This year is a very special anniversary, the 500th birthday of one of the greatest, most humble, most courageous, most influential Christian theologians since the early days of the church: John Calvin. A Frenchman who ended up in exile in Geneva, Switzerland because of the intense persecution of Christians in his native land, Calvin encouraged the faithful reading and application of God’s holy, inerrant Word for his generation — of which many were martyred for their fidelity to God and the five solas of the Reformation — and for generations to come.
Sadly, many in the church have maligned the memory of this great man, portraying him as a stern, proud, authoritarian religious zealot whose heavy-handed ways led to the persecution of his opponents, particularly “poor” Servetus, at whose feet Calvin is practically accused of igniting the wood that burned him for heresy. This most well-known bit of slander is handily dealt with by apologist James White here:
I’m currently reading a book of essays in honor of Calvin’s birthday, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, & Doxology. The authors are a “Who’s Who” of outstanding Christian teachers of our day, including Jay Adams, Joel Beeke, Jerry Bridges, Sinclair Ferguson, Steven Lawson, John MacArthur, and Derek Thomas. John Piper, Joni Eareckson Tada, D.A. Carson, David Wells, and G.I. Williamson are among those who endorse this book. Such consensus of some of the most solid and godly thinkers of our day ought to give pause to those who would readily condemn the memory of a man whose contributions to the Reformation were pivotal in the battle for the truth, who gave us an inheritance of not only freedom of religion, but political freedom in our own nation, as well.
Our friends at Vision Forum have planned a big birthday bash in Boston, July 1-4, to honor the legacy of John Calvin, and with inimitable style, they will be giving irrefutable and compelling evidence from outstanding speakers that we owe a great debt to that great man. One of the best parts of the celebration is the teaching of our friend Pastor Joe Morecraft, whose knowledge of reformation history is unparalleled, as is his passion to convey a love for God’s Word and for our Christian heritage. Anna has been reading Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion because of this upcoming shindig, and I have been enjoying her enthusiasm as she delves deeply into those theological roots, blossoming with inspiration for applying the Word of God to her life. She is finding that the practical piety of Calvin is a spur toward greater intimacy with her Savior which leads to wanting to live out her faith in Him in every area of life.
In his essay about John Calvin, Sinclair Ferguson says this about the change that took place in the misunderstood reformer when God called him out of darkness into His glorious light:
In Calvin’s conversion, two things stand out: First, his pre-conversion condition was marked by a “hardened” and resistant (”unteachable”) mind, and, by implication, a distaste for true godliness (later reversed into an “inflamed…desire”). This, of course, was the informed biblical analysis of one who believed that the fallen human mind is “a perpetual factory of idols” and therefore deeply resistant to the iconoclasm of grace.
Second, for Calvin, conversion to Christ meant not only a transition from condemnation to justification but from ignorance to knowledge and from arrogant rebellion to a humbled heart. His mind was thus softened and brought “to a teachable frame.” From this flowed powerful new affections. He now was “inflamed” with “intense…desire” to make progress in “true godliness.” Thus, to have a heart for God meant to have a desire to grow in the “knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness” (Titus 1:1).
That humility, that teachableness, is evident in his life, seen both in his own writings and in the voluminous correspondence and writings of those who knew him. If you don’t know anything about this giant of the faith, other than some snide gossip from historical revisionists, I encourage you to emulate both his humility and teachableness and at least read some of the articles posted by Doug Phillips at his blog and this article by Bill Potter on the Puritans and how their Calvinist heritage led to blessing for us all. If you aren’t able to make it to the Reformation 500 celebration, you can still learn from Pastor Morecraft and Dan Ford through an online study course on the Reformation and its impact on the family, the church, and the state.