Back to 2023 Church Weekly List

Vol. XXI No. 05
29 October 2023

JOHN CALVIN: REFORMATION THEOLOGIAN AND PASTOR

Pastor Jeffrey Khoo

God’s sovereign, providential hand in the 16th century Reformation is unmistakable. Church Historian Philip Schaff called the Reformation the greatest revival of the Church, next only to Pentecost (Acts 2). On October 31, 1517, God used Martin Luther to launch the Protestant Reformation by declaring through his 95 Theses that salvation is purely by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ alone (Rom 1:17). Luther was the Evangelist of the Reformation.

Calvin as Theologian

It was not enough to have an evangelist, the Reformation needed a theologian. God raised John Calvin as the theologian of the Reformation. As a theologian, he systematised the fundamentals of the Christian Faith as found in the Holy Bible so that the Reformation saints would know for sure that the Bible alone is the sole and supreme authority of all their doctrines and practices (2 Tim 3:16–17).

Calvin published his Institutes of the Christian Religion in 1536 when he was just 26 years old. His Institutes stems from a thorough knowledge of the Bible. Schaff said, “This book is a masterpiece of a precocious genius of commanding intellect and spiritual depth and power. It is one of the few truly classical productions in the history of theology and has given its author the double title of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas of the Reformed Church.”

Calvin’s Institutes was instrumental in spreading the Reformed doctrines far and wide. Felice said, “This was the first theological and literary monument of the French Reformation, spreading abroad in the schools, the castles of the gentry, and the houses of the burghers, even the workshops of the people, the Institutes became the most powerful of preachers.”

Calvin as Pastor

After publishing his Institutes, Calvin decided to take up residence in Strasbourg to spend all his time in peace, studying and writing. On his way there, he had to make a stopover in Geneva. He did not know anyone in Geneva and thus did not expect anyone to call on him. But William Farel knew him through his Institutes and visited him and asked him to remain in Geneva to pastor the church there. However, the more Farel shared about the work in Geneva, the more Calvin shrank from the task presented to him.

Calvin declined the offer because he felt he was too young, inexperienced in practical matters, and generally unfit for the work. He insisted that he needed more time to study. He told Farel that he could not be persuaded and would entertain no further discussion. The elderly Farel then “rose from his chair, and, straightening himself out of his full height as his long beard swept his chest, he directed his piercing look full at the young man before him and thundered: ‘May God curse your studies if now in her time of need you refuse to lend your aid to His Church.’” Calvin was stunned by Farel’s words of imprecation. He testified, “I was so stricken with terror, that I desisted from the journey which I had undertaken.” As Moses could not effectively excuse himself from God’s appointment to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, neither could Calvin resist God’s call to do the reformation work in Geneva.

God’s higher hand was clearly at work. Kuiper rightly observed, “We can similarly see the wonderful providences of God in bringing John Calvin to Geneva. This free and independent city with its democratic institutions was at that time, of all the places in the world, the most admirably fitted to be the scene of the great reformatory labors of Calvin. His entire life up to this time was one long preparation for the task which was now awaiting him in Geneva, and which was to be of world-wide significance.”

CALL TO SALVATION AND SERVICE

Samuel Joseph

I grew up in a Christian family. This was God’s great blessing to me, although for many years I did not recognise it, and even resented it. From my childhood I heard the gospel and read the Bible, and even professed faith in Jesus, but I do not think I meant it. I say this because despite my knowledge of God’s Word I gave myself over to a life of sin. I knew it was sin I knew I was in rebellion against God but I refused to accept it. In time this voice of conscience faded, and I was lost. If not for God’s intervention I would have continued on to destruction: I had no hope of ever finding salvation on my own strength, and no desire for it either. What God did for me I can never forget, and it will never fail to move my heart to the deepest gratitude and joy.

It was in April of 2013 that God brought me low, to the point of utter despair. I can’t explain it fully in words, and there was no earthly reason for it. I was suddenly visited with the certainty of the utter futility and despair and hopelessness of a life outside of Christ. I saw the horror of my sin. I saw that I had turned my back on the living God. That day I repented of my sins, and cried out to God for mercy. That day I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour.

Since the time of God’s merciful intervention I have seen a marked change in my life. I have witnessed firsthand the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. Sin is no longer a friend to me, but something abhorrent. The pleasures and entertainments of the world have lost the hold on me that they once had. I spend time in prayer and meditating on God’s Word, as I certainly never did before. Indeed I have come to rely on prayer, which is something unheard of to my former self. One of the things I prayed for early on was that God would reveal to me how He wanted me to serve Him. I don’t remember exactly when the desire to serve God full-time first came, but I remember it growing stronger. I desired more and more to study God’s Word, and God spoke to me through His Word: especially Proverbs 10:5 (“He that gathereth in summer is a wise son: but he that sleepeth in harvest is a son that causeth shame”), and Psalm 119:20 (“My soul breaketh for the longing that it hath unto thy judgments at all times”). Through these God impressed on my heart a desire to serve Him with the best of my time and energy.

But how could I be sure that this desire really came from God? Was I really called? Could God really use me? And so I prayed every day for a sign. I realize now that I was praying wrongly. It was about this time that I went to see Dr Khoo, to ask his advice. And I remember the day after that, in the morning, as I knelt down to pray, for some reason instead of praying for a sign as I had been doing all along, I simply surrendered myself to God’s will. And suddenly I was sure. When I said that I had been praying wrongly, what I mean is this: I had in effect been telling God, “Lord, prove to me that you really want me to serve you full-time.” And while I had this mindset, I could not be sure. But once I surrendered to His will, God gave me peace and assurance.

“My heart I offer to you Lord, promptly and sincerely.” John Calvin

Since that time I have experienced a great joy in serving the Lord, in preaching and teaching His Word. I believe it has been a fruitful ministry, by the grace of God; and certainly I myself have learned a great deal through the hours of study and preparation. Particularly in ministering to the young people in the YPF of True Life B-P Church, I have experienced something of the pastoral role. I do desire to shepherd God’s people, to teach them, help them, encourage and exhort them. I recognise the burden of the pastoral ministry, and I feel a sense of fear at the weight and responsibility of it; but I cannot turn my back on it. I believe this is the Lord’s will for me, and I desire to serve Him wherever He leads.

ORDINATION OF SAMUEL JOSEPH

The ordination council, comprising the Rev Stephen Khoo, the Rev Dr Jeffrey Khoo, the Rev Clement Chew, the Rev Dr Jose Lagapa, and the Rev Zhu Jianwei, having examined Preacher Samuel Joseph, is satisfied with the evidence of his call to the ministry of the Gospel and his knowledge of the Reformed and Bible-Presbyterian Faith, shall ordain him as a Minister of the Gospel this Lord’s Day, October 29, 2023 by the laying on of the hands of the presbytery (1 Tim 4:14).

The Reformation Monument in Geneva: (L-R) Farel, Calvin, Beza, Knox

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