Calvinism, properly speaking, is a term which belongs to the Continent rather than to Great Britain. At the same time as John Calvin was leading the work of the Reformation in Switzerland and France, men like Thomas Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley, and Hugh Latimer were doing the same in England, and John Knox in Scotland. Of course there were contacts and communications between the British Reformers and Calvin, and interactions of thought and theology. But there was a spontaneousness in the flowering of the Reformation in these different spheres which contradicts any notion of radical interdependence and, by the same token, magnifies the sovereignty and exuberance of the Holy Spirit in his working. As a matter of terminology, therefore, the term “Calvinistic” is applicable to the Continent rather than to Great Britain, where the correspondingly appropriate adjective is “Reformed.” This distinction, however, does not at all imply any kind of cleavage or disharmony in theology. But it is sometimes necessary discreetly to remind friends across the Channel or on the other side of the Atlantic that in the sixteenth century Great Britain had her own Reformation and her own Reformers, though, unlike Luther and Calvin on the Continent, the names of Knox and Cranmer had the good fortune not to become compounded or associated with particular “isms.”

Common Ground

A comparison of the teaching of Calvin with the Westminster Confession of Faith and with the Book of Common Prayer and Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of the Church of England will show how in all essentials of doctrine and worship the respective reforming movements of Geneva, Edinburgh, and Canterbury were at one with each other. The explanation of this identity of conviction was, to all intents and purposes, the simultaneous rediscovery of the Bible as the authoritative Word of God to man (sola scriptura), and with it the apprehension of the evangelical truths that it is by grace alone (sola gratis) that man is offered redemption in Christ and that it is by faith alone (sola fide), not by any supposed human merit, that this all-sufficient salvation is appropriated by man.

Calvinism, then, may be understood in two different ways: either as indicating the distinctive school of Calvin and his disciples in successive generations, or as a synonym for the main and characteristic doctrines of the Reformation of the sixteenth century, in whatever land and under whatever leaders they came to expression. This year, no doubt, as we commemorate the 450th anniversary of John Calvin’s birth and the 400th anniversary of the publication of the final edition of his incomparable Institutes of the Christian Religion, attention will very fittingly be concentrated on the life and labors of the great Continental Reformer; but a just portrayal of the British scene requires that “Calvinism” should be taken into account in both senses.

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New Interest In Calvin

There are clear signs that Calvin, after a period of unjust neglect, is today becoming increasingly known and appreciated in Great Britain. Contemporary interpretations of particular themes and aspects of his theology (such as have come from the pens of T. F. Torrance in Scotland and T. H. L. Parker in England), though very much a second best when compared with the reading of Calvin’s own writings, have served to bring the Reformer’s name and in some measure his thought to the serious notice of persons who through ignorance or prejudice might not be disposed to turn to his works. Studies of this kind provide stepping-stones to the reading of Calvin at first hand, which is much more to be desired. It is over a hundred years since the Calvin Translation Society performed a notable service by producing the great Reformer’s works (Institutes, Commentaries, and Tracts) in an English translation of some fifty volumes. These volumes have now been long out of print, and a new edition, preferably a new translation, would be certain to be widely welcomed. The reprinting, since the war, of an existing English translation of the Institutes has met with an eager response—a sure token of the present mounting interest in John Calvin and his theology. A publication on a smaller scale has been that of a new translation (by T. H. L. Parker) of Calvin’s Sermons on Isaiah LIII.

In the strictly Calvinistic tradition, mention may be made of English translations of two works by contemporary Frenchmen: Auguste Lecerf’s Introduction to Reformed Dogmatics (translated by Stephen Leigh-Hunt, 1949—both author and translator are now deceased) and Pierre Marcel’s Biblical Doctrine of Infant Baptism (translated by the author of this article, 1953), both of which have been widely studied. A British edition of David Gelzer’s translation of the outstanding biographical study of Calvin by the distinguished contemporary Swiss man of letters, Emanuel Stickelberger, shortly to be published in London, will help further to stimulate intelligent interest here in Great Britain in the personality and work of the eminent Continental Reformer.

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Taking “Calvinism” in its broader and less precise sense of Reformed theology in general, however, there is much more that can be added to the picture, for, despite the prevailing climate of theological liberalism and, in certain quarters, of Anglo-medievalism, a pronounced revival of interest in the men and writings of the Reformation is discernible—not least among younger men in scholarly and ministerial circles, which, for those who are active in the cause of advancing the vital principles of the Reformed faith, is a source of much encouragement. In the University of Cambridge, for example, there are large attendances at the meetings of the Cranmer Society, the declared aim of which is “to provide members of the University with instruction in ‘those wholesome and spiritual doctrines of the Reformation’ contained in the Thirty-Nine Articles, the Homilies, and the Common Book of Prayer of the Church of England”; at Oxford the Bishop Jewel Society, with similar objectives, is also flourishing; and a Puritan Studies Conference, numerously and enthusiastically supported, is held annually in London for the purpose of studying the writings and character of the Puritan divines of the seventeenth century, who so solidly and devoutly developed and applied the great doctrines of the Reformation.

Study Of Luther

Another factor to be taken into account is the growing interest in Martin Luther. This is shown, for instance, in the approving reception which has been accorded to Gordon Rupp’s scholarly writings on the German Reformer and to the British edition of Roland H. Bainton’s biography, Here I Stand. Recent years have also seen the appearance of a new and revised edition of Luther’s famous commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians in English (edited by P. S. Watson, 1953), a completely new translation of his Bondage of the Will (by J. I. Packer and O. R. Johnston, 1957), and the selection and translation by Bertram Lee Woolf of some of his main Reformation writings (in two volumes, 1952 and 1956). In the Library of Christian Classics series, now in process of production, no less than 10 volumes out of a projected total of 26, covering the first 15 centuries of the Christian Church, are being devoted to new translations of selected works from the pens of Luther, Calvin, Melanchthon, Bucer, Zwingli, Bullinger, and the English Reformers. Another book that has been favourably received is Marcus Loane’s Masters of the English Reformation (1954).

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Among other publications which might be mentioned, the volumes currently being produced by The Banner of Truth Trust are deserving of special notice, for they represent the fruits of a most laudable venture. These are, for the most part, reprints of religious works in the best Reformed tradition, ranging from the seventeenth up to our own twentieth century, and classifiable, according to their contents, within the categories of Dogmatics, Pastoral Theology, and the Exegesis of Holy Scripture. Subsidized by The Banner of Truth Trust, these books are being priced at figures which place them within the reach of every pocket. That they will contribute effectively to the realization of the Trust’s object of inducing a revival of solid biblical learning is scarcely a matter of doubt. Of the two dozen volumes already projected, more than half have so far been published—and the Trust came into existence only a little more than a year ago! Over the next few years a substantial augmentation of the Calvinistic literature available in Great Britain can be anticipated, thanks to the vision of those loyal and generous men who formed this Trust.

The Printed Page

Unfortunately, like the volumes of the Calvin Translation Society, the splendid sets of the fathers and early writers of the Reformed Churches of England and Scotland, published in the middle of last century by the Parker Society and the Wodrow Society respectively, are now out of print and difficult to come by in secondhand bookshops. Perhaps it is not too much to hope that the example of the Calvinistic Society of France in producing, as it is now doing with the aid of the International Association for Reformed Faith and Action, a new edition of Calvin’s Institutes and commentaries in modernized French will stimulate the undertaking of a similar service for the writings of our British Reformers. These champions and witnesses of evangelical truth have a message for our generation, and they must not be silenced by careless neglect.

Evangelical Preaching

The reader would be correct to infer that the degree of change in the theological climate of Great Britain, involving a return to the distinctive doctrines of the Reformation, is resulting very largely from the distribution of the printed page. Evangelical preaching, however, still leaves much to be desired, especially in that there is a deficiency of emphasis on the absolute sovereignty of Almighty God, as Creator, Redeemer, and Judge, over all the affairs of our world. This means also a concomitant deficiency in the view of man and his ability. But it is only reasonable to expect that as the majestic scriptural perspectives of the Reformation are absorbed through the printed page, so they will begin once more to find an integral place in the message proclaimed from the pulpit, and thence in the hearts and minds of the men and women in the pews of our British churches.

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There is, indeed, another factor which is by no means unimportant. I refer to the impact which is continually being made on worshipers in the Church of England by the services of the Book of Common Prayer, that treasury of scriptural worship and teaching inherited from the English Reformation. And this is particularly true of the services most frequently celebrated, namely, Morning and Evening Prayer and the Holy Communion or Lord’s Supper, which for beauty and balance, dignity of worship, and soundness of doctrine are unsurpassed in the whole of Christendom. They represent “Calvinism” at its best. Beyond doubt, the liturgical and doctrinal structure of the Book of Common Prayer provides the perfect setting for strongly Reformed preaching from the pulpit. Here in England, a fresh, vital union of Reformed liturgy and Reformed preaching could, more probably than anything else, lead to a genuine transformation of the present deplorable situation.

International Congress

Finally, a word must be said about the international aspect. The Reformed faith is a faith for the world—not for one country or one denomination. The realization of this truth lies behind the formation a mere five or six years ago of the International Association for Reformed Faith and Action with its threefold aim of strengthening and advancing the Reformed cause throughout the world, encouraging fellowship between Reformed Christians of every land, and facilitating the interchange of Reformed thought and experience. This new movement, so young and hopeful, has already organized three major international congresses and has an impressive program for the production and dissemination of Reformed literature, both classical and contemporary, especially in those lands where the Reformed faith is weak and struggling. National branches have already been formed in every quarter of the globe, including Great Britain. And it is planned to hold the next international congress in England in the summer of 1961.

The most recent development is the publication of a new magazine, The International Reformed Bulletin, which is produced twice yearly and of which I have the honor to be the Editor. Here too, then, within the great world-wide perspective, Great Britain is beginning to feel in a fresh and vital way the impact of the Reformed faith, or, if you will, of Calvinism. This faith, let us always remember, is not an outmoded construction of 400 years ago, but the pristine faith of the New Testament, which can never be static or retrogressive, but constantly the one dynamic reforming faith for our own and every generation. May God graciously enable us, in the light of Holy Scripture and in the power of the Holy Spirit, to apply it to our present circumstances, to contend earnestly for it, and to propagate it in our world today, raising high the banner: soli Deo glorial

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Philip E. Hughes is Lecturer of Mortlake Parish, London, and Editor of the International Reformed Bulletin. He is Vice-President of the International Association for Reformed Faith and Action; formerly Secretary of the Church Society of London. He is also Vice-Principal of Tyndale Hall, Bristol.

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