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Samuel Jackson Fisher (1847-1928) was a leading African-American Presbyterian minister in his day, who served as the pastor of the Swissvale Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for 35 years; served as a long-time member of the faculty of Chatham University (then known as the Pennsylvania College for Women; served as President of the Presbyterian Board of Missions to the Freedmen; and who authored many articles, as well as a volume of poetry dedicated to his deceased wife: The Romance of Pittsburgh or Under Three Flags, and Other Poems. We have extracted here one poem which is especially noteworthy; a tribute to the great Reformer who was buried in Geneva, Switzerland, in an unmarked grave.
John Calvin’s Grave
In fair Geneva, near the arrowy Rhone,
John Calvin sleeps,—his grave without a stone.
Unmarked, unknown, yet near the busy street
Which echoed often to his hurrying feet.
While far away he saw those peaks of snow,
The Alps, so radiant in the sunset glow.
And watched Mt. Blanc's upsoaring dome,
Like some huge billow with its crest of foam,
Fit type of him, whose vast majestic mind
In moral grandeur towers o'er mankind.
Around that peak the tempests whirl and lower
And crackling lightnings blaze in hateful power,
Yet pass, and leave it stainless, strong and pure.
So from his foes his fame emerged secure;
And tho' against his work fierce hatred ranged.
Unmoved he stood, in power and aim unchanged.
Frail was his body, and, though racked with pain.
On, on he toiled, ne'er pausing to complain.
Strong were his friendships, pure his love and home;
Christ filled his heart, and not foul passion's foam.
No fear of Pope, — no dread of earthly kings
Turned his calm eyes from truth and heavenly things.
Humbled he spoke of God's wide sovereignty.
Yet taught the lowliest peasant to be free;
And while he bowed before God's boundless plan.
To souls oppressed he taught the rights of man.
Oh, clear-eyed student of the Holy Word,
Thy plea for freedom tyrants trembling heard!
Oh, wide-browed thinker of God's lofty thought,
What growth of nations have thy strong words wrought!
Thine was the task to magnify God's laws.
And trace for each event its first and only cause,
Breaking man's pride by views of God's control,
Yet sure God's child was every human soul.
And he who knelt most humbly to his God,
Secure in faith could walk unblanched abroad.
Thy words made gentle women fear no shame,
They nerved the martyr to await the flame.
From heart to heart they passed around the world,
Till kings were faced, or from their thrones were hurled.
Rest, noble Calvin, take thy well-earned sleep.
Thy fame far time shall undiminished keep.
In that low grave thy fragile body lies,
But God has writ thy name across the skies!