The 16th Century Reformation sparked a widespread spiritual revival which was accompanied by the powerful and uncompromising preaching of the Word of God. During this time, God raised various Reformers – men of courage and eloquence – to lead the church out of Rome and to return to the historic Christian faith.
One of the most influential Reformers was French lawyer and theologian John Calvin (1509–1564) who became the leader of the Reformation in Geneva (Switzerland). In this second part of our article, we continue with the study of the life of this valiant Reformer.
At some point between 1532 and 1534, Calvin experienced what he later called a “sudden conversion” which gave a new direction to his studies and life. Nothing much is known of the circumstances surrounding his conversion, but it was clear that God had deeply convicted the young man’s heart. After this life-changing experience, religion held first place in Calvin’s thoughts.
Calvin describes his conversion in the Foreword to his Commentary on the Psalms: “And first, since I was too obstinately devoted to the superstitions of Popery to be easily extricated from so profound an abyss of mire, God by a sudden conversion subdued and brought my mind to a teachable frame, which was more hardened in such matters than might have been expected from one at my early period of life. Having thus received some taste and knowledge of true godliness, I was immediately inflamed with so intense a desire to make progress therein, that although I did not altogether leave off other studies, I yet pursued them with less ardor”
o Fugitive Years – Angouleme (France) and Basel (Switzerland)
In 1532, Calvin completed his law studies. It was also a year when he was exposed to the Reformed views of Martin Luther which were, by that time, widely circulated.
Calvin became involved in the movement for church reform. The year 1533 was a decisive one for him His close friend, Nicolas Cop, a Reformer and Rector of the University of Paris, had delivered a “heretical” address against the Roman Church on All Saint’s Day. Cop’s message implicated Calvin whom many believed was the writer behind the oration. Under the threat of arrest by the Roman Church, both friends were forced to flee Paris. It was said that Calvin fled, disguised as a manual labourer. He took refuge with friends in Angouleme, France; while Cop fled to Basel, Switzerland. But when violence erupted due to tensions between some unknown Reformers and the Roman Catholics, Calvin joined his friend Cop in Basel in January 1535.
Calvin was a gifted writer and theologian. It was in Basel that he published the first edition of the monumental Institutes of the Christian Religion in 1536. “The work was an apologia or defense of his faith and a statement of the doctrinal position of the Reformers. He also intended it to serve as an elementary instruction book for anyone interested in the Christian faith. The book was the first expression of his theology” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Calvin).
Calvin dedicated the book to King Francis I – “to demonstrate to the persecuting French monarch the realities of the belief and lives of the Protestants of France” (An Outline of the Life of John Calvin - Banner of Truth USA). In addition, he wrote the Latin preface for the French Bible which was translated by his cousin, Pierre Robert Olivetan who was himself a Reformer and Bible Scholar.
With the publication of his Institutes, Calvin became well-known among Protestant church leaders, one of whom was William Farel, a headstrong Reformer and valiant contender for the faith. By God’s providence, Calvin was passing through Geneva on his way back to Basel when he met with Farel who was keen to establish the Reformation in Geneva. Apparently, Farel had heard of Calvin’s presence in the city and invited the latter to co-labour with him in Geneva. Opting for a quiet life of study and writing, Calvin turned down the invitation. When Farel’s gentle persuasions proved unsuccessful, he solemnly threatened Calvin with God’s judgment. Calvin was so terror-stricken by the imprecation from his Reformer friend that he changed his plans. He agreed to work with Farel to propel the Reformation cause in Geneva. (… to be continued)