It was the German historian Leopold von Ranke who declared that John Calvin was "the virtual founder of America." Why would he say that?
Lots of reasons, actually. But here are four:
1. Calvin was the first Reformer to demand a complete separation between the state and the church. Not, mind you, between the state and God Himself (who ordained and gave authority to the institution of the state), but between the state and an official "state church." Calvin taught that there should be no one church or denomination held in a unique position of favor or requirement by the state. There should be "freedom of religion." If you like that idea, thank John Calvin. Historically/politically, it was basically his idea.
2. One of the things Calvin sought to "reform" / "re-shape" about the church of his day was its governance. Looking to the Bible he established what is known today as a "Presbyterian" system of government. The word "presbyterian" simply refers to the Greek word for "elder." The congregation voted for elders and the elders represented & governed the church. Later on in history, the one minister who signed the Declaration of Independence was a Presbyterian minister. If you like the representative republic form of government, thank John Calvin. He was a significant champion of the ideas of governance that later formed our nation.
3. Calvin strongly taught that every person's vocational calling in life (as long as it's moral and legal) should be characterized and understood as a Christian calling. We are all called to serve God and our neighbors with our gifts, in every area of life -- especially our "work." This is not just true of ministers and missionaries, but also of butchers, bakers, and candlestick-makers. We should all work hard in our respective jobs, knowing that God has called us to serve both God and our neighbors in that specific role. This is what became known as the "Protestant work ethic," and it is in large measure responsible for the strength and health that our nation enjoyed in its earliest days.
4. The pilgrims knew their Bibles -- which is what gave them the wisdom to form such beautiful communities (which eventually became our nation). And part of the reason why they knew their Bibles so well is the help in understanding that they had received from the Geneva Bible. The Bible scholars who translated and produced this work had fled from "Bloody Mary" (Mary I of England) to Geneva, Switzerland -- the representative republic in which John Calvin ministered. With Calvin's encouragement and assistance, the Geneva Bible came into existence.
More could be said about John Calvin's role in shaping the blessings that you and I enjoy every day of our lives, but that will do for now.
Happy Birthday, Pastor Calvin.
If you haven't read much of John Calvin, take a few minutes to consider these quotes. They might surprise you:
A dog barks when his master is attacked. I would be a coward if I saw that God's truth is attacked and yet would remain silent.
All the blessings we enjoy are Divine deposits, committed to our trust on this condition, that they should be dispensed for the benefit of our neighbors.
Augustine does not disagree with this when he teaches that it is a faculty of the reason and the will to choose good with the assistance of grace; evil, when grace is absent.
Every one of us is, even from his mother's womb, a master craftsman of idols.
For there is no one so great or mighty that he can avoid the misery that will rise up against him when he resists and strives against God.
God tolerates even our stammering, and pardons our ignorance whenever something inadvertently escapes us - as, indeed, without this mercy there would be no freedom to pray.
However many blessings we expect from God, His infinite liberality will always exceed all our wishes and our thoughts.
I consider looseness with words no less of a defect than looseness of the bowels.
Is it faith to understand nothing, and merely submit your convictions implicitly to the Church?
Knowledge of the sciences is so much smoke apart from the heavenly science of Christ.
Man's mind is like a store of idolatry and superstition; so much so that if a man believes his own mind it is certain that he will forsake God and forge some idol in his own brain.
Seeing that a Pilot steers the ship in which we sail, who will never allow us to perish even in the midst of shipwrecks, there is no reason why our minds should be overwhelmed with fear and overcome with weariness.
The torture of a bad conscience is the hell of a living soul.
There is no work, however vile or sordid, that does not glisten before God.
There is no worse screen to block out the Spirit than confidence in our own intelligence.
There is not one blade of grass, there is no color in this world that is not intended to make us rejoice.
We must remember that Satan has his miracles, too.
We should ask God to increase our hope when it is small, awaken it when it is dormant, confirm it when it is wavering, strengthen it when it is weak, and raise it up when it is overthrown.
True wisdom consists in two things: Knowledge of God and Knowledge of Self.
It would be the height of absurdity to label ignorance tempered by humility "faith"!
If it seems more horrible to kill a man in his own house, then in a field,...it ought surely to be deemed more atrocious to destroy a fetus in the womb before it has come to light.
...a man will be justified by faith when, excluded from righteousness of works, he by faith lays hold of the righteousness of Christ, and clothed in it, appears in the sight of God not as a sinner, but as righteous...
Our prayer must not be self-centered. It must arise not only because we feel our own need as a burden we must lay upon God, but also because we are so bound up in love for our fellow men that we feel their need as acutely as our own. To make intercession for men is the most powerful and practical way in which we can express our love for them.
Man's nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.
The pastor ought to have two voices: one, for gathering the sheep; and another, for warding off and driving away wolves and thieves. The Scripture supplies him with the means of doing both.
A perfect faith is nowhere to be found, so it follows that all of us are partly unbelievers.
Let us not cease to do the utmost, that we may incessantly go forward in the way of the Lord; and let us not despair of the smallness of our accomplishments.
(comment on 2 Corinthians 5.20) This is why Paul upholds the teaching of the gospel in such a forceful way ... Seeing such an example and such a picture of man’s great weakness and fickleness, Paul states that the truth of the gospel must supersede anything that we may devise … he is showing us that we ought to know the substance of the doctrine which is brought to us in the name of God, so that our faith can be fully grounded upon it. Then we will not be tossed about with every wind, nor will we wander about aimlessly, changing our opinions a hundred times a day; we will persist in this doctrine until the end. This, in brief, is what we must remember.
The gospel is not a doctrine of the tongue, but of life. It cannot be grasped by reason and memory only, but it is fully understood when it possesses the whole soul and penetrates to the inner recesses of the heart.
Without the fear of God, men do not even observe justice and charity among themselves.
All the arts come from God and are to be respected as divine inventions.
In forming an estimate of sins, we are often imposed upon by imagining that the more hidden the less heinous they are.
The Lord commands us to do good unto all men without exception, though the majority are very undeserving when judged according to their own merits... [The Scripture] teaches us that we must not think of man's real value, but only of his creation in the image of God to which we owe all possible honor and love.
Those who set up a fictitious worship, merely worship and adore their own delirious fancies; indeed, they would never dare so to trifle with God, had they not previously fashioned him after their own childish conceits.
There is no knowing that does not begin with knowing God.
In a way, the futile excuses many people use to cover their superstitions are demolished. They think it is enough to have some sort of religious fervor, however ridiculous, not realizing that true religion must be according to God's will as the perfect measure; that He can never deny Himself and is no mere spirit form to be changed around according to individual preference.
Thus it is that we may patiently pass through this life with its misery, hunger, cold, contempt, reproaches, and other troubles - content with this one thing: that our King [Jesus] will never leave us destitute, but will provide for our needs until, our warfare ended, we are called to triumph.
No one can travel so far that he does not make some progess each day. So let us never give up. Then we shall move forward daily in the Lord's way. And let us never despair because of our limited success. Even though it is so much less than we would like, our labour is not wasted when today is better than yesterday!
We ought to contemplate providence not as curious and fickle persons are wont to do but as a ground of confidence and excitement to prayer. When he informs us that the hairs of our head are all numbered it is not to encourage trivial speculations but to instruct us to depend on the fatherly care of God which is exercised over these frail bodies.
It is a promise which eminently deserves our observation that all who are united to Christ and acknowledge Him to be Christ and Mediator will remain to the end safe from all danger, for what is said of the body of the Church belongs to each of its members since they are one in Christ.
As far as sacred Scripture is concerned, however much froward men try to gnaw at it, nevertheless it clearly is crammed with thoughts that could not be humanly conceived. Let each of the prophets be looked into: none will be found who does not far exceed human measure. Consequently, those for whom prophetic doctrine is tasteless ought to be thought of as lacking taste buds.
The whole world is a theatre for the display of the divine goodness, wisdom, justice, and power, but the Church is the orchestra, as it were—the most conspicuous part of it; and the nearer the approaches are that God makes to us, the more intimate and condescending the communication of his benefits, the more attentively are we called to consider them.
Were the judgments of mankind correct, custom would be regulated by the good. But it is often far otherwise in point of fact; for, whatever the many are seen to do, forthwith obtains the force of custom. But human affairs have scarcely ever been so happily constituted as that the better course pleased the greater number. Hence the private vices of the multitude have generally resulted in public error, or rather that common consent in vice which these worthy men would have to be law.
Men are undoubtedly more in danger from prosperity than from adversity, for when matters go smoothly, they flatter themselves, and are intoxicated by their success.
[God] does not bind the ancient folk to outward doctrine as if they were learning their ABC's.
Secondly, [man] should weigh his abilities-or rather lack of abilities.
[Philosophers] are like a traveler passing through a field at night who in a momentary lightning flash sees far and wide, but the sight vanishes so swiftly that he is plunged again into the darkness of night before he can take even a step-let alone be directed on the way by its help.
With respect to ceremonies, there is some appearance of a change having taken place; but it was only the use of them that was abolished, for their meaning was more fully confirmed. The coming of Christ has taken nothing away even from ceremonies, but, on the contrary, confirms them by exhibiting the truth of shadow.
They who strive to build up a firm faith in Scripture through disputation are doing things backwards.
Just as the light of the sun, while it invigorates a living and animated body, produces effluvia in a carcass; so it is certain that the sacraments where the Spirit of faith is not present, breathes mortiferous rather than vital odour.
I was always exceedingly delighted with that saying of Chrysostom, "The foundation of our philosophy is humility"; and yet more pleased with that of Augustine: "As the orator, when asked, What is the first precept in eloquence? answered, Delivery: What is the second? Delivery: What is the third? Delivery: so if you ask me concerning the precepts of the Christian religion, I will answer, first, second, and third, Humility.
If we are not our own, but the Lord's, it is clear to what purpose all our deeds must be directed. We are not our own, therefore neither our reason nor our will should guide us in our thoughts and actions. We are not our own, therefore we should not seek what is only expedient to the flesh. We are not our own, therefore let us forget ourselves and our own interests in as far as possible.
For earthly princes lay aside their power when they rise up against God, and are unworthy to be reckoned among the number of mankind. We ought, rather, to spit upon their heads than to obey them.
God preordained, for his own glory and the display of His attributes of mercy and justice, a part of the human race, without any merit of their own, to eternal salvation, and another part, in just punishment of their sin, to eternal damnation.
No man is excluded from calling upon God, the gate of salvation is set open unto all men: neither is there any other thing which keepeth us back from entering in, save only our own unbelief.
He only who is reduced to nothing in himself, and relies on the mercy of God is poor in spirit.
For by a kind of mutual bond the Lord has joined together the certainty of his Word and of his Spirit so that the perfect religion of the Word may abide in our minds when the Spirit, who causes us to contemplate God's face, shines.