Two years ago, when I got an invitation to preach in Geneva, my chief regret was that I was fully booked for another two years. Thankfully, Pastor Larry Lloyd was willing to wait for the two years for me to preach at Crossroads Church. The intervening years took forever until finally last month my faith was turned to sight and I found myself in Geneva, Switzerland!
What is so special about Geneva? It is the simple fact that this is where the famous John Calvin (1509-1564) laboured as a preacher and reformer in the 16th century. This was the city in which the worldwide Protestant Reformation received its greatest impetus.
|The beautiful view of the lake and mountain range from the conference site|
|Standing next to a life-size portrait of John Calvin|
It was during the two days of rest that Pastor Larry Lloyd took me to the Old City where the buildings that once made up Geneva in the days of John Calvin are located. It was an overwhelming experience to enter the buildings where this man preached and lectured, until he turned the whole city into a model of Protestantism, both in church and state. As we walked around I imagined which building it must have been where William Farel met Calvin and sought to persuade him to remain in Geneva and labour with him for the reformation of the city. It is said that Calvin used every excuse in the book to continue his journey—need for rest, love of study, desire to continue writing, etc. Then Farel rose from his seat, and, placing his hand on Calvin’s head, and fixing his eyes on him, he said, “Then God will curse your repose, and your studies, if in so dire a necessity as ours, you withdraw, and refuse to give your help and support.” That was how Calvin trembled and committed himself to staying in Geneva. That event alone changed the course of human history.
|Standing outside St Peter's Cathedral where Calvin preached his famous sermons|
I wrote in the introduction to my biography of John Calvin (written in 2000), “He was a mere man, but his achievements in his twenty-eight years of ministry make us feel as if he lived while we merely exist. How one person could have accomplished so much for God is beyond comprehension. We tremble to think what that one life would have done for the cause of Christ if the Lord had made him live in today’s computer age! Yet, four hundred years later, the significance of John Calvin cannot be exaggerated.”
|Standing next to Calvin's pulpit in St Peter's Cathedral|
John Calvin is famous for his teaching on predestination and election. For some people that is all he ever taught. But that is like holding a door handle in your hands and mistaking it for the entire house! John Calvin’s genius lay in the way he was able to systematise the whole of Christian truth (especially in his Institutes of the Christian Religion) and also in the way he expounded the Word of God. Whenever I have gone to his commentaries on any passage of Scripture, I have come away wondering whether this man is living today. The commentaries are not only faithful to the text of Scripture but also rich in doctrine and plain common sense.
|Standing next to the statues of the four great reformers|
Although the statues of John Calvin, John Knox, William Farel, and Theodore Beza are still there in Geneva, sadly, the truths that these men love, preached, defended, and sought to apply in the life of this city-state are no longer known and loved by its populace today. The motto on their statues in Reformation Park reads, “Post Tenebras Lux” (“After darkness, light”). However, it seems that now it is, “After light, darkness.” For instance, my hosts warned me about an area right in the middle of the city where prostitution is legal. The state recognises this as a legitimate form of work, and the prostitutes are registered and pay taxes. I am sure this would make the great Reformer, John Calvin, turn in his grave!