - But what is the nature of this kingdom of his which you mention?
Student - Spiritual, contained in the word and Spirit of God, which carry with them righteousness and life.
Master - What of the priesthood?
Student - It is the office and prerogative of appearing in the presence of God to obtain grace, and of appeasing his wrath by the offering of a sacrifice which is acceptable to him.
Master - In. what sense do you call Christ a Prophet?
Student - Because on coming into the world he declared himself an ambassador to men, and an interpreter, and that for the purpose of putting an end to all revelations and prophecies by giving a full exposition of his Father’s will.
Master - But do you derive any benefit from this?
Student - Nay, all these things have no end but our good. For the Father hath bestowed them on Christ that he may communicate them to us, and all of us thus receive out of his fullness.
Master - State this to me somewhat more fully.
Student - He was filled with the Holy Spirit, and loaded with a perfect abundance of all his gifts, that he may impart them to us,-that is, to each according to the measure which the Father knows to be suited to us. Thus from him, as the only fountain, we draw whatever spiritual blessings we possess.
Master - What does his kingdom bestow upon us?
Student - By means of it, obtaining liberty of conscience to live piously and holily, and, being provided with his spiritual riches, we are also armed with power sufficient to overcome the perpetual enemies of our souls-sin, the world, the devil, and the flesh.
Master - To what is the office of priest conducive?
Student - First, by means of it he is the mediator who reconciles us to the Father; and, secondly, access is given us to the Father, so that we too can come with boldness into his presence, and offer him the sacrifice of ourselves, and our all. In this way he makes us, as it were, his colleagues in the priesthood.
Master - There is still prophecy.
Student - As it is an office of teaching bestowed on the Son of God in regard to his own servants, the end is that he may enlighten them by the true knowledge of the Father, instruct them in truth, and make them household disciples of God.
Master - All that you have said then comes to this, that the name of Christ comprehends three offices which the Father hath bestowed on the Son, that he may transfuse the virtue and fruit of them into his people?
Student - It is so.
Master - Why do you call him the only Son of God, seeing that God designs to bestow this appellation upon us all?
Student - That we are the sons of God we have not from nature, but from adoption and grace only, in other words, because God puts us in that place, (John 1:1;) but the Lord Jesus who was begotten of the substance of the Father, and is of one essence with the Father, (Eph. 1:2,) is by the best title called the only Son of God, because he alone is his Son by nature, (Heb.1:1.)
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Master - You mean then, that this honor is proper to him, as being due to him by right of nature, whereas it is communicated to us by gratuitous favor, as being his members?
Student - Exactly. Hence with a view to this communication he is called the First-born among many brethren. (Rom. 8:29.)
Master - In what sense do you understand him to be "our Lord ?"
Student - Inasmuch as He was appointed by the Father to have us under his power, to administer the kingdom of God in heaven and on earth, and to be the Head of men and angels. (Col. 1:15, 18.)
Master - What is meant by what follows?
Student - It shows the manner in which the Son was anointed by the Father to be our Savior-namely, that having assumed our nature, he performed all things necessary to our salvation as here enumerated.
Master - What mean you by the two sentences-"Conceived of the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary ?"
Student - That he was formed in the womb of the virgin, of her substance, to be the true seed of David, as had been foretold by the Prophets, and that this was effected by the miraculous and secret agency of the Spirit without human connection. (Ps. 132:11; Matt. 1:1; Luke 1:32.)
Master - Was it of consequence then that he should assume our nature?
Student - Very much so; because it was necessary that the disobedience committed by man against God should be expiated also in human nature. Nor could he in any other way be our Mediator to make reconciliation between God and man. (Rom. 3:24; 1 Tim. 2:5; Heb. 4:15; 5;7.)
Master - You say that Christ behooved to become man, that he might, as it were, in our person accomplish the work of salvation?
Student - So I think. For we must borrow of him whatever is wanting in ourselves: and this cannot be done in any other way.
Master - But why was that effected by the Holy Spirit, and not by the common and usual form of generation?
Student - As the seed of man is entirely corrupt, it was necessary that the operation of the Holy Spirit should interfere in the generation of the Son of God, that he might not be affected by this contagion, but endued with the most perfect purity.
Master - Hence then we learn that he who sanctifies us is free from every stain, and was possessed of purity, so to speak, from the original womb, so that he was wholly sacred to God, being unpolluted by any taint of the human race?
Student - That is my understanding.
Master - How is he our Lord?
Student - He was appointed by the Father to rule us, and having obtained the empire and dominion of God both in heaven and on earth, to be recognized as the head of angels and good men. (Eph.1:21 ; Col. 1:18.)
Master - Why do you leap at once from his birth to his death, passing over the whole history of his life?
Student - Because nothing is treated of here but what so properly belongs to our salvation, as in a manner to contain the substance of it.
Master - Why do you not say in one word simply "was dead," (died,) but also add the name of the governor under whom he suffered?
Student - That has respect not only to the credit of the statement, but also to let us know that his death was connected with condemnation.
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Master - Explain this more clearly.
Student - He died to discharge the penalty due by us, and in this way exempt us from it. But as we all being sinners were obnoxious to the judgment of God, he, that he might act as our substitute, was pleased to be sisted in presence of an earthly judge, and condemned by his mouth, that we might be acquitted before the celestial tribunal of God.
Master - But Pilate pronounces him innocent, and therefore does not condemn him as a malefactor. (Matt. 27:24.)
Student - It is necessary to attend to both things. The judge bears testimony to his innocence, to prove that he suffered not for his own misdeeds but ours, and he is formally condemned by the sentence of the same judge, to make it plain that he endured the sentence which he deserved as our surety, that thus he might free us from guilt.
Master - Well answered. Were he a sinner he would not be a fit surety to pay the penalty of another’s sin; and yet that his condemnation might obtain our acquittal, he behooved to be classed among transgressors?
Student - I understand so.
Master - Is there any greater importance in his having been crucified than if he had suffered any other kind of death?
Student - Very much greater, as Paul also reminds us, (Gal 3:13,) when he says, that he hung upon a tree to take our curse upon himself and free us from it. For that kind of death was doomed to execration. (Deut. 21:23.)
Master - What? Is not an affront put upon the Son of God when it is said that even before God he was subjected to the curse?
Student - By no means; since by undergoing he abolished it, and yet meanwhile he ceased not to be blessed in order that he might visit us with his blessing.
Master - Go on.
Student - Since death was the punishment imposed on man because of sin, the Son of God endured it, and by enduring overcame it. But to make it more manifest that he underwent a real death, he chose to be placed in the tomb like other men.
Master - But nothing seems to be derived to us from this victory, since we still die?
Student - That is no obstacle. Nor to believers is death now any thing else than a passage to a better life.
Master - Hence it follows that death is no longer to be dreaded as if it were a fearful thing, but we should with intrepid mind follow Christ our leader, who as he did not perish in death, will not suffer us to perish?
Student - Thus should we act.
Master - It is immediately added, "he descended into hell." What does this mean?
Student - That he not only endured common death, which is the separation of the soul from the body, but also the pains of death, as Peter calls them. (Acts 2:24.) By this expression I understand the fearful agonies by which his soul was pierced.
Master - Give me the cause and the manner of this.
Student - As in order to satisfy for sinners he appeared before the tribunal of God, it was necessary that he should suffer excruciating agony of conscience, as if he had been forsaken of God, nay as it were, had God hostile to him. He was in this agony when he exclaimed, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Matt. 27:46.)
Master - Was his Father then offended with him?
Student - By no means. But he exercised this severity against him in fulfillment of what had been foretold by Isaiah, that "he was smitten by the hand of God for our sins and wounded for our transgressions." (Is. 53:4, 5.)
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Master - But seeing he is God, how could he be seized with any such dread, as if he were forsaken of God?
Student - We must hold that it was in respect to the feelings of his human nature that he was reduced to this necessity: and that this might be, his divinity for a little while was concealed, that is, did not put forth its might.
Master - How, on the other hand, is it possible that Christ, who is the salvation of the world, should have been subjected to this doom?
Student - He did not endure it so as to remain under it. For though he was seized with the terrors I have mentioned, he was not overwhelmed. Rather wrestling with the power of hell he subdued and crushed it.
Master - Hence we infer that the torture of conscience which he bore differs from that which excruciates sinners ’when pursued by the hands of an angry God. For what was temporary in him is perpetual in them, and what was in him only the prick of a sting, is in them a mortal sword, which, so to speak, wounds the heart.
Student - It is so. The Son of God when beset by this anguish, ceased not to hope in the Father. But sinners condemned by the justice of God, rush into despair, murmur against him, and even break forth into open blasphemies.
Master - May we hence infer what benefit believers receive from the death of Christ?
Student - Easily. And, first, we see that it is a sacrifice by which he expiated our sins before God, and so having appeased the wrath of God, restored us to his favor. Secondly, That his blood is a layer by which our souls are cleansed from all stains. Lastly, That the remembrance of our sins was effaced so as never to come into the view of God, and that thus the handwriting which established our guilt was blotted out and cancelled.
Master - Does it not gain us any other advantage besides?
Student - Yes, indeed. For by its benefit, if we are members of Christ, our old man is crucified, and the body of sin is destroyed, so that the lusts of a depraved flesh no longer reign in us.
Master - Proceed with the other articles.
Student - The next is, "On the third day he rose again from the dead." By this he declared himself the conqueror of sin and death. By his resurrection he swallowed up death, broke the fetters of the devil, and annihilated all his power.
Master - How manifold are the benefits resulting to us from the resurrection?
Student - Threefold. For by it righteousness was acquired for us; it is also a sure pledge to us of our immortality; and even now by virtue of it we are raised to newness of life, that by living purely and holily we may obey the will of God.
Master - Let us follow out the rest.
Student - ’’He ascended into heaven."
Master - Did he ascend so that he is no more on the earth?
Student - He did. For after he had performed all the things which the Father had given him to do, and which were for our salvation, there was no need of his continuing longer on earth.
Master - What good do we obtain from this ascension?
Student - The benefit is twofold. For inasmuch as Christ entered heaven in our name, just as he had come down to earth on our account, he also opened up an access for us, so that the door, previously shut because of sin, is now open. Secondly, he appears in the presence of God as our advocate and intercessor.
Master - But did Christ in going to heaven withdraw from us, so that he has now ceased to be with us?
Student - Not at all. On the contrary, he has engaged to be with us even to the end of the world. (Matt. 28:20.)
Master - When we say he dwells with us, must we understand that he is bodily present?
Student - No. The case of the body which was received into heaven is one thing; that of the virtue which is everywhere diffused is another. (Luke 24:51; Acts 1:11.)
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Master - In what sense do you say that he "sits on the right hand of the Father?"
Student - These words mean that the Father bestowed upon him the dominion of heaven and earth, so that he governs all things. (Matt. 28:18.)
Master - But what is meant by "right hand," and what by "sits?"
Student - It is a similitude taken from princes, who are wont to place those on their right hand whom they make their vicegerents.
Master - You therefore mean nothing more than Paul says, namely, that Christ has been appointed head of the Church, and raised above all principalities, has obtained a name which is above every name. (Eph. 1:22; Phil. 2:9.)
Student - It is as you say.
Master - Let us pass on.
Student - "From thence he will come to judge the quick and the dead." The meaning of these words is, that he will come openly from heaven to judge the world, just as he was seen to ascend. (Acts 1:11.)
Master - As the day of judgment is not to be before the end of the world, how do you say that some men will then be alive, seeing it is appointed unto all men once to die? (Heb. 9:27, 28.)
Student - Paul answers this question when he says, that those who then survive will undergo a sudden change, so that the corruption of the flesh being abolished, they will put on incorruption. (1 Cor. 15:51; 1 Thess. 4:17.)
Master - You understand then that this change will be like death; that there will be an abolition of the first nature, and the beginning of a new nature?
Student - That is my meaning.
Master - Does it give any delight to our conscience that Christ will one day be the judge of the world?
Student - Indeed singular delight. For we know assuredly that he will come only for our salvation.
Master - We should not then tremble at this judgment, so as to let it fill us with dismay?
Student - No, indeed; since we shall only stand at the tribunal of a judge who is also our advocate, and who has taken us under his faith and protection.
Master - Let us come now to the third part.
Student - It relates to faith in the Holy Spirit.
Master - What do we learn by it?
Student - The object is to let us know that God, as he hath redeemed and saved us by his Son, will also by his Spirit make us capable of this redemption and salvation.
Master - How?
Student - As we have purification in the blood of Christ, so our consciences must be sprinkled by it in order to be washed. (1 Peter 1:2; 1 John 1:7.)
Master - This requires a clearer explanation.
Student - I mean that the Spirit of God, while he dwells in our hearts, makes us feel the virtue of Christ. (Rom. 8:11.) For when our minds conceive the benefits of Christ, it is owing to the illumination of the Holy Spirit; to his persuasion it is owing that they are sealed in our hearts. (Eph. 1:13.) In short, he alone makes room in us for them. He regenerates us and makes us to be new creatures. Accordingly, whatever gifts are offered us in Christ, we receive by the agency of the Spirit.
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Master - Let us proceed.
Student - Next comes the fourth part, in which we confess that we believe in one Holy Catholic Church.
Master - What is the Church?
Student - The body and society of believers whom God hath predestined to eternal life.
Master - Is it necessary to believe this article also?
Student - Yes, verily, if we would not make the death of Christ without effect, and prescribe no meaning to all that has been said. For the one effect resulting from all is, that there is a Church.
Master - You mean then that we only treated of the cause of salvation, and showed the foundation of it when we explained that by the merits and intercession of Christ, we are taken into favor by God, and that this grace is confirmed in us by virtue of the Spirit. Now, however, we are explaining the effect of all these things, that by facts our faith may be made more firm?
Student - It is so.
Master - In what sense do you call the Church holy?
Student - All whom God has chosen he justifies, and forms to holiness and innocence of life, (Rom. 8:30,) that his glory may be displayed in them. And this is what Paul means when he says that Christ sanctified the Church which he redeemed, that it might be a glorious Church, free from all blemish. (Eph. 5:25.)
Master - What is meant by the epithet Catholic or Universal?
Student - By it we are taught, that as all believers have one head, so they must all be united into one body, that the Church diffused over the whole world may be one-not more. (Eph. 4:15; 1 Cor. 12:12.)
Master - And what is the purport of what immediately follows concerning the communion of saints?
Student - That is put down to express more clearly the unity which exists among the members of the Church. It is at the same time intimated, that whatever benefits God bestows upon the Church, have a view to the common good of all; Seeing they all have communion with each other.
Master - But is this holiness which you attribute to the Church already perfect?
Student - Not yet, that is as long as she has her warfare in this world. For she always labors under infirmities, and will never be entirely purged of the remains of vice, until she adheres completely to Christ her head, by whom she is sanctified.
Master - Can this Church be known in any other way than when she is believed by faith?
Student - There is indeed also a visible Church of God, which he has described to us by certain signs and marks, but here we are properly speaking of the assemblage of those whom he has adopted to salvation by his secret election. This is neither at all times visible to the eye nor discernible by signs.
Master - What comes next?
Student - I believe in "the forgiveness of sins."
Master - What meaning do you give to the word forgiveness?
Student - That God of his free goodness forgives and pardons the sins of believers that they may not be brought to judgment, and that the penalty may not be exacted from them.
Master - Hence it follows, that it is not at all by our own satisfaction we merit the pardon of sins, which we obtain from the Lord?
Student - That is true; for Christ alone gave the satisfaction by paying the penalty.
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Master - Why do you subjoin forgiveness of sins to the Church?
Student - Because no man obtains it without being previously united to the people of God, maintaining unity with the body of Christ perseveringly to the end, and thereby attesting that he is a true member of the Church.
Master - In this way you conclude that out of the Church is nothing but ruin and damnation?
Student - Certainly. Those who make a departure from the body of Christ, and rend its unity by faction, are cut off from all hope of salvation during the time they remain in this schism, be it however short.
Master - Repeat the remainder.
Student - I believe in "the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting."
Master - To what end is this article set down in the Confession of Faith?
Student - To remind us that our happiness is not situated on the earth. The utility and use of this knowledge is twofold. First, we are taught by it that we are to live in this world as foreigners, continually thinking of departure, and not allowing our hearts to be entangled by earthly thoughts. Secondly, however the fruit of the grace of Christ bestowed upon us may escape our notice, and be hidden from our eyes, we must not despond, but patiently wait for the day of revelation.
Master - In what order will this resurrection take place?
Student - Those who were formerly dead will recover their bodies, the same bodies as before, but endued with a new quality, that is, no longer liable to death or corruption. (1 Cor. 15:53.) Those who survive God will miraculously raise up by a sudden change.
Master - But will this be common to the righteous and the wicked?
Student - There will be one resurrection of all, but the condition will be different: some will rise to salvation and blessedness, others to death and extreme misery.
Master - Why then is eternal life only here mentioned, and is there no mention of hell?
Student - Because nothing is introduced here that does not tend to the consolation of pious minds; accordingly, only the rewards are enumerated which the Lord hath prepared for his servants, and nothing is added as to the doom of the wicked, whom we know to be aliens from the kingdom of God.
Master - As we understand the foundation on which faith ought to rest, it will be easy to extract from it a true definition of faith.
Student - It will. It may be defined-a sure and steadfast knowledge of the paternal goodwill of God toward us, as he declares in the gospel that for the sake of Christ he will be our Father and Savior.
Master - Do we conceive faith of ourselves, or do we receive it from God?
Student - Scripture teaches that it is the special gift of God, and this experience confirms.
Master - What experience do you mean?
Student - Our mind is too rude to be able to comprehend the spiritual wisdom of God which is revealed to us by faith, and our hearts are too prone either to diffidence or to a perverse confidence in ourselves or creatures, to rest in God of their own accord. But the Holy Spirit by his illumination makes us capable of understanding those things which would otherwise far exceed our capacity, and forms us to a firm Persuasion, by sealing the promises of salvation on our hearts.
Master - What good accrues to us from this faith, when we have once obtained it?
Student - It justifies us before God, and this justification makes us the heirs of everlasting life.
Master - What! are not men justified by good works when they study to approve themselves to God, by living innocently and holily?
Student - Could any one be found so perfect, he might justly be deemed righteous, but as we are all sinners, guilty before God in many ways, we must seek elsewhere for a worthiness which may reconcile us to him.
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Master - But are all the works of men so vile and valueless that they cannot merit favor with God?
Student - First, all the works which proceed from us, so as properly to be called our own, are vicious, and therefore they can do nothing but displease God, and be rejected by him.
Master - You say then that before we are born again and formed anew by the Spirit of God, we can do nothing but sin, just as a bad tree can only produce bad fruit? (Matt. 7:18.)
Student - Altogether so. For whatever semblance works may have in the eyes of men, they are nevertheless evil, as long as the heart to which God chiefly looks is depraved.
Master - Hence you conclude, that we cannot by any merits anticipate God or call forth his beneficence; or rather that all the works which we try or engage in, subject us to his anger and condemnation?
Student - I understand so; and therefore mere mercy, without any respect to works, (Titus 3:5,) embraces and accepts us freely in Christ, by attributing his righteousness to us as if it were our own, and not imputing our sins to us.
Master - In what way, then, do you say that we are justified by faith?
Student - Because, while we embrace the promises of the gospel with sure heartfelt confidence, we in a manner obtain possession of the righteousness of which I speak.
Master - This then is your meaning-that as righteousness is offered to us by the gospel, so we receive it by faith?
Student - It is so.
Master - But after we have once been embraced by God, are not the works which we do under the direction of his Holy Spirit accepted by him?
Student - They please him, not however in virtue of their own worthiness, but as he liberally honors them with his favor.
Master - But seeing they proceed from the Holy Spirit, do they not merit favor?
Student - They are always mixed up with some defilement from the weakness of the flesh, and thereby vitiated.
Master - Whence then or how can it be that they please God?
Student - It is faith alone which procures favor for them, as we rest with assured confidence on this-that God wills not to try them by his strict rule, but covering their defects and impurities as buried in the purity of Christ, he regards them in the same light as if they were absolutely perfect.
Master - But can we infer from this that a Christian man is justified by works after he has been called by God, or that by the merit of works he makes himself loved by God, whose love is eternal life to us?
Student - By no means. We rather hold what is written-that no man can be justified in his sight, and we therefore pray, Enter not into judgment with us." (Ps. 143:2.)
Master - We are not therefore to think that the good works of believers are useless?
Student - Certainly not. For not in vain does God promise them reward both in this life and in the future. But this reward springs from the free love of God as its source; for he first embraces us as sons, and then burying the remembrance of the vices which proceed from us, he visits us with his favor.
Master - But can this righteousness be separated from good works, so that he who has it may be void of them?
Student - That cannot be. For when by faith we receive Christ as he is offered to us, he not only promises us deliverance from death and reconciliation with God, but also the gift of the Holy Spirit, by which we are regenerated to newness of life; these things must necessarily be conjoined so as not to divide Christ from himself.
Master - Hence it follows that faith is the root from which all good works spring, so far is it from taking us off from the study of them?
Student - So indeed it is; and hence the whole doctrine of the gospel is comprehended under the two branches, faith and repentance.
Master - What is repentance?
Student - Dissatisfaction with and a hatred of sin and a love of righteousness, proceeding from the fear of God, which things lead to self-denial and mortification of the flesh, so that we give ourselves up to the guidance of the Spirit of God, and frame all the actions of our life to the obedience of the Divine will.
Master - But this second branch was in the division which was set down at first when you showed the method of duly worshipping God.
Student - True; and it was at the same time added, that the true and legitimate rule for worshipping God is to obey his will.
Master - Why so?
Student - Because the only worship which he approves is not that which it may please us to devise, but that which he hath of his own authority prescribed.
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