Friday, July 10, 2009

Happy 500th Birthday John Calvin!

Bon anniversaire, Monsieur Calvin!

It is a quite a landmark in the history of the world to celebrate the life of such a man as John Calvin, who was born 500 years ago today, on July 10, 1509, in Noyon, France. He changed everything with the publication of his Institutes of the Christian Religion, his teaching of predestination and the doctrines of grace, his attempt to reform the government and discipline of the church, his efforts towards evangelism and missionary labors in Europe and South America, his views that the magistrate is a minister of God, his emphasis on psalmody in the worship of God, his insistence that "the following two [points] not only occupy the principal place, but comprehend...the whole substance of Christianity: that is, a knowledge, first, of the mode in which God is duly worshipped; and, secondly, of the source from which salvation is to be obtained" (The Necessity of Reforming the Church). The list goes on. Yet, to remember and honor him rightly for all of these things, and more, is to give glory to the God he worshipped and spent his life of devotion.

B.B. Warfield attempted to describe the fundamental principle of what is known as Calvinism. The word itself originated as a term of derision, and has been greatly misunderstood, as if to say that Calvinists follow a man rather than God, which is so far from the mark as to constitute an attempt to kill the message by accusing the messenger. It is the doctrine of predestination that has borne the brunt of the attack by anti-Calvinists of all stripes, but as Warfield notes, "The doctrine of predestination is not the formative principle of Calvinism, the root from which it springs. It is one of its logical consequences, one of the branches which it has inevitably thrown out." So what did Calvin the Man, and what does Calvinism, his legacy, stand for? What is that fundamental principle which is represented by Calvin and by Calvinism?

Perhaps the simplest statement of it is the best: that it lies in a profound apprehension of God in His majesty, with the inevitably accompanying poignant realization of the exact nature of the relation sustained to Him by the creature as such, and particularly by the sinful creature. He who believes in God without reserve, and is determine that God shall be God to him in all his thinking, feeling, willing -- in the entire compass of his life activities, intellectual, moral, spiritual, throughout all his individual, social, religious relations -- is, by the force of that strictest of all logic which presides over the outworking of principles into thought and life, by the very necessity of the case, a Calvinist. In Calvinism, then, objectively speaking, theism comes to its rights; subjectively speaking, the religious relation attains its purity; soteriologically speaking, evangelical religion finds at length its full expression and its secure stability. Theism comes to its rights only in a teleological conception of the universe, which perceives in the entire course of events the orderly outworking of the plan of God, who is the author, preserver, and governor of all things, whose will is consequently the ultimate cause of all. The religious relation attains its purity only when an attitude of absolute dependence on God is not merely temporarily assumed in the act, say, of prayer, but is sustained through all the activities of life, intellectual, emotional, executive. And evangelical religion reaches stability only when the sinful soul rests in humble, self-emptying trust purely on the God of grace as the immediate and sole source of all the efficiency which enters into its salvation. And these things are the formative principles of Calvinism. (B.B. Warfield, "Calvinism: The Meaning and Uses of the Term," in The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield, Vol. 5, pp. 354-355)

It is this idea that God is sovereign, and glorious in his sovereignty, and that man stands before him in awe and wonder, with his only aim to glorify him (Westminster Shorter Catechism A 1: "Man's chief end is to glorify God") all the more (, in all aspects of his being, that Calvin conveyed, lived and breathed. And so, with Calvin, and in honor of his memory, it suffices to say, Soli Deo gloria!

O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together. (Ps. 34.3, KJV)

1. Jamais je ne serai
Sans mangnifier le Seigneur.
Qu'en ma bouche soit son honneur;
Le temps que je vivrai
Mon coeur n'aura plaisir
Qu'a voir son Dieu glorifie,
Et tout bon coeur humilie
Pourra s'en rejouir. (Psalm 34, Stanza 1, Genevan Psalter)

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