John Calvin and His Afflictions

Sometimes we look to someone’s life and we envy their platform and status. We say, “I wish I had their life!” If we’re struggling with pride, we may even say, “Hey, I can do a better job than that person.” We are quick to make assumptions.

We see the success, but we don’t see the suffering.

We see the destination, but we don’t see the journey.

We see what they’ve accomplished, but we don’t see what they’ve been through.

Often, we couldn’t even walk a mile in their shoes.

Such may be the case with John Calvin — one of the most influential Christians Bible teachers of all-time. Whether it be his influential writing, regular preaching engagements, or his prominent influence in the widespread of Reformed theology — the list of his accomplishments are seemingly never-ending. I am very intrigued by his life. So much so that I recently read a biography on him to learn more about this pilgrim and pastor. I was amazed at his life — but also of what he endured.

Through the biography that I read and a short video from Michael Horton, we learn about Calvin and his ailments:

  • Multiple childhood weaknesses that he was not able to shake.
  • Never recovered from strict Monastic regime where he would go to bed very late and wake up very early often operating on little sleep.
  • His eyes were destroyed through reading with a candle light.
  • His wife died less than nine years after they married and he never remarried.
  • He and his wife had one miscarriage, and were unable to have kids.
  • His critics said his wife died of boredom and they named their dogs after him.
  • He suffered with chronic asthma, migraine headaches that kept him up at night, pleurisy, kidney stones, hemorrhoids, gallstones, severe arthritis and frequent influenza accompanied with raging fevers.

On top of that, he was constantly harassed by the City Council in trying to control his church, and felt the pressure and demands from a seemingly incessant workload.

After Calvin’s wife died, he said, “May the Lord Jesus Christ support me also under this heavy affliction, which would certainly overcome me, had not he, who raises up the prostrate, strengthens the weak, and refreshes the weary, stretch forth his hand from heaven to me.”

John Calvin was an influential figure, but also an afflicted one. He experienced both a great amount of success and suffering. The secret on his endurance, it seems, is to be content no matter the circumstance and trust in God’s rock-solid providential care. Calvin says, “Thou, O Lord, thou bruises me, it is enough for me to know it is thy hand.” No matter if we experience prominence or not, suffering or success, notoriety or obscurity, we can be content in Christ through the strength he provides (Phil. 4:13).

All is from his hand, and all from his hand is for our good and his glory.

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8 thoughts on “John Calvin and His Afflictions

  1. Thank you for sharing. It’s comforting to know that, if suffering comes, we are not alone in church history. If you haven’t listened to it already, John Piper’s biographical lecture is also really encouraging. I found it on the Desiring God website.

  2. Such a timely reminder . . . I was just reading in Acts where Paul was prompted by the Holy Spirit to go to Jerusalem, but also warned by the Spirit that he would face death. God’s leading isn’t always comfortable . . .

  3. Excellent blog! This idea also brings to mind the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I respect him as a great hero of the faith. Yet, even Bonhoeffer struggled with insecurities and doubts about himself. His story also reveals great struggle and ultimately martyrdom. A college friend of mine used to say, “Those who have the highest calling pay the highest price.”

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