2009 contains several important anniversaries and I will comment briefly on two of them.
Firstly, 500 years ago saw the birth of John Calvin, one of the most significant characters in the history of the world. His influence has been great in the development of economic practice and political theories, especially in the content of what is meant by democratic freedom. Whether societies in the western world will acknowledge in 2009 his contribution in these areas remains to be seen. Of course, his influence was far greater within the Christian church of which he was a leading Reformer at the time of the Reformation.
There is no doubt that God raised up Calvin for this important role and equipped him with the particular gifts that enabled him to fulfil his calling. There is not space here to detail his contribution to the church – it includes his famous Institutes of the Christian Religion (a book explaining Protestant doctrine), commentaries on most of the books of the Bible, various other writings on aspects of worship, and the roots of modern-day Presbyterianism. Calvin was a spiritual giant for whom millions have been grateful to God.
Secondly, 150 years ago saw the last worldwide revival. What took place in 1859 in North America and Britain is described in many books which detail the rise, growth and decline of an amazing spiritual movement that saw thousands, if not millions, of sinners brought into the kingdom of God. Yet while we should be thankful for that wonderful movement of the Spirit, it should sober us to realise that there has not been a similar one since then. Of course, there have been many spiritual awakenings in different places, but there has not been a comparable revival, at least in the Western world, for 150 years. (There may have been a similar movement in China during the communist period.)
Is there a combined application of the anniversaries of the birth of Calvin and the 1859 revival? Yes, there is. Each of them highlights what is urgently needed in the Christian church in the West. We need God-given and God-gifted leaders such as Calvin to direct the church through the morass that marks our sinful society and we need God-given revival that will so recover the church and elevate it once again to heights of spiritual experience that will transform our society. It should be our aim in 2009 to pray that God will raise up such leaders and give such a revival.