Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 13: Isaiah, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
All who take delight in the Holy Scriptures are familiarly acquainted with the writings of The Prophet Isaiah. Every variety of taste finds in them its appropriate gratification. Lofty conceptions, illustrated by splendid imagery, and clothed in language usually copious and flowing, some times abrupt, but always graceful, leave no room for hesitation to pronounce him, with Bishop Lowth, to be “the most sublime and elegant of the Prophets of the Old Testament.” He is regarded with peculiar veneration as an honest, fearless, and able messenger of the Most High God, boldly reproving nobles and monarchs, denouncing the judgments of Heaven against all transgressors, and asserting the claims of the Divine law and government above all human authority. In his Prophecies he takes a wide range, surveys those nations which power or wealth or learning or commerce had raised to the highest celebrity in those remote times, and describes their rise and fall, and wonderful revolutions, so eagerly traced by us in the page of history, as the execution of Jehovah’s counsels, and the arrangements of unerring wisdom. But chiefly does he pour out rich instruction concerning the Messiah, whose life and sufferings, and death and glorious reign, he delineates so faithfully, and with such thrilling interest, that he has obtained the appellation of “The Evangelical Prophet.” To the devout reader there is added a still more powerful attraction in his seraphic piety, which, breathing throughout all his communications, and kindling a holy flame in the hearts of the children of God, attests the important fact, not only that in the visions of God he reached the noblest heights of inspiration, but — which was far more valuable — that he enjoyed habitual and intimate fellowship with The Father of Spirits.
The period during which he exercised the prophetical office is declared, in the inscription of his Prophecies, to have been during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. Beyond this general indication nothing certain can be obtained; for dates were only beginning to attract the notice of civilized nations, and had not yet been examined with such carefulness, or denoted with such precision, as their importance demands. The Translator of “The Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets” (volume 1, page 12) tells us that Isaiah flourished between 810 B.C and 698 B.C. This interval of 112 years leaves a large margin, which chronologers have filled up with considerable diversity of views.
Assuming 763 B.C. to be the year in which the prophetic ministry of Isaiah is believed by some to have commenced, we are led to observe this remarkable coincidence, that about thirteen years earlier began the Grecian or Olympic era, which opens with the First Olympiad; and about ten years later began the Roman Era, which opens with the founding of the city of Rome. This reminds us to glance at the contemporary history of nations unlike in their origin and progress, and in the effects which they produced on the human race. Historians, to whom the name of despised Palestine was scarcely known, have traced the brilliant career of those gigantic empires by which it was overshadowed. While amidst a long list of warriors, and poets, and orators, and statesmen, who were supposed to have achieved a deathless fame, those empires hastened to decay, Isaiah and his brethren the prophets were laying the foundations of the universal dominion and glorious reign of Him who
hath on his vesture, and on his thigh, a name written, King of kings, and Lord of lords. (Re 19:16.)
During the season of highest prosperity, when the literature of Greece and Rome, which even now exerts a powerful influence on modern Europe, enjoyed its most exalted renown, that undisguised heathenism which disowned the government and denied the perfections of the Most High God, presented a humiliating contrast to those noble and affecting views of the Divine nature and attributes and works which prevailed in the land of Jehovah. The difference reminds us of one of the plagues of Egypt; for there was spread over the nations a moral darkness,
a darkness which might be felt, but all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings. (Exod. 10:21, 23.)
Rome was proud of having reduced that favored land to the rank of one of her provinces, and struck medals to represent Judea sitting under a palm-tree bewailing her captivity; but the religion of Judea, instead of being crushed and annihilated, assumed the more lovely aspect of the religion of Jesus, and went forth conquering and to conquer.
Many of our Author’s published Commentaries were nothing else than reports of his public Lectures. Budaeus 1 has explained the manner in which these reports were prepared. The language was extemporaneous, and, had we not known his prodigious command of the Latin tongue, we might have wondered at the elegance with which he spoke on such occasions; but his slow and distinct utterance, as Scaliger assures us, was such as to enable an expert writer to take down the very words which Calvin used. Two or three scribes were usually employed, and a copy, drawn out by a comparison of their manuscripts, was submitted to the perusal of the Lecturer, who, after making, any corrections which appeared to be necessary, attested it as a faithful record of what had been uttered.
This Commentary has come down to us in a still more authentic shape. Not only does the Author assert, in his Dedication to King Edward, which was prefixed to the First Edition, that it had been “faithfully and skillfully compiled from his Lectures,” 2 but in his Dedication to Queen Elizabeth, prefixed to the Second Edition, he pronounces the revision to have been so thorough and laborious, that “it ought justly to be reckoned a new work.” 3 It is highly gratifying to find that, in the exposition of a book so important and extensive as the prophecies of Isaiah, Calvin gave the fruits of his mature judgment, while he was in the full vigor of his age.
Clement Cotton translated this Commentary into English from the French Version, in 1609. His translation, though not altogether suitable to modern taste, is faithful, vigorous, idiomatic, and not inelegant. To this volume is prefixed his Title-page and “Epistle Dedicatorie,” together with a curious “Epigram,” in which a physician of that period expresses his warm admiration of the great Reformer.
In the concluding volume of this Commentary will be given a Literal Translation Of Calvin’s Latin Version, and copious Indices similar to those which have already appeared in the other Commentaries.
Auchterarder, 17th May, 1850.
See Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets —p. xxiv.
See p. xix.
See p. xvi.