From the Archives: Using the Present Life
The great Reformer warned of both dangers: extravagance and asceticism. Both ignore the fact that it is God who gives the material things of life. This is excerpted from Calvin’s Institutes, Book III, chapter 10.
1. Double Danger: Mistaken Strictness and Mistaken Laxity
By such elementary instruction, Scripture at the same time duly informs us what is the right use of earthly benefits—a matter not to be neglected in the ordering of our life. For if we are to live, we have also to use those helps necessary for living. And we also cannot avoid those things which seem to serve delight more than necessity. Therefore we must hold to a measure so as to use them with a clear conscience, whether for necessity or for delight. By his word the Lord lays down this measure when he teaches that the present life is for his people as a pilgrimage on which they are hastening toward the Heavenly Kingdom [Lev. 25:23; 1 Chron. 29:15; Ps. 39:13; 119:19; Heb. 11:8–10,13–16; 13:14; 1 Peter 2:11]. If we must simply pass through this world, there is no doubt we ought to use its good things in so far as they help rather than hinder our course. Thus Paul rightly persuades us to use this world as if not using it; and to buy goods with the same attitude as one sells them [1 Cor. 7:31.
But because this topic is a slippery one and slopes on both sides into error, let us try to plant our feet where we may safely stand. There were some otherwise good and holy men who when they saw intemperance and wantonness, when not severely restrained, ever raging with unbridled excess, desired to correct this dangerous evil. This one plan occurred to them: they allowed man to use physical goods in so far as necessity required. A godly counsel indeed, but they were far ...