Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Humanness of John Calvin by Richard Stauffer

The Humaness of John Calvin: The Reformer as a Husband, Father, Pastor and Friend,
by Richard Stauffer, Solid Ground Christian Books, 2008, 96pp.
It is fair to say that John Calvin is not the most well loved of the Protestant Reformers. He lacks the garrulousness of Luther with his table talk as free flowing as Wittenberg beer. Some have accused the Genevan Reformer of being remote, uncaring and inhuman. Richard Stauffer helps us to see that cold-Calvin was not the real Calvin. In the introductory chapter he refutes some of the vile calumnies levelled against Calvin's character by Catholics and Protestants like. Then we are given a glimpse of John Calvin as a husband, father, friend and pastor. The picture that emerges is one of a fully paid up member of the human race.
Calvin was a loving husband. He enjoyed a happy and close relationship with his devoted wife, Idelette De Bure. Calvin and Idelette had a son together, but little Jacques did not survive. In a letter to Viret, his fellow-Reformer Calvin gives free expression to his grief tempered by a touching faith in God, "Certainly the Lord has afflicted us with a deep and painful wound in the death of our beloved son. But he is our Father he knows what is best for his children." (p. 42). On being insensitively reproached for his childless state Calvin responded, "The Lord gave me a little son and then he took him away." (p. 43). After eight years of marriage, Idelette also died. Calvin wrote to his old friend Farel,
"this great sadness...would have broken me had He not extended his hand from on high; He whose service includes the relief of the broken, the strengthening of the weak, the renewal of those who are tired." (p. 45).
Despite his reputation for being a little remote and tetchy, Calvin had a huge capacity for friendship. He maintained some friendships from childhood years into adult life. Two of his closest friends were Viret and Farel, with whom he shared the highs and lows of the Reformation cause. Calvin chided Farel when at the age of sixty nine he married a much younger women. But this did not break their friendship. Calvin even urged restive members of Farel's church to bear with their pastor as the old warrior looked for the comforts of married life. Calvin also extended the hand of friendship to men with whose opinion on theological matters was different to his own, amongst them Luther's deputy, Philip Melancthon.
Calvin served as a Minister of the Gospel for twenty seven years of his life. His preaching and teaching ministry is well known, but he was also a loving pastor. He comforted his flock in their afflictions and made practical provision for refugees in Geneva. He wrote movingly to comfort those facing death for the sake of their faith. Calvin had great breadth of spirit. He worked tirelessly to heal divisions in the Reformed churches. With all his abundant labours, trials and afflictions for the sake of the gospel, Calvin could have been forgiven for reviewing his ministry with some satisfaction. But as he faced death we find him asking his colleagues to forgive his many faults. He saw himself as a wretched sinner whose only hope was in the Father of mercy.
If you want to get to know John Calvin, the very real human being behind the legend, this gem of a book is a great place to start.

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