Lessons from Calvin and Spurgeon
Personal testimony of the influence that they have had on me, also John Owen, Bob Letham, Iain Murray’s writings, Stuart Olyott on preaching and John Bunyan.
Calvin and Spurgeon compliment each and bring out significant lessons.
‘Few Christian leaders have suffered quite so much misunderstanding as John Calvin. He has often been dismissed as a theologian without humanity. In fact the very reverse is much nearer the truth…he was a man of deep and lasting affection, passionately concerned for the cause of Christ in the world; a man who burned himself out for the gospel.
In French Jean Cauvin, a man who was born and bred in France; born in 1509 in Noyon which is about 50 miles North-East of Paris.
An exceptionally bright child who ‘outstripped the others, thanks to his quick intelligence and excellent memory’.
Went to the University of Paris where he studied Latin and other subjects. He wanted to be a priest but he abandoned the idea and went to Orleans to study law, which he did with marked success.
He was converted somewhere between the age 20-25, and in page 19-20, Letters of John Calvin.
He became inflamed with an intense desire to make spiritual progress and he went to Strasbourg to seek seclusion for study. He had already written his first edition of the Institutes of Christian Religion and William Farel the leader of the reformation in Geneva came to see him. Farel said: “If he did not stay in Geneva, God would curse his peace.’ From this he came to share the ministry with Farel in Geneva. The Institutes is one of the greatest works of theology ever written and Calvin was about 26 when he completed it. It was written as a defence of the faith of reformed Christians, especially of those who were being persecuted.
Calvin was thrown headlong into full pastoral ministry by 1536 in Geneva, where the reformers aimed at the reformation of the church according to the Word of God. They drew up a confession of faith to be subscribed by all members of the churches and they said that those who did not sign it could not come to the Lord’s table for communion. This led to a crisis and the city council fathers forbad them to preach and on April 23rd and was ordered to leave the city. Calvin made his way to Strassbourg.
In Strasbourg he enjoyed a happy ministry and fellowship with Martin Bucer. This was a formative time of thinking, a place where he got married and wrote his commentary on Romans.
In October 1540 he was invited back to Geneva. When he entered the pulpit he carried on preaching where he had left off and continued expounding for the next 25 years.
On 27th May 1564 he passed to his eternal reward and buried without ceremony in an unmarked grave in a cemetery.
He was very able in the original languages of Greek and Hebrew and this sets a good example of the importance of contact with the Bible languages.
He preached on 56 books of the Bible, verse by verse. A first class model of a Bible expositor who preached ‘out of the Scriptures’.
He also was a confessional preacher with a commitment to the French Confession of faith of 1559 with 40 detailed articles of the faith.
He had a clear systematic approach to truth which the Institutes demonstrate.
There is a need to preach on whole books of the Bible and to marry systematic and biblical theology.
He suffered much ill-health all of his life and yet his labours were almost beyond our comprehension. Colossians 1:29 And for this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.
His preaching was pointed, direct and without waffle.
Calvin was a genius and we cannot copy him in that respect but we can copy his vision for the church. The connection between theology and law must not be forgotten as with Luther.
He was a pastor with a great letter writing ministry with an international vision.
He trained up other preachers. Hear the testimony of John Knox of his time in Geneva: It was ‘the most perfect school of Christ that ever was in the earth since the days of the apostles. In other places, I confess Christ to be truly preached; but manners and religion to be so sincerely reformed, I have not yet seen in any other place.’
He pressed on regardless of continuous opposition and misunderstanding.
He is unduly blamed for the Michael Servetus affair who was tried and found guilty of heresy and publicly burned. However there was a blurring of responsibility between church and state.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon
Known as the ‘Prince of preachers’ and he was the greatest English preacher of the 19th Century.
A Biographical Sketch
Born in Kelvedon, Essex in June 19th 1834 and he was greatly influenced by his puritan pastor, Grand father. His father also was a pastor.
Spurgeon proved to be a genius and we cannot copy him in this also. However the background with which he was raised was one of principle according to Arnold Dallimore and when it comes to standing for principle, we must do so whatever the cost!
In December 1849 he was converted: read Dallimore p 18-19 and was baptised by immersion.
After a successful country pastorate in Waterbeach at the age of 17,he was called to a dwindling Calvinistic congregation in London, New Park Street Baptist Church.
He had a great body of systematic doctrine that under-girded his ministry from the beginning. Few have defended the doctrines of grace so powerfully.
Spurgeon was a thorough-going Calvinist marked by great evangelistic success. In London a great door was opened by the Lord: 1 Corinthians 16:9.
In 1855 he reprinted the 1689 Baptist Confession of faith and he believed this summarised the ‘faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3)’.
When they built the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Spurgeon had become the pastor of the largest congregation in the world. By the time he was 26 the congregation had grown from the 80 he first addressed to 6000 or more. When the foundation stone was laid on August 16th 1859 Spurgeon placed five things under it; The Bible, The Baptist Confession of Faith, The churches declaration of the deacons, Dr Rippon’s Hymn Book and a copy of the days proceedings.
His one personal hobby was scouting, buying and collecting second hand books until his personal library had more than ten thousand books.
He defended the doctrines of grace such as particular redemption, election, total depravity etc.
Membership in the church was never allowed to become a mere formality and members were given tickets to attend the communion service… membership was seen as something active and it was rigidly maintained and many new members were added and infrequent members added to the list.
He established a pastor’s college for training pastors, an orphanage, great literary labours and many other such things.
One of the key battles of his life that had to withstand so much controversy was the Down grade controversy.
January 31st 1892 he passed into glory.
He held a clear system of Calvinistic belief that he believed was summarised in the 1689 Baptist Confession of faith.
He preached often from a single bible verse with a clear title and three clear points. His use of vivid illustrations, humour and lively preaching is an example to us all.
In his exegesis he sometimes could have learned lessons from Calvin’s thoroughness.
He trained pastors and he raised up new preachers and he saw this as vital.
In many ways he emulated the ministry of Calvin and George Whitefield.
He did not seem to have a clear succession plan for his ministry to be put in place after he died.
He saw the power of the printed page.
Final Words by Spurgeon after the downgrade: “Believe for great things of a great God. Remember whether you do so or not, great are your responsibilities. There was never a more restless time than now. What is being done today will affect the next centuries, unless the Lord should should very speedily come. I believe that, if we walk uprightly and decidedly before God at this time, we shall make the future of England bright with the gospel; but trimming now, and debasing doctrine now, will affect children yet unborn, generation after generation. Posterity must be considered. I do not look so much as what is to happen today, for these things relate to eternity. For my part, I am quite willing to eaten of dogs for the next fifty years; but the more distant future shall vindicate me. I have dealt honestly before the living God. My brother, do the same (Spurgeon, Addresses at the Pastor’s Conference, ‘The Preachers Power and the Conditions of Obtaining It’ in All Round Ministry).
 Philip Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House Company, 1931, repr. 1990), p 460n. 1. Knox cites this in a letter he wrote to his friend Locke, dated 9th December 1556.