Blogging Through the Golden Book: Using the Present Life

In the last section of the golden book Calvin asks how the present life and its comfort should be used by the Christian.  The question of use invites us to think about fit. In other words, says Calvin, we must let the use of God’s gifts “be governed by their author’s purpose.”[1] Imagine a group of boys gathered for a game of soccer and trying to use an American football! The ball is not fit for the game. Calvin then provides some principles that we might employ as we live in and make use of this present world.

First, he says we must be grateful. The word is from the Latin Gratus meaning “pleasing to the mind.” Now, in order to be thankful for a thing we must be pleased with it.  However, properly speaking the gift is not primary. In other words, imagine that a wife makes the most delicious dish for her husband. The man may well be pleased with the dish but the dish actually becomes a catalyst triggering thoughts of appreciation toward his wife. Thus, the gift always raises our mind to the giver or as Calvin says, the gift “leads us to gratitude for His kindness toward us.”[2] Of course there are those who may find themselves delighting in the gift and rarely casting a thought to the giver. It’s hard not to think of Jonathan Edwards’s famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” at this point. For example, the gift of air unwillingly fills the lungs of the ungrateful unbeliever.  But gratefulness is not the only principle.

Second, we must be content “not becoming agitated with excessive longing after things.”[3] Calvin is very penetrating at this point. He suggests that we lack any balance that contentment requires when we exhibit the vice opposite our present condition.  What does that mean?  Well, says Calvin, “The one who blushes over his cheap clothes will take pride in his expensive ones.”[4] Calvin goes on with his list culminating with, “The one who struggles to endure his humble and ordinary status, growing agitated in spirit, won’t be able to restrain his arrogance if he obtains honor.”[5] Oh, how we need to meditate on Paul’s words in Philippians 4:12!

Third, Scripture calls us to be stewards tending things “for which we must one day give an account.”[6] When I begin with the principle of stewardship I am driven to realize that what I have, no matter how much or little, is not my own but belongs to someone else.  This then informs the other principles. For example, if I am a steward, then contentment takes on an entirely different understanding.  I am managing someone else’s things and what is more I was bought with a price in order to do so. I too am a possession under stewardship for the King.

The fourth principle has a way of tying all the others together.  Calvin reminds us of our calling. Now, we tend to think of vocation but by way of generalization we might talk about our role. For example, Calvin speaks of our the individuals life as “a kind of post assigned to him by the Lord.” And this post ought to “frame his actions” so that he will “keep the right course in his duties.”[7] He then gives examples. He says for example, “Philosophers consider no deed more noble than freeing one’s country from a tyrant. Yet the ordinary citizen who lays hands on a tyrant is openly condemned by the voice of the heavenly judge.” Why? If the ordinary citizen was not a lesser magistrate with obligations to oversee just rule in the land, then he does not have a real role and so a real responsibility in the matter. Thus, for Calvin, when we consider our role we will have a better view toward our duties related to stewardship, contentment and gratitude. These are principles much needed today.

Jeffrey A Stivason (Ph.D. Westminster Theological Seminary) is pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA.  He is also Professor of New Testament Studies at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, PA. Jeff is also an online instructor for Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, PA. He is the author of From Inscrutability to Concursus (P&R), he has contributed to The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans) and has published academic articles and book reviews in various journals. Jeff is the Senior Editor of Place for Truth (placefortruth.org) an online magazine for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. 

 



[1] Calvin, John, A Little Book on the Christian Life (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust, 2017), 114.

[2] Ibid., 117.

[3] Ibid., 121.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 121-122.

[6] Ibid., 123.

[7] Ibid., 125.