Home > Christian Biography, Devotionals, General Posts > What the Gospel Really Is to John Calvin

What the Gospel Really Is to John Calvin

Pastor Tullian Tchividjian recently posted on his blog an English translation of John Calvin’s preface to Pierre Olivetan’s French translation of the New Testament. Being from Northwest Alabama, I am well aware of the stigmatism that is Calvinism. I am well aware of the outrageous caricatures of John Calvin and of those who continue to believe the doctrines of grace that (misleadingly) bear his name (to go backwards from him, Augustine was also a grace-man, as were the NT writers … but I digress). But I also realize that many people who deride him do not really understand him and they also misunderstand his beliefs. Pastor Tchividjian is right to refer to Calvin’s preface, though, (which I fully quote below) as a “nugget of gospel gold.” This poetic explanation of the gospel by John Calvin is truly Calvin at his best. As Pastor Tchividjian concludes: “Do your soul a favor and read this over and over and over. It just doesn’t get more nutritious than this!”

Without the gospel
          everything is useless and vain;

without the gospel
          we are not Christians;

without the gospel
          all riches is poverty,
          all wisdom folly before God;
          strength is weakness,
          and all the justice of man is under the condemnation of God.

But by the knowledge of the gospel we are made
          children of God,
          brothers of Jesus Christ,
          fellow townsmen with the saints,
          citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven,
          heirs of God with Jesus Christ, by whom
                    the poor are made rich,
                    the weak strong,
                    the fools wise,
                    the sinner justified,
                    the desolate comforted,
                    the doubting sure,
                    and slaves free.

It is the power of God for the salvation of all those who believe.

It follows that every good thing we could think or desire is to be found in this same Jesus Christ alone.

For, he was
          sold, to buy us back;
          captive, to deliver us;
          condemned, to absolve us;

he was
          made a curse for our blessing,
          [a] sin offering for our righteousness;
          marred that we may be made fair;

he died for our life; so that by him
          fury is made gentle,
          wrath appeased,
          darkness turned into light,
          fear reassured,
          despisal despised,
          debt canceled,
          labor lightened,
          sadness made merry,
          misfortune made fortunate,
          difficulty easy,
          disorder ordered,
          division united,
          ignominy ennobled,
          rebellion subjected,
          intimidation intimidated,
          ambush uncovered,
          assaults assailed,
          force forced back,
          combat combated,
          war warred against,
          vengeance avenged,
          torment tormented,
          damnation damned,
          the abyss sunk into the abyss,
          hell transfixed,
          death dead,
          mortality made immortal.

In short,
          mercy has swallowed up all misery,
          and goodness all misfortune.

For all these things which were to be the weapons of the devil in his battle against us, and the sting of death to pierce us, are turned for us into exercises which we can turn to our profit.

If we are able to boast with the apostle, saying, O hell, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? it is because by the Spirit of Christ promised to the elect, we live no longer, but Christ lives in us; and we are by the same Spirit seated among those who are in heaven, so that for us the world is no more, even while our conversation is in it; but we are content in all things, whether country, place, condition, clothing, meat, and all such things.

And we are
          comforted in tribulation,
          joyful in sorrow,
          glorying under vituperation,
          abounding in poverty,
          warmed in our nakedness,
          patient amongst evils,
          living in death.

This is what we should in short seek in the whole of Scripture: truly to know Jesus Christ, and the infinite riches that are comprised in him and are offered to us by him from God the Father.

Even if you are the most battle-hardened Arminian imaginable, surely you must be able to appreciate the beauty of Calvin’s above poetic explication of the gospel. Perhaps Calvin’s writing here softens your heart toward him and his legacy. At the very least, I pray that Calvin’s beautiful treatment of the gospel would deepen your love for Christ and would help you to know Him more fully. I know that’s what Calvin’s above commentary does to me. I reiterate Pastor Tchividjian’s exhortation following his quotation of Calvin’s gospel commentary: “Do your soul a favor and read this over and over and over. It just doesn’t get more nutritious than this!”

You can read Pastor Tchividjian’s post at his blog.

  1. August 6, 2010 at 1:56 pm

    What a blessing to read that…thanks for sharing!

  2. August 11, 2010 at 1:35 am

    “Do your soul a favor and read this over and over and over. It just doesn’t get more nutritious than this!”…Indeed! It is chock full of vitamin C (for Calvinism)

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