He Was The Great Theologian of the Reformation – By Mike and Sharon Rusten
We know his John Calvin, but he was born Jean Cauvin on July 10, 1509, in Picarcy, France. He studied in Paris and was converted in 1533. He later wrote, “God drew me from obscure and lowly beginnings and conferred on me the most honorable office of herald and minister of the gospel…What happened first was that by an unexpected conversion he tamed to teachableness a mind too stubborn for its years.” Three years later at age twenty-six, he wrote the first edition of his Institutes of the Christian Religion, probably the most influential systematic theology of all time.
In 1536 he left Catholic France to avoid persecution and went to Geneva. Except for an interlude of three years, he remained in Geneva until his death.
John Calvin was the leader of the French Reformation, the father of the theology called Calvinism, and the founder of the Reformed churches of the world. He lived modestly, never owned his own home, had few possessions, and refused salary increases. Plagued with ill health, he nevertheless preached an average of five sermons a week and wrote commentaries on nearly every book of the Bible. When his associates were concerned for his health and encouraged him to rest, he shot back: “What! Would you have the Lord find me idle while he comes?”
During the last few months of his life, he slowed down but refused to give up. He was carried to the church to preach his last sermon on February 6, 1564. Two months later, on April 25, 1564, feeling it was time to make his will, he called Peter Chenalat, notary of Geneva, to his home and dictated to him:
In the name of the Lord, Amen. I, John Calvin, minister of the Word of God in this Church of Geneva, being afflicted and oppressed with various diseases…give thanks to God, that taking mercy on me, whom He had created and placed in this world…And I testify and declare, that it is my intention to spend what yet remains of my life in the same faith and religion which He has delivered to me by His gospel…With my whole soul I embrace the mercy which He has exercised towards me through Jesus Christ, atoning for my sins…that under His shadow I may be able to stand at the judgment seat. I likewise declare, that…I have endeavored, both in my sermons and also in my writings and commentaries, to preach His Word purely and chastely, and faithfully to interpret His sacred Scriptures…I also testify and declare, that…with the enemies of the gospel, I have acted candidly and sincerely in defending the truth. But woe is me!…I confess I have failed innumerable times to execute my office properly, and had not He, of His boundless goodness, assisted me, all that zeal had been fleeting and vain…As God is the Father of mercy, He will show Himself such a Father to me, who acknowledge myself to be a miserable sinner.
The second half of the will is devoted to distribution of the “slender patrimony which God has bestowed upon me” to various family members and friends. In the next month he quickly declined and died on May 27, 1564, shortly before his fifty-fifth birthday.
John Calvin worked tirelessly, almost up to his death, literally using up his life in the service of his Savior.”
John Calvin’s legacy was much more than the few possessions he left to family and friends. His real legacy was the Reformed faith and the Reformed churches of the world.
When you depart this life, what will you leave behind?
In addition to your material possessions, what will be the primary contributions you will have made?
What will you leave to your family and friends?
“I have fought a good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.” – 2 Timothy 4:7
Author’s of the Article Above: Mike and Sharon Rusten are not only marriage and business partners; they also share a love for history. Mike studied at Princeton (B.A.), the University of Minnesota (M.A.), Westminster Theological Seminary (M.Div.), Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Th.M.), and New York University (Ph.D.). Sharon studied at Beaver College, Lake Forest College, and the University of Minnesota (B.A.), and together with Mike has attended the American Institute of Holy Land Studies (now Jerusalem University College). The Rustens have two grown children and live in Minnetonka, Minnesota. This article was adapted from the April 25th entry in their wonderful book The One Year Book of Christian History, Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2003.