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How John Calvin Suffered More Than You Realize

Do you know how much John Calvin suffered?

It’s probably more than you realize.

Calvin's 5 Rules for Right Prayer

If Calvin’s critics knew this about him, perhaps they’d cut him some slack. Indeed, to say that Calvin suffered a lot is a massive understatement.

Here’s a few of his ailments:

  • Calvin had multiple childhood weaknesses that he was not able to shake.
  • Calvin never recovered from a strict Monastic regime — a regime in which he would go to bed late and wake up very early, often operating on little sleep.
  • Calvin’s eyes were destroyed through reading with a candle light.
  • Calvin’s wife died less than nine years after they married and he never remarried.
  • Calvin and his wife had one miscarriage, and were unable to have kids.
  • Calvin’s critics said his wife died of boredom and they named their dogs after him.
  • Calvin 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 as they often tried to control his church, and he 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 success and suffering. The secret of his endurance, it seems, is trust in God’s providence. No wonder he wrote, “Thou, O Lord, thou bruises me, it is enough for me to know it is thy hand.”


You might also like:

  1. Calvin’s 5 Rules for Right Prayer 
  2. 3 Common Misconceptions of Calvinism 
  3. 10 Reasons Why God Allows Suffering 

About David Qaoud

David Qaoud (MDiv, Covenant Theological Seminary) is associate pastor of Bethesda Evangelical Church in St. Louis, Missouri, and founder of gospelrelevance.com. His work has appeared on The Gospel Coalition, For the Church, and Banner of Truth. He lives in St. Louis with his wife and son. Learn more.

8 Replies

  1. I’ve read about Calvin’s life because I did research on him. Your research on him is refreshing.

  2. 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.

  3. 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 . . .

  4. 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.”

  5. Love that you put into writing that following Jesus is a relentless pursuit. John Calvin modeled that regardless of how difficult it got. Love this!