Calvin on Citizenship in Heaven

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:

f593a-calvinsladder[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.

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18 Responses to Calvin on Citizenship in Heaven

  1. Caeli says:

    How about Christ on Citizenship in Heaven? It pains to see believers tout this Calvin, a mere human being who himself wasn’t above reproach. A man who is supposedly converted but reverts to the same methods of the Catholic Church when it comes to executing heretics. Sounds like an inconsistency to me. We need to remember Jesus’ parable about the Tree and its fruit.

    https://modconspiracy.wordpress.com/2016/07/05/no-such-thing-as-holy-murder/

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Caeli, first let me just say thank you for stopping by. I appreciate the fact that you took the time to check out my blog.

      A couple points by way of response. First, the biblical passages that I cited at the beginning were from Philippians and Hebrews and not the dominical sayings of Christ himself, so therefore it would have been inaccurate to title the post as you suggest.

      Second, if you had previous posts about what I do on this blog, I make it clear that when I cite other theologians such as Calvin (but not limited to him), I do not accord them the authority of Scripture. I simply acknowledge that, as Paul taught in Ephesians 4, Christ himself has given to his church various teachers for its edification. I make no claims that Calvin was anything more than a mere human being, nor do I believe that he was perfect or infallible. But then again neither was David, the author of many biblical psalms who was an adulterer and murderer, Peter who denied Christ, or Paul who was a merciless persecutor of the early church. Then again, none of us “mere human beings” are perfect, and we are all sinners in presence of a holy God.

      So I really do not see an inconsistency here. By your logic, we shouldn’t listen to sermons about Christ (because those who preach them are human and sinful), we shouldn’t read books about Christ besides Scripture (because those who write them are also human and sinful), and we really shouldn’t listen to what anyone else has to say on anything related to Christ (because everyone is human and sinful)! By your own standards, you and I shouldn’t even be blogging, because no one should read what we write because we are both human and sinful.

      Ultimately, our standard for whether we should listen to what someone else like Calvin says should not be established on the basis of his or her fallibility and failures, but rather on the truth of those things that the person in question says. I do not applaud everything that Calvin did, but I greatly appreciate much of what he wrote, taught, and defended.

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      • Caeli says:

        By my logic, I meant I need to rely on the Holy Spirit more than I need Calvin to interpret and understand Scripture. I don’t mean any disrespect really sir. I just try to go by what Jesus Christ Himself said.

        As for what you said about not blogging, you misunderstand my main intent, the focus should be what Christ said, and not what Calvin said.

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      • Caeli says:

        The difference between David and Calvin was that David murdered Uriah to save his dignity, never did he claim to do it in God’s name, whereas Calvin executed heretics in the name of God. David was before Jesus and when Jesus came, He laid out a new model for His followers like the woman caught in adultery.

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  2. Caeli, you really didn’t respond to the material point that I was trying to make, and I’m not entirely sure that you really understood what I was getting at. You are trying to drive a wedge between understanding Scripture through reliance on the Holy Spirit versus other human beings. This is a false dichotomy. Your very individualistic approach to reading Scripture is something which is conditioned by contemporary Western society and not Scripture itself. Remember that it was Jesus himself who commissioned other humans, such as Peter the denier and Paul the persecutor, to be his authoritative witnesses. It was that same Paul who in the Pastoral epistles directed Timothy and Titus to train and appoint elders and teachers in the church. If you will notice, the majority of the books of Scripture were written not to individuals, but to the entire community of faith, and thus they are intended to be read and interpreted in the context of the entire community’s reliance on the Spirit and not only that of the private individual. This is why, again, Paul says in Ephesians 4:11-16 that it was Christ himself who gave to his church teachers (such as Calvin) for the upbuilding and maturity of his whole body. From a biblical point of view, the distinctions that you are trying to make are simply nonsensical. Your argument does even get off the ground because it is based upon a false premise.

    My fundamental point in pointing to various examples (David, Peter, Paul, Calvin) is not to quibble over their various strengths or weaknesses of these individuals, but merely to underscore the fact that all human beings are flawed, fallible, weak, and sinful, and that the logical outcome of your contention would be that of making it impossible to listen to anything that anyone says about Jesus except for Jesus himself. But this directly contradicts Scripture, for it was Jesus himself who commanded others to preach, teach, and proclaim the good news about him, and it was Jesus who commanded those who listen to accept their message.

    Blessings

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  3. Caeli says:

    He sure upheld the maturity of believers to keep them in “like” mind by commissioning executions and making a spectacle of people if they held to different beliefs. You can say I’m nonsensical, that’s fine. My main concern really is pure guidance of the Holy Spirit gets nullified when others rely too much on others’ systematic theology since if those people had the Holy Spirit, so do believers now. Yes, we are all fallible, I get that, but we are to imitate Christ and according to history books, Calvin amid his conversion still condoned murder. That is quite something if you truly dwell on it to the extent that people can rationalize murder is okay as long as it is done in God’s name or the preservation of the church? No one in Jesus’ apostles did what Calvin did so he must be special. What then is the difference between Calvin and Mohammad? I say Calvin is quite a contrast with the apostle Paul. Anyway, like I said, I mean no disrespect. You do have a nice day and if you wish, you could delete my posts if it bothers you.

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    • Caeli, I think we’ve taken this conversation about as far as it can go, so I will only say this. I do not condone Calvin’s actions with respect to Servetus. That does not invalidate however the truth of much of what he said. To argue in this way is to commit a logical fallacy called an ‘ad hominem’ argument. It means that you cannot undermine the validity of what someone says on the basis of who they are. As we see in the case of Balaam’s donkey, God can even use an stubborn animal to communicate the truth if he so desires.

      Blessings

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      • Caeli says:

        Agreed. God uses whomever but Jesus gave us an outline of what to look for in a true follower. This is as clear as I can see it. Paul was a murderer before he met Christ. Calvin masterminded Servetus’s execution after he met Christ. I truly hope that Calvin was indeed saved and at least repented after the fact. I do see that the spirit of Calvin still drives a wedge within the body of Christ even to this day and the bible clearly tells us to steer clear from that. Doesn’t that make you wonder? If a man preaches the love of Christ and his actions don’t match up, in modern day, we call that a hypocrite, like Jesus called the Pharisees, outwardly appearing pious but murderous on the inside.

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      • Caeli, as I said in my last reply to you, I think this conversation has gone as far as it can. You are not going to convince me with what you are saying. I am well aware that Calvin played a role in Servetus’ execution, but this has no bearing on how I view his theology. Basically you seem to keep repeating the same things over and over without actually engaging in the material points that I am trying to make, and until you do, I would appreciate it if you did not continue to comment. I’m not trying to be disrespectful or uncharitable. It’s just that this conversation is really going nowhere at this point.

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      • Caeli says:

        Actually, if you keep rereading John 16:2-3 and ask the Holy Spirit, you might get convinced. I do respectfully ask that you delete the comments since it would probably incite other Calvinists and that’s the last thing I want. Have a good day 🙂

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  4. Spaniardviii says:

    Caeli makes a lot of sense. I wonder if you can be so kind and give me a reference in the New Testament where the imperfect humans like Paul, Peter and the rest after mind you receiving the Holy Spirit killed any heretics. All that comes to mind is Matthew 5:44-45 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
    If a person says he is a Christian and starts killing people because of their beliefs that would make him a liar no? When the Jews took Jesus to Pilate and Pilate brought out two men a murderer and Jesus the innocent. Who did the Jews chose? Answer: the murderer. I see by fighting for Calvin and exulting him one is choosing a murderer instead of Jesus.

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    • Spaniardvii,

      While I am glad that you took the time to check out my blog (I truly am!), I am bothered by the fact that you too seem to entirely miss the point that I was trying to make in response to Caeli. Not only are you also using the same ‘ad hominem’ fallacy that Caeli employed, but you are also critiquing me on the basis of something that I never said and thus are constructing a straw man. I have made clear that I am not defending Calvin’s role in the execution of Servetus (even though perhaps you are both unaware that heresy was a capital offense everywhere in that period of time and not just in Geneva). I am not, as you say, “fighting for” and “exulting” Calvin the man in terms of his role in the Servetus affair. That is a false accusation. I am more than happy to engage with people here, but only if they are willing to actually engage with what I say rather than mounting baseless and fallacious criticisms. I would love for you (and Caeli) to stick around and follow my blog, but please don’t make comments like this anymore.

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      • Spaniardviii says:

        Sure, I will respect your decision. Next time you decide to just talk about the Lord Jesus then and only then would I be interested in reading it. Be bless

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  5. Kenneth Macari says:

    Caeli and Spaniardviii do not have teachable spirits. They are NOT humble of heart. He who is without sin cast the first stone!.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Kenneth Macari says:

    Jonathan, I do not want to be an instigator. Nevertheless, some folks do not want to engage in dialogue–only diatribe. Also, PLEASE keep in prayer these weeks of Presidential conventions. Since the riots at the 1968 conventions, I have never been this apprehensive.

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