This is the day that … John Calvin was born in 1509, in Noyon, France.
He was to become the outstanding theologian of the Protestant Reformation … although not all Protestants would agree with some of his doctrines. But it must be confessed that many a giant of Christian history acknowledges the impact of Calvinism upon his life. Knox, Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Martyn Lloyd-Jones and James Packer are names that immediately spring to mind. “The longer I live,” wrote Spurgeon, “the clearer does it appear that John Calvin’s system (of theology) is the nearest to perfection.”
Calvin was one of the few reformers who were not an ex-priest. He studied law in France – had a “sudden conversion” in his early 20’s, and in 1536 published the first edition of his famous Institutes of the Christian Religion. This volume has been described as among the “world’s 10 most influential works”.
From 1541 until his death (on 27 May, 1564), Calvin dominated the social and religious life of Geneva … despite the fact that he held no government position, nor was an actual citizen until 1559.
From the pulpit of St Peter’s Cathedral he preached his way through book after book of Holy Writ, lecturing to theological students and preaching five times a week. Taken down by a stenographer, these messages have found their way into print. There is a commentary on every book of the Bible – except Revelation! For example, Calvin preached 200 consecutive sermons on the book of Deuteronomy – published by Banner of Truth in a 1,300 page facsimile edition of the 1583 original.
It was said by his friend, Beza, that when Calvin preached “every word weighed a pound”.
Harsh discipline was meted out (at least, by today’s standards) to law-breakers, a system of education was devised, a prosperous trade in cloth and velvet was established with other countries, even a sewerage system was introduced that made Geneva “one of the cleanest cities in Europe” (Who’s Who in Christian History, page 131).
And his Institutes grew from six chapters to 79.
W. Stanford Reid writes that Calvin became “the dominant figure of the Protestant Reformation in the middle of the (16th) century” (John Calvin – His Influence in the Western World) – an assessment surely none would question.
When he died in 1564 he was buried in a common cemetery without a headstone, according to his wishes. His gravesite is unknown to this day (Christian History magazine, Volume 5/4).
This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.