Book Review: Life of John Calvin by W.J. Grier

Many thanks to the kind folks at Banner of Truth for this review copy of Life of Calvin by W.J. Grier.

An Overview

Grier’s Life of John Calvin is based on a series of article that Grier published in the Evangelical Presbyterian magazine, which he edited for fifty-three years.  Mr. Grier, who studies theology under the likes of Machen and Vos at Princeton Seminary, was looking forward to writing a book on Calvin, but due to “declining metal powers during his retirement prevented this.”

The book is comprised of twenty-three condensed and historically rich chapters.  Apart from the last two chapters (“Calvin as a Thinker” and “Preacher and Expositor,” respectively), the book tends to take a chronological approach, from Calvin’s birth, 10 July 1509, “Early Years” (chapter 1) to his death, 27 May 1564, “The Closing Year (chapter 21).

W.J. Grier’s Life of John Calvin is exactly that, the life of John Calvin.  It’s not a work on Calvin’s thought and theology, though the reader will find references here and there.  Rather the reader gets to know Calvin the man, the person–his early schooling in theology, then law; his conversion and early years as a junior reformer; his exile from Geneva and his growth in the Scriptures in Strasbourg; his recall to Geneva, to see his triumph over his foes, the Libertines and others, and his efforts to convert  16th century Geneva into a holy city.

Without the conveniences of our telephone, texting, and emailing and the like, Calvin and his contemporaries depended on letter-writing.  Calvin was the great letter-writer.  In the 4000 or so letters that have come down to us from Calvin, Princetonian great B.B. Warfield says, “In these letters we see the real Calvin, the man of profound religious convictions and rich religious life, of high purpose and noble strenuousness, of full and freely flowing human affections and sympathies.  In them he rebukes rulers and instructs statesmen, and strengthens and comfort saints.”

The advice and wisdom of Calvin was often sought.  He made himself available to the noble and ignoble.  He died in comparative poverty, because he refused increase in salary by the city council and often gave away everything he had.  He often refused money, concluding that he had not earned it.

For example, the reader will discover the ecumenical spirit of Calvin over against the headstrong Martin Luther.  But then comes the matter of the burning of Michael Servetus, a matter which critics of Calvin continues to use against him.  From what I’ve read elsewhere about the matter, I think Grier’s approach  is noteworthy.

Conclusion

Calvin, who lived for the glory of God alone, was only fifty-four years of age when he died.  As Theodore Beza, who succeeded him at the Geneva Church said, “He was buried in the common cemetery, with no extraordinary pomp, and as he had commanded, without any gravestone.”

As a reader, if you’re looking for an introduction to this great man of church history, I commend this work by Grier to you.  And like me, if you’ve read other works on Calvin, but desire another read, perhaps approach, I think you’ll find this work a solid contribution. SPT7C3ZZSA44

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4 Responses to Book Review: Life of John Calvin by W.J. Grier

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Life of John Calvin by W.J. Grier | ChristianBookBarn.com

  2. Pingback: What They're Saying About Banner Books (2013 No. 2) - Banner of Truth

  3. John Haggerty says:

    I DID NOT KNOW THAT WJ GRIER STUDIED THEOLOGY UNDER MACHEN AND VOS AT PRINCETON. THANKS FOR THIS INFORMATON. THE REV GRIER, LIKE AW PINK, HAD A SPIRIT-BLESSED WRITTEN MINISTRY. AS WELL AS BEING A COMPELLING READ FOR THE LAY READER, THIS SHORT BIOGRAPHY OF JOHN CALVIN IS AGREEABLE TO HOLD AND LOOK AT. THE BANNER OF TRUTH NEVER CEASES TO SURPRISE ME BY THE QUALITY OF ITS TEXTS AND ITS BOOK DESIGNS. AT THE MOMENT I AM READING ‘A REFORMATION GUIDE TO SCRIPTURE – THE PROLOGUES FROM THE GENEVA BIBLE 156O’ (BANNER OF TRUTH 2010). AGAIN THIS IS A SMALL, BEAUTIFULY PRINTED PAPERBACK, AND WOULD MAKE AN IDEAL GIFT. I PURCHASED A COPY OF THE LATTER FROM ONE OF THE FEW REFORMED BOOKSHOP IN MY NATIVE CITY (GLASGOW, SCOTLAND), THE SHOP BEING ATTACHED TO THE FREE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH. IN THIS SHOP I ALSO PURCHASED A SECONDHAND COPY OF ‘THE VIRGIN BIRTH OF CHRIST’ BY J GRESHAM MACHEN. HERE IS A WONDERFUL BOOK RIPE FOR REPRINTING BY THE BANNER OF TRUTH. THANKS AGAIN FOR YOUR REVIEW OF THE LIFE OF THIS GIANT OF THE REFORMATION. MY NATIVE CITY HAS A MOTTO WRITTEN BY JOHN KNOX WHO VISITED GENEVA AND STUDIED UNDER CALVIN. THAT MOTTO IS ‘LORD LET GLASGOW FLOURISH BY THE PREACHING OF THE WORD’. TODAY KNOX IS LARGELY FORGOTTEN. DRUGS, DRUNKENNESS, VIOLENCE AND NEW AGE CULTS FLOURISH IN MY CITY. IT IS RATHER LIKE GENEVA BEFORE CALVIN’S ARRIVAL. INCIDENTALLY, EDINBURGH HAS A FAMOUS BOOK FESTIVAL WHIC RUNS EVERY AUGUST. BUT I HAVE NEVER SEEN A BANNER OF TRUTH PUBLICATION BEING SHOWCASED. OUR SCOTTISH SECULAR CULTURE IS FIERCELY ANTI-CHRISTIAN. WE ARE INDEED A LOST PEOPLE. MAY THE LORD SEND US PREACHERS LIKE CALVIN AND KNOX.

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