the audio recordings of these papers are available here:

Part III God’s Glory: ‘Soli Deo Gloria’

How would you summarise the biblical world view in four words? When I was a small child, my parents taught me the Children’s Catechism.[1] Question 2 is ‘Why did God create you and all things?’ Answer:For his own glory’. In Latin you can get this more broadly and yet more neatly into three words: Soli Deo Gloria. ‘To God be the glory and to God be all praise’ is the theme of Scripture from beginning to end. Yet, as we have seen in the previous two sessions, by the sixteenth century, God’s glorious gospel had been concealed and God’s glorious Word had been kept from the ordinary people. This assault on God’s glory had been conducted, not by pagan powers, nor by the fast-extending Moslem Empire which by 1525 had reached right up to the city of Vienna, but by the institutional Church. ‘Reformation’ is simply the word given to those who wanted to re-form the Church, to take it back to its original mission: to glorify God by calling people to be reconciled with God by means of the gospel of grace as presented in his Word.

In this session we are going to focus on John Calvin. He is sometimes demonised (remembered as the ‘Ayatollah’ of Geneva, and for a harsh version of predestination and reprobation). Or else he is glorified (and devoted followers seem to regard every word of his famous Institutes as inspired alongside Scripture). Both reactions are wrong. We can give thanks to God for Calvin’s work in systematising the central truths of the Reformation. He clearly laid out the truths of salvation in such a way as to underline that God alone receives the glory for redemption. But we should not airbrush the record. As we are looking at a theologian whose focus was on the glory of God, it would be ironic to end up glorifying him.

A. The Reformation in France: God Glorified as the Gospel was Rediscovered

John Calvin was born in 1509 in Noyon, about sixty miles north of Paris. Three years after Calvin’s birth, in 1512, a celebrated French humanist scholar, Jacques Lefevre (1455–1536), published a commentary on the Epistles of Paul. This was before Luther’s teaching impacted Europe. Lefevre, like Luther after him, discovered, from study of Scripture, free grace and justification.[2] Some of his students, including William Farel, who we will encounter later, were wonderfully converted.

In 1516, Erasmus published the Greek New Testament. This stimulated a flood of Bible translation. In 1522, Lefevre published the four Gospels in French. Two years later he published the complete New Testament in French. Gospels, and short books with the gospel message were sold by travelling peddlers, merchants and colporteurs. There was huge appetite for this literature. Many came to an assurance of salvation. When people were exposed to God’s Word in their own language, when God’s grace in the gospel was explained, and when the Holy Spirit used these means of grace for salvation, there was an explosion of joy and relief. The years from the 1520s to the 1560s were years of revival, as many in France came to saving faith.

In 1523, following an order that ‘Lutheran heretics’ should be burned, the first evangelical martyr, Jean Valliere, was burned to death. That same year, fourteen year old John Calvin arrived to pursue studies in Paris.[3] John had been brought up in a conventionally Roman Catholic household. In the last session we mentioned Luther’s cry to ‘Saint Anne’, the supposed mother of Mary. When John Calvin was a little boy, his mother took him on a pilgrimage where he was allowed to kiss a ‘holy relic’: the supposed finger of that same ‘Saint Anne’.[4] Also, when he was just a small child, his mother died. John’s father, Gerard, soon remarried. He worked for the Cathedral. An ambitious and successful man, he achieved a place on the City Council, and mixed with the local gentry.[5]

Gerard sent his son to study in Paris, first with a private tutor, then at an excellent school. John got a strong grounding in both French and Latin, and then a Theology Degree with a view to a future career in the Church. When John’s father decided that he should switch to studying law, with the prospect of a more lucrative career, he moved south to the University of Orleans in 1528,[6] and then further south again to Bourges.[7]

B. John Calvin’s Conversion: God Alone Glorified in his Salvation

Through his years of study, Calvin was exposed to biblical teaching, and sometime between 1527 and 1534 he was converted to the Reformed faith. He later wrote in the Preface to the Commentary on the Psalms of having been ‘obstinately devoted to the superstitions of Popery’. He remembered having being stuck in ‘an abyss of mire’. But then, God ‘subdued and brought my mind to a teachable frame.’[8] Note the emphasis on God’s initiative: ‘God subdued and brought my mind to a teachable frame’. Calvin’s convictions about divine election were rooted in Scripture, but also in his own experience. He had been locked into a superstitious and proud reliance on works, but God intervened to rescue him. In a later work, Calvin reflected on the conviction of sin he had experienced. He had tried good works, penance, all that the Church prescribed. But he knew that he could not face God’s righteous wrath:

‘When, however, I had performed all these things, though I had some intervals of quiet, I was still far-off from true peace of conscience; for, whenever I descended into myself, or raised my mind to you, O God, extreme terror seized me—terror which no expiations or satisfactions could cure.’[9]

John Calvin now knew the joy of salvation.

In 1531, Calvin’s father died, and he was now free to make his own decisions. John didn’t want to be a priest or a lawyer. He wanted to be a life-long student. He returned to Paris where he published his first book, a commentary on a work by the Roman Philosopher Seneca.[10] In God’s providence, by this time, the tapestry of different experiences had equipped Calvin with an almost incomparable education, embracing, among other areas: logic, law, classical and biblical languages, theology, the early fathers and rhetoric. God had given him all the academic and intellectual preparation he would need for his life work.

By this time, one of his friends, Nicholas Cop, was Rector of the University of Paris. On All Saints’ Day, 1533,[11] Nicholas delivered the Annual Address to a huge congregation.[12] Instead of the usual homily in praise of the Saints and Holy Mother Church, Cop preached God’s Word and God’s grace. The Sorbonne reacted furiously, and demanded Cop’s arrest. Cop fled for his life. John had to flee as well, having been lowered by friends from his window on a rope made of sheets. For a while John lived underground in Paris, and met secretly with a group of Reformed believers. He then moved down to Poitiers, where he ministered to a secret Protestant congregation which met in a cave deep in the woods. A flat rock served as the Lord’s Table. The Holy Spirit was powerfully present.

Later that year, on the morning of October 19th 1534, the citizens of Paris awoke to find their city covered with posters entitled: ‘True articles on the horrible, great and intolerable Abuses of the Popish Mass, invented in direct opposition to the Holy Supper of our Lord’. A poster was even put on the bedroom door of King Francis I. Similar placards mysteriously appeared in many other French towns. Appalling vengeance was taken on anyone suspected of sympathising with reform, whether or not they had anything to do with the placards. Many were horrifically tortured and killed. Many fled.

John Calvin escaped, first to Strasbourg, then to Basel. By now a strong reform movement had spread through Switzerland.[13] Calvin knew he would be welcome in Basel.[14] It was one of the chief centres of the new learning in Europe. Erasmus and other great scholars lived there, it was also famous for its printing presses. By now, Calvin was looking for a printer for his newly written manual for Reformed believers.

C. Calvin’s Institutes: The Universe a Theatre to display God’s Glory

The famous Institutes was written for two reasons (The Latin title simply means ‘Instruction’). After the posting of Reformed placards in France in 1534, King Francis I accused French Protestants of being political rebels intent on overthrowing the government. In 1536 Calvin dedicated his first edition of his Institutes to Francis I. He aimed to show that the Reformed believers were in the historic Christian tradition, and not a threat to royal authority. He defended them from Francis I’s false accusations. The book failed in its first intent. The King was not persuaded. Persecution continued.

The second reason for writing was to provide a brief manual to instruct new believers. The Institutes laid out the biblical and apostolic doctrines of the reformation. As befitted a situation of persecution, the first edition was small enough to fit into a coat pocket.[15] The book was spectacularly successful in this second intent, and Calvin continued to work on it until the end of his life. From six chapters it grew, going through both Latin and French editions, until it reached eighty chapters in four volumes. No longer able to fit in a coat pocket, it became one of the great classics of church history.

Book I explores the Glory of God the Creator. The entire cosmos displays the glory of God. The heavens and earth and the progress of history are the dazzling theatre in which God’s glory is displayed.[16] God has crammed this world with good to bless all people. This is sometimes referred to as ‘common grace’ or ‘everyday grace’, God’s kindness to all.[17] We are to trust this good God. We are here on earth to advance his glory. And we are to recognise that he is glorified in judging the wicked as well as in salvation.[18]

Book II deals with the Glory of Christ the Redeemer.  We are made in God’s image, and created to know and worship God, but we are fallen.[19] Christ our Mediator provides us with all we need for salvation. I need Christ as my prophet, for I am ignorant. I need Christ as my priest, for I am guilty. I need Christ as my King, for I am weak and helpless.

Book III explains the Glory of the work of the Spirit and salvation. To pre-empt the Catholic accusation that the doctrine of Justification leads to an immoral life, Calvin explained faith, new birth and sanctification before going on to justification. He then dealt with prayer, and only then explained the doctrines of election and reprobation. It is these doctrines that Calvin is normally remembered for. He demonstrates both truths clearly from Scripture, showing that they magnify God’s glory. Election is God’s sovereign choice of some people to be saved. That necessarily means that he sovereignly decided to pass over others. Reprobation is the theological term given to that. God is glorified in judgment. The first time God’s glory is directly mentioned in Scripture is in relation to his judgment on Pharaoh and his troops at the Red Sea:

Who is like you? Majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders? You stretched out your right hand and the earth swallowed them. (Exodus 15:11)

In Isaiah 63:1-6 the Saviour is exalted in his beauty, as he makes wrongs right, judges the wicked, and ‘tramples the nations in his anger.’ God alone is glorified in salvation. We can take no credit whatsoever. We should comment here about the so-called ‘Five Points’ of Calvinism. They are sometimes referred in the form of an acrostic: T for total depravity, U for unconditional election, L for limited atonement, I for irresistible grace and P for perseverance of the saints.

Calvin didn’t formulate these truths in precisely these terms, although each of those doctrines is found in the Institutes.[20] When was ‘TULIP’ systematised?

Calvin died in 1564, but arguments soon arose in the Reformed churches about predestination. A theologian called Jacob Arminius[21] questioned Calvin’s teaching. A church council was held in the Netherlands in 1618–1619[22] to discuss this. The Synod of Dort rejected Arminius’ views, and set out the Reformed doctrine of salvation in a series of propositions that are often referred to as ‘the Five points of Calvinism’.

Total Depravity (Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 3:10-18)

This does not mean that every human being is as evil as it is possible to be. Calvin acknowledged that God sometimes blessed non-believers with extraordinary gifts and wisdom, often for the benefit of others.[23] It does mean that every aspect of our being, our mind, affections and will, are corrupted by sin, and have a bent towards worshipping things other than our Creator.[24]

Unconditional Election (Ephesians1:4,11-12; 2:10; John 15:16; Acts 13:48; 2 Thessalonians 2:13)

We are dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1), and it is God who saves us, not on the basis of anything we have done to win his favour (Ephesians 1:8-10).[25]

Limited Atonement (Ephesians 5:25; Isaiah 53:5; John 17:24)

As the word ‘limited’ carries negative connotations, many suggest that a better way of wording this is ‘definite’ or ‘particular’ redemption. In this way a correct emphasis is laid on  God’s positive, gracious, unmerited saving work. When Christ died on the cross, he died to purchase a people for himself. Christ gave himself up for the Church (Ephesians 5:25). He was wounded for ‘our’ transgressions (Isaiah 53:5). While the offer of the gospel is to be extended to all[26] (‘Whoever comes I will never cast away’); Christ’s death actually saves his own people (‘all that the Father give me will come to me’, John 6:37).

Irresistible Grace (John 6:37)

God’s work of salvation involves raising the dead to life. When God commands us to repent, he gives the grace to his people to respond. His grace is ‘effectual’ in the salvation of his people: it ‘effects’ or brings about the salvation he plans to give as a free gift.[27] Acknowledging this gives God the glory for salvation.[28]

Perseverance of the Saints (John 6:39; 10:28)

God’s saving power is also his keeping power. He does not rescue – and then cast off.[29] This is an immense encouragement. If God has saved us, he will keep us. The one who truly believes cannot fall away. Believers have to guard against the danger of backsliding which can even lead to apostasy. If someone does fall away, it is an indication that they were never truly born again in the first place. The parable of the sower makes it clear that many can make a convincing profession, but it is superficial, not a true heart work of grace.

When the Bible presents the truth of God’s total sovereignty, it always places it alongside the truths of human responsibility and the free offer of the gospel. When Jesus teaches: ‘all that the Father give me will come to me’, he goes on to say: ‘And whoever comes to me I will never cast away.’ (John 6:37-8). A good book to explain this is JI Packer’s Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. Chapter thirty-two of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology clearly explains the doctrines of election and reprobation, outlining and answering objections and misunderstandings.[30] Grudem provides references to books with opposing views, as there are genuinely and conscientiously held differences of opinion among Evangelicals on these doctrines.

Book IV dealt with The Glory of God in the Church and in the World, explaining the Church, the sacraments, and Civil Government.

The heart desire throughout the Institutes is everyone should glorify God by a life of adoring worship for the wonder of his work in creation, redemption and all of human history. The certain hope expressed throughout this great work is that God’s purposes in this world for his glory will be completed. The pattern of faith and worship that came to be known as ‘Calvinism’ was, above all, confident.[31] Often when ‘Reformed’ theology’ is mentioned today, it is taken to mean a belief in the five points of Calvinism (God’s sovereignty in Salvation). But that is only part of a greater whole: divine sovereignty in all things, understood in such a way as to give God the glory for all things. Emphasising the smaller part of the whole (divine sovereignty in salvation), means that sometimes over-zealous followers of Calvin have presented the biblical truth of divine sovereignty, without placing it alongside the biblical truth of human responsibility. Historically, this led to ‘hyper-Calvinism’, which sometimes led to passivity in evangelism.

But Calvin’s life and mission in the years following 1536, show that far from inhibiting mission, his convictions about God’s sovereignty motivated his passion for the extension of God’s kingdom.

D. Calvin in Geneva: The Glory of God in the Church

Calvin’s Ministry in Geneva 1536-8 and 1541-64

In 1536, Calvin, aged twenty-seven, had just published the first edition of the Institutes in Latin. That same year, when travelling through Geneva, he was recruited to help reform that city. Geneva was a prosperous city state, situated on a key trading route. It was in the process of asserting freedom from rule by the neighbouring Catholic Italian state of Savoy. The Mass was officially banned in May 1536. A leading figure in the reform movement had been the Frenchman William Farel. When Farel heard that Calvin was passing through Geneva he knew that this gifted young man, who had written the nearest thing the reformed faith had to a text book, could be a key ally in pushing forward reform. Farel found the inn where Calvin was lodging, and asked Calvin about his future plans.  Calvin explained his intention to continue study and writing in Strasbourg. Farel tried to persuade him to change plans. Failing to persuade, he resorted to threats. Calvin  describes what happened:

‘Farel detained me at Geneva not so much by counsel and exhortation as by a dreadful curse . . . He proceeded to utter the imprecation that God would curse my retirement and the tranquillity of my studies which I sought, if I should withdraw and refuse to help when the necessity was so urgent. By this imprecation I was so terror-struck that I gave up the journey I had undertaken.’[32]

He stayed. Farel and Calvin began implementing reform. They were working on the model of a territorial church. Geneva was ruled by a series of Councils. Religious conformity was demanded from the citizens, who did not always take kindly to this. As the Councils were democratically elected, the citizens had the final say.

Calvin’s first job description was Reader in Holy Scripture. The City Council[33] agreed to pay him and he delivered a daily exposition in the Cathedral.[34] He also prepared draft ‘Articles’ for the church, which were accepted by the Council in March 1537.[35] He then prepared a Reformed Confession of faith which was presented to the Council of Two Hundred and signed. In May 1537 the Council agreed that every household should get a Confession, and that everyone should declare agreement individually. Calvin urged that anyone who refused to swear to the Confession of Faith should be banished. There was huge resistance among many citizens.[36] When the time came to come and sign, large numbers did not show up.[37] When the Council of 200 confirmed the decree that those who did not sign should be banished, this sparked revolt. Forcing allegiance to the Reformed faith was not working. The Councils could not carry the populace with them. They expelled Calvin and Farel.

Interlude in Strasbourg 1538-41

For three years, Calvin pastored a French refugee congregation in Strasbourg. He organised the church in a biblical fashion. While in Strasbourg, Calvin was persuaded by his friends to get married. At first reluctant, he married a widow, Idelette De Bure in 1540. John and Idelette had a baby boy, who died in infancy. In 1541 Calvin was invited to return to Geneva after some of his friends gained control of the council there, and he remained there until his death in 1564.

Church Life and Worship

Calvin organised the church by instituting four offices: Doctors taught doctrine (this was Calvin’s role); pastors preached (Calvin also functioned as a pastor); elders decided on cases of church discipline and deacons administered poor relief.

Calvin believed that God is glorified when we worship him only in ways that Scripture commands (often referred to as the ‘regulative principle’). This went further than Lutheranism. Luther said that only what Scripture directly forbids should be avoided (often referred to as the ‘normative principle’). For example, Scripture does not explicitly forbid kneeling to take the Lord’s Supper so Luther permitted this. Calvin taught that as we are not commanded to do this, we should not import human traditions into divine worship.

Calvin believed that God-glorifying worship must be simple. In the Old Covenant, God’s people were given visual aids, but in the age of the Spirit these are obsolete. He did believe that a liturgical structure was helpful: his order of service moved from confession to praise to preaching to intercessions to communion. He taught that worship involves Christians ascending into heaven by faith. During the Lord’s Supper, the believer communes with Christ in heaven. Worship must be conducted with reverence, a rightful fear of God. The Word is always to be central, for that is how the Living God speaks to us. Calvin preached eight or nine times every two weeks, and he preached systematically through books of the Bible. Calvin taught that a true Church exists where the Word is preached and the sacraments (baptism and communion) are administered.

As a ‘magisterial’ Reformer, Calvin expected that all citizens of Geneva should present their children for ‘baptism’, and all citizens were to outwardly conform to reformed orthodoxy or be punished. Many in Calvin’s congregation were not true believers at all, and resented being forced to conform, a resentment which could erupt in criticism and opposition.

The preaching in Geneva was powerful. The order of worship was God-glorifying. But  Calvin found church in Geneva a very different experience from the gathered group of persecuted believers he had pastored in France, or even the gathered group of refugee believers he had pastored in Strasbourg. The Genevans were, in his view, a recalcitrant and often rebellious mass of citizens to be brought into line by means of clear teaching. We don’t find Calvin expressing deep love for this church as a church family. He became an enforcer, rather than a servant leader.[38] When Calvin was dying, worn out at the age of fifty-four the church leaders and the civic leaders came to his death bed. His farewell to the ministers is sad to read. He had tried to make a God-honouring church out of a group of people many of whom were plainly unregenerate. It had been a losing battle.[39]

John Knox is often quoted as saying that Geneva was ‘the most perfect school of Christ to be found on earth since the time of Christ himself’. We need to remember that Knox was part of the English-speaking congregation in Geneva, made up of those who had fled Queen Mary’s persecution. This was a gathered group of some of the most committed, godly, devoted and zealous believers of the day. It is no wonder that the fellowship was sweet, and Knox looked back on his time in Geneva with deep joy. We should not confuse that gathered church with the mass of Genevan citizens.

We should comment here on the burning of Michael Servetus in 1553. This man denied the Trinity. He was not a citizen of Geneva, but while on the run from those who wished to arrest him for heresy, he made the mistake of visiting Geneva. Once his presence was known, Calvin was active in his arrest and imprisonment. In Geneva, the legal maximum punishment for heresy for a non-resident was to be banished. But Calvin and the civic authorities wanted to make an example of Servetus as a proof of their orthodoxy. The Council consulted with other Cantons in Switzerland, who urged that Servetus be punished severely. The Council sentenced him to death by burning, Calvin would have preferred him to be executed, and wrote to his friend William Farel expressing that view.[40] In his reply, Farel rebuked him:

‘In desiring to mitigate the severity of his punishment, you act the part of a friend to a man who is most hostile to you.’[41]

Sevetus was burned to death. This harsh treatment won Geneva, and Calvin, credit in the eyes of both Catholic and Protestant powers. Calvin received many letters approving what had happened. When the Lutheran Reformer Melanchthon wrote to congratulate him, Calvin replied:

‘Your letter, most renowned sir, was grateful to me . . . because in it I find a magnificent eulogium, in which you commend my zeal in crushing the impiety of Servetus.’[42]

Then a denunciation of the burning was published anonymously. This included the words:

‘Who would not mistake the Christ for a Moloch, or some such god if indeed he delights in human sacrifice . . . ? Imagine him to be present, in the capacity of constable, to announce the sentence and light the fire!’[43]

A defence of the burning was published, entitled Whether Heretics should be punished by the Civil Rulers, written probably by Calvin’s colleague Beza. The proof texts were all from the Old Testament. Beza could not find New Testament justification for the civil magistrate to burn heretics, so he resorted to this:

‘With what power, pray did Peter put to death Ananias and Sapphira? And with what power did Paul strike Elymas blind? Was it with the power that is vested in the Church? Of course not! Well then it must have been with the power that is vested in the magistrate, there being no third kind of power.’[44]

This is surely one of the most desperate examples of forced exegesis in church history.  The dark side of the magisterial Reformers’ belief in the territorial church was the willingness to use coercion in religion, and the refusal to allow freedom of conscience.

E. The training of missionaries for France: The Glory of God in Mission

We turn now, positively, to Calvin’s concern for evangelism and church planting in his native France. Geneva was a haven of refuge to Protestants fleeing persecution. By 1560 its population was 21,000, of whom perhaps more than half were refugees.[45] Geneva was not just a refuge. It was a training ground. In 1559, the Geneva Academy was founded, under the theologian and psalm-translator Theodore Beza. This academy:

‘. . . attracted students from all over Europe . . within six years, there were around 1,600 students . . it sent out an ever-growing army of Reformed believers to spread the faith in other lands – particularly France.’[46]

The first missionary pastor was sent from Geneva to France in 1555. Many more were sent in subsequent years.[47] Their ministry was risky: many were captured and killed. But the mission trips were very fruitful. Many members of the French nobility were converted,[48] and they allowed Protestant congregations to meet on their lands. By 1562, there were around two million members of Reformed churches in France (by this time the name given to them was ‘Huguenots’, a name that probably originated in Geneva). It is estimated that perhaps 50% of the entire upper and middle class were converted, and 10% of the entire population.

Calvin saw the production of literature as key to spreading the gospel: huge amounts were taken into France. Printing became a major industry in Geneva.[49] Presses were running night and day. Thirty-four were operating by 1563. There were large paper mills, and ink-making plants. As many as half of the Genevan population was employed in the industry.[50] Especially popular among the works smuggled into France were little books of Psalms.[51] They could be memorised and sung by those who could not read. To avoid arrest, the incriminating text could be dispensed with.

‘The French believers loved them. They sang them in their secret meetings, they sang them at home, they sang them even when they were being tortured, they sang them when they were manacled to oars in the galleys. The Psalter was so popular that it went through 62 editions in 3 years. It sold like wildfire and many were saved through it.’[52]

Church historian Diarmaid MacCulloch writes

‘The Psalms were customarily sung in unison to a large range of dedicated tunes . . . the words of a particular psalm could be associated with a particular melody – even to hum the tune spoke of the words of the psalm behind it and was an act of Protestant subversion. A mood could be summoned up in an instant: Psalm 68 led a crowd into battle, Psalm 124 led to victory, Psalm 115 scorned dumb and blind idols and made the perfect accompaniment for smashing up church interiors. The psalms could be sung in worship or in the market place; instantly they marked out the singer as a Protestant, and equally instantly united a Protestant crowd in ecstatic companionship just as the football chant does today . . . they were the common property of all . . .’[53]

Persecution was stepped up in France when the Chambre Ardente (‘Burning Chamber’) was established in 1547, and the civil magistrates given power to arrest and burn heretics. By the 1550s, large numbers had suffered terrible tortures or death, or had been sent to the galleys, or had fled abroad. Willingness to suffer, and joy in death, was one of the key elements in the power and spread of the Reformed faith.

Eventually, attacks on the Huguenots became more and more intense, no longer carried out by the civil authorities, but by the mob. Most famously on St Bartholomew’s day, 24 August 1572, thousands of Huguenots in Paris and elsewhere in France were brutally tortured and murdered. In this context there was agonised discussion as to whether Huguenots could take up arms to defend themselves against violence. Both Calvin and Beza cautiously allowed that it might be possible to see ‘lesser magistrates’ as given the responsibility by God to protect against tyranny. Resistance could therefore sometimes be seen as lawful. The careful and measured debates over the question of just resistance and the writings on this subject from the Huguenots contributed significantly to the development of constitutional democracy in the UK, the Netherlands, the USA and elsewhere.[54]

Over the next century or so, there were some windows of time when intense persecution eased and the Huguenots were tolerated in France. In these years they proved themselves to be exemplary citizens, excelling in agriculture, wine-making, industry, engineering, and the fine arts such as embroidery, jewellery making, furniture making, and lace making. When King Louis XIV ended toleration by revoking the Edict of Nantes in 1685, hundreds of thousands of Huguenots fled from France. They enriched all the communities they settled in. They truly lived out the Reformation vision that all of life is to be lived out for God’s glory.[55]

F. The Supremacy of God’s Glory

The triumph of faith – Marie Durand

As a young teenager I remember being taken to see the Tower of Constance which is built into the walls of a French town called Aigues Mortes. In the later seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, it was used to imprison Huguenot girls and women. They were shut up in horrible conditions, but at any time if they recanted their faith they would be set free. Many remained for decades rather than deny Christ. Famously, Marie Durand, imprisoned in 1730 at the age of fifteen, endured this vile imprisonment for thirty-eight years. She was the youngest prisoner, but encouraged the other women, kept up their spirits, and helped those who could not read or write by writing letters for them and reading to them. You can still see the word she scratched on the wall of the prison: resister (‘resist’). Despite her terrible situation, she loved God and loved others, and sought to bring glory to God.

Or, consider another teenage girl, Ann Hassletine. She was converted at the beginning of the nineteenth century in America. She was so gripped with the reality of the glory of God that she longed for everyone on earth to praise him. Here’s an extract from her diary, written when she was just sixteen:

‘My chief happiness now consisted in contemplating the moral perfections of the glorious God. I longed to have all intelligent creatures love him.’[56]

Shortly afterwards, she and her husband Adoniram Judson were among the fist group of American overseas missionaries, sailing over to Burma to proclaim God’s glory and share the gospel there. Their ministry was hugely effective, and left a lasting legacy.

God’s Glory – confidence for all of history

If God is all sovereign, then we can be confident that he is working all of history for his own ends and to his own glory. Jonathan Edwards was not only one of the greatest revival preachers, but also one of the greatest theologians of all time. In his book Concerning the End for Which God Created the World, he shows from Scripture that the reason for God’s creation of the world was was the display of his own glory. The End for Which God Created the World is reproduced in full in John Piper’s book, God’s Passion for His Glory.[57] God is glorified in all his works – in creation, in redemption, and in judgment. As the apostle John wrote:

Great and Marvellous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and True are your ways, King of the Ages. Who will not fear you O Lord and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy, All nations will come and worship before you for your righteous acts have been revealed. (Revelation 15:3-4).

Soli Deo Gloria


[1] A Catechism for Boys and Girls, Carey Publications/Reformation Today Trust, first published 1969, reprinted by Tentmaker Publications,

[2] Frederick Hodgson, ‘Reformation at Meaux’, Reformation Today 221, January/February 2008, pp7-14. ‘It is God who gives us, by faith, that righteousness, which by grace alone, justifies to eternal life.’ (Lefevre), ibid p10.

[3] Timothy George, Theology of the Reformers, p169 . For a discussion of dating (which is disputed) see T.H.L. Parker, John Calvin, Lion Publishing, 1975, pp186-191.

[4] Timothy George, Theology of the Reformers, p172.

[5] THL Parker, John Calvin, Lion Publishing, 1975, pp4-5. For some years it seems that the young John actually lodged with a nearby noble family. Through his life, though he was naturally shy, this upbringing meant that John was ‘polished, self-assured, independent, one not out of place at the tables of the great’.

[6] Timothy George, Theology of the Reformers, p171.

[7] Timothy George, Theology of the Reformers, p171. Here, Calvin also took Greek classes with a German lecturer, Melchior Wolmar, who was a committed Lutheran.

[8] John Calvin, Commentary on the Psalms, Preface, written in Geneva 1557,  Ultimate Christian Library, The John Calvin Collection, Commentaries, The Book of Psalms, translated James Anderson, Volume 1, p30.

[9] This is an extract from a prayer contained in Calvin’s Letter to Sadoleto. Robert Godfrey argues that the prayers contained in this work are so vivid that they probably describe Calvin’s own spiritual journey. Robert Godfrey, Pilgrim and Pastor, Crossway, 2009, chapter 1.

[10] The commentary was on De Clementia.

[11] Sixteen years to the day since Luther posted the 95 Theses.

[12]  Ultimate Christian Library, The John Calvin Collection, Theodore Beza, Life of Calvin. Beza claimed that Calvin himself wrote Cop’s sermon, p15.

[13] Rodney Stark, For the Glory of God, pp92-3. Five out of fourteen Swiss Cantons became Protestant, and five out of six Free cities. By the time Calvin was looking for refuge in 1534, Zurich, Basel, and Berne were all controlled by reform-minded councils.

[14] Calvin’s cousin, Pierre Robert Olivetian lived there, so did his old friend, Nicolas Cop.

[15] The six chapters covered 1. The Commandments, Law and the Gospel, the knowledge of sin and salvation. 2. Faith, specifically justification by faith alone. 3. Prayer, The Lord’s Prayer, and the importance of communication between the believer and God. 4 and 5. True and False sacraments. 6. Christian freedom and the Church.

[16] The edition of the Institutes in common use is the 2 volume edition edited by John T McNeill, translated by Ford Lewes Battles, Westminster Press, 1960. I provide volume number and page numbers to this edition, followed by Calvin’s own Book/chapter/section numbers to help those using other editions. ‘The Universe is founded as a spectacle of God’s Glory’, (vol. 1, p58; Book 1, Chapter V, Section 5).

[17] Nick Needham, Common Grace, The Christian Institute,

[18] ‘The pious mind . . . sees Him to be a righteous judge’ (vol. 1, p42;  Book I, Chapter II, Section 2).

[19] Original sin is a ‘hereditary depravity and corruption of our nature, diffused into all parts of the soul . . . we are so vitiated and perverted in every part of our nature that by this great corruption we stand justly condemned and convicted before God.’  (vol. 1, p251; Book II, Chapter I, Section 8).

[20] The depravity of humanity and the bondage of the will are presented in the Institutes Book II, and the truths of predestination and election, including reprobation, in the Institutes Book III.

[21] Their ideas were published in a Remonstrance in 1610, hence they became known as Remonstrants.

[22] Also known as the Synod of Dort or the Synod of Dordrecht. Dort was a contemporary English term for the town of Dordrecht (and it remains the local colloquial pronunciation).

[23] ‘The mind of man, though fallen and perverted from wholeness, is nevertheless clothed and ornamented with God’s excellent gifts’, (Institutes vol. 1, p273; Book II, Chapter II, Section 15).

[24] Institutes (vol. 1, p251; Book II, Chapter I, Section 8).

[25] Institutes (vol.2, pp920-987; Book III, Chapters XXI -XXIV).

[26] Institutes, (vol. 2, p943; Book III, Chapter XXII, section 19), ‘The universality of God’s invitation and the particularity of election.

[27] The bondage of the will is discussed in the Institutes (vol. 1, pp255-268; Book II, chapter II, Sections 1-10). Man’s inability to ‘choose Grace’ is dealt with in the Institutes,(vol. 1, pp296-299; Book II, Chapter III, sections 6-7).

[28] ‘If even the least ability came from ourselves, we would also have some share of the merit . . . It is as if he [the Psalmist] were saying that not a whit remains to man to glory in, for the whole of salvation comes from God’. Institutes,  (vol. 1, p298; Book II, Chapter III, Section 6).

[29] Discussed in the Institutes, (vol. 2, pp971-974; Book III, Chapter XXIV, section 6, ‘Christ bestows upon his own the certainty that their election is irrevocable and lasting’; and section 7, ‘He who truly believes cannot fall away’.)

[30] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, IVP, 1994, pp669-691.

[31] Robert Godfrey, Calvin: Pilgrim and Pastor, Introduction. A Roman Catholic Spanish soldier in the Netherlands observed some years after Calvin’s death that he would rather face a whole army than one Calvinist convinced he was doing the will of God.

[32] John Calvin, Commentary on the Psalms, Preface, written in Geneva 1557,  Ultimate Christian Library, The John Calvin Collection, Commentaries, The Book of Psalms, translated James Anderson, Volume 1John Calvin, p32.

[33] The civil government of Geneva, once the Prince Bishop was expelled, was designed to be democratic, in that a large number of citizens were part of civil government. 1 The magistrates or Syndics were voted in by all the citizens. Four were chosen each January (and they could be re-elected). 2 Little Council (sometimes just referred to as ‘the Council’). This conducted the daily routine of public business. It was made up of the four Syndics plus the four from the previous year (which might be less than 8 in total if any had been re-elected), plus a treasurer and two secretaries. Then they chose more men to make a total of 25. (In 1530 this job of choosing the ‘extra’ members passed from the Syndics to the Council of 200). It met 3 times a week. They controlled foreign affairs, imposition of the death sentence, the public mint, craft regulation, sanitation, other public business and justice in civil and criminal cases. 3 Council of 50 (later increased to 60) chosen by Little Council to act as their advisers. 4 Council of 200. This held legislative power, and came into being in 1527. It assembled at least once a month to vote on legislation, grant pardon to convicted criminals, and to elect members of small council each February. 5 General Assembly, or General Council. All male citizens. Met twice a year to approve legislation and elect Syndics. It was this popular assembly that voted in favour of the Reformation. Civil jurisdiction was handled by a Lieutenant of Justice, the chief civil judge, and four auditors. Appeal could be made to the Little Council which functioned as Court of Appeal for civil cases. This Little Council dealt with criminal cases – and appeal could go to the Council of 200. Thus, although it was a democracy, power was focussed in self-perpetuating councils. It was through the various councils that tension emerged between the Reformers and the people.  FWJ van Zyl, unpublished thesis, John Calvin and the City of Geneva, University of Port Elizabeth, 1968, p. 22.

[34] Van Zyl, op. cit, p22.

[35] 1 The church should be a Kingdom of Christ on earth; communion should not be given to the unworthy; the church had the right to excommunicate, although the wording here was ambiguous enough to infer that either the Council or Church having the power. 2 Congregational psalm singing. 3 Catechism to instruct youth. 4 Scriptural practice relating to marriage.

[36] van Zyl, op.cit. p24.

[37] van Zyl, op. cit. pp25-28.

[38] Timothy George, Theology of the Reformers, p. 168. Tellingly, when one French refugee who had fled to Geneva because of his faith met Calvin in the street of Geneva, he greeted him as ‘Brother Calvin’. Calvin was having none of it. He rebuked the man, telling him that he was to be addressed as ‘Monsieur Calvin’. ibid.

[39] Letters of John Calvin, Banner of Truth, 1980, pp258-261.

[40] Ages Software: The John Calvin Collection, Selected Works of John Calvin, Tracts and Letters, ed. Henry Beveridge and Jules Bonnet, Vols 4-7, Letters 1528-1564. Letter 393, Calvin to Farel, written from Geneva, August 20, 1553. ‘I hope that sentence of death will at least be passed on him; but I desire that the severity of the punishment be mitigated’.

[41] Ages Software: The John Calvin Collection, Selected Works of John Calvin, Tracts and Letters, ed. Henry Beveridge and Jules Bonnet, Vols 4-7, Letters 1528-1564. Footnote to Letter 393 to Farel.

[42] Ages Software: The John Calvin Collection, Selected Works of John Calvin, Tracts and Letters, ed. Henry Beveridge and Jules Bonnet, Vols 4-7, Letters 1528-1564. Letter 393, To Melanchthon, From Calvin, written at Geneva 5 March 1555.

[43] Quoted G.H. Williams, The Radical Reformation, p629. All Beza could say in response: ‘Of all the blasphemous and impudent gabs!’ Leonard Verduin, The Reformers and their Stepchildren, p55.

[44]  Leonard Verduin, The Reformers and their Stepchildren, p54.

[45]   L. Lupton, History of the Geneva Bible, The Olive Tree, 1972, vol. 4, p9.

[46]   N.R. Needham, 2000 Years of Christ’s Power, Part Three, Renaissance and Reformation, Grace Publications, 2004, p235.

[47] Jonathan Bayes, ‘Calvin, the Missionary’, Reformation Today, 231, pp3-22; p. 13. Before a missionary was sent out, he had to pass a rigorous examination before the Company of Pastors – who tested his theological orthodoxy; ‘his linguistic ability (he had to be able to interpret the Scriptures from the original texts), his preaching and rhetorical ability, and his moral calibre. Prospective missionaries were given practical experience in village churches. They had to be physically strong enough for the rigours of underground work.’ Frederick Hodgson, ‘The Evangelisation of France in the mid-sixteenth century’, Reformation Today, 224, pp21-32. The strategy of Geneva was not just ‘evangelism’ but the constitution and nurturing of what they called ‘dressed churches’, under the leadership of elders and deacons as exemplified in Geneva.’The French Reformed Church with its consistory of elders and deacons and discipline was established in Paris in 1555. . . within the space of seven years there were 2,150 dressed churches in France . . . Pierre Viret . . . was preaching to 8,000 communicants in Nimes by 1561. The years 1555-1562 saw an ‘unprecedented explosion both of conversions to the Reformed faith and the establishment of formally organised congregations.’ ibid. pp22-3.

[48] Jonathan Bayes, ‘Calvin, the Missionionary’, Reformation Today, 231, pp. 3-22, p11.

[49] Jonathan Bayes, ‘Calvin, the Missionionary’, Reformation Today, 231, pp. 3-22, p14.

[50]   L. Lupton, History of the Geneva Bible, volume IV, p33.

[51] The first version of metrical Psalms in French was produced by Clemens Marot, (1497-1594) in 1543.

[52]   ‘The Huguenots’, lecture by Geraint Lloyd at the Heath Evangelical Church, Cardiff, Needham, NR, 2000 Years of Christ’s Power, Part Three, Renaissance and Reformation, Grace Publications, 2004, p230.

[53]   D. MacCulloch, Reformation: Europe’s House Divided, Penguin, 2003, pp308. See plate 21b, following p596 for a facsimile of a tiny Beza Psalter.

[54] Marvin Olasky, ‘The Secular Script in the Theater of God: Calvin on the Christian Meaning of Public Life,’ With Calvin in the Theater of God, Crossway, 2010, pp97-109.

[55] The Huguenots, The Christian Institute,

[56] S. James, Ann Judson, Evangelical Press, 2015, p27.

[57] accessed 21/4/2017. The philosophical section at the beginning can be skipped over, to reach the more accessible biblical section.