July 10, 1509

July 10, 2009
by James T. Hurd

Jeremiah 1:5 – "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations." (NIV)

Today, July 10, 2009, is the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin.

As I write this on the eve of the anniversary, 60 volumes of Calvin's works stand in front of me on the desk in my study, and the collection in my library is incomplete. Calvin authored commentaries on almost all books of the Bible, with the notable exception of the Book of Revelation, whose mysteries he claimed not to understand sufficiently to expound. His Institutes of the Christian Religion, the first edition of which was published in 1536 when he was but twenty-five years of age, was expanded several times and published in both French and Latin, and to this day remains an unparalleled and masterful theological textbook, richly repaying those who turn and return to it. Its principal aim is to set forth how we can know God, who has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ, and who draws us to Himself through the Holy Spirit. His sermons, preached primarily during his long pastorate in Geneva, both morning and afternoon on the Lord's Day and on each weekday at noon during alternate weeks, were taken down and continue to be translated from the original French and published in English. All this literary output came from one who died shy of his fifty-fifth birthday, on May 27, 1564, and who suffered from debilitating migraine headaches through much of his life!

Calvin was a preacher of the Word of God, an evangelist of Christ's gospel. He was a pastor of the flock of Jesus Christ, twice called to and once exiled from the city of Geneva, persecuted for righteousness, and not without his failings.

In calling for the translation of the Word of God into the language of the common people, he helped to inspire the great Geneva Bible of 1560, the language of which was largely reproduced in the King James Version of 1611. In insisting upon reformation in worship, he commissioned the writing of psalm tunes which came into widespread and enduring use through the Genevan Psalter of 1551.

Calvin's central emphasis on the sovereignty of God in the whole of creation and redemption brought the Word of God to bear on all aspects of faith and life, and called the church to proclaim a full gospel that transforms the whole of human society. His doctrine of vocation articulated for each and every human being a calling — to know the will of God and to do it — and inspired the entrepreneurial work ethic that underlies the best of capitalism.

Calvin's logical and systematic mind, trained in the law, enabled him to grasp the whole sweep of the issues involved in the governing of the Church. He set forth the basic framework of presbyterial church government, in which the shared leadership of the company of pastors, mutually accountable, replaced a hierarchical, one-man rule. Much of the inspiration and framework for our modern, western democratic system of civil government is rooted in the principles of presbyterian church government.

Calvin's missionary zeal and his passion for the training of pastors led him to establish a college, first for the training of his fellow countrymen from France, and for other refugees who found sanctuary in Geneva. Having been equipped to rightly divide the word of truth, graduates of this "most perfect school of Christ that was on earth since the days of the apostles", including John Knox of Scotland, were then sent forth with Calvin's prayers and blessings to take the gospel to their native lands and far beyond. Many of the early Huguenot missionaries found their way to Canada; many of the pilgrim and Puritan settlers of the United States were spiritual descendants.

Calvin would be the first to insist that the praise and credit for all that any of us may accomplish belongs entirely to God. We err, however, if we fail to recognize and recall God's gracious gift to the Church of Jesus Christ and to the world through the lives of His servants. On this day, we honour the memory of one called of God and appointed a prophet to the nations, as we render heartfelt thanksgiving to God for the life, witness, and enduring legacy of His servant, John Calvin.

1 Corinthians 1:23-24 – We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (NIV)

Prayer: For the conception and birth, the conversion and consecration, and the life and legacy of John Calvin, we give You thanks, O God. We thank You for a prophet, preacher, pastor, and professor. We thank You that He was enabled to grasp so much of how great the God You are, and to accomplish so much for the reform and renewal of the Church of Jesus Christ. May we honour him as we continue to value and build upon what he was enabled to do. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.

About the author:

James T. Hurd <jthurd@sympatico.ca>
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

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