The Humility of Calvin's Calvinism

by Burk Parsons

The following is an excerpt from John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine & Doxology edited by Burk Parsons

As the surest source of destruction to men is to obey themselves, so the only haven of safety is to have no other will, no other wisdom, than to follow the Lord wherever he leads. Let this, then, be the first step, to abandon ourselves, and devote the whole energy of our minds to the service of God. By service, I mean not only that which consists in verbal obedience, but that by which the mind, divested of its own carnal feelings, implicitly obeys the call of theSpirit of God.1? —John Calvin

It has not been my habit to refer to myself as a Calvinist; if memory serves, I have never done so, primarily because I don't think John Calvin would want me to. In fact, whenever another Christian asks me what I am (with the seeming hope of determining my particular denominational affiliation), I respond simply, "I am a Christian." Nevertheless, if I were ever truly pressed on the matter of being a Calvinist, I suppose I would respond by saying, "Yes, I am a Calvinist because I am a Christian, and I am a Christian because I believe the gospel."?

The nineteenth-century Baptist preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon said it this way: I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the gospel, if we do not preach justification by faith, without works; nor unless we preach the sovereignty of God in His dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor do I think we can preach the gospel, unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ wrought out upon the cross; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called, and suffers the children of God to be burned in the fires of damnation after having once believed in Jesus.2

A question remains, however, for many Calvinistically challenged Christians throughout the world: "What is a Calvinist?" For many, the answer is as simple as a simplistic adherence to the five points of Calvinism. That may be a helpful starting point for some, but I would suggest it may not be the best place to start for most Christians in their pursuit of the fundamentals of Calvinism according to Calvin. I still remember my first contact with Calvinism. When I was a student in college, a good friend of mine gave me a copy of a monthly Bible-study magazine called Tabletalk. On the cover of that issue was a picture of an infant with the words "Total Depravity" stamped across the baby's smiling face. Shortly thereafter, I scheduled a meeting with my pastor and asked him whether he could explain what Calvinism is. His ten-second answer went something like this: "Calvinism is the doctrine that teaches that God picks those He wants and condemns those He doesn't want." He went on to talk about the biblical aberration of the doctrine and why I should stay as far as I could from Calvinism and Calvinists. He then explained how we must study the Word of God alone in order to discern truth from error: "If you study Calvinism," he admonished me "then you might become a Calvinist, but if you study the Word of God you will be able to combat any doctrine that is not biblical." Although his description of Calvinism was overwhelmingly deficient, his exhortation was exactly what I needed to hear. I began to study everything I could get my hands on regarding Calvinism. For years, I went to every theology conference I could afford, I read every issue of Tabletalk cover to cover, and I studied every book or pamphlet I could find on the subject. More important, throughout that time I pored over Scripture, examining what it had to say about all things purportedly Calvinistic. Though I fought against Calvinism with all the free will I could muster, when it came right down to it, it wasn't books, conferences, or even well-edited magazines that fundamentally convinced me of Calvinism; it was the clear teaching of the Word of God that did it—through and through. In the end, I had spent all my resistance on something, and on Someone, I could not resist.

Still, my understanding of Calvinism was somewhat incomplete. Sure, I affirmed the five points of Calvinism, and I could even biblically explain and defend each of them; I could say a few things about Calvin himself; and I could provide a general answer to the question "What is a Calvinist?" But alas, I soon discovered, such things do not add up tot he sum total of what it means to be a fully confirmed Calvinist. The Heart of Calvinism and God's Glory in It Since first hearing about Calvin and Calvinism, I have continued to examine what it means to be a true, dyed-in-the-wool Calvinist. Although my pursuit of Calvinism will be a lifelong task, during the past few years I have become increasingly concerned about how Calvinism is generally expressed by multitudes of my twenty-first-century Calvinist comrades.

I would suggest that there are many self-proclaimed Calvinists whose Calvinism runs only as deep as the five points, only as far as the last conference they attended, or perhaps only as long as the list of Calvinist theologians they can stack up against a similar list of non-Calvinists. They have perhaps found themselves prancing gleefully amid a valley of bright red tulips, but have not lifted their heads to behold the lush green forests and glorious mountains all around them. Christopher Catherwood, in his book Five Leading Reformers, offers a word of warning to all Calvinists: We must be "Bible Calvinists" not "system Calvinists." We can all too easily get sucked into what we feel is a neat system of thought,and forget that we ought to make everything that we believe compatible with Scripture, even if that means jettisoning ideas that flow well in a purely logical sense but are nonetheless incompatible with what the Bible teaches. Although Calvin did not make that mistake himself, it is arguable that many of his followers have done so over the ensuing centuries—and I include myself, as a Calvinist, in that caution!3

Although I would argue that "Bible Calvinism" necessarily, and rightly, engenders "system Calvinism," Catherwood's admonition is one we all should heed with care. Calvin was a Christian who first and foremost lived and breathed the living and active Word of God, and all true Calvinists must follow his example.4 Calvin labored over his Institutes oft he Christian Religion — which is unquestionably the most majestic volume in all of human history next to sacred Scripture5—in order to help those preparing for the pastoral ministry to study the Word of God and have "easy access to it and to advance in it without stumbling."6 According to Calvin, we are to be "daily taught in the school of Jesus Christ."7 Thus, we must be students of Scripture if we are to possess right and sound doctrine: "Now in order that true religion may shine upon us, we ought to hold that it must take its beginning from heavenly doctrine and that no one can even get the slightest taste of right and sound doctrine unless he be a pupil of Scripture."8 Elsewhere Calvin writes, "Let us not take it into our heads either to seek out God anywhere else than in his Sacred Word, or to think anything of him that is not prompted by his Word, or to speak anything that is not taken from that Word."9 This, writes T. H. L. Parker, "is Calvin's theological programme—to build on the Scripture alone."10

The entirety of Calvin's ministry was established fundamentally on the Word of God. In accordance with the Reformation credo ad fontes,"to the sources" (particularly to the only infallible source), Calvin's Institutes was a summary of the Christian religion according to Scripture. This was Calvin's theological modus operandi, as Calvin scholar Ronald S. Wallace maintains: "We could, of course, argue cogently that the whole of his later teaching and outlook developed from the Bible. He insisted always that tradition must be constantly corrected by, and subordinated to, the teaching of Holy Scripture."11

Through the years, as I have spoken with fellow Reformed pastors throughout the world, I have often sensed their grief over the multitudes of so-called Calvinists who may have worked out some oft he doctrinal difficulties of one point or another but have not even begun to grasp all the magnificent nuances of Calvin's Calvinism. Such Calvinism is engendered and shaped by Scripture alone—and that makes it a Calvinism that begins with God, teaches us about God, and directs our hearts and minds back to God according to the way He deserves, demands, and delights in our worship of Him and our obedience to Him.12 This is the threefold foundation of Calvin's Calvinism: devotion, doctrine, and doxology—the heart's devotion to the biblical God, the mind's pursuit of the biblical doctrine of God, and the entire being's surrender to doxology.13 Calvin writes, "The glory of God so shines in his word, that we ought to be so affected by it, whenever he speaks by his servants, as though he were near to us, face to face."14

The Heart of Calvin and God's Sovereign Mastery of It So what is true Calvinism according to Calvin? In one sense, Calvinism is as systematically profound as Calvin's life's work, as historically extensive as all that has been deduced from Calvin's writings during the past five centuries, and, as Calvin would have it, as doctrinally narrow as the sixty-six books of sacred Scripture.15 A true Calvinist is one who strives to think as Calvin thought and live as Calvin lived—insofar as Calvin thought and lived as our Lord Jesus Christ, in accordance with the Word of God.16 As Christians, we understand that we are not our own but have been bought with a price. By His saving grace, the Lord has taken hold of our hearts of stone, regenerated and conformed them into spiritually pliable hearts, and poured into them His love by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.17 This was Calvin's perception of the Christian life:

If we, then, are not our own [cf. 1 Cor. 6:19] but the Lord's, it is clear what error we must flee, and whither we must direct all the acts of our life. We are not our own: let not our reason nor our will, therefore, sway our plans and deeds. We are not our own: let us therefore not set it as our goal to seek what is expedient for us according to the flesh. We are not our own: in so far as we can, let us therefore forget ourselves and all that is ours.

Conversely, we are God's: let us therefore live for him and die for him. We are God's: let his wisdom and will therefore rule all our actions. We are God's: let all the parts of our life accordingly strive toward him as our only lawful goal [cf. Rom. 14:8; cf. 1 Cor. 6:19]. O, how much has that man profited who, having been taught that he is not his own, has taken away dominion and rule from his own reason that he may yield it to God! For, as consulting our self-interest is the pestilence that most effectively leads to our destruction, so the sole haven of salvation is to be wise in nothing through ourselves but to follow the leading of the Lord alone.18

We are not our own; we belong to the Lord. That confession, in essence, is the heart of true Calvinism. Our salvation belongs to the Lord, from beginning to end (Ps. 3:8; Rev. 7:10). He has captivated our minds and has made His light to shine abroad in our hearts (2 Cor.4:6; 10:5). Our whole being belongs to Him—heart, soul, mind, and strength. This is what Calvin proclaimed, and this is the foundation on which his life was established.

The Lord took hold of Calvin, and Calvin thus could not help but take away "dominion and rule from his own reason" and yield it to the Lord alone.19 That is the glorious brilliance reflected by any study of Calvin. There was nothing in Calvin himself that was superhuman,super-theologian, or super-church man. Calvin was a man whom God chose to call out of darkness and into His marvelous light so that he might go back into the darkness and shine brightly unto every generation of God's people until Christ returns.

In truth, any study of Calvin is actually just a study of God's work in the life of His servant in His kingdom. In the words of Calvin biographer Jean Cadier, Calvin was a man whom "God mastered."20 In mastering him, the Lord used His servant to accomplish all that He had sovereignly purposed. In mastering his heart, the Lord left Calvin with no choice but to offer his heart to God promptly and sincerely. Although Calvin understood that "man's nature is a perpetual factory of idols,"21 that the "mind begets an idol, and the hand gives it birth,"22 and that man's heart is deceitfully wicked above all things (Jer. 17:9), he could do nothing but present his heart to God with outstretched hands, offering himself wholly to Him.23

In everything, Calvin, more than simply dedicating himself, offered himself sacrificially to the Lord: his family, his studies, his preaching—his entire ministry (Rom. 12:1–2). He was a man who ministered not for his own glory, but for the glory of God (Ps. 115); he was a man who preached not himself, but the Word of God (2 Tim. 4:1–2). According to Parker, Calvin "had a horror of those who preached their own ideas in place of the gospel of the Bible: 'When we enter the pulpit, it is not so that we may bring our own dreams and fancies with us.'"24 Calvin was not concerned with offering to his congregation the quaint meditations of his own heart. Although it has become popular in many churches for the pastor to strive to "pour out his heart" to his congregation, such was not Calvin's aim in his preaching, for he had offered his heart to God alone. As a result, Calvin did not think it was profitable to share the ever-changing passions of his own heart, but to proclaim the heart of God in His never-changing Word. Calvin was not concerned that his congregants behold him but that they behold the Lord. This should be the aim of every pastor, and, if necessary, every pastor should place a placard behind his pulpit with the following words inscribed: "Sir, we wish to see Jesus" (John 12:21). Such was Calvin's aim in his preaching and in all his life.25

The Humility of Calvin and God's Glorious Majesty over Him

At the foundation of Calvinism according to Calvin is the reality that God is inherently holy and we are not.26 Calvin's doctrinal explanation of the depravity of man was not formulated by a cursory comparative examination of the state of mankind in the sixteenth century; rather, his understanding of man's condition came as a result of his study of all the Bible has to say about the degenerate, humble existence of man after the fall and, in contradistinction, his study of the majestic holiness of God. In a section of his Institutes titled "True humility gives God alone the honor," Calvin writes of our humility and God's "loftiness" or"exaltation": "As our humility is his loftiness, so the confession of our humility has a ready remedy in his mercy."27

In his classic work The Holiness of God, R. C. Sproul recounts his conversion to God and the all-encompassing consequences of God's majestic holiness on his own life: "Suddenly I had a passion to know God the Father. I wanted to know Him in His majesty, to know Him in His power, to know Him in His august holiness." He goes on to write, "I am convinced that [the holiness of God] is one of the most important ideas that a Christian can ever grapple with. It is basic to our whole understanding of God and of Christianity."28 These were the kinds of questions Calvin wrestled with throughout his Christian life: What does it mean that God is holy? What are the implications of God's holiness for our study of doctrine? What are the implications of God's holiness for our lives?29 Calvin writes:

From what foundation may righteousness better arise than from the Scriptural warning that we must be made holy because our God is holy? . . . When we hear mention of our union with God, let us remember that holiness must be its bond; not because we come into communion with him by virtue of our holiness! Rather, we ought first to cleave unto him so that, infused with his holiness, we may follow whither he calls.30

We do not possess holiness inherently, Calvin explains; rather, it is the very holiness of God that overcomes us and enables us to follow the Lord. In his comments on Exodus 28, Calvin further explains this and describes the impurity of our own "holiness" as he considers Jesus' High Priestly Prayer, wherein He prayed, "And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth" (John 17:19):

It is undoubtedly a remarkable passage, whereby we are taught that nothing proceeds from us pleasing to God except through the intervention of the grace of the Mediator; for here there is no reference to manifest and gross sins, the pardon of which it is clear that we can only obtain through Christ. . . . This is a harsh saying, and almost a paradox, that our very holinesses are so impure as to need pardon; but it must be borne in mind that nothing is so pure as not to contract some stain from us.31

Calvin's doctrine of God humbled him. He took no pride in his formulation of that doctrine, for he could not boast in a holiness that was not his to boast about.32 Rather, he boasted only in the majesty and holiness of God. It was that holiness that made him aware of his naturally depraved condition and drove him in his struggle to think, speak, and live as Jesus did. Just as we fail daily in our endeavor to follow our Lord perfectly, so did Calvin; yet he was a man of constant repentance who was more critically aware of himself and his own frailties than anyone else could have been, even admitting toward the end of his life: "I am, and always have been a poor and timid scholar."33 Such statements by Calvin were not deceitfully contrived by a mind held captive by false modesty; rather, they overflowed from a mind that had been captivated and a heart that had been humbled by God's majesty shining through His Word. As John Piper observes:

So in his early twenties John Calvin experienced the miracle of having the blind eyes of his spirit opened by the spirit of God. And what he saw immediately and without any intervening chain of human reasoning, were two things, so interwoven that they would determine the rest of his life: The majesty of God and the Word of God. The word mediated the majesty, and the majesty vindicated the Word.34

To his closest friends, Guillaume Farel and Pierre Viret, Calvin appeared to be a man of repentance and utter dependence on the Lord, "the wellspring of life."35 In a sermon on 1 Timothy 3:16 and the apostle Paul's description of the mystery of godliness, we observe Calvin's attitude toward the miserable condition of our hearts and the majestic work of God in approaching us and conquering us:There is nothing but rottenness in us; nothing but sin and death. Then let the living God, the well-spring of life, the everlasting glory,and the infinite power, come; and not only approach to us and our miseries, our wretchedness, our frailty, and to this bottomless pit of all iniquity that is in men; let not only the majesty of God come near this, but be joined to it, and made one with it, in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ!36

We find no trace of despair or cynicism in Calvin; rather, we find a hope that does not disappoint because it is founded and focused on the majesty of God and His Word.37 On this observation, Calvin's friend and first biographer, Theodore Beza, rightly asserts, "The reader who is truly seeking the glory of God will see this sense of majesty of which I am speaking permeating Calvin's writings."38 Throughout his writings,Calvin admonishes readers to turn their attention from themselves to Scripture: "But I require only that, laying aside the disease of self-love and ambition, by which he is blinded and thinks more highly of himself than he ought [cf. Gal. 6:3], he rightly recognize himself in the faithful mirror of Scripture [cf. James 1:22–25]."39

With Calvin as our example in the endeavor of becoming discerning students and ready servants of the Word, we learn that the study of Scripture draws our arrogant hearts away from ourselves and unto the majesty of God in true faith. Concerning this often-neglected truth,Jonathan Edwards writes:

As we would therefore make the Holy Scriptures our rule, in judging of the nature of true religion, and judging of our own religious qualifications and state; it concerns us greatly to look at this humiliation, as one of the most essential things pertaining to true Christianity. 40

In the footnote to this admonition, Edwards cites Calvin:Calvin in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, Bk. II, ch. 2, no. 11,says, "A saying of Chrysostom's has always pleased me very much,that the foundation of our philosophy is humility (Chrysostom, De profectu evangelli 2 [MPG 51.312]). But that of Augustine pleases me even more: 'When a certain rhetorician was asked what was the chief rule in eloquence, he replied, "Delivery"; what was the second rule, "Delivery"; what was the third rule, "Delivery"; so if you ask me concerning the precepts of the Christian religion, first, second, third, and always I would answer, "Humility."'"41

Humility is the supreme virtue according to Calvin, not only in attitude but in all of life.42 The Christian's humility should shine forth into the pompous darkness of this world. It is neither our eloquence nor our brilliance that directs men to God; rather, it is God who directs men to Himself through the seeming foolishness of preaching. Consequently,humility should conquer our minds and transform our hearts, arising from our study of God's majesty in His majestic Word. In his book The Expository Genius of John Calvin, Steven J. Lawson observes the humility of Calvin in his preaching: "As a preacher, Calvin's primary aim was to communicate to the common person in the pew. He was not seeking to impress his congregation with his own brilliance, but to impact them with the awe-inspiring majesty of God."43 In his life and ministry, Calvin preached Christ and Him crucified—He preached the gospel, in season and out of season. Yet Calvin's estimation of himself and his own efforts was rather dismal, even at the end of his life. His only consolation was this: the fear oft he Lord was in his heart. On Friday, April 28, 1564, four weeks before his death, Calvin, the 55-year-old pastor of St. Peter's Church in Geneva, stood before an assembly of ministers and elders in Geneva and offered words of farewell. Toward the end of his address, he acknowledged the following:I have had many infirmities, which you have been obliged to bear with, and what is more, all I have done is worthless. The ungodly will seize on that, but I repeat that all that I have done has been worthless and that I am a miserable creature. But certainly I may say this: that I have meant for the best, that my vices have always displeased me, and that the root of the fear of the Lord has always been in my heart. You may say "he meant well" and I pray that my evil may be forgiven and that if there was anything good you may confirm yourselves by it and have it as an example.44

The Legacy of Calvin for Twenty-First-Century Calvinists

In the daily service of shepherding Christ's flock, I often find myself turning to my spiritual forefathers for answers to the most difficult matters in the church's life and doctrine. Even though our forefathers are at home with the Lord, by our mutual faith they provide us with words of comfort, encouragement, and caution. As I reflect on the doctrinal,ecclesiastical, and personal hardships they faced, and take into account the Lord's sustaining work in their lives, I am humbled and challenged by their united voices, which seem to admonish us from the heaven lies,urging us to fight the good fight, to be faithful till the end, and to honor the Lord above In the daily service of shepherding Christ's flock, I often find myself turning to my spiritual forefathers for answers to the most difficult matters in the church's life and doctrine. Even though our forefathers are at home with the Lord, by our mutual faith they provide us with words of comfort, encouragement, and caution. As I reflect on the doctrinal,ecclesiastical, and personal hardships they faced, and take into account the Lord's sustaining work in their lives, I am humbled and challenged by their united voices, which seem to admonish us from the heavenlies,urging us to fight the good fight, to be faithful till the end, and to honor the Lord above all.

Among the many faithful voices from the past, there seems to be one that rises above them all. It is the voice of a man who desperately wanted us to hear not his own voice but the voice of God in His Word. It is precisely on account of the humility the Lord had instilled in the mind of Calvin that I am drawn to him. In fact, there is not a week that passes that I do not think about the example Calvin set forth for us and for Christians in every generation. And in life and ministry, as I have considered Calvin the man, I have observed the following things: Calvin was a man who died to himself and sought to take up his cross daily so that he might serve the Lord and the flock God had entrusted to him (Luke 9:23).45 He was a man who did not think of himself more highly than he should have, but sought to esteem others better than himself (Rom. 12:3; Phil. 2:3).46 He was a man who did not seek to please men first and foremost, but sought to please God ultimately and completely (Col. 1:10; 3:23).47 He was a man who strove not to live for his own kingdom but for the kingdom of God (Matt 6:33; 21:43).48 Hew as a man who sought to be faithful in the eyes of God, not successful in the eyes of the world (Rev. 2:10). He was a man who did not desire his own glory, but desired to seek the glory of God in all he did (1 Cor.10:31; Col. 3:17).49 He was a man who did not try to develop a system of theology that complemented the Word of God; rather, he strove to derive his theology from the Word of God for the right worship, enjoyment,and love of God. Considering all of this, Calvin is among the greatest men of all time. However, his greatness, as B. B. Warfield recognized, was not in his service to himself but in his surrender to God: "Here we have the secret of Calvin's greatness and the source of his strength unveiled to us. No man ever had a profounder sense of God than he; no man ever more unreservedly surrendered himself to the Divine direction."50 This is Calvin's greatness—his ultimate surrender to God. In this is Calvin's legacy for those of us who desire not simply to wear the five-pointed badge of Calvinism, but who desire to clothe ourselves in the humbling power of the gospel (1 Peter 5:5). Let us not be so easily satisfied with as imp le insignia of a simplistic Calvinism; rather, let us drape ourselves with Calvin's Calvinism, a Christ-centered, Spirit-empowered, God glorifying,gospel-driven Calvinism that shines so brilliantly that the deceitful darkness of sin would be conquered in our hearts so that, in turn, we might shine as the light of Jesus Christ to this dark world—for His kingdom and His glory.

Excerpt from John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine & Doxology edited by Burk Parsons

1 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. by Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 1947), 3.7.1. (Henceforth, all citations from the Institutes are taken from the
Battles edition; see endnote 4 below.)
The Humility of Calvin's Calvinism
2 From Charles Haddon Spurgeon's A Defense of Calvinism, quoted by J. I. Packer in his
"Introductory Essay" to John Owen, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ (London:
Banner of Truth, 1959), 10.
3 Christopher Catherwood, Five Leading Reformers (Fearn, Tain: Christian Focus, 2000)
4 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill; trans. Ford Lewis
Battles; Library of Christian Classics, XX–XXI (Philadelphia: Westminster John Knox,
1960), 3.7.5.
5 Or, as John Murray called the Institutes: "the opus magnum of Christian Theology"
(John Murray, "Introduction," in Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry
Beveridge, 1). Ford Lewis Battles, a translator of Calvin's Institutes, admonished his
students as they commenced their study of the Institutes: "You are about to share in
one of the classic experiences of Christian history . . . on the deceptively orderly and
seemingly dispassionate pages that follow are imprinted one man's passionate responses
to the call of Christ. If [you] keep ever before [you] that autobiographical character of
the book, the whole man will speak to you in every truth" (Ford Lewis Battles, Analysis of
the Institutes [Phillipsburg, N.J.: P&R, 2001], 14).
6 Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.
7 John Calvin, Letters of John Calvin, ed. Jules Bonnet, 4 vols. (Eugene, Ore.: Wipf & Stock,
2007), July 20, 1558.
8 Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.6.2.
9 Ibid., 1.13.21.
10 T. H. L. Parker, Portrait of Calvin (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1954), 52.
11 Ronald S. Wallace, Calvin, Geneva, and the Reformation (Eugene, Ore.: Wipf & Stock,
1998), 4.
12 Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.6.2: "All right knowledge of God is born of
obedience." In his Systematic Theology, Louis Berkhof writes, "Thomas Aquinas expressed
himself as follows: Theologia a Deo docetur, Deum docet, et ad Deum ducit" ("Theology is
taught by God, teaches God, and leads unto God") (Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology
[Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996], 390). The language of worshiping God according
to the manner in which He "deserves, demands, and delights in" is borrowed from Dr.
Scotty Smith of Christ Community Church in Franklin, Tenn.
13 See Wallace, Calvin, Geneva, and the Reformation, 210–218.
14 John Calvin, Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948–
50), 4:343.
15 Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.7.1; 3.5.8.
16 Lester De Koster writes: "We know that Christianity is a multi-faceted thing. Only God
knows in how many ways his spirit enriches the world. Calvin/Calvinism is one of them"
(Lester De Koster, Light for the City [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004], x).
17 Cf. Jeremiah 31:33; Romans 5:5; Ezekiel 11:19.
John Calvin
18 Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.7.1.
19 Ibid.
20 Jean Cadier, Calvin: The Man God Mastered, trans. O. R. Johnston (Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 1960).
21 Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.11.8.
22 Ibid.
23 Incidentally, in his list of qualifications for elder, the apostle Paul uses similar language,
saying, "If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task" (1 Tim. 3:1).
The word aspires is a translation of the Greek word oregomai, which carries the idea of
stretching out of one's self in order to touch or to grasp something, to reach after or
desire something.
24 Parker, Portrait of Calvin, 83.
25 Steven J. Lawson, The Expository Genius of John Calvin (Orlando: Reformation Trust,
2007), 128–129.
26 Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.6.2; 3.20.41.
27 Ibid., 2.2.11.
28 R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God (Carol Stream, Ill.: Tyndale House, 1997), 12.
29 For instance, on the matter of "imperfection and endeavor of the Christian life," Calvin
writes, "the beginning of right living is spiritual, where the inner feeling of the mind is
unfeignedly dedicated to God for the cultivation of holiness and righteousness" (Calvin,
Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.7.5).
30 Ibid., 3.6.2.
31 John Calvin, Commentary on the Last Four Books of Moses, Arranged in the Form of a Harmony,
trans. C. W. Bingham (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993), 202.
32 Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.7.4.
33 G. R. Potter and M. Greengrass, John Calvin (London: Edward Arnold, 1983), 172–173;
translated from G. Baum, E. Caunitz, and E. Reuss, Corpus Reformatorum (Opera Calvini),
59 vols. (Braunschweig [Brunswick]: 1863–84), vol. 37, cols. 890–894.
34 John Piper, The Legacy of Sovereign Joy (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2000), 127.
35 Theodore Beza, The Life of John Calvin (Darlington, England: Evangelical Press, 1564,
1997), 12–13.
See also Richard Stauffer, The Humanness of John Calvin, trans. George Shriver (Nashville:
Abingdon, 1971), 47–71.
36 John Calvin, "The Mystery of Godliness," in The Mystery of Godliness and Other Sermons
(Orlando: Soli Deo Gloria, 1999), 12–13.
37 John Kromminga writes of Calvin: "He engages in searching examinations of human
frailties, speaking plainly and without compromise about the depravity of man. But
throughout he manifests also sturdy confidence in the grace of God which overcomes
human sin" (John H. Kromminga, Thine Is My Heart [Grand Rapids: Reformation
Heritage Books, 1958, 2006], Introduction).
The Humility of Calvin's Calvinism
38 Beza, The Life of John Calvin, 140.
39 Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.2.11.
40 Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections, ed. John E. Smith, in The Works of Jonathan Edwards,
vol. 2 (New Haven: Yale Divinity Press, 1959), 314–315.
41 Ibid., n1.
42 Calvin writes, "The chief praise of Christians is self-renunciation" (John Calvin, The
Commentaries of John Calvin on the Second Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians [Grand
Rapids: Baker, 2003], 2:233).
43 Lawson, The Expository Genius of John Calvin, 85.
44 Potter and Greengrass, John Calvin, 172–173.
45 Calvin writes, "He who has denied himself has cut off the root of all evil, so as no longer
to seek his own; he who has taken up his cross has prepared himself for all meekness and
endurance" (Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.15.8).
46 Ibid., 2.2.11; 2.2.25.
47 Ibid., 3.14.7.
48 Ibid., 3.15.5; 4.20.26.
49 Piper writes, "I think this would be a fitting banner over all of John Calvin's life and
work—zeal to illustrate the glory of God" (John Piper, "The Divine Majesty of the Word:
John Calvin, The Man and His Preaching," The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, 3/2
[Summer 1999], 40).
50 B. B. Warfield, Calvin and Calvinism (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1932, 2000), 24.


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