The Life of John Calvin

by Cesar Vigil-Ruiz

The life of Frenchman John Calvin has generated words of thankfulness to God from some but also words of criticism from others. He was born in Noyon, France July 10, 1509 to a family of which his father was an attorney. Sent to the University of Paris at 14 years of age to study medieval theology, he became deeply entrenched in Catholicism in addition to works by Aristotle and Euclid, with studies ranging from Latin, to the arts, to philosophy, developing the skill of disputation. Yet, from his father’s conflict with the Catholic church, he had his son removed from the school to pursue law instead, and received a law degree in 1532. Things changed, however, after the death of his father (1531), which allowed Calvin to study the classics, writing his first book on Seneca, Roman Stoic and advisor to Nero.

Remembering that the Protestant Reformation occurred in 1517 with the nailing of Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses, Calvin, who around the time began studying Seneca, had known a man named Nicholas Cop. Cop preached a sermon on Matthew 5:2 at the University of Paris, which included Lutheran doctrine, that awoke the authorities. They had Cop and Calvin leave the city and, soon, France altogether, to Basel, Switzerland, bringing about The Institutes of the Christian Religion:
But lo! while I lay hidden at Basel, and known only to few people, many faithful and holy persons were burnt alive in France. . . . It appeared to me, that unless I opposed [the perpetrators] to the utmost of my ability, my silence could not be vindicated from the charge of cowardice and treachery. This was the consideration which induced me to publish my Institutes of the Christian Religion. . . . It was published with no other design than that men might know what was the faith held by those whom I saw basely and wickedly defamed.

Three years later, in 1536, Calvin was able to return to France, preaching in Geneva for two years, then was in Strasbourg from 1538-41, preaching to 500 French refugees and finally returned to Geneva to preach there until his death in 1564 at the age of 54.

This was a life that was dedicated to seeing the Word of God preached expositionally, writing everything with pastoral care to his flock, from commentaries, to tracts, to letters to believers in prison. Calvin “preached on a New Testament book on Sunday mornings and afternoons (although for a period on the Psalms in the afternoon) and on an Old Testament book on weekday mornings” (publisher intro, Sermons on the Epistle to the Ephesians). Although he is known mainly for his work The Institutes, Calvin had an insatiable desire to draw out the meaning of Scripture in a verse-by-verse fashion, preaching 89 sermons in Acts, 174 on Ezekiel, 159 on Job, 200 on Deuteronomy, 353 on Isaiah, 123 on Genesis, and much more throughout his preaching ministry, emphasizing the glory of God as the goal of all of life, including exposition.

The zeal Calvin had to preach the Word of God in his own life was the battle that he fought in his own life to live out sola scriptura, the Scriptures being the sole and infallible rule of faith for the church in opposition to Rome’s unauthorized “infallibility.” The glory of God fueled him to see what was truly at stake when disputing with those who were defenders of Rome.

What can we learn from the life of Calvin? Passion for God’s Word must be fostered in His church. Calvin truly believed the Word of God must be preached, since it is an application of Christ’s words, “My sheep hear My voice” (John 10:27). Are we listening to the preaching of the Word? Do we pray for our pastors to never compromise in preaching the Word? Are we just as passionate to study the Word day in, day out, during the school year and while we’re on “break” as our leaders should be? We may celebrate Calvin’s 500th birthday next year, but we should be celebrating God’s Word every day as the beacon of light that enlightens our path and keeps us faithful to Him and His perfect and authoritative Word.

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The Beacon is the monthly newsletter for Lighthouse Bible Church in San Diego, California. It covers a variety of subjects including LBC events, church history, current events from a Christan perspective, ministry profiles, and messages from our pastors and elders. To join the Beacon ministry, please contact Stephen Rodgers.

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