6 Reasons why John Calvin Is amazing

john calvin

Pastor John Calvin gets a bad rep. Far too often people who are not familiar with him imagine a man locked in a university tediously scribbling long sentences. Perhaps a prudish man scrupulously analyzing others for faults, ready to utter severe condemnation for their tiniest mistakes of life and doctrine. Even better are those who think Calvin was simply a pharisaical zealot who’s only two interests included damning heretics to be burned and damning everyone else via predestination. Even some modern preachers have terrible views of Calvin. Jimmy Swaggart noted that “Calvin has, I believe, caused untold millions of souls to be damned.” Yet, others that know Calvin’s life, ministry, and work, say very different things. One of Christ’s greatest preachers, Charles Spurgeon, once said “The longer I live the clearer does it appear that John Calvin’s system is the nearest to perfection.”

1. Calvin was a pastor with a caring heart

For many years pastor John served as a pastor. He wrote some of the most profound and influential books in western Christianity. He has pastored millions with his writings. Today hundreds of thousands of pastors have been encouraged and equipped through Calvin’s works and tradition. Many well-known pastors were highly influenced by Calvin (Charles Spurgeon , Mark Driscoll, John Piper, Sproul, J. C. Ryle, J. I. Packer, John MacArthur, David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, George Whitefield, and even Arminian John Wesley). Many concepts and ideas we consider to be “Christian” were best articulated by John Calvin. But besides that Calvin was a pastor to his city. He didn’t only sit in a quiet study. He preached to the poor in the streets. He visited those in prison often with his wife. He never ignored a counseling request. He visited the beds of those who were sick. He worked early morning to late night. He loved the Bible, studied the Bible, preached and taught the Bible. He cared for each person he spoke with and pleaded that they serve Jesus. (1, 2, 3 )

2. Calvin was faithful under opposition

Calvin wanted a quiet scholars life, but a fiery preacher, William Farel, asked him to stay in Geneva and reform the city. Calvin tried to refuse but finally accepted. It was hard work, with little or no pay (Calvin had to sell his things to make ends meet), and no respect. Two years later he was driven out of the city. He stayed in Germany for a few years, also living in poverty, and eventually was called back to Geneva. Throughout his ministry, especially early on, John Calvin faced much opposition. He was threatened with violence and men set their dogs on him (some were named Calvin in “honor” of him). Opponents fired their guns outside of his church during his sermon and came into the church and made noises or coughed loudly to cut him off. He was mocked in the streets and called “Cain” and “pig.” Even later in Calvin’s life he was afflicted with opposition, even seeing death threats attached onto his pulpit. At one point there was gathered an armed mob of Libertines, set to destroy Calvin, he offered his life to them and pleaded with them, until some of them wept and left him unharmed. Through all this Calvin never stopped preaching the Bible, never gave up on the reformation. (4, 5, 6, 7)

3. Calvin was on a mission for Christ

Calvin worked long and hard. Much longer and harder than most of us do. He preached twice a day on Sunday and every single day for two out of four weeks in a month. The two weeks he was not preaching, he was lecturing as Old Testament professor. He was also part of many committees related to making city life better and helping the poor. Calvin’s life directly resulted in the planting of over 2000 churches in France. Historians have called his Geneva a “hub of vast missionary enterprise” For example, historical records show that just in one year, 142 missionaries were sent out by Calvin to go around the world and reach people with the gospel message. Some were even sent to Brazil where they were killed. Calvin was a man on a mission to teach the Gospel. (8, 9)

4. Calvin served Jesus through much suffering

Calvin’s was no stranger to suffering. When he was 3 his mother died. He spent his childhood working and away from home. Probably due to his over-work he began to have terrible indigestion, able to eat only one meal per day. Calvin also struggled with horrible migraines and asthma. He was married later in life, to a widow, Idelette, who was also often sick. John Calvin lost three children, during birth and then after nine years of marriage he lost his wife as well. His heart was struck with terrible grief. Later he was incapacitated by lung hemorrhages and tortured by kidney stones and gout. This broke his body and he could not walk a few hundred yards to church. He was carried in a chair and preached from this chair. When he was unable to go outside, as prescribed by his doctor, he brought his students to his room and preached and lectured to them there. (10, 11).

5. Calvin cared about the wellbeing of others

Europe was undergoing a period of immense change, and Calvin was at the forefront of it. He took the idea of God’s mercy out of books and brought it to life. He instructed deacons to set operate hospitals and requested doctors visit the sick who were poor and unable to pay for hospital care. Geneva was filled with an influx of poor refugees (population grew by 100% over 19 years) and Calvin worked to create employment opportunities for those that came. He worked hard to erase the need for loans that enslaved people, and even convinced the city council to mandate fair loan practices. Calvin taught and lived “we may give to the poor but if the heart is not touched with compassion it will be of no avail. We should have a ‘humane heart’” (12)

6. Calvin was anti-religion and pro-Christ

Calvin’s theology was highly Christocentric. Contrary to the popular teaching of the day, which gravitated to much religion and law keeping, Calvin always brought his theology to center on the Person and Work of Christ. He readily knew that we are unable to be perfect on our own (“”the best work that can be brought forward from them [the saints] is still always spotted and corrupted with some impurity of the flesh”). John Calvin rightly understood and proclaimed that it is not religion that is important, but the Cross. Calvin’s proclamation of this Biblical truth still echoes today: “In the cross of Christ, as in a splendid theater, the incomparable goodness of God is set before the whole world.  The glory of God shines, indeed, in all creatures on high and below, but never more brightly than in the cross, in which there was a wonderful change of things – the condemnation of all men was manifested, sin blotted out, salvation restored to men; in short, the whole world was renewed and all things restored to order.” (13, 14)

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