To do justice to the great reformers takes much more than a brief article. Check out our church library and see some of the biographies of some of the great personalities in church history and I assure you your mind will be enlightened and your souls will be encouraged.
Now we look at one of my personal favourites: John Calvin. Calvin was born in 1509 in Noyon, France. Noyon was an important center for the Catholic Church in Northern Europe and Calvin grew up in the midst of church life. He grew up in aristocracy, a background that made him much more refined than Luther.
Calvin’s father, Gerard, saw to it that he received the best possible education. At the age of 14 he was enrolled in the University of Paris, the intellectual center of Western Europe. By the mid 1520’s Calvin excelled as a scholar. He spoke Latin proficiently, excelled at Philosophy, and qualified to take up the intensive study of theology in Paris. His father had a change of heart and felt that John should pursue law studies. John acquiesced and spent the next 5-6 years studying law at the University of Orleans, attaining distinction in a subject he did not love. During these years he dipped into the study of Renaissance humanism. He learned Greek and read most of the classics. Then word of Luther’s teaching reached France, and his life was radically altered. In his own words:
“He [God] tamed to teachableness a mind too stubborn for its years—for I was strongly devoted to the superstitions of the papacy that nothing less could draw me from such depths of mire. And so this mere taste of true godliness that I received set me on fire with such a desire to progress that I pursued the rest of my studies more coolly, although I did not give them up altogether.”
Little is known of Calvin’s conversion except that it occurred between 1532 and 1534. He became marked out as a “Lutheran” and faced much persecution. To escape the persecution faced in Paris he sought refuge in Basel. There, at the young age of 27, Calvin published the first edition of “The Institutes of the Christian Religion.” Historian Will Durant referred to the Institutes as among the 10 most influential works in the world. All Calvin wanted to do was write an elementary manual for those who wanted to know something about the evangelical faith.
“I laboured at the task especially for our own Frenchmen, for I saw that many were hungering and thirsting after Christ and yet that only a very few had any real knowledge of him.”
In it he outlined his views on the church, the sacraments, justification, Christian Liberty, and political government. His overarching theme, however, was God’s sovereignty. The first edition only contained 7 chapters including a preface and dedication to the king of France. In it’s final Form the Institutes contains 80 chapters.
I want to conclude today by reminding you that when John Calvin wrote “one of the ten most influential” books in history he was a mere 27 years old. This is a reminder to each of us to encourage and be a blessing to our youth and young adults. Also a reminder to those of you who are in that category:
1 Timothy 4:12 “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.
See You Sunday,