I’ve wanted to begin a devotional book series to supplement the more topical entries I write here at A Reformed Way, so I’ve been casting about for over a month to find a text that would fit. Then last week I heard a lecturer say that when asked what would be a great devotional read he suggested The Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin. He went on to say that the student would inevitably laugh and walk away, shaking their head. He went on to say however that more often than not, after about a year the inquirer would return to thank him, describing the journey through The Institutes as a great devotional.
That got me thinking.
There’s a bit of a back story here. I have owned a personal copy of The Institutes for over 26 years. My two volume Battles translation were one of the few books I carried by suitcase with me to England in 1985. John Calvin dominated my life from 1985-1991. It was in August twenty years ago that I gave my successful oral defense to my finished my PhD thesis on the prophetic office in the theology of John Calvin. There was a time when most of the books in my study carrel were either primary texts written by Calvin or secondary works on his theology in a variety of languages. When you read so much of someone, you start to know how they think. There was a time when I could hear a passage and give a pretty good guess where in writings it had come from.
Like any student that had dedicated as many years to research as I did then, I had read his works with another object in mind. Come to think of it, I wondered now, had I ever read anything Calvin wrote as part of my devotional reading? I am embarrassed to write that in the twenty years since I have not.
So I began a test run. At the conclusion of my Daily Office, after silence, Psalm, Canticle, Bible Study, journaling, prayers, intercession and Collect of the Day, I started at Book One, Chapter One and started to read this week. I read slowly and quietly aloud.
Wow. This is going to work. He had me chuckling with the last sentence (1.2.2; Battles vol. 1, p. 43) of Chapter 2. Within his usual laser-like accuracy, there is just a dry scratch of humor. Do you hear it?
“And we ought to note this fact even more diligently: all men have a vague general veneration for God, but very few really reverence him; and wherever there is a great ostentation in ceremonies, sincerity of heart is rare indeed.”