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History of the Christian Church, Volume VIII: Modern Christianity. The Swiss Reformation.
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§ 163. Calvin’s Influence upon Great Britain.


Calvin and the Church of England.


Calvin first alludes to the English Reformation in a letter to Farel, dated March 15, 1539, where he gives the following judgment of Henry VIII.: "The King is only half wise. He prohibits, under severe penalties, besides depriving them of the ministry, the priests and bishops who enter upon matrimony; he retains the daily masses; he wishes the seven sacraments to remain as they are. In this way he has a mutilated and tom gospel, and a church stuffed full as yet with many toys and trifles. Then he does not suffer the Scripture to circulate in the language of the common people throughout the kingdom, and he has lately put forth a new verdict by which he warns the people against the reading of the Bible. He lately burned a worthy and learned man [John Lambert] for denying the carnal presence of Christ in the bread. Our friends, however, though sorely hurt by atrocities of this kind, will not cease to have an eye to the condition of his kingdom."

With the accession of Edward VI. he began to exercise a direct influence upon the Anglican Reformation. He addressed a long letter to the Protector Somerset, Oct. 22, 1548, and advised the introduction of instructive preaching and strict discipline, the abolition of crying abuses, and the drawing up of a summary of articles of faith, and a catechism for children. Most of his suggestions were adopted. It is remarkable that in this letter, as well as that to the king of Poland, he makes no objection to the Episcopal form of government, nor to a liturgy. At the request of Archbishop Cranmer, he wrote also letters to Edward VI., and dedicated to him his Commentary on Isaiah. He sent them by a private messenger who was introduced to the King by the Duke of Somerset His correspondence with Cranmer has been already alluded to.12441244    § 159, pp. 799 sq. As a consensus creed of Reformed Churches was found to be impracticable, he encouraged the archbishop to draw up the articles of religion for the Church of England.

These articles which appeared first in 1553, and were afterwards reduced from forty-one to thirty-nine under Queen Elizabeth, in 1563, show the influence of the Augsburg Confession in the doctrines of the Trinity, justification and the Church, and the influence of Calvin in the doctrines of the Eucharist, and of predestination, which, however, is stated with wisdom and moderation (Art. XVII.), without reprobation and preterition.12451245    See Creeds of Christendom, vol. I. 613 sqq.; 633 sqq.

During the reign of Queen Mary, many leading Protestants fled to Geneva, and afterwards obtained high positions in the Church under Queen Elizabeth. Among them were the translators of the Geneva version of the Bible, which owes much to Calvin and Beza, and continued to be the most popular English version till the middle of the seventeenth century, when it was superseded by the version of 1611.

During the reign of Queen Elizabeth Calvin’s theological influence was supreme, and continued down to the time of Archbishop Laud. His Institutes were translated soon after the appearance of the last edition, and passed through six editions in the life of the translator. They were the textbook in the universities, and had as great an authority as the Sentences of Peter the Lombard, or the Summa of Thomas Aquinas, in the Middle Ages. We have previously quoted the high tributes of the "judicious" Hooker and Bishop Sanderson to Calvin.12461246    See above, p. 286 sq. Heylyn, the admirer and biographer of Archbishop Laud, says that "Calvin’s book of Institutes was for the most part the foundation on which the young divines of those times did build their studies." Hardwick, speaking of the latter part of the Elizabethan period, asserts that "during an interval of nearly thirty years, the more extreme opinions of the school of Calvin, not excluding his theory of irrespective reprobation, were predominant in almost every town and parish."12471247    A History of the Articles of Religion (1859), p. 167.

The nine Lambeth Articles of 1595, and the Irish Articles of Archbishop Ussher of 1615, give the strongest symbolical expression to the Calvinistic doctrine of unconditional election and reprobation, but lost their authority under the later Stuarts.12481248    See above, p. 564, and Creeds of Christendom, I. 658 sqq.

Calvin, however, always maintained his commanding position as a commentator among the scholars of the Anglican Church. His influence revived in the evangelical party, and his sense of the absolute dependence on divine grace for comfort and strength found classical expression in some of the best hymns of the English language, notably in Toplady’s

"Rock of Ages cleft for me."


Calvin and the Church of Scotland.


Still greater and more lasting was Calvin’s influence upon Scotland. It extended over discipline and church polity as well as doctrine.

The Presbyterian Church of Scotland, under the sole headship of Christ, is a daughter of the Reformed Church of Geneva, but has far outgrown her mother in size and importance, and is, upon the whole, the most flourishing of the Reformed Churches in Europe, and not surpassed by any denomination in general intelligence, liberality, and zeal for the spread of Christianity at home and abroad.

The hero of the Scotch Reformation, though four years older than Calvin, sat humbly at his feet and became more Calvinistic than Calvin. John Knox, the Scot of the Scots, as Luther was the German of the Germans, spent the five years of his exile (1554–1559), during the reign of the Bloody Mary, mostly at Geneva, and found there "the most perfect school of Christ that ever was since the days of the Apostles."12491249    See above, § 110, p. 518. After that model he led the Scotch people, with dauntless courage and energy, and the perfervidum ingenium Scotorum, from mediaeval semi-barbarism into the light of modern civilization, and acquired a name which, next to those of Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin, is the greatest in the history of the Protestant Reformation.12501250    Creeds of Christendom, I. 669-685, and the literature there given.

In the seventeenth century Scotch Presbyterianism and English Puritanism combined to produce a second and more radical reformation, and formulated the rigorous principles of Puritanic Calvinism in doctrine, discipline, and worship. The Westminster standards of 1647 have since governed the Presbyterian, and, in part, also the Congregational or Independent, and the regular Baptist Churches of the British Empire and the United States, with such modifications and adaptations as the progress of theology and church life demands.12511251    Ibid. I. 685-813.




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