Calvin on Faith Assuring Us of God’s Favor and Promises


Now, in the divine benevolence, which faith is said to look to, we understand the possession of salvation and eternal life is obtained. For if, while God is favorable, no good can be lacking, when he assures us of his love we are abundantly and sufficiently assured of salvation. “Let him show his face,” says the prophet, “and we will be saved.” [Psalm 80:3 p.; cf. Psalm 79:4, Vg.] Hence Scripture establishes this as the sum of our salvation, that he has abolished all enmities and received us into grace [Ephesians 2:14]. By this they intimate that when God is reconciled to us no danger remains to prevent all things from prospering for us. Faith, therefore, having grasped the love of God, has promises of the present life and of that to come [1 Timothy 4:8], and firm assurance of all good things, but of such sort as can be perceived from the Word. For faith does not certainly promise itself either length of years or honor or riches in this life, since the Lord willed that none of these things be appointed for us. But it is content with this certainty: that, however many things fail us that have to do with the maintenance of this life, God will never fail. Rather, the chief assurance of faith rests in the expectation of the life to come, which has been placed beyond doubt through the Word of God. Yet whatever earthly miseries and calamities await those whom God has embraced in his love, these cannot hinder his benevolence from being their full happiness. Accordingly, when we would express the sum of blessedness, we have mentioned the grace of God; for from this fountain every sort of good thing flows unto us. And we may commonly observe in the Scriptures that we are recalled to the love of the Lord whenever mention is made not only of eternal salvation but of any good we may have. For this reason, David sings of that divine goodness which, when felt in the godly heart, is sweeter and more desirable than life itself [Psalm 63:3].

In short, if all things flow unto us according to our wish, but we are uncertain of God’s love or hatred, our happiness will be accursed and therefore miserable. But if in fatherly fashion God’s countenance beams upon us, even our miseries will be blessed. For they will be turned into aids to salvation. So Paul heaps up all adverse things, but glories that we are not separated from God’s love through them [Romans 8:35, cf. 5:39], and always begins his prayers with God’s grace, whence flows all prosperity; in like manner, against all terrors that disturb us David sets God’s favor alone: “If I walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evils, for thou art with me” [Psalm 22:4, Vg.; 23:4, EV]. And we always feel our minds wavering unless, content with God’s grace, they seek their peace in it, and hold fixed deep within what is said in the psalm: “Blessed is the people whose God is Jehovah, and the nation he has chosen as his inheritance” [Psalm 33:12, cf. Comm.].

(Basis of faith the free promise, given in the Word, of grace in Christ, 29-32) 29.


We make the freely given promise of God the foundation of faith because upon it faith properly rests. Faith is certain that God is true in all things whether he command or forbid, whether he promise or threaten; and it also obediently receives his commandments, observes his prohibitions, heeds his threats. Nevertheless, faith properly begins with the promise, rests in it, and ends in it. For in God faith seeks life: a life that is not found in commandments or declarations of penalties, but in the promise of mercy, and only in a freely given promise. For a conditional promise that sends us back to our own works does not promise life unless we discern its presence in ourselves. Therefore, if we would not have our faith tremble and waver, we must buttress it with the promise of salvation, which is willingly and freely offered to us by the Lord in consideration of our misery rather than our deserts. The apostle, therefore, bears this witness to the gospel: that it is the word of faith [Romans 10:8]. He distinguishes the gospel both from the precepts of the law and from the promises, since there is nothing that can establish faith except that generous embassy by which God reconciles the world to himself [cf. 2 Corinthians 5:19-20]. Thence, also, arises that frequent correlation of faith and gospel in the apostle, when he teaches that the ministry of the gospel is committed to him to further “obedience to the faith” [Romans 1:5], that “it is the power of God for salvation to every believer;…in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith” [Romans 1:16-17]. And no wonder! Indeed, since the gospel is the “ministry of reconciliation” [2 Corinthians 5:18], no other sufficiently firm testimony of God’s benevolence to us exists, the knowledge of which faith seeks.  

Therefore, when we say that faith must rest upon a freely given promise, we do not delay that believers embrace and grasp the Word of God in every respect: but we point out the promise of mercy as the proper goal of faith. As on the one hand believers ought to recognize God to be Judge and Avenger of wicked deeds, yet on the other hand they properly contemplate his kindness, since he is so described to them as to be considered “one who is kind” [cf. Psalm 86:5, Comm.], “and merciful” [cf. Psalm 103:8, Comm.; 102:8, Vg.], “far from anger and of great goodness” [cf. Psalm 103:8, Comm.], “sweet to all” [Psalm 144:9, Vg.], “pouring out his mercy upon all his works” [cf. Psalm 145:9, Comm.].

Source: John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion (1559) 3.2.28-29, Library of Christian Classics; John T. McNiell; trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1959)