John Calvin: A loving pastor who pursued Protestant unity

To some Christians the name ‘John Calvin’ may evoke an image of an austere and divisive figure, fanatical about one particular doctrine.

But during the second of The Christian Institute’s Autumn Lecture 2017 series, a completely different picture emerged.

Revd Dr Ian Hamilton, author and former minister of Cambridge Presbyterian Church, showed how this “poor, timid, scholar” was first and foremost a loving pastor with a heart for Christian unity who sought only to preach Jesus Christ.

Victim of mockery

Born in 1509 in France, Calvin wrote very little about his conversion, committing to paper only three lines including the words “God subdued me”.

…not content with just writing, John Calvin also frequently would go door-to-door visiting the people under his care.

Most strongly associated with Geneva, it was only in his latter years there he had widespread support. Before then “that Frenchman”, as he was called, was the victim of mockery and insult.

Though he later became known as the foremost theologian of the Reformation, Calvin would primarily describe himself as a pastor.

It was this pastoral heart that compelled him to write thousands of letters to Kings, Queens, clergy and others.

And not content with just writing, he also frequently would go door-to-door visiting the people under his care.

Such was his determination to refuse the spotlight, he was buried in an unmarked grave after his death in 1564, that no-one should genuflect at his burial place.

Do you love me?

Revd Hamilton explained how Calvin’s love for Jesus, and desire to serve, were rooted in Jesus’ words as he restored Peter. Repeating “Do you love me?” makes plain that it is love for Christ that is most important – not courage or hard work.

We’re marching to heaven, let’s do all we can by the grace of God to march together.

Revd Dr Ian Hamilton

However, quick to head off possible accusations of a Christian life devoid of action, Revd Hamilton said that evangelism was vital to Calvin.

Indeed, his church sent out thousands of missionaries – a fact ignored by some who try to argue a belief in predestination removes any need to share the Gospel.

Jesus’ prayer for unity

On Calvin’s deep desire for Protestant unity, Revd Hamilton said it was an urge so strong that it might have left some Christians today scratching their heads.

In a letter to English reformers in exile, he counselled against stirring up dissention over matters such as kneeling to receive Holy Communion.

In Revd Hamilton’s rousing summary, he urged Christians to remember Jesus’ prayer for unity in John 17 before concluding: “We’re marching to heaven, let’s do all we can by the grace of God to march together.”

You can order a copy of Revd Dr Ian Hamilton’s lecture on CD for £2.50. A special boxset of all this year’s lectures will also be available for £11.00, or on an MP3 CD for £4. To place an order, phone The Christian Institute office on 0191 281 5664 or email