From the Archives: To the Five Prisoners of Lyons

The following letter was addressed by Calvin to five of his colleagues facing execution after Calvin’s efforts to intercede proved fruitless. The five were burned at the stake facing the end with composure, singing psalms, repeating passages of scripture and exhorting each other to courage.

From Geneva, 15 May 1553

My very dear Brothers:

WE HAVE AT LENGTH HEARD why the herald of Berne did not return that way. It was because he had not such an answer as we much desired. For the King has peremptorily refused all the requests made by Messieurs of Berne, as you will see by the copies of the letters, so that nothing further is to be looked for from that quarter. Nay, wherever we look here below, God has stopped the way. This is well, however, that we cannot be frustrated of the hope which we have in Him, and in His holy promises. You have always been settled on that sure foundation, even when it seemed as though you might be helped by men, and that we too thought so; but whatever prospect of escape you may have had by human means, yet your eyes have never been dazzled so as to divert your heart and trust, either on this side or that. Now, at this present hour, neccessity itself exhorts you more then ever to turn your whole mind heavenward. As yet, we know not what will be the event. But since it appears as though God would use your blood to sign His truth, there is nothing better than for you to prepare yourselves to that end, beseeching Him so to subdue you to His good pleasure, that nothing may hinder you from following whithersoever he shall call. For you know, my brothers, that it behoves us to be thus mortified in order to be offered to Him in sacrifice. It cannot be but that you sustain hard conflicts, in order that what was declared to Peter may be accomplished to you, namely, that they shall carry whither ye would not. You know, however, in what strength you have to fight—a strength on which all those who trust, shall never be daunted, much less confounded. Even so, my brothers, be confident that you shall be strengthened, according to your need, by the Spirit of our Lord Jesus, so that you shall not faint under the load of temptations, however heavy it be, any more than he did who won so glorious a victory, that in the midst of our miseries it is an unfailing pledge of our triumph. Since it pleases Him to employ you to the death in maintaining His quarrel, He will strengthen your hands in the fight, and will not suffer a single drop of your blood to be spent in vain. And though the fruit may not all at once appear, yet in time it shall spring up more abundantly than we can express. But as He hath vouchsafed you this privilege, that your bonds have been renowned, and that the noise of them has been everywhere spread abroad, it must needs be, in despite of Satan, that your death should resound far more powerfully, so that the name of our Lord be magnified thereby. For my part, I have no doubt, if it please this kind Father to take you unto Himself, that he has preserved you hitherto, in order that your long—continued imprisonments might serve as a preparation for the better awakening of those whom He has determined to edify by your end. For let enemies do their utmost, they never shall be able to bury out of sight that light which God has made to shine in you, in order to be contemplated from afar.

By John Calvin

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #12 in 1986]

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