CALVIN’S ACTIVITY. (FEBRUARY 1542.)
WITH Calvin words and deeds went hand in hand. If he took part in external affairs, we understand that he did so in the midst of his flock He was preacher and pastor, although he is chiefly known as teacher and reformer. Apart from Calvin, without the institutions of which he was the promoter, the evangelical reformation, religious and moral, would not have been accomplished in Geneva. We may also add that national independence and political liberties would not have been maintained in this town. The old Genevese population would have been unable to do this.
Undoubtedly there had been men among this small people who had displayed great energy in repulsing the ambitious attempts of the Dukes of Savoy, in taking from the bishops the temporal privileges which they had usurped, in restoring civil liberties and in uniting Geneva to the Swiss cantons. All these measures were essential to the Reformation, for which a free people was indispensable. We have already narrated their achievements; and we have been reproached, unjustly, we think, for having done this at too great length. But at the time when Calvin appeared in the city of the first Huguenots, morality was far from being irreproachable; religion, scarcely disengaged from the forms and errors of Rome, was with the majority neither personal nor evangelical, deep-seated, pure, vital, or active; and civilization itself was hardly at a higher level there than it had reached in other countries. The heroes of independence had need themselves of being enlightened by the light of the Gospel, and of being transformed by its fire. Their first education was defective, and it was necessary to begin it again. Their intercourse with all that surrounded them exerted an influence over them which needed to be counterbalanced. The great advantage of the Reformation having been, in their view, their deliverance from the pretensions of priests and of princes, it was needful that they should learn to recognize in the Gospel the tidings of a higher order, of a spiritual enfranchisement, which would deliver them from sin and would give them the liberty of the children of God. They had availed themselves of the reformation as a political instrument; they must now learn to have recourse to it as a religious, moral, and divine instrument, capable of making them citizens of another and more glorious city. Many did this. Calvin’s return was not exclusively the work of a party. A profound conviction existed, both in the most influential men and in the minds of the people in general, that Calvin was the man they wanted. The Genevese population was therefore disposed to accept the institutions which he offered them. But there were nevertheless some secret discontents, which were to break out some day, and would become for Calvin and for the consistory the occasion of frequent and obstinate conflicts.
The presidency of the consistory was not vested in Calvin, but in one of the syndics. The reformer knew how to keep his own place, and gave due honor to the lay magistrate. While, however, he was not president of this body, it may be truly said that he was its soul. The consistory met immediately after its establishment. The report of its sittings did not begin till Thursday, February 16, 1542; but nine meetings had previously been held.
Calvin was not a theocrat, as he has been called, unless the term be taken in the most spiritual sense. A breath of eternal life inspired him; he was full of love for souls; a practical man in the best sense of the word. Many of the characteristics of St. Paul reappeared in Calvin. While, like Paul, he strenuously maintained the great doctrine of grace, he took an interest in the comforts of life of those to whom his preaching was addressed, and sometimes applied himself to the humblest details. He was well-infored even on matters which do not seem to be in his province. For instance, he made enquiries after house for his friend De Falais, and offered him one with ‘a garden, a large yard, and a fine view.’ But it was especially in the consistory that he displayed the same interest in small things as in great. Conversation, dress, food, all were interesting to him. He protected women against the bad treatment of their husbands; he taught parents and children, masters and servants, their mutual duties; and saw that the sick were treated with all needful attention. At the first sitting of the consistory (February 16, 1542), De Pernot, from the district of Gex, who had somewhat the air of those loungers (flaneurs ), who are found in all parties, related to the venerable body that he had been to Mount Saleve with Claudine de Bouloz and some companions. The Genevese had before this time begun to enjoy pleasure excursions on this mountain. This excursion was perhaps for De Pernot one of those parties of pleasure to which some mystery is attached. He walked with the Genevese maiden; they chatted and laughed as they came down the mountain, and, as Racine says:— Ils suivaient du plaisir la pente trop aisee.
Now, in the midst of this gaiety and these pretty trifling speeches, there was, said Pernot to the consistory, some talk about marriage. Moreover, he added, they arrived at Collonges-sous-Saleve, Claudine had drunk with him ‘to their marriage, in the presence of credible witnesses.’ But Claudine denied it altogether. She drank, she owned, but agreed to nothing else, because she had not the permission of her parents. Thus then, a dispute about a promise made on the mountain and at the inn was one of the subjects to which the grave Calvin had to give his attention. There were other questions of more importance. Domestic disagreements, altercations, duels, games of chance, above all licentious conduct, were frequently brought before the consistory; but such cases gradually diminished in number. f180 The consistory had besides much to do with Roman Catholicism, which was of too long standing in the episcopal city to be expelled from it at a single stroke. Now, hostility to Rome was at this time general. It prevailed in the ministers and their friends by reason of their attachment to the Holy Scriptures, which condemned the system of the papacy. It prevailed in the other citizens by reason of the conviction which possessed them that Protestantism alone could maintain their independence. It influenced the French refugees who, having escaped from prison, and from the death to which their brethren were still exposed, felt their hearts stirred with indignation at the sight of Roman Catholicism, the source of these hateful persecutions. Further, many persons were cited before the consistory on suspicion of being Romanists. These people were not very courageous; in their own church they were placed under a regime of fear; and a soul that is led by fear is always the weaker. On March 30, 1542, Dame Jeanne Peterman appeared before the consistory. She was unwilling to abjure her faith, but she endeavored to confess it as faintly as possible, and even had recourse to stratagem to avoid making an avowals of what she believed.
She made a well-tangled skein, and endeavored thereby to entangle the members of the consistory. They wanted to clear up the matter, and she tried to darken it. ‘You have not received the holy supper,’ they said to her, ‘and you go to mass; what is your faith?’ ‘I believe in God,’ she said, ‘and wish to live in God and holy church. I say my Pater Noster in the Roman tongue, and I believe just as the church believes.’ ‘What do you mean by that?’ ‘That I do not believe except just as the church believes.’ ‘Is there no church in this town?’ ‘I do not know.’ ‘Are not the sacraments of our Lord administered here?’ ‘I believe in the holy supper, as God said, This is my body .’ ‘Why are you not content with supper administered in this town, but go elsewhere?’ ‘I go where I please; our Lord will not come here in full array, but where his word is there is his body. He said that there would come ravening wolves.’ After Calvin had given her an admonition according to the Word of God, she said that on the previous Sunday a German, a very respectable man, asked her how she prayed, and that she had replied, ‘You do not find people here saying to the Virgin Mary, Pray for us.’ She did not on this occasion add that she herself invoked her. As she often said, ‘I believe in God,’ which deists themselves might have said, she was asked, ‘What then is your faith toward God?’ She replied, ‘The preachers ought to know better than I do about God. I am not a learned person like you. There is no other God for me but God.’ She was pressed more closely. ‘In what way will you take the holy supper?’ ‘I do not mean to be either an idolater or an hypocrite.
The Virgin Mary is my advocate. The Virgin is a friend of God, daughter and mother of Jesus Christ. I do not know about the church.’ By this she doubtless meant that she would not enter into controversy on this subject. ‘I do not know,’ she added, ‘whether the faith of others is right. Our lady is a good woman, and I wish to live in the faith of holy church .’ Thus the poor woman hardly got further than the Virgin and the church . This was a long way. It appears that it was the president-syndic and not Calvin who had pressed her, for she ended by saying, ‘The lord syndic is a heretic, and I do not wish to be one.’ The pastors said to her, ‘There is only one mediator, Jesus Christ; as for the saints, male or female, let people do as they will.’ The consistory required that the poor woman should be corrected in an evangelical manner, in order that she might not go to other places to worship idols; ‘that remonstrance should be made, and that she should go daily to sermon.’ Again, appearing before them on the following Thursday, she spoke with more decision. ‘I cannot receive the supper,’ she said; ‘I have taken it and will take it elsewhere, until the Lord touch my heart.’ Thereupon she was declared to be out of the church . ‘In my time,’ she said, ‘the Jews have been driven out of this town, and a time will come when the Jews will be all over the town.’ If the prediction has not been fulfilled with respect to the Jews, those who adhere to the faith of this woman are now very numerous there; and, perhaps, this is what at bottom she meant to predict. f181 Matters of the same kind as that which we have just indicated, and others, such as extravagance in dress, licentious or irreligious songs, improprieties during divine service, usury, frequenting of taverns and gaming houses, f181a drunkenness, debauchery, and other like offences were frequently brought before the consistory. It had nothing to do, or only indirectly, with political events, or even with measures for the suppression of the libertine party, for this was effected by judicial methods, and the consistory was not called upon to take cognizance of such matters. There is not a word about the trial of Servetus in 1543; the consistory had nothing to do with that proceeding. The only allusion that we find to it does not occur till a month after that odious act, November 23, 1543. On that day a woman, accused of frequenting a certain house, replied that she had only been there twice, the day after the supper ‘and the day the heretic was burnt.’ The name of Servetus is not even mentioned. In this circumstance there is, perhaps, a hint for those who look upon Calvin as the principal offender in the death of the unfortunate Servetus. Assuredly he was blameworthy, and his whole age with him. f182 If the consistory proceeded with severity against immorality and licentiousness, its activity was no less conspicuous in a charitable direction, and one favorable to the public liberties. It did not forget that it was bound to protect the little ones who were oppressed, and all those who were in any misfortune. Calvin recalled the saying of Jesus Christ about those of his people who are brought low, and said, ‘If their insignificance give occasion to the world to fall upon them, they ought to know that God does not despise them. It would be a thing too absurd for a mortal to make no account of those who are so precious in the sight of God. The consistory used its influence with the council on behalf of reforms which were for the advantage of the people. It demanded a reduction in the price of wheat, improvement of prison discipline, and restriction of imprisonment for debt. It censured fathers who were too severe with their children, and creditors who were too exacting with their debtors. It was severe against those who held a monopoly, and against forestallers of food. It urged moderation in the citations made before the consistory, and desired that they should be confined to scandalous cases.
Men have been heard at various periods, even men of the humblest class, lifting up their voices against Calvin and his consistory without any suspicion that they were insulting their own friends and benefactors. Was not the suppression of drunkenness, of immorality, of gaming-houses, of quarrelling, and other evils of the like kind a benefit, and a very great benefit to the people? One who has set forth in the most accurate and impartial manner the proceedings of the consistory has said, ‘We must not, indeed, expect absolute impartiality nor abundance of good nature in the face of the resistance which was offered to the consistory; nevertheless, the facts speak, and are all in favor of the reformers.’ F184a The realization of the plan formed by Calvin, the moral and religious restoration of Geneva, called for great efforts on his part, and exposed him to much opposition, many affronts and contemptuous speeches which were flung in his teeth. He bore it all without cherishing resentment. This man, whose name was familiar throughout Christendom, the leader who could cope with Rome, the great teacher whose letters kings received with reverence, when called by a fish-wife, in the presence of his colleagues, ‘a tavern-haunter,’ took it with admirable patience. Wrongs done against the persons of the pastors were treated by the consistory with greater lenity than opposition to evangelical doctrine, invocation of the devil, or invocation of the Virgin and the saints. Calvin, admitting that outward appearance has its value in the policy of the world, but holding that it ought not to be considered in the spiritual kingdom of Christ,’ held the balance true between a working man and a member of the most honorable families. Sons of the latter were more than once reprimanded and punished, even though the father was friendly to the Reformation. Hence troubles frequently arose, although the fathers continued faithful to the established order. In the midst of these agitations Calvin remained calm.
He wrote to Myconius,’ It was in my power, when I came here, to triumph over my enemies, and to attack at full sail the party which done me wrong; but I have abstained. I have also most carefully avoided all kinds of reproach, lest in uttering a word, however innocent, I should seem to intend to persecute the one or the other.’ f185 The knowledge which he gained during his first residence at Geneva, and the reflections which had occupied his mind during the three years of his exile, been profitable to the reformer; his wisdom and his meekness had been ripened by experience.
Calvin and Viret had resolved to use their utmost efforts to procure peace; ‘for,’ said the former, ‘it is necessary not only that we abstain from debate, but that we take great pains to put an end to dissension among others, removing every occasion of hatred and rancor.’ He was well acquainted with the state of men’s minds in Geneva, and likewise with the sentiments of his colleagues. ‘There are some of them,’ he wrote to Myconius, ‘who are no friends of mine, and others who are openly hostile; but I take all the pains I can to prevent the spirit of discord from creeping in amongst us. We have in the town a seed of intestine discord, but we strive by our patience and gentleness to prevent the church suffering from it. Everyone knows, by experience, the humane and amiable disposition of Viret. I am not more severe than he is, at least in this respect. Perhaps you will hardly believe this, but for all that it is true. I value so highly general peace and a cordial union that I do violence to myself; so that even those who are opposed to us are obliged to give me this praise. This is so well known that day after day men who were previously my avowed enemies are becoming my friends. I conciliate others by my courtesy, and in some measure succeed, although not on all occasions.’
The opponents of Calvin in his own time were not the only ones to do justice to him; those likewise whom he has had in later times have done the same. ‘This kindly and conciliatory conduct of Calvin after his return,’ one of these has said, ‘is one of the most beautiful pages of his history.’ It is impossible not to value this testimony; but is it fair to add that it would have been more meritorious if Calvin had had less consciousness of it, and that what he wrote to his friends on the subject often leaves on the mind of the reader an unpleasant impression? We must, in the first place, remark that, in attributing patience and gentleness to himself, Calvin is not speaking exclusively of himself. He says we , which includes, at least, Viret. Next, we must note that he was bound to give an accurate account of the state of things to the friends who had done everything to promote his return to Geneva. And, lastly, that if Calvin is to be condemned for this communication, we shall have to condemn likewise (which no one will do) Christians more perfect than he was; St. Paul, for instance, who said, ‘Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.
In Calvin gentleness was combined with strength. He understood the difficulties of his task, and devoted himself to it with great seriousness and indefatigable zeal. He had now to set in motion the chariot which he had taken so much pains to construct. He had to teach each man his duty, to restore the public worship, to attend to the young, the poor and the sick, to do the work of peacemaker, of consoler, and of reformer. It was to him that recourse was had about everything, sometimes even about affairs of the state. He had not two consecutive hours, he says, free from interruption. ‘You cannot believe,’ he wrote to Bucer,’ in what a whirlwind and confusion I am writing to you. In this place I am entangled in such a multitude of affairs that I am almost beside myself.’ And to Myconius he said, ‘During the first month of my ministry I was so overwhelmed with painful and distressing labors that I was well-nigh exhausted. How difficult and wearisome is the task of reconstructing a fallen building!’ f191 Calvin consequently felt the need of assistants who would earnestly cooperate with him. He endeavored to retain Viret at Geneva. ‘With Viret,’ he said, ‘I can bear the burden tolerably well; but if he is taken from me I shall be in a more deplorable position than I can say.’ Viret was, however, obliged to resume his duties at Lausanne in July 1542. The Ordinances had provided that there should be at Geneva five ministers and three coadjutors, the latter also to be ministers. Now, on his arrival Calvin had found, in addition to Viret and Bernard, Henri de le Mare and Aime Champereau, the last elected in 1540. But these ministers were ‘rather an obstacle than an aid.’ He found them too rough, full of themselves, having no zeal and still less knowledge, and, further, ill-disposed towards himself. ‘ I endure them,’ he adds; ‘I behave myself towards them with kindliness.
I might have dismissed them on my arrival, but I preferred to act with moderation.’ Here again, we find Calvin steadily adhering to a line of conduct which does him honor. This same year, 1542, four new pastors were appointed for the church of Geneva: Pierre Blanchet, who showed himself apt to teach; Matthias de Geneston, who successfully delivered his first sermon. ‘The fourth sermon,’ wrote Calvin to Viret, ‘surpassed all my expectations. The other two pastors were Louis Treppereau and Philippe Ozias, surnamed de Ecclesia. Of one of these Calvin said ‘that he had given a specimen of his ability, such as he had expected from him;’ whether good or bad he does not inform us. In 1544 Geneva had twelve pastors, but six of them were serving in the country churches. The best known of these new ministers was Nicolas des Gallars, seigneur de Saules, near Paris, whom Calvin highly esteemed, and who afterwards filled an important position in the French reformation, at Poissy, at Paris, and at La Rochelle. Some unfrocked monks arrived at Geneva expecting to find there, in addition to the liberty of not being Romanists, that of not being Christians; but Calvin distrusted people of this sort. There were some pastors whom it was necessary to dismiss, either because they were indolent in their work, or because they were extravagant in their preaching, or because they did not conduct themselves becomingly. f193 In addition to the labors and the anxieties of his public office Calvin had some personal sorrows to bear.
A heavy trial which fell upon him in the month of June 1542, was at the same time a precious seal set on his ministry by God. The first magistrate of the republic was Ami Porral, one of those citizens who had labored with the utmost earnestness to secure the independence of Geneva and its union with Switzerland. He had a cultivated mind, and had written a book on the history of Geneva, for which the Council expressed to him its acknowledgments. Among the old Huguenots no one had more joyfully received the reformation and the reformer. In the spring time he fell ill. No sooner had Calvin heard of it than he hastened to his house, in company with Viret. ‘I am in danger,’ said the first syndic; ‘the malady from which I suffer has been fatal in my family.’ These three excellent men then had a long conversation together on various subjects, Porral speaking with as much facility as if his health had been sound. His sufferings increased during the two days which followed; but his understanding seemed more lively than formerly, and his speech more fluent. A great number of the citizens of Geneva came to see him; and to each of these he gave a serious exhortation, which was no idle babbling, but was discreetly adapted to the special circumstances of each individual. For three days he appeared to be recovering, but on the fourth day his illness increased, and danger was imminent. Nevertheless, the more he suffered in body the more full was his mind of animation and life. It was he who had censured De la Mare for the strange expressions which we have already noticed. Bernard had taken the part of his colleague, and the result was a coolness between the syndic and the two ministers. Porral now sent for them, and a reconciliation was made after he had seriously admonished them. On the day which proved to be his last, Calvin and Viret arrived at his house at nine o’clock in the morning. The pious reformer, fearing lest he should fatigue his friend if he made a long address, simply set before the dying man the cross of Jesus Christ, his grace and the hope of everlasting life . ‘I receive the messenger whom God sends to me,’ said Porral, ‘and I know the power of Christ to strengthen the conscience of true believers.’
Then he bore witness to the work of the ministry as a means of grace, and to the benefits which flow from it, ‘in so luminous a manner,’ says Calvin, ‘that we were both of us astonished, and, I might almost say, in a state of stupor.’ Porral had experienced it. He said, in drawing to a close, ‘I declare that I receive the remission of sins which you announce in the name of Jesus Christ, as though an angel from heaven appeared to proclaim it to me.’ Then he commended, ‘in a marvelous manner,’ the unity which makes one single body of all the true members of the church. He was pained at the recollection of former differences, and, turning to several friends who were at this moment standing by him, he implored them to be of one mind with Calvin and Viret. ‘I have myself,’ said he, ‘been too obstinate in certain matters; but my eyes have been opened, and I see now what mischief may come of disagreement.’
He afterwards made a confession of his faith, short but sincere, serious and clear. Then, turning to Calvin and Viret, Porral exhorted them to perseverance and steadfastness in the work of the ministry. He set forth the difficulties which they would encounter. One might have called him a prophet unveiling the future, he spoke with admirable wisdom of things which concerned the public good. ‘You must continue to put forth your utmost efforts,’ he said to those who surrounded him, ‘for the purpose of reconciling Geneva with her allies.’ The contest with Berne was especially dwelt upon. ‘Although some blustering fellows may cry out very loudly,’ said he, ‘fear not, and be not discouraged.’ After a few more words Calvin prayed, and then departed with Viret.
Idelette, informed of Porral’s danger, came in the afternoon. ‘Whatever may befall,’ the Christian syndic said to her, ‘be of good courage; remember that you did not come here by chance, but that you were conducted hither by the wonderful counsel of God, in order that you might be of service in the work of the church.’ A little while after he made a sign that his voice failed him. However, he made known that he perfectly recollected the confession which he had made, and added that in this faith he died.
Having recovered a little strength, he pronounced with faith, but with a feeble voice, the song of Simeon. ‘Lord,’ said he, ‘now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy Word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.’ He added, ‘I have seen, I have touched with my hand that merciful redeemer who saves me.’ He then lay down to rest, as if to wait for the Lord; and after that he spoke no more, only showing from time to time, by some sign, that his spirit was present.
At four o’clock, Calvin came with the other three syndics, Porral’s colleagues. The dying man made an effort to speak to them, but could not.
Calvin, affected, began to speak himself, ‘and spoke,’ says he, ‘as well as he could, his friend listening to him in perfect peace. Hardly had we left him, before he gave up his pious soul to Jesus Christ. He had been entirely renewed in his mind.’ f197 This death clearly shows that Calvin’s work was not merely to establish order in the church and to prescribe for all a moral life. He was the instrument of still greater good. Porral had found Jesus Christ, perhaps in his latter days; he had become a new creature; he called upon God as his Father; he was in possession of that peace which passeth all understanding, and had the hope of eternal life. Calvin was not the teacher of a scholastic theology; he was the minister of a living Christianity, and none are his true disciples but those in whom the Christian life exists.
No sooner had Porral passed away than Calvin was threatened with a greater affliction still. Idelette, who regarded the first syndic as her husband’s protector, seems to have been deeply affected by his death. At the beginning of July she was ill and prematurely gave birth to a child. Her life was in danger, and Calvin feared that the loss of his friend might be followed by that of the faithful companion of his life. To Viret, then at Lausanne, he wrote, ‘I am in very great anxiety.’ But God preserved to him this precious helper for some years more.
In the midst of his griefs, Calvin had great consolations. The Christian work was prospering. He was not easy to satisfy; and yet, as early as November 1541, he wrote to Farel—‘The people are quite disposed to conform to our wishes. The preaching is well attended, the hearers behave well. Many things, it is true, have to be set right, both with respect to the understanding and with respect to the affections, but the cure can only be effected by degrees.’ In March 1542, he wrote to Myconius—‘What consoles and refreshes me is the fact that we are not laboring in vain or without fruit. Fruit, indeed, is not so abundant as we might desire; nevertheless, it is not so very rare, and there are tokens of a change for the better. A fairer future shines before us, if only Viret be left us.’ f199 Thus the action of the reformer, of his friends and of the institutions which he had established, under the blessing of God, gradually wrought a change in this Genevese population, so passionate, so full of excitement, and so much addicted to pleasure. A real religious life developed itself in many individuals, and its influence was general.
Luxury diminished; simplicity, morality, and the other virtues, which are the fruit of faith, increased. There still remained, indeed, some evil; enmity and discord frequently sprung up, sometimes among the people in general, sometimes in families; but there was also much that was good. Calvin believed ‘that we ought to adopt a way of living so regulated that it should make us beloved of all, while at the same time we should be prepared to incur hatred for the love of Christ;’ and further ‘that we are bound to take pains to settle the differences which exist among others.’ Occupation of this sort did not fail him, and he was frequently successful. Calvin’s manner of proceeding has been so much misrepresented that it is necessary to give some examples of it in order to re-establish the truth. We shall have brought before us at the same time a scene characteristic of the period.
Françoise, mother of the noble Pierre Tissot, treasurer of the republic, was a woman of irritable and intractable temper. Her bad disposition was the occasion of trouble in the family, and made herself unhappy. The fact was the more to be regretted because it concerned a family of high standing, so that any dissension prevailing in it was the worse example. It was resolved that an attempt should be made to effect a reconciliation between the mother, her son, and her daughter-in-law, Louise.
The task was entrusted to Calvin and the syndic Chiccand. They summoned the treasurer before them. ‘Your mother,’ they said, ‘is annoyed with you and your wife.’ ‘I give honor and reverence to my mother,’ replied the treasurer, as ‘God commands.’ The mother having made her appearance in the hall of the consistory, Tissot, who desired to maintain a decorous and honorable deportment, approached and saluted her, and wished her ‘Good-day’; but she replied passionately—‘Keep your “good-days” to yourself, and the devil fill your belly with them!’
Thereupon Tissot said to the consistory—‘I make my mother a larger allowance than my father fixed for her, and it is regularly paid her. If my mother does not like the wheat which I send her I give her money to buy other. I furnish her with wine, the best that is to be had. She has but lately asked me for eight ecus for her servant. I paid the apothecary and the physicians the expenses of her recent illness. My wife during that time visited her, but my mother refused to eat the soups which she prepared for her. With regard to my brother Jean,’ continued the treasurer, ‘I have used all the means which appeared to me likely to bring him back to an honorable life, but without effect; he is a profligate.’
Francoise was not slow to reply. ‘My allowance has not been paid the last year, as the treasurer alleges. His wife never brought me broth in my illness, nor did he ever give me any of his wine, except two bossots, which I cannot drink.’ ‘I gave her good wine,’ said the treasurer, ‘but she put it into a vessel not fit to keep it in. Mother,’ said he, turning to her. ‘I am not thy mother,’ bluntly replied Françoise.
The consistory, then, through the medium of Calvin, who had been charged with the duty, addressed to them remonstrances and warnings (Commonitions ). ‘Lay aside,’ said the reformer, ‘all hatred and rancor for all bygone time to the present day. Live together in true peace and love, as son and mother ought, and let anything that is due to the said Françoise be paid to her. ‘I am ready,’ said the treasurer, ‘to pay her what shall be quite sufficient for her, the utmost that I can, and more than before.’ Then, speaking to Françoise, ‘Mercy, mother, for God’s love, and let bygones be bygones.’ ‘But,’ says the Register, ‘Françoise would do nothing of the sort.’ This woman seemed to have a heart of flint. Her look, her manner, and her words showed this. The consistory, vexed at her obstinacy, requested her to appear again the following week, asked her to reflect on the business and to attend the sermons, and directed that fitting remonstrance should be made with her. At this moment, whether Calvin’s words made some impression on her, or whether she became conscious of her fault and a better spirit was given her from on high, or probably from all these causes combined, Françoise was softened and affected. ‘The mountains melted like wax at the presence of the Lord.’ ‘Ah, well,’ she said, ‘I am going to forgive them for the love of God and the seignory. I forgive my son all the faults he has committed against me, and I forgive also my daughter-in-law.’ The latter, who was perfectly innocent, and had done all that she could for her mother-in-law, then said, ‘I am not the cause of the quarrel. When my mother was ill I went to be of service to her, as the neighbors know. When I knew that she was in want of anything I used to give it her. It is no fault of mine that we are not all friends with one another.’ So the matter ended. The poor Françoise was particularly sharp, exacting, and irritable, but the same time open to conciliation. The restoration of goodwill between parties who were at variance was, it is evident, one of Calvin’s duties. ‘While we preserve peace,’ said he, ‘the God of peace counts us as his children.’ f200 The institution of the consistory and the beginning of its activity mark the epoch at which the reformation of Geneva may be considered to be accomplished. At the same time it is the work which is characteristic of Calvin. To form a people it is not enough collect a vast assembly of men; they must be governed by the same spirit, the same constitution, and the same laws. A multitude of soldiers levied in a whole country is not yet an army; they must form a single body, must be subjected to the same discipline, and must obey the same general. Here are two distinct operations: in the first place, the creation of the elements; next, their organization. We can hardly fail to acknowledge that God had given to Luther the qualifications needed for beginning the work, and to Calvin those which were required for completing it. Each of these undertakings was not only suited their individual characters, but was likewise in accordance with the spirit of the two races of men to which they belonged.
One of these races takes an enterprise in hand with energy, and the other carries it out perfection. These are the flags of the two leaders.
Luther had not been the only man of action, although he was such in the broadest and loftiest acceptation. What he had been in Germany, Zwinglius had at the same time been in German Switzerland, and Farel somewhat later in the French districts. Later still, Knox and others were the same in their countries. Energetic men, fearless and blameless knights of the spiritual realm, they assailed courageously the stronghold of the enemy, and made noble conquests. At the sight of the deplorable condition to which Rome had reduced Christendom, of the licentiousness and the dissensions of popes, bishops, monks, and councils, they had cried aloud.
This cry had been heard by a great multitude of men, who were sleeping at the time, and it had created immense excitement in all Christian lands.
Starting out of a sleep of several centuries, they had rushed to arms from all quarters. The wise and the good had laid hold of the Bible; but sometimes fanatical peasants had laid hold of the scythe. Philosophers had devised erroneous systems; and libertines had given themselves up to immoral imaginations. There was a great tumult in Christendom and immense confusion.
Then it was that Calvin appeared. Calm in the midst of violent excitement, strong in the midst of fatal weakness, he did not confine his attention to the little city in which he had been twice settled. He went bravely forward over a burning soil, the shot hissing right and left of him; he stretched out his hand to Christendom. Raising his eyes to his Chief, who was in heaven, he besought his aid; and for the purpose of influencing men he took into his hands the sovereign Word of God. Commander of the armies of the Lord, if we may so speak, nothing disturbed the serenity, the security, or the majesty of his aspect. Called to introduce order in the midst of great confusion, his penetrating glance was turned to the conflict in which the combatants were engaged hand to hand. He distinguished in the crowd who were friends and who were foes. He saw who ought to be repulsed and who ought to be encouraged. He understood that he had to contend not only with Rome, which was making open war on the Gospel, but also with those perfidious adversaries who insinuated themselves into the ranks of the evangelicals, and under shelter of their colors promulgated deadly errors, and even overthrew the counsel of God from its foundation.
He did more. Those who were fighting for the same cause as himself gave him hardly less trouble. It was necessary to prevent their firing madly at one another, to make peace between their divided chiefs, to establish order and to promote unity. Above all it was necessary to baffle and repulse with a face of brass the crafty and powerful enemy, Jesuitism, which was mustering against him all the forces of the papacy. After the great Luther, the bold Zwinglius, and the indefatigable Farel, there was need of a man who should temper and restrain the minds of men, who should demand and get, not the factitious unity of Rome, but the spiritual and true unity of the people of God, and whose forehead, ‘as an adamant, harder than flint,’ should repulse and disperse Rome and her army. The first three champions whom we have just named carried the sword. Calvin, humble, poor, and of mean appearance, held in one hand a balance, and in the other a scepter; and if the first three were the heroes of the Reformation, if Luther was, under God, its great founder, Calvin seems to have been its lawgiver and its king.
The vessel of reform, indeed, had been energetically launched by Luther; but there soon appeared on her decks, from Italy, Spain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Poland, men of acute and cavilling spirit, of restless disposition, who, by their agitations and their disputations, might cause the ship to capsize; while at the same time a well-armed and wellappointed galley, under Roman colors, running at full speed with oars and sails, struck the vessel with its beak-head, intending to sink her in the deep. What errors and what dangers were threatening! But God delivered the reformation from them, and no man contributed more to this deliverance than Calvin did. A skilful and trustworthy pilot, he saved the ship. He had, doubtless, some formidable conflicts with those proud spirits; but the truth won the day. He provoked in the Roman camp spite and hate against himself which have never been quelled. But evangelical truth has held its ground, and is at this day making the conquest of the world. When a healthful wind blows over a sickly land, and drives away the poisonous exhalations, there will sometimes be seen, it is true, after the passage of the wind, some shattered branches strown here and there upon the ground; but the air has been purified and life restored to the people.
It is generally imagined that the doctrines of Calvin were of an extreme and intolerant character; but, in fact, they were moderate, mediating, and conciliatory. He took a position between two extremes, and established the truth. Of all the teachers of the Reformation, Zwinglius is the one who pushed furthest the doctrine of election; for, in his view, election is the cause of salvation, while faith is nothing more than its sign. Calvin, in opposition to Zwinglius, places the cause of salvation in the faith of the heart. He teaches that ‘the will of man must be aroused to seek after the good and to surrender itself to it;’ and, as we have already seen, he declares that those who ‘to be assured of their election enter into the eternal counsel of God plunge into a deadly abyss.’ But if Zwinglius was at one extreme, the semi-Pelagians, some of whom were outside the pale of Rome, were at the other, and attributed to the natural will an importance in the work of salvation which enfeebled the grace of God. Calvin opposes their error, and says ‘that man is not impelled of his own good pleasure to seek Jesus Christ until he has been sought by him.’ And he teaches, as Augustine did, that God begins his work in us, places it in the will of man, and, like a good rider, guides it at a proper pace, urges it on when it is too backward, holds it back when it is too eager, and checks it if too much given to skirmishing. Nowhere does the mediating character of Calvin appear more distinctly than in his view of the Lord’s Supper. We have seen this, and it is needless to repeat it. We refrain likewise from giving other instances which forcibly exhibit the mediating, moderating, conciliatory character of Calvin. f204 If Calvin was everywhere to be found, at least by his influence, at the head of the armies which contended with Rome, he was also to be found everywhere preaching the brotherhood and the unity of all evangelical Christians. He was united in the closest friendship with Farel, minister at Neuchatel, and with Viret, minister at Lausanne; and he wrote to them, ‘By our union the children of God are gathered into one flock of Jesus Christ, and are even united in his body.’ He soon endeavored to draw into this union, into this body, not only the churches of Reformed France, but also those of German Switzerland, of Germany, the Netherlands, England, and other countries. The aim of his life and his chief desire was to see all of them included in one great network of unity. ‘For this end,’ said he with heroic energy, ‘I should not shrink from crossing ten seas, if that were needful.’ He succeeded, at least in the most important part of his aim; for if it was not possible to establish an external unity between the various churches, which was not his object, there is at this time an internal, spiritual unity between all those who love Jesus Christ and keep his word.
In the procession of the ages there is one epoch which reminds us of the moment when the sun rises and pours out his rays over the earth to guide men in their goings. It is that epoch at which the day-star from on high , Jesus Christ, the light of the world, appeared, and left behind him in his Word a luminary intended to shed light and life into the minds of men; but the natural darkness of man’s heart easily rises around and obscures it, even if it cannot wholly extinguish it. Since that time there have been other epochs of secondary importance, in which God has rekindled the waning light of heavenly doctrine, and has restored its pristine brightness for the salvation of the world. Of these secondary epochs the Reformation is that which has exerted the most powerful and most lasting influence in enlightening and in converting men, and in giving to man and the world a new life and new activity. No man had a greater share in this than Calvin; not, indeed, in the first impulse; that was Luther’s alone; but in the happy influence which it has had on human society in the two great spheres of spiritual and temporal things. To convince ourselves of this, nothing more is necessary than to glance at those countries in which this influence of the great reformer prevails, and which generally present a contrast to those in which the pope has prevailed. We know how many enemies Calvin had, and we confess that there were shadows in his life, as there are in the life of every human being; but we have an immovable conviction that the truths which he announced with incomparable purity and force are the mightiest remedy for the decay of the individual and the nation, and that they alone can communicate to a people the light and the life adapted to raise them from their weakness and to strengthen their steps in the paths of justice, liberty, and moral greatness.