Scared into Significance

Catholic persecution in France had forced John Calvin to flee Paris and take refuge in Basel, Switzerland, where he wrote the first version of his Institutes. A year later, in 1536, he subversively returned to Paris to visit family. Because he was still a fugitive, wanted by the church authorities, it became clear to him that he was going to have to settle elsewhere. So he sold the family estate in Noyon, took his brother and sister (Antoine and Marie) with him and set out for Strasbourg – a peaceful border city where the Reformation was tolerated and where he could pursue a quiet life of study.

The main road to Strasbourg happened to be blocked because the French military was moving a large contingent of its troops through the area.  So Calvin and his entourage had to take a detour. They ended up spending the night in a little Swiss town called Geneva.

In Geneva lived a Reformer named William Farel, whom Calvin described as “a man who burned with an extraordinary zeal to advance the gospel.” Somehow Farel heard that Calvin was lodging in Geneva that night. He had read the Institutes and was aware of Calvin’s keen intellect and his God-given skill in Bible teaching. He paid a visit to Calvin to try and persuade him to stay in Geneva.

According to Calvin’s own account of the conversation, he was resistant to Farel’s request. “My heart was set upon devoting myself to private studies, for which I wished to keep myself free from other pursuits.” Farel wasn’t swayed by that logic. He replied: “You are simply following your own wishes; and I declare in the name of Almighty God that if you refuse to take part in the Lord’s work in this Church, God will curse the quiet life that you want for your studies.”

Calvin wrote: “I felt as if God from heaven had laid His mighty hand upon me to stop me in my course… and I was so stricken with terror that I did not continue my journey.” And so it happened that John Calvin settled down in Geneva and spent the rest of his life ministering the gospel there.

What does it take for God to “call” you to something? Sometimes takes a distinct sense of the Holy Spirit’s leading… other times it just takes a godly man yelling at you.

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