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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.

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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All Calvin Did Was Worth Nothing

In reading through John Calvin’s last letter to the ministers at Geneva, I was struck by the following paragraph.

I have had many infirmities which you have been obliged to bear with, and what is more, all I have done has been worth nothing. The ungodly will greedily seize upon this word, but I say it again that all I have done has been worth nothing, and that I am a miserable creature. But certainly I can say this that I have willed what is good, that my vices have always displeased me, and that the root of the fear of God has been in my heart; and you may say that the disposition was good; and I pray you, that the evil be forgiven me, and if there was any good, that you conform yourselves to it and make it an example.

Jules Bonnet, Dr., vol. 4, Letters of John Calvin. Vol. I-IV (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), 375.

I wonder what Calvin meant by “all I have done has been worth nothing.” Surely Calvin was aware of his great contributions to the reformation and the gospel of Jesus Christ. I almost expected him conclude that statement with something like “compared to the surpassing greatness of what God has done for us in Christ.” But he does not. However, I can only assume that is what he means. He indicates such when he points out that the “ungodly will greedily seize upon this word.”

In death, Calvin in short words reminds us that he, and we, are miserable creatures when compared to the greatness of God’s kindness in Christ.

John Calvin’s Health Prior to Death

John Calvin, in a dictated letter to the ministers of Geneva, shares some final words with them prior to his death. Among all that is recorded, we see the fragility of Calvin’s final state before his death, shared in his own words.

It may be thought that I am too precipitate in concluding my end to be drawing near, and that I am not so ill as I persuade myself; but I assure you, that though I have often felt myself very ill, yet I have never found myself in such a state, nor so weak as I am. When they take me to put me in bed, my head fails me and I swoon away forthwith. There is also this shortness of breathing, which oppresses me more and more. I am altogether different from other sick persons, for when their end is approaching their senses fail them and they become delirious. With respect to myself, true it is that I feel stupefied, but it seems to me that God wills to concentrate all my senses within me, and I believe indeed that I shall have much difficulty and that it will cost me a great effort to die. I may perhaps lose the faculty of speech, and yet preserve my sound sense; but I have also advertised my friends of that and told them what I wished them to do for me, and it is for this very reason I have desired to speak with you before God call me away; not that God may not indeed do otherwise than I think; it would be temerity on my part to wish to enter into his counsel.

Jules Bonnet, Dr., vol. 4, Letters of John Calvin. Vol. I-IV (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), 373.

Calvin and the Wine Bribe

Reading more of Calvin in His Letters I came across a fun piece where John Calvin uses a cask of wine to try and lure a friend to join him in Geneva. I couldn’t help laughing as this seems like the sort of trick I might use to get a friend to join me (or that could be used on me).

When he would induce his friend M. de Falais to come to Geneva and take up his abode there, he slyly adds that he has laid in a cask of good wine for his benefit. “I wish very much that it may please God to bring you hither to drink of the wine upon the spot and that soon. If the bearer had left this earlier in the morning, you might have had a flask of it. If there were any means of sending you the half of it, I should not have failed to do so, but when I inquired, I found that it could not be done.” Calvin, we see, had some very human traits.

Henry Henderson, Calvin in His Letters (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), 27.

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John Calvin the Match Maker

I was reading Calvin in His Letters the other day. This truly fascinating book serves as a guide to the Letters of John Calvin. It was interesting to see such personal correspondences, like this one where Calvin is assisting a friend in the hunt for a wife for a friend. Calvin writes:

Think of what you are going to do, and then write to me again what resolution you have come to. The more we inquire, the more numerous and the better are the testimonies with which the young lady is honoured. Accordingly, I am now seeking to discover the mind of her father. As soon as we have reached any certainty I will let you know. Meanwhile, do you make yourself ready. This match does not please Perrin, because he wishes to force upon you the daughter of Rameau. That makes me the more solicitous about pre-occupying the ground in good time, lest we be obstructed by having to make excuses. To-day, as far as I gather, he will enter upon the subject with me, for we are both invited by Corna to supper. I will gain time by a civil excuse. It would tend to promote the matter if I, with your permission, should ask her. I have seen her twice: she is very modest, with an exceedingly becoming countenance and person. Of her manners, all speak so highly that John Parvi lately told me he had been captivated by her. Adieu; may the Lord govern you by His counsel, and bless us in an undertaking of such moment

Henry Henderson, Calvin in His Letters (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), 93-94.

Just a simple (and interesting) reminder that Calvin wasn’t stuck at his desk studying and writing all the time. He even tried his hand at being a match maker from time to time.

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Gospel Seeds in John Calvin’s Early Life

I recently posted a portion of a letter written to John Calvin by his cousin, Peter Robert Olivetan. Later in the letter we begin to see some of the gospel seeds making their way into the life of Calvin at the young age of 10. While it would be many years until Calvin would turn his heart and devotion to the gospel of Jesus Christ, it is clear that there were people in his life who were hearing and receiving the gospel, and trying to share it with Calvin.

I am delighted with my studies. * * * I must tell you of a dear old man, who is one of our teachers. His name is Doctor James Lefevre. I am proud of him because he is a Picard. He was once a poor boy in the village of Etaples, where he was born about sixty-five years ago. Perhaps there is some hope for us Noyon lads, if we will be as studious and pious as he has been. He is a small man of a mean appearance, but his great soul, his vast learning, his deep piety and his powerful eloquence make him the most charming man in the university. He has travelled into Asia and Africa, and it is whispered about here that he saw things in Rome which he does not consider to be Christian, but of which it will not do to tell. We all know that he reads and talks about the Holy Scriptures, as few others do in our day. A child can understand him when he preaches. Some of the students are beginning to make an uproar about the gospel that he preaches to us. They think he is fighting against the church. But I am sure that he tells us more about Jesus Christ than we ever heard before.* The students all love him, unless there be some who turn everything holy into ridicule. But it seems that nearly every priest in all Paris hates him, just because he would have us study the Bible and follow the Lord Jesus Christ.

Wm. M. Blackburn, College Days of Calvin (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), 7-9.

A Letter to Young John Calvin

I recently read William Blackburn’s College Days of Calvin and thoroughly enjoyed the book. Using history and some good story telling, Blackburn brings the early days of John Calvin to life in a vivid manner. I think, for me, the only problem with this is how horribly convicting it is to read about the devotion, energy, and vigor that Calvin put into everything he did, especially his studies. What’s more is that he was apparently this way, even at the young age of 10. A letter from his cousin, Peter Robert Olivetan, indicates that Calvin is already quite a serious young boy.

… I wish your father was able to send you to a good school; do not let him rest till he does. But do not study too hard. You do not play half enough. If I were writing to the Montmor children, I would say play less and study more; but you need to learn how to fish in the Oise and hunt in the woods, as the cavaliers did in the times of Charlemagne, when our good town of Noyon was the capital of the empire. When I am home again I must take you to Pont l’Eveque,* and give you a romp in your grandfather’s cooper-shop. I do not mean that play is the grand object of a boy’s life, but only that it may help to give him health and cheerfulness. Need I tell you what to live for? Your kind parents will do that; but yet as this is your birth-day, I may remind you that you ought to be a good Christian….

Wm. M. Blackburn, College Days of Calvin (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), 7-9.

While a little conviction is good, I often have to remind myself that I don’t have the same calling as John Calvin. It is apparent from his work and ministry that God had a very specific task for this young man to accomplish, and God created him in a way that led him to hours of intense study, preaching, and writing. At the same token, I think it is important to look to someone like Calvin, and all he did with such vigor, and use that to spur myself on to working hard for the calling God has given me.

Either way, I commend College Days of Calvin to all who want to get a look at this great man and his early years.

To the Ministers of the Church of Basle

Here is the opening of a letter John Calvin wrote to the ministers of the church of Basle regarding the persecution in France.

GENEVA, 13th November 1537. The urgent business on account of which we have thought it right to send this person by express to you may be stated in few words. A new outbreak of the cruel rage of the ungodly has burst forth at Nismes, as the place is now called, no mean city, a town of Languedoc, against the unhappy brethren who reside there, scattered up and down, and that at a time when we might have suspected nothing of the kind. Not very long ago we had obtained letters from the town councils of Strasbourg and Basle, by which the safety and personal security of all those, who were then imprisoned throughout France on account of religion, was commended to the care of Count William. That eminent person, as was reported, had obtained of the king that they should all be set at liberty. We rested secure in this expectation, until word was brought to us, that the fire of persecution was again raging in that quarter. Two persons have been burnt, concerning the manner of whose death you will hear from the eye-witness himself, for he can relate to you in Latin what he has narrated in detail to us. Continue Reading…

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