As we recall the 16th century Reformation, we praise God for the great work He has done through the Reformers. Among the Reformers, John Calvin (1509-1564), though regarded as a second generation Reformer, had played a definitive role in the Reformation. Calvin is credited, along with Martin Luther and John Knox, for helping to revive biblical Christianity.
It is reported that more than 30,000 English-speaking congregations around the world trace their lineage through John Calvin. He was a figure of remarkable significance in the history of the Reformed tradition.
John Calvin was a theologian, pastor, biblical exegete and tireless apologist for Reformed Christianity. His theological works, biblical commentaries, tracts, treatises, sermons and letters helped to spread the Reformation doctrines throughout Europe. He ranks among the most important thinkers in church history. No theologian has been as acclaimed or assailed as much as Calvin.
Calvin’s greatest single work in Christian theology is “The Institutes of Christian Religion”. He wrote it at the age of 27 (though he continued to update and republish it throughout his life). It has altered the course of Western history as much as any other book. It is still read by theological students today. It covers a broad range of theological topics from justification by faith alone to Christian liberty and the doctrines of church and sacraments. The overarching theme of the book – and Calvin’s greatest theological legacy – is the idea of God’s total sovereignty, particularly in salvation and election.
During his pastoral ministry in Geneva, Calvin tirelessly preached over two thousand sermons. He preached twice on Sunday and almost every weekday. It is reported that his sermons lasted more than an hour. Church historians note that Calvin worked himself nearly to death. When he could not walk, he was carried to church in a chair to preach. Even when the doctor forbade him to go out in the winter, he would welcome people into his bedroom and give lectures there. When some urged him to rest, he would ask them, “What? Would you have the Lord find me idle when he comes?”
To provide a glimpse of this giant of theology, here are some quotes from Calvin’s pen. (These quotes are adapted from http://www.calvin500.com/ john-calvin/quotes-by-calvin)
- “There is not one blade of grass, there is no colour in this world that is not intended to make us rejoice.”
- “Seeing that a Pilot steers the ship in which we sail, who will never allow us to perish even in the midst of shipwrecks, there is no reason why our minds should be overwhelmed with fear and overcome with weariness.”
- “There is no worse screen to block out the Spirit than confidence in our own intelligence.”
- “God preordained, for his own glory and the display of His attributes of mercy and justice, a part of the human race, without any merit of their own, to eternal salvation, and another part, in just punishment of their sin, to eternal damnation.”
- “You must submit to supreme suffering in order to discover the completion of joy.”
- “We must remember that Satan has his miracles, too.”
- “However many blessings we expect from God, His infinite liberality will always exceed all our wishes and our thoughts.”
- “No man is excluded from calling upon God, the gate of salvation is set open unto all men: neither is there any other thing which keepeth us back from entering in, save only our own unbelief.”
- “Man with all his shrewdness is as stupid about understanding by himself the mysteries of God, as an ass is incapable of understanding musical harmony.”
- “Let us not cease to do the utmost, that we may incessantly go forward in the way of the Lord; and let us not despair of the smallness of our accomplishments.”
- “Knowledge of the sciences is so much smoke apart from the heavenly science of Christ.”
- “Though Satan instils his poison, and fans the flames of our corrupt desires within us, we are yet not carried by any external force to the commission of sin, but our own flesh entices us, and we willingly yield to its allurements.”
- “Man’s mind is like a store of idolatry and superstition; so much so that if a man believes his own mind it is certain that he will forsake God and forge some idol in his own brain.”
- “A dog barks when his master is attacked. I would be a coward if I saw that God’s truth is attacked and yet would remain silent.”