The Life of John Calvin by W.J. Grier is not your typical biography. Grier had wanted to write a life of John Calvin, but was not able to do so. It turns out that he had written some articles on Calvin in the Evangelical Presbyterian magazine of which he was editor. These articles were edited into the book I am reviewing now. Because these are 'articles', the timeline doesn't flow as smoothly as a normal biography, but this is a minor flaw.
It is very interesting to see how God used Calvin. Calvin's life was not one people would generally envy. It wasn't a life full of health, wealth and the favor of people, actually it was quite the opposite. Calvin didn't want a public life, he wanted to focus privately studying God's word, but God made him a pastor. He didn't want to go back to Geneva after they 'kicked' him out and then desired him to come back, but God moved Him to go back, and things were very rough for him after he returned. He also had horrible physical health, he is compared to a walking hospital. I have finally learned what having a 'consumption' meant(tuberculosis) from reading this biography. He had several enemies who wanted him kicked out of Geneva and some who wanted him dead. Perhaps his biography should be entitled, "Disciplined by God" as his life seems a good demonstration of the loving discipline and sanctification of God(Heb. 12:5-14).
The burning of Michael Servetus is addressed, and here is where I have a bit of criticism. I think that people try to excuse Calvin too much, saying things like, 'even the Catholics burnt heretics' and 'it was an accepted custom of the time'. Accepted or not, why don't we just come out and say Calvin was absolutely wrong to agree with the death penalty in this case? It's not as if he had attained complete sanctification in this world. And Christianity doesn't stand or fall with Calvin's reputation, our faith is not based or found in him anyway but in God's Word. As Christians, we may separate privately and publically from professing Christians who are living contradictory to the God's Word(1 Cor. 5:11-13; 2 Th. 3:6), and we may condemn their doctrine and refute it, but we are never to kill them. Besides, if you kill them, they absolutely cannot repent, you are essentially taking their spiritual condemnation into your own hands. You are making an absolute call that God won't change them in the future.
Perhaps people try to vindicate Calvin because they admire him too much and not the One who used him. The statement is made, "In our opinion God has given to the church no greater man since the days of the apostles than John Calvin…." I don't see how one can even begin to come to that conclusion. That makes it seem as though Calvin wasn't exactly 'the least' in the kingdom of God(Matt.11:11). My guess would be that there are people greater than Calvin who simply did what they were supposed to do in their daily lives, perhaps with unremarkable occupations in life, they may have been housewives, slaves, carpenters…etc. But they did what they did for God, as it was the work He had given for them to do. I am pretty sure that one does not have to live a public life, writing books, speaking, or even influencing thousands of people, in order to be 'great' in the Kingdom of Heaven. God is the One who gives us the work we are to do for Him, and It is the God who made Calvin what he was, and it is He whom we should admire the most. So let Calvin be wrong! It shows all the more that it was God's work in him that produced the good things that came out of him. Okay, so maybe that wasn't just a bit of criticism, but I had to get it out.
Anyway, back to the positives. I found it odd that I liked the chapter that describes what Geneva was like in Calvin's day. Normally I don't care for too much description, but I found this one quite interesting. I also found it funny to learn in this biography that Calvin was a matchmaker of sorts for 'Reformed' people all over the place. Since true Christians were scattered about amongst unbelievers in other countries, and since Christians couldn't marry non-believers, and it just so happened that were many believers in Geneva, Calvin helped them find Christian spouses.
This book was a nice summary of Calvin's life, and the major events in his life. It was neat to see the strength God gave him to plow through the many trials of his life, knowing that this wasn't his home anyway. His life was so hard, from a human perspective that I had almost a sense of relief when he died; his hard work was done, his health was perfect, he no longer had to live by faith, and best of all, he had finally arrived at his true home with God.
Thanks to The Banner of Truth Trust for sending me a free review copy of this book(My review did not have to be favorable.)
This book may be purchased on Amazon and from The Banner of Truth