Title: Let Christ Be Magnified
Author: J. H. Merle d’Aubigne
Publisher: Banner of Truth Trust (Reprint), 2007; 52 pp. $9.00
This being the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin’s birth, there are no shortage of books being written or re-released in tribute to him. I think I’ve acquired at least a half-dozen such books already. This is likely the shortest of the books I will read by or about Calvin this year.
This work is by 19th century historian J. H. Merle d’Aubigne. The interesting thing about this book is that it is a transcript of a message he gave at the 1864 tercentenary commemoration of Calvin’s death. And perhaps there was no one more apt to give that message, as d’Aubigne is arguably the finest historian of the Reformation.
The format of the book is simple — following a brief preface from the publisher providing the context of the message by d’Aubigne and then a concise outline of Calvin’s life, the text of d’Aubigne’s message is given. The author struggled with two dilemmas — how to honor the man so that God is still more honored than the man, and secondly how to summarize the great body of Calvin’s work in a few words.
To the first issue he writes (quoting first Calvin himself):
“Let us give honour to persons who excel in the fear of God, but on condition that God remains above all, and that Christ triumphs.”…I do not know why we should not modestly call to mind that great teacher of the Scriptures of God, who has undeniably exercixed upon the destinies of Christianity, and on the civilization of the world, a very different influence from that of the greatest poets or the most illustrious men of science.
There is a special obligation on us to do it, for there is perhaps no person in history more misunderstood than he. [p. 3.]
As to the second problem, he summarizes,
We have sought for the characteristic feature of this great Christian personality. Is it the recognition of the sovereignty of God, absolute submission to his will, the organization of the church? The first of these features is the most prominent; and yet we must mount still higher to find the key of his doctrine and of his life. Excelsior! Higher, and higher still! This was Calvin’s motto: his soul perpetually soared towards heaven. The glory of God, the glory of Christ; this was his overruling idea, the principle of his activity, the aim of his whole life. [pp. 8-9]
In simple fashion, d’Aubigne then demonstrates how that passion for the glory of Christ was manifested in four particular areas in Calvin’s life and ministry:
- Christ’s Word — “He is for the Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible.” [p. 12]
- Christ’s Person — “Dwelling habitually as in his presence, he contemplated Jesus, love, and adored him. He desired to make him known, and loudly gave glory before the world to his holy humanity and his perfect divinity.” [p. 19]
- Christ’s Grace — “He ascribes no part of his conversion to himself; he claims no merit. To him belongs the hardness of heart, to God alone the power and love that break it.” [p. 30]
- Christ’s Life — “What makes the real Christian is the new birth, the new creature, the new life: it is Christ living in us. All the Reformers said this; but Calvin dwelt upon it with a power peculiarly his own.” [pp. 41-2]
The strength of this book is that the life of Calvin is condenced to its essense. The heart and central purpose of the man are revealed and the appetite is whetted for more. The weakness of the book is that it is simply too short to deal significantly with any of the controversies surrounding Calvin. [For that, his History of the Reformation in the Sixteenth Century (700 pp.) awaits!]
UPDATE: Steve is absolutely correct. The retail price is $9.00. I inadvertently left that price there from a copy and paste of the format from a different book review. My apologies.