Living with a Sense of Eternity
It is commonplace today in Reformed theology to recognize that the Christian lives “between the times”—already we are in Christ, but a yet more glorious future awaits us in the final consummation. There is, therefore, a “not yet” about our present Christian experience. John Calvin well understood this, and he never dissolved the tension between the “already” and the “not yet.” But he also stressed the importance for the present of a life-focus on the future.
Calvin sought, personally, to develop a balance of contempt for the present life with a deep gratitude for the blessings of God and a love and longing for the heavenly kingdom. The sense that the Lord would come and issue His final assessment on all and bring His elect to glory was a dominant motif for him. This, the theme of his chapter “Meditation on the Future Life,” was a major element in the energy with which he lived in the face of the “not yet” of his own ailments and weakness. When he was seriously ill and confined to bed, his friends urged him to take some rest, but he replied, “Would you that the Lord, when He comes, should find me idle?” By living in the light of the return of Christ and the coming judgment, Calvin became deeply conscious of the brevity of time and the length of eternity.
This sense of eternity overflowed from his life into his work. It was so characteristic of him that it flowed out naturally in his prayers at the conclusion of his lectures. Here we see the wonderful harmony of his biblical exposition, his understanding of the gospel, his concern to teach young men how to live for God’s glory, and his personal piety. A fragment of one of these prayers, chosen almost randomly, fittingly summarizes this all-too-brief reflection on the heart of God that Calvin expressed in his learning and leadership:
May we be prepared, whatever happens,
rather to undergo a hundred deaths
than to turn aside from the profession of true piety,
in which we know our safety to be laid up.
And may we so glorify thy name
as to be partakers of that glory which
has been acquired for us
through the blood of thine only-begotten Son. Amen.
Adapted from Sinclair Ferguson’s contribution in John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine & Doxology.