Skip to content ↓

Stuck in the Mire of Our Love for this World


Earlier this week a friend asked where he should start in reading Calvin’s Institutes. I suggested, as I often do, beginning with Calvin’s A Little Book on the Christian Life which is an excerpt of the larger work, and one focused largely on Christian living. Here’s a wonderful and timely extract from the new edition translated by Aaron Denlinger and Burk Parsons.

In whatever trouble comes to us, we should always set our eyes on God’s purpose to train us to think little of this present life and inspire us to think more about the future life. For God knows well that we are greatly inclined to love this world by natural instinct. Thus, He uses the best means to draw us back and shake us from our slumber, so that we don’t become entirely stuck in the mire of our love for this world.

We all, throughout our entire lives, want to act as though we were longing for heavenly immortality and striving urgently after it. Indeed, we judge it shameful not to distinguish ourselves in some way from the brute animals, whose condition would be much the same as ours if we didn’t hope for eternity after death. But examine the plans, pursuits, and actions of whomever you wish, and you’ll find them to be entirely earthly. Thus we see our stupidity. Our minds, having been dulled by the blinding glare of empty wealth, power, and honor, can see no farther than these things. And our hearts, burdened with greed, ambition, and lust for gain, can rise no higher than these things. In sum, our entire soul, entangled in the enticements of the flesh, seeks its happiness on earth.

In order to resist this wickedness, the Lord teaches his people about the emptiness of this present life through constant lessons in suffering. Thus, so that His people don’t promise themselves lofty and untroubled peace in this life, He often permits them to be troubled and harassed by wars, uprisings, robberies, and other injuries. So that they don’t gawk with too much greediness at frail and tottering riches, or rest on those they already possess, He reduces them to poverty—or at least restricts them to very little wealth—through exile, barrenness of land, fire, or other means. So that they aren’t enticed too much by the advantages of married life, He lets them be frustrated by the offences of their spouse, humbles them by the wickedness of their children, or afflicts them with the loss of a child. However, there are times when God deals more gently with His people. Yet even when He does, so that they don’t become puffed up with pride or inflated with self-confidence, he sets before their eyes disease and danger to teach them how unstable and fleeting are those good things that come to men, who are subject to death. “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes” (Psalm 119:71).

In the end, we rightly profit from the discipline of the cross when we learn that this life, considered in itself, is troubled, turbulent, attended by many miseries, and never entirely happy, and that whatever things we consider good in this life are uncertain, passing, vain, and spoiled because they’re mixed with many evils. And from this we likewise conclude that we should expect and hope for nothing other than trouble in this life, and that we should set our eyes on heaven where we expect our crown. So, indeed, we ought to realize that our soul will never seriously rise to the desire and contemplation of the future life until they’ve been soaked in scorn for this present life.

  • Free Stuff Fridays (Help The Persecuted)

    This weeks giveaway is sponsored by Help The Persecuted. Help The Persecuted rescues, restores, and rebuilds the lives of persecuted believers in the Islamic World through spiritual support and tangible help. Every week, they send out an email with specific, real-time prayer requests of persecuted believers to their global Prayer Network. You can join the…

  • A La Carte Friday 2

    A La Carte (March 1)

    A La Carte: Rumblings of revival among Gen Z / Addition by subtraction / Seeing red / Burying the talents of the Great Rewarder / Inviting evaluation of your preaching / Book and Kindle deals / and more.

  • New and Notable Books

    New and Notable Christian Books for February 2024

    February is typically a solid month for book releases, and this February was no exception. As the month drew to its close, I sorted through the many (many!) books that came my way this month and arrived at this list of new and notables. In each case, I’ve provided the editorial description to give you…

  • A La Carte Thursday 1

    A La Carte (February 29)

    A La Carte: Is it ever right to lie? / When the “perfect” fit isn’t / An open letter to Christians who doubt / When a baby is a disease / The long view of preaching / and more.

  • A Freak of Nature (and Nurture)

    A Freak of Nature (and Nurture)

    We are probably so accustomed to seeing bonsai trees that we don’t think much about them. But have you ever paused to consider how strange and freakish they really are?

  • A La Carte Collection cover image

    A La Carte (February 28)

    A La Carte: Can Christians buy expensive things? / You are probably WEIRDER than you think / Our limits are a gift from God / Big dreams impress. Ordinary faithfulness delivers / The biggest problem in worship education / Children’s books / and more.