This week’s Window on the Reformation is taken from the introduction to Grace and its Fruit, which contains selections from John Calvin on the Pastoral Epistles. This excerpt concerns Calvin’s death.

Calvin’s health continued to decline; he suffered from several afflictions and was often confined to his bed. Despite his failing health, however, he managed to continue his preaching, lecturing, and dictating. Even when his body was miserably weakened, his mind remained sharp, and he was able, before his death, to finish the last of his commentaries, on the book of Joshua. The ailing Reformer preached his last sermon early in February 1564. Thereafter he was sometimes carried to the service of worship, but spoke only a few sentences. During these months of suffering, his colleague Theodore Beza recounts that, even while tormented by so many diseases, he was never heard to utter a word unbecoming to a Christian. He would only raise his eyes towards heaven and say, “O Lord, how long?”

Several days before his death, a few of Calvin’s friends gathered in his house for a last supper with him. Beza recalls that “His whole body was so emaciated that nothing seemed left but spirit.” He died on 27 May 1564, just a few days before his fifty-fifth birthday. Throughout Geneva there was great sadness. The republic had lost a wise and loyal citizen, the church lost a faithful preacher and caring pastor, and the college an incomparable teacher. Almost all the population of Geneva attended his funeral. He was buried without unusual ceremony in a simple, unmarked grave, as he had requested, in a public cemetery in Geneva.

John Calvin, more than any other leader of the Protestant Reformation, created patterns of religious and political thought that would dominate Western culture throughout the modern period. His greatest legacy, however, was his recovery of the doctrines of grace, which he bequeathed to future generations through his commentaries and published sermons. In his will he testifies, “With my whole soul I embrace the mercy which [God] has exercised towards me me through Jesus Christ, atoning for my sins with the merits of his death and passion, that in this way he might satisfy for all my crimes and faults, and blot them from his remembrance.”

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