The [Protestant] Reformation had reached Geneva in 1528, and was adopted by the Council of this free city in 1535. In 1536 the city gained its most distinguished teacher, John Calvin (1509-1564), a native of Noyon, in Picardy, seventy miles northeast of Paris. He became the ablest theologian and disciplinarian of the Protestant Reformation; and his work, "Institutes of the Christian Religion," has been well called "the masterpiece of Protestantism." For commanding intellect, lofty character and far-reaching influence, Calvin was one of the foremost leaders in the history of Christianity. He was always poor and sickly, severely moral and censorious (even in childhood being called by his companions "the Accusative Case.") He was educated by his father, first for the Catholic priesthood and then for the law. He injured his health by studying nearly all night; and attained such proficiency in the law as to be called to lecture to his fellow-students in the absence of the Professor. But Providence called him to a higher work. Deeply convicted of sin, he sought inward peace by the Roman Catholic methods, and found it not. Miserable and abject, with tears and cries, he was enabled to flee to God, and throw himself upon His free mercy in Christ, and thus he entered into rest, and joyfully testified, "We are saved by grace, not by our merits, not by our works. Only one haven of salvation is left for our souls, and that is the mercy of God in Christ." He renounced Romanism, joined the persecuted Protestants, and had to flee from Paris (in 1533), in which city, during the next two years, "twenty-four Protestants were burned alive, while many more were condemned to less cruel sufferings. For more than two years he wandered a fugitive evangelist, under assumed names, from place to place." In l534 at Orleans he published his first theological work (Psychopannychia), a treatise against the Anabaptist doctrine of the sleep of the soul between death and the resurrection. In 1536 at Basel he published the first edition of his Institutes - his sole motive in issuing this work being, he says, "to remove the impression that his persecuted brethren in France were fanatical Anabaptists, seeking the overthrow of civil order, which their oppressors, in order to pacify the displeasure of German Lutherans, industriously propagated." The eloquent and powerful preface was addressed to Francis I, the King of France. The Institutes, says Prof. Schaff, "are by far the clearest and ablest systemic and scientific exposition and vindication of the ideas of the Reformation in their vernal freshness and pentecostal fire. The book is inspired by a heroic faith ready for the stake, and a glowing enthusiasm for the saving truth of the gospel, raised to a new life from beneath the rubbish of human additions. Though freely using reason and the fathers, especially Augustine, it always appeals to the supreme tribunal of the word of God, to which all human wisdom must bow in reverent obedience. It abounds in Scripture learning thoroughly digested, and wrought up into a consecutive chain of exposition and argument. It is severely logical, but perfectly free from the dryness and pedantry of a scholastic treatise, and flows on, like a Swiss river, through green meadows and sublime mountain scenery. Greeted with enthusiasm by Protestants, the Institutes created dismay among Romanists, were burned at Paris by order of the Sorbonne (Theological College), and hated and feared as the very 'Talmud' and 'Koran' of heresy.'" In 1536 Calvin settled at Geneva, and lived there the remainder of his life, with the exception of three years (1538 - 1541), when he was banished from the city on account of his severe discipline (during which period he lived at Strassburg). In 1540 he married Idelette van Buren, "the widow of an Ana-baptist preacher whom he had converted," as the historians tell us. Their three children died in infancy. Otherwise their married life was very happy but short, lasting only nine years, when his wife died. He deeply lamented her, and never married again. Calvin desired to make his church at Geneva the model, mother and seminary of all the Reformed (or Presbyterian or Calvinistic) Churches. The Presbyterian polity, or church government, is imaginarily derived, primarily from the old Jewish Sanhedrin, and secondarily from the Greek, Roman and Anglo-Saxon Senates; but the best authorities declare that the gradation of Session, Presbytery, Synod and General Assembly was an invention of Calvin himself (his doctrine of the organization of the church and of its relation to the State being the only original feature of his system, says J. R. Green); and the civil government already existing in Geneva and other cities (consisting of four Councils, rising in power one above the other) seems to have suggested the idea to him. In Geneva were the Little Council (or Council of 25), the Council of 60, the Council of 200, and the General Council or General Assembly of Citizens. As for the two permanent Jewish courts called the Lesser and the Greater Sanhedrin, the first of inferior and the second of appellate jurisdiction, they are nowhere mentioned in the Old Testament, but are believed by the most critical scholars to have been derived by the Jews from the Macedonians (or Greeks) about 300 B.C. - the very name, Sanhedrin, being, not a Hebrew, but a Greek word. Calvin's Consistory (or Presbytery), composed of six preachers and twelve 'laymen,' of which body he was President, exercised a most stringent, vigilant, inquisitorial supervision, in respect to doctrine, morals and manners, over the entire life of every inhabitant of Geneva; not only excommunicating persons of every age and sex, but handing them over to the civil authorities to be imprisoned, tortured or put to death for heresies, improprieties and immoralities. The proceedings of the Consistory were marked by a Dionysian and Draconian severity. [In other words, John Calvin's religious machine was an ecclesiastical tyranny, operated by a group of fanatical, diabolical sadists.] "The prisons became filled, and the executioner was kept busy. A child was beheaded for striking its father and mother. Another child, sixteen years old, for attempting to strike its mother, was sentenced to death but, on account of its youth, the sentence was commuted; and having been publicly whipped, with a cord about its neck, it was banished from the city. A woman was chastised with rods for singing secular songs to the melody of the Psalms. A man was imprisoned and banished for reading the writings of the Italian humanist, Poggio. Profanity and drunkenness were severely punished; dancing, and the manufacture or use of cards, or nine-pins, and even looking upon a dance, and giving children the names of Catholic saints, and extravagance or eccentricity of dress, and the dissemination of divergent theological doctrines, brought down upon the delinquent the vengeance of the laws. No historical student needs to be told what an incalculable amount of evil has been wrought by Catholics and by Protestants from a mistaken belief in the perpetual validity of the Mosaic civil legislation, and from a confounding of the spirit of the old dispensation with that of the new - an overlooking of the progressive character of Divine revelation." George P. Fisher's History of Reformation. Christ and His Apostles did not Persecute neither does the true church of Christ. [And Paul said, "If any man hath not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his" -Eld Wingfield, Editor.] The Protestant persecutions of each other, and of Catholics, and of "Anabaptists." were derived from Rome, and were in direct and horrid contradiction of the Protestant principle of freedom of conscience. Calvin's condemnation and execution of the almost "Anabapist" and the Anti-Trinitarian, Michael Servetus (1553), though then approved by his brother Protestants [Lord, have mercy! -Eld Wingfield, Editor.], is a sad and ineffaceable blot upon his character - the bloody deed producing only evil, utterly condemned by the entire spirit of the New Testament [Amen!], and by every person of to-day. It is noteworthy that in 1537 Peter Caroli accused Calvin and Farel of Anti-Trinitarianism (or Arianism and Sabellianism), because they would not enforce the Athanasian Creed, and had not used the words "Trinity" and "Person" in the Confession that they had drawn up. In his first residence at Geneva, Calvin had avoided using these terms, although having no particular objection to them; as he was very indifferent to the terminology of theology, so long as the truth was expressed. Jerome Bolsee was imprisoned and banished from Geneva in 1551 for denying the doctrine of predestination. Like [Martin] Luther, Calvin was, in general, unselfish and unworldly, honest and conscientious, doing what he believed to be right [just like Saul of Tarsus, when he was persecuting Christians], and not seeking human applause or temporal riches. His disciplinarian severity was induced, not by personal animosity, but by his views of the Scriptures and of what was required for the honor of God. Under his iron and bloody discipline (the result of a combination of "Church and State"), Geneva, from being one of the most licentious places, became the most moral town in Europe. [No wonder: all the sinners in town had either been put to death, or exiled -Elder Wingfield, Editor.] But some of the profligate people,' hating him with a perfect hatred, would sometimes fire off fifty or sixty shots before his door in the night, and would set upon him their dogs, which would tear his clothes and flesh. He received from the city a small house and garden, with about five hundred dollars per year, and was very generous to the needy. In the latter part of his life he ate but one meal a day, and sometimes went without that. He would not draw his salary when he was too sick to work, and he refused an increase of salary and all kinds of presents, except for the poor. Besides his library, he left only about two hundred dollars, which he gave to his younger brother and his children. When Pope Pius IV heard of his death, he paid him this high compliment: "The strength of that heretic consisted in this, that money never had the slightest charm for him. If I had such servants, my dominion would extend from sea to sea." Like Luther, he had a fiery temper, which was the propelling power in his extraordinary life-work. He was a walking hospital, and the wonder is that he showed so patient a spirit as he did. In his fifty-fifth year, overcome with headache, asthma, fever and gravel, he yielded to his complication of bodily infirmities. He never complained of his physical sufferings. Though his body was utterly feeble, and reduced almost to a shadow, his mind retained its clearness and energy. Assembling the city councilors, and then the ministers, around his bed, he declared that he had lived, acted and taught honestly and sincerely, according to his views of the word of God, never knowingly perverting the Scriptures, and never laboring for any personal end, but only to promote the glory of God. He thanked them for their kindness, and craved their forgiveness for his occasional outbursts of anger. He exhorted them to humility and to a faithful observance of the pure doctrine and discipline of Christ. Sitting up in bed, he offered a fervent prayer for them, and took each one by the hand, and bade him a solemn and affectionate farewell; and they parted from him, with their eyes bathed in tears, and their hearts full of unspeakable grief. According to his express injunction, no monument was erected over his grave, so that the exact spot, in the cemetery of Geneva, is unknown.
From: History of the Church of God, By: Elders C. B. and Sylvester Hassell (Ellenwood, Ga., Old School Hymnal Co., Reprinted 1983), pp. 490-493
Over the years I have read and heard quite a bit about the Baptists' long standing doctrinal identification with the "Five Points of Calvinism." In much the same manner that our folks call those who identify with the doctrines expounded by Jacobus Arminius "Arminians," other religious orders (and even some of our own people) refer to the Old School Baptists as "Calvinists." As a matter of fact, some have even now gone so far as to label those of us who believe in the absolute sovereignty and Divine government of God Almighty as "hyper-Calvinists." I respectfully submit that I am not a Calvinist of any stripe, and I would like to explain my reasons.
Let me begin by giving an honest answer to a fair question. Do I personally agree with what are called the "Five Points of Calvinism," or the "TULIP doctrine"? Yes, I do, because they do advocate - in the letter, at least - some important truths taught in the Bible, Viz: Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, Preservation and Perseverance of God's elect. Do I believe that the Old School Primitive Baptists are somehow indebted to him because he was (presumably) such an articulate exponent of some of the principal doctrines we hold? No, I do not, because what we believe was not taught us by John Calvin. We have had the same teacher, and have been taught in the very same manner, as the Apostle Paul.
"But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of [by] me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ (Gal. 1:11-12)."
Do I hold any particular regard for the memory of John Calvin because he believed some of the doctrines taught in the Bible? No, I can't honestly say that I do. The sketch of Calvin's life and ministry reprinted above clearly precludes any such veneration. Insofar as I am aware, he left no record of repentance toward God for persecuting many of His dear people, unlike the Apostle Paul and some others. Let us carefully consider some teachings of the Lord Jesus which have particular relevance to the public career of John Calvin.
"And it came to pass, when the time was come that he should be received up, he stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem, And sent messengers before his face: and they went, and entered into a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him. And they did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias [Elijah] did? But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them. And they went to another village (Luke 9:51-56)."
I have never read Calvin's much-praised "Institutes of the Christian Religion," although I have known about it for several years. I did try one time, at the request of a dear friend, to read his commentary on the Book of Ephesians, but it was so spiritually lifeless and so filled with redundant phrases that I finally gave up and laid it aside unfinished. To me, at least, it simply was not edifying.
That John Calvin was an intellectually brilliant man, no fair-minded critic would be likely to deny. That he felt a passionate zeal for the holiness of God is likewise admitted. Unfortunately, like many of his ancient brethren whom we read about in the New Testament, his zeal was almost totally devoid of any real knowledge of the true character of God (Who is "rich in mercy," for example). From what source he received his assumed confidence to be a righteous judge of his fellow creatures I will not presume to say.
Would to God he had been endued with the spirit of the poet who wrote the following sentiments:
"When thou, my righteous Judge, shall come,
To fetch thy ransomed people home,
Shall I among them stand?
Shall such a worthless worm as I,
Who sometimes am afraid to die,
Be found at thy right hand?"
Personal morality is most assuredly a good thing, and is a fairly accurate mark of sound character; but morality is not religion. [It is, of course, one of true religion's effects.] It is quite likely that at least some atheists and infidels are individuals with sound morals, but that fact has no bearing on their true standing before God. As the reader is well aware, the real test of true religion is found in the following words of our dear Lord: "What think ye of Christ? whose son is he?.. .(Matt. 22:42)."
John Calvin's record, in contrast to his rhetoric, clearly speaks for itself. Though he is commonly believed to be an exponent of God's sovereign grace, he was an uncompromising practitioner of Old Covenant religion. Evidently, he was not blessed to understand that the conscience is the bar before which a man's religion is to be tried in this world. Ultimately, Christ Jesus the Lord is the true Righteous Judge who "shall reward every man according to his works (Matt. 16:27)." See also Acts 17:31.
"But why dost thou judge brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all [with no exceptions] stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God (Rom. 14:10-12)."
It goes almost without saying that, when that time comes, no amount or kind of legal - or fleshly - righteousness will clear any man of his guilt before God. The only hope any poor sinner will have then is his personal faith in the atoning blood and the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ the Savior.
To be a "Calvinist" necessarily implies that one is a disciple, or follower, of John Calvin and/or his teaching. But the word of the Lord does not allow for God's dear children to be such.
"Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour (Eph. 5:1-2)."
"Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me (Matt. 16:24)."
"For ye [Corinthians] are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; [and later, some would say, I am of Calvin;] are ye not carnal? Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase (1 Cor. 3:3-7)." Thus: "Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours; Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; And are Christ's and Christ is God's (1 Cor. 3:21-23)."
Well, then, if it is not proper to call the Lord's followers "Calvinists," by what name should they be called? What about being called by "the name which is above every name"? What could possibly be wrong with that? "There is no scriptural precedent for doing that," you say? Mark! "Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus for to seek Saul (Paul): And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch (Acts 11:25-26)."
Years later, when Paul preached the gospel in the presence of King Herod Agrippa, the king admitted that "Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian." And, what was Paul's response? "And Paul said, I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds (Acts 26:29)."
So, Paul did not disdain being identified as a Christian, which simply means "a follower of Jesus Christ," and neither did his fellow apostle, Simon Peter. "Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf [for this very reason] (1 Peter 4:16)."
Because I know the reasons behind it, I have no problem with being called "an Old Hardshell Primitive Baptist." That term has no tendency to glorify men. But I do not care to be called, or identified, as a "Calvinist" because that designation does not fit. However feeble and halting my steps may be, like Joshua of old, I desire to follow after and serve the Lord, and no one else. To Him alone may glory and honor be. -- Elder John T. Wingfield, Editor