In 1535, John Calvin was hiding in Basel, Switzerland, yet he was very aware that his fellow reformers were suffering for the gospel in France.
The young, 25-year-old John Calvin had fled to Basel after fully embracing the Reformation and committing his life to Christ. While there, he wrote a preface for the French New Testament, a translation of his older cousin and biblical scholar, Pierre Robert Olivétan.
This preface was Calvin’s first theological publication written for the French-speaking laity.
Calvin opens his preface with creation and then follows redemptive history, showing the readers how the Old Testament culminates in the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ. He then writes about the role of Jesus Christ in the New Testament. Calvin concludes with practical exhortations, especially urging the readers to live for Christ and His gospel despite the cost.
Below are several excerpts from Calvin’s preface with some of his most moving words on the importance of suffering for Christ.
I have newly translated these portions of Calvin’s work from the French in hopes of conveying the fervor of Calvin and his dedication to his new Lord and Savior.
We must accept being despised, mocked, humiliated and rejected by others, because we then have the promise of being honored, prized, glorified and exalted at the judgment of God.
Will we be banished, exiled and deprived of possessions and riches? But we know that if we are banished from one country, the whole earth is the Lord’s. If we are thrown out of the earth itself, we will not be outside of His kingdom.
When we are plundered and impoverished, we have a Father who is rich enough to nourish us. We also have Jesus Christ who was made poor so that we might follow Him in His poverty.
Will there be affliction, imprisonment, torture and torment? But the example of Jesus Christ teaches us that this is the way to reach glory. Will there finally be death? But death does not deprive us of the life that should be desired.
In short, if we have Jesus Christ with us, we will not encounter anything so cursed that He will not turn it into a blessing, nothing so desecrated that He will not make it holy, and nothing so evil that He will not make it good.
What then would make us strangers and aliens with regards to this Holy Gospel? Would injuries, curses, disgrace and the loss of honor in the eyes of the world? But we know very well that Jesus Christ has travelled the same road which we have to follow to be His disciples.
Let us not become discouraged when we see all the earthly powers and forces against us, because the Lord’s promises cannot fail. The Lord on high scoffs at the men who meet and devise their efforts against Him.
Let us not despair as though all hope could be lost when we see true servants of God die and perish before our eyes. Tertullian was correct when he said that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church—a statement always true and which will continue to be so until the end of the age.
And when we turn our eyes away from this whole world and set aside all that we can see before us to wait with patience for the great judgment of God, we have an even better and firmer consolation. At the great judgment, God will strike down all the machinations of mankind in an instant, reducing them to nothing, completely overturning them.
In Christ all the promises and gracious gifts of God are realized, and the Scriptures declare that He was sent from the Father, descended to earth, lived with His people, and completed all that was necessary for our salvation as foretold in the Law and the Prophets.
From the moment you hear the gospel, you ought to find it very sure and clear that God has opened to you the treasures of Paradise, spread riches before you and revealed eternal life to you.
As John Calvin penned these words, he could remember his own imprisonments and flight to safely in Basel. He was also receiving regular reports of persecution and martyrdom from France.
In response to these tumultuous events, this young reformer exhorted his readers to remain faithful to Christ and his gospel no matter the cost. There was nothing of greater value to Calvin than Christ, and no message as important as the gospel.
May we join Calvin in suffering for the sake of the gospel and finding our comfort in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who loved us and set an example of persevering for the glory of God no matter the sacrifice.