Institutes: Book 3, Chapter 8, Section 1, Part a
“But it behooves the godly mind to climb still higher, to the height to which Christ calls his disciples: that each must bear his own cross (Matt. 16:24). For whomever the Lord has adopted and deemed worthy of his fellowship ought to prepare themselves for a hard, toilsome, and unquiet life, crammed with very many and various kinds of evil. It is the Heavenly Father’s will thus to exercise them so as to put his own children to a definite test. Beginning with Christ, his first-born, he follows this plan with all his children. For even though that Son was beloved above the rest, and in him the Father’s mind was well pleased (Matt. 3:17; 17:5), yet we see that far from being treated indulgently or softly, to speak the truth, while he dwelt on earth he was not only tried by a perpetual cross but his whole life was nothing but a sort of perpetual cross. The apostle notes the reason: that it behooved him to ‘learn obedience through what he suffered’ (Heb. 5:8).”
Although Christianity does provide comfort, sometimes it makes life more difficult. This difficulty comes in the form of a cross. God shapes and molds various crosses for his people depending upon his intentions. The purpose of the cross in today’s passage from Calvin is to test. We could call it the testing cross. A cross-centered life is a life that corresponds to reality. Reality for the believer contains hardships, evils and pains. If God said through the writers of Scripture that Christianity would not contain suffering of any form, yet the lives of Christians proved the opposite, then we would have reason to doubt the reliability and character of God and His Word. However, His Word says that pain is part and parcel of the life of faith. This correspondence between Christian life and our sacred literature provide coherence to our worldview and helps us bear our own personalized testing cross.
Immediately after I became a Christian God placed a testing cross on my twenty-two year old shoulders. He did so by bringing various physical maladies and illnesses into my life. Symptoms not caused by a benign tumor led to the discovery of that tumor. Had I not evinced these symptoms-which were connected to panic attacks and/or partial seizures- an MRI of my brain would not have occurred. And the tumor was discovered via the MRI. The doctors told me that if that tumor continued growing eventually it could have led to blindness. I thank the Lord for godly teachers and a church that taught me that a cross of such a sort was normal for God’s people. I sometimes complained and got impatient with God, but overall God really caused me to grow under that testing cross.
God’s blessing comes by, with, and under the testing cross. Don’t resist the force of its weight, let the weight ground you, mold you, and shape you as you steel yourself in Christ. Christ has broken in your testing cross. He bore it, bled on it, and endowed it with the impossibility of ever causing you ultimate harm. In Him you have already passed the test. (Justin)