The Mystery of Godliness


Beyond all question the mystery of godliness is great:


He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit,


was seen by angels, was preached among the nations,


was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.”


–I Timothy 3:16

What a hidden thing is this, and
how wonderful a matter: that
God was manifest in the flesh
and became man! Does it not so far
surpass our understanding that when
we are told of it, we are astonished?
Yet notwithstanding, we have a full
and sufficient proof that Jesus Christ,
being made man and subject to death,
is likewise the true God who made the
world and liveth forever.
Of this, his heavenly
power beareth us
witness. Again, we have
other proofs; to wit, he
was preached unto the
Gentiles, who before
were banished from the
kingdom of God. And
that faith has had its
course throughout the
whole world. And likewise
Christ was lifted
up on high and entered
into glory and sitteth at
the right hand of God the
Father.

Let us mark the contents of the
gospel: God abased himself in such a
manner that he took upon himself as
to be joined to us and take upon himself
the form of a servant, even to suffer
the curse that was due to us. St. Paul
comprehendeth all things whatsoever
that Jesus Christ received in his person;
to wit, that he was subject to all
our infirmities, sin only excepted.

It is enough for us to have some little
knowledge of this subject. Each one
ought to be content with what light is
given him, considering the weakness of
our judgment and looking for the day
when that which we now
see in part will be wholly
and perfectly revealed to
us. Yet notwithstanding,
we must employ our minds
and studies this way. Why
doth St. Paul call this a
mystery of faith, that Jesus
Christ, who is God everlasting,
was manifest in
the flesh? It is as much as
if he should say, when we
are gathered to God and
made one body with the
Lord Jesus Christ, that
we shall behold the end
for which we were made;
to wit, that we might know that God is
joined and made one with us in the person
of his Son.

It is not enough for us to behold
him with our natural eyes, for in this
case we should rise no higher than his
humanity. But when we see by miracles
and mighty works he showeth himself
to be the Son of God, it is a seal
and proof that in abasing himself, he
did not leave off his heavenly majesty!
Therefore, we may come to him as our
brother and at the same time worship him as the everlasting God, by whom
we were made and by whom we are preserved.

Were it not for this, we could have
no church; were it not for this, we could
have no religion; were it not for this,
we could have no salvation. It would be
better for us to be brute beasts without
reason or understanding than to be
destitute of this knowledge; to wit, that
Jesus came and joined Godhead with
our nature, which was so wretched and
miserable. St. Paul declares this to be
a mystery that we may not come to it
proudly and arrogantly, as many do
who wish to be wise.

When we hear the word mystery,
let us remember two things: first, that
we learn to keep under our senses, and
flatter not ourselves that we have sufficient
knowledge and ability to comprehend
so vast a matter. In the second
place, let us learn to climb up beyond
ourselves and reverence the majesty
which passeth our understanding.
We must not be sluggish nor drowsy
but think upon this doctrine and endeavor
to become instructed therein.
When we have acquired some little
knowledge thereof, we should strive
to profit thereby all the days of our
life.

When we have once laid hold on
the promises of this Mediator, we
shall know the height and depth, the
length and breadth, yea and whatsoever
is necessary for our salvation,
so that we may stay our faith upon
him as upon the only true God and
likewise behold him as our brother
who hath not only come near to us
but hath united and joined himself to
us n such a manner that he hath become
the same substance. If we have
come to t his, let us know that we have
arrived in the perfection of wisdom,
which is spoken of by St. Paul in another place; that we may fully rejoice
in the goodness of God, for it hath
pleased him to lighten us with the
brightness of his gospel and to draw
us into his heavenly kingdom.

This meditation has been adapted from a longer
sermon preached by John Calvin and printed in the
volume The Mystery of Godliness and Other Sermons
published by the William B. Eerdmans Company in
1950 and based on an 1830 English translation of
Calvin’s sermons published at that time by the John
Forbes publishing house in New York. The language
of that 1830 translation is largely preserved in this
edited version of the sermon.