Reformer of the Week: John Calvin
“By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” Ephesians 2:8
Only grace. And thank goodness. Our reformer of the week for Sola Gratia (by Grace alone) is none other than John Calvin. Before you stop reading because the name “Calvin” is a bad word, know this: John Calvin’s legacy is complicated. If there was an award for the most often misunderstood historical figure he would be in the top 5 easily.
Calvin was a Frenchman and pastor in Geneva, Switzerland, where he served for many years. He never met Martin Luther, though he admired him greatly, and is behind him only in influencing the Protestant Reformation. At the age of 27 Calvin first published his legendary work, Institutes of the Christian Religion, and the commentaries he wrote on so many books of the Bible are still widely used today. The system of beliefs that came to bear his name was not fully developed until 50 years after his death. In fact, Calvin almost surely would have scoffed at the idea of his name being attached to what he believed was simply what the scriptures taught.
It was in the Bible that Calvin saw and tasted the majesty of God. The passion for God’s glory that he cultivated in his sermons spread like wildfire across Europe and continues to this day. The system of biblical doctrine often called “Calvinism” grows out of that deep conviction, that God’s glory is the goal of all things. God created all things for His glory, and that includes you and I. Because God is free and sovereign and glorious, He doesn’t need to be served by anyone to meet His needs. And because He lacks nothing in Himself, He is gloriously free to be gracious to us.
There is a reason Calvin’s teachings became known as the “doctrines of grace.” He believed that God acted on our behalf in salvation and that grace was freely given, never owed and never earned. Only a glorious God would freely give us so great a love!
More Resources on John Calvin and Grace Alone: