The Golden Years

Life of Calvin | 1538–1541

Calvin spent the happiest years of his life outside Geneva. It started in April of 1538 when Calvin and fellow reformer William Farel were expelled from Geneva.

Their eager reforms were moving quicker than the city council was ready for. Tensions escalated. Calvin in his youth and Farel in his zeal wouldn’t back down, and the council eventually expelled them. It wasn’t Calvin’s first or last mistake in ministry, but it likely served more than most in breaking the idealistic theologian into a more realistic pastor.

Calvin first went to Basel and then settled in Strasburg where the great reformer Martin Bucer was pastoring. After much entreating—and threatening that Calvin’s reluctance was like Jonah’s!—Bucer prevailed upon him to pastor the “small” French congregation of about 500.

While in Strasburg in 1539, Calvin wrote his memorable response to Cardinal Sadolet on Geneva’s behalf. Seeing that Geneva had expelled its Reformers, Sadolet wrote to the city in an effort to win her back to the Catholic Church. With Calvin gone, Geneva had no one with enough theological apparatus to adequately answer the Cardinal. So they turned to their exiled Reformer. The relationship was on the mend.

In August of 1540, Calvin married Idelette de Bure, widow of an Anabaptist who had been converted to the Reformed faith under Calvin’s ministry. Idelette brought to the marriage two children—Jacques and Judith. Calvin and Idelette would be married eight-and-a-half years before her untimely death.

On September 13, 1541, Calvin’s “golden years” came to an end. Geneva asked for him to return. He was not eager, to say the least, but he felt constrained that it was God’s will that he return. When Calvin returned to the pulpit, he resumed his exposition of the Psalms, picking up at the very place he had been preaching before the exile.

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This is part 6 of our 9-part series tracing some key contours of the story of Calvin’s life.