As we celebrate the 4th of July, it is important to remember that whatever may be our love for our country, “here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Heb. 13:14), for in reality “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20). No one knew this better than John Calvin, who lived most of his life as an exile from his homeland and suffered greatly in the flesh during his relatively brief pilgrimage on the earth. Although some may quibble a bit with what seems to be his overly negative view of the present life (we must remember the harsh times and terrible sufferings he faced), his comments on these passages are, in my opinion, timely and appropriate to this day:
[W]e have no fixed residence but in heaven. Whenever, therefore, we are driven from place to place, or whenever any change happens to us, let us think of what the Apostle teaches us here, that we have no certain abode on earth, for heaven is our inheritance; and when more and more tried, let us ever prepare ourselves for our last end; for they who enjoy a very quiet life commonly imagine that they have a rest in this world: it is hence profitable for us, who are prone to this kind of sloth, to be often tossed here and there, that we who are too much inclined to look on things below, may learn to turn our eyes up to heaven.
[N]othing is to be reckoned of any value except God’s spiritual kingdom, because believers ought to lead a heavenly life in this world…[W]e are exposed to the common inconveniences of this earthly life; we require, also, meat and drink, and other necessaries, but we must, nevertheless, be conversant with heaven in mind and affection. For, on the one hand, we must pass quietly through this life, and, on the other hand, we must be dead to the world that Christ may live in us, and that we, in our turn, may live to him…
By this argument he stirs up the Philippians still farther to lift up their minds to heaven, and be wholly attached to Christ—because this body which we carry about with us is not an everlasting abode, but a frail tabernacle, which will in a short time be reduced to nothing. Besides, it is liable to so many miseries, and so many dishonourable infirmities, that it may justly be spoken of as vile and full of ignominy. Whence, then, is its restoration to be hoped for? From heaven, at Christ’s coming. Hence there is no part of us that ought not to aspire after heaven with undivided affection. We see, on the one hand, in life, but chiefly in death, the present meanness of our bodies; the glory which they will have, conformably to Christ’s body, is incomprehensible by us…Let us for the present be contented with the evidence of our adoption, being destined to know the riches of our inheritance when we shall come to the enjoyment of them.
Calvin, J. & Pringle, J., 2010. Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
Calvin, J. & Owen, J., 2010. Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews, Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.