The Last Song Calvin Sang In His Last Public Worship Service

Calvin is not mute and his tremulous voice rises with the rest and “on his dying countenance,” says Beza, whose eyes are fixed upon his master, “was not obscurely indicated a holy joy.” They sang, as usual, the Song of Simeon, with which in the Calvinistic worship, the celebration of the Supper is always closed.

Now let thy servant, Lord!
At length depart in peace;
According to thy word,
My waiting soul release:
For thou my longing eyes hast spared
To see thy saving grace declared.

To see thy saving grace,
That soon dispensed abroad,
The nations shall embrace,
And find their help in God:
A light to lighten every land,
The glory of thy chosen band.

† The words and melody of this hymn are still in use; the former composed by Clement Marot, 1543; the latter attributed to Guillaume France, 1552.

Laisse-moi désormais,
Seigneur, aller en paix,
Car selon ta promesse,
Tu fais voir à mes yeux
Le salut glorieux
Que j’attendais sans cesse.

Salus qu’een l’univers
Tant de peuples divers,
Vont reçevoir et croire;
Ressource des petits,
Lumière de Gentiles,
Et d’Israel la gloire

Les Pseaumes de David, mis en Verse François, par Clement Marot et Th. de Beze.
—Charles W. Baird, The Presbyterian Liturgies: Historical Sketches, repr. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1960), 48.


The passage sung is a setting of Nunc Dimities, from the first two words of the Latin translation of Luke 2:29–32. The ESV says:

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation
that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.”

The English translation Baird presents does not follow the French strictly at every point. The French text is, at a couple of points, identical to Scripture where Baird’s translation paraphrases.

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  1. The English would need a different melody from the original French, as the metres (and rhyming sequences) are different. I haven’t found the French tune in an English hymnal, let alone a name for it – indeed, the only 666.666 tune commonly in English hymnals is Barnby’s Laudes Domini (“when morning guilds the skies”). I think if one did find it, it would probably be called “Lesse-mois desormais”!
    For the metre of Baird’s translation, 666688, there are quite a number of tunes, though none of them seems to me to suggest a dying contentment, illustrious though the composer may be, e.g., Handel..

  2. it’s been many years, but I can still sing from memory the Dewey Westra Song of Simeon from the old CRC Psalter Hymnal.

  3. Many CRC people are still familiar with the Dewey Westra version from both the blue Psalter Hymnal and the gray edition in 1987. It really is quite singable, even with the tune from Louis Bourgeois harmonized by Claude Goudimel in 1564. It is not as familiar to modern ears, but it can be learned. There is evidence from the Register of the Company of Pastors in Geneva that children learned these melodies first, and from there the congregation learned to sing them. It should not be sung too slowly but with strong energy. The four-part harmony is beautiful, but a congregation could start with the melody in unison.

    • Is the metre of the Dewey Westra version the same as that of the original French, or that presented by Baird?

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