John Calvin was a prominent and influential French theologian who led the Reformation in French-speaking Switzerland. Known as “the theologian of the Reformation”, Calvin was an introverted and reticent man who was devoted to quiet study and writing. However, the Lord had other plans for His servant, one of which was to propel the Reformation cause in Switzerland through his ecclesiastical reforms and sound Biblical theology.
As we have seen in our previous three articles, God’s guiding hand was evident in every step of the reformer’s eventful life: “A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps” (Prov 16: 9). From Strasbourg where Calvin spent the happiest years of his life, the Lord led him to return to Geneva in 1541 – the Swiss city that had banished him three years earlier. Calvin remained in Geneva until his death on 27 May 1564.
o Fugitive Years – Geneva (1541-1564)
For the next twenty-three years, Calvin laboured to bring about effective reforms not only in Switzerland but also the rest of Europe. His Ecclesiastical Ordinances – which the ruling council adopted on 20 November 1541 – “provided for the religious education of the townspeople, especially children, and instituted Calvin’s conception of church order. It also established four groups of church officers: pastors and teachers to preach and explain the Scriptures, elders representing the congregation to administer the church, and deacons to attend to its charitable responsibilities. In addition it set up a consistory of pastors and elders to make all aspects of Genevan life conform to God’s law. It undertook a wide range of disciplinary actions covering everything from the abolition of Roman Catholic ‘superstition’ to the enforcement of sexual morality, the regulation of taverns, and measures against dancing, gambling, and swearing” (www.britannica.com/biography/John-Calvin).
Calvin placed great emphasis on Christian education. He believed that the success of the Reformation depended on the literacy of the people. To enable them to read and obey the Scriptures, he set up schools to educate them.
The reformer was responsible for establishing the Academy of Geneva, the first Protestant University, for the training of young men in the Reformed Faith. The Academy which had on its staff, ten dedicated professors, “offered courses on languages, mathematics, music, and science, with Calvin himself teaching theology. Over time, the Academy came to be attended by 900 regular scholars coming from all over Europe to learn from Calvin” (Bible Witness: Sep- Oct 2018).
Calvin’s efforts at theological education were fruitful. His ministry attracted many Protestant refugees – the hunted reformers of Western Europe – who were fleeing persecution by the Roman church. The fugitives came from England, Germany, Scotland and France seeking safety and instruction. It is believed that these valiant contenders for the faith studied at Calvin’s Academy. When they returned to their homelands, they brought with them his reformed teachings – to resist the tyranny of Rome.
Through these exiles, the Gospel and Presbyterianism spread all over Europe. Among the scholars was John Knox, who later came to be known as the “Reformer of Scotland”. Knox commended the Academy as “the most perfect school of Christ that was ever on earth since the days of the apostles”.
o Illness and Death
By 1559, Calvin’s ministerial labours were taking a toll on his health. He suffered from a host of illnesses, including tuberculosis, malaria, kidney stones, gout, migraine and ulcerated veins. Responding as a “Calvinist”, the valiant reformer did not allow his infirmities to overwhelm him. His convictions enabled him to see God’s sovereign hand in his sufferings. He wrote to his good reformer friend, William Farel:
“Although we may be severely buffeted hither and thither by many tempests, yet, seeing that a Pilot steers the ship in which we sail, Who will never allow us to perish even in the midst of shipwrecks, there is no reason why our minds should be overwhelmed with fear and overcome with weariness” (https://banneroftruth.org/us/resources/articles/2009/john-calvin-in-the-valley-of-the-shadow-of-deathsup1sup/).
On 6 February 1564, an ailing Calvin was carried to the pulpit to preach his last sermon. He died a few months later on 27 May, at the age of 54.
We thank God for His faithful servant Whom He had mightily used to contend for the Truth and to bring about reformation in the lives of His people. John Calvin left behind a rich spiritual heritage in the Reformed faith known as “Calvinism” which is with us even today. Truly, “by it he being dead yet speaketh” (Heb 11: 4b). (… to be concluded)