Rev Andrew Davies
It is unfortunate that John Calvin has had such a bad press, because as Dr. Jim Packer has said, as preacher and teacher of the Bible, as pastor, reformer, theologian, and universal Christian counsellor Calvin became “the most influential man in the world in the sense that his ideas made more history than did those of anyone else alive in his day and for at least a hundred years after”. We will take a look at some of the reasons why Calvin has been misrepresented before examining his true genius. But first let me outline his life story.
He was born on 10 July 1509 (26 years after the birth of Luther) in Noyon, Picardy, a small town about 50 miles north east of Paris. He was one of five children, three boys and two girls. His mother died when he was just five. His father, Gerard, a local cathedral administrator, sent him to Paris University to prepare him for the priesthood but by the time he graduated in an arts degree his father had changed his mind and persuaded him to move to Orleans University to study law. He seemed destined for an academic career but experienced what he called a “sudden conversion” in 1533/4. God “subdued and brought my mind to a teachable frame, which was more hardened in such matters than might have been expected from one at my early period in life”. He found himself “inflamed with an intense desire” to study the Scriptures and within a year of his conversion he was surprised that people began to turn to him for instruction. Naturally shy and diffident by nature he could not shake off the growing conviction that God was thrusting him into a public leadership role.
In 1534 French Protestants posted placards in major French towns proclaiming justification by faith and attacking the mass. As a result Calvin had to flee to Basle. It was here in 1536, just three years after his conversion, that the first edition of his Institutes appeared. It quickly established his reputation as an outstanding theologian. Five months later he met William Farel in Geneva. Farel begged and adjured him to stay and help him pastor the Protestant population there. Their aim was to establish a strong biblical church existing alongside the government of Geneva but not under its control.
That was no easy task because the population of 16,000 was divided, with a strong Catholic party and a turbulent, growing, anti-Catholic minority. Furthermore, the Genevan government did not always accept the spiritual leadership of their two pastors. In fact Farel and Calvin were ordered to leave the city in 1538 because of a dispute over the adoption of a Bernese liturgy. Calvin spent the next three years in Strasburg where he was influenced in his theological and ecclesiastical understanding by Martin Bucer. At the same time he became part of a strong reformed church and saw the strategic importance of educational academies such as the one established by Johann Sturm. He also married Idelette de Bure, the widow of an Anabaptist. They were to have three children, all of whom died in infancy, and Idelette herself died in 1549 after only nine years of marriage.
Then in 1541 he was recalled to Geneva by the Council and reluctantly agreed to return.He remained there until his death in 1564. For 23 years Calvin poured all his energy into the preaching, teaching and application of theWord of God. He wanted Genevan Christians to be thoroughly grounded in the Scriptures and the Genevan church to be organised after the biblical pattern. To this end he drew up a series of doctrinal articles and a Confession of Faith. He regulated the worship of the three congregations, composed a liturgy, and wrote a catechism for children. He laid down and implemented biblical principles for the calling and appointment of pastors, elders and deacons. Above all he gave himself to the preaching of the Word under which and through which he believed God would fashion a people who would honour Him and obey Him in the relationships and callings of daily life. In this way, as theWord moulded the lives of its citizens, Geneva would become a pattern for others and a centre of missionary endeavour. With this in mind Calvin organised the growing number of Reformed churches in France, established an educational academy for the training of pastors, and supervised the sending out of men to serve these churches. He also encouraged his fellow reformers in Europe,writing hundreds of letters and receiving large numbers of visitors and Protestant refugees. He seldom slept for more than four hours a night. It was Calvin,more than any other, who strengthened the Reformation faith when it seemed to be falling back, and it was Calvin who enabled it once more to advance.
From 1555 to 1564 his health declined markedly, so much so that he was made conscious of the need to use the time left to him well. On Christmas Day 1559 the Council offered him the freedom of the city and he became an honorary citizen of Geneva. He was visibly moved. That same day as he returned home from the City Hall he had a serious bout of coughing followed by the vomiting of blood. It was TB and meant a slow lingering death. On 6 February 1564 he preached for the last time. In March prayers were requested for him. On 27 April the Council members went in procession to visit him and receive his farewells, and on the next day he said “Goodbye” to the local pastors. Farel, 84 years of age, travelled from Neuchatel to see him, and on 27 May he died. In his will, drafted a month earlier, he said; “ I embrace the grace which God has offered me in our Lord Jesus Christ and accept the merits of His suffering and dying that through them all my sins are buried; and I humbly beg Him to wash me and cleanse me with the blood of our great Redeemer, as it was shed for all poor sinners so that I,when I shall appear before His face, may bear His likeness”. His body was sown into a white shroud and laid in a simple pine coffin. At the grave there were no words nor song. He had given instructions that there should be no tombstone, and when some students visited the cemetery a few months later they could not distinguish his funeral mound from the others. In death, as in life, he shunned recognition for himself so that in all things his Saviour might have the pre-eminence.
Some of the misrepresentations are frankly ridiculous and hardly worthy of a mention. For example, Calvin’s exposition of the doctrines of predestination and election has been held to be responsible for apartheid in S Africa. But for Calvin those truths have absolutely nothing to do with the human attempt to divide people into superior and inferior races, and in fact belong to the biblical context of salvation and are part of the hidden mystery of divine sovereignty and human responsibility.
Other misrepresentations betray an almost incorrigible ignorance of historical reality. The idea, for instance, that Calvin was a cold, austere, and cruel dictator who turned Geneva into a grim and cheerless police state flies in the face of all the evidence. In fact, laws suppressing gambling, blasphemy, drunkenness, licentious dancing, playing games during the hours of public worship and so on, had existed in Geneva long before the Reformation began, and Calvin was all too aware that the moral life of the city during his time there left a lot to be desired. Contrary to the myths that surround his name, he was trained as a biblical humanist, never subjected the state to the church, was Christ-centred in his theology, and was a warm-hearted and diligent pastor.
But some misrepresentations are more serious. Calvin’s part in the trial and execution of Michael Servetus at Geneva has been particularly criticised. Servetus denied the divinity of Christ and was eventually burned to death. Calvin has been held to be completely responsible for his execution. But this is to ignore a number of historical facts. It is true that he agreed with the decision of the Genevan Council to execute him, and we would all agree that the Council should not have enforced the old Imperial and Catholic law, derived from the Code Justinian, against Servetus. But the matter needs to be put into context. a) Servetus had already been condemned by a RC tribunal in France. b) Denial of the Trinity and the deity of Christ was regarded in the Middle Ages as a capital offence throughout the Christian world and others were burned in places other than Geneva. c) The decision to burn Servetus was taken by the Genevan Little Council ofTwenty Five and Calvin was its servant. d) Calvin showed great pastoral concern for Servetus, pleading with him to recant and when he refused asking for beheading as a more humane method of execution. e) Other reformers including Bucer and Melanchthon approved the execution. It is, therefore, unfair to single out Calvin for special personal criticism in a matter that was a fault of the culture of the day. In fact, Calvin’s belief that the conscience is ultimately to be ruled by God and not by the State was eventually to lead to the replacing of the old medieval view.
Perhaps the most popular misrepresentations of Calvin concern his theological understanding.
Firstly, he has been accused of squeezing the Bible into a theological straight jacket and of using Scriptural texts to support a pre-conceived thought system controlled by the doctrine of predestination. In fact he was supremely a Bible man, seeking to say no more and no less than the Bible says about predestination and all else. The Institutes itself was written not only as a topical summary of biblical truth but as an introduction to the study of the Bible and to his own commentaries. For Calvin Scripture was supreme and he sought to ground everything he wrote in the Institutes on a firm biblical basis.
Secondly, his doctrine of total depravity has been caricatured to mean that in his judgment human beings are as bad as they can be. In fact he taught that although human beings cannot achieve salvation without special grace, under common grace they are capable of great acts of kindness and cultural achievement and their natural corruptions can be restrained by conscience, law, environment and government.
Thirdly, the doctrine of predestination has been seen as the lynch pin of his theology as though his main emphasis was on the pre-determined damnation of most of the human race. In fact, his main emphasis is on the saving grace of God and on Christ as Saviour of all who believe. The offer of salvation is universal and all are responsible before God for receiving or rejecting the offer. The doctrine of predestination, he saw, is clearly Scriptural, but is not to be used as a bullet but as balm for the troubled c o n s c i e n c e .
Calvin’s insistence that the Gospel must be offered to all was put into practice as he did all he could to spread the gospel throughout Europe and even into Brazil by praying, writing, advising, and training leaders.
Fourthly, subsequent modifications of Calvin’s thought such as Beza’s full blown Presbyterianism, or the Puritan focus on assurance, or double predestination as the context of the Gospel, or hyper Calvinism, are sometimes imagined to be what he himself said. In fact he was not a divine right Presbyterian; for him faith in Christ is assurance; the Gospel is the context for double predestination; and he was passionate about evangelism.
But enough of the misrepresentations. “The amount of misrepresentation to which Calvin’s theology has been subjected is enough,” says Dr Jim Packer, “to prove his doctrine of total depravity several times over”.
What of his real genius?
Let me say something about Calvin the theologian, Calvin the reformer, and Calvin the preacher/pastor.
Calvin the theologian
He saw the Institutes as the centrepiece of his life’s work, written to provide a textbook for theological students and to display the system of thought underlying the commentaries.
Calvin’s great concern throughout was that men should glorify God. The Institutes was a book, therefore, written with a pastoral motive. He wanted as many people as possible to become true
Christians and to live worshipping, praising, loving, obedient lives before God. “He was, in fact, the finest exegete, the greatest systematic theologian, and the profoundest religious thinker that the Reformation produced”. (J I Packer) Scholars have pointed out that he never changed his mind about any of his convictions from the first edition to the last. But his convictions did develop over the years. For example, in the first edition of 1536 he only touched upon justification by faith and repentance, but in the Latin edition of 1539 two new chapters on these subjects were added. The edition of 1539 also carried new chapters on the agreement of the OT and NT (against the anabaptists) and on providence and predestination. In this 1539 edition he also developed his understanding of theTrinity and faith, and the many references to early church councils indicated an extensive reading of church history. The final edition (in Latin 1559) and in French (1560) includes many new additions and runs to 80 chapters in four books. For example, forgiveness of sins is attached not to the church (as in the Apostles Creed) but to the work of the Holy Spirit and to faith in Jesus Christ (a clearly anti-RC emphasis), and providence is detached from predestination and placed under the doctrine of God whereas predestination is placed under the doctrine of salvation.
These and many other additions indicate that Calvin saw the need to clarify issues, deal with controversies and answer objections.
The theme of the Institutes is the knowledge of God, which Calvin understood to include knowledge about God and knowing God, both learned and experienced through the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit speaking in and through Holy Scripture. Such knowledge is intellectual, experiential, and practical and
is inaccessible to fallen human beings without revelation. This revelation is located in Scripture alone which reveals God as Creator, Christ as Mediator, the Holy Spirit as witness, and the church as the means of grace. It becomes ours through the work of the Holy Spirit who unites us to the risen Lord Jesus Christ who is our righteousness, holiness, and redemption. It exalts God and humbles the sinner, producing worship, trust, love, and obedience toward God and faithfulness, integrity, and love toward man. As Paul did in Romans Calvin placed the doctrine of justification at the heart of his theology (Book 3 chapters 11 to 18). Before it are truths about God (Triune, Creator, Sovereign), and man (guilty, blind and helpless in sin), and Christ (the Godman proclaimed in the OT, and the accomplisher of redemption), and the Law, and faith (God’s gift which is inseparable from repentance). After it are truths about living the Christian life, joyfully, obediently and prayerfully, in the certainty of God’s election and of resurrection glory, and in the fellowship of the church and as loyal citizens of the State.
Because Calvin’s great concern throughout was pastoral, in 1541 he produced a French edition with many explanatory additions so that ordinary French people could read it. This first French edition was followed by others and they were distributed widely by colporteurs in French-speaking countries. It was translated into other languages and became the basic doctrinal manual of the Reformed churches, having a profound effect on thinkers and people in France and beyond. Undoubtedly it was one of the great causes of the very rapid rise of a Calvinist orthodoxy.
In a brilliant essay on Calvin the theologian Jim Packer argues that Calvin did not set out to be an innovator. His aim was to consolidate the work of Luther, Bucer, and Melanchthon and to integrate and unify the thinking of his predecessors. This he did in a number of ways First, he was the first to provide a unified account of the three fold mediatorial office of Christ as prophet, priest and king. Second, as B.B.Warfield pointed out, he was the first to relate the whole experience of the application of salvation to the working of the Holy Spirit and in so doing he replaced the RC doctrine of the Church as the source of assurance and salvation by the testimony of the Holy Spirit. Third, he was the first to insist that salvation is the organic work of the Triune Godhead, the Father choosing, the Son redeeming and the Holy Spirit renewing men. Fourth, he clarified the thinking of Luther and Zwingli on the Lord’s Supper by arguing that Christ’s glorified body is in heaven and not in the sacramental elements but that Christ is present by the Holy Spirit and communicates the efficacy of His atonement to those who receive the elements with faith in Him. Fifthly, unlike Luther and Zwingli, who allowed the state to regulate the outward life of the church, Calvin held that magistrates were not to rule the church but to maintain the church’s right to rule itself, a principle which was to have a profound influence on subsequent relationships between church and state. Sixthly, Calvin included in the Institutes a wonderful study of the Christian life as a life of holiness, discipline, prayer, service, joy and hope. It became the seedbed of the extensive Reformed literature of the seventeenth century in the fields of ethics and sanctification.
Calvin the reformer
Like Luther Calvin was brought up in the RC Church. But when he was converted he realised that the church needed radical reform. His concern was twofold. First, to proclaim the biblical Gospel with such clarity and urgency that the membership of the church would be purged of irreligion as people came to a living experience of God’s grace in Christ. The second was to bring the church as close as possible to the biblical norm in doctrine, worship, order and life. As he gave himself to these tasks it became clear that the church as an institution was unwilling to change. In fact it persecuted many of his fellow Protestants. Therefore, he took the opportunity in Strasburg and Geneva, through the preaching of the Gospel and the teaching of the Bible, to bring about a truly NT church.
In Geneva he persuaded the city council to establish a series of ecclesiastical ordinances and gave his energies to organising the church, defining its functions, and transforming Geneva into a model city. This was to be achieved under the preaching and teaching of the Scriptures, which were to be applied in an ordered, systematic way through daily sermons, regular lectures, and a sound education. His aim was to produce a people whose lives were lived for the glory of God, and to make Geneva the centre of great missionary outreach to France and Europe. Central to the fulfilment of this aim was the provision of able and godly ministers of the Word. A biblical ministry was essential to the life and mission of the church.
Calvin did not regard the church as a democracy. The pastors chose the pastors (though the city council could reject the choice). They were to meet once a week to study theWord together and their main function was to preach. “Let no one assume the office of a servant of the Word without an inner call”. “Let the proclamation be such that it will uplift the people”. “Let the preacher have good manners and keep himself unspotted”. The pastors also chose the teachers who were responsible for teaching the Bible and for education in general, although once again the city council insisted on ratifying the choice. Twelve ruling elders were chosen with the responsibility of applying the Word to the people under their care, and they met with the pastors once a week as a Consistory to discuss all matters concerning the church and to decide on issues of church discipline. The deacons were appointed to oversee the poor, administer the church’s income, look after the hospital and hostel, and arrange for prisoners to hear the Gospel. (Under Calvin’s leadership Geneva housed orphans, elderly folk and invalids, and cared for the needy. It sheltered 6,000 refugees between 1550 and 1560 and provided opportunities for job training for many). The reformation of the church meant more than simply doctrinal orthodoxy.
Preaching was at the heart of all this. The pastors preached regularly. In two of the three city churches Sunday sermons were delivered at dawn. At all three churches sermons were again preached at 9 a.m. At noon the young were catechised, and at 3 p.m. there was a further sermon at the three churches. In addition sermons were preached on three weekdays, and finally every day. Calvin himself preached several times a week, and it was entirely characteristic of his passion for biblical exposition that when he returned to Geneva after his exile in Strasburg he continued where he had left off three years earlier.
Calvin sought to give the right and duty of discipline over the conduct of the people into the hands of the church and not the civil power. If necessary, the church would then deliver the offender to the civil power for punishment. There was tension over this issue between the pastors and the Genevan Council which sometimes overruled Calvin’s wishes. Modern writers are critical of what went on in Geneva, even suggesting that it was akin to a kind of theocratic concentration camp. But this is a distortion of the facts. It is true that in those days heresy, blasphemy and immorality were treated as civil crimes, but that was true in the RC as well as the Protestant world. In fact in Geneva all who respected biblical truth, attended church regularly and lived by Christian standards of public decency enjoyed what John Knox called “the most perfect school of Christ since the apostles”.
It is important to remember that Calvin’s concern that Geneva should be a pattern of a true Scriptural church and community was not the end of the story. He also wanted it to become a missionary centre from which should proceed evangelists equipped and trained to minister theWord. He established for this purpose the College in Geneva in 1559 and at the same time able men came to live in Geneva and became teachers there. Theodore Beza was the first rector. The College taught at two levels, firstly, the young people received a good education, and secondly, trainee pastors were grounded in the Word. Numbers in level one grew from 280 in 1559 to 1,200 in 1564, and by 1564 there were 300 in the seminary. The Genevan Academy became the seminary of the Protestant Reformed movement in Europe and was influential in France,W Germany,Holland, Scotland,Hungary, and Transylvania in training men as preachers and pastors.
Underlying all that Calvin achieved in Geneva was a fundamental conviction, consistently applied, namely that the way to reform the culture is to reform the church. His reforms began in the church and only then radiated outwards. If society was to be changed people needed to be changed so that as the number of Christians increased the church was able to fulfil its true function as the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
Calvin the preacher/pastor
It must have been a thrilling and sometimes painful experience to sit under Calvin’s preaching in Geneva. He sought not only to drench the minds of his hearers with biblical truth but also to search their consciences. He preached twice on Sundays from NT books, and once every weekday on alternate weeks from the OT. Each sermon was an hour long and he probably preached directly from the Hebrew OT and the Greek NT without notes but after thorough preparation. He also delivered three lectures in theology on the alternate week, plus visitation of the sick, private counselling, a weekly elders meeting, a weekly Friday Bible study and the writing of many letters and books. In preaching he worked his way through biblical books consecutively, covering Hebrews, Psalms, Jeremiah, Acts, Lamentations, the Minor Prophets, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Job, Deuteronomy,Titus, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Isaiah, Ephesians, the Harmony of the Gospel, Genesis, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 Kings. He usually took three or four verses at a time and after announcing each clause or sentence he would then explain it, never giving the Hebrew or Greek original because his learning was never ostentatious. Then the passage was addressed to the congregation as already relevant and he looked to the Holy Spirit to write it on the heart and often spoke directly and passionately to the congregation using the first person plural.
Undergirding Calvin’s preaching ministry were four convictions. First, that the Bible is God teaching us; second, that it is a mirror of the human heart and of Christ; third, that it a warning, and fourth, that it is a comfort. He was careful to treat OT authors in their historical context but in applying the NT he spoke to people as those who lived in the era of fulfilment.
Like Luther Calvin proclaimed the essential message of the Bible, “The Faith”. He often summarised it in his sermons. The message is one, namely, that God has given Himself to be known by us in Christ. This is good news indeed. We do not know what God is, only what He is like, the living God who wishes to help us in grace, who comes to us, listening to our prayers, revealing Himself as Father, justifying us, adopting us,making us heirs, joining us to Himself, saving and enriching us. And all of this is in Jesus Christ. So all is Christological. It is to Christ that we must always look. To know God in Christ is to believe, trust, obey , love, adore, and hope – all in Christ. Calvin’s hermeneutic, therefore, is not simply a point of view or a principle; it is an attitude of heart and mind. We do not pry into what God has not revealed; we take refuge in what He has revealed. The way to read the Bible is to worship, trust and adore the God revealed in it, and gratefully to receive His grace. And because we are slow to do so and are naturally ungrateful, theWord must be applied to the conscience with “stimuli or goads, with exhortations and reproofs”.
This prodigious preaching and teaching ministry not only grounded the Genevan church upon biblical principles. It also strengthened and furthered the Reformed faith in Europe as people flocked to Geneva to hear him. They came because Calvin the preacher was also Calvin the pastor, and people felt his deep concern for their souls. At the centre of all his pastoral counsel was the glory and sovereignty of God under whose control and care all events lay. God’s glory is more important than our individual salvation and delivers us from the egotism which is the root of sin. In the end it is either God or myself. Faced with the pain and tragedy of human existence we are not to ask “why?”, but are to trust our Heavenly Father and do our duty. This is not easy, but it is possible if we look to Christ who will either deliver us or give grace to the burdened soul. What we must always remember is that this glorious and sovereign God is infinitely gracious and merciful. The death, burial and resurrection of Christ are ours. He is “crucified in us so that He may glorify us with Him”. Therefore, submitting to divine sovereignty is not fatalism because “all things work together for good to those who love God” and we know this to be true because He did not spare His only Son but gave Him up for us all, and with Him will freely give us all things. We must therefore do all that we can to obey Him, especially in the open profession of the truth in Christian witness. Calvin insisted that a faith that does not witness will quickly wither and
die. “It cannot stay asleep for long without being extinguished”. Christ must be confessed! The fight must be fought! The war must be won!
In a sermon on 2 Timothy 3:16,17: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” he explains why he felt compelled to preach. After affirming the uniqueness and sufficiency of Scripture which, he said, alone provides us with an immediate relationship with God he argues that it is “profitable”: not because of papal or ecclesiastical authority but because the Holy Spirit inspired its authors and inflames its hearers. Preachers, therefore, are to preach only what is written. Their aim in doing so must always be to edify their hearers, just as the congregation must come “with burning desire” to be edified. Edification means four things. First, we need to be taught “to set our hope on God, to look to the life eternal to which He invites us, to mortify all that proceeds from our affections, to reform ourselves to His righteousness”. This comes through the Lord Jesus Christ and His death which is how we are reconciled to God, cleansed form the stains of sin and accounted righteous. Second, we need to be reproved. This is because we are lazy and cold and need to be “pricked with needles”. Preaching must do more than instruct; it is meant to awaken us and alert us to God’s judgement. Third, we need correction. We need to be chastened and reformed, drawn away from our vices. This means that a faithful pastor must use “vehemence and vivacite” as well as sweetness and gentleness. “Those who cannot bear to be reproved had better look for another schoolmaster than God”. “Go the devil’s school, he will flatter you enough, and destroy you”. Fourthly, we need to be instructed in righteousness and equipped for every good work. This means more than becoming good theologians. “To be good theologians we must lead a holy life”. The purpose of theWord of God is “not to teach us to prattle, nor to make us eloquent and subtle and I know not what. It is to reform our life, so that it is known that we desire to serve God, to give ourselves entirely to Him and to conform ourselves to His good will”.
Much of Calvin’s pastoral work was done through such preaching. But Calvin did more than preach. He was also a diligent visitor of the flock. And he was a prolific letter writer. He wrote to the men of power in Europe reminding them of their responsibility to protect Christian citizens, writing always with respect and courtesy, but also with boldness and force. He wrote to his fellow Reformers over a period of thirty years, advising them, telling them the latest news, informing them about the persecution of believers. He wrote to prisoners and martyrs encouraging them in the face of imminent death. He wrote to Christian merchants, shopkeepers, businessmen, workers, peasants etc. encouraging, calming, and urging them , pointing always to Christ and His Cross. He wrote to the scattered churches of France and to their leaders, stirring them to perseverance and courage.
His letters reveal something of the man. “I prefer not to talk about myself” he said, but indirectly we are given little glimpses of him. He occasionally spoke of his physical weakness. To the aged Blaurer he wrote: “illness presses me from this world as much as old age does you”. All his life he suffered from indigestion, headaches, and haemorrhoids, and as he got older he was frequently ill with gout, malaria, gallstones, asthma, and finally tuberculosis. It is not surprising, therefore, that he was occasionally irritable, though he always regretted it afterwards. “I got out of hand”, he said in one letter, and “I was more bitter than I had intended”. But at the same time he spoke about the need to be passionate about wickedness and the importance of righteous anger. He would not sleep for more than four hours a night and even when ill he went through a huge volume of work, dictating the Institutes and commentaries, writing hundreds of letters, counselling people, receiving visitors, as well as preaching and chairing the weekly elders meeting. His emotions were deep and were often expressed towards his many friends. From special friends like Farel he would take almost anything, and he was always open to their advice and counsel.
J I Packer has written that “the epoch from the middle of the sixteenth century to the beginning of the age of Sir Isaac Newton, toward the end of the century following, was in truth the age of Calvin. No other description covers the facts”. If anyone wishes to dispute this, Packer argues, they have only to think of the churches formed in England and Scotland after 1550; of church leaders like John Knox and Bishop Jewel; of Protestant groups such as the Puritans, the Covenanters, the Huguenots, the Pilgrim Fathers; of movements like the revolt of the Netherlands, the English Civil War, the ContinentalWars of Religion; of leaders such as William the Silent, Admiral Coligny, Oliver Cromwell, John Owen, John Milton and Richard Baxter; of great ideals like that of a Christian commonwealth in which church and state are separate but related, of constitutional monarchy and representative democracy, of toleration and equality and liberty under the law, and of the value of secular culture as sacred when ethically harmonised to the glory of God. All of these found their inspiration in Calvin. Men like Jonathan Edwards, David Brainerd, George Whitefield, Isaac Newton, William Wilberforce, Lord Shaftesbury, C H Spurgeon,William Carey, Robert Moffat, John Paton, James Chalmers, Robert Murray McCheyne, Abraham Kuyper and Martyn Lloyd-Jones were all deeply influenced by Calvin’s thought. Without Calvin, there would have been no Pilgrim Fathers and the history of the USA might have been very different. Without Calvin, the rescuing of scientific investigation from church control might have been postponed for years. Without Calvin, who among the Protestants would have stood out against Roman and Erastian pressures? It is beyond dispute that his influence in post Reformation thought has been immense.
Above all he was a man of God. Like Moses and Paul he walked humbly before God and meekly before men. Labouring in the Word and doctrine until the end, he lived each day as if it were his last, ever conscious of his imperfections but trusting in the merits of His Saviour. Before the grace of God he stood totally bewildered by his sin but swept away,“ravished” by God’s love in Jesus Christ.As a result he sought to live in humble gratitude and praise. It was in that spirit that he lived and in that confidence that he died.
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After Darkness Light
by Catherine Mackenzie,
A new additon to the Traiblazer series of biographies for older children and young teens.
by Robert Reymond,
A simple, basic introduction to Calvin, his life and influence.
– A Pilgrim’s Life
by Herman J. Selderhuis,
A new biography of Calvin based mainly on the Reformer’s own letters and writings.
John Calvin and His Passion for the Majesty of God
by John Piper, £4.99
A brief potted account of his life and theology.
Institutes of the Christian Religion
translated by Ford L. Battles, edited by John T. McNeil, £44.99
The most recent, and most readable, complete translation of Calvin’s most famous work.
Calvin’s Institutes Abridged Edition
edited by Donald K.McKim, £14.99
A judicious abridgement of Battles’s translation.
John Calvin – A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine & Doxology
edited by Burk Parsons, £13.95
A collection of essays revealing Calvin as a humble, caring, pious, Scripture-saturated pastor,who was above all passionate about upholding the glory of God.
Sermons on Genesis Chapters 1-11
These 49 sermons on the early chapers of Genesis have been recently translated into English for the first time.
365 days with Calvin
selected & edited by Joel Beeke,
These heart-warming extracts, drawn from his commentaries and sermons, are characterized by clarity, simplicity and profoundness.
Legacy of John Calvin
by David W. Hall, £9.45
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John Calvin – Revolutionary, Theologian, Pastor
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