John Calvin came in contact with the truth of the gospel while he was studying law in Bourges, France. It is recorded for us that "a growing restlessness with his way of life" came upon him along with a deep awareness of his sin. It is said that this awareness of sin drove him to "seek relief in the grace and mercy of God." Here is how he characterized his experience:
"God by a sudden conversion subdued and brought my mind to a teachable frame, which was more hardened in such matters than might have been expected from one at my early period of life. Having thus received some taste and knowledge of true godliness, I was immediately inflamed with so intense a desire to make progress therein, that I did not altogether leave off other studies, yet I pursued them with less ardour."
Compare that with today and we find find very little subdued minds that have been brought to a teachable frame. There is certainly nothing wrong with the gospel. It is still the "the power of God for salvation, to everyone who believes." What then seems to be problem?
The problem lies in "the gospel presentation." The gospel is peddled as a panacea for every ill that a potential convert might be suffering. Or the gospel is peddled cheaply with no value other than as a means of making one healthy, wealthy, and wise.
The average gospel presentation begins in the wrong place with the wrong emphasis. You have heard the presentations, "God loves you, God sent His Son to die for you, and God has a wonderful plan for your life."
Psalms 5:5 says that God actually hates the sinner, "...you hate all who do iniquity." Psalms 11:5 reads in part, "...the one who loves violence His soul hates." (NASB)
If we began a presentation, not with "God loves you" but with "God is angry with you and has condemned you, and there is judgment waiting for you, however there is good news, I wonder how many would hang around to hear what the good news was? Of course the good news is that this same God who has been offended by your sin and has condemned you has also commanded you to repent, and has provided a means of reconciliation and redemption, so cry out to Him now for mercy and forgiveness, perhaps He will grant you repentance and faith for salvation.
The Puritans wrote extensively on conversion. The content of their doctrine of conversion contained the following seven points:
1. We must show the horribleness of sin without clouding the grace of God.
2. There must be a "felt consciousness of sin" in a sinner without impeding the sinners access to God.
3. There must be deep and thorough repentance from sin with a turning to God. Otherwise, there would be no need of a saviour.
4. There must be a clear understanding that Christ is received as both Lord and Saviour. In other words there can be no misunderstanding that in repentance a sinner is aware of both his need and sin and is committing himself to a saviour who is sovereign who demands absolute allegiance.
5. There must be a clear understanding that salvation is God dominant. God's goal is conversion is to bring a sinner back to his original reason for the sinners creation, namely, that He is to glorify God in all that he does. God has "engineered" salvation from beginning to end and therefore receives all of the glory and the sinner none.
6. There must be an understanding that though the gospel is simple, and that God is the author of repentance and conversion, apart from God, there is no salvation.
7. There must be a clear understanding of Scripture when the gospel is presented. Biblical truth is necessary as a part in conversion. Unclear, vague, or even unscriptural presentations will not lead to conversion to God but merely another victim in the downward spiral of cheapening and devaluing grace.
These things may need to be shared, taught, supported and otherwise repeated to the sinner until God opens their heart and mind. Their conversion, like Calvin's may be sudden, or over a period of time like Spurgeon's. We just might have to fore go the sinners signature on the dotted line on Thursday night soul winning the first time that they hear a "gospel presentation."
So, in conclusion, I thank God that He "subdued" the mind and heart of Calvin and "brought" him into a teachable frame. What God has wrought these past 500 years as a result of the work of salvation in John Calvin. May God continue to do the same work of conversion and subdue the wicked and sinful hearts of countless others through the means of people just like you and me for His glory and the good of the sinner!