John Calvin

                                       "The Stern Reformer of France"



Birth and Early Years

John Calvin (Jean Cauvin) was born at Noyon, France on 10 July 1509. At fourteen he was sent to Paris to study theology and developed a particular interest in the writings of Augustine. He received his Ma when 19. His father then insisted that he take up law instead, which he did for three years, returning to theology when his father died.


                                                           Conversion and Teachings

In about 1534, he underwent a sudden conversion and became an ardent Protestant. He went to Basel, a Protestant (Zwinglian) city in Switzerland, where he wrote and published the first edition of his Institutes of the Christian Religion, a work of systematic theology. Some philosophers are system-builders and some are not. Calvin was. Where others had been content to testify to their experience of God's grace, Calvin undertook a detailed logical account of grace. His detractors say that some things, like a good joke, or a living organism, are destroyed when you take them apart to see what makes them work.

His admirers say that he faced the hard questions that others had preferred to evade. In his writings on predestination, he seems to portray God as arbitrarily withholding salvation from many. But it is well to remember that his doctrine is rooted in the experience of God's grace at work in his own heart, and an unwillingness to attribute its presence to anything but the mercy of God, a determination never to claim that he has done anything more or better than Judas Iscariot to deserve a better destiny.

In 1536, he became one of the preachers in the city of Geneva, in 1538 he was banished, and in 1541 returned in triumph, and established a form of church government that has been associated ever since with churches called Reformed or Presbyterian. It provided for a set of boards or consistories to maintain discipline in local congregations and in district-wide groups of congregations, boards consisting partly of clergy and partly of the elected representatives of the congregation.


                                              John Calvin Museum (Musée Jean Calvin),Geneva  
                                                                built on the site of his birthplace


   Basically, Calvinism is known by an acronym: T.U.L.I.P.

Total Depravity (also known as Total Inability and Original Sin)
Unconditional Election
Limited Atonement (also known as Particular Atonement)
Irresistible Grace
Perseverance of the Saints (also known as Once Saved Always Saved)

These five categories do not comprise Calvinism in totality. They simply represent some of its main points. 

                                          Calvin's Major Achievements

(1) The Institutes, which present an organized statement and defense of the Reformed theology.

(2) His commentaries on the Scriptures.

(3) His system of Church government.

(4) His contributions to the dialogue on election, grace, free will, predestination, Divine sovereignty, etc. 


His Last Days

The incessant and exhausting labors to which Calvin gave himself could not but tell on his fragile constitution. Amid many sufferings, however, and frequent attacks of sickness, he manfully pursued his course; nor was it until his frail body, torn by many and painful diseases -- fever, asthma, stone, and gout, the fruits for the most part of his sedentary habits and unceasing activity -- had, as it were, fallen to pieces around him, that his indomitable spirit relinquished the conflict. In the early part of the year 1564 his sufferings became so severe that it was manifest his earthly career was rapidly drawing to a close. On the 6th of February of that year he preached his last sermon, having with great difficulty found breath enough to carry him through it. He was several times after this carried to church, but never again was able to take any part in the service.

On the 25th of April he made his will, on the 27th he received the Little Council, and on the 28th the Genevan ministers, in his sick-room; on the 2nd of May he wrote his last letter -- to his old comrade Farel, who hastened from Neuchâtel to see him once again. He spent much time in prayer and died quietly, in the arms of his faithful friend Theodore Beza, on the evening of the 27th of May, in the fifty-fifth year of his life. The next day he was buried without pomp "in the common Geneva cemetery called Plain-palais" in a spot not now known.

Martin Luther and John Calvin were contemporaries and part of similar movements within the Church, but there were important differences between them. Calvinist churches differ from Lutheran ones on the mode of Christ's presence in the Lord's Supper; on the nature of the Sacraments (Calvinists come closer to regarding these as teaching ceremonies, although many Calvinists would disagree with that summary), and on style of worship. Some Calvinists have a tradition that forbids instrumental music in worship, and the use of any hymns except the Psalms. On questions of worship, the historic Lutheran policy (not always adhered to) has been that, if two possible policies are equally consistent with Holy Scripture, one ought to use the one more like that of Rome, so as not to be disputing for disputing's sake. The rule adopted by many Calvinists is to go for the policy less like that of Rome. The result is that you see a lot more stained glass in Lutheran churches than in Calvinist ones.


                                               John Calvin's Legacy

Calvin taught that no man – whether pope or king – has any claim to absolute power. Calvin encouraged the development of representative governments, and stressed the right to resist the tyranny of unbelievers. Calvinist resistance to totalitarianism and absolutism (the arbitary abuse of power by leaders) was a key factor in the development of modern limited and constitutional governments. The Church has the obligation, under the Almighty God, to guide the secular authorities on spiritual and ethical matters. As a result, Calvinism rapidly assumed international dimensions.

In Holland, Calvinism provided the ralling point for opposition to the oppression of Catholic Spain, which was occupying their country at that time.

In Scotland, Calvin’s disciple, John Knox, taught that Protestants had the right and duty to resist, by force if necessary, any leader who tried to prevent their worship and mission.

The Puritans in England established the supremacy of Parliament and constitutionally limited the power of the throne.

In North America, England’s 13 colonies established the United States of America on Calvin’s principles of representative government and the rule of Law, Lex Rex.

John Calvin stands out as one of the finest Bible scholars, one of greatest systematic theologians and one of the most profound religious thinkers in history. John Calvin was Bible centered in his teaching, God centered in his living and Christ centered in his Faith.

The final edition of the Institutes, published in 1559, contained 80 chapters and more than 1000 pages. The Institutes stands as the finest textbook of theology, apology for the Protestant Faith, manifesto for the Reformation, handbook for Catechism, weapon against heresy, and guide to Christian discipleship. It is a systematic masterpiece, which has earned itself a permanent place amongst the greatest Christian books in all of history.

In addition to writing the Institutes, John Calvin produced the first Bible commentaries. He wrote commentaries on every book in the Bible, except for Revelation. A theme that binds all of Calvin’s works together is to know God and to make Him known. To him it was not enough to know about God, but essential that one knew Him personally, whole-heartedly, with a heart aflame for God. Calvin’s faith was intense, passionate and wholehearted.

To the question: What does it mean to know God? Calvin answered: To know God is to acknowledge Him as He has revealed Himself in Scripture and through Christ – worshiping Him and giving Him thanks, humbling ourselves before Him as foolish and depraved sinners, learning from His Word, loving God for His love in adopting and redeeming us, trusting in God’s promises of pardon, glorifying what God has accomplished through Christ, living in obedience to God’s Law and seeking to honour God in all our human relationships and in all connections with God’s creatures.


                                Calvin 500  website - to enter, click on the above photo