15 Great John Calvin Quotes


The other day I read a disparaging statement about John Calvin. It was the kind of off-handed dismissal that treats people as one-dimensional characters in a one act drama. Find that person’s worst moment and define them by that moment. You do it. I do it. Everyone does this.

Perhaps that was the only moment of Calvin’s life they knew. The only scene they had been exposed to was a negative.

When I was in college I discovered Calvin through Michael Horton. I figured I should read this guy Calvin if I’m gonna buy into “Calvinism.” So I started reading the Institutes and it felt like all the feelings you get when you read revolutionary writings.

I’d never read anything like it.

So, this post is done in hope that someone will read and discover the full humanity (contra-humanism) of Calvin beyond even these quotes. Some of these quotes I lived in for a long time, others I went and found because half a dozen would have made for too short of a post…


1. “There is not one blade of grass, there is no color in this world that is not intended to make us rejoice.”

2. “Man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.”

3. “However many blessings we expect from God, His infinite liberality will always exceed all our wishes and our thoughts.”

4. “For, until men feel that they owe everything to God, that they are cherished by his paternal care, and that he is the author of all their blessings, so that nought is to be looked for away from him, they will never submit to him in voluntary obedience; nay, unless they place their entire happiness in him, they will never yield up their whole selves to him in truth and sincerity.”

5. “True wisdom consists in two things: Knowledge of God and Knowledge of Self.”

6. “Doctrine is not an affair of the tongue but of the life.”

7. “For it is better, with closed eyes, to follow God as our guide, than, by relying on our own prudence, to wander through those circuitous paths which it devises for us.”

8. “All the arts come from God and are to be respected as divine inventions”

9. “Every person, therefore, on coming to the knowledge of himself, is not only urged to seek God, but is also led as by the hand to find him.”

10. “The gospel is not a doctrine of the tongue, but of life. It cannot be grasped by reason and memory only, but it is fully understood when it possesses the whole soul and penetrates to the inner recesses of the heart.”

11. “All whom the Lord has chosen and received into the society of his saints ought to prepare themselves for a life that is hard, difficult, laborious and full of countless griefs.”

12. “A perfect faith is nowhere to be found, so it follows that all of us are partly unbelievers.”

13. “On the other hand, it is evident that man never attains to a true self-knowledge until he have previously contemplated the face of God, and come down after such contemplation to look into himself.”

14. “Whenever the Lord holds us in suspense, and delays his aid, he is not therefore asleep, but, on the contrary, regulates all His works in such a manner that he does nothing but at the proper time.”

15. “You must submit to supreme suffering in order to discover the completion of joy.”

7 thoughts on “15 Great John Calvin Quotes

  1. dswoager March 14, 2015 / 8:40 am

    Thanks for sharing, I think that a half dozen would have given me plenty to meditate on for the rest of the day (and quite a bit longer). Heck, Tim Keller saw fit to use the second one to introduce a whole book, if memory serves.

  2. walnutrun March 15, 2015 / 9:12 pm

    I remember reading the institutes and wondering why Calvin seemed so different from the ones who call themselves by his name. Maybe it was the translation?

  3. Patrick Kyle March 19, 2015 / 12:19 am

    Matt, have you ever read the Lutheran Confessions? I am interested in your thoughts about them.

      • Patrick Kyle March 23, 2015 / 6:19 pm

        If you get the chance you should check them out for an interesting and different perspective on the Reformation and the Christian life.

  4. Joe May 6, 2015 / 6:37 am

    Calvanism maligns God.

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