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September 13

John Calvin

On this date in 1541, a resolute theologian traveled the road from Strasbourg to Geneva. Just three years earlier John Calvin had traveled away from Geneva, covered by the disgrace of having been dismissed from his ministry. His efforts to establish the Reformation in Geneva had been largely unappreciated. He and his co-laborer William Farel had boldly proclaimed God’s word, and sought to establish and enforce discipline upon an undisciplined city. When tensions reached a boiling point, the city council determined to send away their ministers. The years spent in Strasbourg were productive and positive for Calvin. He had regular contact with his friend Martin Bucer. He ministered freely to French refugees, preaching and teaching every day and twice on the Lord’s Day. He wrote and he published, producing a second edition of his Institutes, as well as a commentary on the book of Romans. During this peaceful period he even married the widow Idelette de Bure. The contrast to his time in Geneva could not have been greater. Understandably Calvin wished to remain in this idyllic setting. However, the situation in Geneva was dire. The Roman Catholic Cardinal Jacopo Sadoleto has penned a persuasive letter to the Genevans, urging them to return to Rome. The city council knew that the only person capable of refuting Sadoleto was the man they had banished. Calvin graciously agreed to send a letter to Sadoleto, which both refuted the Catholic claims and strongly set forth the Reformed position. The Genevans began to realize what they had done, and so they sent a commission to Strasbourg to somehow convince Calvin to return. When the request was presented, Calvin’s initial reaction was not positive. He wrote to one friend that “Rather would I submit to death a hundred times than to that cross on which I had to perish daily a thousand times over.” Yet Calvin was God’s servant, and he gradually accepted God’s will in his life. After negotiations with the city council, Calvin agreed to return. As he entered the city, he was greeted enthusiastically by most. The next twenty three years were remarkable as Calvin consolidated and systematized the Reformation. During those decades Geneva became “the most perfect school of Christ that was ever on earth since the days of the apostles,” according to John Knox. Europe would never be the same as a result of Calvin’s willingness to put his personal feelings aside for the good of God’s kingdom.

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