Articles

A Heart Offered to God: The Life and Ministry of John Calvin

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17)

Mention the name “John Calvin” in a crowd and oftentimes it will elicit remarks of contempt on the one extreme and deep admiration on the other. Simply stated, some people “abhor” him while others “adore” him! Such is the variety of responses to this complex and multi-talented man who served God during the Protestant Reformation (c.1517-1650). John Calvin (1509-1564) was clearly second in rank only to Martin Luther (1483-1546) during this crucial era. Traceable to Calvin and the church in Geneva are several unique and distinguishing aspects of Protestantism: the development and popularization of expository preaching, the Reformed view of the Lord’s Supper, the practice of home visitation by the elders, an extensive organization of social welfare, a comprehensive pattern of church discipline, and representative church government. Moreover, it is to Calvin that the modern church owes a great debt for developing with precision a number of key Christian doctrines: sovereign election and predestination, the providence of God, the penal-substitutionary view of the atonement, the mystical union that we enjoy with Christ, and the spiritual presence of Christ at the Lord’s Supper. Unfortunately, some people today consider Calvin’s theological system as rigid and uninspiring as an austere legal document. This is an unfair charge, for Calvin, like many of the Reformers, has been harshly reinterpreted by others. When one actually reads Calvin’s writings in his Bible Commentaries or from the Institutes of the Christian Religion, the warmth and piety that flows from Calvin’s prose stands in sharp contrast to the cold characterizations presented by his critics. Consider these colorful comments from the young reformer regarding the purpose of the Bible, a definition of faith, and the responsibilities of pastoral ministry,

Just as old or bleary-eyed men and those with weak vision, if you thrust before them a most beautiful volume, even if they recognize it to be some sort of writing, yet can scarcely construe two words, but with the aid of spectacles will begin to read distinctly; so Scripture, gathering up otherwise confused knowledge of God in our minds, having dispersed our dullness, clearly shows us the true God. (Calvin,Institutes 1:6:1)

Now, the knowledge of God’s goodness will not be held very important unless it makes us rely on that goodness. Consequently, understanding mixed with doubt is to be excluded, as it is not in firm agreement, but in conflict, with itself. Yet far indeed is the mind of man, blind and darkened as it is, from penetrating and attaining even to perception of the will of God! And the heart, too, wavering as it is in perpetual hesitation, is far from resting secure in that conviction! Therefore our mind must be otherwise illumined and our heart strengthened, that the Word of God may obtain full faith among us. Now we shall possess a right definition of faith if we call it a firm and certain knowledge of God’s benevolence towards us, founded upon the truth of the freely given promise in Christ, both revealed to our minds and sealed upon our hearts through the Holy Spirit. (Calvin, Institutes 3:2:7)

Christ did not ordain pastors on the principle that they only teach the Church in a general way on the public platform, but that they care for the individual sheep, bring back the wandering and scattered to the fold, bind up the broken and crippled, heal the sick, support the frail and weak. (Calvin,Commentary on Acts 20:20)

In such passages as these we witness a depth of biblical understanding, a theological precision, and an evangelical zeal for the things of God.

John Cauvin was born at Noyon in northern France on July 10, 1509. He was the second of six children. Physically, he possessed a slight frame, he stood approximately five feet six inches tall, his face was etched with sharp Gaelic features, and his head was crowned by black hair. His father, Gerard Cauvin, served as the financial secretary and notary for the Bishop of Noyon. While his mother, Jeanne Lefranc, was a woman of quiet piety who sought to raise all of her children to be faithful to the practices and doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church. Sadly, before his fourth birthday John’s mother died. The exact reasons for her death are unknown although it may have been that she died while giving birth to his younger brother Antione. After a brief period of grieving his father remarried, but it appears that this new mother had little lasting influence in shaping John’s life; that was a role primarily dominated by his father. Recognizing his second son’s keen intellectual gifts Gerard purposed that John should get a quality education and pursue the priesthood. He reasoned that this was the way to both earthly and eternal prosperity. Utilizing his many high connections Gerard arranged for John’s enrollment in a local preparatory school, the College des Capettes.

Having distinguished himself academically, when Calvin was only fourteen years old he was sent off to Paris to attend the College de La Marche. This school was part of the burgeoning University of Paris and it was here that Calvin further developed his abilities in Latin and began to study theology. During the course of his studies with Mathurin Cordier, a well-known teacher of languages, he Latinized his name to “Johannes Calvinus” and in time he became known as “John Calvin”. It was a common practice of the day to finance the education of promising young students from the collection of offerings at a chapel near their homes. These were called “ecclesiastical benefices”. Calvin was no exception to this custom, and his father secured for him the offerings from the altar of Gesine and several other chapels as well. After a transfer to the College of Montaigu in 1525, which was also in Paris, Calvin continued his studies and was finally awarded his Bachelor of Arts degree. This notable achievement occurred early in 1528 when Calvin was just eighteen years old. Further studies in theology ensued, but these were interrupted when his father had a sudden falling-out with the local church authorities back in Noyon. As a result, Gerard Cauvin encouraged his son to move away from theology to the study of law. As an obedient son, he moved south and enrolled in the law program at the University of Orleans. Here he excelled in his studies, oftentimes serving as a substitute lecturer for absent professors. During this period Calvin associated himself with a group of fellow students who were beginning to question the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. He was undoubtedly influenced by these earnest friends to develop a working knowledge of the Bible and to thoughtfully consider the gospel of Jesus Christ. At this point, though, his interest in spiritual matters was solely intellectual.

In 1529 Calvin transferred to the University of Bourges where he studied law under the fiery Italian jurist, Andrew Alciat. Calvin and his friends were not overly impressed with Alciat’s flamboyant style of teaching, and Calvin wrote a Preface for his friends pamphlet critiquing Alciat’s “acid tongue”. More importantly, while here in Bourges, he undertook the study of New Testament Greek from an enthusiastic and outspoken German instructor, Melchior Wolmar (1496-1561). Thus began for Calvin a life-long fascination with koine Greek and the New Testament. Theodore Beza (1519-1605), later Calvin’s close friend, confidant, and successor, also studied under Melchoir Wolmar. He happily noted,

I have the greater pleasure in mentioning his name, because he was my own teacher, and the only one I had from boyhood up to youth. His learning, piety, and other virtues, together with his admirable abilities as a teacher of youth, cannot be sufficiently praised. On his suggestion, and with his assistance, Calvin learned Greek. The recollection of the benefit which he thus received from Wolmar, he afterwards publicly testified by dedicating to him his Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians.(Beza, Life of Calvin, 23-24)

Moreover, it was under Wolmar’s diligent tutelage that Calvin began first to read the Early Church Fathers. As a result of this period of study a great foundation was laid for Calvin’s appreciation for the orthodox Christian faith and his excellent familiarity with the Church Fathers and Ancient Creeds. But had he become a true Christian? Not yet.

In 1531 Calvin’s father suddenly died. This untimely event released him from his father’s strict command to pursue law, and he quickly returned to Paris in order to indulge his growing interest in theology and biblical languages. It was in a Master of Arts program at the College de France he came under the evangelical influence of Jacques Lefevre d’Etaples (1455-1536). Here he undoubtedly read the controversial pamphlets of Martin Luther and was further stirred to consider the claims of the gospel upon his own life. He also began studying Hebrew under Francois Vatable and opened himself to the beautiful complexities of the Old Testament. Perhaps out of deference to his deceased father, or out of a desire to finish what he had already started, in 1532 Calvin briefly returned to the University of Orleans to finish his law studies. He was awarded a Juris Doctorate degree and was licensed to practice law. But what was his true spiritual condition—had he yet put his trust in Jesus Christ alone? No not at this time.

Calvin’s conversion is very difficult to pinpoint, primarily because he did not talk much about it. Besides his daily study of the Scriptures, and the solid academic influences of Wolmar, Lefevre, and Vatable, there was one additional influence; the growing number of martyr’s deaths. As the evangelical faith grew throughout France, the Roman Catholic Church responded with a brutal persecution of its adherents. It is likely that the horrible deaths Calvin witnessed in Orleans, Bourges, and Paris deeply affected the young mind of John Calvin. They planted a seed of doubt regarding the truth claims of the Roman Catholic Church, and this doubt grew until it resulted in hissudden conversion to the gospel. Consider this brief autobiographical passage from the Preface of hisCommentary on the Psalms. Calvin candidly wrote these remarks in 1557,

When I was yet a very small boy, my father destined me for the study of theology. But afterwards, when he considered that the law commonly raised those who followed it to wealth, this prospect suddenly induced him to change his purpose. Thus it came to pass that I was withdrawn from the study of philosophy and set to the study of law. To this pursuit I endeavored faithfully to apply myself, in obedience to the will of my father. But God, by the secret guidance of His providence, at length gave a different direction to my course. And first, since I was too obstinately devoted to the superstitions of popery to be easily extricated from so profound an abyss of mire, God by sudden conversion subdued and brought my mind to a teachable frame, though I 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, I yet pursued them with less ardor. (Calvin, PrefaceCommentary on the Psalms, xl-xli)

From this revealing testimony we see that his heart indeed became inflamed with the gospel message. He was profoundly changed by spiritual regeneration. And although he did not fully attach himself to the growing evangelical movement, he nonetheless firmly identified himself from this point on as a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ.

After receiving his licensie es loix he returned to Paris as a practicing attorney, young Renaissance scholar, and budding teacher of the Bible. He tried his hand at writing and published his Commentary on Seneca’s Treatise on Clemency. This effort was not a success and only a few copies were sold. However, the future direction of his life took a surprising turn when he befriended Nicolas Cop, the newly appointed Rector of the University of Paris. On November 1, 1533 Cop gave a stirring inaugural address to the assembled students and professors in the University Chapel. As a result, he was accused of heresy, not only for criticizing the Pope but endorsing the works of Martin Luther. When he realized what great danger his life was in, he immediately fled the city. It was suspected by the church authorities that Calvin was the “ghost-writer” of Cop’s speech and they determined to arrest him. Calvin barely eluded their grasp as the police came to his lodgings late one evening. As they were pounding on his door he narrowly escaped out the second-story window while his friends lowered him down to the street on a rope made of bed sheets tied together. He fled into the night and sought refuge from Queen Margaret of Navarre (1492-1549), sister of the French King, who was sympathetic to the Protestant cause. Thus, the timid and mild-mannered Calvin could no longer safely consider his allegiance to the Reformers without personal commitment. His lot was permanently cast; he was now a fugitive and a member of the Protestant Reformation!

The persecution of Protestants in France became the order of the day during the reign of King Francis I (1494-1547). The French Protestants, called Huguenots, often met for worship at hidden locations during these purges. For a short time, Calvin actually pastored a small congregation in Poitiers that met secretly in a cave. His final separation from the Roman Catholic Church came in 1534 when he gave up all of his ecclesiastical benefices, since his conscience would not allow him to receive this money any longer. Thus, he became totally submissive to the Lord Jesus Christ. Calvin crafted his own personal motto during this time as a fugitive. He resolved to be Prompte et Sincere in Opere Domini (translated, “Prompt and sincere in the work of God”). In addition, he drew a personal seal that encompassed a flaming heart on an outstretched hand that was offered to God. These two insignias, the motto and seal, served him well for the rest of his life and became a fitting legacy to his sincere evangelical faith.

After clandestinely traveling throughout France from place to place he finally settled in Basel, Switzerland and began work on his Institutes of the Christian Religion (initially published in 1536). This short booklet comprised of six chapters went through five major revisions throughout Calvin’s life and expanded into its exhaustive form, eighty chapters in all, by the year 1559. John T. McNeill notes that the Institutes,

. . . holds a place in the short list of books that have notably affected the course of history, molding the beliefs and behavior of generations of mankind. Perhaps no other theological work has so consistently retained for four centuries a place on the reading list of studious Christians . . . It has, from time to time, called forth an extensive literature of controversy. It has been assailed as presenting a harsh, austere, intolerant Christianity and so perverting the gospel of Christ, and it has been admired and defended as an incomparable exposition of Scriptural truth and a bulwark of evangelical faith. Even in times when it was least esteemed, its influence remained potent in the life of active churches and in the habits of men. To many Christians whose worship was proscribed under hostile governments, this book has supplied the courage to endure. Wherever in the crises of history social foundations are shaken and men’s heart’s quail, the pages of this classic are searched with fresh respect. In our generation, when most theological writers are schooled in the use of methods, and of a terminology, widely differing from those employed by Calvin, this masterpiece continues to challenge intensive study, and contributes a reviving impulse to thinking in the areas of Christian doctrine and social duty. (McNeill, “Introduction” to the Institutes, xxix)

In the Preface to the Institutes, Calvin dedicates his “little book” to King Francis I with the hope that the persecution of the Protestants would be eased. In God’s providence this was not to be, and the nurturing of the nascent Protestant movement would have to take place in other countries that would be more sympathetic to the cause.

In 1536 the twenty-eight year old Calvin was returning from a quick journey to Noyon in order to bring his brother Antoine and his sister Marie safely out of France. They were on their way to Strasbourg, but were providentially detoured to Geneva, Switzerland. The armies of Francis I were on maneuvers and Protestant reformers, especially those of Calvin’s notoriety, would want to avoid the King’s troops at all costs. This figured to be a turning point in his life for it was here in Geneva that he met the ardent Swiss reformer Guillame Farel (1489-1565) and was recruited to remain in Geneva to help with the reform of that troubled city. It was Calvin’s plan to stay only one night in Geneva, and so while eating dinner that evening at a local inn Calvin innocently remarked to Farel that he felt his place in life was to pursue a “quiet life of scholarship” in Strasbourg. Farel abruptly stood up—some have suggested that he actually jumped on the table sending all of the dishes clattering to the floor in a loud series of crashes!—and with fiery eyes flashing and red-beard wagging he angrily denounced Calvin with an accusing finger. He loudly shouted,

You are following your own wishes, and I declare, in the name of God Almighty, that if you do not assist us in this work of the Lord, the Lord will punish you for seeking your own interest rather than his. (Beza, Life of John Calvin, 29)

God moved through Farel’s impassioned exhortation and from that point on Calvin’s ministry became inextricably tied to Geneva.

The efforts at reform of Farel and Calvin were not always appreciated by the townspeople of Geneva. In 1537 it was planned that the population of the entire city would swear allegiance to a Protestant Statement of Faith, however, there was strong opposition and Geneva remained in a state of agitated unrest. Months later when Calvin and the other ministers of the city refused to reinstitute the Lord’s Supper to the townspeople, there was a revolt. Finally, in 1538 all three ministers, Farel, Calvin, and the aged Elie Coraud, were banished from the city altogether. Calvin fled to Strasbourg where he pastored a large congregation of French refugees and taught in Johann Sturm’s Bible Institute. While there, he married the widow Idelette de Bure and adopted her two children as his own. Life was not always easy in Strasbourg for his family. Even though Calvin served as a pastor, represented the city at conferences, taught classes, wrote books, took in boarders, and served as a lawyer, he was so poor at times that he was forced to sell some of his precious reference books in order to put food on the table. Better times, though, were only a short season ahead.

In 1541 Calvin was miraculously called back to Geneva. At first he did not desire to return to the town that had so cruelly rejected him. However, with encouragement from Farel and several delegations from Geneva, he was persuaded that God would use him in bringing lasting change to the city. With his most antagonistic critics gone, through death or by exile, he settled down to a lifetime of productive work. On his first Sunday back in the pulpit at St. Pierre he gave no reproaches to the local population, he simply picked-up with the very next Bible passage from where he had left off two and half years prior. And so, he resumed his ministry of expositional preaching. The town council accepted his recommendation that every person should be governed by the moral law of the Bible. Laws were rewritten and codes of conduct were upheld by the local magistrates. On the personal side, John and Idelette took up residence at a home provided by the city (#11 Rue de Calvin). Here they enjoyed a small garden in the yard, entertained many guests, and carried on the work of the church. Only one child was born to John and Idelette, Jacques. He was born prematurely and died in infancy on July 28, 1542. Idelette herself, died after a brief illness on March 29, 1549. After several short years of marital happiness, Calvin was heart-broken but pressed forward with his busy schedule of church and civic responsibilities.

Some people have formed negative impressions of Calvin because of the controversies that surrounded his life and ministry. One such controversy erupted over the arrival in Geneva of the apostate Spanish physician Michael Servetus (1511-1553). Servetus had moved beyond his training in medicine to study theology, and had adopted a heretical view of the Trinity. If Servetus had kept his anti-Trinitarian thoughts to himself he would have occasioned no wrath from the church, however, he widely published his findings and actively entered into debate with the leading theologians of the day. The most capable of these theologians was, arguably, John Calvin. Years before, Servetus and Calvin had actually met in Paris where he challenged Calvin to debate the doctrine of the Trinity. Servetus earnestly hoped to win Calvin to this unorthodox position, but when the appointed hour came Servetus failed to show up for the debate. Calvin was ready at the proper location, at great personal risk to himself, but his detractor never came. In God’s providence these same two young men would meet nineteen years later in a another city by a different river to argue the same theological subject that were they unable to debate on that day in Paris.

During the intervening years, Servetus and Calvin corresponded by letter on several different occasions. Finally, Servetus secretly published his unorthodox book, Christianismi Restitutio, in Vienne where he was quickly discovered, put on trial by the Roman Catholic authorities, found guilty of heresy, and sentenced to death by burning. Before the sentence of death could be carried out he escaped from jail, and for an unknown reason he unwisely sought refuge in Protestant Geneva. In fact, Calvin had warned him previously by letter to not come to Geneva. But, when he did come, without hesitation Calvin filed a warrant for his arrest with the civil authorities.

It might be wondered by some Christians today as to why Calvin would seek to have Servetus arrested; after all wasn’t this just a theological dispute? It must be remembered that Geneva had declared itself a Protestant city in 1536, and there were still many citizens who resented the reform effort. They had organized themselves into a political party called the Libertines or the Enfants de Geneve. This conflict between doctrine and morals had raged on amongst the people of Geneva for many years and the Libertines sought to strategically enlist Servetus to their aide. One of their own, Philibert Berthelier, defended Servetus in his trial before the City Council. The Libertinesreasoned, “If Calvin’s theology can be proven wrong, then he will be removed from his position and thrown out of the city.” Calvin and his supporters were fully aware of this possibility. Moreover, the civil authorities and the church leaders were tied together much more closely in that day than in our own. Therefore an attack on any one of the doctrines that the city formally endorsed was an attack on the city itself. As a result, a stormy trial ensued that pitted the two opposing men against one another—Servetus versus Calvin and heterodoxy versus orthodoxy—with an outcome that resulted in Servetus’ condemnation by execution. Specifically, the City Council ordered that he was to be burned alive by a petite fur, a “small fire”. Although Servetus was a hardened and bitter critic of Calvin and his belief system, the zealous Reformer urgently appealed to the civil authorities for a more humane form of execution; but in this request Calvin was denied. In the end, he could only stand by and submit to the decree of the City Council. After a conciliatory visit to Servetus in his cell by Calvin, the earnest Farel accompanied Servetus to the place of his execution on Champel Hill in Geneva. There was no repentance, and Servetus’ last words were consistent with the same heresies that he wrote about. He appealed to “Jesus, Son of the eternal God” to save his soul, rather than to “Jesus, the eternal Son of God”. In death he doggedly held to his heretical views.

To imply that Calvin was personally responsible for the death of Servetus would be stretching the truth. Servetus had already been sentenced to death by the Roman Catholic authorities in Vienne, and as to be expected he found no sympathy amongst the Protestants in Geneva. The magistrates of Geneva condemned him to death with the full approval of the neighboring Protestant cities; Basle, Berne, Schaffhausen, and Zurich. All four of these City Councils unanimously condemned Servetus for his heresies, yet left it up to Geneva to determine the appropriate means for putting him to death. In summary, consider this sober evaluation of Calvin’s actions in the Servetus affair by the preeminent Swiss Reformation historian, Merle D’Aubigne,

There are indeed, writers of eminence who charge this man of God with despotism; because he was the enemy of libertinage, he has been called the enemy of liberty. No body was more opposed than Calvin to that moral and social anarchy which threatened the sixteenth century, and which ruins every epoch unable to keep it under control. This bold struggle of Calvin’s is one of the greatest services he has done to liberty, which has no enemies more dangerous than immorality and disorder. Should this question be asked, “How ought infidelity to be arrested?” we must confess that Calvin was not before his age, which was unanimous, in every communion, for the application of the severest punishments. If a man is in error as regards the knowledge of God, it is to God alone that he must render an account. When men—and they are sometimes the best of men—make themselves the avengers of God, the conscience is startled, and religion hides her face. It was not so three centuries back, and the most eminent minds always pay in one manner or another their tribute to human weakness. And yet, on a well-known occasion, when a wretched man whose doctrines threatened society, stood before the civil tribunals of Geneva, there was but one voice in all Europe raised in favor of the prisoner; but one voice that prayed for some mitigation of Servetus’s punishment, and that voice was Calvin’s. (D’Aubigne, History of the Reformation in the Time of Calvin, Vol. 1, 5-6)

Here we have a clear testimony to the humanity of Calvin and the on-going progress of personal liberty in the Western world that he started. In time, these individual freedoms would continue to grow and mature so that heirs of Calvin would enjoy their full expression. Hence, we should be thankful for the example of Geneva and Calvin.

Besides engaging in various theological disputes and controversies, Calvin had the personal joy of witnessing the completion of several long-term projects that benefited the church and the city of Geneva. In 1559 he completed the fifth edition of his highly-regarded Institutes of the Christian Religion; in 1560 he oversaw the publication of the Geneva Bible; and in 1562 he witnessed the publication of the Genevan Psalter. Taken in isolation each one of these is a notable achievement, but taken all together they are a stunning testimony of persistent and tenacious labor. Perhaps, one of Calvin’s greatest triumphs was the founding of the Genevan Academy in 1559 for the training of pastors and missionary evangelists. John Knox (1514-1572), the courageous Scottish Reformer, attended the Genevan Academy as a student and wrote the following tribute in a personal letter to his friend, Mrs. Locke, in London,

In my heart I would have wished, yea and cannot cease to which, that it would please God to guide and conduct yourself to this place, where I neither fear nor shame to say is the most perfect school since the Apostles. In other places, I confess Christ to be truly preached; but manners and religion so sincerely reformed, I have not seen in any other place. (Sefton, John Knox, 22)

While residing in Geneva Knox drank deeply from Calvin’s weekly lectures on sacred Scripture (praelectiones). In brief, what system of theology did the students learn at the Genevan Academy? They firmly held to the “Doctrines of Grace”, which are also known today as Reformed Theology. These beliefs can be summarized by the following popular acronym (i.e. Calvin’s “five points”),

T — Total Depravity or Total Inability (cf. Genesis 3:1-24, 6:1-8; Jeremiah 17:9-10; Mark 7:14-23; John 1:12-13; Romans 1:18-32, 3:9-18, 23, 6:23, 9:16). [In contrast to Human Ability, Pelagianism, and Semi- Pelagianism]

U — Unconditional Election (cf. Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23, 24-30, 36-43, 24:22, 24, 31; Ephesians 1:3-5, 2:8-9; Acts 13:48; Romans 8:29- 30, 33, 9:6-18; 2 Timothy 2:10). [In contrast to Conditional Election by Foreseen Faith]

L — Limited Atonement or Definite Atonement or Particular Redemption (cf. Isaiah 53:4-6; Jeremiah 31:31-34; Matthew 20:28; John 10:1-5, 11, 14- 15, 27-29). [In contrast to Universal Redemption, General Atonement, and Amyraldianism]

I — Irresistible Grace or Efficacious Grace (cf. John 11:43-44; Acts 9:1-19, 16:14; John 6:44, 10:1-5, 27; 1 Corinthians 2:14; 2 Corinthians 2:15-16).[In contrast to the Resistance of the Holy Spirit by Human Ability]

P — Perseverance of the Saints or Eternal Security (cf. Matthew 6:16-20, 24:13; John 3:3-8, 6:37, 39, 47, 10:27-29, 15:8; Romans 10:8-10; Ephesians 1:13-14; Philippians 1:6, 2:12-13; 1 Peter 1:3-5; 1 John 5:13). [In contrast to Falling from Grace, or Losing One’s Salvation]

As an enduring legacy, Calvin left behind written commentaries on every book of the Bible except for 2nd and 3rdJohn, and the book of Revelation. His theological magnum opus, the Institutes of the Christian Religion, made a significant impact on European culture and eventually to a majority of the Protestant churches scattered throughout the entire world. He preached daily and carried on a great correspondence keeping as many as four secretaries busy transcribing his words. Calvin’s health problems throughout his life were legion. He suffered prolonged afflictions of asthma, headaches, gout, gall stones, and various digestive difficulties. John Calvin finally succumbed to his illnesses on May 27, 1564 and died having lived 54 years, 10 months, and 17 days. His dying words were, “Thou, Lord, bruisest me; but I am abundantly satisfied since it is from Thy hand.” He was buried in an unmarked grave in the old cemetery of the Plain Palais in Geneva. Those who study his life wholeheartedly agree that he was “Prompt and sincere in the work of God” to the very end, and this faithful pastor, theological genius, and humble servant of Christ simply “burned-out” for God. Therefore, on the occasion of the 500thanniversary of John Calvin’s birth (July 10, 2009) let those of us who are his theological heirs enthusiastically affirm: Soli Deo Gloria!

Resources for Further Study:

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  • Beza, Theodore. The Life of John Calvin. Edited and translated by Henry Beveridge, included in the Selected Works of John Calvin: Tracts and Letters. Volume 1. Originally published in Edinburgh by the Calvin Translation Society, 1844. Reprint, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1983.
  • Calvin, John, Commentary on the Book of Psalms. Originally published in 1557. Reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998.
  • Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. The Library of Christian Classics, vol. XXI. Edited by John T. McNeill and translated by Ford Lewis Battles. Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press, 1960.
  • Calvin, John. Selected Works of John Calvin: Tracts and Letters. 7 volumes. Co- edited by Henry Beveridge and Jules Bonnet. Originally published in Edinburgh by the Calvin Translation Society, 1851. Reprint, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1983.
  • D’Aubigne, J. H. Merle. History of the Reformation in Europe in the Time of Calvin. Volumes 1-10. Originally published in 1863. Reprint, Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 2000.
  • de Greef, Wulfert. The Writings of John Calvin: An Introductory Guide. 2nd Edition. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2008.
  • De Koster, Lester. Light for the City: Calvin’s Preaching, Source of Life and Liberty. Eerdmans, 2004.
  • George, Timothy. Theology of the Reformers. Nashville: The Broadman Press, 1988.
  • Hall, David W. A Heart Promptly Offered: The Revolutionary Leadership of John Calvin. Nashville, TN: Cumberland House, 2006.
  • Hughes, Philip E. ed. and trans. The Register of the Company of Pastors of Geneva in the Time of Calvin. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1966.
  • Hunter, A. Mitchell. The Teaching of Calvin: A Modern Interpretation. London: Maclehose, Jackson & Co., 1920. Reprint, Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1999.
  • Kelly, Douglas F. The Emergence of Liberty in the Modern World: The Influence of Calvin on Five Governments. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1992.
  • Parker, T. H. L. John Calvin: A Biography. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975.
  • McNeill, John T. The History and Character of Calvinism. London: Oxford University Press, 1954.
  • Reymond, Robert L. John Calvin: His Life and Influence. Ross-shire, Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 2004.
  • Sefton, Henry R. John Knox: An Account of the Development of His Spirituality. Edinburgh, Scotland: Saint Andrew Press, 1993.
  • Selderhuis, Herman J. John Calvin: A Pilgrim’s Life. Translated by Albert Gootjes. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009.
  • Steel, David N., Curtis C. Thomas, and S. Lance Quinn. The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented. Second Edition. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publications, 2004.
  • Stickelberger, Emanuel. Calvin: A Life. London: James Clarke & Company, 1959.
  • Van Halsema, Thea B. This Was John Calvin. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959.
  • Vollmer, Philip. John Calvin: Man of the Millennium. Edited by Wesley Strackbein. San Antonio, TX: The Vision Forum, Inc. 2009.
  • Wallace, Ronald S. Calvin, Geneva, and the Reformation. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1990.
  • Walker, Williston. John Calvin: Organizer of Reformed Protestantism. New York: Schocken Books, 1969.
  • Wendel, Francois. Calvin: The Origins and Development of His Religious Thought. New York: Harper and Row, 1963. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, reprint 1997.