This year marks the 500th Anniversary of the birth of John Calvin.
Calvin was a part of the Reformation in the 1500s and played an instrumental role in the church rediscovering its gospel roots. Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany, in 1517. Much to Luther’s surprise this launched what we now call the Protestant Reformation.
Calvin himself was not converted until somewhere around 1533 or 1534. (Calvin is quite muted in any autobiographical comments and so the exact date here is hard to pin down). So the Reformation had been in full swing for something like 15 years before Calvin even came on the scene. But it would be fair to say that it was Calvin who took the thought and principles of the Reformation and really organised and clarified them.
Most people who know the phrase Calvinism or Calvinist would probably link it mainly to an over-emphasis on predestination and election. But Calvin and Calvinism (which can sometimes be quite different) are about much more than that, and those issues are in fact quite secondary to Calvin’s main priorities and emphases.
Or people know Calvinism as TULIP . But TULIP only talks about Calvinism in opposition to Arminianism .
Here’s Charles Spurgeon’s definition of Calvinism. I can’t say it any better, and this is my kind of Calvinism:
“To me, Calvinism means the placing of the eternal God at the head of all things. I look at everything through its relation to God’s glory. I see God first, and man far down in the list … Brethren, if we live in sympathy with God, we delight to hear Him say, ‘I am God, and there is none else'”
It’s important to say at this point that Calvin was by no means perfect or even close to it. He made some major mistakes and no one thinks he’s perfect. But here is a list of some of the things I find so appealing about Calvin:
1) His top concern was that the glory of God was upheld. Here’s a quote from Calvin’s work The Institutes of the Christian Religion: “For until men recognise that they owe everything to God, that they are nourished by his Fatherly care, that he is the Author of their every good, that they should seek nothing beyond him – they will never yield him willing service. Nay, unless they establish their complete happiness in him, they will never give themselves truly and sincerely to him.” (p. 41) What a great quote. Not only does he get in a great use of the word “nay”, but he holds up honouring God and being totally happy in him as the main game.
2) Calvin’s always sought to put Jesus front and centre in all his preaching and thinking and theologizing. Here’s a quote from Calvin’s Commentary on Colossians: “For how comes it that we are “carried about with so many strange doctrines” (Hebrews 13:9), but because the excellence of Christ is not perceived by us? . . . This, therefore, is the only means of retaining, as well as restoring, pure doctrine: to place Christ before the view such as He is with all His blessings, that His excellence may be truly perceived.”
3) Linked with this, Calvin hated speculation. He was always concerned to start with what God has actually done, not on what might have happened or what God could possibly do. He always wanted to follow God in history and think God’s thoughts after Him.
4) Scripture was his number one authority and the place where God spoke most clearly. Everything was assessed in the light of, and subordinated to, God’s word revealed in scripture.
5) Calvin was an industrious preacher. He preached through books in what is called an expositional style, which means he started at verse 1 and went through the book from start to finish. But get this, he started preaching through Acts in 1549 and preached every week through that book and finished in 1554! He would preach two different sermons on Sunday, and then also preach every day every second week. Between 1550 and 1559 he took 270 weddings!
So we remember and read and celebrate Calvin not because we want to make Calvin great, but because the more we look at Calvin the more we are pointed back again and again to the Scriptures and because through Calvin we see Christ better and more clearly.
Thank you God for Calvin.
Here are some links to stuff on Calvin, some of them are free and some of them cost $$$: