Book Review – A Little Book on the Christian Life


Reformation Trust Publishing (Ligonier Ministries) has republished this timeless work by John Calvin, edited by Aaron Denlinger and Burk Parsons for modern readers.

The first thing I noticed is how beautiful the typeset and design is – something that Ligonier is known for – which makes for a really pleasant read. I say all of this having read the kindle version provided for review, so I can only imagine how the hard copy looks. I know that some people could care less about the design of a book, but I really appreciate the thoughtfulness that goes into Ligonier’s work.

I thought the editing work was very well done, as well. Calvin writes like a 16th century theologian – he is very long winded. But the editors did a fine job making this work readable and enjoyable for 21st century readers. I have not read any previous publications, so I don’t know how they were laid out, but the block-quoting of Scripture and breakdown of sections are very helpful.

Calvin’s insights into the Christian life are compelling. I found myself needing to reread what he was saying, not necessarily because I didn’t understand it, but because Calvin makes you think. This doesn’t make it a hard read, but it doesn’t make it any easy one either. Be prepared to think, chew and meditate. I could have read this book a chapter a day, but I decided to take it a bit slower in order to take in what was being said.

Most of the work is focused on addressing how Christians should think about obedience, suffering, our life on earth and our future life in glory.

I found Calvin most helpful when discussing obedience and suffering. He emphasizes how our baptism should drive us to faith driven obedience, and he makes a great case for the way Christian’s should experience joy through suffering. His section on suffering is definitely a work that I will return to again to meditate on. Here as well as in addressing obedience, his insights are exceedingly biblical, practical, and Christ exalting.

The fourth chapter on this present life did come across as a bit too ‘ascetic’ for my taste. There is, of course, a sense in which we are to despise this world and the things of this world, holding fast to the hope of future glory. But in some places he seemed to be leaning away from a proper balance in this area. The final chapter helped to rebalance his thoughts, and perhaps this is a reason for me to go back and re-read those chapters. Calvin isn’t an ascetic, and he argues against those who would make us live on bread and water. His exhortation to think of this life in light of our calling may have been my biggest take away from the whole book.

To conclude, I will end up buying a hard copy of this book to return to again and again. It reads almost like a good devotional, and the thoughtful reader will want to take his time chewing on every section.

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