Throughout the month of October (and a bit of November), I invite you to read one more book together for this year, A Little Book on the Christian Life by John Calvin.
The previous two books that we have read together were both written by Puritans (Thomas Watson and John Owen); John Calvin, however, was a Reformer, who lived about a hundred years before the Puritans. Indeed, Calvin was one of the chief Reformers. The famous inciting event of the Reformation was Martin Luther’s nailing of the 95 Theses on a church door in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517 (which is why many Protestants now call October 31st Reformation Day). Intending only to initiate a debate over errors that Luther saw, the writing was printed and distributed as a pamphlet. Like it or not, Luther had become the face of the Reformation.
Thankfully, Luther was bold and audacious enough to be such a figure. How few indeed have the conviction to stand in righteous defiance before authority of any kind, especially a global authority who claimed the power to damn souls to hell. But Luther’s abrasiveness also caused plenty of frictions with other evangelicals who largely supported the Reformer.
26 years younger than Luther, John Calvin was only eight years old whenever the 95 Theses were first posted. Therefore, by the time that Calvin stepped onto the theological scene, he had the great benefit of already stepping into the work that Luther, Zwingli, Bucer, and others had begun. Thus, he was situated to be a great refiner of the Reformation, which exactly what Calvin did.
Through his many letters, Calvin continually pressed for greater unity among evangelicals. Through his sermons, commentaries, tracts, and his most famous work, The Institutes on the Christian Religion, Calvin rigorously shaped the Reformed tradition for all generations to come. And he did so by placing his eyes squarely upon the Scriptures. Although many caricatures of Calvin existed during his lifetime and continue to persist today, the most defining element of his life was his resolute devotion to glorify God through His revealed Word. To this aim, Calvin was principally and chiefly a pastor and a teacher of the Bible.
Regardless of your previous associations with the legacy of Calvin, he is a voice that should be heard both in terms of historical and theological significance. But since his writing was so voluminous, the question of where to begin is significant. While any of his sermons (many of which have been freshly translated and printed by the Banner of Truth) are worth your time, Calvin’s Little Book on the Christian Life is probably the best place to begin.
The edition that I will be using for this read through is the new translation by Aaron Denlinger and Burk Parsons that is published by Reformation Trust (the publishing arm of Ligonier Ministries). Their prologue gives a quick history of this wonderful booklet, but here are the main points. This little book is actually chapters 6-10 of Book 3 of the Institutes; however, even within Calvin’s lifetime, there was a significant history of publishing this section on its own as a booklet on the Christian life.
Containing only five short chapters, this booklet can be quickly read through in less than two hours, yet it is full of biblical insight that begs to be savored slowly and carefully, which is what we will aim to do. The plan is to read through this little book over the course of October, a chapter each week, as you can see below.
Oct 3-9 // ONE | Scripture’s Call to Christian Living
Oct 10-16 // TWO | Self-Denial in the Christian Life
Oct 17-23 // THREE | Bearing Our Cross Is a Part of Self-Denial
Oct 24-30 // FOUR | Meditation on Our Future Life
Oct 31-Nov 6 // FIVE | How the Present Life and Its Comforts Should Be Used