Of the Christian Life
by Dr. Bonnie Pattison

The late Reformation scholar Heiko Oberman noted that during Calvin's Strasbourg period (1538-1541) he was convinced, given the groundwork laid by Martin Luther, that Protestant doctrine needed to lead to a "Protestant way of life." In short, "A Reformation of life had to follow the Reformation of doctrine." Calvin had already made clear in his dedicatory letter to King Francis I, written a few years earlier, that the purpose of his Institutes was to provide his readers with a basic instruction in the teachings of Christian faith so that they may be directed to true piety. Calvin's addition of this final chapter to the Institutes was his way to cast a vision for how a Christian life should be lived—in piety, that is, "directed to the right end of ordering his life well" (681).

For Calvin this "rightly ordered life" is always summed up in Christ. From the beginning of this chapter, Calvin told his readers, "We must resemble Him (Christ) because we are His." In other words, "His image ought to be represented in our life," because God "has also established us in Christ." Thus everything Calvin said in this chapter about the Christian life may be traced back to Christ, the ultimate "Example and model of whom we must conform" (682).

Reading from Calvin
Reading for Dec 13 - 31

In undertaking to form the life of a Christian person I am entering upon a full and varied subject, which could fill a great volume if I wanted to pursue it at length. For we see how prolix are the exhortations of the early church doctors which treat only one particular virtue. That prolixity does not come from excessive babbling, for whatever the virtue we want to praise and commend, the abundance of material means that it does not seem we have discussed it well if we have not used many words. Now my intention is not to extend the teaching about Christian life which I am offering to the point of discussing each individual virtue and making long exhortations. One can find that in other people’s books, and chiefly in the homilies of the early church doctors, that is, their sermons to the populace. It is enough for me to show by what order a Christian should be led and directed to the right end of ordering his life well. I will be content, I say, to show briefly a general rule by which he can measure all his actions. Perhaps we will sometime have the opportunity to make such orations as there are in the sermons of the early church doctors. The work which we have in hand now requires that we comprise a simple teaching with the greatest brevity possible.