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  • JOHN CALVIN'S WRITINGS -
    LETTER 14.


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    CALVIN TO MELANCTHON.

    It was a saying of the ancient satirists, Si natura negat, facit indignatio versum, If nature refuses, sorrow will make verses. It turns out far otherwise with me. My present grief is so far from giving me animation, that it almost makes me speechless. Not only the power of utterance fails me, in expressing the feelings of my mind, but I am oppressed, and almost silenced by the consideration of the subject concerning which I am about to write. You must then imagine me rather to sigh than to speak. How greatly the adversaries of Christ rejoice at your controversy with the Magdeburgenses, is too evident from their mockery and sneers.

    Those writers certainly afford a foul and detestable spectacle to God, and his angels, and to the whole church. In this business, my Philip, even if you were without fault, it would be the duty of your prudence and equity, to devise some remedy to heal the evil, or at least to afford some relief for mitigating its severity. But pardon me, if I do not wholly exculpate you from blame. From this you may be able to conjecture, how severe judgments others pass upon you, and what unfavorable and scandalous observations they make about you. Permit me, therefore, my Philip, to perform the duty of a true friend, in freely admonishing you; and if I deal with you somewhat more sharply, do not impute it to a diminution of my former respect and affection for you. Although that will not be strange or unusual to you, I am, however, more apt to offend by a rustic simplicity, than to use adulation in favor of any man. I have experienced that nothing is more acceptable to you than ingenuousness, and therefore I labor under less anxiety, lest you should take it ill, even if any thing should justly displease you, in my reproof. I wish, indeed, that all your conduct, without exception, could be approved of by me and others. But I accuse you now to your face, that I may not lie obliged to assent to the declarations of those who condemn you in your absence. This is the sum of your defense, Modo retineatur doctrinae puritas, de rebus externis non esse pertinaciter dimicandum. Only let the purity of doctrine be preserved, and we will not perniciously contend about external forms. Now, if what is every where asserted for fact is true, you extend neutral and indifferent things much too far. You know that the worship of God is corrupted a thousand ways among the papists. We have removed the most intolerable corruptions. Now, the impious, that they may finish their triumph over the subjected gospel, command them to be restored. If any one refuses to admit them, will you ascribe it to obstinacy? It is well known how far this would be from your moderation. If you have yielded too much for accommodation, you cannot be surprised if many impute it to you for a fault. Besides, some of those things, which you account indifferent, are manifestly opposed to the word of God. Perhaps others urge some things with too much precision; and, as is usual in controversies, represent others as odious, in which there is not so much evil. But, if I understand any thing of divine truth, you have yielded too much to the papists; both because you have loosened those things which the Lord has bound by his word, and because you have given them all opportunity perversely to insult the gospel. When circumcision was still allowable, do you see Paul, because some malicious and cunning men had laid snares for the liberty of the pious, obstinately denying that that ceremony was given to them of God? Does he not, therefore, boast that he had not yielded to them, even for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might remain entire with the Gentiles? Galatians 2:4,5. Our adversaries do not, at this day, trouble us about circumcision; but, lest they should leave us any thing sound, they endeavor to infect, with their polluted leaven, all the doctrines and exercises of religion. You say that the Magdeburgenses contend only concerning the linen robe. To what this might tend, I do not know, for the use of the linen robe, with many foolish ceremonies, has been, I conceive, retained hitherto, both among yourselves and among them. But it is true that all honest and religious persons complain, that you have countenanced those gross corruptions, which evidently tend to vitiate the purity of the doctrines, and to weaken the stability of the church. As, perhaps, you have forgotten what I formerly said to you, I will now recall it to your mind, That ink is too dear to us, if we hesitate to testify those things by our hand-writing, which so many martyrs , from the common flock, daily seal with their blood . I said, indeed, the same, when we appeared to be much farther out from these assaults. Since, then, the Lord has drawn us out on the field of battle, it becomes us to contend the more courageously. Your station, you know, is different from that of most others. The trepidation of a general, or the leader of an army, is more ignominious than even the flight of common soldiers. All will condemn the wavering of so great a mall as you are, as insufferable. Give, therefore, in future, a steady example of invincible constancy. By yielding a little, you have excited more complaints and lamentations than the open desertion of all hundred, in an inferior station, would have produced. Although I am firmly persuaded, that you would never be compelled, by the fear of death, to turn aside in the least from an upright course; yet I suspect that possibly another kind of fear might exercise your mind. For I know how much you dread the impeachment of barbarous harshness. But you should remember, that the servants of Christ should never regard their reputation more than their lives. We are not better than Paul, who proceeded quietly through reproach and dishonor. It is, indeed, severe and painful to be judged as obstinate and tempestuous men, who would wreck the whole world, rather than condescend to some moderation, Your ears should long since have become seasoned to these reproaches. You are not so unknown to me, nor am I so unjust to you, as to suppose that you are eager, like ambitious men, for popular applause. I doubt not, however, but that you are sometimes discouraged by reflections like these; What! Is it the part of a prudent and considerate man, to divide the church on account of some minute and almost frivolous things? May not peace be redeemed by some indifferent inconvenience? What madness it is, so to defend everything to the utmost, as to neglect the substance of the whole gospel! When these and such like arguments were formerly made use of by artful men, I thought with myself, that you were more influenced by them than was right; and I now ingenuously open my mind to you, lest that truly divine magnanimity, with which, otherwise, you are richly endowed, should be impeded in its operation. The reason of this my earnestness is well known to you; that I would sooner die a hundred times with you, than see you survive the doctrine which you preach. I do not say this, apprehending any danger, lest the truth of God, made known by your ministry, should ever perish, or because I distrust, in any manner, your perseverance; but because you will never be solicitous enough in your watchfulness, lest the impious artfully take that opportunity of caviling at the gospel, which they will seize from your flexible disposition. Pardon me for unloading into your bosom these miserable although unavailing sighs. Farewell, most distinguished man, always sincerely respected by me. May the Lord continue to guide you by his Spirit, to support you by his grace, and defend you by his shield. Salute my friends, if there should be any with you. You have many here, who respectfully salute you; for many, for the sake of avoiding idolatry, have fled from France into voluntary exile in this city.

    John Calvin.

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