I just added the website of author Simonetta Carr to my Recommended Sites page. She is the author of a series of children’s books called Christian Biographies for Young Readers. These are beautifully illustrated and informative stories of the lives of heroes of the faith to which most children’s books do not get around to featuring. Carr’s series includes titles on the lives of Athanasius, Augustine, John Calvin, John Owen and most recently, the martyr Lady Jane Grey.
I strongly recommend that you get these titles and read them to your children of any age. They are simple enough for your toddlers to get it, but informative enough to educate your interested pre-teens and even young teens, like my daughter, will enjoy them, too. She’s already submitted a request for her copy of Lady Jane Grey. She saw a movie about this martyr on Netflix last year and when I asked what the story was about, she explained that Grey was going to be killed for being a Protestant. Profoundly, yet humorously, she added, “A good way to die.”
Happy Reformation Day! October 31, 2011 marks the 494th anniversary of the legendary event considered the spark that ignited the Protestant Reformation when Augustinian monk, Martin Luther, nailed the Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences(commonly known as the 95 Theses) to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany in 1517. In the years that followed, Luther lead the movement to reform the church’s understanding of what the Bible teaches about the doctrine of justification by God’s grace alone, received through faith alone, in Christ alone, according to Scripture alone, to the glory of God alone. The Lutheran tradition would build on Luther’s work on justification, and they placed it at the center and starting point of all of the benefits of the redemption purchased
by Christ for his people. But biblical reformation of soteriology didn’t end with Luther and the Lutherans. The Reformed movement also grew alongside of the Lutheran movement, and while both were co-belligerents against the Roman doctrines of justification and the other benefits of redemption in Christ, they differed on the most biblical way to systematize these truths.
Friday on the Reformed Forum’s podcast, Christ the Center, Camden Bucey, Jim Cassidy and Jeff Waddington interviewed Dr. Lane Tipton, the new Charles Khrae Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Dr. Tipton was allowed two hours to spell out the differences between the Lutheran and Reformed approaches to justification and many current issues related to this essential aspect of Protestant theology, such as whether Dr. Michael Horton’s academic work on the subject is moving Reformed theology toward a more Lutheran, and therefore,according to Dr. Tipton, semi-Pelagian doctrine of justification. Listen to the podcast at this link.
I was introduced to Reformed theology by Michael Horton’s materials and the Lord used his parachurch ministries Christian United for Reformation (CURE) and the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals (ACE) and the White Horse Inn radio show to gradually bring me around to embrace it. I will certainly be looking forward to a future Christ the Center program in which Dr. Horton responds to Dr. Tipton’s characterization of his work on justification and the other benefits of redemption in Christ. More public dialogue on this ought to take place, IMHO. At this point, Dr. Tipton’s case sounds convincing and more in line with the Reformed confessions and catechisms, as opposed to Dr. Horton’s efforts to, as I once heard him state on the air, build a kind of ecumenism between Reformed, Lutheran and Anglican traditions. I can see how some synthesis may be taking place in that effort. But what do I know?
Reformata, Semper Reformanda!
The following is from the About Us page at Fort Worth’s Theological Pursuits Bookstore owner David Jacks’ new website, ReformationShirts.Com. Get yours today! I’ve got three of them myself.
David Jacks, in 1995 while studying at SWBTS, circulated a shirt bearing the names and likenesses of Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards and Charles Spurgeon. The shirt was affectionately known as the “Dead Theologians Society t-shirt.” Since that time, the “DTS” shirt has been re-vamped and has now taken the form of the shirt shown on this web site.
Reformation theology has played an important role in the history of Christianity. With the recent resurgence of Reformation theology, many adhering to the Doctrines of Grace search for ways to expose the world to their beliefs. This shirt “with a bunch of dead guys on the back of it” peaks the interest of onlookers and provides an excellent bridge for introducing these “dead guys'” Biblical beliefs.
About the Logo & Its History
The front of the shirt bears a likeness from the symbol of the 16th Century Protestant Reformation – a “burning bush” with the phrase “After Darkness, Light.” The “burning bush” symbol and the phrase were used by the Reformers to represent the light of the Gospel of Grace overcoming the darkness of the Law of Works propagated by the Roman Catholic Church in the centuries leading up to the Reformation.
The back of the shirt bears the names and likenesses of four of the best-known Protestant Reformers spanning a period of 400 years. A German monk named Martin Luther (1483-1546), whose heart was captured by the belief of Sola Fide (Faith Alone for one’s Justification), sparked the Protestant Reformation on October 31, 1517, when he nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Cathedral in Wittenberg, Germany. Swiss theologian John Calvin (1509-1564) with his emphasis on God’s sovereignty and union with Christ, helped codify the teachings of the Reformation with his first edition of The Institutes of the Christian Religion in 1539. New England Puritan Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), best known for his sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” and his book Freedom of the Will, helped fan the spark of revival in The First Great Awakening and spread flames of salvation concerning the holiness and grace of God in America in the early to mid 18th century. Englishman preacher Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) spread the Doctrines of Grace in the mid to late 19th century with his passionate and eloquent sermons on the sovereignty and grace of God.
These faithful men best symbolize in the Church’s recent history the beliefs summarized in the five Solas of the Protestant Reformation. These solas are found on the back of the shirt surrounding Luther, Calvin, Edwards and Spurgeon:
Sola Fide ~ Faith Alone
Sola Scriptura ~ Scripture Alone
Sola Gratia ~ Grace Alone
Soli Deo Gloria ~ Glory to God Alone
Solus Christus ~ Christ Alone
May you, too, be inspired and blessed by the truths conveyed on this shirt each time you wear it. And may your whole life be lived in loving obedience. Soli Deo Gloria – TO THE GLORY OF GOD ALONE!
Since the turn of the New Year, our family decided to work our way together through the ESV Study Bible reading plan. Each night, we stop what we’re doing for a good half hour or so, and take turns reading aloud each of the four sections of Scripture, as divided up in the plan. A few days ago, we finished the book of 1 Chronicles, and this prayer of David’s caught my attention:
Therefore David blessed the LORD in the presence of all the assembly. And David said: “Blessed are you, O LORD, the God of Israel our father, forever and ever. Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name.
“But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you. For we are strangers before you and sojourners, as all our fathers were. Our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no abiding. O LORD our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a house for your holy name comes from your hand and is all your own. I know, my God, that you test the heart and have pleasure in uprightness. In the uprightness of my heart I have freely offered all these things, and now I have seen your people, who are present here, offering freely and joyously to you. O LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, our fathers, keep forever such purposes and thoughts in the hearts of your people, and direct their hearts toward you. Grant to Solomon my son a whole heart that he may keep your commandments, your testimonies, and your statutes, performing all, and that he may build the palace for which I have made provision.”(1 Chronicles 29:10-19 ESV, emphasis mine)
When reading through the passage above, I had to chuckle a little, as I was reminded of this passage from Charles Spurgeon’s sermon, “Free Will—A Slave.”
Your fallen nature was put out of order; your will, amongst other things, has clean gone astray from God. But I tell you what will be the best proof of that; it is the great fact that you never did meet a Christian in your life who ever said he came to Christ without Christ coming to him. You have heard a great many Arminian sermons, I dare say; but you never heard an Arminian prayer—for the saints in prayer appear as one in word, and deed and mind. An Arminian on his knees would pray desperately like a Calvinist. He cannot pray about free-will: there is no room for it. Fancy him praying, “Lord,I thank thee I am not like those poor presumptuous Calvinists. Lord, I was born with a glorious free-will; I was born with power by which I can turn to thee of myself; I have improved my grace. If everybody had done the same with their grace that I have, they might all have been saved. Lord, I know thou dost not make us willing if we are not willing ourselves. Thou givest grace to everybody; some do not improve it, but I do. There are many that will go to hell as much bought with the blood of Christ as I was; they had as much of the Holy Ghost given to them; they had as good a chance, and were as much blessed as I am. It was not thy grace that made us to differ; I know it did a great deal, still I turned the point; I made use of what was given me, and others did not—that is the difference between me and them.” That is a prayer for the devil, for nobody else would offer such a prayer as that. Ah! when they are preaching and talking very slowly, there may be wrong doctrine; but when they come to pray, the true thing slips out; they cannot help it. If a man talks very slowly, he may speak in a fine manner; but when he comes to talk fast, the old brogue of his country, where he was born, slips out. I ask you again, did you ever meet a Christian man who said, “I came to Christ without the power of the Spirit?” If you ever did meet such a man, you need have no hesitation in saying, “My dear sir, I quite believe it—and I believe you went away again without the power of the Spirit, and that you know nothing about the matter, and are in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity.” Do I hear one Christian man saying, “I sought Jesus before he sought me; I went to the Spirit, and the Spirit did not come to me”? No, beloved; we are obliged, each one of us, to put our hands to our hearts and say—
“Grace taught my soul to pray,
And made my eyes to o’erflow;
‘Twas grace that kept me to this day,
And will not let me go.”
Is there one here—a solitary one—man or woman, young or old, who can say, “I sought God before he sought me?” No; even you who are a little Arminian, will sing—
“O yes! I do love Jesus—
Because he first loved me.”
So you see, that in attributing to the LORD himself all that David and the people freely and willingly did, David betrays a theology that is not unlike that theology which has been derived from Scripture from the earliest days of the church, against which the ungrateful and self-sufficient regularly hurl accusations. Augustine’s prayerful confession of God’s absolute sovereignty and grace to empower the believer’s very obedience provoked Pelagius to twist Scripture to his own destruction in order to make man the source of his own salvation; Calvin’s systematization of this Biblical and Augustinian faith entrusted to him by his fathers in the faith provoked, after his death, a Dutch Reformed theologian named Jakob Hermanszoon, that is, Jacob Arminius (in Latin), to, if not distort the Word as devastatingly as Pelagius had before him, so distort the doctrines of grace that his followers would later remonstrate against them, creating the need for the Synod of Dort, which produced the world famous Canons of Dort (find them at my Creeds, etc. page) which serve as the source and inspiration of the infamous, yet Biblical acronym, TULIP. Even Great Awakening revivalist, George Whitefield endured the fiery darts of his beloved friend and fellow revivalist, John Wesley. How gracious is the Lord, who generously grants salvation to even those who do not properly recognize his absolute sovereignty, suffering the remaining sin within them which persists in grasping for some way to have a hand in his own eternal salvation.
Praise the Lord that King David’s eyes were clear in this regard as he lead the people of Israel in freely and willingly making generous donations toward the planned building of the temple in Jerusalem, which was entrusted to David’s son, Solomon. King David’s public confession of their unworthiness to even do so at all, and acknowledgement of the LORD’s gracious provision of the very materials which they would freely and willingly offer, contrasts sharply with the self-congratulatory words of that proto-Pelagian king, Nebuchadnezzar, who would one day take David’s kingdom into the original Babylonian captivity (see Daniel 4:28-33).
How beautiful is the corporate confession of the Reformed in this regard! In the words of the Belgic Confession (also linked to from the Creeds, etc. page), the Reformed confess the teaching of the Scriptures that “’A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven(John 3:27’” and so confess:
Therefore we reject everything taught to the contrary concerning man’s free will, since man is nothing but the slave of sin and cannot do a thing unless it is “given him from heaven.”
For who can boast of being able to do anything good by himself, since Christ says, “No one can come to me unless my Father who sent me draws him”? (John 6:44)
Who can glory in his own will when he understands that “the mind of the flesh is enmity against God”? (Romans 8:7) Who can speak of his own knowledge in view of the fact that “the natural man does not understand the things of the Spirit of God”? (1 Cor. 2:14)
In short, who can produce a single thought, since he knows that we are “not able to think a thing” about ourselves, by ourselves, but that “our ability is from God”? (2 Corinthians 3:5)
And therefore, what the apostle says ought rightly to stand fixed and firm: “God works within us both to will and to do according to his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13)
For there is no understanding nor will conforming to God’s understanding and will apart from Christ’s involvement, as he teaches us when he says, “Without me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
In this way it is clear that the content of King David’s “Calvinist” prayer demonstrates how consistent with Scripture is the Reformed confession of faith.
Need I point out that the following does not only apply to the sixteenth century Roman Catholic Church?
“Having observed that the Word of God is the test which discriminates between his true worship and that which is false and vitiated, we thence readily infer that the whole form of divine worship in general use in the present day is nothing but mere corruption. For men pay no regard to what God has commanded, or to what he approves, in order that they may serve him in a becoming manner, but assume to themselves a licence of devising modes of worship, and afterwards obtruding them upon him as a substitute for obedience. If in what I say I seem to exaggerate, let an examination be made of all the acts by which the generality suppose that they worship God. I dare scarcely except a tenth part as not the random offspring of their own brain. What more would we? God rejects, condemns, abominates all fictitious worship, and employs his Word as a bridle to keep us in unqualified obedience. When shaking off this yoke, we wander after our own fictions, and offer to him a worship, the work of human rashness, how much soever it may delight ourselves, in his sight it is vain trifling, nay, vileness and pollution. The advocates of human traditions paint them in fair and gaudy colours; and Paul certainly admits that they carry with them a show of wisdom (Colossians 2:23); but as God values obedience more than all sacrifices (1 Samuel 15:22), it ought to be sufficient for the rejection of any mode of worship, that it is not sanctioned by the command of God.” (emphasis added)
John Calvin, in his tract, “The Necessity of Reforming the Church” (cited from page 132 of Selected Works of John Calvin: Tracts and Letters, edited by Henry Beveridge and Jules Bonnet; Volume 1: Tracts, Part 1)
Don’t miss Christ the Center, episode 80, “The Regulative Principle of Worship.”
The Reverend Derek Thomas, Minister of Teaching at First Presbyterian Church, Jackson, Mississippi, first explains the threefold aspects of worship– form, element, and circumstance–then demonstrates that the Reformed emphasis on the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW) is not merely an invention of the Puritans, as J.I. Packer and others maintain, but is the application of the Reformation ideal of Sola Scriptura. In other words, the final authority of Scripture in the faith and practice of the church is the foundation on which the RPW is built. Rev. Thomas is also very helpful on many debatable issues like the frequency and symbolisms of the Lord’s Supper and the appropriateness of the inclusion of original hymnody and musical instruments in New Covenant worship. Finally, he makes a compelling and edifying case for Sunday evening worship. Would that more churches returned to such a practice in the interests of keeping holy the Lord’s Day.
Listen and learn a little more about what it means to worship God according to Scripture by Reading the Word, Praying the Word, Singing the Word and Hearing the Word Preached.
The following is part 7, concluding an excerpt from Presbyterians: Their History and Beliefs by Walter Lingle (John Knox Press, 1950). Click here to read part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4 ,part 5 and part 6.
Calvin and Servetus. It is sometimes said that John Calvin burned Michael Servetus at the stake. Servetus was burned at the stake just outside Geneva on October 27, 1553. John Calvin had some connection with the affair, and the part he played is not excusable in the light of the twentieth century, but it is not accurate to say that Calvin did the burning. Let us look at the facts.
Michael Servetus was a Spaniard with a brilliant but erractic mind. He renounced Roman Catholicism, but did not embrace Protestantism. He was a prolific writer and wrote vehemently against some of the most chedrished doctrines of Christianity. Both Catholics and Protestants considered his writings not only heretical but horribly blasphemous.
In 1553 Servetus was arrested by the Roman Catholic authorities in Vienne, France, and sentenced to be burned. While awaiting execution he escaped, and went direct to Geneva. With all the world before him, why did he go to Geneva when he had been warned to stay away? He knew that Calvin had many bitter enemies, and probably knew that at that particular moment the majority of the City Council were opposed to Calvin. The City Council had banished him once, and might be induced to do it again. Servetus probably went to Geneva to ally himself with the enemies of Calvin and thus help to overthrow Calvin and his work. When Calvin heard of the presence of Servetus in Geneva he reported the matter to the City Council. Bear in mind that Calvin was not a member of the City Council and that the majority of the Council were opposed to him. The Council arrested Servetus and put him on trial for heresy and blasphemy. John Calvin appeard as a witness against him.
After a long trial the City Council found Servetus guilty of heresy and blasphemy, and sentenced him to be burned. Accoring to the Old Testament, blasphemy was punishable with death. John Calvin urged the Council not to burn Servetus, but to take a more humane method of executing him. The Council refused. The whole story is a sad one, and Calvin does not appear at his best in it, but we should judge him by the light of the century in which he lived. The large majority of both Protestants and Catholics in that century approved of the death penalty for heresy and blasphemy.
Notwithstanding this blot and other blots on the name of Calvin which might be mentioned. Ernest Renan, the French skeptic and critic, had this to say aobut Calvin: “He succeeded more than all, in an age and in a country which called for reaction towards Christianity, simply because he was the most Christian man of his century.”
The Closing Years. The trial of Servetus was in reality a contest between Calvin and his enemies. Calvin won. The backbone of the opposition was broken. The last ten years were the most peaceful and in many respects the most fruitful years of his life.
John Calvin died on May 27, 1564, the year in which Willam Shakespeare was born. A noted scoffer intimates, in language which is none too reverent, that it was a blessed exchange for the world. But many informed and thoughtful people, with a full appreciation of Shakespeare, do not agree with the scoffer. Here is what Philip Schaff, the distinguised church historian, says: “Calvin’s moral power extended over all the Reformed Churches, and over several nationalities–Swiss, French, German, Polish, Bohemian, Hungarian, Butch, English, Scottish, and American. His religious influence upon the Anglo-Saxon race of both continents is greater than that of any native Englishman, and continues to this day.”
John Calvin believed in Christian education. He believed that religion and learning should always go hand in hand. He accordingly organized a complete system of education in Geneva, beginning with the primary schools for children and ending with the Academy (or University) where young men might be prepared for the ministry and other walks of life. These schools were controlled and supervised by the church. Only Christian teachers were employed. Thus John Calvin set up standards for Christian education which have been admired and followed by Presbyterians from that day to this. Bancroft, the American historian, says: “We boas of our common schools; Calvin was the father of popular education, the inventor of the system of free schools.”
The Consistory. The five pastors in Geneva and the twelve elders were organized into a Consistory. In some respects it was like the session in a modern Presbyterian church; in other respects it was somewhat like presbytery. It was the duty of the Consistory to govern the church and to administer discipline. It is well to keep in mind that Calvin was not able to put into practice his ideal for the free election of elders by the people, as the City Council insisted on having a part in their selection. So in the Consistory we see a mixing of the church and the civil government in a way that would be repugnant to Presbyterians today. But that was four hundred years ago.
The Consistory placed great emphasis upon discipline. Detailed rules for Christian living were drawn up, and it was the duty of the Consistory to see that the people observed these rules. The records show that people were disciplined for various offenses, including these: cursing and swearing, adultery, attempting to commit suicide, for spending their time in taverns, for playing cards on Sunday evenings, for arranging a marriage between a woman of seventy and a man of twenty-five, for singing obscene songs, for wife-beating, for betrothing a daughter to a Papist, and so forth. Thus they were disciplined for gross sins and for some that did not seem so gross.
Church attendance was made compulsory. Excuses given for non-attendance are interesting and some of them sound very modern. One man had to stay at home with a three-year-old child; another was too deaf to hear; another had to work on Sunday; still another had to stay at home and look after the house and cattle.
The Confession of Faith. Calvin and Farel had prepared a Confession of Faith and a Catechism before they were banished. These were revised and enlarged and adopted by the church. In the Confession of Faith and Catechism we have set forth in clear and fairly simple form the Calvinistic system of doctrine. This Confession of Faith was to have a marked influence upon Confessions and Creeds that were formulated later in France, the Netherlands, Scotland and England. While the Presbyterian Church gets its name from its form of government, it also stands for a system of doctrine. Presbyterianism and Calvinism usually go hand in hand.
Reforming Geneva. John Calvin, armed with the Bible as the word of God, the Confession of Faith, and the Form of Government and Discipline, with the Consistory behind him, set out upon the great task of reforming Geneva. In so doing, he started a movement which has profoundly influenced the whole of Christendom.
No man ever worked harder at a task than did John Calvin. He preached several times each week, taught theology, wrote commentaries, superintended a whole system of schools, wrote books and pamphlets, carried on an extensive correspondence with Reformation leaders all over Europe, and took oversight of the Reform movement in Geneva. He was interested in everything that affected the lives and welfare of the people. He believed that Christianity should be carried into every relationship of life. A distinguished historian states it this way:
“The material prosperity of the city was not neglected. Greater cleanliness was introduced, which is next to Godliness, and promotes it. Calvin insisted upon the removal of filth from houses and the narrow and crowded streets. He induced the magistrates to superintend the markets, and to prevent the sale of unhealthy food, which was to be cast into the Rhone. Low taverns and drinking shops were abolished, and intemperance diminished. Mendicancy in the streets was prohibited. A hospital and poor-house were provided and well-conducted. Efforts were made to give useful employment to every man who could work. Altogether Geneva owes her moral and temporal prosperity, her intellectual and literary activity, her social refinement, and her world-wide fame very largely to the reformation and the discipline of Calvin. He set a high and noble example of a model community.”
John Knox, the great Scottish reformer, was a refugee in Geneva during the years 1554-1559. He afterwards gave this testimony concerning the work of Calvin in Geneva:
“It is the most perfect school of Christ that ever was in the earth since the days of the Apostles. In other places I confess Christ to be truly preached; but manners and religion to be so seriously reformed, I have not yet seen in any place besides.”
The following is part 4 of an excerpt from Presbyterians: Their History and Beliefs by Walter Lingle (John Knox Press, 1950). Click here to read part 1, part 2 and part 3. Today marks John Calvin’s 500th birthday. May Calvin’s life, piety and ministry serve to reform yours by God’s glorious grace according to the Word of God.
Return to Geneva. After Calvin and Farel were banished, things went badly at Geneva. The immoral element got control, and the moral life of the city became unspeakable. The Roman Catholic Church made a determined effort to overthrow Protestantism. Visitors, strangers, and refugees who had come to Geneva because John Calvin was there ceased to come. The people of Geneva began to realize that John Calvin was a great spiritual, moral, and financial asset. There was a growing sentiment for his return.
In the autumn of 1540 the City Council sent an invitation to Calvin by a special messenger, urging him to return to Geneva. He made a cordial response but declined. They sent him one invitation after another, and brought great pressure to bear upon him. They even had William Farel write one of his characteristic letters pronouncing a curse upon him if he did not return. Feeling that the call must be from God, Calvin yielded and returned to Geneva, arriving September 13, 1541. There was great rejoicing and his friends gave hi a triumphal entrance into the city. But there were still bitter enemies who gave him no end of trouble in the years that followed.
Beginning Anew. John Calvin took up his work in Geneva where he had left off at the time of his banishment, and he did it without apology. Going before the City Council he urged the importance of having a thoroughgoing Form of Government and Discipline for the church and the city. The doctrine of complete separation of the church and the civil government, as held by Presbyterians today, was not held in Geneva, nor anywhere else in those days.
The City Council approved of Calvin’s request and appointed a committee, with Calvin as chairman, to prepare the necessary documents. In due time he presented the City Council with a very complete Form of Government and Discipline for their approval. In this notable document we have what Calvin believed to be the Scriptural principles of church government and discipline.
As stated above, Calvin went back to the bible for everything pertaining to the church–for government, doctrine, worship, discipline, and life. When he studied church government in the Bible he did not find any popes, cardinals, archbishops, and bishops, such as he had known in the Roman Catholic Church from his youth up. Instead he found a church with a very simple form of representative government by elders. He also found in the Bible other church officials called pastors, teachers and deacons. So in the Form of Government drawn up by Calvin there were pastors, elders, deacons, and teachers. When the City Council approved of this Form of Government, the church in Geneva became a Presbyterian church in fact, if not in name. It was called the Reformed Church.
Begins His Work in Geneva. John Calvin began his work in Geneva on September 1, 1536, by preaching a sermon in St. Peter’s Cathedral. The sermon created a sensation, and the people crowded around him insisting that he must preach again the next day. What was it about the sermon of this twenty-seven-year-old preacher that created such a stir? It was simply an expository sermon on one of Paul’s Epistles. That does not sound very sensational to us, but it was something new to that audience. They had never heard any opening up of the Scriptures like that. This sermon was followed by many more just like it. John Calvin became a great expository preacher and a great interpreter of the Scriptures. It is here that we find the main secret of his power. He went back to the Bible for everything relating to the Christian life and to the church. The Bible was the seat of authority in religion so far as John Calvin was concerned. To the Roman Catholic the church was the seat of authority. The results of the kind of preaching and teaching that John Calvin did were summed up by Thomas Carlyle in the following paragraph: “The period of the Reformation was a judgment day for Europe, when all the nations were presented with an open Bible and all the emancipation of heart and intellect which an open Bible involves.” No man did more to open up the Bible for the people of his generation and all generations than John Calvin did.
But Calvin was more than a preacher; he was a reformer. He felt called upon to reform the religion and morals of all the people of Geneva. He and Farel accordingly prepared a Confession of Faith, a Catechism, and a Book of Discipline. After these had been approved by the City Council on July 29, 1537, all citizens of Geneva, men and women, were ordered to give their assent to these standards and to live by them. Many gladly gave their assent, but many others refused. A great furor was raised. This opposition grew until it resulted in the banishment of Calvin and Farel from Geneva by the City Council on April 22, 1538. Farel settled in Neuchatel and never returned to Geneva. Calvin went to Strassburg, a Protestant city of Germeny, with no thought of ever returning to Geneva.
Strassburg received Calvin with open arms, and promptly made him assistant professor theology in their new Protestant College. There were many French-speaking, Protestant refugees in Strassburg. Calvin organized them into a church and became the pastor. In this church he was able to put his ideals for a churhc more fully into practice than he had been able to do in Geneva because of the interference of the City Council.
Calvin followed a very simple order of service in his church. Emphasis was placed upon the reading of the Scriptues and prayer. There was congregational singing, which was not usual in the Roman Catholic Church. They sang from a French translation of the Psalms. There were no musical instruments in John Calvin’s church. The sermon occupied the central place. In the Roman Catholic Church the altar was central.
In August, 1540, Calvin married Idelette de Bure, a widow with a small son and daughter. William Farel, in writing to a friend, said that she was “not only good and honorable but also handsome.” She and Calvin seem to have been very happy together. They had one son who died a few hours after birth.
The following is part 2 an excerpt from Presbyterians: Their History and Beliefs, by Walter L. Lingle (1950, John Knox Press). Read part one here.
Publishes His Institutes. In the spring of 1536, Calvin published a profound little book on theology, which he named The Institutes of the Christian Religion. Today we would call it a book on systematic theology. The book created a real sensation, and theologians knew that a new star of the first magnitude had arisen on the theological horizon. Calvin kept on revising this little book for the next twenty-three years, until it grew into two large volumes. He lived to see this work translated into practically every language of Europe. Theologians still study and refer to “Calvin’s Institutes.”
Find His Life Work in Geneva. John Calvin was only twenty-seven years of age when he published his Institutes, but from that time on he was a marked man. The publication of that book probably determined his life work. It came about in this way. As the persecutions of Protestants in France grew more severe, Calvin decided to leave France and pass over into the Protestant part of Germany. The safest journey was through Switzerland. So one hot night in August, 1536, he pulled up at an inn in Geneva to spend the nigh expecting to continue on his journey the next day. But God had other plans for him.
William Farel, a fiery Protestant with red hair, glittering eyes and a thunderous voice, had begun Christian work in Geneva in 1532. Under his preachng a great deal had been accomplished. He had blasted away the debris of centuries and laid the foundation for real constructive leadership. When Farel heard that John Calvin, the author of the Institutes, was in Geneva, he felt that he had come to the kingdom for such a time as this. So he sought him out and invited and implored him to remain in Geneva and help him. Calvin begged to be excused that he might continue on his journey and devote himself to his studies.
Let Calvin tell the rest of his story as recorded in the Preface to his Commentary on the Psalms: “Then Farel, finding he gained nothing by entreaties, besought God to curse my retirement and the tranquility of my studies if I should withdraw and refuse to give assistance when the necessity was so urgent. By this imprecation I was so struck with terror that I desisted from the journeyI had undertaken, but being sensible of my natural timidity, I would not bring myself under obligations to discharge any particular office.” So John Calvin, who had planned to spend only one night in Geneva, spent the rest of his life there, with the exception of about three years which he spent in exile in Germany.
As most of my readers are well aware, this Friday marks the Quincentenary of sixteenth century Genevan Reformer, John Calvin. That is, the 500th anniversary of his birth. This week, and some of the next if necessary, I will be featuring a short biographical chapter on John Calvin’s life from a book called Presbyterians: Their History and Beliefs, by Walter L. Lingle, published originally in 1944 by John Knox Press [fourth printing (revised), 1950]. I will feature this primarily in the effort to introduce John Calvin to those of my readers who are not so familiar with his life and ministry, or to reintroduce him to those who suffer from the many misconceptions about his life. For more information about Calvin and the Quincentenary celebration, see Calvin500.org.
Our Debt to Calvin. Presbyterianism is deeply indebted to John Calvin. As we have seen in previous chapters, Presbyterianism is rooted and grounded in the Holy Scriptures. But as we saw in Chapter II, the Presbyterian doctrines and principles that are contained in the Bible became buried beneath centuries of ignorance, superstition, and traditions. John Calvin went beneath all this debris of centuries, resurrected the doctrines and principles of Presbyterianism, and organized the modern Presbyterian Church. That was about four hundred years ago.
We in America are more indebted to John Calvin than most people realize. The doctrines and principles which he released have made a large contribution to our representative form of government and the human freedom which we enjoy. Ranke, the German historian, says: “John Calvin was the virtual founder of America.” D’Aubigne, the French historian, says: “Calvin was the founder of the greatest of republics,” referring to the United States. Bancroft, the American historian, says: “He that will not honor the memory and respect the influence of Calvin knows but little of the origin of American liberty.” Presbyterians should at least know the outline of the life of the man to whom they are so deeply indebted.
Early Years. John Calvin was born in Noyon, a cathedral town of France, fifty miles northeast of Paris, on July 10, 1509, of Roman Catholic parents. His father planned to educate him for the priesthood, and gave him the best education that was obtainable. At the age of fourteen he entered the University of Paris, where he studied Latin, Logic, and Philosophy. Later he decided to study law, and spent several years studying at the Universities of Orleans and Bourges, under the greatest professors of law that could be found in France. It would be interesting to know how much his legal training influenced his theological thinking.
After the death of his father, John Calvin, free to make his own choice, decided to devote himself to the study of literature. His studies included the Latin, Greek, and Hebrew languages and literature. The first book he ever wrote was a commentary on Seneca’s Treatise on Clemency. In this commentary Calvin quotes from fifty-six Latin and twenty-two Greek authors. This gives us some intimation of his familiarity with Latin and Greek literature.
Conversion to Protestantism. We do not know the exact date of his conversion from Roman Catholicism to Protestantism, but it was sometime in the year 1533. His conversion was probably gradual. His study of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew literature led him to the study of the Bible in those languages. These studies also threw him with men and women who were devotees of the New Learning, some of whom had already embraced the Protestant faith. Soon after his conversion to Protestantism he found it necessary to flee from Paris for his life. During the next three years he lived in hiding under an assumed name. Much of this time was spent in the private libraries of friends. He was hard at work, and, best of all, he was thinking and praying.
Here’s an interesting article from the Weekly Standard on the theological background of those who believe it’s justifiable to murder abortion doctors. What’s scary about it is how people can get so close to the truth and then twist it to extremes. The other scary thing is how closely tied to Reformed theology this aberration is.
Now, this is what I call music…!
In case you can’t keep up, here’s the lyrics. Read along, then consult your Bible and read and pray and think!
Here’s a controversial subject that tends to divide
For years it’s had Christians lining up on both sides
By God’s grace, I’ll address this without pride
The question concerns those for whom Christ died
Was He trying to save everybody worldwide?
Was He trying to make the entire world His Bride?
Does man’s unbelief keep the Savior’s hands tied?
Biblically, each of these must be denied
It’s true, Jesus gave up His life for His Bride
But His Bride is the elect, to whom His death is applied
If on judgment day, you see that you can’t hide
And because of your sin, God’s wrath on you abides
And hell is the place you eternally reside
That means your wrath from God hasn’t been satisfied
But we believe His mission was accomplished when He died
But how the cross relates to those in hell?
Well, they be saying:
Lord knows He tried (8x)
Father, Son and Spirit: three and yet one
Working as a unit to get things done
Our salvation began in eternity past
God certainly has to bring all His purpose to pass
A triune, eternal bond no one could ever sever
When it comes to the church, peep how they work together
The Father foreknew first, the Son came to earth
To die- the Holy Spirit gives the new birth
The Father elects them, the Son pays their debt and protects them
The Spirit is the One who resurrects them
The Father chooses them, the Son gets bruised for them
The Spirit renews them and produces fruit in them
Everybody’s not elect, the Father decides
And it’s only the elect in whom the Spirit resides
The Father and the Spirit- completely unified
But when it comes to Christ and those in hell?
Well, they be saying:
Lord knows He tried (8x)
My third and final verse- here’s the situation
Just a couple more things for your consideration
If saving everybody was why Christ came in history
With so many in hell, we’d have to say He failed miserably
So many think He only came to make it possible
Let’s follow this solution to a conclusion that’s logical
What about those who were already in the grave?
The Old Testament wicked- condemned as depraved
Did He die for them? C’mon, behave
But worst of all, you’re saying the cross by itself doesn’t save
That we must do something to give the cross its power
That means, at the end of the day, the glory’s ours
That man-centered thinking is not recommended
The cross will save all for whom it was intended
Because for the elect, God’s wrath was satisfied
But still, when it comes to those in hell
Well, they be saying:
Lord knows He tried (8x)
Thank you, Shai Linne, whoever you are.