The Heart of John Calvin
“If we, then, are not our own [cf. 1 Cor. 6:19] but the Lord’s, it is clear what error we must flee, and whither we must direct all the acts of our life.” —John Calvin
We are not our own; we belong to the Lord. That confession, in essence, is the heart of true Calvinism. Our salvation belongs to the Lord, from beginning to end (Ps. 3:8; Rev. 7:10). He has captivated our minds and has made His light to shine abroad in our hearts (2 Cor. 4:6; 10:5). Our whole being belongs to Him—heart, soul, mind, and strength. This is what Calvin proclaimed, and this is the foundation on which his life was established.
The Lord took hold of Calvin, and Calvin thus could not help but take away “dominion and rule from his own reason” and yield it to the Lord alone. That is the glorious brilliance reflected by any study of Calvin. There was nothing in Calvin himself that was superhuman, super-theologian, or super-churchman. Calvin was a man whom God chose to call out of darkness and into His marvelous light so that he might go back into the darkness and shine brightly unto every generation of God’s people until Christ returns.
In truth, any study of Calvin is actually just a study of God’s work in the life of His servant in His kingdom. In the words of Calvin biographer Jean Cadier, Calvin was a man whom “God mastered.” In mastering him, the Lord used His servant to accomplish all that He had sovereignly purposed. In mastering his heart, the Lord left Calvin with no choice but to offer his heart to God promptly and sincerely. Although Calvin understood that “man’s nature is a perpetual factory of idols,” that the “mind begets an idol, and the hand gives it birth,” and that man’s heart is deceitfully wicked above all things (Jer. 17:9), he could do nothing but present his heart to God with outstretched hands, offering himself wholly to Him.
In everything, Calvin, more than simply dedicating himself, offered himself sacrificially to the Lord: his family, his studies, his preaching—his entire ministry (Rom. 12:1–2). He was a man who ministered not for his own glory, but for the glory of God (Ps. 115); he was a man who preached not himself, but the Word of God (2 Tim. 4:1–2). According to Parker, Calvin “had a horror of those who preached their own ideas in place of the gospel of the Bible: ‘When we enter the pulpit, it is not so that we may bring our own dreams and fancies with us.’” Calvin was not concerned with offering to his congregation the quaint meditations of his own heart. Although it has become popular in many churches for the pastor to strive to “pour out his heart” to his congregation, such was not Calvin’s aim in his preaching, for he had offered his heart to God alone. As a result, Calvin did not think it was profitable to share the ever-changing passions of his own heart, but to proclaim the heart of God in His never-changing Word. Calvin was not concerned that his congregants behold him but that they behold the Lord. This should be the aim of every pastor, and, if necessary, every pastor should place a placard behind his pulpit with the following words inscribed: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus” (John 12:21). Such was Calvin’s aim in his preaching and in all his life.
An excerpt from John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology by Burk Parsons. Download the digital edition free through October 31, 2013.