Bernard, Calvin, & the Name of Jesus


I wish more Calvinists would actually read Calvin. There. I said it. He gets quoted quite often, but I’m not so sure that he’s actually been read by so many these days. Most of my life growing up in the Church, when I’d hear the word “Calvinist,” I knew that was my cue to run for the hills because “those people think we’re all robots and don’t believe we have a free will” or some kind of remark would be made. Then, during my college years, I was properly introduced to Calvin, Luther, Zwingli, and the whole gang. Since then, I found out that Calvin isn’t a monster after all. As it turns out, he loved Jesus and the Church a whole heck of a lot.

Back in when I was in my post-grad studies at the London School of Theology, one of my professors, Dr. Tony Lane sparked my interest in St. Bernard’s influence upon the Protestant Reformer, John Calvin. The relationship between these two saints has been much of Lane’s focus, beginning, I believe, during his days in Oxford. St. Bernard of Clairvaux lived from 1090-1153. Calvin (1509-1564) leans heavily on Clairvaux’s thoughts especially surrounding what we commonly refer to as “justification by faith.”

This year I have been working slowly, devotionally, if you will, through Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. To know that Calvin was 27 years old when he penned this incredible gift to the Church, truly is remarkable. What I love about this work is that the reader can clearly discern Calvin’s pastoral heart. His love for Jesus and the people shines and causes me to love Jesus and want to serve the people of Redemption with all my heart. Calvin systematically works through key doctrines of the faith not for the sake of theologians in a library somewhere but he articulates truth in plain terms, though he’s not saying “simple things.” Unfortunately, when the name “Calvin” is mentioned, many tend to shudder because someone somewhere who is completely out of touch with Calvin and the Jesus he loved, spoke crudely, attaching Calvin’s name to something ugly or divisive.

Perhaps beginning over the holidays or at the turn of the year, you might consider purchasing a copy of the Institutes and working through them slowly? I’ve found both my mind and heart genuinely enriched this year as a result of Calvin’s pastoral influence upon my life.

I’ll leave you today with this beautiful line first penned by Bernard, then by Calvin on the name of Jesus…

The name of Jesus is not only light but food. It is oil without which food for the soul is dry and salt without which is insipid. It is honey in the mouth, melody in the ear and joy in the heart. It has healing power. Every discussion where his name is not heard is pointless.
— Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book II, Part VI, ch. 7.1 eds., Lane & Osborne