It is known by most that I think two of the greatest men who ever lived were
John Calvin (1509-1564) and Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865). In so many ways they are widely different characters but in others they both represent the kind of greatness that defines historical epochs and movements. You will notice, by their birth dates, that we celebrate their 500th and 200th anniversaries of their respective births this New Year. Both lived into their 54th year, Calvin dying from physical infirmity and Lincoln from assassination.
You may be inclined to think that these two giants have almost nothing in common. I would disagree. Calvin was a minister, a theologian and a writer. But his views have shaped human government in the West right down to the present time. Lincoln was never even a church member and had a very bad encounter with a form of hyper-Calvinism as a young man. For most of his life he was not interested in formal religion, though he often thought and wrote about God in various ways. What intrigues me is that Lincoln had a strong view of divine providence, a doctrine most associated with a person like Calvin. I would argue that Lincoln actually lived his life more like a Calvinist than almost any American president we have ever elected. He saw God's hand in much of what happened to him and around him. I would also argue that he became a serious believer prior to the end of his life, though he never accepted water baptism and became a church member.
Few men in human history have had so much written about them as these two. There is more written about Abraham Lincoln than any other person in history besides Jesus. Think about that. It is staggering really.
And John Calvin has to be up there somewhere on the list of the most-written-about figures in history. And both men are misunderstood by friends and foes alike. Plus, both left a written legacy that is far more important and readable than most realize. And both died in faith and hope having accomplished much more than they realized. America would not be what it is today without Abraham Lincoln. Western history, and Protestantism in general, would not be what it is without John Calvin.
I am a member of several societies that deeply interest me. One is the John Calvin Society. Another is the Abraham Lincoln Forum. I have read both of these men for a lifetime. I will read them even more in this anniversary year. Lincolns papers and letters will be read carefully in 2009. Calvin's Institutes will again be studied. Few figures in history have influenced me like these two. I look forward to the various celebrations that will happen this year in honor of them. I do find it more than curious that we get to celebrate both their lives in the same year. Happy birthday John Calvin and Abe Lincoln. I thank God he gave to humankind the two of you.