Self Denial (2)

“By such elementary instruction, Scripture at the same time duly informs us what is the right use of earthly benefits-a matter not to be neglected in the ordering of our life.” (Calvin, Institutes, 3.10.1)

How should we use the material and spiritual gifts that we are graciously given? How much should we use for our own benefit?

The Context

3.9.1 We must realise that this world is full of trouble and subject to decay. Only then will we desire the life to come.

3.9.2 We often foolishly live as if we are “establishing immortality for ourselves on earth.”

3.9.3 We should be thankful for all the blessings we receive in this life. At the same, we should greatly desire the more enduring gifts of the life to come.

3.9.4 We should use this life as an opportunity to serve the Lord. We must always be ready to leave this life so that we may gain more of Christ (cf. Phil 1:23-34; 2 Cor 5:6).

3.9.5 Our hope of immortality should overcome the fear of death. Calvin advises timid minds to read Cyprian’s, On the Mortality.

3.9.6 We can endure suffering by fixing our thoughts on the world to come.

The Content

3.10.1 We should use the good things in this world to help us in our Christian life, neither being so strict as to only consume the bare minimum, nor being too lax, and ignoring the principles laid down in the Scriptures.

3.10.2 We should use God’s gifts according “to that end to which the Author himself created and destined them for us.” Food, for example, was created not only for sustenance but also for enjoyment (cf. Ps 104:15). We should delight in the beauty of creation (cf. Gen 2:9).

3.10.3 We must receive all things with thankfulness. We must not eat so much that we cannot serve God. We should not adorn ourselves in such a way as we begin to flatter ourselves rather than praise God.

3.10.4 If we despise the present life, in comparison to the life to come, we will not go astray. We should use this world as if we did not use it (1 Cor 7:29-31).

3.10.5 We should bear poverty patiently (Phil 4:12). This is related to the previous point since those who are impatient in poverty tend to boast in prosperity. We must also remember that we are stewards of the good things we receive, and one day we must give account of our stewardship (Luke 16:2).

3.10.6 We should consider our own calling, and live in a way that is appropriate to that calling.

Further reading

Ronald S. Wallace, Calvin’s Doctrine of The Christian Life is repeatedly cited by John McNeil in the footnotes to this section of Calvin’s Institutes.

Theological Reflections

Calvin seeks to chart a middle course between self-indulgence and asceticism. We may enjoy material blessings but we must not set our hearts upon such blessings. We need to remember that this world is passing away (1 Cor 7:29-31). We also need to remember that we are stewards of all we receive.

We should seek to live moderately so that we might give generously.