BY THE TRANSLATOR.
Few writers or divines, in any age, have been more exposed to the calumnies of their enemies, or less flattered by their friends, than John Calvin. His genius, his talents, his learning, his unwearied labor, his persevering activity, and his striking disinterestedness, secured for him no small share in the reformation. His system of church government, which originated in a great measure from the peculiar circumstances of affairs in Geneva, and was extended to France, Scotland, Holland, etc., gave him a more extended influence, and undisputed power, than he would otherwise have obtained, and contributed also to make him an object of hatred to the Roman hierarchy.
A deep and well founded conviction that he has long labored in my own country under a heavy load of unmerited obloquy induces me to draw a few outlines of his character. In doing this, I have been guided by all the authentic documents which I could command, without paying any regard to the statements either of his friends or foes.
Timidity, nay, even pusillanimity was one of the most striking features in the natural character of Calvin. He wanted courage, as a man, to face and encounter the commonest danger, while, as a Christian, he was prepared to meet the violent assaults of the most powerful emperors and monarchs, and to smile, with the most composed complacency, at the grim countenance of the king of terrors in his most horrid forms, he placed no confidence in himself, but depended upon the protection, and guidance, and strength of the arm of Omnipotence. He knew that his own power was nothing; but, relying upon the promises of unchanging Truth and infinite Love, no dominion, however great — no opposition, however violent — made him shrink from his Christian duty, or in any instance either to deny or recant the truth. He rested safe and secure under the panoply of the Lord of Hosts, whether threatened by the blasts of the pope and his minions, or attacked in Geneva by the vilest and most unprincipled of men. His religious and moral courage — the gift of the Holy Spirit — in which he was not surpassed by Luther himself, never forsook him; and he was equally intrepid in exposing what he considered the errors of improper compliances of the most distinguished leaders in the reformation, as he was unflinching in his opposition to every kind of heresy, and every heresiarch whose views diminished the simplicity, undermined the truth, or obscured on his own unceasing combat with the Anti-Christ, used no armor but what he took from the impregnable tower of dive in truth, and gloried in no strength, but the love, the righteousness, the grace, and regenerating influences of the Most High.
Calvin from his earliest years, was unweared in the pursuit of knowledge, and from the first moment that the book of God was opened to his mind by the Spirit of truth, to the last thread of his existence, no labor, however great — no study, however arduous — no meditation, however intense, retarded him in his glorious career of doing all in his power for extending the kingdom of heaven. His most violent and implacable enemies have never dared to deny him this praise, and even Voltaire holds him up to the admiration and imitation of mankind for his almost unparalleled industry, and his admirable disinterestedness. If all his published and unpublished works were translated, they would form at least seventy octavo volumes, which were prepared in the midst of constant preaching and lecturing, of unceasing care for the church of God, continued controversies with the opponents of the gospel, arduous struggles for preserving the doctrines and discipline of the church of Geneva, frequent trials from his enemies, and repeated indisposition, during the short period of thirty-one years, he lived and labored ever mindful of the coming of his Savior; and was distinguished by study, contemplation, watchfulness, thanksgiving, and prayer.
Calvin’s labors were incessant. He delivered more than 300 sermons and lectures every year; and his correspondence, commentaries, controversial writings, and admonitions, etc., would form annually, during the period of thirty one years, between two and three volumes octavo. The following extract from a letter to Farel, written in 1539, when he published his Commentary on Romans, gives us a clear view of the active character and persevering labors of our reformer. “When the messenger called for my book, I had twenty sheets to revise — to preach — to read to the congregation — to write four letters — to attend to some controversies — and to return answers to more than ten persons who interrupted me in the midst of my labors for advice.” If Protestant divines, in the nineteenth century, exhibited the same perseverance and alacrity in business which distinguished the great luminaries of the reformation, we should not hear of complaints about the increase of the Roman Catholics. The hierarchy of the church of Rome, both in England, in Ireland, and Scotland, can only be overcome by out-preaching, out-praying, and out-living them.
There is no part of the conduct of the reformers more worthy of imitation than their admirable disinterestedness. The following passage from a letter of Calvin to Farel, written in 1539, proves under how great a pressure of poverty his Commentary to the Romans was written. “The Waldensian brethren are indebted to me for a crown, one part of which I lent them, and the other I paid to their messenger. who came with my brother to bring the letter from Sonerius. I requested them to give it you as a partial payment of my debt. I will return you the rest when I am able. My present condition is so very poor, that I have not one penny. It is singular, although my expenses are so great, that I must still live upon my own money unless I would burden my brethren. It is not easy for me to take that care of my health which you so affectionately recommended.” Had the ministers of the gospel in all ages displayed the same disinterestedness of conduct which marked Calvin, who left only three hundred crowns, even scandal itself could never have accused the clergy of avarice. Had all our archbishops and bishops exhibited the same spirit of love which distinguished the late bishop of Durham, who expended between two and three hundred thousand pounds in religious and benevolent purposes, and in giving money even for the building of Dissenting places of worship, no true Christian could have complained on account of the large annual stipends which the English bishops receive. Let the Dissenting ministers imitate the conduct of John Wesley, who spent more than twenty thousand pounds in promoting the interests of religion and philanthropy, and died nearly as poor as Calvin; and the constant example of disinterested conduct, which the clergy of all denominations would then exhibit could not fail to increase the liberal character of the laymen.
His learning was uncommonly accurate, and so extensive that Scaliger considered him the profoundest scholar since the days of the apostles. No man has made less parade and show of his knowledge, or been more assiduous in rendering it subservient to the great purpose of religion. The defense, illustration, and explanation of the Scriptures formed the great leading object of his life; and his writings will ever remain a monument of his zeal and ardor in the cause of God and truth. Although he knew how to appreciate every kind and every department of literature and science, yet he was fully convinced that the treasury of the divine word, which had for so many centuries been concealed from the world by a tyrannical hierarchy, could only he unlocked by the most patient research, and extensive acquaintance with all the stores of ancient and modern knowledge. f25a Few men seem to have possessed a stronger or more retentive memory, both for words and things, than this great luminary of the reformation.
Close attention, clearness of thinking, order, frequent repetition, uncommon pleasure, and deep interest, in the great object of his pursuit, gave him an accuracy, extent, and quickness of retentive faculties rarely surpassed, he laid up all his varied stores of learning in well-arranged compartments, and was enabled to take them out for every requisite purpose with great facility and correctness.
His judgment, logical sagacity, and accuracy were in no respect inferior to his memory; and few writers surpassed him in perceiving the various bearings of the subject which he investigated, he is indebted to this faculty for his uncommon power of generalization and success in making systems, and giving well-digested and clear catechetical instructions, which he highly valued as containing the true seeds of doctrine. All his writings are intended to cast light upon each other, and few authors of any age have exhibited greater uniformity, and consistency of sentiment — one of the surest marks of a sound judgment — than our reformer. Strong expressions occasionally occur, as in all controversial writers; but by carefully weighing and comparing them with each other, their harshness will be found to be much diminished. The scope, drift, relation, and connection of a passage rarely escape the minuteness, clearness, and completeness of his discriminative powers.
His imagination is greatly inferior to the other faculties of his mind; and he very rarely indulges in the fascinations of this delightful and uncommon talent. When he suffers himself to be hurried off by any sudden sallies of this frequently wayward power, he invariably keeps it under the steady curb and unceasing restraint of judgment.
His affections were warm and ardent. As a brother, friend, husband, father, and minister of the word of God, he displayed strong and steady attachment. He carried his brother Anthony to Geneva, and manifested towards him and his family the greatest and steadfast love. After the death of his friend Caurault, he says, in a letter to Farel, “I am so overwhelmed that I can put no limits to my sorrow. My daily occupations have no power to retain my mind from recurring to the event, and revolving constantly the impressive thought. The distressing impulses of the day are followed by the more torturing anguish of the night. I am not only troubled with dreams, to which I am inured by habit, but I am greatly enfeebled by those restless watchings which are extremely injurious to my health.” f26 Calvin thus writes to Viret on the death of his wife: “I repress, as much as I am able, the sorrow of my heart. With all the exertions of my friends, I effect less in assuaging my grief than I could wish; but I cannot express the consolations which I experience. You know the tenderness of my mind, or rather with what effeminacy I yield under trials; so that without the exercise of much moderation I could not have supported the pressure of my sorrow.” His unceasing efforts for the spiritual improvement of his church, both at Strasburgh and Geneva, leave no doubt of the warmth of his attachment. His friends also invariably manifested their strong love to Calvin, and this affords an undoubted evidence of mutual and reciprocal feelings. The tears of the magistrates and the ministers of Geneva, when he was on his death-bed, supply the clearest and most undoubted proof that he had a warm and a feeling heart.
How, it may be asked, did Calvin comfort himself under his wounded affections? He knew and felt that his light afflictions, which were but for a moment, were working out for him a far more abundant, even an eternal weight of glory. The following extracts from his letters prove that he relied on no comfort but that of his gracious Savior. “The Lord,” he writes to Farel, “has spared us to survive Caurault. Let us be diligent to follow his example; and watchful to tread in the path of increasing light, till we shall have finished our course. Let no difficulties dismay us, or any weight of earthly sufferings impede our progress towards that rest, into which we trust he is received. Without the hope of this glory to cheer us in our way, we shall be overcome with difficulties, and driven to despair. But as the truth of the Lord remains firm and unshaken, so let us abide in the hope of our calling, until the hidden kingdom of God be made manifest.” After the death of his wife, he writes to Farel: “I now suppress the sorrow of my heart, and give myself no remission from my official duties. May the Lord Jesus strengthen me in this so great calamity, which would inevitably have overpowered me unless he had stretched forth his hand from heaven, whose office it is to raise the fallen, to strengthen the weak, and to refresh the weary.”
Viret, in his answer to Calvin on the death of his with, thus writes: — “I admire the influence of that divine Spirit which operates in you, and proves himself by his fruits worthy of the name of the true Comforter.
Justly may I acknowledge the power of that Spirit in you, since you bear with so composed a mind those domestic misfortunes, which must intimately affect, with the greatest possible severity, your heart, that was always so readily involved in the calamities of others, and so accustomed to feel them, as if they were your own. Your example inspires others with new strength, since you can draw consolation from your own trials, and conduct yourself in all the duties of your office, at a time when your sorrows are recent, and have the keenest edge to wound and destroy your constancy, with as much readiness and ease as when all was well. May the exuberant grace of divine goodness, from which proceed all those other gifts, that the Lord hath so richly bestowed upon you, supply your own mind with the resolution to bear this cross.” His feelings for the church of Geneva when he was most unjustly banished by them, show the ardor of his attachment to the church of God, which had once been intrusted to his care. In a letter to Viret, he says, “My thoughts relative to the arduous office of governing the church, disturb and perplex my mind with various anxieties; but their influence will not prevent me from doing every thing which I judge best for its welfare. Nothing is more conformable to my wishes and desires than to give up my life in the discharge of my duty. I entreated our friends with tears, that, omitting all consideration of me, they should consult, in the presence of God, what would be most beneficial to the church of Geneva.”
Calvin thus writes on this subject in the Preface to his Commentary on the Psalms. “The obligation and responsibility of my office determined me to restore myself to the flock from which I had been violently separated; and the best of Beings is my witness with what deep sorrow, abundance of tears, and extreme anxiety, I entered upon my office.”
To what was Calvin indebted for all the courage, learning, industry, and success, which he possessed? To a deep and settled piety. After leaving the darkness and superstitions of popery, he gave up his undivided attention to the sacred records of the divine will. Nor did he study them for the purpose of confirming his mind in preconceived opinions, but of discovering the counsels, the plans, the truths of infinite wisdom. His great design was to follow the Lamb of God whithersoever he went. Hence, by the illumination of the divine Spirit, that confidence and full assurance of faith, which he so strongly insists on and so beautifully describes. Hence that noble heroism, with which he pursued the onward tenor of his course, in breaking down the barriers of popery, and building up the exalted and stately pillars of the reformation, he knew the power of the divine word, that it was able to bring down all high thoughts in subjection to the dominion of Christ, and to overcome all principalities and powers. Hence his numerous commentaries, and his unwearied expositions, both by lectures and by preaching, of the word of God. To this, and this alone, was he indebted for the confidence with which he met all his enemies and all his trials; with which he faced all the combined artifice and violence of the Roman Catholics, and the various sects and heresies rising out of the bosom of the reformation itself.
Calvin, on his death-bed, looked back, with a self-approving conscience, to the labors in which he had been engaged; and though he condemns himself for displaying too great violence of temper on certain occasions, never once complains of self-accusation on account of the death of Servetus, or of any other part of his arduous labors in opposing Castellio, or others.
Conscience has two great offices to perform, and in one capacity it acts as an accuser and a judge, in the other as a director and a guide. The improper use of this guide of our thoughts and actions has been the occasion and the cause of more suffering, and persecution, and misery, than almost all other causes put together. To this we must trace the error and the sin of the disciples John and James, when they wished to call down fire from heaven, and our beloved Savior told them that they knew not what spirit they were of. To this we must attribute the persecution of pagan and papal Rome; and the first reformers themselves derived from this extensive source of error, of sin, and of crime, the persecuting principles by which they were all influenced. Although Calvin had escaped from the deep abyss of popish darkness, he still continued to be enthralled and awfully deluded by the horrid principle of persecution which he placed in the hands of the civil magistrate, as the church of Rome vested it in their ruinous, ignorant, and corrupt hierarchy. Had the church of Geneva been separated from the state, Calvin would never have thought of placing in the hands of the clergy of that city the power of punishing the blasphemy of Servetus as a capital crime, since simple excommunication was the extreme punishment, which the consistory could inflict. Our reformer was so thoroughly convinced of the power of the magistrates extending to blasphemy against God, that he declares the apostles themselves, had the government under which they lived been Christian, would have abetted and sanctioned persecution. The true followers of the meek and lowly Jesus must be compelled to shed tears over this pernicious and altogether ruthless principle, which was adopted and maintained by all the great leaders of the reformation. Nay, the very same persecution has been continued in England until the other day, when Taylor and Carlile were liberated from prison. May no Briton ever again have cause to lament over this anti-Christian conduct on the part of a government, which is professedly in league and alliance with the ecclesiastical establishment of the country. The great and peculiar glory of Christianity is love to God and love to man, founded on the principle of faith in a dying, risen, and interceding Savior, who will finally come in the character of a Judge to separate the goats from the sheep, and to assign to each their portion in endless happiness or misery. It does not confide in the arm of man, in the power of emperors or of kings for success, but looks up with unbounded confidence to the Lord of Sabaoth for final victory and triumph.
Calvin was not influenced by any feelings of private revenge, or of personal malevolence against Servetus, as many, contrary to all the evidence of the truth of history and biography, have asserted. He was anxious to remove all heretical opinions, and to watch over the purity of the faith of the church at Geneva, as well as of all the Protestant churches.
This was one cause of his bringing Servetus to trial, and his desire to convince him of the error of his opinions, and to convert, him to the belief of the truth as it is in Jesus, was, another. All the Swiss Protestant churches concurred with that of Geneva in sanctioning the punishment of the Spanish physician. Calvin was desirous that his punishment should have been less ignominious, and not burning, but the magistrates of Geneva opposed this measure.
It is unfair, uncandid, and ungenerous, to lay the whole weight of persecution, as many Englishmen do, upon the shoulders of Calvin. f30 Lambert and Askew were burnt in the reign of Henry VIII; Vane Pare and Joan of Arc, by Edward VI, at the instigation and urgent solicitation of Archbishop Cranmer, a pattern of humility, meekness, and charity, at Smithfield, London, three years before Servetus suffered at the Champel of Geneva. Two Anabaptists were capitally punished under Elizabeth, and sixty Roman Catholics: Legate and Wightman, two Arians, under James I.
Cold must be the heart that does not feel, and tearless the eyes that do not sympathize with all the victims of persecution under Charles I and II.
The distinction which Servetus has attained for his various writings, particularly as the discoverer of the pulmonic circulation of the blood before our illustrious Harvey, has contributed to make his trial and punishment more conspicuous, while those who suffered in England have been little noticed in consequence of their ignorance and want of celebrity.
Our reformer has been calumniated without mercy and justice, and with all the rancor of malevolence and fury, by many of our anonymous compilers of Biographical Dictionaries. Even Dr. Lempriere, in his Universal Biography, makes the most unfounded assertion, contrary to all the authentic evidence of history, that two long hours elapsed while Servetus was burning at the stake. Is such conduct worthy of the generosity for which my countrymen are so justly renowned?
What has Calvin done to merit such treatment from any of the natives of the British Isles, or of Ireland herself? We are indebted for all our psalmody in the church of England to Calvin, who fostered with paternal care the English exiles under the persecution of queen Mary; and these refugees annexed the Psalms, versified and set to music, to a translation of the Scriptures in the English language, made chiefly by Coverdale, Goodman, Knox, Gibbs, Sampson, Colt, and Whittingham. This version of the Psalms soon superseded the Te Deum Benedicite, Magnificat, Nunc Dimittis, which had been retained until that time in the church of England from that of Rome. Had Calvin done nothing else for us than this, he deserved at least to have received fair treatment at our hands.
Not satisfied with this, Calvin used every effort in his power, by correspondence with Peter Martyr, Bucer, Fagius, Cranmer, Sir William Cecil, Sir John Cheke, the Lord Protector of England, and others, to have the liturgy of that church improved. He dedicated also his Commentary on Isaiah, and the Canonical Epistles, to Edward the Sixth, who is justly compared with king Josiah; and he points out to him the great value and importance of the Scriptures, as the only certain means for subverting the kingdom of Antichrist. He dedicates also one edition of his Commentaries on Isaiah to Elizabeth. In his letter to the Protector, he strongly approves of a liturgy, since it would establish a more certain agreement of all the churches among themselves, check the instability and levity of innovators, and detect the introduction of new opinions by an immediate appeal to such a standard. He objects against prayers for the dead, the use of chrism, and extreme unction. “Religion,” he writes, “cannot be restored to its purity while the spurious and counterfeit Christianity of popery, that sink of pollution, is only partially drawn off, and a frightful form of the religion of Jesus is embraced for the pure and original faith.” In the concluding part of this letter he points out the necessity of maintaining the honor of God in punishing fornication, adultery, cursing, and drunkenness.
Does not Calvin merit the praise of every true-hearted Englishman, for recommending such reformation to the uncle of king Edward? Nay, is it not high time that something more effectual be at present done by the state, in checking drunkenness, if it takes any interest either in the religious or moral improvement of our country? In some parts of the kingdom, there is a public-house or tavern for a population of one hundred inhabitants; and, if we allow one for every three hundred, the places as receptacles for drinking will amount to seventy thousand, which is more than three times the number of all the clergyman belonging to the Established church in Great Britain and Ireland. Have we a right to consider that government as paying the least regard to the morals or religion of a country, which sanctions and licenses such a disproportionate and unnecessary number of abodes for the drunkard, or the licentious? Surely it is high time that something else be done for our native land, than the continued following up of a system, which raises so large a portion of the taxes of the country, by encouraging drunkenness, which destroys the health, the morals, the religion of the country, and is more effectual in destroying domestic comfort and happiness, than all other schemes of demoralization combined. How many families are there among us, which can produce some husband, brother, or son, who have fallen martyrs to this most degrading and brutalizing of all vices. When will a reformed parliament be able to say that the following line of Cowper cannot be applied to them, — “Ye all can swallow, and they ask no more.” f31 Calvin’s uncommon care for all the Protestant churches in Europe, merits the highest praise. His various letters, dedications, exhortations, written to every nation of any eminence, where the true principles of the gospel had been introduced, afford a lasting proof of his ardor and zeal in promoting genuine Christianity.
His letters to John Knox, the Scotch reformer, prove his earnest zeal for the spiritual welfare of that part of the kingdom; and I am sure none, who has had the happiness, which I have experienced, of residing in that land of kindness, hospitality, education, morality, and religion, can entertain a moment’s doubt of the great advantages which Scotland has derived from the reformer of Geneva. It is, however, not a little singular, that no distinguished author in that kingdom, with whose writings I am acquainted, has done anything of importance, either in vindicating the character of Calvin from the unjust aspersions of his calumniators, or in translating any of his writings. They have been desirous to impress his own character on themselves and their countrymen, than to exhibit to future ages a full and graphic delineation of every lineament and feature which distinguish this luminary of the reformation. I trust the time is not distant when one of the ablest biographers of the age — whose kindness I must ever cherish with the most grateful feelings — to whom Knox and Melville stand indebted for such a just, impartial, and correct view of all their labors, studies, and attachment to the gospel and their country — will be equally successful in doing complete justice to their great master and leader in the cause of truth and righteousness.
It yet remains for Scotland to rise as one man, and to demand from a reformed parliament the same freedom in the electing of the ambassadors of the Most High, which has been lately granted them in the appointment of their country and city members. Religion never will, and never can flourish in its full extent, until the whole united empire shall feel a deeper interest in the appointment of ministers of the gospel, than in the choice of any civil officer, however high or powerful. It may be doubted whether even a tenth part of all the archbishops, bishops, deans, priests, deacons, and ministers of the word of God, in every part of the kingdom, are elected by the people. Surely then religion cannot be made a personal consideration, while so large a part of the inhabitants appear to rest satisfied with such spiritual guides, directors, and comforters, as the caprice, or interest, or party feeling of the government, or of other patrons, shall appoint. This state of things must be altered, if we ever expect to behold a lasting and soul-stirring change in the religious character and views of the whole empire. All the Churchmen and Dissenters in the United kingdom should use every exertion to inspire their hearers with a deep sense of the importance and actual necessity of selecting on all occasions their own spiritual instructors.
Ireland herself bears ample testimony, in the province of Ulster, to the advantages which she has derived from the industry, manufactures, education, and religion, introduced into that country by the followers of Calvn; and we hope the time is not far distant when the wrongs of that oppressed nation will be redressed, and the glorious principles of unadulterated Christianity produce their genuine effect, and seat her side by side with her two sisters, England and Scotland.
Nor is Calvin entitled to receive common justice at the hands of Briton, merely on account of his labors for promoting our greatest blessings, by advancing the cause of religion. Hume — whose opinion was not in danger of being warped by any love to Christianity — has clearly proved, in his reign of Elizabeth, that we are chiefly indebted for our liberties to the stand which the Dissenters, who were generally Calvinists, made against the arbitrary measures of that illustrious queen. The friends of slavery are entitled to do their utmost against John Calvin; but no lover of freedom — no true Briton — no genuine Irishman — no real patriot, can or dare lay his hand on his heart, and say he has cause to withhold from our reformer his merited share of praise.
Louis the Eleventh wished his son to know merely one sentence, “that dissimulation is a necessary ingredient in the character of a monarch, without which he cannot rule.”
Politicians alone know to what extent this principle has influenced their councils. All divines, however, if they wish to have the least claim for that title, ought to adopt Calvin’s device, “promptly and sincerely .” To these two principles guided by the light of the gospel, and the piety and boldness it inspired, we may trace all that perseverance, all that heroism and magnanimity with which he assailed the strong holds of popery, and dared to point out to the greatest potentate of Europe, the conduct which they ought to pursue.
Weak, timid, pusillanimous, and effeminate as Calvin was by nature, when guided by the Spirit of God, no danger dismayed him, no enemy arrested his progress. Our reformer manifested the greatest candor and sincerity to the meek and gentle Melancthon, when he freely admonished him of his too accommodating character, from a fear of being accused of harshness by the enemies of the gospel. In writing to Melancthon, Calvin says, “The trepidation of a general, or leader of an army, is more ignominious than the flight of common soldiers. All will condemn your wavering as insufferable.
Give, therefore, a steady example of invincible constancy. The servants of Christ should pay no more regard to their reputation than their lives. I do not suppose you are eager, like ambitious men, for popular applause. I, however, ingenuously open my mind to you, lest that truly divine magnanimity with which, otherwise, you are richly endowed, should be impeded in its operations. I would sooner die a thousand deaths with you, than see you survive the doctrine which you illustrate and deliver. Be solicitously watchful, lest impious cavillers take the opportunity of assailing the gospel from your flexible disposition.” He displays the same sincerity when speaking of his own temper, which was constitutionally susceptible of quick emotions, and frankly acknowledges that he had not succeeded in his struggles to conquer his impatience and irritability. “My exertions,” he says, “have not been entirely useless, although I have not been able to conquer the ferocious animal.” Calvin never lost sight of the future advancement and prosperity of the church of God, which his commentaries, controversies, admonitions and other labors, were calculated to promote with the quickest promptness, and the frankest sincerity.
Calvin’s opinions on all the principal subjects of evangelical truth, and the leading controversies of that period, were the same with those which were entertained by Luther, and the most distinguished leaders in the reformation. Even Melancthon writes, in a letter to Calvin, speaking of predestination: “I know that these remarks agree with your opinions; but mine, since they are less refined, are better adapted to common use.” In another part of the same letter Melancthon says, “In beautifying the great and essential doctrines of the Son of God, I wish you to exercise your eloquence, since it is able to confirm your friends, to terrify your enemies, and assist such as may be saved. For whose eloquence in reasoning is more nervous and splendid?” Were not Bucer and Peter Martyr employed in carrying on the reformation in England? Are not their opinions the same, on all contested points, with Calvin’s? Why then should the Arminians of Holland and Great Britain, labor to cast the whole blame upon Calvin? Did not Archbishop Usher, Bishop Hall, the judicious Hooker, entertain the same theological creed? (See note D.) It is surely high time that these able champions of the same opinions should bear some part of the blame, if they deserve censure , with our weak and emaciated reformer. Theological hatred, the most virulent and deadly of all, has been long dealt out without measure, or justice, or truth, against the Genevese reformer in England, a nation justly distinguished for generosity; but the time, it may be hoped, is not far distant, when new Horsleys will be raised up to break in pieces the arrows of calumny, and to make all the followers of the Prince of peace and truth ashamed to join the ranks of the infidels, in using the poisoned weapons of shameless detraction for the purpose of vilifying the character of one of the most holy — the most undaunted — the most laborious, and the most disinterested followers of a crucified Redeemer. f34 Calvin’s great excellence as a commentator consists in his giving, first, a concise, clear, full, and minute view of the scope, drift, and connection of the whole passage he is explaining, with the accuracy and precision of uncommon logical sagacity and acuteness. He then, in the second place, generally analyzes the sense of each word, and points out its appropriate meaning in the sentence where it occurs. He uses, without any display, his immense stores of learning, for the purpose of illustrating what is dark, enlightening what is obscure, and confirming what is doubtful. His great object is to get to the pith of the subject under his consideration, and to break the shell, that he may give his readers the kernel, he approaches the only record in which Infinite Truth addresses lost mankind, with all the feelings of sacred awe, but without superstitious dread; and his sole aim is to discover, by every possible means in his power, what was the mind of the Spirit, without laboring to make the Scriptures bend to his own prejudices, or to support his preconceived opinions. His Harmonies of the Law and Writings of Moses, and of the Gospel, display the accuracy and extent of his research, which is only surpassed by the correctness of his judgment. His views of Christian morality, in his various commentaries, are distinguished by a holy simplicity, which scorns to fritter away the principles of eternal wisdom, or to accommodate the unerring maxims of the gospel to the manners, customs, or practices of the world. The great aim of Calvin, in his numerous expositions, was to dispel the clouds of popish darkness by the glorious light and splendor of the word of the Most High.
None of the reformers understood the advantages of education more clearly than Calvin; and the establishment of an excellent seminary in Geneva, both for human and divine learning, was one of the last actions of his life. Even now, when Geneva has generally deserted the standards of the original reformers, and joined those of Arius or Socinus, her sons rejoice in the great triumph achieved by the wisdom of Calvin over the power of Napoleon, who, on conquering Geneva, wanted courage to make any change in the system of education, which had been planted more than 200 years before Bonaparte was born, by this distinguished friend of genuine Christianity, and of a truly scriptural education. f35 Beza has left nothing to be added to his account of Calvin’s death. Our reformer’s unshaken confidence in his Redeemer, care for the prosperity of the state of Geneva, and the interests of religion in that city, afford a noble and unanswerable testimony to the piety and integrity of his life. May it be the constant prayer and labor of every Christian so to live that he may die the death of Calvin, and reposing with unshaken confidence in the promises of his Immanuel, triumph with unutterable joy in the prospects of that happiness which is prepared in the mansions of eternal peace and harmony, for all that love the appearing of the King of glory.