John Calvin (1509-1564) – French Theologian, Pastor, and Reformer

John Calvin (1509-1564) - French Theologian, Pastor, and Reformer

John Calvin (1509-1564)

John Calvin was born in Noyon, France. By age 12, he was already employed by the local bishop as a clerk. His intelligence and ability were identified by prominent and influential families, who sent him to college, where he learned Latin and Greek and continued his education in Law.

Calvin converted to Protestantism in the early 1530s, and was influenced by many of Luther’s teachings. This was a dangerous decision at that time, so Calvin was forced into hiding. He moved to Basel, Switzerland to escape persecution. In the summer of 1536, he published his own Protestant book, “The Institutes of the Christian Religion.”

The book basically introduced the “Calvinist” approach to Christianity which highlighted his views on the church, the sacraments, predestination, Christian liberties, and political government. He published later revisions, but the contents and theme stayed mostly the same.

With his book growing in popularity and the threats of the Church closing in, Calvin was invited to move to the general safety of Geneva, Switzerland. After only 18 months, he was banished from the city for disagreeing with the city council.

He later returned and implemented his teaching in the city government. Calvin was so successful in implementing his doctrines in Geneva that fellow reformer, John Knox, wrote that the entire city “is the most perfect school of Christ that ever was in the earth since the days of the apostles.”

Calvin played a prominent role in the execution of a Spanish reformer named Michael Servetus in 1553. Servetus asserted that the Trinity was actually triune worship, showing that a separation between the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost meant worshipping three gods.

Brother Branham was probably referring to Servetus when he made the following statement, “Calvin was a murderer. Calvin put a man to death because he baptized in Jesus’ Name. He was a rascal, needed to be converted, himself. Yes, sir. But what he said, about some of the things he said, was right.”

On April 4, 1553 Servetus was arrested by Roman Catholic authorities, and imprisoned in Vienne. He escaped from prison three days later. While on the run from the Church, Servetus stopped in Geneva and attended a service preached by Calvin. He was arrested after the service and again tried before a court.

He was convicted of preaching “non-trinitarianism” and preaching against infant baptism. On October 27, 1553, Servetus was burned alive on top of a pile of his own books, with Calvin recommending his execution. The last words of Servetus were, “Jesus, Son of the Eternal God, have mercy on me.”

Calvin died on May 27, 1564 at the age of 54. So many people came to see his body before it was buried that other reformers feared they would be accused of starting a new religious cult. He was then buried in an unmarked grave, something Calvin himself had wished for. The exact location of his grave is not known today.

Here are a few more interesting facts about John Calvin:

Calvin was known for an intellectual, unemotional approach to preaching.
Calvin had no interest in moving to Geneva and becoming pastor. He was only stopping in the city for one day, but a local church leader named William Farel swore an oath that God would curse Calvin’s studies unless he stayed in Geneva. Calvin later said, “…I was so terror stricken that I did not continue my journey,” and he stayed.

Calvin used Protestant principles to establish a religious government in Geneva, and was given supremacy as leader of the city. Geneva was fairly small, with about 12,000 inhabitants.

Calvin preached more than two-thousand sermons during his ministry in Geneva, often preaching three times during the week and twice on Sundays.
In the first five years of his rule in Geneva, 58 people were executed and 76 exiled for their religious beliefs.

Calvin married a widow, Idelette de Bure, who had two children from her first marriage. Her first husband was an Anabaptist and one of Calvin’s converts. She and Calvin had three children of their own, but none survived past infancy.

Calvin wrote many hymns for the church.
Predestination was one of Calvin’s primary doctrines. He wrote, “By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man… all are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or the other of these ends, we say that he has been predestinated to life or death.”

Brother Branham further clarified predestination, “Really ‘foreknowledge’ is a better word. And predestination looks back to foreknowledge, and foreknowledge looks on to destiny. That God, being infinite, in the beginning knew the end from the beginning, therefore He knew what people would do, so He could foretell what would take place, for He knew what would be.”

Brother Branham said, “And Calvin did no less, for he demanded the arrest of Servetus who had seen and taught the oneness of the Godhead. The State then tried this brother, and to Calvin’s dismay he was burned at the stake.” Calvin was, in fact, against burning Servetus at the stake. He instead advocated beheading, but authorities stuck with the required punishment for heresy.

Calvin suffered physically. He had headaches, shortness of breath (from tuberculosis), fevers, arthritis, colitis, kidney stones, hemorrhoids, gout, and muscle cramps. He eventually died from pulmonary tuberculosis at 54 years old.

It is often said that Calvin worked himself to death. To those who would urge him to rest, he responded, “Would you have the Lord find me idle when he comes?”

Geneva became the center of Protestantism under Calvin’s rule, sending out pastors to most of Europe. This contributed to the start of the Presbyterian, Congregational, and Reformed churches.
He was buried in an unmarked grave, and the location of his burial is unknown today.
The next article from the Reformation period will be about John Knox.

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