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  • HISTORY OF JOHN CALVIN -
    THE REFORMER’S WORK AT GENEVA.


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    THE Ratisbon Conference having been so unsuccessful, and the disorders at Geneva so continuous since the expulsion of the two Reformers, that city began to think that it might be desirable to recall them. Accordingly, three attempts were made to induce Calvin to return; but he hesitated.

    Then private letters were written to him by the citizens, begging him to return.

    In his reply to the Council he wrote, October 23rd, 1540: “I am in singular perplexity; having the desire to meet your wish, and to wrestle with all the grace that God has given me to get her brought back into a better condition.

    On the other hand, I cannot slightingly quit, or lay down lightly, the charge to which the Lord has called me, without being relieved of it by regular and lawful means. For so have I always believed and taught, and to the present moment cannot persuade myself to the contrary, that when our Lord appoints a man as pastor in a church to teach in His Word, he ought to consider himself as engaged to take the government of it, so that he may not lightly withdraw from it, or without the settled testimony in his own heart, and the testimony of the faithful, that the Lord has discharged him.”

    To Viret he wrote: “I could not read one part of your letter without a laugh. It is that in which you exhibit so much care for my prosperity. Shall I then go to Geneva to secure my peace? Why not rather submit to be crucified? It would be better to perish at once than to be tormented to death in that chamber of torture. If you wish indeed my welfare, dear Viret, pray cease from such advice as this.”

    To Farel he wrote: “Who will not pardon me, if I do not again willingly throw myself into a whirlpool which I have found so dangerous?”

    At length Bucer urged upon him that it was his duty to return; and this argument was one likely to prevail with him. It did prevail. Then, in May, 1541, the Council of Geneva revoked the sentence of exile pronounced against the Reformers in 1538.

    On September 13th, 1541, Calvin returned to Geneva, and took up the work which had been interrupted. The Council provided him a house, and voted him a stipend of 500 florins per year, equal to £140. The Reformer lost no time in entering upon his work. Within a few days of his arrival, the citizens were summoned to the cathedral for confession of sin and prayer to God. After this, Calvin set himself to construct for Geneva a form of government that would establish the Reformation on a secure basis. His idea seems to have been a kind of Biblical Republic combining church and state into one organization, very much after the order of things prevailing in the time of Moses. It is important to realize this, as it will explain much of what followed. Writing to Farel on September 16th, 1541, he says of this: “Immediately after I had offered my services to the Senate, I declared that a church could not hold together unless a settled government should be agreed on, such as is prescribed to us in the Word of God, and such as was in use in the ancient church. I requested that they would appoint certain of their number who might confer with us on the subject. Six were then appointed.”

    A draft of the agreed laws of discipline was presented to the Council on September 28th; and its history then is: examination continued to October 27; adopted by the Two Hundred, November 9; accepted by the General Council, November 20; and finally voted by the people on January 2nd, 1542. “It is from that date,” records Bungener, “that the Calvinistic republic legally dates.”

    The church was to be governed by four orders: pastors, doctors, elders, deacons. The pastors were to rule, the doctors to teach, the elders to govern, and the deacons to receive and pay money.

    This authority was vested in a “Consistory,” which was composed of six ministers and twelve elders. The elders were elected annually, and were to be men of good and blameless conduct moved by the fear of God. They were required to take the oath of allegiance to the state and of fidelity to the church. They therefore represented the idea that Geneva was a Church-State. This was Calvin’s high ideal. Their duty was to look after the conduct of every citizen; and their power was to punish every breach of the rules of the state. Its jurisdiction therefore was not only civil, but spiritual. Every church question thus tended to become civil; and every civil question to become ecclesiastical. It was not recognized by Geneva that the two would never unite, so long as human nature remains what it is. This arrangement afterwards caused confusion and resistance.

    The Consistory sat every Thursday to examine charges of misconduct, to administer justice, to punish offenders. Every offense against the church, such as refusal to attend divine service, and especially “heresy,” thus became a civil offense, punishable by the city magistrates.

    These principles of “church-and-state” government were not solely Calvin’s: they were shared by all the pastors at Zurich, Berne, Basle, and Geneva alike. In these ideas they were neither before nor behind their age: but the one thing that has laid Calvin more open to attack is the fact that he defended his position with calm and logical argument. His great fault, if fault it was, was his idea, which, however, he only shared with other Reformers, of building up a spiritual church upon the sandy foundation of an earthly republic; or at least of welding the two into one.

    If it be objected that this was an impossible attempt to rule a city, it may be answered that it was fully voted by the entire population. The condition could only continue so long as the majority wished it. “The more this legislation has been studied,” writes Bungener, “the more is it seen to be in advance of all previous systems of legislation. The form sometimes surprises us a little by its quaint simplicity, but the grandeur of the whole is not the less evident to those who seek it. This was about to manifest itself in the history of the humble nation to whom this legislation was to give so glorious a place in the intellectual as well as in the religious world.”

    The labors of Calvin at this time were great and manifold. In addition to the work of each Lord’s day, he preached on each day of every alternate week. Every week were three expository lectures. Every Thursday he preached in the university, and every Friday gave a public exposition.

    When the plague broke out, he gave his services freely in visiting the sick and dying. His correspondence from every country was immense; nor did he withhold help from any, far or near, who needed what was in his power to give. And there is one marvelous feature about his writings, whether his books or his ordinary letters,—that though they are so numerous, there is not an immature sentence in them all. Every word has its own native depth and ripeness, and is full of real teaching.

    But we have now to trace the rise and continuance of events that were full of bitter strife and sorrow. Galled by the strictness of the city discipline, and rebelling against all constituted authority, a party of men named “Libertines” was formed. These gave much trouble and concern by reason of the disorder they produced. One day, says Bungener, “in the large hall of the cloisters, behind the cathedral, Calvin was giving his usual divinity lecture. Around his chair hundreds were thronging, and amongst them numbers of future preachers and martyrs. Suddenly they heard outside laughter, cries, and a great clamor. It proceeded from fifteen or twenty Libertines, who, out of hatred to Calvin and his teaching, were giving a specimen of their manners, and of what they called liberty.”

    The battle between Geneva and the Libertines lasted nine years. This would not be the place to even hint at the vile immoralities practiced by these deluded people, of both sexes, as the natural fruit of their sentiments. Setting aside all laws, human and divine, they became a law to themselves. One of them, Pierre Ameaux, a maker of playing-cards, was a member of the Two Hundred. His wife was arrested for immoral practices, and imprisoned. He then spoke against the pastors, and was compelled to make a public apology. This was the signal for a general revolt on the part of the Libertines.

    In 1547, one of their number, in heart a papist, Jacques Gruet, fixed a paper on the pulpit of St. Peter’s, full of scurrilous abuse of the ministers, with threats of violence and death. Moreover, he was adjudged to be guilty of treachery to the state, and of blasphemy. He received the sentence of death.

    In December, 1547, the Two Hundred met to discuss the position, and the contention rose so high that the pastors, especially Calvin, were in danger of their lives. In this midst of this tumult, Calvin addressed the Council: “I know that I am the primary cause of these divisions and disturbances. If it is my life you desire, I am ready to die. If it is my banishment you wish, I shall exile myself. If you desire once more to save Geneva without the Gospel, you can try.”

    This challenge produced a sobering effect upon the Council, as it recalled to their minds the former exile of their pastor, and its results. The storm subsided, but only to break out again more fiercely. The Reformer was openly insulted in the streets; dogs were called by his name; and his name was pronounced as if spelt “Cain.”

    It was at this dark hour that his wife was called away from him by death.

    Her last words were: “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 also will hope.”

    We now approach the darkest hour of Geneva. While the Libertines were asserting themselves against all authority, in 1552, a physician named Servetus, who has already been introduced to us on page 43, who had been condemned to death at Vienne, fled to Geneva. The Libertines saw in him the very person they desired to oppose to the Reformer; and the two made common cause against him. Servetus was arrested and imprisoned; how and why is reserved for a chapter to itself, on account of its great importance as affecting Calvin.

    Two men, Perrin and Berthelier, had been debarred from the Lord’s table by the Consistory on account of their evil lives. The latter demanded that his sentence should be annulled; and in the face of a remonstrance from Calvin his demand was granted. Everything therefore now seemed to be against the Reformer and the Reformation.

    The following Lord’s day, September 3rd, was the day appointed for the celebration of the communion; and Calvin, seeing the danger, assembled all the pastors, and proceeded with them to the General Council. With one consent the pastors promised to stand firm to oppose the desecration of the Lord’s table. The council were not to be moved. The Libertines now appeared to be in view of a great victory.

    The eventful morning dawned. The bell invited the people to the church of St. Peter. The Libertines were present, with their swords, determined to communicate. Calvin preached on the intention of the sacred ordinance, and spoke of the state of mind necessary for obedience to the Lord’s command. At the close, he said: “As for me, so long as God shall leave me here, since He hath given me fortitude, and I have received it from Him, I will employ it, whatever betide; and I will guide myself by my Master’s rule, which to me is clear and well known. As we are now about to receive the holy Supper of our Lord Jesus Christ, if anyone who has been debarred by the Consistory shall approach this table, though it should cost my life, I will show myself such as I ought to be.”

    He then left the pulpit, and stood at the table. Removing the white cloth, and covering the bread and wine with his hands, he said, with a voice that rang through the building, “These hands you may crush; these arms you may lop off; my life you may take; my blood is yours, you may shed it but you shall never force me to give holy things to the profane, and dishonor the table of my God.” As if the very power of God prevailed, a calm succeeded, and the Libertines retired; the congregation opening a passage for their retreat. A solemn silence enabled the Reformer to celebrate the sacred ordinance in awe, as if the Lord Himself had been manifestly present.

    The question in the mind of Calvin was not whether he or the Libertines should succeed; but whether the Reformation should be wrecked at the very table of the Lord. He stood firm; and victory remained with him.

    On the evening of the same day Calvin preached again in the same pulpit.

    He chose for his subject the farewell words of Paul to the elders of the church of Ephesus (Acts 20:1). In the full belief that he was preaching his farewell sermon, he spread forth his hands, and “commended them to God and to the word of His grace,” amid the sobs and tears of all present.

    But no sentence of banishment came to him. He was left undisturbed by the Council; for the counsels of men are subject to a Higher power than their own.

    THE LATE MR. SPURGEON’S VISIT TO GENEVA.

    An account of the late Mr. C. H. Spurgeon’s visit to the town of Calvin, which he gave in the course of his address at the first meeting held in the Metropolitan Tabernacle, August 21st, 1860, is so interesting, and so in harmony with this narrative, that we must make room for it here. “At last we came to Geneva. I had received the kindest invitation from our esteemed and excellent brother, Dr. D’Aubigne. He came to meet me at the station, but he missed me. I met a gentleman in the street, and told him I was Mr. Spurgeon. He then said, ‘Come to my house,—the very house where Calvin used to live.’ I went home with him; and after we found Dr. D’Aubigne and Pastor Bard, I was taken to the house of Mr. Lombard, an eminent banker of the city, and a godly and gracious man. I think I never enjoyed a time more than I did with those real true-hearted brethren. There are, you know, two churches there,—the Established and the Free; and there has been some little jealousy, but I think it is all dying away. At any rate, I saw little of it, for brethren from both these churches came, and showed me every kindness and honor. I am not superstitious, but the first time I saw this medal, bearing the venerated likeness of John Calvin, I kissed it, imagining that no one saw the action. I was very greatly surprised when I received this magnificent present, which shall be passed round for your inspection. On the one side is John Calvin with his visage worn by disease and deep thought; and on the other side is a verse fully applicable to him: ‘He endured, as seeing Him who is invisible.’ “This sentence truly describes the character of that glorious man of God. Among all those who have been born of women, there has not risen a greater than John Calvin. No age before him ever produced his equal, and no age afterwards has seen his rival. In theology, he stands alone, shining like a bright fixed star, while other leaders and teachers can only circle round him, at a great distance, with nothing like his glory or his permanence. Calvin’s fame is eternal because of the truth he proclaimed; and even in heaven, although we shall lose the name of the system of doctrine which he taught, it shall be that truth which shall make us strike our golden harps, and sing: ‘Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and His Father; to Him be glory for ever and ever.’ For the essence of Calvinism is that we are born again, ‘not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.’ “I preached in the cathedral of Geneva; and I thought it a great honor to be allowed to stand in the pulpit of John Calvin. I do not think half the people understood me; but they were very glad to see and join in heart with the worship in which they could not join with the understanding. I did not feel very happy when I came out in full canonicals; but the request was put to me in such a beautiful form that I could have worn the pope’s tiara, if by so doing I could have preached the gospel the more freely. They said, ‘Our dear brother comes to us from another country. Now, when an ambassador comes from another land, he has the right to wear his own costume at court; but, as a mark of great esteem, he sometimes condescends to the manners of the people he is visiting, and wears their court dress.’ ‘Well,’ I said, ‘yes, that I will, certainly, if you do not require it, but merely ask it as a token of my Christian love.

    I shall feel like running in a sack, but it will be your fault.’ It was John Calvin’s gown, and that reconciled me to it very much. I do love that man of God; suffering all his life long, enduring not only persecutions from without, but a complication of disorders from within, and yet serving his Master with all his heart. “After the service in the Cathedral, it was arranged for me to meet the ministers. D’Aubigne was there, of course, and Caesar Malan, and most of the noted preachers of Switzerland. We spent a very delightful evening together, talking about our common Lord, and of the progress of His work in England and on the Continent. “It was a peculiar pleasure to me to have the opportunity of visiting that great center of earnest Protestantism, and of meeting so many of the godly and faithful men who had helped to keep the lamp of truth burning brightly. To my dying day I shall remember those servants of Jesus Christ who greeted me in my Master’s Name, and loved me for my Master’s sake.”

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