John Calvin : Selections from His Writings

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  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2010-01-20
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publications

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A pivotal figure of the Protestant Reformation, John Calvin's vision of God changed the world. Calvin (1509-1564), who, in response to God's call became a pastor against his natural inclinations, transformed an unimportant city into a powerful force for religious reform. Today, many know of John Calvin as an historical figure, but few have read his writings or are familiar with the personal spirituality that drove his life. This volume presents the main facets of Calvin's faith, including his personal religious experience, his pastoral ministry, and his revolutionary theological vision. This is a perfect resource for those seeking to learn about the man behind the legacy.

Table of Contents

Foreword v
Marilynne Robinson
The Reply to Sadoleto
A Letter Regarding His Call to Return to Geneva
Letters About His Wife's Death
The Preface to the Commentary on Psalms
Theology and Scripture
The Church
A Short Treatise on the Lord's Supper
Passion Week
The Christian Life
Exposition of the Lord's Prayer
The Pattern of the Law for Piety
The Golden Book of the Christian Life
Correspondence with Prisoners


John Calvin
Selections from His Writings

Chapter One

The Reply to Sadoleto

In March 1539, Cardinal Jacopo Sadoleto, the highest-ranking Roman Catholic priest in the neighborhood of Geneva, wrote to the city, which had exiled William Farel and Calvin. His pastoral letter, which was intended to draw them back from heresy to allegiance to Rome, included a sketch of the kind of justification he thought Calvin and his colleagues would make before God's judgment seat for their acts in leaving Rome. The leaders of Geneva concluded that they had no one capable of answering Sadoleto's letter, so they sent it to Calvin in Strasbourg with a request that he reply. In the course of his answer, Calvin defended his calling and faith by sketching why he had felt compelled to do what he did, both as a minister and as a Chris-tian believer, responding to what he regarded as Sadoleto's caricature with the same kind of first-person speech the cardinal had used. This is not strictly an autobiographical statement, but it is very illuminating for the kinds of experiences and convictions that led Calvin himself to break with Rome. The translation is by J. K. S. Reid.

-- E. A. McKee

But since toward the end a person has been introduced to plead our cause, and you have cited us as defenders to the tribunal of God, I have no hesitation in calling upon you to meet me there. For such is our consciousness of the truth of our doctrine, that it has no dread of the heavenly Judge, from whom we do not doubt that it proceeded. But it dwells not on those frivolities with which it has pleased you to amuse yourself, but which are certainly very much out of place. For what could be more inopportune than to come into the presence of God and to set about devising I know not what follies and framing for us an absurd defense which must immediately fail? In pious minds, whenever that day is suggested, the impression made is too solemn to leave them at leisure so to amuse themselves. Therefore, frivolity set aside, let us think of that day which human minds ought always to expect with suspense. And let us remember that, although desirable to the faithful, it may well be alarming to the ungodly and profane and those who despise God. Let us turn our ears to the sound of that trumpet which even the ashes of the dead will hear in their tombs. Let us direct our thoughts and minds to that Judge who, by the mere brightness of His countenance, will disclose whatever lurks in darkness, lay open all the secrets of the human heart, and crush all the wicked by the mere breath of His mouth. Consider now what serious answer you are to make for yourself and your party; our cause, supported as it is by the truth of God, will be at no loss for a complete defense. I speak not of our persons, whose safety will be found not in defense, but in humble confession and suppliant petition; but insofar as our ministry is concerned, there is none of us who will not be able to speak for himself as follows.

Defense of His Ministry

"O Lord, I have indeed experienced how difficult and grievous it is to bear the invidious accusations with which I was harassed on the earth; but with the same confidence with which I then appealed to Your tribunal, I now appear before You, for I know that in Your judgment truth reigns. Supported by confidence in this truth, I first dared to attempt, and assisted by it I was able to accomplish, whatever was achieved by me in Your church. They charged me with two of the worst of crimes, heresy and schism. The heresy was that I dared to protest against dogmas received by them.

"But what could I have done? I heard from Your mouth that there was no other light of truth which could direct our souls into the way of life than that which was kindled by Your word. I heard that whatever human minds of themselves conceive concerning Your majesty, the worship of Your deity, and the mysteries of Your religion was vanity. I heard that their introduction into the church of doctrines sprung from the human brain in place of Your word was sacrilegious presumption. But when I turned my eyes toward the -people, I saw very different principles prevailing. Those who were regarded as the leaders of faith neither understood Your word, nor greatly cared for it. They only drove unhappy -people about with strange doctrines and deluded them with I know not what follies. Among the -people themselves, the highest veneration paid to Your word was to revere it at a distance as something inaccessible and to abstain from all investigation of it.

"Owing to the supine dullness of the pastors and the stupidity of the -people, every place was filled with pernicious errors, falsehoods, and superstition. They indeed called You the only God, but they did so while transferring to others the glory which You claimed for Your majesty. They imagined for themselves and esteemed as many gods as they had saints to worship. Your Christ was indeed worshiped as God and retained the name of Savior, but where He ought to have been honored, He was left almost destitute of glory. For, spoiled of His own virtue, He passed unnoticed among the crowd of saints, like one of the meanest of them. There was no one who duly considered that one sacrifice which He offered to You on the cross and by which He reconciled us to Yourself; no one who ever dreamed of thinking of His eternal priesthood and the intercession depending on it; no one who trusted in His righ-teous-ness only. That confident hope of salvation, which is both enjoined by Your word and founded upon it, had almost vanished. Indeed, it was received as a . . .

John Calvin
Selections from His Writings
. Copyright © by Kayla HarperCollins Spiritual Classics. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Excerpted from John Calvin: Selections from His Writings by John Calvin
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