Calvin’s Preaching: God’s Providence Gets in the Way

The Sovereign God had different plans for Calvin than he had for himself. Troop movements resulting from a war in the area blocked the road to Strasbourg and Calvin and his party were forced to detour through Geneva. “In retrospect, one has to marvel at the providence of God that he should so arrange armies to position his pastors where he wanted them.”[1] Although he intended to stay only one night, he ended up staying for the rest of his life, with the exception of a two-and-a-half-year period from 1538-1541.

Geneva was a stronghold of the Reformation and although he had tried to keep his identity as author of the Institutes a secret, someone made his presence and identity known and upon hearing this, Guillaume (William) Farel visited Calvin. Calvin later said that Farel “[…] detained me at Geneva, not so much by counsel and exhortation, as by a dreadful curse, which I felt to be as if God from heaven laid his mighty hand upon me to arrest me.”[2] Apparently Farel was a large, stocky, fearless and thus outspoken man (he had carried a halberd while in the army) and he promptly sought out Calvin in an effort to have Calvin remain in Geneva to assist in the Reformation there. Calvin would later describe the events of that night in the Preface of his Commentary to the Psalms.

Farel, who burned with an extraordinary zeal to advance the gospel, immediately strained every nerve to detain me. And after learning that my heart was set upon devoting myself to private studies, for which I wished to keep myself free from other pursuits, and finding that he gained nothing by entreaties, he proceeded to utter the imprecation that God would curse my retirement and the tranquility of the 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.[3]

This was undoubtedly the turning point in Calvin’s life. He would never work in the tranquility and peace he hoped for. “From now on, every page of the forty-eight volumes of books and tracts and sermons and commentaries and letters that he wrote would be hammered out on the anvil of pastoral responsibility.”[4]

[1] John Piper, The Legacy of Sovereign Joy, (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2000), 129.
[2] Calvin’s Preface to Commentary on the Psalms, as quoted in Parker, John Calvin: A Biography, 53.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Piper, 130.

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About Michael R. Jones

Pastor and PhD candidate writing on Paul's theology of suffering.
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