John Calvin’s output was prolific. He preached sermons, wrote commentaries and theological works, carried on the work of the Reformation, pastored a church, led other pastors, worked for the good of Geneva, and more. And somehow, somehow!, he found time to write letters. Lots and lots of letters. Wikipedia says he wrote more than 1,300 letters.
Letters of John Calvin is a selection of 70 letters. He writes to many people: friends, other reformers (Luther, Bullinger, Melancthon, Cranmer), and prisoners. He writes about different topics: his wife, theology, comfort to those in prison, and more.
In reading these letters, a lot of the myths about Calvin are undone. Let me note a few truths found in the letters.
(1) He cared deeply about the unity of the church. To Farel, he writes, “that among Christians there out to be so great a dislike of schism, as that they may always avoid it so far as lies in their power. That there ought to prevail among them such a reverence for the ministry of the word and of the Sacraments, that wherever they perceive these things to be, there they may consider the Church to exist.” (30-31)
(2) He was not some unfeeling stoic. To Farel about returning to Geneva (where there had been great difficulty), “but rather would I submit to death a hundred times than to that cross, on which one had to perish daily a thousand times over.” (38) And to Peter Viret, “for it would have been far preferable to perish once for all than to be tormented again in that place of torture.” (43)
(3) At the same time, he really cared about faithfulness for God’s glory and the good of his church. Again to Farel on returning to Geneva, “had I the choice at my own disposal, nothing would be less agreeable to me than to follow your advice. But when I remember that I am not my own, I offer up my heart, presented as a sacrifice to the Lord…And for myself, I protest that I have no other desire than that, setting aside all consideration of me, they may look only to what is most for the glory of God and the advantage of the Church.” (45)
(4) That he was unfeeling toward others. to Viret, he writes this on the death of his wife, “I have been bereaved of the best companion of my life, of one who, had it been so ordered, would not only have been the willing sharer of my indigence, but even of my death. During her life she was the faithful helper of my ministry. From here I never experienced the slightest hindrance.” (93) And in another letter he says, “The Lord has certainly inflicted a severe and bitter would in the death of our baby son. But he is himself a Father, and knows best what is good for his children.” (xxvii)
The list could go on. In all, reading Calvin’s letters is really interesting. I read a few per day over the course of time so that I could take them slowly while also making progress. I recommend you check this book out.
I received a complimentary review copy from Banner of Truth Press, and I was not obligated to give a positive review. I recommend checking out their website: https://banneroftruth.org/us/.