J. CALVIN TO THE PROTECTOR OF ENGLAND.
Although God has endowed you, most noble Lord, for your station, with the fortitude, prudence and other virtues, which the magnitude of the office demands; yet as you acknowledge me to be a servant of his Son, whom you account yourself to prefer before all things else, I have persuaded myself that you would receive it kindly, that I should write to you in his name. I propose to myself nothing more, than that you should continue to advance his glory, by pursuing the work you have begun, until you have brought his kingdom to the most desirable state, of which it is capable on earth. In perusing this letter you will perceive, that I have produced nothing of my own, but have transcribed from the Scriptures whatever you have here for your benefit. When I consider the singular greatness to which you are raised, I am fully sensible, with how much difficulty, my littleness will find access to you. But as you do not despise the doctrine of that Master to whom I am devoted, and as you consider it a distinguished privilege to be in the number of his disciples, I need not apologize in many words, believing that you are sufficiently prepared to receive whatever manifestly comes from him. We certainly have reason to thank God our Father, that he has been pleased to use your labor, in so great a work, as that of restoring his pure and sincere worship in the kingdom of England; in causing that the doctrine of salvation, chiefly by your means, should be publicly and faithfully announced to all, who will deign to open their ears; in strengthening you, with so great resolution and constancy, to persevere undismayed, through so many difficulties and insults; and that he has hitherto assisted you with his powerful hand, followed with his blessing and prospered your counsels and labors. These are so many arguments with the pious for glorifying his holy name. But seeing that the adversary is perpetually exciting fresh opposition, and that the matter itself is of the most peculiar and difficult undertaking, to allure men, who are by nature addicted to falsehood, to a peaceable submission to the truth of God; and also that there are other causes which delay the progress, especially those deep-rooted superstitions of Antichrist, which are with extreme labor overcome in the minds of many; it appeared to me, that you personally needed to be confirmed by pious exhortations in this so arduous undertaking; and I doubt not but you have found yourself the benefit of this from experience. I shall on this account be more free and full in my observations. As I hope that my advice will answer your wishes, so I conclude that you will take, in good part, my exhortation; and although it should be unnecessary, yet that the zeal and solicitude which prompted me in this business will meet with your approbation. Moreover, the present perilous situation of affairs, which you yourself acknowledge, furnishes a still stronger reason, why my endeavors should be still more acceptable to you. Wherefore, I entreat you, most noble Lord, to attend patiently to the few remarks which I have determined to submit to your consideration. I hope that, in return for our attention to them, they will afford you that assistance, which will enable you more vigorously to pursue the holy work, for the completion of which God is pleased to use you as an instrument. I doubt not but that those great tumults, which have occurred for some time past, have given you such trouble and anxiety, especially since many took offense, who were provoked in a great measure by the formation of religion. It cannot be, I say, but that the observation of these things must excite in you various emotions, whether you reflect on your own apprehensions about them, or turn your attention to the clamors of the wicked, or the consternation of the good. This rumor spread to so great a distance deeply affected me, until I understood that assistance from the Lord began to be manifested. But since that fire is not yet extinguished, and it is an easy matter for me adversary again to rekindle it, place before your eyes the memorable example of the pious king Hezekiah, which we have so expressly related to us in the Scriptures. Having abolished the superstitions from Judea, and established the pure worship of God according to his law, he was suddenly overtaken with so oppressive a war, that he was considered by many as lost and ruined beyond recovery. Thus the Scriptures appositely bring those things together, that while he was wholly engaged in restoring the true worship of God to its place, the issue of his labor was in appearance most unfavorable to him. He evidently had every reason to hope, that while he was so heartily engaged in building up Godís kingdom, he should secure the most perfect tranquillity of his own.
All pious princes and governors of provinces, should apply this example to themselves, that they may proceed more courageously in abolishing all idolatry, and in procuring lawfully the true worship of God, as their duty demands; and moreover that they may understand that their faith is to be subjected to similar trials through many temptations. Thus the Lord permits, indeed thus he wills, both to manifest their constancy, and prepare them to raise their eyes above this world. In the mean time, the adversary will thrust himself in the way; and though unable openly to destroy the true doctrine, he will not cease to plot its ruin by sophistry and cunning. To this purpose is the admonition of James, that while we observe the endurance of Job, we should consider the end of the Lord. In the same manner terminated the trial of the pious king Hezekiah, with whom the Lord was present, and in his greatest straits gave him, on that account, a far more signal victory. Wherefore, since his hand is not shortened, nor his support of the truth less near his heart than in former ages, you must not despair of his aid, by whatever tempests you may be tossed.
That the greater part of men resist the gospel, and direct all their exertions to prevent its progress, should be no matter of surprise. Such, indeed, has been the unceasing ingratitude of the world, that they turn their backs upon God when he calls them, and kick against him when he purposes to put his yoke upon them. Men, by nature, are enslaved to hypocrisy, and cannot bear to be brought to the light of the gospel, which would reveal their pollution and guilt; nor to be rescued from the darkness of their superstition, under the shade of which they sleep in quiet repose. It is not a new thing for mankind to make opposition, when the attempt is made to bring them back to the obedience and worship of God. We should not, therefore, be negligent or timid in the discharge of our duty. For when they have gone to the extremes of disorder, and have exhausted their rage, they are confounded at once, and necessarily fall by their own extravagance. As it respects God, surely all these ragings and roamings of men are held by him in derision, as it is expressed in the second Psalm. Therefore, winking at their outrages, he will be silent, as if he treated the matter with indifference; but at length they will be repressed by his power. Armed with the same power, we shall sustain, by his invincible protection, all the efforts of Satan against us; and we shall, in the end, perceive, in every deed, that the gospel, as a messenger of peace, brings reconciliation with God, and tends to establish peace among men, as the Lord testifies by Isaiah. When the kingdom of Christ shall be established by his instruction, It shall come to pass, that they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks. Isaiah 2:4.
In the mean time, although seditions and tumults, excited against the gospel, arise from the wickedness and obstinacy of men, yet it becomes us to look to ourselves, and conclude, that God is thus punishing us for our own sins, although it is evident, that he uses as instruments those who are the very servants of Satan. It is an old objection, that the gospel was the cause of all those evils which afflict the human race. And indeed it is evident from history, that from the time in which the Christian religion began to be spread through the world, there was scarcely a corner which was not afflicted with extreme evils. The constant commotions of wars arose like some conflagration, by which all things were consumed; floods prevailing on the one hand, and on the other pestilence and famine; here the end of government, and there the inversion of all order, as if the world, absolutely conspiring against itself, was broken to pieces and dissolved.
The same has happened in this age, since the gospel began to come forth from the darkness with which it was covered. The face of things exhibited a miserable appearance; complaints were every where circulated, that we were born in a most unhappy period; and there were few who did not faint under so great a pressure of difficulties. But while we feel these wounds, we ought to advert to the hand that inflicts them, and to the cause of their infliction; what this is, is by no means obscure, nor difficult to be perceived. It is certain, that the word of God, by which we are led in the way of salvation, is an incomparable treasure. Let us then examine it ourselves, with as much reverence as it is offered to us by its author, and it will be received by us. When that is accounted vile with us, which with him is of great moment, who will not acknowledge, that it is perfectly just with him, to punish in return our ingratitude? Let us hear the declaration of Christ, Luke 12:47. That servant which knew his Lordís will and did it not, shall be beaten with many stripes. Since therefore we are so negligent in obeying the will of God, the knowledge of which is an hundred fold more abundant with us than in former ages, it should not appear strange, that his indignation should be more vehemently enkindled against us, who of all men are the most inexcusable. And since we do not labor to have the good seed grow and be fruitful, it is just that briars end thorns should be cherished among us by the artifice of the adversary, by the prickings of which we may be vexed. And lastly, as we do not reader to the Creator that which is justly due to him from us, it is right that we should experience the obstinacy of men against ourselves.
But to address myself to you more immediately. Most noble Lord, there are, as I understand, two sorts of seditious persons, who have risen up against the King, and the government of the kingdom. Some, who are passionate and hasty, would introduce a ataxian , confusion, every where under the name of the gospel; and others have become so hardened in the superstitions of Antichrist, that they cannot endure their removal. Both of these classes deserve to be restrained by the civil power, which God has committed to your hands; since they rise up not only against the king, but against God himself, who has placed the king on the throne, and appointed you the protector of his person and majesty. Your first and main object must be to provide, as far as may be, that those who have some relish for the gospel, and have determined to devote themselves to it, may receive it with humility and reverence of mind, renouncing their own wills, and, as their duty requires, giving up themselves entirely to God. For thus it becomes them to consider, that the Lord, by these emergencies would awaken them, that they may profit more seriously by his word than they have hitherto done. Those fanatics, who would wish to change the world into a licentious freedom, are expressly raised up by Satan, that through them the gospel may be reproached; as if it were the cause of rebellion against rulers, and introduced into the world unrestrained licentiousness. It is the duty of the pious to mourn the pernicious labors of these wicked men, and patiently implore of the Lord, that he would send that light, which will sooner or later most certainly dissipate this darkness. The Papists, while they labor to defend the filthiness and abominations of their Romish idols, betray more and more their open hatred of the benefits of Christ and all his commandments, which extremely afflicts those who have a particle of pure zeal remaining. Wherefore, let the pious acknowledge, that these things are appointed of God, as so many scourges to chastise them, because they do not bring forth the legitimate fruits of the gospel.
Let the principal and only expedient, applied to quiet these commotions, be the true conformity to the image of Christ in those who have professed his name; and so let them testify, that pure Christianity abhors all confusion of every kind. Let them prove, by their uniform modesty and temperance, that they are governed by the word of God, so that they may by no means be accounted lawless and unruly. Thus will their righteous and holy life shut the mouths of the impious. The lord, being appeased, will remove the rod of correction, and instead of the punishment which he inflict, on the despisers of his word, he will follow the repentance of his people with the most assured blessing. It becomes the nobility and magistrates especially to be first in giving this example, and foremost in submitting, with fear and reverence, to the yoke of Christ, the Son of God and supreme Lord of all. These, I say, must exhibit the sincere faith and obedience of body and of soul, that He may in return repress the pride and rage of those, who unjustly magnify themselves against their rulers. It is the highest concern of the princes of this age, to govern their subjects in such a manner, as to prove that they are themselves in subjection to Christ, and to give all diligence, that his authority may extend itself over all, from the highest to the lowest. Wherefore, I ask of you, most noble Lord, through Christ himself, and that singular affection with which you embrace the kingdom of your nephew, which is exhibited in a luminous manner, in all your conduct, to exercise all your combined influence and vigilance, that the truth of God may be preached with the fullest authority and efficacy; and that fruits worthy of the celestial seed may be produced.
That this may be effected, withhold not your hand from pursuing the full and entire reformation of the Church, which you have begun.
That you may more easily apprehend my thoughts, I will reduce the whole to three heads: ó First, concerning the true method of correctly teaching the people. Second, concerning the extirpation of those abuses which have hitherto been retained. Third, concerning the correction of vices more perfectly, and endeavoring to prevent the growth of scandals and luxury, on account of which the name of the Lord is blasphemed. As it respects the first head, there is no occasion that I should dwell long upon the detail of doctrine. Concerning these there is much reason that I should give thanks to God, by whom you are so illuminated in the knowledge of the pure doctrines, that you take care that these should be publicly taught.
You are not, I say, to be taught by me, the faith of Christians, and the doctrines which are maintained by them; since the true faith has been restored and published by you in a meeting of the church. But if any one would have a summary of the worship of God, it may be reduced to this ó That we have one God, the governor of our consciences: for the direction of these we must make use of this law alone for the rule of devotion, lest we bring to his worshipping of the vain traditions of men: he must moreover be worshipped by all, according to his own nature, with the whole mind and heart. But since there is nothing in us except a miserable corruption, which occupies both our senses and affections, we must acknowledge the entire abyss of iniquity, and dread it when acknowledged. In this manner, having obtained a true knowledge of our state, as being in ourselves broken, wounded, lost, deprived of all dignity and wisdom, and finally of any power to do good, we must at last flee to the Lord Jesus Christ, he only fountain of all blessings, to partake of whatever he offers, and principally that incomparable treasure of his death and passion, by which method alone we may become entirely reconciled to God the Father. Purified by the sprinkling of his blood, we shall be assured that none of those stains will remain in us, which would cover us with shame before his celestial throne. We shall be persuaded of the efficacy of his perpetual sacrifice, by which we have sealed to us the gratuitous remission of sins, and on which we must fasten as the refuge and anchor of salvation. Being sanctified by his Spirit, we shall be consecrated in obedience to the righteousness of God; and confirmed by his grace, we shall come off more than conquerors over Satan, the world, and the flesh. Being members of his body, we shall not doubt but that God will number us in the family of his children; and we shall address him with entire confidence by the legitimate and endearing name of Father. This is the design of the true doctrine, which is ever to be preserved and heard by all in the church of God, that all may sincerely aim at this mark; and that each individual gradually withdrawing himself from the world, may raise himself to Christ his head, who is in heaven, by, perseverance, prayer, morals and habits.
But as the Lord has been pleased to spread so abundantly about you his most precious light, which had so long been buried under the darkness of Antichrist, I will add but a few words more. What I have said only pertains to the form of teaching, in order that the proper method of instructing the people may be followed. For example, they must be pricked to the quick, that each one may be sensible of the words of the apostle, the word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow; and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Hebrews 4:12.
This, I say, I inculcate more expressly, because I fear that there are but few lively preachers in the kingdom; and that the greater part have recourse, in recitationis modum, to the method of reading. I perceive also some cause of that scarcity among you; and as you have not in your power, sound and well qualified pastors, that defect must be supplied in its proper manner. You must also beware of unstable and rash men, who, in a change of things, are carried far beyond all bounds, and prate forth their own dreams for the word of God. Nothing of this kind should hinder the establishment of the institution of Christ for preaching the gospel, the instituted preaching must not be dead, but animated, and effectual for instruction, exhortation, and reproof, as the apostle testifies to Timothy, 2 Timothy 3. so that if an unbeliever enter the meeting of the faithful, it should affect him in such a manner that, pierced by the hearing of the word, he may give glory to God, as the same apostle elsewhere shows, 1 Corinthians 14.You cannot be ignorant of what this apostle teaches concerning the power and energy which those should possess, who are desirous to approve themselves, as sound and well qualified ministers of the word. He would have them free from those ornaments, and that species of eloquence, by which men display themselves, for admiration, in the theater. In their discourses, the power of the Spirit should so lucidly manifest itself, as to act powerfully on the minds of the audience. No precaution should be used, to prevent that Spirit from maintaining its liberty and constant rigor in the ministry of those whom the Lord has endowed with his gifts, for the edification of his church. It is indeed necessary to watch over those unstable and wandering minds, who would take too much liberty to themselves. The door must be shut against curious innovations. The only means to be used for this purpose, is to have a summary of doctrine received by all, which they may follow in preaching. To the observance of this, all bishops and clergy should be bound by oath, that no one might be admitted to the ecclesiastical office, unless he promises to keep inviolate the unity of doctrine. Let there, besides, be published a plain formula or Catechism, for the use of children, and those who may be more ignorant among the people. Thus the truth will be rendered more familiar to them; and at the same time they will learn to distinguish it from impostures and corruptions, which are so apt to creep in by little and little upon the ignorant and careless. It becomes you to be fully persuaded, that the church of God cannot be without a catechism; for therein the true seed of doctrine is to be contained, from which at length the pure and seasonable harvest will be matured, and from this the seed may be multiplied abundantly. Wherefore, if you expect to build an edifice of his kind, which shall stand long, and be safe from destruction, give all care that each child should be instructed in the faith, by the Catechism published for that purpose; that they may learn briefly, and as their capacities will admit, in what consists true Christianity. The usefulness of the Catechism will not be confined merely to the instruction of children. The consequence will also be, that the people, being taught by it, will be better prepared to profit by the ordinary preaching of the word; and also if any one puffed up, should introduce any new opinions, he may be detected by an immediate appeal to the rule of the Catechism. As in the formula of prayers and ecclesiastical ceremonies, I very much approve, that a proper one should exist, from which the pastors should not be permitted to vary, in the exercise of their office; and which might consult the simplicity and ignorance of some persons, and also establish a more certain agreement of all the churches among themselves. This would, moreover, put a check upon the instability and levity of those persons who might attempt innovations, and it would have the same tendency as I have before shown the Catechism would have. Thus ought to be established a Catechism, the administration of the sacraments, and the public formula of prayers. But the expediency of this polity in the church must not tend to prevent or diminish, in any manner, the original energy of preaching the gospel. As to this, it is the more incumbent upon you, to provide proper and zealous preachers, who may penetrate the recesses of the heart by the sound of the word of the gospel. For there is danger, that the fruit of the Reformation now begun will be greatly diminished, unless attended with the most efficacious and zealous preaching of the word. It is not in vain said of Christ, He shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked. Isaiah 11:4.
This is doubtless the true means by which he conquers us, when by the power of his word he destroys and casts out whatever in us is repugnant to his glory, hence the gospel is called the kingdom of God. Wherefore, though the edicts and civil establishments of Christian princes are of great weight, in promoting and confirming the authority of Christianity, yet God has determined, in an appropriate manner, to exert his special power, by the spiritual sword of his word, which he has committed to the pastors to be handled in the church.
I proceed to the second head, concerning the abolishing and rooting out entirely of the abuses and corruptions, introduced by Satan, in former ages, into the church of God. It is evident, that the Christianity of papacy is spurious and counterfeit; and will be condemned in the judgment of God at the last day, as it is so manifestly repugnant to his word. If it is your intention to withdraw the people from this gulf you must follow the example of the apostle. In treating of the restoration of the Lordís Supper to its proper use, he enjoins them to be united in removing those additions which had crept in among them: I have received, he says, of the Lord, that which, also, I delivered unto you. 1 Corinthians 11:23. Hence we may deduce this general principle, that when we enter upon a lawful reformation, which may be acceptable to God, we must adhere to his pure and uncorrupted word; for all those mixtures, engendered in the human mind, which remain, will be so many manifest pollutions, tending to withdraw men from the right use of those things which God has instituted for their salvation. Religion cannot be said to be restored to its purity, while this sink of pollution is only partially drawn off, and a frightful form of Christianity is embraced for the pure and original faith. I speak thus definitely, as I understand that many think far otherwise; that abuses must be tolerated and untouched, while they would only direct the grossest corruptions to be removed. In opposition to this, experience teaches, that the human mind is a soil fertile in false inventions, and that when sowed even with the smallest grain, as if all its powers combined, it yields an immense increase. The method which the Scripture points out is far different. David, speaking of idols, said, I will not even take up their names into my lips, Psalm 16:4, that he might show how odious they were to him. When we reflect how grievously we have sinned against God in this manner, by remaining in ignorance, we ought to be the more deeply impressed, with the necessity of removing our standing as far as possible from all the fermentations of man. What else were all those ceremonies, but so many allurements to entice and ensnare the miserable souls of men in evil, as if they were established for this very purpose? When we speak concerning caution, men must certainly be admonished, lest they dash against those rocks which the sins of their past life have, in this respect, disclosed to them.
Who does not see, unless wholly hardened, that nothing can be obtained by this unhappy caution? Whatever of this nature is left untouched will operate like a strong leaven, to confirm them more resolutely in the evil, and serve as an interposing veil, to prevent the reception of the proposed doctrines, according to their purity and importance. I confess readily, that there should be moderation; and that extremes in reforming ceremonies would not be useful. Nor is too much simplicity to be adopted, as the order of worship is to be accommodated to the benefit and capacity of the people. But I am not less decided in affirming, that strict attention is to be given, lest, under this pretext of expediency, any of the inventions of Satan or antichrist should be tolerated. Those expressions of Scripture, in the history of many of the Kings of Judah, are here in point, That when they took away the idols, they did not cut them off wholly by the roots. They were condemned because they did not altogether destroy those high places, which we should call chapels, dedicated to their foolish devotions.
Since, therefore, most noble lord, God has conducted you thus far, endeavor, I beseech you, to deserve the name of the reformer of his true church; and to render this age, under the king, your nephew, correspondent to the age of the most pious Josiah. Take heed to have every thing in religion established in its proper place, so that, the king may have no other solicitude but to preserve the well regulated order. I will produce one example of those corruptions which, like leaven, will, in some measure, sour the whole service of the Lordís Supper. I understand that with you, in the celebration of the Eucharist, prayers for the dead are retired. I am not however sufficiently informed, that this is designed as all approbation of the Popish purgatory. Nor am I ignorant, that the ancient custom of making mention of the dead, to declare the communion of all believers in one body, may be adduced as a vindication of it. But this invincible argument remains, that the Supper of the Lord is so wholly an ordinance that it is a crime to pollute it by any additions of men. Besides, when we call upon God, we are not to indulge our own passions, but to follow the rule of the Apostle, that the word of God be our foundation. Romans 10.
But that commemoration of the dead, which embraces a veneration or commendation of them, does not correctly answer to the true and legitimate institution of prayer; and is therefore an assumentum, addition, which should not be allowed at the Lordís Supper. There are some other things perhaps not equally to be condemned, but of such a nature as cannot be excused, as the Chrism, and the ceremony of Unction. The Chrism is indeed the frivolous invention of those who, through ignorance, were not contented with the institutions of the Lord, and who persuaded themselves, that the Holy Spirit must be represented in baptism by the use of oil, as if the sign of water was not sufficient for that purpose. Extreme Unction emanated from the inconsiderate zeal of those who were desirous of emulating the Apostle, although not endowed with the gift, which they possessed. When the Apostles made use of oil, in healing the sick, it was for the purpose of testifying the miracle of the cure by that visible sign. But when the gift of miraculous powers ceased, the use of that external anointing should also have been laid aside. All those things should be abolished at once, that nothing might be imposed on the church of God, which is not conformable to his word, and which would not appertain to its edification. But so it is, the weak must be indulged, that they may be confirmed by degrees, and advanced to more excellent things. However, the work of reformation is not to be delayed, to satisfy the foolish in things which may please their fancy, unless supported by other substantial reasons. I know that many have been prevented from proceeding farther in this work from these considerations; that they feared a greater change would not be borne; and that respect must be had to the progress which others had made, with whom peace was to be cherished by passing over many things. This should certainly have an influence in the affairs of this life, in which we are permitted to give up our own rights, so far as the desire and love of peace demand. But the rule will not hold as to the discipline of the Church, which is spiritual, and in which nothing is lawful that is not according to the word of God. It is not at the pleasure of any mortal, to conform things, in this business, to gratify some and favor others, in opposition to the will of God. Nothing is more displeasing to him, than that human prudence should presume to oppose its calculations, either to moderate, abolish or retract any thing in religion, different from what his sovereign pleasure demands. Unless then we are willing to displease him, we must shut our eyes at once against all the desires of the flesh. And as to the dangers, which may appear to threaten us, we must labor to avoid them as much as in us lies, in that way only which is lawful and right. The promise of the Lord is, that he will be present with us, while we press forward in the right path. This one thing remains, that we strenuously discharge our duties, and commit the event to him. The only reason why the wise men of this world are so often frustrated in their expectations is, that the Lord departs from them, inasmuch as they distrust his aid, and turn themselves to those artful means which God does not approve. If we would have the power of God to protect us, let us uprightly follow what he commands; and especially we must lay down this fundamental principle, that the reformation of the church is the peculiar work of his hands; and that men, in all their endeavors, should give themselves up to be governed entirely by him. And what is of more consideration is, that the Lord commonly, both in reforming and preserving his church, works in a manner, which attracts admiration by wholly surpassing all human apprehension. He will therefore, on no account, permit the work of the reformation of the church to be conducted after the model of our understandings, or that what is heavenly should be composed after the form of the wisdom of this world. I would not, however, exclude that upright prudence, the use of which is of great importance in this business, lest improper methods be adopted, and the preponderance be too great on the one hand or the other, even while we all might wish to benefit the cause. But I would have religious concerns directed by the prudence of the spirit, and not of the flesh; that we should inquire at the mouth of the Lord, pray that our understandings may be guided by his commands, and that he alone would lead and direct us in all things. In doing this, we shall easily destroy the various temptations which might delay us in the midst if our course.
Therefore, most noble lord, as you have happily entered upon the entire restoration of the Christian religion, in the kingdom of England, not depending on your own strength, but on the powerful hand of God, who has hitherto strengthened and wonderfully established you, so determine to proceed with the same confidence. And certainly, since the Lord supports, by his providence, so many kingdoms which oppose him, he will much more regard those which are rooted in him, and desire with all their efforts to take him for their supreme Lord.
I proceed to the third head, concerning suppressing vices and preventing scandals. I doubt not, but that you have correct laws and commendable regulations, adapted to preserve the people in good morals. But the great [ataxia ], confusion, which I observe in the world, compels me to address you on this subject also; that you may apply yourself to such measures as may hold the community in subjection to good and honorable discipline. In the first place, you should maintain the honor of God, in punishing those crimes, the prosecution of which, with men, is usually accounted unnecessary. For, while theft, murder and robbery are most severely punished, because they tend to injure men, fornication, adultery, drunkenness and blasphemies of the name of God, are justified as things allowable, or not deserving great severity. But God has pronounced it otherwise concerning these things, he shows how precious his name is in his sight, while it is cast out and trodden under foot with men. Nor can it be, that he will permit such horrid wickedness to go longer unpunished.
We learn from the Scripture, that for a single reproach against God, of the profane kings Berthadad and Sennacherib, a dreadful judgment from him almost wholly overwhelmed both them and their armies. As it respects adultery, what a shame it is, that we, who bear the name of Christians, should be far more indifferent in punishing it than the Pagans themselves; and that crimes of this kind should be passed over with a jest. Is the sacred union of marriage, the living image of our most holy union with the Son of God, to be thus trifled with and polluted with impunity? Shall the most indissoluble of all human contracts be so perfidiously violated? Besides, fornication, if we regard the Apostle, is to be accounted as sacrilege, since our bodies, which are the temples of God, being thus manifestly polluted, are most basely cut off from the Spirit of God, and from Christ himself.
Hence he adds, that fornicators and drunkards do not belong to the kingdom of God; and expressly interdicts believers from all commerce with them. From this it follows, that such persons, ought by no means to be tolerated in the church of God. If these evils are wholly passed over, they will draw down the divine scourge, with which the whole earth is shaken; for when it is so, that men pardon one another such enormous crimes, they summon against themselves the vindictive hand of God. If you wish, my lord, to avert the wrath of God, I beseech you to give the most attentive care, on your part, to suppress the commission of these sins; and to cause that those who profess Christianity may express and demonstrate the integrity of their profession, by a course of life correspondent to their holy vocation. For, as the doctrine is like the soul to animate the church, so discipline and the correction of vices ought to hold the place of those nerves, which cherish and preserve the body pure and vigorous. The bishops and curates should be especially attentive, lest the Lordís Supper be polluted, by the admission of those who are in repute on account of their scandalous lives. But it is above all your duty, since God has raised you to your station, for the purpose of taking care, that all the subjects, each one in his place and calling, apply their labors, and fulfill their respective duties, that the established order may be legitimately preserved.
I will not, my lord, extend the prolixity of my letter, by excuses, nor by asking your pardon for the freedom with which I have opened to you the sentiments of my heart.
Your prudence will discern the sincerity of my intentions, and your knowledge of the Scriptures will enable you, with facility, to ascertain the source from which I have drawn the preceding advice. I have no apprehension that you will be disgusted, or account me too importunate, for having shown, as clearly as my slender capacity would allow, my affectionate desire that you may extensively glorify the name of God. For this I supplicate him daily, and entreat him, that he would enrich you with his accumulated gifts; confirm you by his Holy Spirit with true and invincible constancy; protect and support you against all adversaries; cover you and yours with his shield; and so prosper your administration, that the king may have reason to celebrate his praise for having provided, in his tender years, so able a protector of himself and his kingdom. I close my letter, most humbly wishing you health and prosperity.
Your Excellencyís most devoted, JOHN CALVIN.
Geneva, October 22, 1548.