Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 14: Isaiah, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
NICOLAS DES GALLARS
TO THE READERS
Though in collecting these Commentaries I was astonished, first, at the labor and difficulty, and next at the various opinions of men, yet I thought, Christian Readers, that I must not refuse to labor or shrink from anything, provided that I can be of any service. With respect to the difficulties, I quickly surmounted them, through the clear method of instruction which the Author has been accustomed to employ, as may be seen in his writings, but still more in his speaking. And if some obscure passages, of which there are many in that Prophet, made me pause, it was not because I had not the benefit of his judgment and advice in clearly explaining and revising the whole; for, in consequence of the familiar and daily intercourse which I had with him, those intricacies which might have retarded or perplexed me were easily disentangled and removed. Besides, at any hour when one could go by stealth, that is, when he had any relaxation from the weighty affairs which almost overwhelmed him, I read to him all that I had written, in order that, if he could not closely examine the whole, he might at least add, or take away, or give me directions, as far as was necessary. All this he did carefully, though hardly ever did I read to him two or three verses when he was not immediately called away, either by persons who wanted his advice, or by his friends. Yet reviewing these things with all the fidelity and diligence that I could, I still returned, and frequently put questions to him.
As to my labor, it was partly relieved by some expository remarks which I had collected from his own mouth, while he was preaching; for it is now four years and more since he explained that Prophet to us, in a highly profitable manner, in public Discourses, before giving us the interpretation in the school. At that time, recording not only the faithful exhortations which relate to the correction of vices, to the condition of that age, and to the restoration of the purity of doctrine and of the Church, but also the exact interpretations on which he dwelt largely, in order to draw from them a solid doctrine to be applied to the use of the people, when I returned to the house, I wrote them down in Latin, so far as I remembered and had leisure. That was of great use to me in collecting these Commentaries; not that I put into them everything that I then wrote, or in the same order and method, but so far as I already understood the sentiments, and had been habituated, by some practice, to that mode of interpretation, I had not so much trouble as if I had come quite raw and ill-prepared to that way of writing.
So far as relates to the judgments of men, who must have very various opinions about this labor of mine, I soon foresaw that there would be many of them who would take no great pleasure in that which cost me pain, because they would have preferred to have this written by the Author himself instead of being collected and arranged by me. And indeed I am very much of their opinion; for the whole would have been sent forth by him in a more complete and finished state. But as he was employed in preparing other works, the advantage of which is so evident that it is unnecessary for me to proclaim it; and as he was harassed by so much business that he scarcely had leisure to read, it would hardly have been possible for him to put his hand to that work.
Accordingly, having been for a long time attached to that Prophet, and wishing clearer expositions of many passages, and now enjoying them, I thought that I would do what was good and profitable, if, while I promoted my own benefit, I had regard also to others whose desire might not be less than mine, and whose minds, even supposing that they had not so strong a desire, might be aroused by reading this Commentary, and might receive from it an increase of knowledge. In order, therefore, that you, believing Reader, might enjoy along with me the explanation of that Prophet, I suddenly undertook this labor, lest if we waited longer for these Commentaries, they might be taken from us by some injury or calamity in these wretched times. For we see every day what snares are laid by Satan for the Church, which is newly born, and for her faithful teachers. We meet with treachery in some, from whom we had expected better things; in others we find fickleness and lightness, and others are blinded by the glimmering of this age. There are very few of them who, in defense of the kingdom of Christ, oppose the tyrannical laws of Antichrist.
Let us therefore welcome those who, through the unspeakable mercy of God, are left to us; or rather let us welcome the gifts which God has given them, that hereafter, as far as we shall have opportunity, we may provide for the Church. While we can enjoy their doctrine, let us seize it eagerly as the armor fitted for repelling our enemies; for there is great reason to believe that the Lord will take vengeance on the malice of men by such punishments as they deserve, and will deprive us of the excellent gifts with which in the present day he has adorned his Church. Many have great gifts of tongues, while others excel in interpretations, and undoubtedly they have strong claims on our attention; but this gift of prophecy, which surpasses all others, and to which we ought to be especially devoted, is generally despised. Hence it arises that many persons are more addicted to ostentation than eager to promote the salvation of the Church, and take more pleasure in vaunting before the people than in edifying the Church of Christ. St. Paul, already perceiving in his time that imminent danger, said,
“Desire to pursue spiritual gifts, but still more that you may prophesy.”
For in the Christian Church the most important point, and that which we ought above all things to desire, is that the hidden meanings and divine mysteries of Scripture may be explained to us with some advantage. If that is wanting, the rest must gradually be thrown down, as we have found it to be in past ages, to the great injury of the whole Church.
We must therefore devote ourselves to this gift above all others, for fear of abusing those passages of Scripture which have been turned to a wrong purpose, or of being ourselves guilty of torturing those passages to a meaning which is foreign to them. And especially we must throw ourselves on the doctrine of the prophets; for they who are faithfully employed in them open up a road for easily going higher, and lay a firm and solid foundation for salvation. Now, if that exercise was ever necessary, it is at the present time, when we must make war not only against Papists or Jews, but against dreadful monsters which, concealed under the appearance of men, endeavor to overturn all religion and humanity.
Among all the prophets Isaiah justly holds the chief place, because he gives very clear testimonies concerning Christ, and places before our eyes the state and condition of his Church, that is, of his kingdom, as the reading will alone clearly shew, so that it will be unnecessary for me to make a long preface. He who shall have understood him well will be abundantly prepared for reading the other Prophets. The perusal of these Commentaries will enable you better to understand how well adapted the doctrine of Isaiah is to the present time; and if you are diligent and attentive, I am not afraid that you will think that I have labored in vain.
Yet if you compared this work with the Sermons which the Author preached on that Prophet, you might well exclaim, as Æschines did with regard to Demosthenes, “What would you have thought if you had heard him speak it?” He adjusted his sentences so admirably, touched the hearts of his hearers, explained every thing by familiar and obvious examples, and treated his subjects in so popular a manner, that he seemed actually to place it before their eyes. Very frequently, too, an opportunity presented itself of discoursing on some passage, when it would have been impossible purposely to select out of the whole Scripture a passage better adapted to the place, the persons, and the occasion; so that all were astonished at it, and clearly understood that it had not been directed by the wisdom of a man, but by the Spirit of God; and the advantage which afterwards resulted from it fully verified that conclusion.
If these Sermons can ever be published, (which I should earnestly desire,) you will know these things better, though the truth of what has been said cannot be so clearly perceived by any as by those who have seen them with their eyes. Here you have the substance, however, both of the Sermons and of the Lessons, from which I shall reckon myself to have derived great benefit, if you partake of it as you ought. It was my study, it was the object which I proposed to myself, not to have any favor from men, but to be of advantage to believers; and, so far as my conscience bears me witness, I see not why I ought to dread the judgment of men. I hold it to be certain that they who shall carefully weigh the whole will judge of me with candour; and that, if there be any fault or omission in what I have done, they will cheerfully lay in the balance the benefit which they shall have derived from the work.
Geneva, December 27, l551