The Blog

Calvin’s Death

I am reminded that yesterday marks the 453rd anniversary of John Calvin’s death on May 27, 1564. Just a few years ago on this very same day in 2014, I was able to find his gravesite in the Old Cemetery of Geneva. It was surrounded by a short black metal fence and planted with low shrubs. A simple brass plate identified the grave as his—giving only his name and the dates of his life (1509-1564). While standing in front of his final earthly resting place, I told many of the gripping stories of Calvin’s life to the film crew who were shooting scenes for the movie, Targeted: Exposing the Gun Control Agenda. My job in the film was to show the clear connection between Calvin’s doctrine of “resistance to tyrants” and the “right to bear arms” in our American Bill of Rights. For me, it was a very emotional moment standing by his grave. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me to recount on film the testimony of Calvin as a disciple of Jesus Christ, prayer warrior, prolific author, energetic teacher, brilliant theologian, faithful pastor, disciplined lecturer, devoted husband, untiring correspondent, shepherd of souls, and loyal friend. And so, I went for it! Two hours later the film crew was worn out–but I still had more to say! But that will have to wait for another day—perhaps, this memory will be the impetus for a full-scale book on Calvin’s life, ministry, and theology.
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Regarding the day the great Genevan Reformer died, Theodore Beza writes, “On the day of his departure, viz., the 27th of May, he seemed to be stronger, and to speak with less difficulty. But it was nature’s last effort, for in the evening, about eight o’clock, symptoms of approaching death suddenly appeared. I had just left him a little before, and on receiving intimation from the servants immediately hastened to him with one of the brethren. We found that he had already died, and so very calmly, without any convulsion of his feet or hands, that he did not even fetch a deeper sigh. He had remained perfectly sensible, and was not entirely deprived of utterance to his very last breath. Indeed, he looked much more lie one sleeping that dead. On that day, then, at the same time with the setting sun, this splendid luminary was withdrawn from us…Two days after, the funeral took place, attended by the senators, pastors, professors, and almost the whole city, many shedding tears. He was buried in the common cemetery of Plein Palais, with no extraordinary pomp, and, as he had commanded, without any grave-stone…He lived 54 years, 10 months, 17 days, the half were spent in ministry.” (Beza, Life of John Calvin, xcvi-xcvii)

To Theodore Beza’s testimony I can only add, Soli Deo Gloria — To God Alone Be the Glory!

— Dr. Marcus J. Serven