This is the year for celebrating John Calvin’s birthday. I have been re-reading his letters and am amazed once again at the amount of time a busy writer, preacher, and Protestant apologist spent doing pastoral work. The letters are filled with concern for the average man on the street to whom he was ministering. Things like bringing people into contact with one another who had been displaced by persecution, helping select brides for church members, dealing with church disciplinary matters, writing letters of comfort to bereaved or persecuted persons, spending time at Diets representing his community, taking part in the affairs of Geneva, dealing with drunkenness, wayward church members, those who were fearful, anxious and dying, and instructing other preachers in how to counsel members of their congregations. All of this—and much more—fill his letters, showing his loving care for his flock.
Protection of the church was also a very large concern—a church that had dismissed him, and then three years later re-called him, acknowledging that they could not do without him. A man who asked his meager salary to be reduced in order to help pay the stipend for other needy preachers. One who for years, ate off a borrowed table, a scholar of the first water who had to sell his books in order to sustain life for himself and his wife. A man in bad health even from his earliest days, who preached from a canvass chair in his latter days. One who was ill-treated by well-meaning, but unknowledgeable physicians, who twice bled him as a remedy for his chronic illnesses. A master in debate, an expositor who wrote commentaries from his bed. A man who influenced millions of Christians and others (and through his lasting works still does). A scholar who put his scholarship to work in daily ministry, visitation of the sick and dying, a committed pastoral counselor, and reformer in doctrine and in the life of a city.
His was the first systematic theology of the Reformation, a remarkable volume begun at 20 years of age, enlarged through the years following and still in publication today! He was the first Protestant to send missionaries to a foreign land (Brazil). He founded and taught regularly at a seminary in Geneva. One, who unlike others, did not flee from the plague, but ministered to the sick. One who began a hospital. A man of iron will who persevered until one of the most wicked cities in Europe became one of the most righteous. And this, only because he stood up again and again to hostile forces. A man who threw himself into a mob to stop a possible insurrection. Hated by scores; loved by millions.
I could go on and on and on. But I simply note these things—few as they are selected from so much more—to thank God for sending this man to whom all of us are deeply indebted whether or not we know it, and with the hope that others will be encouraged to learn from him and through his many valuable writings. Praise God for John Calvin!