Friday, January 21, 2011


What did the Christians of the 16th century know about John Calvin we do not know today? Why did thousands and thousands of Protestants across Europe admire and love him so much, while today, there is such criticism against him? The answer to this is, they knew him, and today most critics have never read anything about him. They simply hear a pastor ranting or raving against him having done no research or reading about this great man of God.

   Calvin "made" our Christian understanding of biblical doctrine. We would be ignorant of the Scriptures if it were not for the writing of systematic theology, and commentaries, of Calvin. He wrote a great systematic theology, hundreds of theological letters, and a commentary on almost every book of the Bible. Historians say that Calvin made America—what he said biblically was incorporated in the thinking of the Puritans who established this great nation.

   A storm was blowing outside on Saturday, December 19, 1562. Many knew that it was bringing forth bad tidings for Switzerland and all of Europe. Calvin was suffering in his bed with maybe several dozen ailments: indigestion, colic, gout, gall stones, rheumatism, asthma, etc. But he was determined to continue on: writing commentaries, lecturing more than three times weekly, writing letters to kings, queens, duchess, admirals, governors, pastors, city councils, Catholic priests, etc.

   Those who met with him said he needed no solace, though he comforted those who came to visit with him. He kept on toiling, writing encouragement to the churches in Poland, writing against anti-Trinitarian errors. He suffered with breathlessness, so he could only speak with clipped voice. He was also translating his "Harmony of Moses" from Latin into French, revising his translation of Genesis and Joshua, along with correcting his annotations on the New Testament. When told he ought to slow down, he replied "What, and have the Lord to find me idle?"

   Politically, Europe was growing darker. The Catholic Cardinals were planning to send troops against Geneva. The Catholics were the hosts of new devils threatening France! In February, he gave his last sermon on the books of Kings, and he gave his last lecture in the local College on the book of Ezekiel. On February 6, he gave his last sermon on the harmony of the Gospels. He never entered the pulpit again.

   By now, his body was so weak he could only take a few steps at a time. He knew the end was near. He often said, "O Lord, how long?"

   On March 6, 1564, his friend Beza wrote "His bodily sufferings increased during the previous month." On March 10, some pastors visited him and found him sitting up but unable to draw a breath. He murmured, "I believe this will be my end, and that God will take me home." He was given 25 gold pieces as a gift but ended up giving most of it away. The very day before his death he preached his last sermon. On the 27th he was carried to the Town Hall and was presented before the Town Council of the Two Hundred. He spoke with great difficulty. He said, "I feel that I am now in this place for the last time."

   One Zanchius wrote to Bullinger, "If the Lord takes away Calvin, what can we say but that He is angry with us because of our INGRATITUDE." On Easter, April 2, he was carried to church where, with shortness of breath, he joined in with the singing of the Psalms. His face was alight with joy!

   On April 25th, he made out his will. It was full of gratitude to God and confidence in His redeeming grace!

   On the same day, he told a group of ministers:

   "When I first came to Geneva and this church there was practically nothing here. All was confusion. They set dogs on me which seized me by the coat and legs. I went to the City Council where they were fighting among themselves. They shouted at me, "Withdraw, leave!" I replied, "I shall not go!"

   Before the men left he took farewell of all, and shook hands with each. All were melted to tears.

   Calvin died on May 27, 1564. A few days later the funeral was held with almost the entire town showing up. He was buried in a common cemetery with no extraordinary pomp, just as he commanded, without any gravestone. He died at the age of fifty-four years of age. The only epitaph he would have wished was this: "To God alone the glory."   --Dr. Mal Couch (1/11)