Experiential Spirituality: John Calvin and George Herbert (Part 5 of 7)

calvin picJohn Calvin (1509-1564) was another Reformer who laid the foundation for people to experience the Living God in all areas of their lives. In the first chapter of his famous Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life (a booklet containing a central part of his longer Institutes of the Christian Religion), Calvin expands on the danger of an external, purely rational faith. Rather than be content with an intellectual faith, Calvin encourages the followers of Jesus to allow God to transform every part of their lives:

“The gospel is not a doctrine of the tongue, but of life. It cannot be grasped by reason and memory only, but it is fully understood when it possesses the whole soul and penetrates to the inner recesses of the heart…our religion will be unprofitable if it does not change our heart, pervade our manners, and transform us into new creatures.” [2008, 20-21]

In writing these words, Calvin was trying to get beyond the tendency of humanity to profess one thing with their mouth and another with their lives. However in doing so, Calvin also laid the foundation for a personal encounter with Jesus that goes beyond anything he would have anticipated.

The foundation laid by both Luther and Calvin for an experiential spirituality came together about a hundred years later within Anglicanism, which retained some of its Roman Catholic roots [Olson 1999,429-449]. The person most readily associated with this experiential mysticism is George Herbert, our eighth travel guide. Born into an aristocratic English family, Herbert (1593-1633) was an Anglican priest and poet who greatly influenced the soul of Anglicanism. His sense of connection and passion with Jesus is so powerful that a reader of his poems cannot but know that Herbert was “truly touched and amazed with the Majesty of God” as he encouraged all parsons and priests to be [1981, 60].

To be continued….

 

Bibliography

Calvin, John. 2008. Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life. Ed. Henry J. Van Andel. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books.

Herbert, George. 1981. George Herbert: The Country Parson, The Temple. Ed. John N. Wall, Jr. New York: Paulist Press.

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