John Calvin’s 500th Birthday

is today, July 10th, 2009. 

CS009556Well now, how many other people do you know who are still influencing much of the church and whose books are still being printed and read and discussed SOME 500 YEARS later?!  Right, not too many.  Very few in fact.   Whether I agree with him or not, or in some aspects and not others, in many ways he was and probably still is one of the single greatest Christian exegetes and systematic theologians of all time.  Period.  Who else comes close? 

Now, mind you, I am not of the Reformed way of thinking (read: not a Calvinist) but that don’t mean we can’t respect another’s genius.  

Especially as a Pentecostal I can respect that he had a profound theology of the Holy Spirit and the Spirit’s sanctifying work in the life of the believer.  Honestly, that’s saying a lot more than many in present day Reformed circles who claim to follow Calvin yet hardly mention, let alone give much place, to the person and work of the Holy Spirit (I know there are some Reformed Charismatics but they are small comparatively speaking).  

Ben Witherington notes in his tribute to Calvin today about “a rather interesting historical curio” he read once that could have suggested Calvin may have spoke in tongues(that he woke up one day speaking “lingua barbaria”)!  Wouldn’t that have been something?  Well, we can’t take that too far but still it would have been astonishing nonetheless! 

Abram Kuyper (1837-1920) credited Calvin as being one of the greatest commentators on the Holy Spirit.   In his book, The Work of the Holy Spirit, Kuyper wrote:

The doctrine of the work of the Holy Spirit is a gift from John Calvin to the Church of Christ.  He did not, of course, invent it. The whole of it lay spread out on the pages of Scripture with a clearness and fullness of utterance which one would think would secure that even he who ran should read it; and doubtless he who ran did read it, and it has fed the soul of the true believer in all ages.

Kuyper added.

Luther rose to proclaim justification by faith, and Calvin to set forth with his marvelous balance the whole doctrine of the work of the Spirit in applying salvation to the soul. (source)

With that, here are some of Calvin’s thoughts on the person and work of the Holy Spirit from his Institutes:

What, then, is our Savior’s meaning in commanding baptism to be administered in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, if it be not that we are to believe with one faith in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit?

If, then, we would consult most effectually for our consciences, and save them from being driven about in a whirl of uncertainty, from wavering, and even stumbling at the smallest obstacle, our conviction of the truth of Scripture must be derived from a higher source than human conjectures, Judgments, or reasons; namely, the secret testimony of the Spirit.

For as God alone can properly bear witness to his own words, so these words will not obtain full credit in the hearts of men, until they are sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit. The same Spirit, therefore, who spoke by the mouth of the prophets, must penetrate our hearts, in order to convince us that they faithfully delivered the message with which they were divinely entrusted.

Hence it is easy to understand that we must give diligent heed both to the reading and hearing of Scripture, if we would obtain any benefit from the Spirit of God … and, on the contrary, that any spirit which passes by the wisdom of God’s Word, and suggests any other doctrine, is deservedly suspected of vanity and falsehood. Since Satan transforms himself into an angel of light, what authority can the Spirit have with us if he be not ascertained by an infallible mark?

When Paul says to the Thessalonians, “Quench not the Spirit,” he does not carry them aloft to empty speculation apart from the word; he immediately adds, “Despise not prophesying.” By this, doubtless, he intimates that the light of the Spirit is quenched the moment prophesying fall into contempt. How is this answered by those swelling enthusiasts, in whose idea the only true illumination consists, in carelessly laying aside, and bidding adieu to the Word of God, while, with no less confidence than folly, they fasten upon any dreaming notion which may have casually sprung up in their minds? Surely a very different sobriety becomes the children of God.

Here are a couple on the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit:

For where the Spirit of God rules not, the lusts sometimes so burst forth, as to threaten to drown the soul subjected to them in forgetfulness and contempt of God; and so they would, did not God interpose with this remedy.

To Christians the Spirit of the Lord is not a turbulent phantom, which they themselves have produced by dreaming, or received ready-made by others; but they religiously seek the knowledge of him from Scripture, where two things are taught concerning him; first, that he is given to us for sanctification, that he may purge us from all iniquity and defilement, and bring us to the obedience of divine righteousness, an obedience which cannot exist unless the lusts to which these men would give loose reins are tamed and subdued; secondly, that though purged by his sanctification, we are still beset by many vices and much weakness, so long as we are enclosed in the prison of the body. Thus it is, that placed at a great distance from perfection, we must always be endeavoring to make some progress, and daily struggling with the evil by which we are entangled. Hence, too, it follows, that, shaking off sloth and security, we must be intently vigilant, so as not to be taken unawares in the snares of our flesh …

Go here to see some more quotes from Calvin on the Holy Spirit. 

So, good for Calvin!  I pray those who follow him would take up a more sure and steadfast emphasis on the Holy Spirit and his work in the life of the believer and the church.

9 responses to “John Calvin’s 500th Birthday

  1. Pingback: New Leaven

  2. Pingback: Thoughts, Book Reviews and Links On Calvin's 500th Birthday | Scripture Zealot

  3. “how many other people do you know … SOME 500 YEARS later?!”

    Luther. Cranmer. Erasmus. More. Zwingli (in case Jim West is reading here). Grebel. Machiavelli (OK, his influence in the church is not usually admitted!). Just for a start. All alive in 1509.

    “Who else comes close [to Calvin]?”

    Who is to judge? But in the world there are probably more Lutherans, and Anglicans who look to Cranmer as their founding father, than there are Calvinists.

    A great man, yes. A uniquely great man, no.

  4. Pingback: Calvin’s 500th Birthday Celebrations at the Dunedin School « The Dunedin School

  5. Can anyone help me locate the letter of Calvin to which Ben Witherington is referring that has the reference to the ligua barbaria?

  6. In my search over the weekend, I did find that someone had found the original newspaper article, complete with a scan of the article and transcription.

    The quotation from the newspaper article is even more interesting than what Dr. Witherington remembered:

    >>On several oc­casions, Calvin, in his devotions, found himself uttering a lingua non nota et cognota mini. That is, the language was not known or understood by him.<<

    However, as Peter Kirk pointed out on his blog, it would be even better if someone could locate the original source in Theodore Beza's DE VITAM IOHANNES CAUVIN.

  7. Pingback: ZOEINCARNATE’S Evil And Blasphemous Heresies « The Official Blog Of God's Only Inerrant Party

  8. Pingback: Calvin spoke in tongues - Gentle Wisdom

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