JOHN CALVIN AND JOHN OWEN ON MORTIFICATION
A Comparative Study in Reformed Spirituality
Randall C. Gleason
45.95, hardcover; 183 pages, notes, bibliography, index
French theologian John Calvin was, after Martin Luther, the guiding spirit of the Protestant Reformation. If Luther sounded the trumpet for reform, Calvin orchestrated the score by which the Reformation became a part of Western civilization. Calvin studied in Paris, probably from 1521 to 1526, where he was introduced to humanistic scholarship and to appeals for reform of the church. He then studied law at his fathers bidding from about 1525 to 1530. When his father died in 1531, Calvin turned immediately to his first love--study of the classics and theology. Between 1526 and 1531, he experienced a distinctly Protestant conversion. "God," he wrote much later, "at last turned my course in another direction by the secret rein of his providence." Calvins first published work was a commentary on Senecas De Clementia (1532). A profusion of influential commentaries on books of the Bible followed.
His position in France became precarious when in 1533 his friend Nicholas Cop, rector of the University of Paris, gave a public address supporting reform. Eventually Calvin was forced to flee in 1535 to Basel, Switzerland. There he produced a small book about his new reformed beliefs. It was designed to offer a brief summary of essential Christian belief and to defend French Protestants, who were then undergoing serious persecution, as true heirs of the early church. This first edition of Calvins Institutes of the Christian Religion (1536) contained only six brief sections. By the last edition (1559), it had grown to 79 full chapters. The Institutes presents with unmatched clarity a vision of God in his majesty, of Christ as prophet, priest, and king, of the Holy Spirit as the giver of faith, of the Bible as the final authority, and of the church as the holy people of God. Its doctrine of Predestination is Calvins deduction from his belief in human sinfulness and Gods sovereign mercy in Christ. In Calvin we find a fine appreciation for mortification. "If our sanctification consists in the mortification of our own will, the analogy between the external sign and the thing signified is most appropriate. We must rest entirely, in order that God may work in us; we must resign our own will, yield up our heart, and abandon all the lusts of the flesh. In short, we must desist from all the acts of our own mind, that God working in us, we may rest in him."
John Owen was an English reformed theologian who lived a century after Calvin and whose works were highly influential for the Puritans and the Federal theology that later evolved. In order to understand the nature of sanctification, or how to live a good Christian life one must become aware of the methods of self reform. Purification is an act of Grace so that all one can do is set one self up to become worthy of it through mortification. The feeling of shame, humiliation, or injured pride was evidence of the necessity of discountenancing of the body and appetites. In this work Gleason shows how Owen adapted Calvins views on mortification further securing them in the Church as the corporate body of Christ that cause them to paradoxically to enhance private devotions and self-examination and reinforced allegiance of civil interpretations of the law.
Last modified: January 24, 2016
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