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Calvin the Counselor

John Calvin is known today primarily for his work as a theologian. In fact, it is difficult to imagine that the man who published as many as half a million words in his most prolific years had time for anything else. But though he was an almost constant writer, he was first and foremost a committed pastor, personally involved in the lives of his flock. This aspect of his life gives the lie to many popular representations of Calvin as a hard, cold academic. While most people (who are aware of Calvin at all) are only aware of his theological works, we also have a large bodynumbering more than twelve hundredof letters. It is in these letters that we best see the pastoral character of John Calvin. W. Robert Godfrey presents an example:


imageMathieu Dimonet, a Reformed Christian from Lyon, was arrested on Jan. 9, 1553, and martyred on July 15 of that year. Shortly after his arrest, Calvin wrote to encourage him. . . .
imageYou need not be daunted, seeing that God has promised to equip his own according as they are assaulted by Satan. Only commit yourself to him, distrusting all in yourself, and hope that he only will suffice to sustain you. Further, you have to take heed chiefly to two things: first, what the side is you defend, and next, what crown is promised to those who continue steadfast in the Gospel.
   Calvin writes that Dimonets future is uncertain, but that even if he faces death, Gods love and provision are certain:
We do not know as yet what he has determined to do concerning you, but there is nothing better for you than to sacrifice your life to him, being ready to part with it whenever he wills, and yet hoping that he will preserve it, in so far as he knows it to be profitable for your salvation. And although this be difficult to the flesh, yet it is the true happiness of his faithful ones; and you must pray that it may please this gracious God so to imprint it upon your heart that it may never be effaced therefrom. For our part, we also shall pray that he would make you feel his power, and vouchsafe you the full assurance that you are under his keeping; that he bridles the rage of your enemies, and in every way manifests himself as your God and Father.
   On July 7, 1553, Calvin wrote again to Dimonet and others imprisoned with him in Lyon to assure them that God had promised them strength for what they must endure. Calvin writes, Be then assured, that God who manifests himself in time of need, and perfects his strength in our weakness, will not leave you unprovided with that which will powerfully magnify his name.

Calvin acknowledges that according to human reasoning their suffering is wrong, but he urges them to be confident in God and his purposes:

It is strange, indeed, to human reason, that the children of God should be so surfeited with afflictions, while the wicked disport themselves in delights; but even more so, that the slaves of Satan should tread us under foot, as we say, and triumph over us. However, we have wherewith to comfort ourselves in all our miseries, looking for that happy issue which is promised to us, that he will not only deliver us by his angels, but will himself wipe away the tears from our eyes. And thus we have good right to despise the pride of these poor blinded men, who to their own ruin lift up their rage against heaven; and although we are not at present in your condition, yet we do not on that account leave off fighting together with you by prayer, by anxiety and tender compassion, as fellow-members, seeing that it has pleased our heavenly Father, of his infinite goodness, to unite us into one body, under his Son, our head. Whereupon I shall beseech him, that he would vouchsafe you this grace, that being stayed upon him, you may in nowise waver, but rather grow in strength; that he would keep you under his protection, and give you such assurance of it that you may be able to despise all that is of the world.
   These two examples are only a brief sample of Calvins work of counseling as a faithful pastor. He sought always to minister the truth and comfort of Gods Word to the children of God. His counsel had both a tough realism and a sensitive compassion to it. He faced the miseries and struggles of this life straightforwardly, and he pointed Christians to Gods fatherly care both in this life and in the life to come. Above all, he encouraged Christians to look to Christ as the one who deserves the Fathers love, and he assured them that while weeping may last for the night, joy comes in the morning.

W. Robert Godfrey, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 9092

Posted 2009·06·19 by David Kjos
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Posted in: Church History · John Calvin · John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology · W Robert Godfrey
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