On today’s episode, Dr. Stephen Nichols is joined by Dr. Burk Parsons to discuss John Calvin’s “A Little Book on the Christian Life.”
John Calvin’s A Little Book on the Christian Life
Stephen Nichols (SN): Today I have a special guest with me, Dr. Burk Parsons. Dr. Parsons, welcome to 5 Minutes in Church History.
Burk Parsons (BP): Thank you, Steve.
SN: So glad to have you here. Dr. Parsons is a busy man. He copastors Saint Andrew’s Chapel, he is the editor of Tabletalk magazine, and recently he was made a teaching fellow at Ligonier Ministries. But I’m here to talk to him about this new book that he did in conjunction with Dr. Aaron Denlinger. Dr. Denlinger is a fine Reformation scholar and quite a scholar of Latin, and the two of you teamed up to give us this book. We were joking about it, but this book has a quite literal title. It is by John Calvin and it is called A Little Book on the Christian Life. Tell us about this book.
BP: Thanks, Steve. You’re right, Aaron and I teamed up several years ago to work on this and it had been a project I had wanted to work on for many years. After first reading Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, of course, and then reading Henry Van Andel’s edition from Baker of The Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life, I realized that this was a classic and a book that I wanted every Christian to read. And so, for years, knowing some Latin myself and knowing Calvin well, but needing really a good Latin scholar to help me give a new translation, a new edition, of this booklet, I asked Dr. Denlinger to work on it with me. We spent a good couple of years working on this in my study on Monday afternoons. Hour and a half, two hours at a time, working very slowly, very carefully on this edition, and hopefully it is a helpful work for people.
SN: So, that’s a great experience, to be diving that deeply into Calvin over that length of time. What we really have here is a classic within a classic. This Little Book on the Christian Life is a classic itself and it’s within this classic text, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. What’s Calvin trying to tell us in this little book? What’s important to him about the Christian life?
BP: That’s a good question. This is really a book for every Christian on the basics of what it is to be a Christian, how to live as a Christian in this world. It’s a book not only on sanctification, but it’s also a book reminding us of our justification. Most predominantly throughout Calvin and throughout this book is Calvin’s very clear, undergirding explanation of what it means to be united to Jesus Christ, what it means to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit, what it means to be adopted by God our Father, and how we live as Christians in light of those realities through the miseries of this life, through the miseries of our sin, through the miseries and the trials of this world—how we are to rest in Christ and how we are able to bear that cross of Christ as we suffer with Him. And also how we keep our eyes fixed on the world to come and the new heavens and new earth and that this world, in the end, is not our home, but it will be.
SN: This sounds like a very practical book on how to live the Christian life. Often when we think of Calvin, we have him high on a pedestal as this brilliant theologian, one of the most brilliant, really, in the history of the Christian tradition. Well, give us a taste. Whet our appetites.
BP: I think there is so much that you can pick from here. Every line, every sentence is beautiful. Every line is quotable, but one portion that I think many of your listeners know or have heard, perhaps, is when he says this:
If we are not our own but the Lord’s, it’s clear what errors we must flee, and what we must direct our whole lives toward. We are not our own; therefore, neither our reason nor our will should dominate our plans and actions. We are not our own; therefore, let us not make the gratification of our flesh our end. We are not our own; therefore, as much as possible, let us forget ourselves and our own interests.
Rather, we are God’s. Therefore, let us live and die to Him. We are God’s. Therefore, let His wisdom and His will govern all our actions. We are God’s. Therefore, let us—in every way in all our lives—run to Him as our only proper end. How far has he progressed who’s been taught that he is not his own—who’s taken rule and dominion away from his own reason and entrusted them to God.
SN: Well, that was Dr. Burk Parsons on John Calvin on the Christian life.
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