Tag Archive - death

Preaching to the Very End

The thought of “retirement” in the traditional sense doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. There is a part of me that hopes I can continue preaching and ministry to the very end. I was encouraged to read of Calvin’s passion to preach as long as his body would hold out:

Calvin loved preaching, and he continued preaching nearly to the end of his life. He died on May 27, 1564. We read that near the close of his life, when he was beset with infirmities and could not walk, he was carried in a chair to his well-loved and familiar pulpit. Colladon, who wrote a biography of Calvin in 1565, provides an account of these last days of preaching.

… his gout began to abate somewhat, and then he forced himself to go out sometimes to be entertained among his friends, but chiefly to lecture and even to preach, having himself carried to church in a chair … he continued to do all he could of his public office, always dragging his poor body along, until the beginning of February 1564 … on the Sunday, February 6, [he gave] his last sermon on the Harmony of the Three Gospels. Thereafter he never went up into the pulpit.

John D. Currid, Calvin and the Biblical Languages (Fearn, Ross-shire, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 2006), 28.

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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 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.

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.

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