Friday, March 31, 2017

Book Review: A Little Book on the Christian Life

A Little Book on the Christian Life. John Calvin. Edited by Buck Parsons and Aaron Denlinger. 2017. Reformation Trust. 132 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: THE GOAL OF God’s work in us is to bring our lives into harmony and agreement with His own righteousness, and so to manifest to ourselves and others our identity as His adopted children. We discover in God’s law a picture of God’s own image, to which we are being progressively conformed. But since we are lazy and require prodding and encouragement in this, it will be helpful to construct in this work a model of the mature Christian life from various passages of Scripture, so that those who are truly repentant of heart will not lose their way on the path to greater conformity to God’s image.

Premise/plot: This "little" book is extracted from a much longer one: John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion. But it has a LONG publishing history as being published on its own. The first edition of Institutes was published in 1536, and the first edition of this "little book" was 1540!

A word from the publishers:  We have aimed at faithfulness not just to Calvin’s meaning but, so much as possible, to his own words. We have, however, also striven to make Calvin’s meaning as clear as possible to English readers. Our efforts in this regard have required us to break some of Calvin’s lengthier sentences into shorter ones, to introduce more frequent paragraph breaks than Calvin’s work contains, and to replace some pronouns with their stated antecedents to maximize clarity.

My thoughts: I loved this one. I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED it. I have read roughly half of the Institutes. It was good, but, tough. (I do hope to finish it one day.) This 'little book' is a thousand times easier to read!

Favorite quotes:

  • THERE ARE TWO main parts to the instruction from Scripture on the Christian life that follow. The first is that a love of righteousness—to which we are not naturally prone—must be implanted and poured into our hearts. The second is that we need some model that will keep us from losing our way in our pursuit of righteousness.
  • When we contemplate this relationship between ourselves and God, let us remember that holiness is the bond of our union with Him. Not, of course, because we enter into fellowship with Him by the merit of our own holiness. Rather, we first of all cling to Him, and then, having received His holiness, we follow wherever He calls us. For it is characteristic of His glory that He has no fellowship with sin and impurity. Holiness is the goal of our calling. Therefore we must consistently set our sights upon holiness if we would rightly respond to God’s calling. To what purpose did God pull us out of the wickedness and pollution of this world—wickedness and pollution in which we were submerged—if we allow ourselves to wallow in such wickedness and pollution for the rest of our lives? Furthermore, if we count ourselves among God’s people, Scripture tells us to live as citizens of the holy city of Jerusalem, which He has consecrated to Himself.
  • For true doctrine is not a matter of the tongue, but of life; neither is Christian doctrine grasped only by the intellect and memory, as truth is grasped in other fields of study. Rather, doctrine is rightly received when it takes possession of the entire soul and finds a dwelling place and shelter in the most intimate affections of the heart. So let such people stop lying, or let them prove themselves worthy disciples of Christ, their teacher.
  • If we are not our own but the Lord’s, it’s clear what errors we must flee, and what we must direct our whole lives toward. We are not our own; therefore, neither our reason nor our will should dominate our plans and actions. We are not our own; therefore, let us not make the gratification of our flesh our end. We are not our own; therefore, as much as possible, let us forget ourselves and our own interests. Rather, we are God’s. Therefore, let us live and die to Him. We are God’s. Therefore, let His wisdom and His will govern all our actions. We are God’s. Therefore, let us—in every way in all our lives—run to Him as our only proper end. How far has he progressed who’s been taught that he is not his own—who’s taken rule and dominion away from his own reason and entrusted them to God. For the plague of submitting to our own rule leads us straight to ruin, but the surest way to safety is neither to know nor to want anything on our own, but simply to follow the leading of the Lord.
  • Our very nature inclines us toward self-love. As a result, we don’t easily deny ourselves or our desires in order to seek the good of others. Even less are we willing to give up our right to something and give that right to another.
  • Therefore, you have no cause to evade anyone who stands before you and needs your service. Suppose he’s a stranger. The Lord, however, has stamped him with His own mark that’s familiar to you, and for that reason God forbids you to despise your own flesh. Suppose he is contemptible and worthless. The Lord, however, shows him to be one whom He has condescended to decorate with His own image. Suppose you owe him nothing for what he’s done. But God—to whom you know you are obligated because of His many wonderful benefits to you—puts Himself, as it were, in that person’s place. Suppose he is unworthy of even your smallest labors for his sake. But the image of God, according to which this person is commended to you, warrants your giving of yourself and your all. Supposing a man not only deserves nothing good from you, but he has also provoked you with injustices and injuries—even this is not just cause for you to stop embracing him with affection and fulfilling your duties of love to him. He has deserved, you might say, something much different from me. But what has the Lord deserved? When He orders you to forgive that man for whatever sin he has committed against you, He calls you to do so not because that man deserves it, but because God Himself has forgiven you (Luke 17:3–4). This is the only path to achieving that which is not only difficult for, but entirely adverse to, our human nature—that is, loving those who hate us, repaying evil with good, and blessing those who curse us.
  • We must be sure not to dwell on the wickedness of men, but rather to consider the image of God in them.
  • Something more is required from Christians than wearing a cheerful face and rendering their duties attractive by friendly words. First, they should imagine themselves in the situation of that person who needs their help, and they should pity his bad fortune as if they themselves both bore it and felt it. Thus they will be compelled, by a feeling of mercy and humanity, to give him help as if it were given to themselves. One who has this mind-set and approaches the task of helping his brothers will not contaminate his duties to others with arrogance or resentment. He won’t despise a brother whom he helps because his brother needs such help, nor will he subject his brother to himself as a debtor.
  • However, there are many reasons why we ourselves must spend our lives subject to a constant cross. First of all, there’s the fact that unless our own weaknesses are regularly displayed to us, we easily overestimate our own virtue, being by nature inclined to attribute all good things to our own doing.
  • Our heavenly doctor, having purposed to restore all of us to health, treats some more leniently. Meanwhile, He applies stronger remedies to others. But none of us is left untouched by or remains immune to His medicine—He knows we are all diseased. 
  • Whether we suffer poverty, exile, imprisonment, contempt, sickness, childlessness, or any such thing, let us remember that nothing happens apart from God’s pleasure and providence, and that God Himself does nothing that isn’t perfectly in order. What then? Don’t our innumerable and frequent faults deserve more severe and weighty punishments than those that He, according to His mercy, has placed on us? Isn’t it fair that our flesh be tamed and made familiar with the yoke in order to keep it from running wild with lust according to its natural disposition? Are God’s justice and truth not worthy causes to suffer for?
  • But since in the end we only find attractive those things that we perceive to be for our good and well-being, our kind Father comforts us also in this way—assuring us that He works for our salvation by that very cross with which He afflicts us.
  • If it’s clear that tribulations work toward our salvation, shouldn’t we accept them with a grateful and calm spirit? In bearing them with endurance, we’re not yielding to necessity, but we’re assenting to our own good.
  • If heaven is our home, what is earth but our place of exile? If departure from this world is entrance into life, what is this world but a grave?
  • To sum up everything in a word: The cross of Christ finally triumphs in believers’ hearts—over the devil, the flesh, sin, and the wicked—when their eyes are turned to the power of the resurrection. 

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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