Calvin, Institutes, Vol.3, Part 10
(... continued from part 9)
Chapter 9. 
9. Of meditating on the future life. 
    The three divisions of this chapter, - I. The principal use of 
the cross is, that it in various ways accustoms us to despise the 
present, and excites us to aspire to the future life, sec. 1, 2. II. 
In withdrawing from the present life we must neither shun it nor 
feel hatred for it; but desiring the future life, gladly quit the 
present at the command of our sovereign Master, see. 3, 4. III. Our 
infirmity in dreading death described. The correction and safe 
remedy, sec. 6. 
1. The design of God in afflicting his people. 1. To accustom us to 
    despise the present life. Our infatuated love of it. 
    Afflictions employed as the cure. 2. To lead us to aspire to 
2. Excessive love of the present life prevents us from duly aspiring 
    to the other. Hence the disadvantages of prosperity. Blindness 
    of the human judgment. Our philosophizing on the vanity of life 
    only of momentary influence. The necessity of the cross. 
3. The present life an evidence of the divine favour to his people; 
    and therefore, not to be detested. On the contrary, should call 
    forth thanksgiving. The crown of victory in heaven after the 
    contest on earth. 
4. Weariness of the present life how to be tempered. The believer's 
    estimate of life. Comparison of the present and the future 
    life. How far the present life should be hated. 
5. Christians should not tremble at the fear of death. Two reasons. 
    Objection. Answer. Other reasons. 
6. Reasons continued. Conclusion. 
    1. Whatever be the kind of tribulation with which we are 
afflicted, we should always consider the end of it to be, that we 
may be trained to despise the present, and thereby stimulated to 
aspire to the future life. For since God well knows how strongly we 
are inclined by nature to a slavish love of this world, in order to 
prevent us from clinging too strongly to it, he employs the fittest 
reason for calling us back, and shaking off our lethargy. Every one 
of us, indeed, would be thought to aspire and aim at heavenly 
immortality during the whole course of his life. For we would be 
ashamed in no respect to excel the lower animals; whose condition 
would not be at all inferior to ours, had we not a hope of 
immortality beyond the grave. But when you attend to the plans, 
wishes, and actions of each, you see nothing in them but the earth. 
Hence our stupidity; our minds being dazzled with the glare of 
wealth, power, and honours, that they can see no farther. The heart 
also, engrossed with avarice, ambition, and lust, is weighed down 
and cannot rise above them. In short, the whole soul, ensnared by 
the allurements of the flesh, seeks its happiness on the earth. To 
meet this disease, the Lord makes his people sensible of the vanity 
of the present life, by a constant proof of its miseries. Thus, that 
they may not promise themselves deep and lasting peace in it, he 
often allows them to be assailed by war, tumult, or rapine, or to be 
disturbed by other injuries. That they may not long with too much 
eagerness after fleeting and fading riches, or rest in those which 
they already possess, he reduces them to want, or, at least, 
restricts them to a moderate allowance, at one time by exile, at 
another by sterility, at another by fire, or by other means. That 
they may not indulge too complacently in the advantages of married 
life, he either vexes them by the misconduct of their partners, or 
humbles them by the wickedness of their children, or afflicts them 
by bereavement. But if in all these he is indulgent to them, lest 
they should either swell with vain-glory, or be elated with 
confidence, by diseases and dangers he sets palpably before them how 
unstable and evanescent are all the advantages competent to mortals. 
We duly profit by the discipline of the cross, when we learn that 
this life, estimated in itself, is restless, troubled, in numberless 
ways wretched, and plainly in no respect happy; that what are 
estimated its blessings are uncertain, fleeting, vain, and vitiated 
by a great admixture of evil. From this we conclude, that all we 
have to seek or hope for here is contest; that when we think of the 
crown we must raise our eyes to heaven. For we must hold, that our 
mind never rises seriously to desire and aspire after the future, 
until it has learned to despise the present life. 
    2. For there is no medium between the two things: the earth 
must either be worthless in our estimation, or keep us enslaved by 
an intemperate love of it. Therefore, if we have any regard to 
eternity, we must carefully strive to disencumber ourselves of these 
fetters. Moreover, since the present life has many enticements to 
allure us, and great semblance of delight, grace, and sweetness to 
soothe us, it is of great consequence to us to be now and then 
called off from its fascinations. [12] For what, pray, would happen, 
if we here enjoyed an uninterrupted course of honour and felicity, 
when even the constant stimulus of affliction cannot arouse us to a 
due sense of our misery? That human life is like smoke or a shadow, 
is not only known to the learned; there is not a more trite proverb 
among the vulgar. Considering it a fact most useful to be known, 
they have recommended it in many well-known expressions. Still there 
is no fact which we ponder less carefully, or less frequently 
remember. For we form all our plans just as if we had fixed our 
immortality on the earth. If we see a funeral, or walk among graves, 
as the image of death is then present to the eye, I admit we 
philosophise admirably on the vanity of life. We do not indeed 
always do so, for those things often have no effect upon us at all. 
But, at the best, our philosophy is momentary. It vanishes as soon 
as we turn our back, and leaves not the vestige of remembrance 
behind; in short, it passes away, just like the applause of a 
theatre at some pleasant spectacle. Forgetful not only of death, but 
also of mortality itself, as if no rumour of it had ever reached us, 
we indulge in supine security as expecting a terrestrial 
immortality. Meanwhile, if any one breaks in with the proverb, that 
man is the creature of a day, [13] we indeed acknowledge its truth, 
but, so far from giving heed to it, the thought of perpetuity still 
keeps hold of our minds. Who then can deny that it is of the highest 
importance to us all, I say not, to be admonished by words, but 
convinced by all possible experience of the miserable condition of 
our earthly life; since even when convinced we scarcely cease to 
gaze upon it with vicious, stupid admiration, as if it contained 
within itself the sum of all that is good? But if God finds it 
necessary so to train us, it must be our duty to listen to him when 
he calls, and shakes us from our torpor, that we may hasten to 
despise the world, and aspire with our whole heart to the future 
    3. Still the contempt which believers should train themselves 
to feel for the present life, must not be of a kind to beget hatred 
of it or ingratitude to God. This life, though abounding in all 
kinds of wretchedness, is justly classed among divine blessings 
which are not to be despised. Wherefore, if we do not recognize the 
kindness of God in it, we are chargeable with no little ingratitude 
towards him. To believers, especially, it ought to be a proof of 
divine benevolence, since it is wholly destined to promote their 
salvation. Before openly exhibiting the inheritance of eternal 
glory, God is pleased to manifest himself to us as a Father by minor 
proofs, viz., the blessings which he daily bestows upon us. 
Therefore, while this life serves to acquaint us with the goodness 
of God, shall we disdain it as if it did not contain one particle of 
good? We ought, therefore, to feel and be affected towards it in 
such a manner as to place it among those gifts of the divine 
benignity which are by no means to be despised. Were there no proofs 
in Scripture, (they are most numerous and clear,) yet nature herself 
exhorts us to return thanks to God for having brought us forth into 
light, granted us the use of it, and bestowed upon us all the means 
necessary for its preservation. And there is a much higher reason 
when we reflect that here we are in a manner prepared for the glory 
of the heavenly kingdom. For the Lord hath ordained, that those who 
are ultimately to be crowned in heaven must maintain a previous 
warfare on the earth, that they may not triumph before they have 
overcome the difficulties of war, and obtained the victory. Another 
reason is, that we here begin to experience in various ways a 
foretaste of the divine benignity, in order that our hope and desire 
may be whetted for its full manifestation. When once we have 
concluded that our earthly life is a gift of the divine mercy, of 
which, agreeably to our obligation, it behoves us to have a grateful 
remembrance, we shall then properly descend to consider its most 
wretched condition, and thus escape from that excessive fondness for 
it, to which, as I have said, we are naturally prone. 
    4. In proportion as this improper love diminishes, our desire 
of a better life should increase. I confess, indeed, that a most 
accurate opinion was formed by those who thought, that the best 
thing was not to be born, the next best to die early. For, being 
destitute of the light of God and of true religion, what could they 
see in it that was not of dire and evil omen? Nor was it 
unreasonable for those [14] who felt sorrow and shed tears at the 
birth of their kindred, to keep holiday at their deaths. But this 
they did without profit; because, devoid of the true doctrine of 
faith, they saw not how that which in itself is neither happy nor 
desirable turns to the advantage of the righteous: and hence their 
opinion issued in despair. Let believers, then, in forming an 
estimate of this mortal life, and perceiving that in itself it is 
nothing but misery, make it their aim to exert themselves with 
greater alacrity, and less hinderance, in aspiring to the future and 
eternal life. When we contrast the two, the former may not only be 
securely neglected, but, in comparison of the latter, be disdained 
and contemned. If heaven is our country, what can the earth be but a 
place of exile? If departure from the world is entrance into life, 
what is the world but a sepulchre, and what is residence in it but 
immersion in death? If to be freed from the body is to gain full 
possession of freedom, what is the body but a prison? If it is the 
very summit of happiness to enjoy the presence of God, is it not 
miserable to want it? But "whilst we are at home in the body, we are 
absent from the Lord," (2 Cor. 5: 6.) Thus when the earthly is 
compared with the heavenly life, it may undoubtedly be despised and 
trampled under foot. We ought never, indeed, to regard it with 
hatred, except in so far as it keeps us subject to sin; and even 
this hatred ought not to be directed against life itself. At all 
events, we must stand so affected towards it in regard to weariness 
or hatred as, while longing for its termination, to be ready at the 
Lord's will to continue in it, keeping far from everything like 
murmuring and impatience. For it is as if the Lord had assigned us a 
post, which we must maintain till he recalls us. Paul, indeed, 
laments his condition, in being still bound with the fetters of the 
body, and sighs earnestly for redemption, (Rom. 7: 24;) 
nevertheless, he declared that, in obedience to the command of Gods 
he was prepared for both courses, because he acknowledges it as his 
duty to God to glorify his name whether by life or by death, while 
it belongs to God to determine what is most conducive to His glory, 
(Phil. 1: 20-24.) Wherefore, if it becomes us to live and die to the 
Lord, let us leave the period of our life and death at his disposal. 
Still let us ardently long for death, and constantly meditate upon 
it, and in comparison with future immortality, let us despise life, 
and, on account of the bondage of sin, long to renounce it whenever 
it shall so please the Lord. 
    5. But, most strange to say, many who boast of being 
Christians, instead of thus longing for death, are so afraid of it 
that they tremble at the very mention of it as a thing ominous and 
dreadful. We cannot wonder, indeed, that our natural feelings should 
be somewhat shocked at the mention of our dissolution. But it is 
altogether intolerable that the light of piety should not be so 
powerful in a Christian breast as with greater consolation to 
overcome and suppress that fear. For if we reflect that this our 
tabernacle, unstable, defective, corruptible, fading, pining, and 
putrid, is dissolved, in order that it may forthwith be renewed in 
sure, perfect, incorruptible, in fine, in heavenly glory, will not 
faith compel us eagerly to desire what nature dreads? If we reflect 
that by death we are recalled from exile to inhabit our native 
country, a heavenly country, shall this give us no comfort? But 
everything longs for permanent existence. I admit this, and 
therefore contend that we ought to look to future immortality, where 
we may obtain that fixed condition which nowhere appears on the 
earth. For Paul admirably enjoins believers to hasten cheerfully to 
death, not because they a would be unclothed, but clothed upon," (2 
Cor. 5: 2.) Shall the lower animals, and inanimate creatures 
themselves even wood and stone, as conscious of their present 
vanity, long for the final resurrection, that they may with the sons 
of God be delivered from vanity, (Rom. viii. 19;) and shall we, 
endued with the light of intellect, and more than intellect, 
enlightened by the Spirit of God, when our essence is in question, 
rise no higher than the corruption of this earth? But it is not my 
purpose, nor is this the place, to plead against this great 
perverseness. At the outset, I declared that I had no wish to engage 
in a diffuse discussion of common-places. My advice to those whose 
minds are thus timid is to read the short treatise of Cyprian De 
Mortalitate, unless it be more accordant with their deserts to send 
them to the philosophers, that by inspecting what they say on the 
contempt of death, they may begin to blush. This, however let us 
hold as fixed, that no man has made much progress in the school of 
Christ who does not look forward with joy to the day of death and 
final resurrection, (2 Tim. 4: 18; Tit. 2: 13:) for Paul 
distinguishes all believers by this mark; and the usual course of 
Scripture is to direct us thither whenever it would furnish us with 
an argument for substantial joy. "Look up," says our Lord, "and lift 
up your heads: for your redemption draweth nigh," (Luke 21: 28.) Is 
it reasonable, I ask, that what he intended to have a powerful 
effect in stirring us up to alacrity and exultation should produce 
nothing but sadness and consternation? If it is so, why do we still 
glory in him as our Master? Therefore, let us come to a sounder 
mind, and how repugnant so ever the blind and stupid longing of the 
flesh may be, let us doubt not to desire the advent of the Lord not 
in wish only, but with earnest sighs, as the most propitious of all 
events. He will come as a Redeemer to deliver us from an immense 
abyss of evil and misery, and lead us to the blessed inheritance of 
his life and glory. 
    6. Thus, indeed, it is; the whole body of the faithful, so long 
as they live on the earth, must be like sheep for the slaughter, in 
order that they may be conformed to Christ their head, (Rom. 8: 36.) 
Most deplorable, therefore, would their situation be did they not, 
by raising their mind to heaven, become superior to all that is in 
the world, and rise above the present aspect of affairs, (1 Cor. 15: 
l9.) On the other hand, when once they have raised their head above 
all earthly objects, though they see the wicked flourishing in 
wealth and honour, and enjoying profound peace, indulging in luxury 
and splendour, and revelling in all kinds of delights, though they 
should moreover be wickedly assailed by them, suffer insult from 
their pride, be robbed by their avarice, or assailed by any other 
passion, they will have no difficulty in bearing up under these 
evils. They will turn their eye to that day, (Isaiah 25: 8; Rev. 7: 
17,) on which the Lord will receive his faithful servants, wipe away 
all tears from their eyes, clothe them in a robe of glory and joy, 
feed them with the ineffable sweetness of his pleasures, exalt them 
to share with him in his greatness; in fine, admit them to a 
participation in his happiness. But the wicked who may have 
flourished on the earth, he will cast forth in extreme ignominy, 
will change their delights into torments, their laughter and joy 
into wailing and gnashing of teeth, their peace into the gnawing of 
conscience, and punish their luxury with unquenchable fire. He will 
also place their necks under the feet of the godly, whose patience 
they abused. For, as Paul declares, "it is a righteous thing with 
God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; and to you 
who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed 
from heaven," (2 Thess. 1: 6, 7.) This, indeed, is our only 
consolation; deprived of it, we must either give way to despondency, 
or resort to our destruction to the vain solace of the world. The 
Psalmist confesses, "My feet were almost gone: my steps had well 
nigh slipt: for I was envious at the foolish when I saw the 
prosperity of the wicked," (Psalm 73: 3, 4;) and he found no resting- 
place until he entered the sanctuary, and considered the latter end 
of the righteous and the wicked. To conclude in one word, the cross 
of Christ then only triumphs in the breasts of believers over the 
devil and the flesh, sin and sinners, when their eyes are directed 
to the power of his resurrection. 
[12] French, "Or pource que la vie presente a tousiours force de 
delices pour nous attraire, et a grande apparence d'amenite, de 
grace et de douceur pour nous amieller, il nous est bien mestier 
d'estre retire d'heure en d'heure, a ce que nous ne soyons point 
abusez, et comme ensorcelez de telles flatteries;" - Now because the 
present life has always a host of delights to attract us, and has 
great appearance of amenity, grace, and sweetness to entice us, it 
is of great importance to us to be hourly withdrawn, in order that 
we may not be deceived, and, as it were, bewitched with such 
[13] Latin, " Animal esse efhmeron;" - is an ephemereal animal. 
[14] French, "Le peuple des Scythes;" - the Scythians. 

Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol. 3, Part 10

(continued in part 11...)

file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-04: cvin3-10.txt