You will never attain true gentleness except by one path: a heart imbued with lowliness and with reverence for others.



And now continuing the (not so) Daily Calvin…

It was once truly said: “A world of vices is hidden in the soul of man.” And you can find no other remedy than in denying yourself and giving up concern for yourself, and in turning your mind wholly to seek after those things which the Lord requires of you, and to seek them only because they are pleasing to him.


Saturday - April 13, 2013

In a departure from the traditional format of “The Daily Calvin”, the following is submitted.

Meet the John Calvin you just thought you knew.

“John Calvin: A Heart For Devotion, Doctrine, & Doxology”, published in 2008 by Reformation Trust, a division of Ligonier Ministries.

John Calvin’s name evokes powerful images, most of them negative. In the minds of many, he is perceived as an ivory-tower theologian who was harsh and unreasonable, the driving force behind a dangerous theological system. In this volume, Burk Parsons and eighteen other leading Reformed pastors and scholars authoritatively reveal the truth about Calvin and his teaching — that he was humble, caring, pious, Scripture-saturated, and, above all, passionate about upholding the glory of God. This book offers a highly readable portrait of a man whose example and teaching remain vitally relevant even in the 21st century.
-Reformation Trust Publishing

To my knowledge there never has been a collection of authors of any edited volume under whose ministry I would rather sit than these. What stands out is that they are humble, holy men of God. Most of them are too old — too seasoned — to care about scoring points. Their lives witness to the preciousness of Christ and the importance of purity. Expect no bombast. Expect humble, measured admiration and wise application. This is a good way to meet John Calvin: in the holy hearts of humble servants of Christ. The only better way would be to read the man himself.
-John Piper

Deep calls to deep, and Burk Parsons’ rich and insightful work on John Calvin takes us both deep and wide into the heart of this extraordinary saint. Most of all, I’m grateful to God that a whole new generation of believers can now be introduced to one of the greatest theologians of all time. I highly recommend this book to all who seeking a closer — and deeper — walk with our Savior! -Joni Eareckson Tada

If you have neglected Calvin’s writings for fear they are too difficult or too dreary, this book will change your mind. It is a compendium of his thought presented, as we might expect from these writers, clearly, engagingly, and with a devotional warmth that encourages us to know the God whom we worship. -Alistair Begg

When Scripture bids us leave off self-concern, it not only erases from our minds the yearning to possess the desire for power, and the favor of men, but it also uproots ambition and all craving for human glory and other more secret plagues. Accordingly, the Christian must surely be so disposed and minded that he feels within himself it is with God he has to deal throughout his life. In this way, as he will refer all he has to God’s decision and judgement, so will he refer his whole intention of mind scrupulously to Him. For he who has learned to look to God in all things that he must do, at the same time avoids all vain thoughts. This, then, is that denial of self which Christ enjoins with such great earnestness upon his disciples at the outset of their service. When it has once taken possession of their hearts, it leaves no place at all first either to pride, or arrogance, or ostentation; then either to avarice, or desire, of lasciviousness, or effeminancy, or to other evils that our self-love spawns.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. -Matthew 16:24

For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient
to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers
of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying
its power. Avoid such people. -2 Timothy 3:2-5


Calvin fell deathly ill in the winter of 1558 at age 49. He thought he was at death’s doorstep and so turned his few remaining energies to the final revision of his Institutes. Until this time, he hadn’t been fully pleased with the shape and content of his often-revised magnum opus. Wanting to leave the church with a definitive edition, he worked feverishly, despite the fever, to finish.

His health returned in the Spring of 1559, and he soon returned to the pulpit. It was at this time that Denis Raguenier began taking extended shorthand notes on Calvin’s sermons, since he didn’t use manuscripts but preached extemporaneously. The sermon manuscripts of Calvin we have today are largely owing to Raguenier’s unflagging and far-sighted labors.

Also in 1559, Calvin and his sidekick Theodore Beza founded the Academy of Geneva. Under Beza’s day-in, day-out leadership, this school would become famous across Europe and produce lasting effects long after Calvin’s death.

In his final five years, he translated the final edition of the Institutes into French, wrote a large commentary on the Pentateuch, and preached  almost tirelessly. Almost. At barely fifty years old he was battling increasing illness and frailty, but his labors continued unceasing. There were seasons of sickness followed by renewed strength.

The great reformer began slowing for the final time in February of 1564. Soon it was too draining to preach and lecture. He spent his final months bedridden and died May 27, 1564, just two weeks shy of his fifty-fifth birthday.

Calvin could tell in his lifetime that he’d likely be remembered long after his death. So he took pains to fade as namelessly from this world as he could. He requested burial in an unmarked grave hoping to prevent pilgrims from coming to see his resting place and engaging in the kind of idolatry he’d spent his lifetime standing against.

In death he completed his life’s labors, not seeking to make much of Calvin, but striving with all his might to point beyond himself to the one who saved him—the one infinitely worthy of being made much of.


-David Mathis, Executive Director for John Piper and Desiring God, and Elder at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis

Let a man depart from himself in order that he may apply the whole force of his ability in the service of the Lord. I call “service” not only what lies in obedience to God’s Word but what turns the mind of man, empty of its own carnal sense, wholly to the bidding of God’s Spirit. While it is the first entrance to life, all philosophers were ignorant of this transformation, which Paul calls “renewal of the mind”. For they set up reason alone as the ruling principle in man, and think that it alone should be listened to; to it alone, in short, they entrust the conduct of life. But the Christian philosophy bids reason give way to, submit and subject itself to, the Holy Spirit so that the man himself may no longer live but hear Christ living and reigning within him.

Be renewed in the spirit of your minds. -Ephesians 4:23

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God,who loved me and gave himself for me. -Galatians 2:20



T.H.L. Parker calls 1553–1554 Calvin’s “fateful years.” According to Parker, this was when “two large storms blew from different quarters and raged simultaneously.” One was Calvin’s battle with the libertines; the other was the infamous Servetus affair.

The Genevan air was charged in the Fall of 1553. It was September 3 when the confrontation with the libertines reached its climax, and it was October 26-27 when Michael Servetus was condemned and burned at the stake.

First, the libertines.

A pack of unregenerate Genevans—also members of the church in Calvin’s magisterial (and non-credobaptist) context—stirred up the trouble. Despite their love of license and open embrace of immorality, they desired good standing in the church and to eat from the Lord’s Table.

Calvin, on the other hand, called for discipline and was emphatic that they may not share in communion without repentance from their sinful patterns. However, the city council sided with the libertines and ordered the church to serve them the supper. But Calvin wouldn’t budge.

The showdown came on September 3: Calvin and the church vs. the libertines and the city. The lead libertine was supposed to be in attendance. Calvin fenced the table and held his ground. Stories vary as to precisely when and how he uttered the memorable line, “These hands you may crush; these arms you may lop off; my life you may take; my blood is yours, you may shed it. But you shall never force me to give holy things to the profaned, and dishonor the table of my God.”

Theodore Beza, Calvin’s successor in Geneva and first biographer, notes, “After this the sacred ordinance was celebrated with a profound silence, and under solemn awe in all present, as if the Deity himself had been visible among them.”

It turns out the libertines weren’t in attendance. Direct confrontation was avoided, and Calvin proved the victor. The libertine head was severed, but the body would continue to convulse—and would be given strength by the Servetus affair to follow.

Michael Servetus was a Spaniard. Quite the Renaissance man, he was a medical doctor, lawyer, and theologian (though he was least gifted theologically). Thus the trouble.  Parker comments about Servetus, “He should have been born three hundred years later. He would have been happy and quite safe in the free-thinking circles of England in the middle of the nineteenth century.”

The problem was that his doctrine of the Trinity (or lack thereof) was heretical, and he was influential. He had written to Calvin as early as 1545, because of Calvin’s international reputation as a theologian, presumably seeking help. Calvin corresponded with Servetus and even risked his life to meet with him in Paris, but Servetus skipped out on the appointment.

By 1553, Servetus was in prison in Spain, awaiting his execution by the Catholics for his denial of the Trinity, when he escaped and eventually appeared in Geneva. When he was recognized, the city arrested him and tried him for heresy. They called Calvin, the expert theologian, to serve as the prosecutor, since at issue in the trial was Christian doctrine.

Servetus was condemned on October 26, 1553, and burned at the stake the following day. The details are sketchy, but some historians recount that Calvin took great pity on Servetus, visited him in prison, and pled with him to renege on his beliefs and embrace the Triune God. Calvin also seems to have asked for a lighter penalty for him in some form—whether it was no death penalty or to grant mercy by strangling him before the burning is not fully clear. It was likely the latter.

Calvin’s opponents in Geneva, the libertines chief among them, played up the Servetus affair against him, and it remains the major blight on his character today. And to great extent for good reason. Yes, his role and the depths of depravity he manifested in the affair have likely been exaggerated by his detractors, but we Calvin-admirers should be honest enough to say that he messed up. (After all, shouldn’t we of all people believe in depravity?)

In going along with the ecclesiastical and judicial procedures and the seeming inevitability of Servetus’ fate, Calvin didn’t attempt to stop the state from wielding its sword for the church in the convoluted relationship between the two. He sinned—as have all our heroes, but one.

Calvin failed us. And so like Luther and Edwards and Spurgeon, his virtue lies in pointing us beyond himself to the one who never failed, and took our failures on himself.

No matter his level and depth of involvement, Calvin would no doubt be eager for our Servetus story to end here: Calvin was a great sinner in a need a great Savior.

-David Mathis, Executive Director for John Piper and Desiring God, and Elder at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis