A Man from Geneva by Jack Kettler
John Calvin (10 July 1509 – 27 May 1564), né Jean Cauvin, was a French theologian and pastor during the Protestant Reformation. He was a principal figure in the development of the system of Christian theology later called by his name. Calvin was trained as a lawyer. He embraced Protestant theology, and when religious hostility produced an uprising against Protestants in France, Calvin fled to Switzerland. In 1536 he published the first edition of his monumental influential two volume work, Institutes of the Christian Religion.
Calvin was a indefatigable polemicist and apologetic writer. In addition to the Institutes of the Christian Religion, he wrote commentaries on most books of the Bible as well as theological treatises, theological letters of correspondence and confessional documents. He maintained a rigorous schedule of preaching sermons throughout the week in Geneva. Calvin's soteriology built upon and further developed the Augustinian tradition of divine sovereignty. Calvin's writing and preaching is carried on in the Presbyterian and Reformed Churches throughout the world.
A few Gems of Wisdom from Calvin:
“There is not one blade of grass, there is no color in this world that is not intended to make us rejoice.”
“There is no worse screen to block out the Spirit than confidence in our own intelligence.”
“Man's nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.”
“The whole life of man until he is converted to Christ is a ruinous labyrinth of wanderings.”
Quotes about Calvin and Calvinism:
“I have my own opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the gospel if we do not preach justification by faith without works; nor unless we preach the sovereignty of God in His dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing unchangeable eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor do I think we can preach the gospel unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ wrought out upon the cross.” (Charles H. Spurgeon, The New Park Street Pulpit, Vol. 1, 1856).
“The longer I live the clearer does it appear that John Calvin’s system is the nearest to perfection.” - Charles H. Spurgeon
“After the Holy Scriptures, I exhort the students to read the Commentaries of Calvin. . . . I tell them that he is incomparable in the interpretation of Scripture; and that his Commentaries ought to be held in greater estimation than all that is delivered to us in the writings of the ancient Christian Fathers: so that, in a certain eminent spirit of prophecy, I give the pre-eminence to him beyond most others, indeed beyond them all. I add, that, with regard to what belongs to common places, his Institutes must be read after the Catechism, as a more ample interpretation. But to all this I subjoin the remark, that they must be perused with cautious choice, like all other human compositions.” - Jacob Arminius
“I believe Calvin was a great instrument of God; and that he was a wise and pious man.” - John Wesley
“I have been a witness of him for sixteen years and I think that I am fully entitled to say that in this man there was exhibited to all an example of the life and death of the Christian, such as it will not be easy to depreciate, and it will be difficult to imitate.” - Theodore Beza
“Calvin’s theology interests us in its historical context as an outstanding record of Reformation theology that historically—and at times even legally—has served as a basis of proclamation in modern Protestant churches.” - Karl Barth
“John Calvin is a man of distinguished reputation, one of the great figures of church history.” - Wulfert de Greef
“[Calvin] easily takes the lead among the systematic expounders of the Reformed system of Christian doctrine. . . . Calvin’s theology is based upon a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He was the ablest exegete among the Reformers, and his commentaries rank among the very best of ancient and modern times. His theology, therefore, is biblical rather than scholastic, and has all the freshness of enthusiastic devotion to the truths of God’s Word. At the same time he was a consummate logician and dialectician. He had a rare power of clear, strong, convincing statement. He built up a body of doctrines which is called after him, and which obtained symbolical authority through some of the leading Reformed Confessions of Faith." "Taking into account all his failings, he [Calvin] must be reckoned as one of the greatest and best of men whom God raised up in the history of Christianity.” - Philip Schaff, church historian
“The greatest exegete and theologian of the Reformation was undoubtedly Calvin. . . . He is one of the greatest interpreters of Scripture who ever lived. He owes that position to a combination of merits. He had a vigorous intellect, a dauntless spirit, a logical mind, a quick insight, a thorough knowledge of the human heart, quickened by rich and strange experience; above all, a manly and glowing sense of the grandeur of the Divine. The neatness, precision, and lucidity of his style, his classic training and wide knowledge, his methodical accuracy of procedure, his manly independence, his avoidance of needless and commonplace homiletics, his deep religious feeling, his careful attention to the entire scope and context of every passage, and the fact that he has commented on almost the whole of the Bible, make him tower above the great majority of those who have written on Holy Scripture.” - Frederic William Farrar, History of Interpretation
“Calvin is the man who, next to St. Paul, has done most good to mankind.” - William Cunningham
“To omit Calvin from the forces of Western evolution is to read history with one eye shut.” - Lord John Morley
“It would hardly be too much to say that for the latter part of his lifetime and a century after his death John Calvin was the most influential man in the world, in the sense that his ideas were making more history than those of anyone else during that period. Calvin’s theology produced the Puritans in England, the Huguenots in France, the ‘Beggars’ in Holland, the Covenanters in Scotland, and the Pilgrim Fathers of New England, and was more or less directly responsible for the Scottish uprising, the revolt of the Netherlands, the French wars of religion, and the English Civil War. Also, it was Calvin’s doctrine of the state as a servant of God that established the ideal of constitutional representative government and led to the explicit acknowledgment of the rights and liberties of subjects. . . . It is doubtful whether any other theologian has ever played so significant a part in world history.” - J. I. Packer
“Calvin helped the Reformation change the entire focus of the Christian life. Calvin’s teaching, preaching, and catechizing fostered growth in the relationship between believers and God.” - Joel R. Beeke
“Calvin’s theological heritage has proved fertile perhaps to a greater extent than any other Protestant writer. Richard Baxter, Jonathan Edwards, and Karl Barth, in their very different ways, bear witness to the pivotal role that Calvin’s ideas have played in shaping Protestant self-perceptions down the centuries. . . . It is impossible to understand modern Protestantism without coming to terms with Calvin’s legacy to the movement which he did so much to nourish and sustain.” - Alister E. McGrath
“The fundamental issue for John Calvin—from the beginning of his life to the end—was the issue of the centrality and supremacy and majesty of the glory of God.” - John Piper
“Where the God-centered principles of Calvinism have been abandoned, there has been a strong tendency downward into the depths of man-centered naturalism or secularism. Some have declared, rightly, we believe, that there is no consistent stopping place between Calvinism and atheism.” - Ken Talbot
“Whatever the cause, the Calvinists were the only fighting Protestants. It was they whose faith gave them courage to stand up for the Reformation. In England, Scotland, France, Holland, they, and they only, did the work, and but for them the Reformation would have been crushed... If it had not been for Calvinists, Huguenots, Puritans, and whatever you like to call them, the Pope and Philip would have won, and we should either be Papists or Socialists.” - Sir John Skelton
“[Calvinists] are the true heroes of England. They founded England, in spite of the corruption of the Stuarts, by the exercise of duty, by the practice of justice, by obstinate toil, by vindication of right, by resistance to oppression, by the conquest of liberty, by the repression of vice. They founded Scotland; they founded the United States; at this day they are, by their descendants, founding Australia and colonizing the world.” - French atheist Hippolyte Taine (1828 to 1893)
“Calvinism has been the chief source of republican government.” - Lorraine Boettner
“In Calvinism lies the origin and guarantee of our constitutional liberties.” - Goren van Prinsterer
“John Calvin was the virtual founder of America.” - German historian Leopold von Ranke
“Calvinism boldly affirms that salvation is of faith in order simply that it may be of grace—totally, completely, finally, from beginning to end, from Alpha to Omega, completely of God. and not of man. God is exalted and man is abased. Salvation is of grace, it is of God, and I, along with Charles Spurgeon (who was a great proclaimer of the free and sovereign grace of God), am happy to say that I am a Calvinist who holds to the doctrines of grace.” - Dr. D. James Kennedy, from Why I am a Presbyterian
“The Revolution of 1776, so far as it was affected by religion, was a Presbyterian measure. It was the natural outgrowth of the principles which the Presbyterianism of the Old World planted in her sons, the English Puritans, the Scotch Covenanters, the French Huguenots, the Dutch Calvinists, and the Presbyterians of Ulster.” - “He who will not honor the memory and respect the influence of Calvin knows but little of the origin of American liberty.” - George Bancroft, Harvard professor, historian
“Let not Geneva be forgotten or despised. Religious liberty in the West owes Calvin much respect.” - John Adams, second President of the United States
“From the first, therefore, I have always said to myself,—If the battle is to be fought with honor and with a hope of victory, then principle must be arrayed against principle; then it must be felt that in Modernism the vast energy of an all-embracing life-system assails us, then also it must be understood that we have to take our stand in a life-system of equally comprehensive and far-reaching power. And this powerful life-system is not to be invented nor formulated by ourselves, but is to be taken and applied as it presents itself in history. When thus taken, I found and confessed, and I still hold, that this manifestation of the Christian principle is given us in Calvinism. In Calvinism my heart has found rest. From Calvinism have I drawn the inspiration firmly and resolutely to take my stand in the thick of this great conflict of principles. And therefore, when I was invited most honorably by your Faculty to give the Stone-Lectures here this year, I could not hesitate a moment as to my choice of subject. Calvinism, as the only decisive, lawful, and consistent defence for Protestant nations against encroaching, and overwhelming Modernism,—this of itself was bound to be my theme.” - Abraham Kuyper, Dutch journalist, statesman and theologian. He founded a new church (the Gereformeerde Kerken), a newspaper, the Free University of Amsterdam, and the Anti-Revolutionary Party. He served as Prime Minister of the Netherlands between 1901 and 1905.
“People say that Calvinism is a dour, hard creed. How broad and comforting, they say, is the doctrine of a universal atonement, the doctrine that Christ died equally for all men there upon the cross! How narrow and harsh, they say, is this Calvinistic doctrine—one of the “five points” of Calvinism—this doctrine of the “limited atonement,” this doctrine that Christ died for the elect of God in a sense in which he did not die for the unsaved! But do you know, my friends, it is surprising that men say that. It is surprising that they regard the doctrine of a universal atonement as being a comforting doctrine. In reality it is a very gloomy doctrine indeed. Ah, if it were only a doctrine of a universal salvation, instead of a doctrine of a universal atonement, then it would no doubt be a very comforting doctrine; then no doubt it would conform wonderfully well to what we in our puny wisdom might have thought the course of the world should have been. But a universal atonement without a universal salvation is a cold, gloomy doctrine indeed. To say that Christ died for all men alike and that then not all men are saved, to say that Christ died for humanity simply in the mass, and that the choice of those who out of that mass are saved depends upon the greater receptivity of some as compared with others—that is a doctrine that takes from the gospel much of its sweetness and much of its joy.” - J. Gresham Machen
What is Calvinism? by B. B. Warfield
It is very odd how difficult it seems for some persons to understand just what Calvinism is. And yet the matter itself presents no difficulty whatever. It is capable of being put into a single sentence; and that, on level to every religious man's comprehension. For Calvinism is just religion in its purity. We have only, therefore, to conceive of religion in its purity, and that is Calvinism.
In what attitude of mind and heart does religion come most fully to its rights? Is it not in the attitude of prayer? When we kneel before God, not with the body merely, but with the mind and heart, we have assumed the attitude which above all others deserves the name of religious. And this religious attitude by way of eminence is obviously just the attitude of utter dependence and humble trust. He who comes to God in prayer, comes not in a spirit of self-assertion, but in a spirit of trustful dependence.
No one ever addressed God in prayer thus: “O God, thou knowest that I am the architect of my own fortunes and the determiner of my own destiny. Thou mayest indeed do something to help me in the securing of my purposes after I have determined upon them. But my heart is my own, and thou canst not intrude into it; my will is my own, and thou canst not bend it. When I wish thy aid, I will call on thee for it. Meanwhile, thou must await my pleasure.” Men may reason somewhat like this; but that is not the way they pray.
There did, indeed, once two men go up into the temple to pray. And one stood and prayed thus to himself (can it be that this "to himself" has a deeper significance than appears on the surface?), “God, I thank thee that I am not as the rest of men.” While the other smote his breast, and said, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” Even the former acknowledged a certain dependence on God; for he thanked God for his virtues. But we are not left in doubt in which one the religious mood was most purely exhibited. There is One who has told us that with clearness and emphasis.
The Calvinist is the man who is determined that his intellect, and heart, and will shall remain on their knees continually, and only from this attitude think, and feel, and act. Calvinism is, therefore, that type of thought in which there comes to its rights the truly religious attitude of utter dependence on God and humble trust in his mercy alone for salvation.
There are at bottom but two types of religious thought in the world -- if we may improperly use the term “religious” for both of them. There is the religion of faith; there is the "religion" of works. Calvinism is the pure embodiment of the former of these; what is known in Church History as Pelagianism is the pure embodiment of the latter of them. All other forms of “religious” teaching which have been known in Christendom are but unstable attempts at compromise between the two. At the opening of the fifth century, the two fundamental types came into direct conflict in remarkably pure form as embodied in the two persons of Augustine and Pelagius. Both were expending themselves in seeking to better the lives of men. But Pelagius in his exhortations threw men back on themselves; they were able, he declared, to do all that God demanded of them -- otherwise God would not have demanded it.
Augustine on the contrary pointed them in their weakness to God; “He himself,” he said, in his pregnant speech, “He himself is our power.” The one is the “religion” of proud self-dependence; the other is the religion of dependence on God. The one is the “religion” of works; the other is the religion of faith. The one is not "religion" at all -- it is mere moralism; the other is all that is in the world that deserves to be called religion. Just in proportion as this attitude of faith is present in our thought, feeling, life, are we religious. When it becomes regnant in our thought, feeling, life, then are we truly religious. Calvinism is that type of thinking in which it has become regnant. This is why those who have caught a glimpse of these things, love with passion what men call “Calvinism,” sometimes with an air of contempt; and why they cling to it with enthusiasm. It is not merely the hope of true religion in the world: it is true religion in the world -- as far as true religion is in the world at all.
For Calvinism, in this soteriological aspect of it, is just the perception and expression and defence of the utter dependence of the soul on the free grace of God for salvation. All its so-called hard features its doctrine of original sin, yes, speak it right out, its doctrine of total depravity and the entire inability of the sinful will to good; its doctrine of election, or, to put it in the words everywhere spoken against, its doctrine of predestination and preterition, of reprobation itself mean just this and nothing more. Calvinism will not play fast and loose with the free grace of God. It is set upon giving to God, and to God alone, the glory and all the glory of salvation. There are others than Calvinists, no doubt, who would fain make the same great confession. But they make it with reserves, or they painfully justify the making of it by some tenuous theory which confuses nature and grace. They leave logical pitfalls on this side or that, and the difference between logical pitfalls and other pitfalls is that the wayfarer may fall into the others, but the plain man, just because his is a simple mind, must fall into those. Calvinism will leave no logical pitfalls and will make no reserves. It will have nothing to do with theories whose function it is to explain away facts. It confesses, with a heart full of adoring gratitude, that to God, and to God alone, belongs salvation and the whole of salvation; that He it is, and He alone, who works salvation in its whole reach. Any falling away in the slightest measure from this great confession is to fall away from Calvinism. Any intrusion of any human merit, or act, or disposition, or power, as ground or cause or occasion, into the process of divine salvation, whether in the way of power to resist or of ability to improve grace, of the opening of the soul to the reception of grace, or of the employment of grace already received is a breach with Calvinism.
Is it strange that in this world, in this particular age of this world, it should prove difficult to preserve not only active, but vivid and dominant, the perception of the everywhere determining hand of God, the sense of absolute dependence on Him, the conviction of utter inability to do even the least thing to rescue ourselves from sin at the height of their conceptions? Is it not enough to account for whatever depression Calvinism may be suffering in the world today, to point to the natural difficulty in this materialistic age, conscious of its newly realized powers over against the forces of nature and filled with the pride of achievement and of material well-being of guarding our perception of the governing hand of God in all things, in its perfection; of maintaining our sense of dependence on a higher power in full force; of preserving our feeling of sin, unworthiness, and helplessness in its profundity? Is not the depression of Calvinism, so far as it is real, significant merely of this, that to our age the vision of God has become somewhat obscured in the midst of abounding material triumphs, that the religious emotion has in some measure ceased to be the determining force in life, and that the evangelical attitude of complete dependence on God for salvation does not readily commend itself to men who are accustomed to lay forceful hands on everything else they wish, and who do not quite see why they may not take heaven also by storm?
Let us observe then, that Calvinism is only another name for consistent supernaturalism in religion. The central fact of Calvinism is the vision of God. Its determining principle is zeal for the divine honour. What it sets itself to do is to render to God His rights in every sphere of life-activity. In this it begins, and centres, and ends. It is this that is said, when it is said that it is Theism come to its rights, since in that case everything that comes to pass is viewed as the direct outworking of the divine purpose when it is said that it is religion at the height of its conception, since in that case God is consciously felt as Him in whom we live and move and have our being when it is said that it is evangelicalism in its purity, since in that case we cast ourselves as sinners, without reserve, wholly on the mercy of the divine grace. It is this sense of God, of God's presence, of God's power, of God's all-pervading activity most of all in the process of salvation which constitutes Calvinism. When the Calvinist gazes into the mirror of the world, whether the world of nature or the, world of events, his attention is held not by the mirror itself (with the cunning construction of which scientific investigations may no doubt very properly busy themselves), but by the Face of God which he sees reflected therein. When the Calvinist contemplates the religious life, he is less concerned with the psychological nature and relations of the emotions which surge through the soul (with which the votaries of the new science of the psychology of religion are perhaps not quite unfruitfully engaging themselves), than with the divine Source from which they spring, the divine Object on which they take hold. When the Calvinist considers the state of his soul and the possibility of its rescue from death and sin, he may not indeed be blind to the responses which it may by the grace of God be enabled to make to the divine grace, but he absorbs himself not in them but in it, and sees in every step of his recovery to good and to God the almighty working of God's grace.
The Calvinist, in a word, is the man who sees God. He has caught sight of the ineffable Vision, and he will not let it fade for a moment from his eyes God in nature, God in history, God in grace. Everywhere he sees God in His mighty stepping, everywhere he feels the working of His mighty arm, the throbbing of His mighty heart. The Calvinist is therefore, by way of eminence, the supernaturalist in the world of thought. The world itself is to him a supernatural product; not merely in the sense that somewhere, away back before all time, God made it, but that God is making it now, and in every event that falls out. In every modification of what is, that takes place, His hand is visible, as through all occurrences His one increasing purpose runs. Man himself is His created for His glory, and having as the one supreme end of his existence to glorify his Maker, and haply also to enjoy Him for ever. And salvation, in every step and stage of it, is of God. Conceived in God's love, wrought out by God's own Son in a supernatural life and death in this world of sin, and applied by God's Spirit in a series of acts as supernatural as the virgin birth and the resurrection of the Son of God themselves it is a supernatural work through and through. To the Calvinist, thus, the Church of God is as direct a creation of God as the first creation itself. In this supernaturalism, the whole thought and feeling and life of the Calvinist is steeped. Without it there can be no Calvinism, for it is just this that is Calvinism. End or article
Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com
Resources for Further Study:
Institutes of the Christian Religion
Abraham Kuyper: Lectures on Calvinism
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Classic Articles & Resources on Reformed Theology
“When the debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the loser.” - Socrates