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Calvin: Love Him Or Hate Him Part 2

Running to Win / Erwin Lutzer
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June 15, 2023 1:00 am

Calvin: Love Him Or Hate Him Part 2

Running to Win / Erwin Lutzer

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June 15, 2023 1:00 am

Nothing less than an act of God can extricate us from false beliefs. Before John Calvin’s conversion, he was devoted to the superstitions of the papacy. In this message, Pastor Lutzer overviews Calvin’s experience of grace and his biblical precedent for predestination. Why did this teaching spread all over Europe?

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Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. History takes a dim view of the Inquisition, a period in Catholic history rife with torture and death. But Protestants did many of the same things. Most notably, John Calvin had Michael Stravatus burned at the stake for believing differently than Calvin thought he should.

Stay with us. From the Moody Church in Chicago, this is Running to Win with Dr. Erwin Lutzer, whose clear teaching helps us make it across the finish line. Pastor Lutzer, I understand you feel the execution of Servetus simply was the way things were in medieval Europe and that Calvin is not to be faulted for this.

Well Dave, that's a very interesting way for you to put it. Many years ago, I was in Geneva and I had a day to myself and I took the time to actually find out where Servetus was burned at the stake. I discovered that there's a monument to him and it happens to be at the crossroads of two different streets in the city of Geneva. I've also been in Calvin's church, looked at all of the artifacts that are still there, very few, because remember Calvin believed that there should be nothing that should represent Christ or God. Now I seem to be avoiding your question.

It is a very difficult question because yes, that's the way things were, to be sure, but also it was really the Geneva City Council that condemned Servetus to death. Now that strikes us as odd, but in order for us to understand how all this came about, we need to be reflective, we need to understand the history. That's what I've tried to do in the book entitled Rescuing the Gospel, the Story and the Significance of the Reformation. It's to help us to understand the times, the events, and why it is that the Reformation impacts us even today. For a gift of any amount, this book can be yours.

Simply go to or you can call us at 1-888-218-9337. Understanding the past helps us to understand the present. Luther Calvin and Swingly, whom we shall talk about next time, they all had a contradictory view of the church because on the one hand they understood that the true church was the church of the elect, the real saints who were born again. They understood that, but they also wanted to hang on to what is called Christendom. So they wanted to insist that even the unconverted should have their infants baptized because somehow that brings them into this covenant called Christendom. Calvin held that view too, and he wanted to, however, create this church to be a unique church here in Geneva with all of these rules.

We of course believe that that was a mistake for a couple of reasons. First of all, he denied people freedom of religion, and that is very, very critical to us. That did not happen in Europe until about 1648, so remember Calvin is the 1500, so he didn't understand that freedom of religion was incredibly important. Secondly, he should have known that outward conformity even among the church folks is often counterproductive because you have people keeping the rules, but they are not necessarily born again of the Holy Spirit. But Calvin's impact as we shall see in other areas was huge. I have to say something about the burning of Servetus because people who know nothing about Calvin, they want to lay on him the fact that Calvin burned Servetus at the stake in Geneva.

Someday all that is going to be straightened out too. Servetus was a heretic. He denied the Trinity. The Catholic Church wanted him extradited back to his hometown so that he could be put to death there, but he fled to Geneva thinking, surely the John Calvin, the great John Calvin will welcome me into Geneva. Servetus went into the cathedral and sat near the back, and Calvin met with him many, many times urging him to mend his ways and to give up his heresy. The city council voted that Servetus should be put to death by fire. Calvin argued that it would be more humane to put him to death with a sword than you get your head cut off and death comes more quickly.

He said that burning was very, very inhumane. But Calvin was overruled and Servetus was burned at the stake. And today people lay that on Calvin.

Two comments very quickly. First, remember it was the decision of the city council, though I'm sure Calvin probably went along with it. Secondly, keep in mind that in those days that's what you did to heretics. You see, you and I, we can criticize very easily and say how terrible it is. We have every right to protest against the cruelty of earlier generations. For us, freedom of religion is so cardinal. But we do not have the right to single out Calvin as a mean Protestant who had a man put to death because of a doctrinal error. The fact is that throughout Europe, Catholics and Protestants persecuted and often killed those who regarded as heretics. We cannot criticize Calvin unless we also mention the persecution of the Protestants in France and later things like the Spanish Inquisition.

I read a book on the Inquisition a few years ago, absolutely horrible. There were cities where thousands of people were killed and one of the men responsible to doing the killings wrote to the pope and said, we cannot distinguish between true believers and heretics. And the pope wrote back in a very famous letter and said, kill them all. God will distinguish between them. So let's remember those were cruel days when heretics were being burned and killed all the time. And I am going to shock all of you. If you return for these lessons on the reformation, I'm going to tell you a story of what happened to the rebaptizers.

You will learn something that nobody has ever told you before about persecution and about what happened after the reformation. It's unbelievable. And yet we take freedom of religion for granted. Don't you ever take it for granted.

It is a tremendous privilege. Well, Calvin is known for two things. He's known for the burning of Servetus. He's also known for the doctrine of predestination. Calvin's doctrines grew out of pastoral concerns. He knew that his people needed comfort in very difficult times and there was no doctrine that would give them hope such as the doctrine of predestination. Calvin was very pessimistic about the human heart, but he had great optimism regarding God and his purposes. Calvin began to think about people, why some get saved and why some don't.

You've thought about that, haven't you? Some of you come from families and you're the only believer or you have a mother who's converted and not a father. I mean, look at my family. My mother is one of the most godly women in the world, spends most of her time praying. I hope she spends her time praying for her youngest son because he needs it.

Okay. She has a sister over in Germany that I remember meeting with years ago who is as hard as nails. She's dying of cancer and she still claims atheism and has all of this bitterness in her heart because of the way in which she suffered. My mother came to Canada. One of the express purposes was to find out how to be born again. Here's a sister 10 years younger than my mother. Hard-hearted and unless something happens, she's going to die an unbeliever.

Why? Calvin said, you know, the difference is not between people because everybody's born dead in trespasses and sins. The difference must be found in God. It is God who elects some people to eternal life. It is God who quickens them and makes them realize their sinfulness and gives them the ability to believe. And that's why some people get saved and others don't. That's the doctrine of predestination. Although Calvin didn't use this example, he might have.

Sure, he agreed with it. If we're dead in trespasses and sins, when Jesus came to the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus didn't say, you know, I don't think I'm going to resurrect Lazarus until we ask him whether or not he wants to be resurrected because he should have a choice in this. Who am I to resurrect him until he tells me he wants to be resurrected?

Well, you should be smiling at this point if you're understanding English. You don't go to dead people and ask them whether or not they want to be resurrected. If they're going to be resurrected, you have to make the choice. And so it's Jesus who says, rise up, Lazarus, come forth. And Augustine said it was very good that he limited it to Lazarus, because if he had just said come forth, the whole cemetery would have arisen. Now listen to the words of Jesus. I have many passages that I've highlighted here. We can't go into them all.

I'm only going to remind you. You see, the idea is this, that Calvin came up with this doctrine of predestination. Calvin, every Christian believes in predestination. It's how you understand it maybe that is different, but every Christian believes in predestination.

You cannot be saved unless you believe in predestination, because it's in so many different passages in the Bible. Now, there's a different understanding that some people have of it in order to soften it. But tonight let's just look at passages and not try to soften it. Let's just look at it the way the Bible presents it and not say too much about it. Look at here, Matthew chapter 11, verses 25 to 27.

In fact, let's turn to that really quickly. You know, some of you who read your Bibles maybe read them too quickly at times. When you read your Bible through in a year, sometimes you have to, 11, 25. At that time, Jesus declared, I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and the understanding and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

Wow. You can't understand the Son and the Father. If you are here today and you are saved, it is because the Son chose to reveal the Father to you. If not, you're blinded. Look at John 5 21.

I won't even turn to it. I'll simply quote it. Jesus says, as the Father raises up the dead and quickens them, so the Son quickens whomever he wills.

Hmm. Acts 13, 48, and I'm skipping many, many verses. We could come up with a hundred if we just thought about it, but Acts 13, 48, as many as were ordained onto eternal life believed. And if you want passages in which predestination is mentioned, the early chapters of Acts, chapter 3, chapter 5, where it was predestined that Jesus die. Romans 9, Linda Gunter teaches the book of Romans here. I'm going to sneak in when she gets to the ninth chapter. Romans 9. Wow. What a chapter about God's elective purposes that God hardens whom he wills and God saves whom he wills.

I mean, there it is. Calvin didn't write the Bible. You know, he wrote the institutes, but he didn't write the Bible.

He didn't make this stuff up. Revelation 13, 8. This, we go to the end of the book for this.

This you should really turn to. You know, Revelation chapter 13, verse 8. It says, speaking of the Antichrist, and all who dwell on the earth will worship it.

That is the image in the Antichrist. Everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the lamb that was slain. Are you saved tonight? Your name was written in the book of life from before the foundation of the world.

Now you say, yeah, but you're a motor boater. Yeah, but, but, but, but, but, but, but, but, but, but, but why do we have to witness? Well, it's to bring the elective faith.

I'm being a little hard nosed here tonight, but we need to hear this. Okay. We have to try to understand. Calvin wasn't, predestination wasn't the first thing in his book. It was just part of the doctrines that he was writing about.

And today he oftentimes is spoken about as if this was his idea. Rightly understood this doctrine of predestination is the basis of security. Calvin says it brings no shaking of the faith, but rather faith's confirmation. To be assured of one's election is to be motivated to press on and become invulnerable.

The doctrine also stirs zeal for evangelism, since we do not know who belongs to the company of the elect. We therefore urge all men to be saved. And if you're here tonight and you're not saved and you say, well, I don't know whether or not I'm elect, you come up afterwards and we can find out whether or not you are elect. So don't complain. You get on your knees with me here and you receive Christ as savior and then I'll be able to say, hey, you know, you're elect.

Are we all here tonight with me? Well, I know you'll have some questions about that and we won't get into Calvin's view of infant baptism. Some of us think he was wrong about that and other doctrines. But Calvinism, when you say, are you a Calvinist?

You need to understand that there are different ways to respond to that question. Some of us may be more Calvinistic in our doctrine of salvation and the sovereignty of God, but we are not Calvinistic in our understanding of the church. Because as I said, Calvin had a regional idea of the church. That's why infant baptism was a part of it. And so none of us accepts everything that Calvin wrote as if to say, oh, Calvin wrote it, therefore we believe it. No, we test it by the word of God. We sift through it. Well let me talk about the impact of Calvinism.

It is difficult to exaggerate his impact. Now one thing I didn't tell you about, can't believe why I wouldn't have, but it fits very nicely here. Okay, here you have Calvin establishing this Christian enclave in Geneva. You have persecution in France. You also have persecution in England.

Okay. What happened is refugees came from England and elsewhere to Geneva because it was there that the Protestants knew they would be accepted. When you are in Geneva today, there are buildings that are maybe four or five stories high and above some of them there are additional stories built and you can tell it because it's a different architecture, different stones, different windows, the whole bit. Those were built and you can still see them today to house the 6,000 refugees that came to Geneva to escape persecution. And the total population of Geneva in those days was about 13,000.

So you can imagine the heavy responsibility of taking care of 6,000 refugees. Among those refugees was a man by the name of John Knox. John Knox came from Scotland. He was involved in some of the political and spiritual dynamics there in Scotland and also England, but he came there and he studied under Calvin for two years. You can actually go into the chapel in Geneva and see where the studies were held. Calvin had all the men of Geneva come up at five o'clock in the morning and he taught them the scriptures until about seven o'clock and then they went on their way. John Knox did that and while they were there, they decided to come up with a new translation of the Bible in English because there were so many English refugees that became known as the Geneva Bible. And when the pilgrims came from Europe to America, what Bible did they bring with them? What Bible was it that they used?

They used the Geneva Bible, the English translation that was done while John Knox and others, the refugees, were in Geneva, Switzerland. So Calvin, when you think of the Puritans today, the Puritans were basically Calvinists, the whole bit. They wanted to establish in New England essentially what Calvin had in Geneva. That's why the Puritans were not in favor of freedom of religion. That's why they ran Roger Williams out of New England, out of one of the colonies, and he had to go to another because he was a Baptist. They didn't believe in Baptists.

So the impact from that standpoint is huge. Calvinism spread to the Netherlands. You have all of the Dutch Calvinists today. You go to Holland and Michigan.

You go to Grand Rapids and you see the schools that they have there. That's all impacted by Calvin, whether for good or for ill. Just face the reality. That's Calvin's impact.

But I want to mention this. When people came and listened to Calvin's preaching, they had a desire to return to their home country and establish churches. Calvin agreed with their vision, but taught them the theology of the reformed faith. Calvin believed that a good missionary had to be a good theologian. He not only taught the people theology, but he assessed their character. He was interested in whether or not they were willing to put their lives at risk. After they left, he maintained an ongoing relationship with these missionaries.

He wrote and received hundreds of letters. He answered questions, gave personal counsel, and in short, guided the missionaries in their work in France. All right, so you have people from France.

France, of course, is French speaking, but so is Geneva. So they'd go down there. Calvin would teach them in French, and they'd go back to France, and they established churches. Until a few years ago, we didn't know how big those churches were. But just look at this.

We now know the facts. By 1555, there were five churches planted in France, but in 1559, four years later, there were 100 churches, and 1562, there were 2,000 churches in France. By 1565, it is estimated that there were three million Protestants in France. They were called Huguenots, a name whose origin is unknown.

Quite probably, it was given to them as a name of derision. How large were these churches? Again, just recently, a scholar who did a dissertation and finally uncovered and translated a lot of documents in Geneva discovered this. We now have factual evidence that at least a few churches had thousands in attendance. Letters recently discovered in Geneva say things like this.

From day to day, we are growing. We have four to five thousand people at worship. Another letter says we are obligated to preach three times on Sunday to a total of five to six thousand people. In addition, missionaries were also sent to Italy, Hungary, and Poland. After hearing all of those numbers, you might think to yourself that France should be Christian today, but that, of course, is not true. As a result of the persecutions under Louis XIV and later on Louis XV, the Christian church, the evangelical Protestant Christian church, was almost obliterated in France.

And of course later on, you have the French Revolution, so France today is very secular. All that to say that the gospel of Jesus Christ is powerful, but there are times when it appears as if the devil has won a victory. Yet even then, we must give praise to God for those who were faithful.

You know, I read an account that during the persecutions in France, the authorities hired a band to make enough noise to drown out the songs being sung by people on their way to martyrdom. Thank God for those who have been faithful. All of this is in my book entitled Rescuing the Gospel, the Story and the Significance of the Reformation.

For a gift of any amount, it can be yours. Here's what you do. Go to or call us at 1-888-218-9337.

Perhaps now you realize that I do believe that understanding the Reformation is very important if we are to appreciate and clarify our own faith. Here is what you do. Go to or call us at 1-888-218-9337. The title of the book, Rescuing the Gospel. You can write to us at Running to Win, 1635 North LaSalle Boulevard, Chicago, Illinois 60614. Running to Win is all about helping you find God's roadmap for your race of life. Next time on Running to Win, a summary of the life and influence of John Calvin and some fascinating audience questions about the predestination of those who become saved. Don't miss this program. Thanks for listening. For Pastor Erwin Lutzer, this is Dave McAllister. Running to Win is sponsored by the Moody Church.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-06-15 04:06:43 / 2023-06-15 04:15:18 / 9

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