CalvinismArticles on Soteriology, Grace and even John Calvin
Closing Scenes of Calvin’s Life by Thomas Smyth
Excerpted from: CALVIN AND HIS ENEMIES A MEMOIR OF THE LIFE, CHARACTER, AND PRINCIPLESOF CALVIN by REV. THOMAS SMYTH, D.D.
LET us, then, before we take our leave, draw near, and contemplate the last act in the drama of this great and good man’s life. Methinks I see that emaciated frame, that sunken cheek, and that bright, ethereal eye, as Calvin lay upon his study-couch. He heeds not the agonies of his frame, his vigorous mind rising in its power as the outward man perished in decay. The nearer he approached his end, the more energetically did he ply his unremitted studies. In his severest pains he would raise his eyes to heaven and say, how long, O Lord! and then resume his efforts. When urged to allow himself repose, he would say, “What! would you that when the Lord comes he should surprise me in idleness?” Some of his most important and labored commentaries were therefore finished during this last year.
On the 10th of March, his brother ministers coming to him, with a kind and cheerful countenance he warmly thanked them for all their kindness, and hoped to meet them at their regular Assembly for the last time, when he thought the Lord would probably take him to himself. On the 27th, he caused himself to be carried to the senate house, and being supported by his friends, he walked into the hall, when, uncovering his head, he returned thanks for all the kindness they had shown him, especially during his sickness. With a faltering voice, he then added, “I think I have entered this house for the last time and mid flowing tears, took his leave. On the 2d of April, he was carried to the church, where he received the sacrament at the hands of Beza, joining in the hymn with such an expression of joy in his countenance, as attracted the notice of the congregation. Having made his will on the 27th of this month,
he sent to inform the syndics and the members of the senate that he desired once more to address them in their hall, whither he wished to be carried the next day. They sent him word that they would wait on him, which they accordingly did, the next day, coming to him from the senate house. After mutual salutations, he proceeded to address them very solemnly for some time, and having prayed for them, shook hands with each of them, who were bathed in tears, and parted from him as from a common parent. The following day, April 28th, according to his desire, all the ministers in the jurisdiction of Geneva came to him, whom he also addressed: “I avow,” he said, “that I have lived united with you, brethren, in the strictest bonds of true and sincere affection, and I take my leave of you with the same feelings. If you have at any time found me harsh or peevish under my affliction, I entreat your forgiveness.” Having shook hands with them, we took leave of him, says Beza, “with sad hearts and by no means with dry eyes.”
“The remainder of his days,” as Beza informs us, “Calvin passed in almost perpetual prayer. His voice was interrupted by the difficulty of his respiration; but his eyes (which to the last retained their brilliancy,) uplifted to heaven, and the expression of his countenance, showed the fervor of his supplications. It is doors,” Beza proceeds to say, “must have stood open day and night, if all had been admitted who, from sentiments of duty and affection, wished to see him, but as he could not speak to them, he requested they would testify their regard by praying for him, rather than by troubling themselves about seeing him. Often, also, though he ever showed himself glad to receive me, he intimated a scruple respecting the interruption thus given to my employments; so thrifty was he of time which ought to be spent in the service of the Church.”
On the 19th of May, being the day the ministers assembled, and when they were accustomed to take a meal together, Calvin requested that they should sup in the hall of his house. Being seated, he was with much difficulty carried into the hall. “I have come, my brethren,” said he, “to sit with you, for the last time, at this table.” But before long, he said, “I must be carried to my bed;” adding, as he looked around upon them with a serene and pleasant countenance, “these walls will not prevent my union with you in spirit, although my body be absent.” He never afterwards left his bed. On the 27th of May, about eight o’clock in the evening, the symptoms of dissolution came suddenly on. In the full possession of his reason, he continued to speak, until, without a struggle or a gasp, his lungs ceased to play, and this great luminary of the Reformation set, with the setting sun, to rise again in the firmament of heaven. The dark shadows of mourning settled upon the city. It was with the whole people a night of lamentation and tears. All could bewail their loss; the city her best citizen, the church her renovator and guide, the college her founder, the cause of reform its ablest champion, and every family a friend and comforter. It was necessary to exclude the crowds of visitors who came to behold his remains, lest the occasion might be misrepresented. At two o’clock in the afternoon of Sabbath, his body, enclosed in a wooden coffin, and followed by the syndics, senators, pastors, professors, together with almost the whole city, weeping as they went, was carried to the common burying ground, without pomp. According to his request, no monument was erected to his memory; a plain stone, without any inscription, being all that covered the remains of Calvin.
Such was Calvin in his life and in his death. The place of his burial is unknown, but where is his fame unheard?
As Cato said of the proposed statue for himself, so may it be said of Calvin’s monument: “There are so many monuments in this world of ours, that it may be much better if people ask, Where is Cato’s monument? than to say, There it is.” So is it with Calvin. He hath built himself a monument in the hearts and lives of millions, more enduring and more glorious than any columns of stone or brass.
What needs great Calvin, for his honored bones, The labor of an age in piled stones? Or that his hallowed relics should be hid under a starry pointing pyramid? Dear son of Memory, great heir of Fame, What needest thou such weak witness of thy name? Thou, in our reverence and astonishment, hast built thyself a livelong monument.
To conclude, we may unite with a late episcopal reviewer of the character of Calvin, in hoping “that the time is not far distant, when new Horsleys will be raised up to break in pieces the arrows of calumny, and to make all the followers of the Prince of Peace and truth ashamed to join the ranks of the infidels, in using the poisoned weapons of shameless detraction for the purpose of vilifying the character of one of the most holy – the most undaunted – the most laborious, and the most disinterested followers of a crucified Redeemer.”