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John Calvin’s Last Will and Testament

I came across John Calvin’s will the other day. It was fascinating (and encouraging) to see the degree that more than half of Calvin’s will is devoted to honoring God’s grace in the gospel. I was reminded of Philippians 1:20b “but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.”

IN the name of God, be it known to all men by these presents that in the year 1564, and the 25th day of the month of April, I Peter Chenelat, citizen and sworn Notary of Geneva, have been sent for by Spectable John Calvin, minister of the word of God in the Church of Geneva, and burgess of the said Geneva, who, being sick and indisposed in body alone, has declared to me his intention to make his testament and declaration of his last will, begging me to write it according as it should be by him dictated and pronounced, which, at his said request, I have done, and have written it under him, and according as he hath dictated and pronounced it, word for word, without omitting or adding anything—in form as follows:

In the name of God, I John Calvin, minister of the word of God in the Church of Geneva, feeling myself reduced so low by diverse maladies, that I cannot but think that it is the will of God to withdraw me shortly from this world, have advised to make and set down in writing my testament and declaration of my last will in form, as follows:

In the first place, I render thanks to God, not only because he has had compassion on me, his poor creature, to draw me out of the abyss of idolatry in which I was plunged, in order to bring me to the light of his gospel and make me a partaker of the doctrine of salvation, of which I was altogether unworthy, and continuing his mercy he has supported me amid so many sins and short-comings, which were such that I well deserved to be rejected by him a hundred thousand times—but what is more, he has so far extended his mercy towards me as to make use of me and of my labour, to convey and announce the truth of his gospel; protesting that it is my wish to live and die in this faith which he has bestowed on me, having no other hope nor refuge except in his gratuitous adoption, upon which all my salvation is founded; embracing the grace which he has given me in our Lord Jesus Christ, and accepting the merits of his death and passion, in order that by this means all my sins may be buried; and praying him so to wash and cleanse me by the blood of this great Redeemer, which has been shed for us poor sinners, that I may appear before his face, bearing as it were his image.

I protest also that I have endeavoured, according to the measure of grace he has given me, to teach his word in purity, both in my sermons and writings, and to expound faithfully the Holy Scriptures; and moreover, that in all the disputes I have had with the enemies of the truth, I have never made use of subtle craft nor sophistry, but have gone to work straight-forwardly in maintaining his quarrel. But alas! the desire which I have had, and the zeal, if so it must be called, has been so cold and so sluggish that I feel myself a debtor in everything and everywhere, and that, were it not for his infinite goodness, all the affection I have had would be but as smoke, nay, that even the favours which he has accorded me would but render me so much the more guilty; so that my only recourse is this, that being the Father of mercies he will show himself the Father of so miserable a sinner.

Moreover, I desire that my body after my decease be interred in the usual manner, to wait for the day of the blessed resurrection.
Touching the little earthly goods which God has given me here to dispose of, I name and appoint for my sole heir, my well beloved brother Antony Calvin, but only as honorary heir however, leaving to him the right of possessing nothing save the cup which I have had from Monsieur de Varennes, and begging him to be satisfied with that, as I am well assured he will be, because he knows that I do this for no other reason but that the little which I leave may remain to his children. I next bequeath to the college ten crowns, and to the treasure of poor foreigners the same sum. Item, to Jane, daughter of Charles Costan and my half-sister, that is to say, by the father’s side, the sum of ten crowns; and afterwards to each of my nephews, Samuel and John, sons of my aforesaid brother, forty crowns; and to each of my nieces, Anne, Susannah, and Dorothy, thirty crowns. As for my nephew David their brother, because he has been thoughtless and unsettled, I leave to him but twenty-five crowns as a chastisement. This is the total of all the property which God has given me, according as I have been able to value and estimate it, whether in books, furniture,6 plate, or anything else. However, should the result of the sale amount to anything more, I mean that it should be distributed among my said nephews and nieces, not excluding David, if God shall have given him grace to be more moderate and staid. But I believe that on this subject there will be no difficulty, especially when my debts shall be paid, as I have given charge to my brother on whom I rely, naming him executor of this testament along with the spectable Laurence de Normandie, giving them all power and authority to make an inventory without any judicial forms, and sell my furniture to raise money from it in ordér to accomplish the directions of this testament as it is here set down in writing, this 25th April, 1564.
Witness my hand,

Jules Bonnet, Dr., vol. 4, Letters of John Calvin. Vol. I-IV (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), 365-68.

What Does the Law Teach?

The Law was committed to writing, in order that it might teach more fully and perfectly that knowledge, both of God and of ourselves, which the law of nature teaches meagrely and obscurely. Proof of this, from an enumeration of the principal parts of the Moral Law; and also from the dictate of natural law, written on the hearts of all, and, in a manner, effaced by sin.

Taken from Calvin’s Institutes 2.8.1,

“I believe it will not be out of place here to introduce the Ten Commandments of the Law, and give a brief exposition of them. In this way it will be made more clear, that the worship which God originally prescribed is still in force (a point to which I have already adverted); and then a second point will be confirmed—viz. that the Jews not only learned from the law wherein true piety consisted, but from feeling their inability to observe it were overawed by the fear of judgments and so drawn, even against their will, towards the Mediator.

In giving a summary of what constitutes the true knowledge of God,192 we showed that we cannot form any just conception of the character of God, without feeling overawed by his majesty, and bound to do him service. In regard to the knowledge of ourselves, we showed that it principally consists in renouncing all idea of our own strength, and divesting ourselves of all confidence in our own righteousness, while, on the other hand, under a full consciousness of our wants, we learn true humility and self-abasement. Both of these the Lord accomplishes by his Law, first, when, in assertion of the right which he has to our obedience, he calls us to reverence his majesty, and prescribes the conduct by which this reverence is manifested; and, secondly, when, by promulgating the rule of his justice (a rule, to the rectitude of which our nature, from being depraved and perverted, is continually opposed, and to the perfection of which our ability, from its infirmity and nervelessness for good, is far from being able to attain), he charges us both with impotence and unrighteousness.

Moreover, the very things contained in the two tables are, in a manner, dictated to us by that internal law, which, as has been already said, is in a manner written and stamped on every heart. For conscience, instead of allowing us to stifle our perceptions, and sleep on without interruption, acts as an inward witness and monitor, reminds us of what we owe to God, points out the distinction between good and evil, and thereby convicts us of departure from duty. But man, being immured in the darkness of error, is scarcely able, by means of that natural law, to form any tolerable idea of the worship which is acceptable to God.

At all events, he is very far from forming any correct knowledge of it. In addition to this, he is so swollen with arrogance and ambition, and so blinded with self-love, that he is unable to survey, and, as it were, descend into himself, that he may so learn to humble and abase himself, and confess his misery. Therefore, as a necessary remedy, both for our dullness and our contumacy, the Lord has given us his written Law, which, by its sure attestations, removes the obscurity of the law of nature, and also, by shaking off our lethargy, makes a more lively and permanent impression on our minds.”

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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What Can We Learn From the Law?

From the knowledge of God, furnished by the Law, we learn that God is our Father and Ruler. Righteousness is pleasing, iniquity is an abomination in his sight. Hence, how weak soever we may be, our duty is to cultivate the one, and shun the other.

Taken from 2.8.2,

“It is now easy to understand the doctrine of the law—viz. that God, as our Creator, is entitled to be regarded by us as a Father and Master, and should, accordingly, receive from us fear, love, reverence, and glory; nay, that we are not our own, to follow whatever course passion dictates, but are bound to obey him implicitly, and to acquiesce entirely in his good pleasure. Again, the Law teaches, that justice and rectitude are a delight, injustice an abomination to him, and, therefore, as we would not with impious ingratitude revolt from our Maker, our whole life must be spent in the cultivation of righteousness. For if we manifest becoming reverence only when we prefer his will to our own, it follows, that the only legitimate service to him is the practice of justice, purity, and holiness. Nor can we plead as an excuse, that we want the power, and, like debtors, whose means are exhausted, are unable to pay. We cannot be permitted to measure the glory of God by our ability; whatever we may be, he ever remains like himself, the friend of righteousness, the enemy of unrighteousness, and whatever his demands from us may be, as he can only require what is right, we are necessarily under a natural obligation to obey. Our inability to do so is our own fault. If lust, in which sin has its dominion, so enthrals us, that we are not free to obey our Father, there is no ground for pleading necessity as a defence, since this evil necessity is within, and must be imputed to ourselves.”

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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Glasses for the Soul

In my last post I commented on what I feel like is one of the most commonly quoted pieces of John Calvin. The irony, of course, is that the quote comes from the first line of his first book in Institutes of the Christian Religion. It got me thinking to some of my favorite quotes of Calvin. Ironically, I fall into my own joke when I find one of my favorite quotes from the early chapters of Institutes.

In chapter VI of Book I, Calvin is helping readers understand the importance of Scripture in knowing God. I have always kept the image he painted in my mind when I explain the importance of God’s Word to people. I love it and, if you’ve never read it, I hope you enjoy it just as much.

For as the aged, or those whose sight is defective, when any book, however fair, is set before them, though they perceive that there is something written, are scarcely able to make out two consecutive words, but, when aided by glasses, begin to read distinctly, so Scripture, gathering together the impressions of Deity, which, till then, lay confused in our minds, dissipates the darkness, and shows us the true God clearly.

John Calvin and Henry Beveridge, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2010).

As always, Calvin communicates in such a clear and compelling manner. I can’t help but read and shake my head yes. I really love this quote. How about you? What’s your favorite Calvin quote?

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Commonly Quoted Calvin

OUR wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But as these are connected together by many ties, it is not easy to determine which of the two precedes, and gives birth to the other.

John Calvin and Henry Beveridge, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2010).

I laugh almost every time I hear this quote, or some variation on it, attributed to Calvin. It isn’t the quote itself that makes me laugh, or that it isn’t form Calvin, rather it is the fact that of all the beautiful and majestic things that Calvin penned in his life, I find that people quote this more than anything else. The reason? Because it is the very first chapter of the very first book of Calvin’s Institutes. While I don’t know how much Calvin people have read who quote this, I can’t help but think the frequency of this section’s use is directly related to the amount of Calvin they have read. If people would but dig further into Calvin (um, say, past the first page), oh the depths of treasures he would share and they would have an over abundance of quotes to recite.

Alas, I challenge you. Listen up when you hear someone say, “John Calvin said…” Statistically, I’m betting this quote will follow more than any other.

What Did Catholics Really Think About Calvin

The following excerpt was taken from an 1877 issue of the The Tablet, a British Catholic weekly journal that has been published continually since 1840. This article was printed just over 300 years after Calvin’s death and shows the credit given to Calvin for his role in the “rebellion.”

It cannot be denied that Calvin was the greatest man of the Protestant rebellion. But for him Luther’s movements would probably have died out with him and his associates. Calvin organised it, gave it form and consistency, and his spirit has sustained it to this day. If Luther preceded him, it is still by his name, rather than Luther’s, that the rebellion should be called; and the only form of Protestantism that still shows any sign of life is unquestionably Calvinism. It is Calvinism that sustains Methodism, that gives what little it has to Lutheranism, and that prevents a very general return of Anglicans to the bosom of the church. It is hardly too much to say that no greater heresiarch than John Calvin has ever appeared, or a more daring, subtle, adroit, or successful enemy of the church of God. … Considering the end of man and the purposes of civil society, murder and robbery are light crimes, and the spread of epidemic disease of no consequence, in comparison with the crime which Luther and Calvin perpetrated when they revolted from the church.

Quoted in William Wileman, John Calvin: His Life, His Teaching, and His Influence (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), 11.

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.

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