As part of a new habit of reading biographies and memoirs, I recently read biographies on Martin Luther and John Calvin. I had read theological works by both of these leaders of the Reformation, but I didn’t really no much at all about their personal histories.
Reading a biography of each, back to back, was pretty interesting. In some ways, they were so similar. They both had a keen awareness of the currents of thought in their day. They saw issues very clearly and seemed to be able to recognize the ultimate outworkings of big ideas. They were both quite resolute in their theological convictions.
Both Luther and Calvin went about their work with a seriousness that reflects the sense of calling that both men possessed – very ambitious, very devoted to their work. They both dealt with chronic illnesses, though I guess that could be as much a reflection of the time in which they lived as anything else. Both men became more cantankerous in their old age, perhaps an unfortunate consequence of a lifetime spent on debates and disagreements. Neither seems to have finished strong.
In other ways, Luther and Calvin couldn’t have been more different. Luther was a rural pastor in Germany, Calvin a cosmopolitan theologian from France. Luther had a larger than life personality. Calvin was more reserved. Each faced very different challenges as reformers.
The differences between the two men are a great reminder that God accomplishes amazing things through all kinds of people, and their similarities drive home some practical lessons about both the price and the value of courage and conviction, the importance of clear thought, and the danger of becoming jaded under the weight of personal attacks. Neither man was perfect, but Western Culture owes a great deal to the legacy of Calvin and Luther.
Next up on the biography list – Cornelius Vanderbilt!