Sunday, August 25, 2013
The Vanity of this Present Life (John Calvin)
Whatever kind of tribulation we may suffer, this should always be our goal: to learn contempt for the present life, and thus to be led to meditate on the life to come.
Because the Lord well knows our readiness to embrace the world with blind and even brutish love, he uses the very best means to part us from it and to rouse us from our lethargy, so as to free our hearts from so foolish an attachment.
All of us, in the course of our lives, like to be seen as people who long for immortality in heaven, and who are trying very hard to attain it. The thought that we are no better than the brute beasts, and that their lot is in no way inferior to ours, would be humiliating were we not left with some hope of eternity after death. If, however, we think hard of the schemes we all devise, the plans we lay, the things we do and undertake, we will find them to be mere dust!
Our folly comes from the fact that our minds are more or less dazzled by the false glitter of wealth, honour, and power, which are superficially attractive and which stop us looking further ahead. By the same token our heart is taken by greed, ambition, and other evil desires, and is held so fast by them that it cannot look higher up. Lastly, our entire soul seeks its happiness here on earth, because it is wrapped and entangled in the pleasures of the flesh.
To remedy this evil, the Lord teaches his servants to recognize the vanity of this present life, carefully training them by means of various afflictions. Lest they look forward in this life to peace and tranquillity, he allows war, turmoil, theft, and other evils to upset and trouble them. Lest they thirst too much for ephemeral wealth or trust too fondly in the wealth they have, he reduces them to poverty, sometimes by sending barrenness upon the earth, sometimes by fire, sometimes by other means; or else he condemns them to bare sufficiency.
Lest they delight too much in marriage, he gives them difficult or headstrong wives who torment them, or wayward children to humble them, or else afflicts them with the loss of spouse and children. If, however, in all these things he treats them kindly, to stop them from becoming proud in their conceit and complacent through excessive confidence, he warns them by means of sickness or peril, and gives them as it were visible proof of how fragile and fleeting are the goods we enjoy, since they are subject to decay.
Thus the discipline of the cross is of great benefit to us when we understand that the present life, judged in itself, is full or worry, trouble and much misfortune. It is never completely happy at any time, and all the blessings we hold dear are transitory and uncertain, trifling and tinged with endless misery.
The conclusion we draw, then, is that here we must expect nothing but conflict. If we would seek our crown, it is to heaven that we must look. We may be sure that our heart will never really learn to want the life to come, and to meditate on it, without first feeling disdain for this earthly life.