The Heart and Mind of Godly Ministry: Learning from the Letters of Calvin and Rutherford
Two humble men who remind us that the glory of God, delight in Christ, and the growth of God’s people is our great aim and end in the church. Their letters divulge their longing for the power of the gospel, piety of the people of God, prayerfulness of the saints, and tender presence in the family of God.
Since High School, when I became a believer, God has richly blessed my life with multiple mentors and heroes in the faith. Their friendship, support, challenge, and rebuke have seasoned my walk with Christ and greatly equipped my service in ministry, and I will forever be in their debt. However, in the past few months, the Lord has used two men in particular to minister to my heart and life. And these two fathers in the faith have been dead for hundreds of years.
What a gift the church has in the printed copies of the personal letters of John Calvin and Samuel Rutherford (Thank you Banner of Truth Trust!). Attending a Reformed seminary, we were naturally exposed to the great Reformer’s and Puritan’s prolific writings in exegesis, systematic and pastoral theology, as well as critical commentary. But its been just recently that I’ve come to treasure the letters and correspondence of godly and model pastors like Calvin and Rutherford, and I’d like to share two brief excerpts that provide a window looking out at the beautiful landscape of their pastoral wisdom and piety.
Philip R. Johnson notes in his contribution to the volume celebrating the 500th anniversary of Calvin’s birth, “Calvin’s most underrated body of work was his letters— long epistles, in many cases. Most of Calvin’s letters convey the great tenderness of his pastor’s heart—especially when he wrote to admonish or correct someone in error. The tone of the letters belies the modern caricature of Calvin as a stern, fire-breathing, doctrinaire authoritarian.” I couldn’t agree more! In June of 1551, Calvin wrote to a “French Gentleman”, perhaps a member of the family of Theodore Beza as the letter was produced upon the occasion of an illness which endangered Beza’s life. The letter reveals a touching tribute to his affection as a friend and partner in ministry. He writes:
“When the messenger presented himself with your letter to Beza, I was seized with fresh alarm, and, at the same time, weighed down with a load of grief. For I was informed, the day before, that he had been seized with the plague. I was therefore not only troubled about the danger he was in, but from my very great affection for him I felt almost overpowered, as if I was already lamenting his death…”