We are not our own; let not our reason nor our will, therefore, sway our plans and deeds. We are not our own: let us therefore not set it as our goal to seek what is expedient for us according to the flesh. We are not our own: in so far as we can, let us therefore forget ourselves and all that is ours.

Conversely, we are God’s: let us therefore live for him and die for him. We are God’s: let his wisdom and will therefore rule all our actions. We are God’s: let all the parts of our life accordingly strive toward him as our only lawful goal.

For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then,whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. -Romans 14:8

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own. -1 Corinthians 6:19

 

 

 

After a golden three-year exile, Calvin returned to the city that expelled him. He didn’t jump at the opportunity but went reluctantly, feeling constrained by God’s will to resume the work.

It was September, 1541 when he stepped back into the pulpit and continued his exposition of the Psalms, picking up at the very place he had left off.

Now that Calvin was back, he would settle in for life in the Geneva he would be famous for.

Severe trials would come the following year in the form of sickness and death. The plague that had come through Strasburg now swept through Geneva. Calvin refused to abandon his flock and seek safety outside town, risking his life to remain and comfort his ailing parishioners.

Then in the summer of 1542, Calvin’s only child was born and died only two weeks later. It was a great blow. He wrote to his close friend Viret, “The Lord has certainly inflicted a severe and bitter wound in the death of our baby son. But he is himself a father and knows best what is good for his children.”

Calvin’s wife would have no more children and would remain sickly until her death in the spring of 1549. Upon her death, Calvin again wrote to Viret:

    You know well how tender, or rather soft, my mind is. Had not a powerful self-control been given to me, I could not have borne up so long. And truly, mine is no common source of grief. I have been bereaved of the best companion of my life, of one who, had it been so ordained, would have willingly shared not only my poverty but even my death.    

    During her life she was the faithful helper of my ministry. From her I never experienced the slightest hindrance. She was never troublesome to me throughout the whole course of her illness, but was more anxious about her children than about herself.

    As I feared these private worries might upset her to no purpose, I took occasion three days before she died, to mention that I would not fail in discharging my duty towards her children.

Other troubles would come from extended family. In 1548, the wife of his brother Antoine was imprisoned on suspected adultery and soon released. Nine years later she would be convicted of adultery with Calvin’s servant. The Calvin home was no stranger to scandal.

Yet the year 1549 brought not only the darkness of Idelette’s death, but an ecclesiastical bright spot. Calvin and Heinrich Bullinger (Zwingli’s successor) drew up the Consensus of Zurich, which united the Swiss Reformed Churches, bringing together two of the strongest early streams of Reformed theology and laying the foundation for what we still call the Reformed church today.

But beyond this flash of light, more turmoil lay ahead. Calvin’s “fateful years” would come in 1553–1554.

 

-David Mathis, Executive Director for John Piper and Desiring God, and Elder at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis

The duty of believers is “to present their bodies to God as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to him,” and in this consists the lawful worship of him. From this is derived the basis of the exhortation that “they be not conformed to the fashion of this world, but be transformed by the renewal of their minds, so that they may prove what is the will of God”. Now the great thing is this: we are consecrated and dedicated to God in order that we may thereafter think, speak, meditate, and do, nothing except to his glory. For a sacred thing may not be applied to profane uses without marked injury to him.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as
a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

-Romans 12:1-2

 

Calvin spent the happiest years of his life outside Geneva. It started in April of 1538 when Calvin and fellow reformer William Farel were expelled from Geneva.

Their eager reforms were moving quicker than the city council was ready for. Tensions escalated. Calvin in his youth and Farel in his zeal wouldn’t back down, and the council eventually expelled them. It wasn’t Calvin’s first or last mistake in ministry, but it likely served more than most in breaking the idealistic theologian into a more realistic pastor.

Calvin first went to Basel and then settled in Strasburg where the great reformer Martin Bucer was pastoring. After much entreating—and threatening that Calvin’s reluctance was like Jonah’s!—Bucer prevailed upon him to pastor the “small” French congregation of about 500.

While in Strasburg in 1539, Calvin wrote his memorable response to Cardinal Sadolet on Geneva’s behalf. Seeing that Geneva had expelled its Reformers, Sadolet wrote to the city in an effort to win her back to the Catholic Church. With Calvin gone, Geneva had no one with enough theological apparatus to adequately answer the Cardinal. So they turned to their exiled Reformer. The relationship was on the mend.

In August of 1540, Calvin married Idelette de Bure, widow of an Anabaptist who had been converted to the Reformed faith under Calvin’s ministry. Idelette brought to the marriage two children—Jacques and Judith. Calvin and Idelette would be married eight-and-a-half years before her untimely death.

On September 13, 1541, Calvin’s “golden years” came to an end. Geneva asked for him to return. He was not eager, to say the least, but he felt constrained that it was God’s will that he return. When Calvin returned to the pulpit, he resumed his exposition of the Psalms, picking up at the very place he had been preaching before the exile.

-David Mathis, Executive Director for John Piper and Desiring God, and Elder at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis

 

No one in this earthly prison of the body has sufficient strength to press on with due eagerness, and weakness so weighs down the greater number that, with wavering and limping and even creeping along the ground, they move at a feeble rate. Let each one of us, then, proceed according to the measure of his puny capacity and set out upon the journey we have begun. No one shall set out so inauspiciously as not daily to make some headway, though it may be slight. Therefore, let us not cease so to act that we may make some unceasing progress in the way of the Lord. And let us not despair at the slightness of our success; for even though attainment may not correspond to desire, when today outstrips yesterday the effort is not lost. Only let us look toward our mark with sincere simplicity and aspire to our goal; not fondly flattering ourselves, nor excusing our own evil deeds, but with continuous effort striving toward this end: that we may surpass ourselves in goodness until we attain to goodness itself. It is this, indeed, which through the whole course of life we seek and follow. But we shall attain it only when we have cast off the weakness of the body, and are received into full fellowship with him.

 

William Farel was the fiery redhead who cursed John Calvin’s ivory-tower life in Strasbourg and twisted his arm to stay in Geneva. Here’s the story.

Having published his Institutes, which were immediately successful, Calvin left Basel, still a fugitive from France, in the Summer of 1536 to make for Strasbourg where he could pursue a life of study and writing while tucked away under the pastoral care of famed reformer Martin Bucer. (Bucer had come to the Reformed faith after seeing Martin Luther defend his emerging Protestant doctrine at the Heidelberg Disputation in 1518.)

However, Calvin and his traveling companions (which included his brother Antoine) discovered that the direct way between Basel and Strasbourg was blocked by the troops of Charles V as he was fighting the latest installment of the Hapsburg-Valois war with France’s Francis I. So Calvin and company had to follow the indirect route, which meant stopping for a night—just a single night—in Geneva.

That evening word got to William Farel that the famed writer of the Institutes was staying in town. Farel was the first reformer of Geneva. He was the pioneer who fought to have the city become officially Protestant in May of 1536. But now a year in, he needed help. And Calvin’s mix of gifts seemed to complement Farel’s perfectly.

He descended upon Calvin and pled that he stay in Geneva and partner with him in bringing the Reformation there into fullness. Calvin resisted. He saw himself more as an academic than a pastor. He longed to hide away in Strasbourg and write books that would help the Reformation across Europe.

When he saw he was making no headway with Calvin, Farel pronounced a curse, damning Calvin’s quiet studies in Strasbourg when the need was so acute in Geneva. Amazingly, Calvin conceded. Whether it was fear of God or the affect of Farel’s display of earnestness, we don’t know for sure. Maybe both.

So Calvin remained in Geneva, and by January of 1537, he and Farel were fully engaged in their attempt to complete the Reformation in Geneva. But by Easter of the following year, they hit a major snag. The Reformers were expelled from Geneva.

-David Mathis, Executive Director for John Piper and Desiring God, and Elder at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis

Calvin wrote as a fugitive. Exiled from France, he eventually settled in Basel where he found enough leisure to put together the first edition of his Institutes of the Christian Religion.

The first edition debuted in March of 1536 and was a relatively short book—nothing close to the 1000-plus pages of the final edition. The first edition was designed to be small enough to fit into a minister’s coat pocket so it could be carried and referenced at any time in any place.

He would later write, “All I had in mind was to hand on some elementary teaching by which anyone who had been touched by an interest in religion might be formed to true godliness. I labored at the task especially for our own Frenchmen, for I saw that many were hungering and thirsting after Christ and yet that only a very few had any real knowledge of him.” Amazing that this elementary teaching would grow into one of the most important books in the history of the church.

Three years later in 1539, now in Strasbourg (having been exiled from Geneva—we’ll get to that story in due course!), Calvin saw fit to make updates and produce the second edition of his Institutes.

The first two editions appeared in Latin. But in 1541, Calvin himself translated the second-edition Latin into his native French. From then on, translating new  editions into French became his practice  for each following publication of the Institutes until his death.

The third edition came in 1543, then a fourth edition seven years later in 1550.

During the Winter of 1558, Calvin’s health was rapidly deteriorating, and he thought himself at death’s doorstep. (He would actually recover and live until 1564.) So once again he undertook the significant task of revising his Institutes. Anticipating that this was his last edition, he poured all he had into making it the final and definitive edition. His French translation came out in 1560, and Calvin’s Institutes was complete.

 

-David Mathis, Executive Director for John Piper and Desiring God, and Elder at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis