Calvin on Civil Government

By Stephen Nichols - Posted at 5 Minutes in Church History:



Let’s return to our good friend [John] Calvin and see what he had to say about civil government. The fact is, he had a lot to say. In fact, Calvin ends his magnum opus, the Institutes of the Christian Religion, with a discussion of civil government. In book four, chapter twenty, the very last chapter of the Institutes, Calvin turns his attention to civil government.

He opens this chapter with these words: “For although this topic seems by nature alien to the spiritual doctrine of faith, which I have undertaken to discuss, what follows will show that I am right in joining them, in fact, that necessity compels me to do so.” Calvin is telling us that not only should a discussion of civil government be included in his discussion of theology but that it is necessary, it must be there, and so he turns his attention to it. He tells us right off the bat that we need to recognize the distinction between Christ’s spiritual kingdom, as he calls it, and the civil jurisdiction. But just because they are different, they are not at odds. They are both ordained by God, both the kingdom—the spiritual kingdom or the church—and also the magistrate.

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