Calvin, Institutes, Vol.3, Part 11
(... continued from part 10)
Chapter 10. 
10. How to use the present life, and the comforts of it. 
    The divisions of this chapter are, - I. The necessity and 
usefulness of this doctrine. Extremes to be avoided, if we would 
rightly use the present life and its comforts, sec. 1, 2. II. One of 
these extremes, viz, the intemperance of the flesh, to be carefully 
avoided. Four methods of doing so described in order, sec. 3-6. 
1. Necessity of this doctrine. Use of the goods of the present life. 
    Extremes to be avoided. 1. Excessive austerity. 2. Carnal 
    intemperance and lasciviousness. 
2. God, by creating so many mercies, consulted not only for our 
    necessities, but also for our comfort and delight. Confirmation 
    from a passage in the Psalms, and from experience. 
3. Excessive austerity, therefore, to be avoided. So also must the 
    wantonness of the flesh. 1. The creatures invite us to know, 
    love, and honour the Creator. 2. This not done by the wicked, 
    who only abuse these temporal mercies. 
4. All earthly blessings to be despised in comparison of the 
    heavenly life. Aspiration after this life destroyed by an 
    excessive love of created objects. First, Intemperance. 
5. Second, Impatience and immoderate desire. Remedy of these evils. 
    The creatures assigned to our use. Man still accountable for 
    the use he makes of them. 
6. God requires us in all our actions to look to his calling. Use of 
    this doctrine. It is full of comfort. 
    1. By such rudiments we are at the same time well instructed by 
Scripture in the proper use of earthly blessings, a subject which, 
in forming a scheme of life, is by no mean to be neglected. For if 
we are to live, we must use the necessary supports of life; nor can 
we even shun those things which seem more subservient to delight 
than to necessity. We must therefore observe a mean, that we may use 
them with a pure conscience, whether for necessity or for pleasure. 
This the Lord prescribes by his word, when he tells us that to his 
people the present life is a kind of pilgrimage by which they hasten 
to the heavenly kingdom. If we are only to pass through the earth, 
there can be no doubt that we are to use its blessings only in so 
far as they assist our progress, rather than retard it. Accordingly, 
Paul, not without cause, admonishes us to use this world without 
abusing it, and to buy possessions as if we were selling them, (1 
Cor. 7: 30, 31.) But as this is a slippery place, and there is great 
danger of falling on either side, let us fix our feet where we can 
stand safely. There have been some good and holy men who, when they 
saw intemperance and luxury perpetually carried to excess, if not 
strictly curbed, and were desirous to correct so pernicious an evil, 
imagined that there was no other method than to allow man to use 
corporeal goods only in so far as they were necessaries: a counsel 
pious indeed, but unnecessarily austere; for it does the very 
dangerous thing of binding consciences in closer fetters than those 
in which they are bound by the word of God. Moreover, necessity, 
according to them, [15] was abstinence from every thing which could 
be wanted, so that they held it scarcely lawful to make any addition 
to bread and water. Others were still more austere, as is related of 
Cratetes the Theban, who threw his riches into the sea, because he 
thought, that unless he destroyed them they would destroy him. Many 
also in the present day, while they seek a pretext for carnal 
intemperance in the use of external things, and at the same time 
would pave the way for licentiousness, assume for granted, what I by 
no means concede, that this liberty is not to be restrained by any 
modification, but that it is to be left to every man's conscience to 
use them as far as he thinks lawful. I indeed confess that here 
consciences neither can nor ought to be bound by fixed and definite 
laws; but that Scripture having laid down general rules for the 
legitimate uses we should keep within the limits which they 
    2. Let this be our principle, that we err not in the use of the 
gifts of Providence when we refer them to the end for which their 
author made and destined them, since he created them for our good, 
and not for our destruction. No man will keep the true path better 
than he who shall have this end carefully in view. Now then, if we 
consider for what end he created food, we shall find that he 
consulted not only for our necessity, but also for our enjoyment and 
delight. Thus, in clothing, the end was, in addition to necessity, 
comeliness and honour; and in herbs, fruits, and trees, besides 
their various uses, gracefulness of appearance and sweetness of 
smell. Were it not so, the Prophet would not enumerate among the 
mercies of God "wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to 
make his face to shine," (Ps. 104: 15.) The Scriptures would not 
everywhere mention, in commendation of his benignity, that he had 
given such things to men. The natural qualities of things themselves 
demonstrate to what end, and how far, they may be lawfully enjoyed. 
Has the Lord adorned flowers with all the beauty which spontaneously 
presents itself to the eye, and the sweet odour which delights the 
sense of smell, and shall it be unlawful for us to enjoy that beauty 
and this odour? What? Has he not so distinguished colours as to make 
some more agreeable than others? Has he not given qualities to gold 
and silver, ivory and marble, thereby rendering them precious above 
other metals or stones? In short, has he not given many things a 
value without having any necessary use? 
    3. Have done, then, with that inhuman philosophy which, in 
allowing no use of the creatures but for necessity, not only 
maliciously deprives us of the lawful fruit of the divine 
beneficence, but cannot be realised without depriving man of all his 
senses, and reducing him to a block. But, on the other hand, let us 
with no less care guard against the lusts of the flesh, which, if 
not kept in order, break through all bounds, and are, as I have 
said, advocated by those who, under pretence of liberty, allow 
themselves every sort of license. First one restraint is imposed 
when we hold that the object of creating all things was to teach us 
to know their author, and feel grateful for his indulgence. Where is 
the gratitude if you so gorge or stupify yourself with feasting and 
wine as to be unfit for offices of piety, or the duties of your 
calling? Where the recognition of God, if the flesh, boiling forth 
in lust through excessive indulgences infects the mind with its 
impurity, so as to lose the discernment of' honour and rectitude? 
Where thankfulness to God for clothing, if on account of sumptuous 
raiment we both admire ourselves and disdain others? if, from a love 
of show and splendour, we pave the way for immodesty? Where our 
recognition of God, if the glare of these things captivates our 
minds? For many are so devoted to luxury in all their senses that 
their mind lies buried: many are so delighted with marble, gold, and 
pictures, that they become marble-hearted - are changed as it were 
into metal, and made like painted figures. The kitchen, with its 
savoury smells, so engrosses them that they have no spiritual 
savour. The same thing may be seen in other matters. Wherefore, it 
is plain that there is here great necessity for curbing licentious 
abuse, and conforming to the rule of Paul, "make not provision for 
the flesh to fulfil the lusts thereof," (Rom. 13: 14.) Where too 
much liberty is given to them, they break forth without measure or 
    4. There is no surer or quicker way of accomplishing this than 
by despising the present life and aspiring to celestial immortality. 
For hence two rules arise: First, "it remaineth, that both they that 
have wives be as though they had none;" "and they that use this 
world, as not abusing it," (1 Cor. 7: 29, 31.) Secondly, we must 
learn to be no less placid and patient in enduring penury, than 
moderate in enjoying abundance. He who makes it his rule to use this 
world as if he used it not, not only cuts off all gluttony in regard 
to meat and drink, and all effeminacy, ambition, pride, excessive 
shows and austerity, in regard to his table, his house, and his 
clothes, but removes every care and affection which might withdraw 
or hinder him from aspiring to the heavenly life, and cultivating 
the interest of his soul. [16] It was well said by Cato: Luxury 
causes great care, and produces great carelessness as to virtue; and 
it is an old proverb, - Those who are much occupied with the care of 
the body, usually give little care to the soul. Therefore while the 
liberty of the Christian in external matters is not to be tied down 
to a strict rule, it is, however, subject to this law - he must 
indulge as little as possible; on the other hand, it must be his 
constant aims not only to curb luxury, but to cut off all show of 
superfluous abundance, and carefully beware of converting a help 
into an hinderance. 
    5. Another rule is, that those in narrow and slender 
circumstances should learn to bear their wants patiently, that they 
may not become immoderately desirous of things, the moderate use of 
which implies no small progress in the school of Christ. For in 
addition to the many other vices which accompany a longing for 
earthly good, he who is impatient under poverty almost always 
betrays the contrary disease in abundance. By this I mean, that he 
who is ashamed of a sordid garment will be vain-glorious of a 
splendid one; he who not contented with a slender, feels annoyed at 
the want of a more luxurious supper, will intemperately abuse his 
luxury if he obtains it; he who has a difficulty, and is 
dissatisfied in submitting to a private and humble condition, will 
be unable to refrain from pride if he attain to honour. Let it be 
the aim of all who have any unfeigned desire for piety to learn, 
after the example of the Apostle, "both to be full and to be hungry, 
both to abound and to suffer need," (Philip. 4: 12.) Scripture, 
moreover, has a third rule for modifying the use of earthly 
blessings. We have already adverted to it when considering the 
offices of charity. For it declares that they have all been given us 
by the kindness of God, and appointed for our use under the 
condition of being regarded as trusts, of which we must one day give 
account. We must, therefore, administer them as if we constantly 
heard the words sounding in our ears, "Give an account of your 
stewardship." At the same time, let us remember by whom the account 
is to be taken, viz., by him who, while he so highly commends 
abstinence, sobriety, frugality, and moderation, abominates luxury, 
pride, ostentation, and vanity; who approves of no administration 
but that which is combined with charity, who with his own lips has 
already condemned all those pleasures which withdraw the heart from 
chastity and purity, or darken the intellect. 
    6. The last thing to be observed is, that the Lord enjoins 
every one of us, in all the actions of life, to have respect to our 
own calling. He knows the boiling restlessness of the human mind, 
the fickleness with which it is borne hither and thither, its 
eagerness to hold opposites at one time in its grasp, its ambition. 
Therefore, lest all things should be thrown into confusion by our 
folly and rashness, he has assigned distinct duties to each in the 
different modes of life. And that no one may presume to overstep his 
proper limits, he has distinguished the different modes of life by 
the name of callings. Every man's mode of life, therefore, is a kind 
of station assigned him by the Lord, that he may not be always 
driven about at random. So necessary is this distinction, that all 
our actions are thereby estimated in his sight, and often in a very 
different way from that in which human reason or philosophy would 
estimate them. There is no more illustrious deed even among 
philosophers than to free one's country from tyranny, and yet the 
private individual who stabs the tyrant is openly condemned by the 
voice of the heavenly Judge. But I am unwilling to dwell on 
particular examples; it is enough to know that in every thing the 
call of the Lord is the foundation and beginning of right action. He 
who does not act with reference to it will never, in the discharge 
of duty, keep the right path. He will sometimes be able, perhaps, to 
give the semblance of something laudable, but whatever it may be in 
the sight of man, it will be rejected before the throne of God; and 
besides, there will be no harmony in the different parts of his 
life. Hence, he only who directs his life to this end will have it 
properly framed; because free from the impulse of rashness, he will 
not attempt more than his calling justifies, knowing that it is 
unlawful to overleap the prescribed bounds. He who is obscure will 
not decline to cultivate a private life, that he may not desert the 
post at which God has placed him. Again, in all our cares, toils, 
annoyances, and other burdens, it will be no small alleviation to 
know that all these are under the superintendence of God. The 
magistrate will more willingly perform his office, and the father of 
a family confine himself to his proper sphere. Every one in his 
particular mode of life will, without repining, suffer its 
inconveniences, cares, uneasiness, and anxiety, persuaded that God 
has laid on the burden. This, too, will afford admirable 
consolation, that in following your proper calling, no work will be 
so mean and sordid as not to have a splendour and value in the eye 
of God. 
[15]See Chrysost. ad Heb. Hi. As to Cratetes the Theban, see 
Plutarch, Lib. de Vitand. aere alien. and Philostratus in Vita 
[16]French, "Parer notre ame de ses vrais ornemens;" - deck our soul 
with its true ornaments. 

Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol. 3, Part 11

(continued in part 12...)

file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-04: cvin3-11.txt