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  • JOHN CALVIN'S WRITINGS -
    NOTES TO THE LIFE OF CALVIN


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    BY THE TRANSLATOR.

    NOTE 1

    MATHURIN CORDIER, Cordery, or Corderius, was distinguished for his piety, learning, and probity, Few men, in any age, were more successful or indefatigable teachers than he was; and he invariably labored to combine true religion and morality with the improvement of the understanding. He was born 1479, and died at Geneva, September 8, 1564. He studied divinity for some time at Paris, about 1528; and was indebted, under Providence, to Robert Stephens, for a complete emancipation from the errors and superstitions of Popery. He spent upwards of fifty years in teaching, at Paris, Nevers, Bourdeaux, Geneva, whence he was banished the same year with Calvin, at Neuchatel, Lausanne, where they wished to have placed him at the head of the college; but the inhabitants of Neuchatel, where he then taught, would not part with him. He concluded his laborious career of teaching in Geneva, and taught the sixth form till within three or four days of his death, aged eighty-five. He taught according to the monitorial system, and educated six hundred boys with more order and silence than are observed by most teachers who have only thirty or forty. The reformers displayed an indefatigable zeal for promoting education, and never failed to make it serve as an handmaid to religion. What an awful declension has taken place in this respect among the Protestants of the nineteenth century! Something is doing, and has already been done for the religious education of the lower classes, while the middling and the higher are frequently altogether neglected in this most important branch of instruction. We trust the time is not distant when every good classical school will pay so much attention to the Old and New Testament, even in some of the higher departments of biblical criticisms, as to compel all our colleges to assume a more distinguished stand in one of the most important branches of literature. What a disgrace that Britain should be so much surpassed by Germany in this truly useful study! Shall we not be roused by our American descendants? f35a Calvin, in 1550, dedicated to Cordier his Commentary on the first epistle to the Thessalonians, and acknowledged himself indebted to this admirable Latin grammarian for all his future skill in that language. “I take this opportunity,” he writes, “to testify to posterity, that, if they derive any benefit from my writings, they must, in a great measure, acknowledge it to have flowed from your instructions.” The system of education in the High School of Edinburgh, which has been adopted with so much success nearly all over Scotland, appears very much to resemble in its general arrangement what was followed by Cordier.

    His colloquies, long continued even in Britain, the first stepping-stone in the ascent to the temple of learning; and Dr. Reynolds recommends them, as useful in assisting to enable the classical scholars to speak Latin, in which we have been so much surpassed by our continental neighbors.

    I look back with delight to the time when I began the study of Cordery under one of the most affectionate of tutors and friends, the Revelation Mr. Hair of Torpenhow, Cumberland, whose attainments, as a sound classical scholar, were of no ordinary character. I spent four years of very great happiness under his truly parental roof. A striking humility, and the most unassuming manners, distinguished every part of his conduct.

    Gentleness was his chief means for conveying knowledge, and the plan of severity never once entered his mind. He was curate of the present bishop of Bath and Wells, who afterwards promoted him to Hayton. Mr. Hair was much beloved by his parishioners, in spite of the collection of tithes, which have contributed more than any other cause to secularize our clergy, to create discord between them and their flocks, to paralyze the exertions of the farmers and the peasantry — “their country’s pride” — to augment the number, add to the influence, and strengthen the power of the dissenters. From Bishop Hall, to whom I was introduced by my instructor in English, the Revelation Mr. Parsable, in consequence of the bishop being a school-fellow with Mr. Hair, and of his high opinion of Mr. Parsable, I experienced at Dublin all the attention, watchfulness, and care of a parent. I enjoyed the use of his library, and he directed my studies.

    Few men displayed a greater sense of principle, or a stronger hatred and abhorrence of party; and by opposing the union of Ireland with England, though a native of Great Britain, he was prevented for some time from becoming either provost or bishop. I was placed by him under Dr. Davenport, one of the kindest and best of tutors, in a college distinguished for the liberality, kindness, and generosity, that characterize the whole Irish nation; and I must ever remember, with much pleasure, the interest he took in promoting my studies. My oldest brother, my friend, my guide, and my teacher, was the cause of advising one of the best and tenderest of mothers, to whose uncommon affection I am indebted under Providence for all the blessings I now enjoy, to place me under the Revelation Mr. Hair. My dearest mother and the Rev. Mr. Parsable alone survive of all these kind friends, relations, and instructors; and may the Savior of sinners long continue her to me as a comfort, and fit her for the enjoyment of that kingdom, where there is neither sin, nor sorrow, nor woe.

    My first tutor in English, the Rev. Mr. Parsable, acted towards me on all occasions with the greatest friendship, and I am happy to have this opportunity of testifying my deep gratitude for his instructions. His sole aim through life has been the promotion of useful knowledge, and of kindliness of feeling in every situation which he has filled. May he be preserved in the enjoyment of undiminished health, to promote the happiness of his parishioners, until the Master of the harvest shall translate him from his present labors to reap the glories of an endless and all-perfect immortality.

    NOTE 2

    Robert d’Olivet, a relation of Calvin, was born at Noyon; and published at Neuchatel, in 1535, the first French Bible ever printed in Switzerland, and translated from the Hebrew and Greek, in consequence of the decree of the synod of the churches in the valleys of Piedmont. He was banished from Geneva, where he was tutor in a gentleman’s family, in consequence of his defending the Lutherans against the attack of a Dominican friar, and withdrew to Neuchatel. He died at Ferrara, having, it is supposed, been poisoned at Rome, on account of his activity as a reformer and translator of the Scriptures, in 1536 or 1538. Calvin wrote, in French, at Neuchatel, 1536, the preface to the Old Testament, addressed to all the emperors, kings, princes, and nations, subject to the dominion of Christ. He wrote also the preface to the New. We behold, in the Life of Robert d’Olivet, of Calvin, of Cordier, and of Robert Stephens, how powerful an influence the translation of the Scriptures, printing, classical literature, and education had on each other in advancing the cause of the reformation.

    NOTE 3

    Few men have displayed their sense of gratitude in their dedications more than Calvin. He dedicates his Commentary on the first of Thessalonians to Cordier, because he had been his instructor in Latin; his second epistle to the Corinthians to Wolmar, as his Greek tutor; the epistle to the Romans to Grynee, as his director and adviser in the method of writing commentaries; and the second of Thessalonians to his physician Textor, who had paid the greatest attention to his wife’s health, and his own, without fee or reward. None can doubt Calvin’s gratitude, after stating these facts; and he displays the utmost candor in bearing testimony to their assistance.

    Wolmar was a native of Switzerland. He was an excellent Greek scholar, and Calvin and Beza were indebted to him for their knowledge of this language. He taught Latin and Greek at Bourges. Tubingen enjoyed his labors in Greek and civil law for more than twenty years. He wrote commentaries on the first two books of Homer’s Iliad, and an elegant preface to Chalcondyla’s Greek grammar. He was an excellent teacher, and much beloved by his pupils. He died at Eisenach, 1561, aged sixty-four, of a paralytic affection; and his wife Margaret, who had been married to him twenty-seven years, died of grief the same day, and they were both buried in the same tomb. He was distinguished by his munificence to the poor, and uncommon modesty.

    NOTE 4

    Calvin, April 4, 1532, published his Commentary on Seneca’s Epistle on Clemency, when he was only twenty-two years and nine months old. The perverse, and amusingly erroneous statements made by Varillas concerning this work are so numerous and altogether unfounded that we need not wonder at Bayle, when he says, they are calculated to make a person think of renouncing for ever the study of history.

    NOTE 5

    Margaret de Valois, queen of Navarre, distinguished for learning, piety, and a firm attachment to the reformation, was born 1495, and died much esteemed, at Castle Odos, December 2, 1549. She was of great use in affording protection to John le Comte, James le Fevre, to a relation of Melancthon, and many other reformers; as also in writing religious tracts, and counteracting in some measure the advice given to her brother, Francis I, king of France, by his chancellor and counselors against the friends of the reformation. Though she did not agree with the principles of Poquet, Quintin, and Copin, leaders of the Libertines in Hainault and at Lisle, yet she was displeased with Calvin for attacking them, as she had received them into her household. Our reformer’s letter, written to her on this occasion, is distinguished by a truly Christian boldness and independence, which is combined with due respect for the rank and piety of the queen. “Who would excuse me,” he writes, “if, when I hear the truth of God assailed, I should remain silent? I do not believe you expect me to prevaricate in the defense of the gospel committed to my ministry for the purpose of pleasing yourself. May the Lord protect you by his shield, and direct you by his Spirit to pursue his vocation, even unto death, with a sincere zeal and prudence.”

    NOTE 6

    James le Fevre, of Estaples in Picardy, was of small stature and low extraction, but distinguished for genius and learning. He received his education at Paris, and was useful in assisting to put an end to the barbarism of the schools. He took the degree of doctor in divinity.

    Briconnet, bishop of Meaux, patronized him; but he was compelled to go to Blois and Guienne to escape persecution,, and finally to Nerac, where he died, 1537.

    Le Fevre clearly discerned the certain approach of the reformation, though he wanted courage to join its standard. “How shall I stand,” he observed to the queen of Navarre, “before the bar of God! I who have preached the gospel of his Son to so many, who have followed my doctrine, have met a thousand torments, nay death itself, with constancy — while I, their teacher, fled — fled from persecution, and have lived to the age of 101, although death, even in its most appalling horrors, ought never to have excited even a shudder in my name. Yet feeling and knowing this, I privately withdrew myself, and basely deserted the post assigned me by the Lord of glory.” When the queen and her friends comforted the weeping patriarch by assurances of the forgiveness of his Savior, who was prepared to bury in oblivion all his unfaithfulness; “Nothing,” he added, “remains for me but to depart to God, as soon as I have made my will; nor ought I to delay; for I think God has called me. I appoint you my heir; I bequeath all my books to your chaplain; my clothes to the poor; and I commend the rest to God.” “What,” said the queen, smiling, “shall I get by being your heir?” “The office,” he said, “of distribution to the poor.” “Be it so,” replied the queen; “and, I declare, this inheritance is more pleasing to me than if my brother, the king of France, had nominated me to all his possessions.” The countenance of the old man brightened, and he said, “Now, O queen, I require some rest; may you be all happy! meanwhile, farewell.” He lay down on a couch, and fell into a gentle dose. One of the party, after a little time, went to awake him, but his spirit had departed.

    NOTE 7

    Gerard, and Arnold Roussel, of Picardy, William Farel of Dauphiny, James le Fevre, first preached the doctrines of the reformation in France, under the patronage of the Bishop of Meaux, in 1523, where the first Protestant church was established. They ordained Peter le Clerk over a congregation in Meaux amounting to 400. He was whipped, branded, and banished by the Roman Catholics, and, after preaching at Metz, was burnt. The other four ministers were banished.

    NOTE 8

    The Princess Renee, daughter of Lewis, was distinguished for her steady and cordial attachment to the reformation. She returned from Italy to France in 1560, after the death of her husband, the Duke of Ferrara, in 1559; and she openly professed the reformed doctrines at Montagris, where she died in 1575. She afforded protection to oppressed Protestants with noble heroism and perseverance against the persecution and superstition of the church of Rome. f36

    NOTE 9

    Paul Fagius, in a letter to Calvin, from Cambridge, in 1550, thus writes: — “Few parishes in England have proper pastors, and most of them are sold to noblemen. Some clergymen hold three, four, or more parishes without doing ministerial duty, and substitute such as are unable to read English, and who, at heart, are mere papists. In some parishes no sermons have been preached for many years. The greater part of the fellows of colleges are violent papists, or dissolute Epicureans, who endeavor to entice the youth to their own systems. The Government refers the case of the church to the bishops, who declare they can make no alteration unless authorized by the public law of the kingdom. Any interpretations of the most luminous passages of the word of God are given, which either prudence or pride may suggest. Admonish the Duke of Somerset concerning the pillaging and betraying of the churches in this kingdom, that his majesty the king, whose proficiency in science and literature is astonishing, and who exerts all his power for restoring the truth as it is in Jesus, may hasten the reformation.” Calvin was indefatigable in doing his utmost to rouse Archbishop Cranmer to appoint effective and evangelical ministers, to prevent the open sale of livings, to introduce proper discipline, and to publish a clear and luminous confession concerning the various controversies. “To speak freely,” our reformer writes, “I much fear, and this fear constantly recurs to my mind, that so many autumns will be passed in delaying, that the cold of a perpetual winter will succeed.” How melancholy is it to reflect that the church of England, after the lapse of nearly three centuries, still continues in a state which requires the adoption of many of the reforms alluded to by Calvin. The affairs of the church are postponed from year to year; and while great efforts are making to introduce improvements into the state, nothing, or less than nothing, is attempted for placing the cause of the religion of Jesus upon a sure and lasting basis. How few clergymen visit their parishioners from house to house for the purpose of knowing the actual state of those intrusted to their care! How few bishops visit every parish in their dioceses for the purpose of making themselves personally acquainted with the character and exertions of the pastors over whom they are appointed! What heartburnings are caused by the collection of tithes! How few parishes have the advantage of electing their own clergymen! And shall it be said that it is of more importance to have the power of appointing a representative for parliament, than to be enabled to choose their own shepherd to lead them in the way of everlasting life? In what state is the religious education of the whole community? How many thousands, and tens of thousands, never enter the church from year to year! How many in the country are either totally indifferent about religion, or deists, or in a state of doubt and uncertainty! The division between the church and the dissenters is not diminishing; and how is it possible for a religion of love to flourish where feuds, opposition, jealousy, or rooted dislike exist? Men may talk about Christianity until the earth itself shall be burned up, but it never can — it never will prosper in any country, among any people, unless true, disinterested love unite all classes — all denominations — all parties, in the bonds of Christian affection. Love, the new commandment, which our beloved Redeemer left as a legacy to his disciples, must either abound among us, or we are as sounding brass, or tinkling cymbal.

    At a period like the present, when the most gigantic strides are making to communicate useful knowledge to all classes of the community, it is the bounden duty of every child of God to leave no means untried by which the doctrines of the gospel may be extensively disseminated in all their fullness, and all their glory. The history of all states connected with the church clearly establishes one important fact — that affairs, which relate to the gospel of Christ, are never attended to, until the interests of the commonwealth have been first consulted. No great hopes, therefore, ought ever to be entertained of much good accruing to the church from the interference of the state, since the prosperity of the former will, in all human probability, always be postponed to that of the latter.

    Governments forget that the God of Israel is he, who giveth strength and power unto his people: blessed be God.

    NOTE 10

    Calvin in a letter to Farel, says of himself, “that he was not of that passionate race of lovers, who, when once captivated with an external form, eagerly embrace also the moral defects that it conceals. I expect chastity, frugality, patience, and solicitude for my personal health and prosperity, in that lady who delights me with her beauty.” The Rev. Mr. Robinson of Cambridge, in his Ecclesiastical Researches, attacks Calvin for marrying an Anabaptist without ever making the slightest allusion to her own conversion, or that of her husband. This is merely one specimen of the numerous false statements concerning Calvin, with which this uncandid and unfair historian has thought fit to delude his English readers. Calvin had one child, who died in 1545, and he could not be more than five years old. Calvin, at the close of a letter to Viret, consoles himself on this occasion in the following manner: — “The Lord has inflicted a heavy and severe wound on us by the death of our little son; but he is our Father, and knows what is expedient for his children.” Mrs. Calvin ejaculated on her dying bed the following expressions: — “O glorious resurrection! God of Abraham, and of all our fathers! not one of the faithful, who have hoped in thee for so many ages, has been disappointed: I will also hope.”

    NOTE 11

    Beza’s remark, that Zebedee’s confession of his error was a better decision than if a thousand decrees of the senate had issued these orders, proves how desirous even the advocates for persecution are to secure a triumph to their cause without having recourse to such an irrational and shocking system. Even the most inveterate disciples of the church of Rome are not now disposed to go all lengths in advocating the Inquisition, and other horrid methods of cruelty, by which Antichrist has for so long a period kept his slaves under the most dreadful thraldom. “Almost every page of ecclesiastical history is polluted with the blood of men sacrificed on the altars of bigotry and intolerance. That is deemed heresy, in every age and country, which is opposite to the doctrines of the established church. We have at present oppugners of the doctrines of the establishment; and though they are not burned for their belief, yet they are by some spoken of with disrespect, and tolerated with reluctance.

    Notwithstanding this, the present church of England we are confident, had she the power, would be as far from treading in the sanguinary footsteps of the former church of England, as the British Legislature would be now from granting her that authority of doing it, which was so superstitiously conceded to her in an age of ignorance, and ecclesiastical domination.” f38 The period is fast arriving when every thing like intolerance on religious subjects will be banished from our shores, and the great principles of immutable truth be supported, not by the iron arm of power, but the invincible evidence of reason, religion, and love. Party names and distinctions, whether arising from establishments or other causes, will be merged in the glorious appellation of Christian, and the doctrines of the cross be supported and extended, as they were in the first ages of the gospel, by the wisdom, industry, piety, sobriety, purity, and holiness of its professors.

    The crimes of nations and of ages will it is to be hoped, henceforth be viewed in the glass presented to us by the Friend of sinners, and no attempts be made to gloss over the transgressions even of the best of men, by apologies derived from the ignorance, or superstition of the period in which they lived. Future ages, no doubt, will look back with wonder on the infidelity, immorality, drunkenness, and Sabbath-breaking of this boasted nineteenth century, in this boasted land of liberty. It is high time for all Christians to do their utmost among us, to stem the torrent of irreligion and iniquity that is sweeping over our land, and unite in the great cause of promoting genuine Christianity by a spirit of harmony and of concord, which would paralyze all the efforts of its vilest enemies.

    An interested selfishness, with which all parties look merely to themselves, is one of the worst and most lamentable symptoms of the present times, since it proves that the cause of Jesus is forgotten, and some paltry worldly objects of the most fleeting nature, preferred to the glory of the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world. The same noble disinterestedness, which made Paul support himself as a tentmaker, must resume its dominion among us, if we ever expect to hear infidels and atheists, who now blazon forth their own shame even in our courts of justice, cry out, “See how these Christians love.” By showing our faith by our works, the blasphemy of unbelievers would cease, and the powers of a future and coming world resume that authority and influence, which neither scepticism nor infidelity would be able to gainsay or resist.

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