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Heroes of the Faith: May marks 450th anniversary of Calvin's deathcomment (0)

May 22, 2014

Heroes of the Faith: May marks 450th anniversary of Calvin's death

John Calvin (1509–1564) may be the most important theologian since biblical times. He created the system known as “Calvinism,” which has had an immense impact up to the present. Yet its doctrine that God predestines the fate of all believers is among the most hotly debated in Christianity.

This year marks the 450th anniversary of his death May 27, 1564.

The Life of Calvin

He was born “Jean Cauvin” on July 10, 1509, in Noyon, France. His father, a devout Catholic, originally wanted him to go into the ministry and paid for his education in the household of a noble family.

When a plague hit Noyon in 1523 Calvin accompanied the family to Paris. There he attended the College de la Marche and the College de Montaigu where he was at the top of his class. Around 1528 he decided against becoming a priest and studied law because his father thought it offered better financial opportunities.

However, he also began studying the New Testament in its original Greek under Protestant reformer Melchior Wolmar.

Then dramatically in 1533 he had, as he described it, a “sudden conversion” in which “God subdued and brought my heart to docility.”

He combined his new faith with a brilliant intellect, legal knowledge and administrative talent. Soon many who accepted the Reformed doctrines in France turned to him for guidance.

In 1536 at the age of 27 Calvin wrote one of the most famous theological books ever published (many say it is actually the most famous, not just one of the most famous), “Institutes of the Christian Religion.” It was vital for the Protestant Reformation.

In 1537 he moved to Geneva, Switzerland. There he served as the city’s administrator, established schools and drew up a catechism of Christian doctrine.

In 1540 he married Idelette de Bure, an Anabaptist widow. Their only child lived but a few days. His wife, whom he called “the excellent companion of his life,” died in 1549. He mourned her loss until his death.

In 1558 Calvin, ill with fever and thinking he might die, forced himself to revise and enlarge the “Institutes.” The final edition was expanded from 21 chapters to 80.

The “Five Points of Calvinism” are set forth in the “Institutes.” The first is the total depravity of man. The second is unconditional election — God’s sovereignty “elects” His children from before the beginning of time. The third point is limited atonement — the death and resurrection of Christ is a substitutionary payment for the sins of only God’s elect. The fourth point is irresistible grace — when God calls a person His call cannot ultimately be ignored. The final point is perseverance of the saints. It is not possible for one to “lose his salvation.”

Last sermon

In his last years Calvin had fever, asthma and gout. On Feb. 6, 1564, he preached his last sermon. He bade his final farewell to several ministers in April.

On May 27 he died at the age of 54. He was buried in an unmarked grave in the Cimetiere des Rois. A stone was added in the 19th century to mark a grave traditionally thought to be Calvin’s.

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