CALVIN TO MELANCTHON.
Nothing could be more agreeable to me at this time then the reception of your letter of the month before last. To my great labors, which sufficiently perplex me, there is scarce a day which does not add some fresh cause for grief or anxiety. I should soon faint under the load of evils, with which I am oppressed, if the Lord was not pleased to alleviate their severity by his remedies; among which this is not a small one, in my estimation, that I know you are in usual health, as much so as your age and delicate constitution will admit; and that your letter has convinced me, that your love for me is not all diminished. I have been told, that you were so much offended at some of my too free admonitions, which however ought to have produced a very different effect, that you tore my letter to pieces before several witnesses. The person who related this was no indeed worthy of much credit; but as it appeared to be confirmed by various signs for a long time, I was at length constrained to suspect that some part of it might be true. From your letter I have now learned most fully, that our union still remains unimpaired; which certainly ought to be forever sacred and inviolable, as its origin was from a similar affection for piety. It is our highest interest, that the friendship which God has consecrated, by the tokens of his authority, should be cherished with confidence and constancy even until death; as in this friendship the church is deeply concerned. You see how many eyes are turned upon us. The wicked will captiously seize from our differences a handle for their reproaches; and the weak among us will be disturbed even by our most trivial opposition. It is of consequence also, that posterity should have no grounds to suspect that there was any incipient discord between us. It would be extremely absurd, after having been compelled to separate from all the world, that we should, at the very threshold, break away from each other. I know and freely confess, that I am far from being equal to you; still I am not ignorant of the elevation to which God has raised me among his people; and there is no reason that I should dissemble with you my opinion, that our friendship cannot be violated without a great injury to the church. Even if we had no other reason, estimate from your own sensibility, how distressing it would be to me, to be cut off from the man whom I affectionately love and revere; and whom God has rendered conspicuous to his whole church, by magnificently adorning him with singular gifts, and appointing him prime minister for the management of the chief concerns of his kingdom. It is certainly a wonderful and uncommon stupidity, that we should despise so easily that sacred union between us, which would become the celestial angels to bear to each other on earth. In the meantime, the adversary continues to prepare on every hand the causes of discord. From our negligence, he takes occasion to accumulate his materials; and will son provide his instruments for enkindling and fanning the fires.
I will relate what has taken place in this church, to the great grief of all the pious. A year has already elapsed since we have been troubled with these contests. Some unprincipled men raised a controversy with us concerning the gratuitous election of God, and the miserable servitude of the human will; and for exciting a public tumult, they found nothing more plausible, in their opposition to us, than the pretext of your name. When they had ascertained, that we were promptly prepared to refute whatever specious devices they threw out, they invented this artifice, by which they expected to overpower us, unless we would publicly separate from you.
But we observed such moderation, that they wholly failed in extorting from us what they had so artfully pursued. My colleagues then with me declared, that we adhered to the same scope in doctrines, as that by which you were guided. Not a word was dropped in the whole dispute, but what was justly respectful, and tended to establish confidence in you. It was, however, the fact, that I was severely pained with the silent thought after our death, corrupt men will be furnished with occasion of troubling the church, as often as they please, while they bring into controversy the opposite opinion of those, who should, for the sake of example, have professed one and the same thing, in the same words.
That Osiander has withdrawn himself from us, or rather, by a violent assault, made his escape, is neither a matter of surprise nor much regret.
You long since experienced, that he was one of those wild animals which can never be tamed. From the day I first saw him, I always considered him disgraceful to the cause; and I detested him as a man of profane disposition and corrupt morals. Whenever he wished to praise sweet and generous wine, he had these words in his mouth — “I am who I am” — or — “This is the Son of the living God” — which betrayed a manifest mockery of God. Hence I have often been more astonished, that even your general moderation should cherish such a brutal man: especially I was so when I read in a preface of yours that passage where you praise him extravagantly, even after the specimen he gave us of his insanity at Worms. But let him go; he ought to be most perfectly cut off from us. f121 There are some others whom I should prefer to have retained. But I will omit all these things. It is no small grief to me, that our method of teaching is manifestly observed to be too discordant. I am not ignorant, that if we yield to human authority, it would be more reasonable for me to accede to you, than for you to conform to my opinion. But we are not to be guided by human authority; nor is this even to be wished from the pious ministers of Christ. We are bound, on all hand, to seek conformity to the pure truth of God. Now I candidly confess, that religion prevents me from acceding to you on this point of doctrine; as you appear to me to dispute too metaphysically concerning the freedom of the will: and in treating of election, you have no object, but to accommodate yourself to the common apprehension of mankind. For it cannot be attributed to an oversight, that a man of your acuteness, caution, and thorough knowledge of the Scriptures, should confound the election of God, with those promises which are common to all — quae sunt universae. Nothing is more evident, than that the preaching of the word is promiscuously common to all persons; but that the Spirit of faith is given by special privilege to the elect alone. The promises are common to all without exception. How then does it come to pass, that their efficacy does not equally manifest itself in all?
Truly, because God does not reveal his arm to all. Nor does this point require proof with those who are tolerably versed in the Scriptures, since the promises offer the grace of Christ equally to all, and God invites, by an outward call, whosoever will, to salvation; yet faith is a special gift. It appears to me that this whole question, although embarrassed and intricate, is clearly explained in a work I have lately published. The question is so plain, that no one of sound understanding will believe, that your disagreement is from the conviction of your own mind. At the same time, it increases my anxiety and sorrow, because I know that on this point you almost entirely differ from yourself. For I hear, when you received the formula of our union with the church of Zurich, taking a pen you erased the sentence, which cautiously and soberly distinguishes the elect from the reprobate. This was totally different from your usual moderation, not to say more. I do not, therefore, ask you to make even the attempt to read my treatise, as I apprehend it would be useless. I wish we might have an interview to converse on these things. I know your candor, frankness, and moderation; and your piety is manifested to the world and to angels. I trust, therefore, that this whole matter would be easily explained between us. If an opportunity should offer, I should be highly gratified in visiting you. But if what you fear should happen, it will be a great consolation to me, in this wretched and mournful state of affairs, to see and embrace you before our departure from this world.
We are far from enjoying that tranquillity which you suppose. In this city, there are many labors, difficulties, and tumults. Our enemies are in sight, from whom new dangers threaten us. We are only five hours’ journey from Burgundy. One may come in less than an hour from the French dominions to the gates of Geneva. But as nothing is more happy than to fight under the standard of Christ, these difficulties must not deter you from visiting us. In the mean time, you will do me a favor, by informing me of your situation, and the general condition of your church. Farewell, illustrious man, and sincerely respected brother. May the Lord protect you with his shield, direct you with his Spirit, and bless your holy labors. My colleagues and many pious and discreet men respectfully salute you.
Yours, JOHN CALVIN.
Geneva, November 29, 1552.