Two Things That Will Keep Us from Christ

Therefore, if we would give ear to Christ’s call, away with all arrogance and complacency! Arrogance arises form a foolish persuasion of our own righteousness, when man thinks that he has something meritorious to commend him before God. Complacency can exist even without any belief in works. For many sinners are so drunk with the sweetness of their vices that they think not upon God’s judgment but lie dazed, as it were, in a sort of drowsiness, and do not aspire to the mercy offered to them. Such sloth is no less to be shaken off than any confidence in ourselves to be cast away in order that we may without hindrance hasten to Christ, and empty and hungering, may be filled with his good things. For we will never have enough confidence in him unless we become deeply distrustful of ourselves; we will never lift up our hearts enough in him unless they be previously cast down in us; we will never have consolation enough in him unless we have already experienced desolation in ourselves.

Therefore we are ready to seize and grasp God’s grace when we have utterly cast out confidence in ourselves and rely on only the assurance of his goodness – “when,” as Augustine says, “forgetting our own merits, we embrace Christ’s gifts.” For if he sought merits in us, we would not come to his gifts. Bernard is in agreement with this when he neatly compares to faithfulness servants the proud, who claims even the slightest thing for their own merits because they wrongfully retain the credit for grace that passes through them, as if a wall should say that it gave birth to a sunbeam that it received through a window. Not to halt any longer with this, let us hold it as a brief but general and sure rule that prepared to share the fruit of God’s mercy is he who has emptied himself, I do not say of righteousness, which exists not, but of a vain and airy semblance of righteousness. For to the extent that a man rests satisfied with himself, he impedes the beneficence of God.

– John Calvin, Institutes, III, xii, 8.


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