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Calvin’s Last Letter to Farel

Nearing death, Calvin wrote the following to his dear friend Farel,

Farewell, my best and most worthy brother. Since God has determined that you should survive me in this world, live mindful of our union, which has been so useful to the Church of God, and the fruits of which await us in heaven. Do not fatigue yourself on my account. I draw my breath with difficulty, and am expecting continually that my breath will fail. It is sufficient that I live and die in Christ, who is gain to his servants in life and in death. Again, farewell with the brethren.

Thomas Smyth, Calvin and His Enemies: A Memoir of the Life, Character, and Principles of Calvin. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), 65-66.

Laboring with Every Fiber of His Being

When one examines the shear quantity of work John Calvin accomplished in his life, it is simply staggering. I am on;y personally helped in reminding myself of God’s particular gifting and calling for Calvin. If it were not for this, I would probably feel immense guilt for my comparative laziness.

But the labours of Calvin were as multiplied and arduous as his achievements were marvellous. The Genevan edition of his works amounts to twelve folio volumes. Besides these, there exist at Geneva two thousand of his sermons and lectures, taken down from his mouth, as he delivered them. He was but twenty-eight years in the ministry altogether. He was always poor, so as not to be able to have many books. The sufferings of his body from headache, weakness, and other complaints, were constant and intense, so that he was obliged to recline on his couch a part of every day. It was only the remnants of his time, left from preaching and correspondence, he devoted to study and writing. And yet, every year of his life may be chronicled by his various works. In the midst of convulsions and interruptions of every kind, he pursued his commentaries on the Bible, as if sitting in the most perfect calm, and undisturbed repose. His labours were indeed incredible, and beyond all comparison. He allowed himself no recreation whatever. He preached and wrote with headaches that would, says Beza, have confined any other person to bed.

Calvin was a member of the Sovereign Council of Geneva, and took a great part in the deliberations, as a politician and legislator. He corrected the civil code of his adopted country. He corresponded with Protestants throughout Europe, both on religious subjects and State affairs; for all availed themselves of his experience in difficult matters. He wrote innumerable letters of encouragement and consolation to those who were persecuted, imprisoned, condemned to death for the Gospel’s sake. He was a constant preacher, delivering public discourses every day in the week, and on Sunday preaching twice. He was Professor of Theology, and delivered three lectures a week. He was President of Consistory, and addressed remonstrances, or pronounced other ecclesiastical sentences against delinquent church members. He was the head of the pastors; and every Friday, in an assembly called the Congregation, he pronounced before them a long discourse on the duties of the evangelical ministry. His door was constantly open to refugees from France, England, Poland, Germany, and Italy, who flocked to Geneva, and he organized for these exiled Protestants, special parishes. His correspondence, commentaries, and controversial writings, &c., would form annually, during the period of thirty-one years, between two and three octavo volumes; and yet he did not reach the age of fifty-five. When laid aside by disease from preaching, he dictated numberless letters, revised for the last time his Christian Institutes, almost re-wrote his Commentary on Isaiah, frequently observing that “nothing was so painful to him as his present idle life.” And when urged by his friends to forbear, he would reply, “Would you have my Lord to find me idle when he cometh?” “O, the power of Christian faith! and of the human will! Calvin did all these things—he did more than twenty eminent doctors; and he had feeble health, a frail body, and died at the age of fifty-five years! We bow reverently before this incomparable activity, this unparalleled devotion of Calvin to the service of his Divine Master!”

Thomas Smyth, Calvin and His Enemies: A Memoir of the Life, Character, and Principles of Calvin. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), 25-27.

The Death of Calvin’s Beloved Wife

Below is the sobering account of the last hours of John Calvin’s wife, Idelette. What a mix of emotions I feel as a husband as I read of Calvin sharing the gospel with his wife one last time before she sees Jesus face to face.

Idelette saw the approach of death with calmness. Her soul was unshaken in the midst of her sufferings, which were accompanied by frequent faintings. When she could not speak, her look, her gestures, the expression of her face, revealed sufficiently the faith which strengthened her in her last hour. On the morning of April 6th, a pastor named Bourgoin addressed to her pious exhortation. She joined in broken exclamations, which seemed an anticipation of heaven: “O glorious resurrection! O God of Abraham and our fathers!… Hope of Christians for so many ages, in thee I hope.”

At 7 o’clock in the morning she fainted again; and, feeling that her voice was about to fail, “Pray,” said she, “O my friends, pray for me!” Calvin approaching her bedside, she showed her joy by her looks. With emotion he spoke to her of the grace that is in Christ; of the earthly pilgrimage; of the assurance of a blessed eternity; and closed by a fervent prayer. Idelette followed his words, listened attentively to the holy doctrine of salvation in Jesus crucified. About nine o’clock she breathed her last sigh, but so peacefully that it was for some moments impossible to discover if she ceased to live, or if she was asleep.

Such is the account Calvin gives to his colleagues of the death of his beloved wife.

Thomas Smyth, Calvin and His Enemies: A Memoir of the Life, Character, and Principles of Calvin. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), 178-79.

Calvin and Idelette Suffered Much Loss

It was far more common in John Calvin’s day than in our own for children to die at birth or in the early years of life. This, however, does not lessen the grief of loss. Three times in their short marriage, Calvin and Idelette experienced the pain of losing a child.

Bitter domestic afflictions came upon Calvin and his wife. The second year of their marriage, in the month of July, 1542, Idelette had a son. But, alas! this child, for whom they had devoutly returned thanks to God, and offered so many fervent prayers, was soon taken from them by death. The churches of Geneva and of Lausanne showed the parents marks of sympathy. Feeble mitigation of so heavy a trial! It is easier to imagine than to express the grief of a mother’s heart. Calvin lets us see his sorrow and that of his companion, in a letter addressed, the 10th of August, 1542, to Peter Viret: ‘Salute all our brethren,’ says he, ‘salute also your wife, to whom mine presents her thanks for her tender and pious consolations. . . . She would like to answer them with her own hand, but she has not even the strength to dictate a few words. The Lord has dealt us a grievous blow, in taking from us our son; but He is our Father, and knows what is meet for his children.’ Paternal affection and Christian resignation are both displayed in Calvin’s letters at this time. In 1544, a new trial of this kind afflicted the hearts of these parents. A daughter was born to them; she lived only a few days, as we see in a letter addressed in 1544 to the pastor Viret. Again a third child was taken from them. Idelette wept bitterly; and Calvin, so often tried, sought his strength from the Lord; and the thought occurred to him that he was destined only to have children according to the faith. So he said to one of his adversaries, who had been base enough to reproach him with his domestic losses: ‘Yes,’ replied Calvin, ‘the Lord has given me a son; he has taken him from me. Let my enemies, if they see proper, reproach me for this trial. Have not I thousands of children in the Christian world?’

Thomas Smyth, Calvin and His Enemies: A Memoir of the Life, Character, and Principles of Calvin (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), 176–77.

The Love of Calvin for His Wife

Some have considered Calvin to be a completely cool, collected, and compassionate individual, but from his letters one sees that his care and love for people often ran deep. For instance, when he heard that the plague had broken out in Strasburg where his wife Idelette was staying while he was away at the diet convened at Worms, Calvin wrote, “I try…to resist my grief—I resort to prayer and to holy meditations, that I may not lose all courage.”(1) Clearly, Calvin shows his great concern for his wife and her welfare, such that he fears losing all courage. Truly the words of a passionate man with deep love for his bride.

(1)Thomas Smyth, Calvin and His Enemies: A Memoir of the Life, Character, and Principles of Calvin. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), 172.

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A Wife Worthy of the Challange

One can only imagine the challenges of being married to someone with such a gift and call as John Calvin. On top of the enormous burden he carried for Geneva, the church, the reformation, and the Gospel, he was often ill from the labors he put himself through. Amidst it all, his loving wife was by his side.

Idelette de Bure devoted herself particularly to the care of her husband. Exhausted by his constant labours, Calvin was frequently ill; and treating his body roughly, after the example of Paul, he persisted amidst bodily sufferings to perform the multiplied duties of his office. Then his wife would come and tenderly recommend him to take a little repose, and watch at his pillow when his illness had assumed an alarming character. Besides, (and this will surprise the reader,) Calvin had at times, like ordinary men, desponding feelings; he was inclined to low spirits. “Sometimes,” he himself says, “although I am well in body, I am depressed with grief, which prevents me from doing anything, and I am ashamed to live so uselessly.” In these moments of dejection, when the heroic Reformer seemed, in spite of his energy and incomparable activity, to sink under the weight of our common infirmities, Idelette de Bure was at hand, with tender and encouraging words, which the heart of woman can alone find; and her hand, so feeble, yet so welcome and so affectionate, restored the giant of the Reformation, who made the Pope and kings tremble on their thrones! Oh, the precious support and the magic power of a religious, attentive and loving wife!

Thomas Smyth, Calvin and His Enemies: A Memoir of the Life, Character, and Principles of Calvin. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), 174-75.

The Woman Who Won John Calvin – Idelette de Bure

Very little is known or recorded about John Calvin’s wife, Idelette de Bure. Yet, Thomas Smith records this of her in Calvin and His Enemies: A Memoir of the Life.

Externally, there was in this woman nothing very attractive. She was encumbered with several children of a first marriage; she had no fortune; she was dressed in mourning; her person was not particularly handsome. But for Calvin, she possessed the best of treasures, a living and tried faith, an upright conscience, and lovely as well as strong virtues. As he afterwards said of her, she would have had the courage to bear with him exile, poverty, death itself, in attestation of the truth. Such were the noble qualities which won the Reformer.

Thomas Smyth, Calvin and His Enemies: A Memoir of the Life, Character, and Principles of Calvin. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), 171.

What do you look for in a wife?

I’m currently 32 years old and have been married for 10 of those years. At age 30 John Calvin was still not married. While trying to find a suitable woman to marry, Calvin penned a letter to his good friend Farel who was trying to help him find a wife. In the letter Calvin describes the type of wife he desired.

In a letter addressed to Farel in May, 1539, (he was then thirty years old), Calvin sketches his ideal of a wife. “Remember,” he says to his friend, “what I especially desire to meet with in a wife. I am not, you know, of the number of those inconsiderate lovers who adore even the faults of the woman who charms them. I could only be pleased with a lady who is sweet, chaste, modest, economical, patient, and careful of her husband’s health. Has she of whom you have spoken to me these qualities? Come with her …, if not let us say no more.”

Thomas Smyth, Calvin and His Enemies: A Memoir of the Life, Character, and Principles of Calvin. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), 168-69.

What are you looking for in a spouse?

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And You Think You’re Busy?

I often feel like I’m busy and have a lot on my plate. A quick inquiry into all that John Calvin had on his plate (without a computer, email, or even a typewriter for that matter) make me truly appreciate the labors that he undertook on behalf of the Church (and makes me feel a little bit lazy).

Notwithstanding the relief which Calvin continually received from Farel and from Viret, it is not easy to conceive how he sustained his various labours; especially if we consider that he was the subject of several violent and continual disorders. During a fortnight in each month, he preached every day; gave three lectures in theology every week; assisted at all the deliberations of the Consistory, and at the meetings of the pastors; met the congregation every Friday; instructed the French churches by the frequent advices which they solicited from him; defended the reformation, against the attacks of its enemies, and particularly those of the French priests; was forced to repel his numerous antagonists, by various books which he composed for that purpose; and found time to publish several other works, which, by their solidity and depth, are calculated for the instruction of every age.

Theodore Beza and John Mackenzie, Memoirs of the Life and Writings of John Calvin (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), 51-52.

Do you Prefer Your Studies More than Jesus?

Calvin, wanting to just sit back and read some books, was challenged by Farel when we came through Geneva. Faral’s words no doubt cut Calvin to the heart and ultimately led to him staying in Geneva. Perhaps they cut at you too?

ON quitting Italy, Calvin returned to France, with Anthony, his only remaining brother; but on account of the persecutions which then ran high, he soon resolved to return to Basil or Strasbourg. But the direct road being then impassable on account of the war, he was compelled to go through Geneva. He had then no intention of stopping there, but the event soon made it evident that he had been conducted thither by a secret determination of Providence. This was in the month of August 1536. The reformed religion had been wonderfully established there by Guillaume Farel, and Pierre Viret. Farel had been instructed, not in a convent as some have supposed, but in the school of Jacques Le Fevre d’Estaples. Calvin, not willing to pass through Geneva without paying his respects to them, made them a visit, on which occasion Farel earnestly entreated him to stop at Geneva, and help him in the labour to which God had called him. But perceiving that Calvin was not to be prevailed upon, he said, “You have not any other pretext to refuse me, than the attachment which you profess for your studies; but I warn you in the name of Almighty God, that if you do not share with me the holy work in which I am engaged, he will not bless your designs, since you prefer your repose to Jesus Christ.” Calvin, subdued by this appeal, submitted to the wish of the seigneurs, and of the Consistory of Geneva, by whose suffrages and the consent of the people, he was received to the charge of the ministry, in the month of August 1536.

Theodore Beza and John Mackenzie, Memoirs of the Life and Writings of John Calvin (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), 42-43.

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