Monday, October 12, 2009

The Soul of Life

This was published in the September issue of the FP Magazine.

The Soul of Life: The Piety of John Calvin, edited and introduced by Joel R Beeke, published by Reformation Heritage Books in their Profiles in Reformed Spirituality series, paperback, 220 pages, £6.95 from the F P Bookroom.

In John Calvin’s five-hundredth anniversary year, there is no shortage of books being published about his life and work. This book is undoubtedly among the most edifying of them. It provides a useful outline of Calvin’s life and then the aspects of the biblical piety that he emphasised. Calvin defined piety as “that reverence joined with love of God which the knowledge of His benefits induces”. Dr Beeke explains the theological dimensions of Calvin’s piety: (1) Its root: mystical union, (2) Its double bond: the Spirit and faith, and (3) Its double cleansing: justification and sanctification. He then refers to the practical exercise of this piety in the means of grace, including the Word, sacraments, prayer and psalm-singing. Other practical dimensions include repentance, cross-bearing, obedience and heavenly-mindedness.

The bulk of the book consists of 45 short selections from Calvin’s writings which are arranged under the headings mentioned above. Calvin writes warmly, clearly and attractively and this volume provides a very helpful introduction to his works. These selections are brief enough to read one per day and one might well choose to follow the example of the Puritan John Cotton who said, “I love to sweeten my mouth with a piece of Calvin before I go to sleep”. It is a well-illustrated pocket-size book, in what is becoming an interesting and helpful series.

The Christian needs every such help in his “faint, yet pursuing” endeavours after godliness. “We ought to apply ourselves altogether to piety alone, because when we have once attained it, God asks nothing more from us.” “It is this, indeed, that through the whole course of life we seek and follow. But we shall attain it only when we have cast off the weakness of the body and are received into full fellowship with Him.”