Reading B.A. Gerrish's excellent essay on Calvin's view of Luther in a festschrift for Wilhelm Pauck edited by Lewis Spitz, I was struck by a particularly astute quote from Calvin's Commentary on Romans:
God has never seen fit to bestow such ravor on his servants that each individually should be endowed with full and perfect knowledge on every point. No doubt, his design was to keep us both humble and eager for brotherly communication. In Ihis life, then, we should not hope for what otherwise would be most desirable, that there should be continual agreement among us in understanding passages of Scripture. We must therefore take care that, if we depart from the opinions of those who went before us, we do not do so because excited by the itch after novelty, nor driven by fondness for deriding others, nor goaded by animosity, nor tickled by ambition, but only because compelled by pure necessity and with no other aim than to be of service.
Gerrish speculates that Calvin may have originally penned this statement as part of an apology he planned to send to Luther, but under advisement chose not to send. Whether it was aimed directly at what disagreements there were between the two great reformers or the Church as a whole, both points the Genevan reformer makes are invaluable. We ought to remain humble, recognizing out inability to reach “perfect knowledge,” and we should never depart from the faithful of ages past lightly.
Luther and Calvin both seemed to understand these principles better than many of us who are their theological decedents do. I am thankful for their examples.