Farel and Calvin: The Anvil of Pastoral Responsibility


[1] I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: [2] preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. [3] For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, [4] and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. [5] As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

2 Timothy 4:1-5 (ESV)

R. Kent Hughes:

It is a matter of historical fact that John Calvin’s own inclinations were to closet himself and give his great mind to private studies. And early on that is what he decided to do. However, when he visited the city of Geneva, William Farel, the fiery leader of Geneva, discovered he was there and sought him out. It was a meeting that changed the course of history. Calvin relates what happened in his preface to his commentary on the Psalms:

Farel, who burned with an extraordinary zeal to advance the gospel, immediately learned that my heart was set upon devoting myself to private studies, for which I wished to keep myself free from other pursuits, and finding that he gained nothing by entreaties, he proceeded to utter an imprecation that God would curse my retirement, and the tranquility of the studies which I sought, if I should withdraw and refuse to give assistance, when the necessity was so urgent. By this imprecation I was so stricken with terror, that I desisted from the journey which I had undertaken.2

Calvin’s biographer John Dillenberger writes of this encounter:

The course of his life was irrevocably changed. Not just geographically, but vocationally. Never again would Calvin work in what he called the “tranquility of studies.” From now on every page of the forty-eight volumes of books and tracts and sermons and commentaries and letters that he wrote would be hammered out on the anvil of pastoral responsibility. (John Calvin, Selections from His Writings, ed. John Dillenberger, p. 28.)

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