Where Love and Reverence Meet

Note: The Alliance is once again offering a year-long reading challenge for Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion. Click here for more information.


John Calvin, the great French Reformer who devoted most of his ministry to the church in Geneva, ranks amongst the most influential theologians of all time. His legacy to the church – and, indeed to the world – goes far beyond what many realise. But out of the many aspects of his legacy there is one that stands out more than others that has probably been given less attention than it deserves and that is his emphasis on piety.

It comes out at the beginning of the second chapter of the Institutes of the Christian Religion – his most famous work. There he says, ‘We shall not say that, properly speaking, God is known where there is no religion or piety’. When he speaks of ‘piety’ in that context he means, as indicated in the footnote of the Battles edition of Institutes, that in which ‘reverence and love for God are joined’.

The genius of Calvin is not his theology merely as a summary of the Bible’s teaching, but in the fact that Calvin saw so clearly that truth and life belong together. To use the language of Peter, what God teaches us in his Word and has provided for us in his Son and by his Spirit is ‘everything we need for life and godliness through the knowledge of him who called us’ (2Pe 1.3). The whole purpose of the truth God has revealed in Scripture is to transform lives: to bring the lost to salvation and then to build them up as saints in the family of God.

It is, of course, at this point that so much that goes under the name of ‘Calvinism’ has lost its way. For some it has become an academic label that defines a particular kind of theology; but in so doing has become dry and academic and an end in itself. For others it is nothing more than a tradition to which they adhere and ends up feeling like a relic from the past. The true heritage of Calvin is neither of these things. It is always living and vibrant, approaching the task of theology with this combination of reverence and love for God that humbles us before his Word and draws us into a richer deeper relationship with God through its truth...

Read the rest of this article at PlaceforTruth.org.