Happy Birthday, Calvin!

"Nature would certainly be satisfied with water to drink; and therefore the addition of wine is owing to God’s superabundant liberality.”

This view was part of his persuasion on Christian liberty – the conviction that, in matters which are not mentioned in the Bible, men can act according to their own personal conscience and in wisdom. To Calvin, this liberty was “a matter of primary necessity, one without the knowledge of which the conscience can scarcely attempt anything without hesitation.” It was particularly important at a time when the church (like the Pharisees of old) had erected a colossal array of rules and regulations in addition to the Biblical commandments, as a preventative measure against sin.

 

Happy birthday, John Calvin! It’s been 508 years since you were born in your beloved France. How should we celebrate? If you were here, would you join us?

The Enjoyment of God’s Gifts

He would probably disapprove extensive celebrations, and especially frown at mugs or T-shirts donning his face. After all, when he died in 1564, he specifically requested to be buried in an unmarked grave.

He would not, however, refuse a good celebration with friends. Birthday parties are an age-old custom that, in his view, shouldn’t be condemned, providing the celebrants “keep the right end in view; namely, that of giving thanks unto God by whom they were created and brought up, and whom they have found, in innumerable ways, to be a beneficent Father. But such is the depravity of the world, that it greatly distorts those things which formerly were honestly instituted by their fathers, into contrary corruptions. Thus, by a vicious practice, it has become common for nearly all to abandon themselves to luxury and wantonness on their birthday. In short, they keep up the memory of God, as the Author of their life, in such a manner as if it were their set purpose to forget Him.”[1]

So let’s raise our cups in honor of John Calvin, thanking God for the role he played in the Reformation, for his care for the reforming church, for the substantial number of clear and thorough writings he has left behind, and for his biblical instructions on the reorganization of the church.

But wait, should our cups be filled with wine? Bien sûr! Calvin believed that wine, as many other good things in life, was a gift of God to be received with gratefulness, in moderation. “God not only provides for men’s necessity,” he wrote, “and bestows upon them as much as is sufficient for the ordinary purposes of life, but that in his goodness he deals still more bountifully with them by cheering their hearts with wine and oil. Nature would certainly be satisfied with water to drink; and therefore the addition of wine is owing to God’s superabundant liberality.”[2]

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