On my desk sits John Calvin’s statue. It bears an inscription engraved by the friend who gave it to me. The inscription reads, “Please keep this as a reminder of the great theologians that came before.” My friend’s inscription embodies Calvin’s influence on me. He is a reminder of what makes a theologian great. That is, Calvin’s influence is not due to some great theological insight or discovery. Nor is it from the adoption of the theological system that bears his name. Rather, he was my model. He stands for the commitments that make a theologian great.
The first of these was Calvin’s commitment to the Bible. In a real sense, you can say that Calvin’s life’s work was nothing more than expounding the scriptures. All he did or tried to do is understand and teach others to understand the Bible. Calvin was famed as an expository preacher, teaching in subsequential order whole Biblical books.1 He preached multiple times a week from both the Old and New Testaments. In addition to his preaching, Calvin has two great works: his “Institutes of the Christian Religion” (a systematic theology), and his many Biblical commentaries. The two are related. Calvin intended the “Institutes” as a companion to his commentaries. “Institutes” is meant as an aid to the Bible reader.1 Calvin’s whole legacy is nothing more than a simple attempt to teach the Bible.
In This Article:
Teachings From The Bible
An event from Calvin’s life demonstrates his commitment to the Bible. In 1538, for a mixture of political and theological reasons, the town council disposed Calvin from Geneva. Three years later, feeling his absence, the council asked Calvin to return. Upon his return to the pulpit, without comment on his absence, he picked up on the very next verse he left off on three years prior.2 The act demonstrates his belief that the important work is the expounding of the scriptures.
Second, Calvin was committed to the local church. In our age of parachurch organizations, Calvin stands for the belief that God’s plan to save the world is the local church. As we stated earlier, Calvin preached multiple times a week, devoting countless hours of study to sermon preparation. He never entered the pulpit unprepared.3 He spent time catechizing the children of Geneva, going as far as to write a children’s catechism.
Calvin’s pastoral influence was undeniable. In a letter, the Scottish reformer John Knox called Geneva a New Jerusalem.4 The influence was so evident that even Calvin’s detractors could not deny it. After a visit to Geneva, the humanist Catholic Desiderius Eramasus wrote a letter to Calvin’s elder colleague William Farel. In the letter he said that everyone under Calvin’s care all talked about the same five things: Gospel, Word of God, Faith, Christ and Holy Spirit.5
Thirdly, Calvin was dependent on the Holy Spirit. In our time of self-reliance and naturalism, Calvin’s dependence on the Holy Spirit is refreshing and humbling. Calvin is sometimes called the theologian of the Holy Spirit. That is, Calvin was one of the first theologians that truly examined the doctrine of the person and the work of the Holy Spirit.6 The Holy Spirit and his regenerative work integrates all his theology.7
Fourth, Calvin was a fighter. If he was convinced it was Biblical, Calvin would never back down from a position. The reader of “The Institutes” is struck by his constant refutation of error. In 1537, he was willing to be deposed partially because he refused to use unleavened bread during Communion. Not because he believed that the Bible called for leavened bread, he understood it as a thing of indifference. He just refused to bind his people’s conscience when the Bible was indifferent.8
Principles Of Your Faith
Perhaps, Calvin’s most memorable fight was with a group that came to be known as “the libertines.” The libertines believed you could openly and willfully practice immorality and be a Christian in good standing at a church. They planned to physically force Calvin into giving them Communion though they were unrepentant. To which Calvin responded that they could crush his hand, lop off his arms, and even take his life. But they would never force him to profane and dishonor the table of God.9 Here again, we see Calvin’s disregard for his own well-being when biblical principles were at stake. More than most people, Calvin stood on principle. He saw truth so clearly that compromise was unintelligible for him.10
In conclusion, we turn to the reformation doctrine of Soli Deo Gloria, Glory to God alone. It was the rallying cry of the reformation. The reformers believed that one’s life should be lived for God and God alone. The Calvin statue that sits on my desk is a small monument of one man’s attempt to live out Soli Deo Gloria. Though Calvin is a flawed and sinful theologian, he attempted to live for God alone. It is that attempt that ultimately influenced me. That my thinking, my work, my relationships and my life should be lived out for God’s glory and God’s glory alone.
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1 Jean Calvin. Institutes of the Christian Religion trans. Henry Beveridge (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008), XXXVII
2 Schaff, P. History of the Christian Church, Vol.7 Modern Christianity; The Swiss Reformation (Classic Reprint).United States: FB&C Limited, 2007, 354-41
3 Parker, T. H. L. Calvin's Preaching. Westminster John Knox Press. 81
4 Lawson, S.J. The Expository Genius of John Calvin Standford, FL: Reformation Trust Pub., 207, 1.
5 Horton, M. Rediscovering the Holy Spirit: God’s Perfecting Presence in Creation, Redemption, and Everyday Life. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2017, 19.
6 Breckinridge Warfield, B. Calvin and Augustine. Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1956,484-5.
7 Evans, E. John Calvin: Theologian of the Holy Spirit, Reformation and Revival, Vol 10, Num 4.,83-104.
8 Parker, T. H. L. John Calvin—A Biography. Edinburgh, Scotland: Presbyterian Publishing Corporation, 1992, 88-92.
9 Henderson, H.F. Calvin in His Letters. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1996, 78.
10 Evans, E. John Calvin: Theologian of the Holy Spirit, Reformation and Revival, Vol 10, Num 4.,83-104.
Approved by faculty of the College of Theology on June 7, 2023.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.