John Calvin: Life of Perseverance

To say that Calvin had a difficult life is an understatement. He suffered many bodily ailments such as asthma, migraine headaches, ulcerated hemorrhoids and stomach ulcers, and yet by God’s grace, he continued to persevere through all of these trials, even to the point of his death from tuberculosis. Calvin refused to let any of his physical problems stop him from doing his Master’s work. He was determined that, as long as he had breath in his lungs, he was going to continue in the things that God had given him to do. Concerning Calvin’s disposition in difficult times, in 1562 Beza wrote,

His infirmities were also increasing so much that it might already have been seen he was advancing rapidly to a better life. He, however, did not cease to comfort, exhort and even to preach and deliver his lectures on theology . . . In the following year (1563) Calvin’s diseases had so increased and were so numerous that it was almost impossible to believe that so strong and noble a mind could be confined in a body so frail, so exhausted by labour and so broken down by suffering. But even then he could not be persuaded to spare himself. If at any time he abstained from public duty (which he never did without the greatest reluctance), he still gave answers to those who consulted him at home, or wore out his amanuenses by dictating to them, though unwearied himself. As evidence of this, we have his two very serious Admonitions to the Poles against the blasphemers of the Holy trinity; also the answers that he gave, both by word and writing, to those brethren who were sent to him from the Synod of Lyons; the Commentary on the Four Books of Moses, which he wrote in Latin and which he afterwards himself translated into French; and finally, his Commentary on the Book of Joshua, which was the last of his labours. He began it at this time and brought it to a close just before his death.

Beza went on to say,

While oppressed with so many diseases he was never heard to utter a word unbecoming a man of firmness, far less unbecoming a Christian. Only, raising his eyes towards heaven, he would say, ‘O Lord, how long!’ Even when he was in health this was an expression which often he used in reference to the calamities of his brethren, which night and day affected him much more than his own sufferings. When we advised and entreated him that while sick he should desist from the fatigue of dictating, or at least of writing, ‘What’, he would say, ‘would you have the Lord find me idle?’[1]

One is struck as they read these words with how much we all fall short compared to John Calvin. It seems at times that whenever even the slightest afflictions come our way, many of us quickly find ourselves completely out of commission, but not Calvin. He by the grace of God, was determined, to give his all to the Lord even though his outward man was decaying.

As we close this portion of this post, what conclusions must be drawn? Is it not plain that John Calvin has left his fellow ministers an excellent example to follow? As was noted in the outset, preachers of God’s Word are to live exemplary lives which others should be able to copy. John Calvin led such a life. As a student, as a man of humility, and as a man who persevered through various trials, in all of these areas he commends himself to us as a model worthy of our most continual imitation.

Rob Ventura is one of the pastors of Grace Community Baptist Church of North Providence, Rhode Island and holds a Master of Divinity degree from Reformed Baptist Seminary. He is an author and blogger for Reformation 21 and has co-authored two books on Reformation Heritage Books A Portrait of Paul and Spiritual Warfare.

[1] Theodore Beza, “The Life of John Calvin,” Banner Of Truth Issue 227-228 (Aug/Sept.1982), pp. 54-56.