Why Must We Complicate Things?

April 23, 2019 | by James M. Harrison

Love him or hate him, John Calvin was undeniably a genius. The breadth of his knowledge, the focus of his insight, and the agility of his mind in the synthesis of truth is truly astounding. Few there were in Calvin’s day who could approach his knowledge both of Scripture and the writings of the Church Fathers. Yet, he was no ivory tower theologian. He was a Pastor-Theologian. His life was spent not only in the realm of the mind, but in the nitty-gritty, week in, week out, work of the church. He not only wrote for the highest echelon of intellectual endeavor, but he wrote and preached so as to be understood by the farmer and the shop-keeper.

The true genius of John Calvin is often seen in his simplicity.

I offer, as exhibit A, the following explanation of the gospel, found in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 2, Section 1. He does, of course, go into greater depth in regard to all the particulars set out in these few sentences, but reading this, can one ask for a more simple and clear explanation of the gospel? One could very well lift Calvin’s words verbatim, print them on a small sheet, fold it in half, and in doing so, produce a most superior gospel tract. Here, Calvin approaches the simplicity of the great Apostle himself, as Paul summarizes the gospel in the scope of two or three verses (1 Cor. 15:3-5).

There are many brilliant men. But it seems to me that Calvin possessed a special kind of genius. It was that rare kind of genius which includes not only the ability to think great thoughts, but to communicate those great thoughts to men and women who do not possess a mind of equal brilliance. This is something that Calvin possessed in great measure. Being one with a mind of a far lower order than he, I am grateful. Here, then, is the simple gospel. Enjoy.

“We may well recall here what was explained before:

First, God lays down for us through the law what we should do; if we then fail in any part of it, that dreadful sentence of eternal death which it pronounces will rest upon us.

Secondly, it is not only hard, but above our strength and beyond all our abilities, to fulfill the law to the letter; thus, if we look to ourselves only, and ponder what condition we deserve, no trace of good hope will remain; but cast away by God, we shall lie under eternal death.

Thirdly, it has been explained that there is but one means of liberation that can rescue us from such miserable calamity: the appearance of Christ the Redeemer, through whose hand the Heavenly Father, pitying us out of his infinite goodness and mercy, willed to help us; if, indeed, with firm faith we embrace this mercy and rest in it with steadfast hope.”

1 Comment

  1. Al Yerks


    Love this article!
    There was so much more behind the man that “gave” us the Doctrines of Grace. I know he would frown upon the idea of Christians calling ourselves “Calvinists”
    He was a truly remarkable man…can’t wait to meet him one day in the far off distant future.

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