“The Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life” by John Calvin: Baker Book House, Reprint June 1965
This is a booklet that Calvin included as part of his institutes and because of its easy reading and practical information it has become a popular work. The booklet is broken down into five chapters and each heading deals with the conduct of a true Christian in the midst of a crooked and unrepentant world.
Much emphasis is placed on true spiritual progress with warnings to shake off false piety and lip service. “The Gospel is not a doctrine of the tongue, but of life. It cannot be grasped by reason and memory only, but it is fully understood when it possesses the whole soul, and penetrates to the inner recesses of the heart.” (p. 17) But progress must show itself if a Christian is manfully fighting temptation and attempts to live aright.
Especially important and beautiful is the chapter on self-denial. In this section Calvin points out that in order to fulfill the royal law, one must abandon himself in the service to others and seek the welfare of the neighbor above his own. “How extremely difficult it is for you dutifully to seek the advantage of your neighbor, unless you quit all selfish consideration and almost forget yourself.” (p. 30) And it is by forgetting ourselves that we also learn the virtue of humility. We have to go against the grain in this respect because we are first only interested in our own merits and accomplishments. And in a sense, we all have “I” problems. “To live happily, the evils of false ambition and self-love must be plucked from our hearts by the roots.” (p. 29)
We are told to prepare ourselves for difficult lives as Christ has told us to take up our crosses and follow Him because in cross-bearing we learn patience and in patience – humility. And it is humility we Christians need in order to quench the pride of the flesh. The Cross strengthens, overcomes laziness, prevents backsliding, brings us into subjection and restrains our arrogance. And it is through loss of relatives, personal and business failures, loss of wealth and comforts, disease, famine that we realize how really frail we are. Under these burdens we turn our eyes to Christ and learn to rely on Him for strength and relief. We also accept the fact that, “The Lord planned our sorrow, so let us submit to His will (p. 63)
On a positive note, we must show thankfulness for all God’s gifts to us and learn to use them without taking sinful pleasure in them. This life, he states, is not to be looked upon as having no good thing in it; and we may not hide and isolate ourselves from the world. We must live in this valley of tears until we are removed by God’s hand.
The closing chapters of the book deal with the subject of the death of believers. This subject is avoided by philosophers and scientists. But the Christian looks upon death with anticipation and longing. “But this we may positively state that nobody has made any progress in the school of Christ unless he cheerfully looks forward towards the day of his death, and towards the day of the final resurrection.” (p. 79) While we are called, each one in his own particular area of life, to live here as witnesses of God’s goodness and mercy, we must radiate and reflect those attributes to people around us. This is so difficult while we go about our daily work and we get so bogged down with our own problems that we forget the message we are supposed to relate to others. “It will be no small comfort for his cares, labors, troubles, and other burdens, when a man knows that in all these matters God is his guide.” (p. 96)