Calvin, Institutes, Vol.3, Part 9
(... continued from part 8)
Chapter 8. 
8. Of bearing the cross - One branch of self-denial. 
    The four divisions of this chapter are, - I. The nature of the 
cross, its necessity and dignity, sec. 1, 2. II. The manifold 
advantages of the cross described, sec. 3-6. III. The form of the 
cross the most excellent of all, and yet it by no means removes all 
sense of pain, sec. 7, 8. IV. A description of warfare under the 
cross, and of true patience, (not that of philosophers,) after the 
example of Christ, sec. 9-11. 
1. What the cross is. By whom, and on whom, and for what cause 
    imposed. Its necessity and dignity. 
2. The cross necessary. 1. To humble our pride. 2. To make us apply 
    to God for aid. Example of David. 
3. To give us experience of God's presence. 3. Manifold uses of the 
    cross. 1. Produces patience, hope, and firm confidence in God, 
    gives us victory and perseverance. Faith invincible. 
4. 2. Frames us to obedience. Example of Abraham. This training how 
5. The cross necessary to subdue the wantonness of the flesh. This 
    portrayed by an apposite simile. Various forms of the cross. 
6. 3. God permits our infirmities, and corrects past faults, that he 
    may keep us in obedience. This confirmed by a passage from 
    Solomon and an Apostle. 
7. Singular consolation under the cross, when we suffer persecution 
    for righteousness. Some parts of this consolation. 
8. This form of the cross most appropriate to believers, and should 
    be borne willingly and cheerfully. This cheerfulness is not 
    unfeeling hilarity, but, while groaning under the burden, waits 
    patiently for the Lord. 
9. A description of this conflict. Opposed to the vanity of the 
    Stoics. Illustrated by the authority and example of Christ. 
10. Proved by the testimony and uniform experience of the elect. 
    Also by the special example of the Apostle Peter. The nature of 
    the patience required of us. 
11. Distinction between the patience of Christians and philosophers. 
    The latter pretend a necessity which cannot be resisted. The 
    former hold forth the justice of God and his care of our 
    safety. A full exposition of this difference. 
    1. The pious mind must ascend still higher, namely, whither 
Christ calls his disciples when he says, that every one of them must 
"take up his cross," (Matth. 16: 24.) Those whom the Lord has chosen 
and honoured with his intercourse must prepare for a hard, 
laborious, troubled life, a life full of many and various kinds of 
evils; it being the will of our heavenly Father to exercise his 
people in this way while putting them to the proof. Having begun 
this course with Christ the first-born, he continues it towards all 
his children. For though that Son was dear to him above others, the 
Son in whom he was "well pleased," yet we see, that far from being 
treated gently and indulgently, we may say, that not only was he 
subjected to a perpetual cross while he dwelt on earth, but his 
whole life was nothing else than a kind of perpetual cross. The 
Apostle assigns the reason, "Though he was a Son, yet learned he 
obedience by the things which he suffered," (Heb. 5: 8.) Why then 
should we exempt ourselves from that condition to which Christ our 
Head behoved to submit; especially since he submitted on our 
account, that he might in his own person exhibit a model of 
patience? Wherefore, the Apostle declares, that all the children of 
God are destined to be conformed to him. Hence it affords us great 
consolation in hard and difficult circumstances, which men deem evil 
and adverse, to think that we are holding fellowship with the 
sufferings of Christ; that as he passed to celestial glory through a 
labyrinth of many woes, so we too are conducted thither through 
various tribulations. For, in another passage, Paul himself thus 
speaks, "we must through much tribulation enter the kingdom of God," 
(Acts 14: 22;) and again, "that I may know him, and the power of his 
resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made 
conformable unto his death," (Rom 8: 29.) How powerfully should it 
soften the bitterness of the cross, to think that the more we are 
afflicted with adversity, the surer we are made of our fellowship 
with Christ; by communion with whom our sufferings are not only 
blessed to us, but tend greatly to the furtherance of our salvation. 
    2. We may add, that the only thing which made it necessary for 
our Lord to undertake to bear the cross, was to testify and prove 
his obedience to the Father; whereas there are many reasons which 
make it necessary for us to live constantly under the cross. Feeble 
as we are by nature, and prone to ascribe all perfection to our 
flesh, unless we receive as it were ocular demonstration of our 
weakness, we readily estimate our virtue above its proper worth, and 
doubt not that, whatever happens, it will stand unimpaired and 
invincible against all difficulties. Hence we indulge a stupid and 
empty confidence in the flesh, and then trusting to it wax proud 
against the Lord himself; as if our own faculties were sufficient 
without his grace. This arrogance cannot be better repressed than 
when He proves to us by experience, not only how great our weakness, 
but also our frailty is. Therefore, he visits us with disgrace, or 
poverty, or bereavement, or disease, or other afflictions. Feeling 
altogether unable to support them, we forthwith, in so far as 
regards ourselves, give way, and thus humbled learn to invoke his 
strength, which alone can enable us to bear up under a weight of 
affliction. Nay, even the holiest of men, however well aware that 
they stand not in their own strength, but by the grace of God, would 
feel too secure in their own fortitude and constancy, were they not 
brought to a more thorough knowledge of themselves by the trial of 
the cross. This feeling gained even upon David, "In my prosperity I 
Said, I shall never be moved. Lord, by thy favour thou hast made my 
mountain to stand strong: thou didst hide thy face, and I was 
troubled," (Ps. 30: 6, 7.) He confesses that in prosperity his 
feelings were dulled and blunted, so that, neglecting the grace of 
God, on which alone he ought to have depended, he leant to himself, 
and promised himself perpetuity. If it so happened to this great 
prophet, who of us should not fear and study caution? Though in 
tranquillity they flatter themselves with the idea of greater 
constancy and patience, yet, humbled by adversity, they learn the 
deception. Believers, I say, warned by such proofs of their 
diseases, make progress in humility, and, divesting themselves of a 
depraved confidence in the flesh, betake themselves to the grace of 
God, and, when they have so betaken themselves, experience the 
presence of the divine power, in which is ample protection. 
    3. This Paul teaches when he says that tribulation worketh 
patience, and patience experience. God having promised that he will 
be with believers in tribulation, they feel the truth of the 
promise; while supported by his hand, they endure patiently. This 
they could never do by their own strength. Patience, therefore, 
gives the saints an experimental proof that God in reality furnishes 
the aid which he has promised whenever there is need. Hence also 
their faith is confirmed, for it were very ungrateful not to expect 
that in future the truth of God will be, as they have already found 
it, firm and constant. We now see how many advantages are at once 
produced by the cross. Overturning the overweening opinion we form 
of our own virtue, and detecting the hypocrisy in which we delight, 
it removes our pernicious carnal confidence, teaching us, when thus 
humbled, to recline on God alone, so that we neither are oppressed 
nor despond. Then victory is followed by hope, inasmuch as the Lord, 
by performing what he has promised, establishes his truth in regard 
to the future. Were these the only reasons, it is surely plain how 
necessary it is for us to bear the cross. It is of no little 
importance to be rid of your self-love, and made fully conscious of 
your weakness; so impressed with a sense of your weakness as to 
learn to distrust yourself - to distrust yourself so as to transfer 
your confidence to God, reclining on him with such heartfelt 
confidence as to trust in his aid, and continue invincible to the 
end, standing by his grace so as to perceive that he is true to his 
promises, and so assured of the certainty of his promises as to be 
strong in hope. 
    4. Another end which the Lord has in afflicting his people is 
to try their patience, and train them to obedience - not that they 
can yield obedience to him except in so far as he enables them; but 
he is pleased thus to attest and display striking proofs of the 
graces which he has conferred upon his saints, lest they should 
remain within unseen and unemployed. Accordingly, by bringing 
forward openly the strength and constancy of endurance with which he 
has provided his servants, he is said to try their patience. Hence 
the expressions that God tempted Abraham, (Gen. 21: 1, 12,) and made 
proof of his piety by not declining to sacrifice his only son. 
Hence, too, Peter tells us that our faith is proved by tribulation, 
just as gold is tried in a furnace of fire. But who will say it is 
not expedient that the most excellent gift of patience which the 
believer has received from his God should be applied to uses by 
being made sure and manifest? Otherwise men would never value it 
according to its worth. But if God himself, to prevent the virtues 
which he has conferred upon believers from lurking in obscurity, 
nay, lying useless and perishing, does aright in supplying materials 
for calling them forth, there is the best reason for the afflictions 
of the saints, since without them their patience could not exist. I 
say, that by the cross they are also trained to obedience, because 
they are thus taught to live not according to their own wish, but at 
the disposal of God. Indeed, did all things proceed as they wish, 
they would not know what it is to follow God. Seneca mentions (De 
Vit. Beata, cap. 15:) that there was an old proverb when any one was 
exhorted to endure adversity, "Follow God;" thereby intimating, that 
men truly submitted to the yoke of God only when they gave their 
back and hand to his rod. But if it is most right that we should in 
all things prove our obedience to our heavenly Father, certainly we 
ought not to decline any method by which he trains us to obedience. 
    5. Still, however, we see not how necessary that obedience is, 
unless we at the same time consider how prone our carnal nature is 
to shake off the yoke of God whenever it has been treated with some 
degree of gentleness and indulgence. It just happens to it as with 
refractory horses, which, if kept idle for a few days at hack and 
manger, become ungovernable, and no longer recognize the rider, 
whose command before they implicitly obeyed. And we invariably 
become what God complains of in the people of Israel - waxing gross 
and fat, we kick against him who reared and nursed us, (Deut. 32: 
15.) The kindness of God should allure us to ponder and love his 
goodness; but since such is our malignity, that we are invariably 
corrupted by his indulgence, it is more than necessary for us to be 
restrained by discipline from breaking forth into such petulance. 
Thus, lest we become emboldened by an over-abundance of wealth; lest 
elated with honour, we grow proud; lest inflated with other 
advantages of body, or mind, or fortune, we grow insolent, the Lord 
himself interferes as he sees to be expedient by means of the cross, 
subduing and curbing the arrogance of our flesh, and that in various 
ways, as the advantage of each requires. For as we do not all 
equally labour under the same disease, so we do not all need the 
same difficult cure. Hence we see that all are not exercised with 
the same kind of cross. While the heavenly Physician treats some 
more gently, in the case of others he employs harsher remedies, his 
purpose being to provide a cure for all. Still none is left free and 
untouched, because he knows that all, without a single exception, 
are diseased. 
    6. We may add, that our most merciful Father requires not only 
to prevent our weakness, but often to correct our past faults, that 
he may keep us in due obedience. Therefore, whenever we are 
afflicted we ought immediately to call to mind our past life. In 
this way we will find that the faults which we have committed are 
deserving of such castigation. And yet the exhortation to patience 
is not to be founded chiefly on the acknowledgment of sin. For 
Scripture supplies a far better consideration when it says, that in 
adversity "we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be 
condemned with the world," (1 Cor. 11: 32.) Therefore, in the very 
bitterness of tribulation we ought to recognise the kindness and 
mercy of our Father, since even then he ceases not to further our 
salvation. For he afflicts, not that he may ruin or destroy but 
rather that he may deliver us from the condemnation of the world. 
Let this thought lead us to what Scripture elsewhere teaches: "My 
son, despise not the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of his 
correction: For whom the Lord loveth he correcteth; even as a father 
the son in whom he delighteth," (Prov. iii 11, 12.) When we perceive 
our Father's rod, is it not our part to behave as obedient docile 
sons rather than rebelliously imitate desperate men, who are 
hardened in wickedness? God dooms us to destruction, if he does not, 
by correction, call us back when we have fallen off from him, so 
that it is truly said, "If ye be without chastisement," "then are ye 
bastards, and not sons," (Heb. 12: 8.) We are most perverse then if 
we cannot bear him while he is manifesting his good-will to us, and 
the care which he takes of our salvation. Scripture states the 
difference between believers and unbelievers to be, that the latter, 
as the slaves of inveterate and deep-seated iniquity, only become 
worse and more obstinate under the lash; whereas the former, like 
free-born sons turn to repentance. Now, therefore, choose your 
class. But as I have already spoken of this subject, it is 
sufficient to have here briefly adverted to it. 
    7. There is singular consolation, moreover, when we are 
persecuted for righteousness' sake. For our thought should then be, 
How high the honour which God bestows upon us in distinguishing us 
by the special badge of his soldiers. By suffering persecution for 
righteousness' sake, I mean not only striving for the defence of the 
Gospel, but for the defence of righteousness in any way. Whether, 
therefore, in maintaining the truth of God against the lies of 
Satan, or defending the good and innocent against the injuries of 
the bad, we are obliged to incur the offence and hatred of the 
world, so as to endanger life, fortune, or honour, let us not grieve 
or decline so far to spend ourselves for God; let us not think 
ourselves wretched in those things in which he with his own lips has 
pronounced us blessed, (Matth. 5: 10.) Poverty, indeed considered in 
itself, is misery; so are exile, contempt, imprisonment, ignominy: 
in fine, death itself is the last of all calamities. But when the 
favour of God breathes upon is, there is none of these things which 
may not turn out to our happiness. Let us then be contented with the 
testimony of Christ rather than with the false estimate of the 
flesh, and then, after the example of the Apostles, we will rejoice 
in being "counted worthy to suffer shame for his name," (Acts 5: 
41.) For why? If, while conscious of our innocence, we are deprived 
of our substance by the wickedness of man, we are, no doubt, humanly 
speaking, reduced to poverty; but in truth our riches in heaven are 
increased: if driven from our homes we have a more welcome reception 
into the family of God; if vexed and despised, we are more firmly 
rooted in Christ; if stigmatised by disgrace and ignominy, we have a 
higher place in the kingdom of God; and if we are slain, entrance is 
thereby given us to eternal life. The Lord having set such a price 
upon us, let us be ashamed to estimate ourselves at less than the 
shadowy and evanescent allurements of the present life. 
    8. Since by these, and similar considerations, Scripture 
abundantly solaces us for the ignominy or calamities which we endure 
in defence of righteousness, we are very ungrateful if we do not 
willingly and cheerfully receive them at the hand of the Lord, 
especially since this form of the cross is the most appropriate to 
believers, being that by which Christ desires to be glorified in us, 
as Peter also declares, (1 Pet. 4: 11, 14.) But as to ingenuous 
natures, it is more bitter to suffer disgrace than a hundred deaths, 
Paul expressly reminds us that not only persecution, but also 
disgrace awaits us, "because we trust in the living God," (1 Tim. 4: 
10.) So in another passage he bids us, after his example, walk "by 
evil report and good report," (2 Cor. vi. 8.) The cheerfulness 
required, however, does not imply a total insensibility to pain. The 
saints could show no patience under the cross if they were not both 
tortured with pain and grievously molested. Were there no hardship 
in poverty, no pain in disease, no sting in ignominy, no fear in 
death, where would be the fortitude and moderation in enduring them? 
But while every one of these, by its inherent bitterness, naturally 
vexes the mind, the believer in this displays his fortitude, that 
though fully sensible of the bitterness and labouring grievously, he 
still withstands and struggles boldly; in this displays his 
patience, that though sharply stung, he is however curbed by the 
fear of God from breaking forth into any excess; in this displays 
his alacrity, that though pressed with sorrow and sadness, he rests 
satisfied with spiritual consolation from God. 
    9. This conflict which believers maintain against the natural 
feeling of pain, while they study moderation and patience, Paul 
elegantly describes in these words: "We are troubled on every side, 
yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; 
persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed," (2 Cor. 
4: 8, 9.) You see that to bear the cross patiently is not to have 
your feelings altogether blunted, and to be absolutely insensible to 
pain, according to the absurd description which the Stoics of old 
gave of their hero as one who, divested of humanity, was affected in 
the same way by adversity and prosperity, grief and joy; or rather, 
like a stone, was not affected by anything. And what did they gain 
by that sublime wisdom? they exhibited a shadow of patience, which 
never did, and never can, exist among men. Nay, rather by aiming at 
a too exact and rigid patience, they banished it altogether from 
human life. Now also we have among Christians a new kind of Stoics, 
who hold it vicious not only to groan and weep, but even to be sad 
and anxious. These paradoxes are usually started by indolent men 
who, employing themselves more in speculation than in action, can do 
nothing else for us than beget such paradoxes. But we have nothing 
to do with that iron philosophy which our Lord and Master condemned 
- not only in word, but also by his own example. For he both grieved 
and shed tears for his own and others' woes. Nor did he teach his 
disciples differently: "Ye shall weep and lament, but the world 
shall rejoice," (John 16: 20.) And lest any one should regard this 
as vicious, he expressly declares, "Blessed are they that mourn," 
(Matth. 5: 4.) And no wonder. If all tears are condemned, what shall 
we think of our Lord himself, whose "sweat was as it were great 
drops of blood falling down to the ground?" (Luke 22: 44; Matth. 26: 
38.) If every kind of fear is a mark of unbelief, what place shall 
we assign to the dread which, it is said, in no slight degree amazed 
him; if all sadness is condemned, how shall we justify him when he 
confesses, "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death?" 
    10. I wished to make these observations to keep pious minds 
from despair, lest, from feeling it impossible to divest themselves 
of the natural feeling of grief, they might altogether abandon the 
study of patience. This must necessarily be the result with those 
who convert patience into stupor, and a brave and firm man into a 
block. Scripture gives saints the praise of endurance when, though 
afflicted by the hardships they endure, they are not crushed; though 
they feel bitterly, they are at the same time filled with spiritual 
joy; though pressed with anxiety, breathe exhilarated by the 
consolation of God. Still there is a certain degree of repugnance in 
their hearts, because natural sense shuns and dreads what is adverse 
to it, while pious affection, even through these difficulties, tries 
to obey the divine will. This repugnance the Lord expressed when he 
thus addressed Peter: "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou 
wast young, thou girdedst thyself and walkedst whither thou wouldst; 
but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and 
another shall gird thee; and carry thee whither thou wouldest not," 
(John 21: 18.) It is not probable, indeed, that when it became 
necessary to glorify God by death he was driven to it unwilling and 
resisting; had it been so, little praise would have been due to his 
martyrdom. But though he obeyed the divine ordination with the 
greatest alacrity of heart, yet, as he had not divested himself of 
humanity, he was distracted by a double will. When he thought of the 
bloody death which he was to die, struck with horror, he would 
willingly have avoided it: on the other hand, when he considered 
that it was God who called him to it, his fear was vanquished and 
suppressed, and he met death cheerfully. It must therefore be our 
study, if we would be disciples of Christ, to imbue our minds with 
such reverence and obedience to God as may tame and subjugate all 
affections contrary to his appointment. In this way, whatever be the 
kind of cross to which we are subjected, we shall in the greatest 
straits firmly maintain our patience. Adversity will have its 
bitterness, and sting us. When afflicted with disease, we shall 
groan and be disquieted, and long for health; pressed with poverty, 
we shall feel the stings of anxiety and sadness, feel the pain of 
ignominy, contempt, and injury, and pay the tears due to nature at 
the death of our friends: but our conclusion will always be, The 
Lord so willed it, therefore let us follow his will. Nay, amid the 
pungency of grief, among groans and tears this thought will 
necessarily suggest itself and incline us cheerfully to endure the 
things for which we are so afflicted. 
    11. But since the chief reason for enduring the cross has been 
derived from a consideration of the divine will, we must in few 
words explain wherein lies the difference between philosophical and 
Christian patience. Indeed, very few of the philosophers advanced so 
far as to perceive that the hand of God tries us by means of 
affliction, and that we ought in this matter to obey God. The only 
reason which they adduce is, that so it must be. But is not this 
just to say, that we must yield to God, because it is in vain to 
contend against him? For if we obey God only because it is 
necessary, provided we can escape, we shall cease to obey him. But 
what Scripture calls us to consider in the will of God is very 
different, namely, first justice and equity, and then a regard to 
our own salvation. Hence Christian exhortations to patience are of 
this nature, Whether poverty, or exile, or imprisonment, or 
contumely, or disease, or bereavement, or any such evil affects us, 
we must think that none of them happens except by the will and 
providence of God; moreover, that every thing he does is in the most 
perfect order. What! do not our numberless daily faults deserve to 
be chastised, more severely, and with a heavier rod than his mercy 
lays upon us? Is it not most right that our flesh should be subdued, 
and be, as it were, accustomed to the yoke, so as not to rage and 
wanton as it lists? Are not the justice and the truth of God worthy 
of our suffering on their account? [11] But if the equity of God is 
undoubtedly displayed in affliction, we cannot murmur or struggle 
against them without iniquity. We no longer hear the frigid cant, 
Yield, because it is necessary; but a living and energetic precept, 
Obey, because it is unlawful to resist; bear patiently, because 
impatience is rebellion against the justice of God. Then as that 
only seems to us attractive which we perceive to be for our own 
safety and advantage, here also our heavenly Father consoles us, by 
the assurance, that in the very cross with which he afflicts us he 
provides for our salvation. But if it is clear that tribulations are 
salutary to us, why should we not receive them with calm and 
grateful minds? In bearing them patiently we are not submitting to 
necessity but resting satisfied with our own good. The effect of 
these thoughts is, that to whatever extent our minds are contracted 
by the bitterness which we naturally feel under the cross, to the 
same extent will they be expanded with spiritual joy. Hence arises 
thanksgiving, which cannot exist unless joy be felt. But if the 
praise of the Lord and thanksgiving can emanate only from a cheerful 
and gladdened breasts and there is nothing which ought to interrupt 
these feelings in us, it is clear how necessary it is to temper the 
bitterness of the cross with spiritual joy. 
11 See end of sec. 4, and sec. 5, 7, 8. 

Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol. 3, Part 9

(continued in part 10...)

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