Overcoming the Snares of this Life by Meditating on the Splendor of the Life to Come1
We’ve been looking at the four ways in which John Calvin tells us that meditating on heaven affects our daily living.
Second, meditating on the beauty of heaven strengthens the soul to overcome worldliness and the snares of this life.
Let me simply cite several of Calvin’s statements on this point that you might feel the cumulative impact of how his own contemplation of heavenly glory strengthened him in the battle with worldliness:
“They are said to do so [i.e., to lay up for themselves treasures in heaven], who, instead of entangling themselves in the snares of this world, make it their care and their business to meditate on the heavenly life” (Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, 332).
“But if we were honestly and firmly convinced that our happiness is in heaven, it would be easy for us to trample upon the world, to despise earthly blessings, (by the deceitful attractions of which the greater part of men are fascinated,) and to rise towards heaven” (ibid., 334).
“. . . if meditation on the heavenly life were the prevailing sentiment in our hearts, the world would have no influence in detaining us” (Commentary on the Gospel According to John, 30).
“For the lusts of the flesh hold us entangled, when in our minds we dwell in the world, and think not that heaven is our country; but when we pass as strangers through this life, we are not in bondage to the flesh” (Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles, 78).
The apostle John stated in 1 John 3:3 that “everyone who thus hopes in him [i.e., in Christ] purifies himself as he is pure.” The meaning of this, says Calvin, is “that though we have not Christ now present before our eyes, yet if we hope in him, it cannot be but that this hope will excite and stimulate us to follow purity, for it leads us straight to Christ, whom we know to be a perfect pattern of purity” (ibid., 207). Although Calvin would never have endorsed the last days madness so prevalent in our western world, he asks: “For whence is it that flesh indulges itself except that there is no thought of the near coming of Christ?” (ibid., 420).
Perhaps Calvin’s greatest insights in this regard are found in his commentary on 1 Corinthians 15:58. Paul’s exhortation is that “we be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” How do we know that our labor is not in vain? Because there is a reward laid up for us with God. This is the hope, says Calvin, that “encourages believers, and afterward sustains them, so that they do not stop short in the race” (Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians, 66).
The Pauline exhortation to remain steadfast is based on the sure foundation that “a better life is prepared” for us “in heaven” (ibid.). It is “the hope of a resurrection [that] makes us not be weary in well-doing” (ibid.). In the face of so many temptations to quit and fall into despair, our only hope, says Calvin, is “by thinking of a better life” (ibid.). Indeed, “if the hope of a resurrection is taken away, then, the foundation (as it were) being rooted up, the whole structure of piety falls to the ground. Unquestionably, if the hope of reward is taken away and extinguished, alacrity in running will not merely grow cold, but will be altogether destroyed” (ibid.).
To be continued . . .