Volume 39 - Issue 1

The Care of Souls: The Heart of the Reformation

By Ray Van Neste


Too often people think of the Reformation in terms of an abstract theological debate. While intensely theological, the Reformation was not merely about ideas; it was about correctly understanding the gospel for the good of people and the salvation of souls. This thesis is advanced by investigating Reformation leaders, primarily Luther, Calvin, and Bucer. As we seek to appropriate lessons from the Reformation for today, we must not miss the pastoral impulse that drove this recovery of the gospel.


Abstract: Too often people think of the Reformation in terms of an abstract theological debate. While intensely theological, the Reformation was not merely about ideas; it was about correctly understanding the gospel for the good of people and the salvation of souls. This thesis is advanced by investigating Reformation leaders, primarily Luther, Calvin, and Bucer. As we seek to appropriate lessons from the Reformation for today, we must not miss the pastoral impulse that drove this recovery of the gospel.1


The Reformation itself was a pastoral care movement growing directly out of care for the salvation of the soul.2

The Reformation is often dismissed as an academic discussion involving debates about the finer points of theology and lofty ideas of interest to some people but disconnected from real-life issues, struggles, and heartache. It is important for us to be rescued from such notions lest this important event in our history become yet one more dusty item on the shelf, pulled out for special occasions but otherwise forgotten.

The Reformation was a diverse movement. But at its center was a pulsing, yearning concern for the well-being of souls. Its leaders were pastors at pains to lead their flock—and others from around the world—to forgiveness before God and the resultant living hope, the knowledge of God’s care and presence in the real hardships of this world and the certain hope of resurrection.

1. Pastoral Care

One of the objects the Reformers most commonly attacked was the overly speculative theology of the medieval Scholastic theologians.3 Take, for example, the event pointed to as the launching pad of the Reformation: Luther’s posting his 95 theses. What provoked this? Not academic subtleties or political aspiration, but instead a moment of pastoral, “Oh, no you don’t!” The issue was that Johann Tetzel arrived telling Luther’s people they could buy God’s grace and forgiveness without any concern for faith or repentance.4 Tetzel was toying with the fears of the people and manipulating their emotions: “Are you so tight-fisted not to pay now so that dear grandma can escape the torments of purgatory? Are you so hard hearted as to not give your last penny to allow your dear, departed mother to find relief? As soon as a coin in the coffer rings a soul from purgatory springs!”

Luther, in light of his new understanding of justification, recognized this treachery and the damning effects it would have on unsuspecting souls duped by it. His opposition sprang from an earnest desire to shepherd souls and guide them safely to heaven.5

Luther elsewhere said of pastors,

Men who hold the office of the ministry should have the heart of a mother toward the church; for if they have no such heart, they soon become lazy and disgusted, and suffering, in particular, will find them unwilling. . . . Unless your heart toward the sheep is like that of a mother toward her children—a mother, who walks through fire to save her children—you will not be fit to be a preacher. Labor, work, unthankfulness, hatred, envy, and all kinds of sufferings will meet you in this office. If, then, the mother heart, the great love, is not there to drive the preachers, the sheep will be poorly served.6

It is this love for people that drove Luther’s ministry. He not only wrote theological treatises, took on the powers of the world of his day, and endured death threats, but also counseled hundreds in person and in his letters and attended to countless aspects of daily ministry, including writing a guide for teaching children. Once his barber told him he struggled with prayer, so Luther went home and wrote a brief treatise on prayer for his barber! Luther opens with, “Dear Master Peter: I will tell you as best I can what I do personally when I pray. May our dear Lord grant to you and to everybody to do it better than I!” Luther directs him to the Psalms and other parts of Scripture to use in shaping his prayers.7

This was the concern of the Reformers, helping their people learn how to live and relate to God.8 They knew they had rediscovered the life-giving gospel and were surrounded by people in desperate need of it.9

Next we can turn to Calvin, of whom it was said, “Though he may be first thought of as a theologian, he was even more a pastor of souls.”10 In 1538 the people of Geneva ran Calvin off; they kicked him out. The following year the city received a letter from a Catholic archbishop urging them to return to Rome. Unable to respond, they sought out Calvin, the pastor they had rejected just the previous year. We might understand if, in such a situation, a pastor said, “Forget it! I’m not bothering with you. You didn’t want me, remember?” But that was not Calvin’s response. Instead he wrote a careful, pointed response, protecting Geneva and giving them ground to stand on:

For though I am for the present relieved of the charge of the Church of Geneva, that circumstance ought not to prevent me from embracing it with paternal affection—God, when he gave it to me in charge, having bound me to be faithful to it forever. Now, then, when I see the worst snares laid for that Church, whose safety it has pleased the Lord to make my highest care, and grievous peril impending if not obviated, who will advise me to await the issue silent and unconcerned? How heartless, I ask, would it be to wink in idleness, and, as it were, vacillating at the destruction of one whose life you are bound vigilantly to guard and preserve? . . . assuredly I cannot cut off that charge any more than that of my own soul . . . my ministry (which, knowing it to be from Christ, I am bound, if need be, to maintain with my blood).11

This is no ivory-tower academician! This is a shepherd willing to spill his blood to protect his flock even when that flock despises his care for them.

Elsewhere, Calvin made this comment on pastoral care:

[W]e who have charge to teach the people must not only see what is profitable for them all in general, but we must also deal with everyone according to his age.

But we must mark also, that it is not enough for a man who is a shepherd in the Church of God, to preach, and cast abroad the word into the air, we must have private admonitions also. And this is a point that many deceive themselves in. For they think that the order of the Church was made for no other end and purpose but that they should come to Church one hour in the week, or certain days, and there hear a man speak, and when he has come out of the pulpit, he should hold his peace. Those who think so, show themselves sufficiently, that they never knew, either what Christianity, or God’s order, meant.

For as we see in this passage . . . when he who has preached the word has taught the people, he must have an eye to those who have need to be warned of their faults privately. . . . And therefore, if we want to do our duty toward God, and to those who are committed to our charge, it is not enough for us to offer them the doctrine generally, but when we see any of them go astray, we must labor to bring him to the right way. When we see another in grief and sorrow, we must go about to comfort him. When we see anyone who is dull of the spirit, we must prick him and spur him, as his nature will bear.12

Calvin, and the other Reformers like him, was not an aloof preacher simply dispensing information.13 They were shepherds involved in the everyday life of their people, seeing it as their task to help the people know God, pray, worship God, persevere, and one day die well with the hope of the resurrection.14 Calvin stated,

Whatever others may think, we do not regard our office as bound within so narrow limits that when the sermon is delivered we may rest as if our task is done. They whose blood will be required of us if lost through our slothfulness, are to be cared for much more closely and vigilantly.15

David Cornick states that contrary to the Catholic understanding of the confessional, in the ministry of Luther and his followers the work of dealing with sins “was transposed into the relationship of pastor and people, and a pulpit ministry grounded in a genuine knowledge of the congregation.” As a result, “The healing of souls was taken into the home. Visitation became a significant part of the pastor’s life—especially to the sick, the dying and those in prison. As sacrificing priest became preaching minister, visitation became the locus of pastoral care.”16 Theodore Beza exemplifies this in his sermon on John 21:15, where Jesus charged Peter, “Feed my sheep”:

It is not only necessary that [a pastor] have general knowledge of his flock, but he must also know and call each of his sheep by name, both in public and in their homes, both night and day. Pastors must run after lost sheep, bandaging up the one with a broken leg, strengthening the one that is sick . . . . In sum, the pastor must consider his sheep more dear to him than his own life, following the example of the Good Shepherd.17

Examples abound, but one clear place to see this is in the coming of the plague. People died at an alarming rate, and the showing of symptoms was regarded as a sign of death. Many fled the cities. But these men stayed at their posts. Twenty-five percent of the people in Zwingli’s town died of the plague, and Zwingli was there ministering to them. He came down with the plague and almost died. When the plague came to Geneva and many fled, the pastors of Geneva met to ask who would visit the infected and care for them. Calvin volunteered, but the other ministers said they could not afford to lose him and held him back.18

This pastoral care can also be seen in the Reformers’ counseling, which we have recorded in their voluminous correspondence.19 One of Calvin’s colleagues in Geneva wrote this of Calvin’s pastoral ministry:

No words of mine can declare the fidelity and prudence with which he gave counsel. The kindness with which he received all who came to him, the clearness and promptitude with which he replied to those who asked his opinion on the most important questions, and the ability with which he disentangled the difficulties and problems which were laid before him. Nor can I express the gentleness with which he could comfort the afflicted and raise the fallen and distressed.”20

Calvin’s correspondence is itself a primary evidence of his pastoral heart, both in how many letters he took time to write and in how he wrote. Many of these letters had to do with diplomatic issues involving nations and the church at large. But as Ronald Wallace notes, “even the diplomatic gives way entirely to an evangelistic motive and we find that his first concern is with his correspondent as a person. Is he or she keeping close to God, listening to his word continually, and likely to continue to resist the temptations of Satan in order to keep running well in the Christian race—in other words, how is it with your soul?”21

In one letter, Calvin wrote to comfort a father who was grieving the death of his son, a student whom Calvin had known well. His letter opens with these words:

When I first received intelligence of the death . . . of your son Louis, I was so utterly overpowered that for many days I was fit for nothing but to grieve; and albeit I was somehow upheld before the Lord by those aids wherewith he sustains our souls in affliction, among men, however, I was almost a nonentity.22

This is no fatalistic, unemotional response. Neither is it a lame, impotent response of an ivory-tower academician. Calvin, as a faithful pastor, begins with joining his friend’s grief and then moves to sharing with this father the truths of God’s providential care that bolstered his own soul. Calvin points to the son’s faith in the gospel and the way it obviously impacted his life so that the father can hope for reunion in heaven.

After reminding the father of these grounds of comfort, Calvin returns to the reality of grief: “Neither do I insist upon your laying aside all grief. Nor, in the school of Christ, do we learn any such philosophy as requires us to put off that common humanity with which God has endowed us, that, being men, we should be turned to stones.”23

Another example of pastoral care is Martin Bucer, who was a mentor to Calvin. Bucer wrote Concerning the True Care of Souls, a significant treatise on pastoral ministry, in which his typical phrase for pastors is “carers for Souls.”24 His book is a gem, full of insight for the work of pastors.25 His pastoral and evangelistic heart is seen throughout the book but especially in this lament:

Where are the innocent servants of Christ who bring Christ’s sheep nothing but the Lord’s voice and word, who are zealous to seek all the Lord’s lost sheep, to bring back those which have gone astray, to heal the injured, to strengthen the weak, to guard the strong and see them aright [Ezek. 34:16]?26

Bucer warns,

[T]hose ministers of Christ who abandon the baptized . . . will find it difficult to give account for them to God and Christ our Lord. . . . [T]he Lord will accuse these unreliable and unfaithful shepherds with great dismay: You have not searched for the lost [Ezek. 34:4].27

Bucer summarizes his aim with this comment: “those who are ordained to the pastoral office in the church are to be the principal physicians of souls and guardians . . . .”28

2. Evangelism

Care for people naturally leads to a desire that they be reconciled to God and find forgiveness of their sins. Authentic pastoral care is always evangelistic, and this is also true for the Reformers. Examples of evangelistic concern, labor, and fervor abound, though I will provide only a few here.29

Contrary to the impression or assumption of many, Calvin exhibited this evangelistic concern.30 The Register of the Company of Pastors in Geneva records numerous people sent out from Geneva during Calvin’s time to “evangelize foreign parts.” The records are incomplete, and eventually, due to persecution, it became too dangerous to record the names of those sent out, although it numbered more than 100 in one year alone. Philip Hughes notes that Geneva became a “school of missions” that had as one of its purposes

to send out witnesses who would spread the teaching of the Reformation far and wide . . . . It [Geneva] was a dynamic centre of missionary concern and activity, an axis from which the light of the Good News radiated forth through the testimony of those who, after thorough preparation in this school, were sent forth in the service of Jesus Christ.31

In 1556 Calvin and his fellow ministers helped to support the first mission endeavor to target the New World, with a group sent to Brazil.32 When you consider the lack of resources, the resistance, the persecution (each man sent out knew he was likely to be arrested, tortured, and killed), this mission work is as impressive as anything we have to offer today.33

Furthermore, Calvin’s sermons reveal a pastor who regularly and earnestly urged his people to seek the salvation of the nations. In his sermons on 1 Timothy, Calvin regularly concludes with a prayer for the salvation of the nations. He calls on pastors to labor “mightily, and with greater zeal and earnestness” for the salvation of souls.34 Even when people reject the salvation offered to them, Calvin tells pastors that they must continue to “take pains” in calling people to faith “and call as many to God as they can.” Calvin urges, “we must take pains to draw all the world to salvation.”35

As Calvin expounds Paul’s call to pray “for all men” (1 Tim 2), he applies this to our missionary responsibility to the world:

Saint Paul’s meaning in this place is to show us what the children of God ought to employ themselves in doing, and it is this, that we should not travail unprofitably, but instead call upon God and ask him to work toward the salvation of the whole world, and that we give ourselves to this work both night and day.36

Throughout this sermon Calvin calls for fervent prayer and persistent action for the salvation of souls. He tells his people, “the greatest pleasure we can do to men is to pray to God for them, and call upon him for their salvation.”37

Lastly, we should once more consider Bucer. His book Concerning the True Care of Souls is filled with evangelistic pathos and exhortation. He even rebukes the church for failing to mount a more serious missionary endeavor to the “Jews and Turks” and says that the current threat from the Turks is God’s judgment for their failure!38 Bucer calls for earnest, zealous evangelistic labor. To pastors he says, “true carers of souls and faithful ministers of Christ are not to miss anyone anywhere out with the word of salvation, but diligently to endeavor to seek out all those to whom they may have access in order to lead them to Christ our Lord.”39 Like Calvin, Bucer calls for perseverance in sharing the gospel with people who do not readily accept it: “faithful members of Christ are not to give up lightly on anyone.”40 In fact, Bucer says, “one should be so persistent with people [in calling them to faith] that to the evil flesh it seems to be a compulsion and urgent pressing.”41 For Bucer, zealous missionary work is rooted in God’s desires and stirred by the example of Paul:

He [God] desires that they should be sought wherever they are scattered, and sought with such seriousness and diligence that one should be ready to be all things to all men, as dear Paul was [1 Cor. 9:22], and even to hazard one’s own life, as the Lord himself did, so that the lost lambs might be found and won.42

Bucer affirmed God’s sovereign election of souls to salvation, but did not see this as conflicting with energetic missionary enterprise:

But it is not the Lord’s will to reveal to us the secrets of his election; rather he commands us to go out into all the world and preach his gospel to every creature. . . . The fact that all people have been made by God and are God’s creatures should therefore be reason enough for us to go to them, seeking with the utmost faithfulness to bring them to eternal life.43

Combining the pastoral care noted previously and evangelistic zeal, Bucer prayed,

May the Lord Jesus, our chief Shepherd and Bishop, grant us such elders and carers of souls as will seek his lambs which are still lost, bring back those which have wandered, heal those which are wounded, strengthen those which are sickly, and guard and feed in the right way those which are healthy . . . .44

This urgent, passionate call for evangelistic and missionary activity arises from a setting in which many of the men sent out as missionaries were killed. In one letter Calvin addresses men who had been captured and imprisoned in Lyons for preaching the gospel. He had previously written and worked for their release. But once it was clear that all efforts had failed and their execution was imminent, Calvin wrote to encourage them to stand fast:

Now, at this present hour, necessity itself exhorts you more than ever to turn your whole mind heavenward. As yet, we know not what will be the event. But since it appears as though God would use your blood to sign His truth, there is nothing better than for you to prepare yourselves to that end, beseeching Him so to subdue you to His good pleasure, that nothing may hinder you from following whithersoever he shall call. . . . You know, however, in what strength you have to fight—a strength on which all those who trust, shall never be daunted, much less confounded. Even so, my brothers, be confident that you shall be strengthened, according to your need, by the Spirit of our Lord Jesus, so that you shall not faint under the load of temptations, however heavy it be, any more than he did who won so glorious a victory, that in the midst of our miseries it is an unfailing pledge of our triumph. Since it pleases Him to employ you to the death in maintaining His quarrel, He will strengthen your hands in the fight, and will not suffer a single drop of your blood to be spent in vain. And though the fruit may not all at once appear, yet in time it shall spring up more abundantly than we can express. But as He hath vouchsafed you this privilege, that your bonds have been renowned, and that the noise of them has been everywhere spread abroad, it must needs be, in despite of Satan, that your death should resound far more powerfully, so that the name of our Lord be magnified thereby. For my part, I have no doubt, if it please this kind Father to take you unto Himself, that he has preserved you hitherto, in order that your long-continued imprisonments might serve as a preparation for the better awakening of those whom He has determined to edify by your end. For let enemies do their utmost, they never shall be able to bury out of sight that light which God has made to shine in you, in order to be contemplated from afar.45

3. Conclusion

This spirit of abandon for the sake of the gospel and the souls of people is the heritage of the Reformation, and we must maintain it.46 Far from being unconcerned about gospel proclamation, the example of these men is a strong challenge—even a rebuke—to us in our comfortable setting. Thus, the writings of the Reformers are of far more than antiquated or nostalgic interest. They are examples and goads to us today as we too seek to live out the gospel and advance Christ’s kingdom in a fallen world. We dare not fail to learn from their successes and failures.

So, Christian, does the gospel animate your life, making you a person deeply concerned for and carefully aware of those around you? This example of our forebears calls us to this sort of faithfulness.

Young theologs, if your main activity is discussing theology but it does not result in a deep love and concern for people, you are no heir of the Reformation, regardless of your theological positions.

Pastors and those who desire to be pastors, if your idea of pastoral ministry is limited to the pulpit, then you are no heir of the Reformation regardless of the length or theological weight of your sermons. The Reformers, mirroring Christ and the apostles, were deeply involved in the lives of their people, aware that they would be called to account for the oversight of their souls (Heb 13:17). A passion for souls requires the knowledge of specific souls and involvement in the messiness of their everyday lives.

Some others of you may have nothing more on your mind than Halloween. But how is it between you and God? Death and the realm of darkness are real. And sin weighs us down, separating us from God, dragging us down to hell, a reality beyond anything played with on this day. There is a real enemy of your soul who seeks to destroy you. But there is an even greater Champion, Jesus, who has defeated sin, death, hell, and the devil, and he will rescue you, adopt you as his own if you will simply turn from your sin and trust in him. The gospel we’ve been celebrating is no relic of history. It is the power of God unto salvation, salvation for you today if you will believe.

[1] This was originally delivered as an address for the Reformation Day chapel on October 31, 2012 at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. I am grateful to Jim Patterson, who helped me chase down some sources for this essay. Not only is he a great colleague at Union, but he was my first church history professor. His class on the Magisterial Reformation was a joy and a formative influence, no doubt contributing to this essay beyond what I am aware.

[2] Ronald Wallace, Calvin, Geneva and the Reformation: A Study of Calvin as Social Reformer, Churchman, Pastor and Theologian (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1988), 169. So also John T. McNeill, A History of the Cure of Souls (New York: Harper & Row, 1951), 163: “In matters concerning the cure of souls the German Reformation had its inception.”

[3] “The Reformation was a movement of applied theology and lived Christianity. It was not anti-intellectual, but it was antiabstractionist” (Timothy George, Reading Scripture with the Reformers [Downers Grove: IVP, 2011], 228).

[4] The indulgence sale was not authorized in the region where Luther ministered, but was authorized in the neighboring region. Tetzel plied his trade just across the Elbe River from Wittenberg, and people came from all around. Some of Luther’s famous 95 Theses explicitly address the sale of indulgences (e.g., 27, 28). For more on indulgences, Tetzel, and Luther’s opposition, see Bard Thompson, Humanists and Reformers: A History of the Renaissance and Reformation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 394–400; F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone, eds., “Tetzel, Johann,” in The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (3rd ed.; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 1605.

[5] See the similar comment by George, Reading Scripture, 233: “It was his concern for the care of souls in his charge, as much as his scholarly work as a university professor, that propelled Luther to take a public stand on indulgences.” Owen Chadwick wrote, “The Indulgence he believed to be pernicious because it was misleading simple souls” (The Reformation [London: Penguin, 1972], 46). David Cornick assesses that Luther’s “reaction to the indulgence campaign of 1516/17 was that of a pastor” (“The Reformation Crisis in Pastoral Care,” in A History of Pastoral Care [ed. G. R. Evans; London: Continuum, 2000], 228). Cornick goes on to state, “Luther’s rediscovery of justification by faith spelt . . . a complete reordering of the way in which pastoral care was exercised” (229). See also Peter Brooks, “Martin Luther and the Pastoral Dilemma,” in Christian Spirituality: Essays in Honour of Gordon Rupp (ed. Peter Brooks; London: SCM, 1975), 98–99.

[6] Martin Luther, “Ministers,” in What Luther Says: A Practical In-Home Anthology for the Active Christian (ed. Ewald M. Plass; 1959; repr., Saint Louis, MO: Concordia, 1994), 932.

[7] Found in Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings (ed. Timothy F. Lull and William R. Russell; 3d ed.; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2012), 33–38. This piece on prayer is a spiritual classic. See (1) a past Themelios editorial by Carl R. Trueman: “A Lesson from Peter the Barber,” Them 34 (2009): 3–5, available at; and (2) an illustrated children’s book by R. C. Sproul: The Barber Who Wanted to Pray (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011).

[8] “[T]he ‘success’ of his reform movement may in part be attributed to Luther’s ability to meet the crisis of pastoral care caused by the medieval church’s failure to address the spiritual needs of his contemporaries effectively” (Robert Kolb, “Luther the Master Pastor: Conrad Porta’s Pastorale Lutheri, Handbook for Generations,” Concordia Journal 9 [1983]: 179).

[9] “[H]is proposals for liturgical renewal arose not merely out of speculation about what constituted ‘correct evangelical worship’ but out of care to see that the gospel was preached and celebrated in Wittenberg and among his dear Germans” (Timothy J. Wengert, “Introducing the Pastoral Luther,” in The Pastoral Luther: Essays on Martin Luther’s Practical Theology [ed. Timothy J. Wengert; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009], 12). This book is an excellent resource for pursuing this topic further.

For a moving account of the pastoral care given to and desired by Luther when he thought he was close to death see, Martin Lohrmann, “Bugenhagen’s Pastoral Care of Martin Luther,” Lutheran Quarterly (ns 24:2, Sum 2010), 125–136.

[10] J. D. Benoit, “Pastoral Care of the Prophet,” in John Calvin, Contemporary Prophet (ed. Jacob Hoogstra; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1959), 51.

[11] John Calvin, “Reply to Sadoleto,” in A Reformation Debate: John Calvin and Jacopo Sadoleto (ed. John C. Olin; New York: Fordham University Press, 2000), 45.

[12] Sermon 37 in Calvin’s sermons on 1 Timothy. This is taken from a forthcoming updated version of these sermons that is based on the 1579 English translation. Elsewhere in this essay I will cite the sermon number when drawing from this source.

[13] Cornick demonstrates that Zwingli shared in this view: “the minister’s work was not to be exhausted by preaching, for he must ‘prevent the washed sheep falling into the excrement’” (“The Reformation Crisis,” 235).

[14] Scott Manetsch has provided a comprehensive study of the pastoral work of the pastors in Geneva including Calvin and Theodore Beza in his recent book Calvin’s Company of Pastors: Pastoral Care and the Emerging Reformed Church, 1536-1609 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013). See especially his chapter “The Ministry of Pastoral Care.”

[15] Cited in Ronald Wallace, Calvin, 173.

[16] Cornick, “The Reformation Crisis,” 233. See also Manetsch, Calvin’s Company of Pastors, 281; Wilhelm Pauck, “The Ministry in the Time of the Continental Reformation,” in The Ministry in Historical Perspectives (ed. H. Richard Niebuhr and Daniel D. Williams; New York: Harper & Brothers, 1956), 110–47. Pauck writes, “there developed in Geneva, a regular practice of the care of souls. The Ordinances prescribed that each minister accompanied by an elder should regularly call in the homes of his parish. In 1550, an order was issued that the ministers should visit each home at least once a year. Beza commented on the effect of the order by saying, ‘It is hard to believe how fruitful it proved to be’” (136). Pauck goes on to say other towns attempted this model of annual visitation but rarely accomplished it. Still, the other towns did expect regular visitation in the hospitals and prisons and of those sick and dying at home.

[17] Cited in Manetsch, Calvin’s Company of Pastors, 281.

[18] Theodore Beza, The Life of John Calvin (trans. Henry Beveridge; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1909), 35. Writing to Viret, Calvin says that he stands ready to take the place of the pastor who is visiting the plague victims if he gets sick. Calvin says he is in agreement with Viret that pastors cannot shirk this dangerous duty because their suffering people need them: “as long as we are in this ministry, I do not see that any excuse will avail us if, through fear of infection, we are found wanting in the discharge of our duty where we are most needed” (cited in T. H. L. Parker, Portrait of Calvin [London: SCM, 1954], 81).

[19] See also John Knox’s correspondence with his mother-in-law as she struggled with assurance of salvation, available in The Select Practical Writings of John Knox (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2011). You’ve heard Knox thunder. Listen here as he comforts a tender soul with the balm of grace. Douglas Bond’s brief, popular-level biography The Mighty Weakness of John Knox (Sanford, FL: Reformation Trust, 2011) is also helpful on this theme.

[20] Des Gallars, cited in Ronald Wallace, Calvin, 180–81.

[21] Wallace, Calvin, 170. Wallace’s chapter, “The Pastor—The Cure of Souls,” is very valuable. Wallace comments further, “Those who sought his counsel found in him, not only wisdom, but the strength that God often communicates to people through a trusted pastor” (181).

[22] Cited in the helpful essay by Robert Godfrey, “The Counselor to the Afflicted,” in John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine and Doxology (ed. Burk Parsons; Orlando: Reformation Trust, 2008), 88. Benoit also develops this theme further in his very helpful essay “Pastoral Care of the Prophet.” Benoit states, “there was within him a humanity, a strength of sympathy, a warmth of soul, a pastoral concern which opened hearts to him” (67).

[23] Ibid.

[24] Martin Bucer, Concerning the True Care of Souls (trans. Peter Beale; Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2009). See also Bucer’s comments on this theme in De Regno Christi, available in Wilhelm Pauck, ed., Melanchthon and Bucer (Library of Christian Classics; Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1969).

[25] Andrew Purves stated, “Martin Bucer’s On the True Pastoral Care (Von der waren Seelsorge) is the principal Reformation text on pastoral theology” (Pastoral Theology in the Classical Tradition [Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001], 76). It is “oriented to the practical care of souls” (76). Purves lists high praise given to this book by leading historians, including J. T. McNeill, W. P. Stephens, David F. Wright, and T. F. Torrance. Purves, like others, lamented that this book had not been translated into English and thus was little known among non-specialists. With the fine new translation (cited above), this article seeks to redress this lack of awareness.

[26] Bucer, Concerning the True Care of Souls, xxxii.

[27] Ibid., 89.

[28] Ibid., 121.

[29] For similar sentiments in Zwingli, see “The Shepherd,” in In search of True Religion: Reformation, Pastoral and Eucharistic Writings, vol. 2 of Selected Writings of Huldrych Zwingli (trans. H. Wayne Pipkin; Allison Park, PA: Pickwick, 1984).

[30] Indeed, Jean-Daniel Benoît could state of Calvin, “From the outset his theological work is an effort of evangelization and of witnessing’ (“Pastoral Care of the Prophet,” 51).

[31] Philip Hughes, ed. and trans., The Register of the Company of Pastors of Geneva in the Time of Calvin (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1966), 25.

[32] Cf. R. Pierce Beaver, “The Genevan Mission to Brazil,” in The Heritage of John Calvin (ed. John H. Bratt; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973), 55–73. Editor’s note: See Kenneth J. Stewart, “Calvinism and Missions: The Contested Relationship Revisited,” Them 34 (2009): 63–78, especially §5.1: “The Genevan Calvinist Mission to Brazil” (70–71).

[33] See further, Philip Hughes, “John Calvin: Director of Missions,” in The Heritage of John Calvin (ed. John H. Bratt; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973), 40–54; Ray Van Neste, “John Calvin on Missions and Evangelism,” Founders Journal 33 (1998): 15–21; Paul Helm, “Calvin, A. M. Toplady, and the Bebbington Thesis,” in The Advent of Evangelicalism: Exploring Historical Continuities (ed. Michael Haykin and Kenneth Stewart; Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2008), 205–8.

[34] Sermon 36 in Calvin’s sermons on 1 Timothy.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Bucer, Concerning the True Care of Souls, 87.

[39] Ibid., 76.

[40] Ibid., 78.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Ibid., 77.

[44] Ibid., 193.

[45] John Calvin, Letters of John Calvin (ed. Jules Bonnet; London: Hamilton, Adams, and Co., 1857), 2:387–388.

[46] For further reading on this topic, in addition to items already mentioned in the footnotes, see the following: R. W. Scribner, “Pastoral Care and the Reformation in Germany,” in Humanism and Reform: the Church in Europe, England, and Scotland, 1400–1643: Essays in Honour of James K. Cameron (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991), 77–97; Timothy J. Wengert, ed., The Pastoral Luther: Essays on Martin Luther’s Practical Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), especially Wengert, “Introducing the Pastoral Luther” (1–29); Theodore G. Tappert, ed., Luther: Letters of Spiritual Counsel (London: SCM, 1955)—Tappert’s “General Introduction” is quite helpful; Pamela Biel, “Personal Conviction and Pastoral Care: Zwingli and the Cult of Saints 1522–1530,” in Zwingliana: Mitteilungen zur Geschichte Zwinglis der Reformation 16 (1985): 442–69; Kenneth L. Parker, “Richard Greenham’s ‘Spiritual Physicke’: The Comfort of Afflicted Consciences in Elizabethan Pastoral Care,” in Penitence in the Age of Reformations (ed. Katharine Jackson Lualdi and Anne T. Thayer; London: Ashgate, 2000), 71–83.

Ray Van Neste

Ray Van Neste is professor of biblical studies and director of the R. C. Ryan Center for Biblical Studies at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee.

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