Since this newspaper began, debate has continued amongst correspondents as to what true religion entails. It is interesting to note that John Calvin has invariably been put forward as representing all sides in their highly different positions. This is neither surprising nor helpful. Calvin was a second generation Reformer whose works reflect strong Lutheran, Zwinglian, Bullingerite and Bucerian influences in their conflicting aspects. Furthermore, whereas Calvin’s Swiss and Strasburg teachers were men of peace and developed their own theology within their own pastoral duties amongst churches who loved them, Calvin was a man of strife in a frequently rebellious church. The Geneva Council treated Calvin as a foreigner, refusing him citizenship until the latter period of his life. Moreover, Calvin formulated most of his rather harsh independent thought through battling both against those good men who had prepared his way such as Valerand Poullain and with such wayward spirits as Bolsec and Osiander. According to what influence Calvin was under at the time, or with whom he was quarrelling, his theological pronouncements differ. In his first edition of the Institutes, Calvin takes over Zwingli’s stand. In the Consensus Tigurinus, he follows Bullinger. In his later works and church order, he reproduces Martin Bucer’s work down to headings and subheadings. On the Lord’s Supper, Calvin retracted from a Reformed stance to a quasi-Lutheran outlook. On the doctrines of grace, he left his former Hyper-Calvinism for a less severe, unclear position. Though we honour Calvin for his ability to reap the best from other men’s works, he fails to convince us that he himself is a safe standard worthy of our imitation. On the other hand, if we turn to the older English and Irish Reformers from John Wycliffe to James Usher, and include the above mentioned Bucer and Bullinger, we find them building their Articles, Catechisms and Homilies on the doctrines of grace which were solidly Calvinistic before ever Calvin came on the scene or gained widespread influence.
This year is Bullinger’s 500 years anniversary. He had already earned the grand names of Shepherd of All the Churches and Father and Founder of the Reformed Faith in England before ever Calvin’s writings reached the Isles. May I recommend that our readers turn to Bullinger’s works? They will find them more consistent, more steadfastly Calvinist and more pastoral than Calvin’s writings which owed their more positive aspects to Bullinger and Bucer.