CALVIN’S DOCTRINE OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE
Ronald S. Wallace
Moderation expresses itself in patience under affliction
Our moderation will express itself not only in contentment with our vocation in life but also in patience under affliction. It is rebellion against God to “budge” from our place in life, without His call, it is equally rebellion against Him, whether we stay or move, to allow our feelings and passions and desires under trial and affliction any loose scope or expression. Calvin therefore calls for the moderation of passion and grief in the face of adversity, insult, injury and every kind of care and anxiety, for it is fatally easy under such circumstances to indulge in our infirmity and allow ourselves to be carried away by our feelings and reactions beyond the bounds of all moderation. Indeed, the sorrow of life can carry us away into excess even more easily than the joys of life. We must “compose our mind to patience” by moderating even our grief.
In speaking of patience Calvin obviously has frequently in mind the expression of the Psalmist’s about his “silence” before God. Since the tendency of our passion under affliction is to “raise an uproar against God,” he can define patience as a “kind of silence by which the godly keep their minds in subjection to His authority.” He notes that David in his afflictions advanced more and more in the cultivation of “silence” and was able at times to “mortify every carnal inclination and thoroughly subject himself to the will of God” (Psalm 62). In such an attitude we will let no ill-feeling against God slip from us. We will refuse to pass judgement on His ways with us or others, remembering that we cannot in any way measure the depths of His judgements by the standards of our own fantasy, and that it is in vain to confess that God is just, unless in practice we humiliate ourselves thus before Him. We must, then, patiently await God’s time, in faith that He will exercise true care over His Church and His children. If a man has faith, he will cherish his hope in silence and calling upon Him for help will lay a restraint upon his own passions. Moreover, such faith in having been taken under God’s guardianship will make us commit our cause to Him rather than give way to any impatience that would drive us to retaliate against others for the injuries they have done us.
To be patient under affliction, however, means to moderate but not entirely to quench our feelings of grief or anxiety or anger. We are not meant to cultivate a completely stoical indifference to all feeling, nor to cast off our human nature and harden ourselves like stones. “Patience is never free from being afflicted, and the children of God cannot help feeling their misfortunes and being sad.” They are bound to mourn when death comes to friends or dear ones. They are bound to find their faith assailed by real fears. They are bound to find themselves subject to worry – for though there is a wrong kind of worry that springs from distrust, nevertheless God does not mean men to become like wooden stumps without concern for their own welfare, nor does He mean that a father should have no anxious concem for his family. What matters is that we should moderate our mouming, keep our fear within proper bounds, and set a limit to our care, for it is the mark of the unbeliever to give loose reins to grief in the face of death, and though anxiety is not wrong in itself it becomes corrupted when it is allowed any undue excess.
Reprinted from the Shalom Bulletin No. 524, of the Shalom Reformed Baptist Church of Singapore.