I thought I’d introduce John Calvin the way I introduced the other Reformers in my Tuesday blog posts. I’d share an account of his conversion. Based on the conversion stories of Peter Waldo, John Wycliffe, John Huss and Martin Luther, I just assumed that the Lord brought Calvin to Himself through Scripture. Such a scenario, of course, would have made a nice symmetrical pattern, allowing me to emphasize the importance of God’s Word in the regeneration process.
I’m not saying Calvin’s reading of the Bible didn’t have a role in his conversion. It may well have. Before pursuing a career as a lawyer, Calvin entered the University of Paris in 1523 to study for the priesthood. Clearly, his privileged position of having educational opportunities gave him access to the Bible that very few people enjoyed in the 16th Century. So it’s entirely possible that Scripture caused his conversion.
The problem is that, thus far, I’ve read and/or heard seven or eight accounts of Calvin’s conversion, and they’re all vastly different. Some emphasize the martyrdom of an elderly evangelical man that he watched, while others go on and on about his overwhelming sense of personal sin.
And then we have this short YouTube clip from Ligonier of Ian Hamilton discussing the event:
So did the Holy Spirit use the Bible to subdue Calvin’s soul? It’s probable, based on Romans 10:14-17.
14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (ESV)
But since historical record fails to offer a clear explanation of how John Calvin came to saving faith, I don’t think I’d be intellectually honest to impose Romans 10:17 on the story. Obviously, this Reformer did depend on God’s Word throughout the remainder of his life, permitting him to become probably the most recognized developer of Reformed Theology.