Calvin: Love Him Or Hate HimDr. Erwin W. Lutzer | January 28, 2007
Selected highlights from this sermon
In Geneva, the Reformation was spurred on by the theologian, John Calvin. Like Martin Luther, he too was flawed, but still mightily used by God. Having been given the pastorate of the city, Calvin went too far in restricting freedom of religion, but through various means, he sent missionaries and pastors throughout the world.
But what he’s probably most known for is the doctrine of predestination that’s still debated and discussed to this day.
Now the question is, “Why are we talking about the Reformation, and what is the Reformation?” Well, you need to know that throughout the history of the Christian church, we have not always had what was known as Protestantism. Somewhere after the year 300, for reasons we won’t go into, the church began to acquire certain superstitions and certain traditions, and the souls of people were kept in the hands of the church. There was no freedom of religion at all, none. If you were a heretic, you were put to death. And the whole history of freedom of religion is an interesting one. And we aren’t going to deal with that in this particular session, but what we’re talking about is where did Protestantism get its beginning after a thousand years of Catholicism?
Now, if you are here today and you are a Catholic, you are not only welcome, but you are in good company because twenty-five to thirty percent of all the people who join Moody Church were reared Catholic. And our intention is not at all to bash the Catholic church, but only to help people to understand how Protestantism came about. The word “protestant” comes from “protest.” They protested. The word actually came from a town in Germany called Magdeburg. And the Catholics were excluding the Protestants from leadership and so forth, or I should say excluding the Lutherans from leadership, and they protested it and so, they got the name Protestant. And today we still have the name, don’t we? Protestants.
I’m putting this in context. There were three great reformers. All three lived simultaneously. That is to say their lives overlapped in the sixteenth century. One was Martin Luther. If you were with us, you know that we gave two messages on Luther. And today we come to a man by the name of John Calvin in Geneva, Switzerland.
Most people who think of John Calvin think of him negatively. They say, “Oh John Calvin was the kind of a guy who, if he found you having a good time, he’d slap your wrist.” They say that he would have been a terrible man to take out for dinner because he’d have been so dour and so negative and so critical. I don’t think that’s true at all. I think Calvin has been given a really, really bad reputation. And Calvin could have cared less what people thought of him. Oh sure, the people used to sic their dogs after him, and kids threw stones at him, but he could care less because he was doing the will of God. And someday God’s going to set the record straight.
Calvin, love him or hate him, what shall we do? Well, I’m going to plunge right in and tell you some stories tonight. And we’re also going to look at the Bible and see that doctrine of predestination that he’s known for—and people dislike him for that (I have to smile), as if he invented it. All that Calvin was doing was trying to find out what the Bible had to say. And he’s been vilified throughout the centuries.
Well, “If you do not stay in Geneva, you will be cursed.” Those are the words spoken to him by a man named [Guillaume] Farel, a fiery preacher in Geneva. Calvin was spending the night there in Geneva in 1536. He was on his way back to Strasburg, France and he needed a place to stay. There was war in the area, and Farel came to him and told him quite frankly...he persuaded him to come to Geneva and said that if he did not come “may God curse your studies if now, in the time of need, you refuse to lend your aid to His church.”
Sometimes we find it difficult finding the will of God. Where does God want me to be? Well, Calvin was told by Farel, “This is the place for you, and if not, God will curse you.” So that’s one way to find out God’s will, to get some counseling, and people will help you determine it.
Now, keep in mind that Calvin would have been eight years old when Luther nailed his “Ninety-five Theses” to the castle door there in Wittenberg, which we talked about. And now, of course, Calvin was older, so it would have been 19 years since that happened. And because of that, Luther’s ideas, thanks to Gutenberg and the printing press, had been spread throughout Europe, and they came to France, and all over. And Calvin learned the Gospel through Luther.
Now this man, Farel, who asked Calvin to stay in Geneva, had come to Geneva in 1532 and later returned to strengthen the Reformation movement. He was able to capture St. Peter’s Cathedral, St. Pierre there in Geneva, and he preached the doctrines of the Reformation, but he knew that he was too old and there was too much conflict in the city, and he couldn’t handle it, so he was trying to convince Calvin to stay. And it worked. Calvin stayed.
But how did Farel come to know of John Calvin? Calvin was 27 or 28 years old at this time. Why would he even go to a motel in Geneva to meet with him? Well, the answer is John Calvin had published a book called the “Institutes of the Christian Religion.” It was a book on reformed theology, and it was being read everywhere. Now, they didn’t have many books, but the books that they did have were being widely read, and so Calvin’s reputation...he was surprised that he was known in Geneva, but his books made room for him. Though it would be later revised and expanded, this book would serve as a theological primer that would have a great impact on Europe for 200 years.
How would you like to write a book that would be used as a textbook in theology for 200 years? Calvin did that. And the basis of it was written when he was only 27 years old. In the “Institutes of Christian Religion,” Calvin sets forth a view of God, and a view of the church that would inspire millions. You don’t think that he is important? He is very important, as we’ll notice tonight.
Calvin himself had been a beneficiary of God’s grace. He was born in northern France, studied for a brief time at the University of Paris where he was introduced to the writings of Luther. Afterwards, he went to [the University of] Orléans and the University of Bourges (I hope I pronounced that correctly.) in 1529.
He tells us very little about his own conversion, but explains that he was devoted to the superstitions of the papacy, and that nothing less than an act of God could extricate him from these beliefs. He said he was a stick in the mud, unable to wade to freedom, possibly even content to wallow in the comfort and familiar mire of Catholic spirituality. But he says, “At last God turned my course in a different direction by the hidden bridle of His providence. By a sudden conversion He tamed my mind that was too stubborn for its years.” And so he says, “God overcame my blindness and showed me the light of the Gospel.”
The problem was that persecution began of the Protestants in France.
Now, sometimes Christians do silly things, and there was a king reigning in France by the name of King Francis I, and he was an ardent Catholic. And in October of 1534 some Protestants anonymously placed placards in prominent locations throughout France, and one of them was even put on the doorknob of the king’s bedroom. And it criticized and ridiculed the doctrine of Mary and the doctrine of the Mass.
This is bad—silliness because Protestantism was growing in France, and if they had just allowed it to grow, that would have happened. But as a result of that, there was a terrible backlash. This was known as the Affair of the Placards. It’s a good example of a mistake made by well-meaning Christians. And the backlash began an out-breaking of persecution of Protestants throughout France. In fact, I won’t tell you the numbers of hundreds of people that were put to death.
Now, it’s that crisis that motivated Calvin to go to Basel, Switzerland, and there he continued his work on the “Institutes,” and so forth, but it was after that that he wanted to return to his hometown of Strasbourg, France, but there was war that was going on and that’s why he ended up going to Geneva where he met Farel who told him to stay in Geneva or else he could be cursed.
Sometimes we get the impression that the Reformation happened because, you know, these preachers began to preach, and people believed the Gospel. I wish that were the case, but politics was so entwined in what was happening. You see, it was really the city council that was controlling Geneva. And the city council, when the Protestants were in charge, they wanted Calvin. When the city council turned more Catholic, they expelled Calvin from Geneva. There was so much politics involved in this.
For example, Bern, Switzerland was going Protestant and because of trade between Geneva and Bern, Geneva had a great deal of pressure on it to turn Protestant, which it did. And so it invited Calvin, based on the work of Farel, and now John Calvin was invited to Geneva, but he stayed only two years because after that, his enemies got in control of the city council, and he was expelled and he went back to Strasburg. And it is there that he married a woman by the name of Idelette, and she became his wife. And there he also revised the “Institutes of the Christian Religion,” the book.
When Calvin was gone, a well-known Catholic wrote a letter on why Geneva should return back to Catholicism, and Calvin returned the favor, and wrote a brilliant reply on why Protestantism should be the religion of Geneva. Well, Calvin was invited back after a few years, and he stayed there for the rest of his life.
Now, he must have had a very methodical mind because he would preach through the Scriptures, and apparently, the story is that when he went back to the cathedral after being gone for three years, he picked up the text of the Bible and began to expound the Scriptures at the very point where he had left off years before. And by the way, you can go to St. Peter’s today and you can see three different forms of architecture, and you can also see some of the work that Calvin did in rubbing off all the images. And you can go and you can look, and the Gospel is not preached there today. When I visited it many years ago, though I’ve been there several times since, I actually knelt in the cathedral and prayed, because I thought somebody has to remember the Gospel that was preached here under John Calvin.
Well, once he was in Geneva he, in our opinion, made the fatal mistake (but you have to understand he’s coming from a medieval mindset) of turning Geneva into the Israel of God. He had rules for the city of Geneva. Like ancient Israel, she should make a covenant with God to worship the Lord alone, standing against the seductions of Babylon. Within the city, he had strict codes which today, of course, we ridicule perhaps, but in those days, Calvin made sure that even trifles were covered. There were penalties for fortune telling, making noise in church, or betting on Sunday. Taverns were abolished. Church attendance was mandatory. A goldsmith might be punished for making a chalice that a Catholic priest might use. Parents might be admonished if they named their children after one of the Catholic saints.
Catholics were permitted to stay in Geneva if they remained quiet. However, they were eliminated from government. They were urged to convert and to mend their ways. Many in Geneva, therefore, despised Calvin. I told you that that’s why people would sic their dogs on him.
When I was in Geneva, our guide said something very interesting. We’re acquainted with the English word “carouse” aren’t we? We don’t use it often, but you know carouse? I don’t have to define it for you. It means just doing all sorts of things that college students sometimes do on weekends, it seems to me. Do you know where that came from? Outside of Geneva there is a city called Carouge. And people used to leave Geneva and they could go to Carouge and do all kinds of things that Calvin never let them do in Geneva, and that’s where we get our word “carouse.” We can thank John Calvin for that.
Now, a word of parenthesis here. Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli, whom we shall talk about next time, all had a contradictory view of the church, because on the one hand, they understood that the true church was the church of the elect, the real saints who were born again. They understood that, but they also wanted to hang on to what is called Christendom, so they wanted to insist that even the unconverted should have their infants baptized because somehow that brings them into this covenant called Christendom. Calvin held that view, too, and he wanted to, however, create this church to be a unique church here in Geneva with all of these rules.
We, of course, believe that that was a mistake for a couple of reasons. First of all, he denied people freedom of religion, and that is very, very critical to us. That did not happen in Europe until about 1648, so remember Calvin is the fifteen-hundreds, so he didn’t understand that freedom of religion was incredibly important.
Secondly, he should have known that outward conformity, even among the church folks, is often counterproductive because you have people keeping the rules, but they are not necessarily born again of the Holy Spirit. But Calvin’s impact, as we shall see in other areas, was huge.
I have to say something about the burning of Servetus because people who know nothing about Calvin want to lay on him the fact that “Calvin burned Servetus at the stake in Geneva.” (chuckles) Someday, all that is going to be straightened out too. Servetus was a heretic. He denied the Trinity. The Catholic church wanted him extradited back to his hometown so that he could be put to death there, but he fled to Geneva thinking that “surely John Calvin, the great John Calvin, will welcome me into Geneva.”
Servetus went into the cathedral and sat near the back, and Calvin met with him many, many times, urging him to mend his ways and to give up his heresy. The city council voted that Servetus should be put to death by fire. Calvin argued that it would be more humane to put him to death with the sword. You get your head cut off and death comes more quickly. He said that burning was very, very inhumane. But Calvin was overruled, and Servetus was burned at the stake. And today people lay that on Calvin.
Two comments very quickly. First, remember it was the decision of the city council, though I’m sure Calvin probably went along with it. Secondly, keep in mind that in those days, that’s what you did to heretics. You see, you and I, we can criticize very easily and say how terrible it is. We have every right to protest against the cruelty of earlier generations. For us, freedom of religion is so cardinal, but we do not have the right to single out Calvin as a mean Protestant who had a man put to death because of a doctrinal error. The fact is that throughout Europe, Catholics and Protestants persecuted and often killed those who were regarded as heretics. We cannot criticize Calvin unless we also mention the persecution of the Protestants in France and later things like the Spanish Inquisition.
I read a book on the Inquisition a few years ago. Absolutely horrible. There were cities where thousands of people were killed, and one of the men responsible for doing the killings wrote to the pope and said, “We cannot distinguish between true believers and heretics,” and the pope wrote back in a very famous letter and said, “Kill them all. God will distinguish between them.” So let’s remember those were cruel days when heretics were being burned and killed all the time. And I am going to shock all of you. If you return for these lessons on the Reformation, I’m going to tell you a story of what happened to the Re-Baptizers. You will learn something that nobody has ever told you before about persecution and about what happened after the Reformation. Unbelievable. And yet we take freedom of religion for granted. Don’t you ever take it for granted. It is a tremendous privilege.
Well, Calvin is known for two things. He’s known for the burning of Servetus. He’s also known for the doctrine of predestination. Calvin’s doctrines grew out of pastoral concerns. He knew that his people needed comfort in very difficult times, and there was no doctrine that would give them hope such as the doctrine of predestination. Calvin was very pessimistic about the human heart but he had great optimism regarding God and His purposes.
Calvin began to think about people, why some get saved and why some don’t. You’ve thought about that, haven’t you? Some of you come from families and you’re the only believer, or you have a mother who is converted and not a father. And then look at my family. My mother is one of the most godly women in the world. She spends most of her time praying. I hope she spends her time praying for her youngest son because he needs it. Okay?
She has a sister over in Germany that I remember meeting with years ago who is as hard as nails. She’s dying of cancer, and she still claims atheism, and has all of this bitterness in her heart because of the way in which she suffered.
My mother came to Canada. One of the express purposes was to find out how to be born again. Here’s a sister, ten years younger than my mother, hardhearted, and unless something happens, she’s going to die an unbeliever. Why? Calvin said, “You know, the difference is not between people, because everybody’s born dead in trespasses and sins. The difference must be found in God. It is God who elects some people to eternal life. It is God who quickens them and makes them realize their sinfulness and gives them the ability to believe.” And that’s why some people get saved and others don’t. That’s the doctrine of predestination.
Although Calvin didn’t use this example, he might have. I’m sure he agreed with it: If we’re dead in trespasses and sins...When Jesus came to the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus didn’t say, “You know, I don’t think I’m going to resurrect Lazarus until we ask him whether or not he wants to be resurrected, because he should have a choice in this. Who am I to resurrect him until he tells me he wants to be resurrected?” (chuckles) You should be smiling at this point if you’re understanding English. You don’t go to dead people and ask them whether or not they want to be resurrected. If they’re going to be resurrected, you have to make the choice. And so it’s Jesus who says, “Rise up, Lazarus. Come forth.” And Augustine said it was very good that he limited it to Lazarus because if he’d have just said, “Come forth,” the whole cemetery would have arisen.
Now, listen to the words of Jesus. I have many passages that I have highlighted here. We can’t go into them all. I’m only going to remind you. You see, the idea is this, that Calvin came up with this doctrine of predestination. Calvin. Every Christian believes in predestination. It’s how you understand it, maybe, that is different, but every Christian believes in predestination. You cannot be saved unless you believe in predestination, because it’s in so many different passages in the Bible.
Now, there’s a different understanding that some people have of it in order to soften it, but tonight let’s just look at passages and not try to soften it. Let’s just look at it the way the Bible presents it and not say too much about it.
Look at it here. Matthew, chapter 11, verses 25 to 27. In fact, let’s turn to that really quickly. You know, some of you who read your Bibles, maybe read them too quickly at times. When you read your Bible through in a year, sometimes you have to.
Eleven, twenty-five: “At that time Jesus declared, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and the understanding and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal.”
Wow. You can’t understand the Son and the Father. If you are here today and you are saved, it is because the Son chose to reveal the Father to you. If not, you are blinded.
Look at John 5:21. I won’t even turn to it. I’ll simply quote it. Jesus says, “As the Father raises up the dead and quickens them, so the Son quickens whomever he wills.” Hmm.
Act 13:48, and I’m skipping many, many verses. We could come up with a hundred if we just thought about it, but Acts 13:48: “As many as were ordained onto eternal life believed.” And if you want passages in which predestination is mentioned, the early chapters of Acts, chapter 3, chapter 5, where “it was predestined that Jesus die.”
Romans 9. Linda Gunter teaches the book of Romans here. I’m going to sneak in when she gets to the ninth chapter. Romans 9. Wow, what a chapter about God’s elected purposes, that God hardens whom He wills and God saves whom He wills. I mean there it is. Calvin didn’t write the Bible, you know. He wrote the “Institutes” but he didn’t write the Bible. He didn’t make this stuff up.
Revelation 13:8. We go to the end of the book for this. This you should really turn to. You know, Revelation chapter 13, verse 8 says, speaking of the antichrist, “And all who dwell on the earth will worship it (that is the image and the antichrist), everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slain.”
Bob Gunter, are you saved tonight? Your name was written in the book of life from before the foundation of the world.
Now, you say, “Yeah, but...” You’re a motor boater. “Yeah, but, but, but, but, but, but why do we have to witness?” Well, it’s to bring the elect to faith. (chuckles) I’m being a little hardnosed here tonight, but you need to hear this. Okay?
We have to try to understand. Calvin wasn’t... Predestination wasn’t the first thing in his book. It was just part of the doctrines that he was writing about, and today he oftentimes is spoken about as if this was his idea. Rightly understood, this doctrine of predestination is the basis of security. Calvin says, “It brings no shaking of the faith but rather faith’s confirmation. To be assured of one’s election is to be motivated to press on and become invulnerable. The doctrine also stirs zeal for evangelism since we do not know who belongs to the company of the elect. We therefore urge all men to be saved.”
And if you are here tonight and you are not saved, and you say, “Well, I don’t know whether or not I’m elect,” you come up afterwards and we can find out whether or not you are elect. But don’t complain. You get on your knees with me here and you receive Christ as Savior, and then I’ll be able to say, “Hey, you know, you’re elect.” Are we all here tonight with me?
Well, I know you’ll have some questions about that, and we won’t get into Calvin’s view of infant baptism. Some of us think he was wrong about that and other doctrines, but Calvinism... When you say, “Are you a Calvinist?” you need to understand that there are different ways to respond to that question. Some of us may be more Calvinistic in our doctrine of salvation and the sovereignty of God, but we are not Calvinistic in our understanding of the church, because as I said, Calvin had a regional idea of the church. That’s why infant baptism was a part of it. And so none of us accept everything that Calvin wrote, as if to say, “Oh Calvin wrote it, therefore we believe it.” No. We test it by the Word of God. We sift through it.
Well, let me talk about the impact of Calvinism. It is difficult to exaggerate his impact. Now, one thing I didn’t tell you about... I can’t believe why I wouldn’t have, but it fits very nicely here. Okay? Here you have Calvin establishing this Christian enclave in Geneva. You have persecution in France. You also have persecution in England. Okay? What happened is: refugees came from England and elsewhere to Geneva because it was there that the Protestants knew that they would be accepted.
When you are in Geneva today, there are buildings that are maybe four or five stories high, and above some of them there are additional stories built, and you can tell it because it’s a different architecture. Different stones, different windows, the whole bit. Those were built (and you can still see them today) to house the 6,000 refugees that came to Geneva to escape persecution. And the total population of Geneva in those days was about 13,000, so you can imagine the heavy responsibility of taking care of 6,000 refugees.
Among those refugees was a man by the name of John Knox. John Knox came from Scotland. He was involved in some of the political and spiritual dynamics there in Scotland and also England, but he came there and he studied under Calvin for two years. You can actually go into the chapel in Geneva and see where the studies were held. Calvin had all the men of Geneva come up at 5 o’clock in the morning, and he taught them the Scriptures until about 7 o’clock, and then they went on their way.
John Knox did that. And while they were there, they decided to come up with a new translation of the Bible in English because there were so many English refugees. That became known as the Geneva Bible. And when the pilgrims came from Europe to America, what Bible did they bring with them? What Bible was it that they used? They used the Geneva Bible, the English translation that was done while John Knox and others (the refugees) were in Geneva, Switzerland.
So Calvin... When you think of the Puritans today, the Puritans were basically Calvinists. The whole bit. They wanted to establish in New England essentially what Calvin had in Geneva. That’s why the Puritans were not in favor of freedom of religion. That’s why they ran Roger Williams out of New England, out of one of the colonies, and he had to go to another, because he was a Baptist. They didn’t believe in Baptists. So the impact from that standpoint was huge.
Calvinism spread to the Netherlands. You have all of the Dutch Calvinists today. You go to Holland in Michigan, you go to Grand Rapids, and you see the schools that they have there. That’s all impacted by Calvin. Whether for good or for ill, just face the reality, that’s Calvin’s impact.
But I want to mention this. When people came and listened to Calvin’s preaching, they had a desire to return to their home country and establish churches. Calvin agreed with their vision, but taught them the theology of the Reformed faith. Calvin believed that a good missionary had to be a good theologian. He not only taught the people theology, but he assessed their character. He was interested in whether or not they were willing to put their lives at risk. After they left, he maintained an ongoing relationship with these missionaries. He wrote and received hundreds of letters. He answered questions, gave personal counsel, and in short, guided the missionaries in their work in France.
All right. So you have people from France...France, of course, is French speaking, but so is Geneva, so they’d go down there. Calvin would teach them in French, and they’d go back to France and they established churches. Until a few years ago, we didn’t know how big those churches were, but just look at this. We now know the facts. By 1555 there were five churches planted in France, but in 1559, four years later, there were 100 churches, and in 1562 there were 2,000 churches in France. By 1565 it is estimated that there were three million Protestants in France. They were called Huguenots, a name whose origin is unknown. Quite probably it was given to them as a name of derision.
How large were these churches? Again, just recently a scholar who did a doctrinal dissertation and finally uncovered and translated a lot of documents in Geneva discovered this. “We now have factual evidence that at least a few churches had thousands in attendance. Letters recently discovered in Geneva say things like this, ‘From day to day we are growing. We have four to five-thousand people at worship.’ Another letter says, ‘We are obligated to preach three times on Sunday to a total of five to six-thousand people.’”
In addition, missionaries were also sent to Italy, Hungary, and Poland. Another parenthesis. Why was the Reformed faith wiped out in France? Did you know that there were so many churches growing in France that, for a time, it was believed that France might turn Protestant? And then a man came along by the name of Louis XIV. Have you ever been to Versailles? How many of you have been to Versailles? I’ll tell you, when I walked through Versailles, all that I could think of was Louis XIV. Remember... If you were there, you can see where he actually sat up in the balcony during chapel services.
Louis XIV, for various reasons, began to persecute the Huguenots in very, very terrible ways. And the Huguenots fled to Germany, primarily Berlin, where the elector Frederick received them. And they were welcomed in Germany. And today when you go to Berlin, and you listen to their German, it has French words in it because of the impact of the Huguenots.
And there’s a Huguenot church in Berlin that will take your breath away because it’s the story of the persecution of the Huguenots. Twenty thousand went to Germany and were welcomed there. And Louis wanted to put an end to Protestantism, and he believed he had done it through intense persecution. And before he died, he said that he knew that God would have to receive him into heaven because had done God a favor by stamping out Protestantism in France.
Well, some of us think that Louis XIV probably was wrong on that score. It’s a very interesting study. That would be a whole study in itself as to why Protestantism didn’t survive in France, and it almost seems as if... Sorry if you’re from France, but it almost seems as if after that period of time, God just pulled the curtain on France, and today France is one of the most secular countries in all the world.
By the way, if you have any questions for me write them down quickly because these young men over here are going to go up and down the aisles, if they would do so please, because in a few moments I’m going to be answering some of these questions.
Today we still have the Reformed faith. Many people call themselves Reformed. For example, the Presbyterians... How many of you were born and reared Presbyterian? Come on. Think fast now. Only a few? One or two little hands? I mean, if you’re a Presbyterian, I mean let’s see those hands.
Presbyterianism coming, of course, to us from John Knox in Scotland, which turned out to be one of the most Calvinistic countries in the world, all the product of the impact of John Calvin.
When Calvin died, he did not want a gravestone. When I was there in Geneva, I wanted to go to Calvin’s grave, but there is no grave to go to. They can tell you the cemetery where he is buried, but there is no gravestone. Calvin said that he didn’t want a gravestone because he didn’t want anybody traipsing to his grave. He died as a humble sinner, grateful that God had saved him and elected him to eternal life. And he wanted to have no praise from man.
I told you that he has this reputation of being such an austere person. Did you know that when they uncovered those letters, that I talked to you about, in recent years, they discovered all kinds of letters and things about Calvin that nobody knew? For example, he would write letters to people who had doubts about the Christian faith, and he would encourage them. He actually visited a woman who was dying. He would visit her every morning because her faith was very shaky, and he would read the Psalms to her and assure her of God’s promises. He was actually a very warm-hearted pastor, I think. Well, it will be interesting to see what eternity reveals.
All right, one question: As per Calvinism, God saves those He elects. I’ve been praying for my unsaved family for several years. These verses make me doubt if my prayers will be answered. What do you have to say?
Nobody has ever asked that question before. I’m smiling, because that, of course, is the normal response of people. Now, the fact that God has burdened you for your family is a very good sign that God indeed may intend to save them. Paul says, “I endure all things for the sake of the elect that they might come to faith.” There are people who have not yet come to faith, but they are elect. And let me simply say this. Because you and I... There’s a lot of mystery connected with this. I presented Calvin’s side of the argument. There’s a lot of mystery connected with this. You and I have the responsibility of praying, for believing, for trusting, for seeking God on behalf of the unsaved. But at the end of the day, we do have to acknowledge that it is in God’s hands. But if God has burdened you to pray for those who do not know Christ as Savior, I would say invite Him to share an even greater burden with you. Your prayers may be the means by which God’s will is accomplished in their lives.
I thought that there would be no questions tonight, that I was answering them all, but apparently I wasn’t.
Question: When visiting Geneva as I am going to soon, where is a good place to visit?
Oh, go to the Reformation Monument. Four big statues there of Calvin, John Knox, etc., Farel, and then you walk a couple of blocks and you’ll go to St. Pierre, Calvin’s church where he preached. And that’s the heart of the Reformation there in Geneva. I also took a bus. It was raining and I was there alone. I also took a bus. I had to go where Servetus was burned at the stake. Today, of course, there are cars going there. It’s just an intersection but there is a monument that says, “Here Servetus was burned at the stake.” It was placed there in 1903, and what it says is very interesting, but we don’t have time to talk about interesting things tonight.
Question: I know that you believe in a just God. We are told that God so loved all the world that He gave His Son. With the doctrine of predestination, it seems as if Jesus died only for a select few. What do you think?
Nobody’s ever asked that question before. We’re getting a lot of these brand new questions. You guys are asking just excellent questions.
(Sighs) Let’s go on to the next question. (laughter)
The death of Jesus Christ was sufficient for everybody. He would not have had to suffer more if there were more elect. But it seems to me that His death was intended to save God’s people. Right from the beginning, He came to save His people from their sins. But let’s remember that when we preach the Gospels, telling people “whosoever will” is absolutely Scriptural. Please don’t ever think that the doctrine of election negates “whosoever will.” Jesus said this in John 7:35 and 36. He says, “All that the Father has given me shall come to me.” That’s His expression in the Gospel of John for the elect. “All that the Father has given me shall come to me, and whoever comes I will in nowise cast out.” So when I preach the Gospel here at Moody Church, I urge people to believe. The invitation is always to everybody. I don’t know the people in whose hearts God is working, so don’t ever think it means that somebody wants to be saved and God says, “No, you can’t. You’re not elect.” That simply does not exist. If anybody wants to be saved, it’s because God has worked in their heart to bring them to faith, so we’re always urging people to believe in Christ. And that’s the tension in the New Testament. You have this side of God’s sovereignty, and you also have human responsibility. And we try to preach both, even though we don’t understand always how they relate together.
Question: When was the King James Version written and how does the Geneva Bible compare to it? Why was one written if the other was already around?
Well, why do we have many translations today? Language changes. The King James Version of the Bible was commissioned by King James. He got about fifty scholars together, and he said, “I want a good translation of the Bible.” And that was the King James. In terms of the Geneva Bible, I don’t know the sequence here but, let’s see. King James versus Geneva, John Knox. I don’t know which came first or what the exact order is. I used to know that, but you have different translations today also because language changes, etc. etc. Maybe the Geneva Bible came first and then the King James because it became the standard. Even the King James that you use today, you know, has been changed throughout the centuries because you couldn’t read the original King James. It had so many old English words. So the King James is a good translation. There are many modern translations that speak more our language.
Question: What would have been the greatest point of disagreement between Calvinism and Luther?
Excellent question. When it come to election, really there wouldn’t have been any. If you’ve read Luther’s “Bondage of the Will,” most assuredly, but they would disagree over the Lord’s Supper, Luther believing that the elements literally are the body and the blood of Christ, though they were not transubstantiated. They would also probably disagree regarding the role of the church and the state, Luther giving much more credence to the role of the state in the church. And also Calvin and Zwingli... Oh, I wasn’t going to get into this. These are such good questions. They had decided that you should only do what is prescribed by the New Testament, so they had no organs in the church. Zwingli was an organist, but there was no organ in the church. There is today, but not back then, because nowhere in the New Testament did they use musical instruments to worship, therefore musical instruments were banned. Luther took the point of view that unless it was condemned in the Scriptures or prohibited, you could do it. That’s one of the differences.
Question: How did Calvin respond to the Council of Trent?
I don’t know, but probably not that favorably. The Council of Trent was a reform movement in Catholicism to reform the church after the Reformation. The Council of Trent was 1546 I think.
Question: Why have all the churches in France died? Why don’t people in France go to church?
The church in France is dead. That’s why. The deader the church, the less people that attend. When you lose the Gospel, you have no magnet to bring people. That’s a huge story here and I’m two minutes over.
Question: How would Calvin have understood 1 Timothy 2:4? This is probably that God wills—desires that all men believe.
Yes, and that is the desire of God that all men believe, but God has lots of desires which are not fulfilled. His desire is that we walk in holiness and purity, and sometimes that desire is not fulfilled. There is a difference between that which God ultimately decrees and that which He desires. That’s probably the explanation also in 2 Peter where God is not willing that any should perish.
Question: Were many people were saved during the period from Constantine to Luther?
Boy, these questions are just superb, you folks. Really.
You did have different groups. There’s always been... I have a book in my library entitled “The Trail of Blood.” There’s always been the true believers, and even in the church that had become encrusted with tradition, there undoubtedly were believers. So God has always had His people, but quite frankly, the numbers were not that great if you look at it. It’s part of the mystery of God, isn’t it? Because God is sovereign. The Reformation could have happened earlier. You have all kinds of things that you and I don’t know. The older I get, the more mystery there is connected with God and His purposes. I don’t claim to have the answer.
Question: Is predestination related to Sola Fide?
Not necessarily. Sola Fide is faith alone saves, so you don’t have to believe in the Calvinistic doctrine of predestination to believe in Sola Fide. The difference would be that the person who looks at the Bible as Calvin did would say that the very faith by which you believe is a God-given faith, so we bring nothing to salvation except our need. Even faith is God’s gift.
Question: (Reads) All right, I already answered that question sort of.
Question: How does St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre fit into the Huguenot story?
Well, it does. St. Bartholomew’s massacre... There’s a church just outside of the Louvre in France, and that’s the church where the bells rang to give the signal for St. Bartholomew’s massacre. I was there a few years ago with my wife and I said in front of the church, “Let’s just pray right here, because it was close by here that (What was it?) something like 3,000 Protestants were put to death in the St. Bartholomew massacre. So the question is how does it relate to the Huguenots? Yeah, that’s part of the story, the Huguenots. Remember this that some of the Huguenots, when they went to their death, sang hymns so loudly that the authorities hired a band to drown out their singing. That’s how victoriously they died.
The story of the Huguenots in France is incredibly fascinating, but as I say, once Louis XIV put them out, somehow the blinds closed, and France lost the Gospel.
Thank you so much for being here tonight. I know that listening to all this, for those of you who have no background, may be a little bit like trying to drink out of a fire hydrant. But just know that we stand on the shoulders of those who have preceded us, and know that the freedom that we enjoy in America is an anomaly. Europe didn’t get it until 1648. And you and I just take it for granted, and think it’s always been this way. It hasn’t.
Wait until I tell you about the Re-Baptizers. Oh.
Let’s stand for prayer.
Father, in Jesus’ name we want to thank you for all those who are willing to die for the faith. We thank you, Father, for those who were interested in missions, those who trained pastors and those who began churches. And thank you for the great vision of the Gospel, and even though today in some countries there are few believers, we thank you, Father, that your purposes do not fail. Your purpose according to election, your Word says, stands.
Now bless us, we pray, and may we go with the confidence that if we belong to you, we belong to you forever. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.