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John T. McNeill, in his luminous The History and Character of Calvinism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1954), explains John Calvin this way:

“There is a strange impression in many quarters that Calvin was a man without emotions. It is a judgment easily made of those who do not talk much about their emotions. The whole story of his youth, his studies, his many friendships, and his correspondence shows that he was in fact of an unusually ardent nature. His conversation was not merely enlightenment; it was that unreserved, wholehearted commitment to the living God that is symbolized with the seal which he later used—a flaming heart on the palm of an extended open hand. God had rescued him from the depths; Calvin remained a man astonished by the mercy of God—la miséricorde de Dieu—mercy wholly undeserved and beyond man’s earning” (116).

I do not take McNeill’s portrait to mean that Calvin looked like a sentimental American evangelical with respect to his “emotions,” but this is a helpful humanizing commentary on a man usually dismissed as scholastic or stiff.

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