I haven’t kept to my once-a-week minimum of posting that I had going in February and March. Forgive me.
I wrote last month about my goal to read a short and spiritually nourishing book each month this year. The book I read in March was John Calvin’s Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life. The material was originally part of his Institutes, but was later published separately. My copy is 94 pages.
Calvin has five headings in this little book: “Humble Obedience,” “Self-denial,” “Patience in Crossbearing,” “Hopefulness for the next world,” and “The Right Use of the Present Life.” What amazes me about this book is how incredibly pastoral it is. Regardless of your theological persuasion, most of us don’t think of Calvin as being particularly pastoral. But of course he was- the man lived and taught in Geneva, home to people from every corner of Europe who had fled the wrath of the Catholic or Anglican church because of their religious convictions. He himself was a religious refugee of sorts. And it comes out in his writing, in gentleness, spiritual discernment, and great compassion.
His gentleness, especially in dealing with sinful people, is evident. Consider:
A sincere repentance from the heart does not guarantee that we shall not wander from the straight path and sometimes become bewildered.
Let everyone proceed according to his given ability and continue the journey he has begun. There is no man so unhappy that he will not make some progress, however small.
Though we fall short, our labor is not lost if this day surpasses the preceding one.
Imagine walking into your pastor’s office burdened with sin and hearing those words from his lips. There is so much comfort here, so much gentleness and pastoral wisdom!
When I say spiritual discernment, I mean that Calvin seems to so often see the root of the issue. Consider these excerpts:
The gospel is not a doctrine of the tongue, but of life.
But our religion will be unprofitable if it does not change our heart, pervade our manners, and transform us into new creatures.
[On cross-bearing] It is no small profit to be robbed of our blind self-love so that we become fully aware of our weakness; to have such and understanding of our weakness that we distrust ourselves; to distrust ourselves to such and extent that we put all our trust in God; to depend with such boundless confidence on God that we rely entirely on his help, that that we may victoriously persevere to the end; to continue in his grace that we may know he is true and faithful in all his promises; and to experience the certainty of his promises so that our hope may become firmer.
I think he just nails it in so many of these assertions he makes about the human heart, about God’s purpose in suffering, about the goal of our faith.
Calvin’s compassion for suffering comes out particularly here as well:
[On charity] When a member of our physical body is diseased and the whole body has to labor to restore it to health, we do not despise this diseased member or hold it under obligation because it needs all this assistance.
The more we are afflicted by adversities, the more surely our fellowship with Christ is confirmed!
That no man might call sadness a vice, he has pronounced a blessing on them that mourn.
This is the reason why we see different persons disciplined with different crossed. The heavenly Physician takes care of the well-being of all his patients; he gives some a milder medicine and purifies others by more shocking treatments, but he omits no one; for the whole world, without exception, is ill.
Calvin was no ivory-tower theologian; I think it is evident from his writing that he suffered with his people, and tried as best he could both to comfort them in pain and to teach them to suffer well. I particularly love that last excerpt; the concept of God loving his own with distinction is one I’ve written about before.
I had read Golden Booklet before, and I’ll definitely read it again. I highly recommend it.