Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 22: Ezekiel, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
An Interest of no ordinary kind is excited in the mind of the Biblical Student by the mention of ”Calvin’s Lectures On Ezekiel.” The last Work which a great man leaves unfinished, because arrested by the hand of death, becomes at once an heirloom to posterity. After the lapse of nearly three hundred years, we read this affecting sentence with a tear and a sigh: “When this last Lecture was completed, that most illustrious man John Calvin, who had previously been weakened by sickness, then became so much worse that he was compelled to lie on his couch, and could not proceed further in his explanation of Ezekiel: This is the reason why he stopped at the end of the twentieth chapter, and did not complete the work so happily begun.” Afflicted as Calvin was for the last few years of his life, the wonder is that he accomplished so much in preaching, lecturing, and dictating; and although we have still to mourn over so much unfinished, we are filled with astonishment at the labors he achieved.
The vigor of his mind and the stores of his learning are amply displayed in his Commentary On Ezekiel. And that the modern reader may enter fully into those valuable explanations of the text which he will find in the ensuing pages, it will be desirable to furnish him with a slight sketch of the times in which this Prophet lived. We shall then add such critical remarks as may illustrate our Author’s exposition of the Sacred Text.
“Thy sons shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon,” were the ominous words of Isaiah to a king of Judah, and after the lapse of a century they were fulfilled to the letter. Kings, and priests, and nobles, and people were all swept away by the remorseless monarch, and planted here and there along the lenny banks of the river Chebar. There Ezekiel pined in misery among three thousand captives of rank, who, according to Josephus, graced the triumph of Nebuchadnezzar. Either a priest or the son of a priest, (for the sense is doubtful, Eze 1:4,) here he was compelled to linger during twenty-two years of his life, while he was wrapt in prophetic vision, and carried on the wings of the soul to the city of his fathers. Here he tarried in body, while his spirit was at home with the Cherubim within the Temple, among their wings and wheels, and burning movements, and mysterious brightness. Here he often gazed upwards into the firmament above him, and in the clear azure of an eastern sky beheld the sapphire throne, and the appearance of the glory of Jehovah resting majestically upon it! Here he experienced the prophetic inspiration, and was strengthened to proclaim in Jehovah’s Name the mysteries of punishments and desolation. He was permitted to enunciate the great truths of God’s moral government of his ancient ones — to proclaim the eternal connection between obedience and happiness, transgression and ruin. Nor was he alone in his declarations of vengeance against every man “that setteth up his idols in his heart.” When he entered on his office, Jeremiah had completed the thirty-fourth year of his apostleship, and was contemporary with him for at least eight years. Amidst insult, obloquy, and scorn, he proclaimed before the faithless king the coming hosts of the Chaldeans; while Zephaniah was still prophesying in Judaea, and Daniel proclaiming the power of holiness in the land of Babylon.
Ezekiel is remarkably silent as to his personal history, so that we are unable to ascertain his age, at either the commencement or the close of his mission. Josephus supposes him to have been but a youth when hurried from the land of his fathers, but Havernick remarks with justice, that he displays so fully the matured character of a priest in his intimate acquaintance with the details of the Temple service, that he may well be supposed to have attained the age of thirty before his removal. 1 The death of his wife is the only personal event to which he refers, in the ninth year of the Captivity, (Eze 24:18,) and it seems probable that he spent the whole of his remaining life on the banks of the Chebar. He had evidently acquired a commanding influence over his fellow-prisoners, as their elders frequently came to enquire concerning God’s message at his lips. (Ezekiel 8; Ezekiel 19; Ezekiel 20; Ezekiel 23) The traditions respecting his death are various, but as they rest on no solid foundation, they may be permitted to die out in the obscurity of intentional silence.
Before we can enter with satisfaction into any views of the style and interpretation of an ancient author, it is desirable to ascertain the genuineness and authenticity of the writing on which we are about to comment. And as Biblical Criticism has made great pretensions to advancement since the time of Calvin, it becomes necessary for his modern Editor to be in some degree acquainted with its progress, to be prepared to state some definite conclusions for the guidance of less instructed enquirers.
As to the Genuineness Of Ezekiel’s Writings, it has never been seriously called in question by the learned, either Jew or Christian. Some self-sufficient Critics have impugned the last nine chapters: Their valueless arguments will be found, by those who wish to search for such unsatisfactory materials, in Rosenmuller, while their refutation is completed by Jahn, in his Introduction to the Sacred Books of the Old Testament, and is rendered accessible to the mere English reader by Hartwell Horne 2 So little weight, however, is attached to such opinions, that even Gesenius allows a “oneness of tone” to be so conspicuous throughout Ezekiel’s Prophecies, as to forbid the suspicion that any portions of them are not genuine. This Book formed part of the Canon in the Catalogues of Melito and Origen, of Jerome and of the Talmud. Josephus, indeed, refers to two Books of Ezekiel, probably dividing his prophecies into two parts. His language 3 has necessarily given rise to some discussion, which Eichhorn has set at rest as satisfactorily as the data will allow. 4
The Arrangement Of The Various Predictions has been the subject of a variety of opinions. Some have supposed that Chronological Order has been interfered with, and that different collections of the separate Prophecies might be made with advantage. But Havernick, in his valuable Commentary, published as late as 1843, maintains that the present arrangement is correct. It proceeds, he asserts, in the order of time, and connects, as it ought to do, the Prophecies against foreign nations with those against Israel and Judah. Hence he divides the Book into the following nine Sections: —
1. The Call to the Prophetic Office. (Ezekiel 1-3:15.)
2. The Symbolical Representations foretelling the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem. (Eze 4:16 through Ezekiel 7.)
3. A Series of Visions, a year and two months later than the former. In these he is shown the Temple polluted by the worship of Adonis, the consequent vengeance on the priests and people, and the prospect of happier times and a purer worship. (Ezekiel 8-11.)
4. A Series of Reproofs and Warnings against the prevailing sins and prejudices of his day. (Ezekiel 12-19.)
5. Another Series of Warnings, one year later, still announcing the coming judgments. (Ezekiel 20-23.)
6. Predictions, two years and five months later, announcing the very day of the Siege Of Jerusalem, and assuring the captives of its complete overthrow. (Ezekiel 24.)
7. Predictions against Foreign Nations. (Ezekiel 25-32.)
8. After the Destruction of the City, The Future Triumph of The Kingdom of God on Earth. (Ezekiel 33-39.)
9. Symbolic Representations of The Times Of Messiah, and the prosperity of the Kingdom of God. (Ezekiel 40-48.)
There is a negative merit in Calvin’s Lectures, which has not been imitated by some later Commentators. He never makes those observations on Ezekiel’s Style And Diction which would reduce him to the level of a merely human writer. Grotius and Eichhorn, Lowth and Michaelis dwell on his erudition and genius, and assign him the same rank among the Hebrews which Aeschylus holds among the Greeks. They praise his knowledge of architecture, and his skill in oratory. They call him bold, vehement, tragical; “in his sentiments elevated, warm, bitter, indignant; in his images fertile, magnificent, harsh, and sometimes almost deformed; in his diction grand, weighty, austere, rough, and sometimes uncultivated; abounding in repetition, not for the sake of ornament and gracefulness, but through indignation and violence.” 5
Such language as this clearly implies a very different view of the Prophet’s character and mission from that taken by Calvin. He looked upon him as a grand instrument in the hands of The Most High, and would have instinctively felt it to be profane thus to reduce him to the level of the Poets and Seers of heathenism. In this feeling we ought to concur. The modern method of criticizing the style and matter of The Hebrew Prophets deserves our warmest reprobation. They are too often treated as if their thoughts and their language were only of human origin. Their visions, their metaphors, and their parables, are submitted to the crucible of a worldly alchemy, in entire forgetfulness that these men were the special messengers of God. To them it was commanded — “The word that I shall say unto thee, that shalt thou speak.” “Thou canst not go beyond the word of The Lord, to say less or more.” It is not for us to speak, as Bishop Lowth does, of a “remarkable instance of that exaggeration which is deservedly esteemed the characteristic of this poet.” And again, of “an image, suggested by the former part of this Prophecy, happily introduced and well pursued.” All such language as this, whether in praise or blame of the imagery and expressions of the Prophets of the Old Testament, is highly irreverent. It is scarcely consistent with simple and confiding views of Divine inspiration. They assume principles of interpretation, and of exegesis, totally at variance with that implicit confidence in the plenary inspiration of the Prophets, with which the early reformers were imbued.
And what have we gained by listening to the teachers of Modern Germany, and passing by as antiquated the giant expounders of Geneva? The question is an important one, and the answer to it implies much laborious reading and much patient thought. It requires some acquaintance with the writers on Biblical hermeneutics from Calvin’s time to our own — some symmetry of mind to pass a judicial sentence with candor and precision. This, at least, the casual reader may perceive, viz., a striking difference between the modern Neologian and the ancient Genevan tone in treating these sublime subjects; and the question will recur, what shall we gain by deserting Calvin and taking up with Eichhorn? That we may present the readers with some data for estimating fairly our defense of Calvin, we will make a few extracts from this well-known writer, selecting him simply as an average specimen from many others of even greater celebrity. In the 545th section of his introduction to the Old Testament, 6 he speaks of his “originality,” of “the lively fiction of his inexhaustible imagination,” and of his “gathering materials for his poems.” In a few sections afterwards he adds, that his poems are “inventions,” and “a work” of art, 7 and “manifest the wild shoots of a heated imagination.” 8
If this be the result of the elaborate researches of modern times, then we may surely throw ourselves back into the arms of older and sounder Commentators. They never delight in banishing The Almighty from his own Word: they never treat him as a stranger in his own land. His agency is with them no intermitting tide, carrying a shifting wave of glory from strand to strand, and leaving only a dreary waste of centuries between, strewed only with the wrecks of his broken workmanship. The long line of Hebrew Seers were either inspired of God, or their writings are deceptions.
Men of Calvin’s faith and devotion believed that beneath the surface of their imagery, and parables, and oriental diction, lay concealed a living power which energized all this glowing machinery, which marshaled the thoughts within the speaker’s mind, and then clothed them in the burning words and the glowing phrases which spoke alternately either joy or sadness to the hearer’s soul. If the proverb of the Royal Sage is true — “Death and life are in the power of the tongue,” then the Master-mind of the Divine Artist touched Ezekiel’s tongue with living flame, and gave his language more elevation, dignity, and majesty, than the most exalted genius, or the richest imagination could accomplish. And if these views be comforting and refreshing to the soul, we “gain a loss” by passing away from Geneva, as it was to Neology as it is. For where are we to stop in our downward course? When we allow ourselves to speak of the traditional creation-week of Moses, or the rocks on which Ezekiel stranded, we are hastening on the high road to the myths of Strauss, or the pantheism of Emerson and Parker.
The voice of an Apostle should still sound in our ears.” Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy or vain deceit,” when we find M. Comte, in his remarkable work “Cours de Philosophic Positive,” speaking of a radical incompatibility between Theology and positive Philosophy — treating as chimerical all attempts to reconcile Modern Science with Divine Revelation, and in reliance on the irresistible tendency of our present scientific speculations, entertaining the hope of getting rid of the “Hypothesis of a God.” (Tome 4:51. Lecon.) Our wisdom lies in resisting the first temptation to this downward progress. If we allow Exchhorn and Gesenius to lead us into discussions about the Prophet’s “polite genius” 9 instead of his divine inspiration, and to attribute his language to the temper and talent of the man instead of to the guiding power of God’s Holy Spirit, then there is no step of skepticism and infidelity which we may not ultimately reach.
This warning proceeds from no blind admirer of antiquated error, and from no thoughtless despiser of modern science. Let us have the freest and fullest right of search into all the language of Ancient Prophecy: we claim and we court the minutest investigations, while an experience of no limited extent leads us to reject the haughty boastings of the last new skeptics over the writings of men, within the fringes of whose shadow the present generation are not worthy to tread.
It may now fairly be enquired, how far Calvin’s Interpretations Of The Visions Of Ezekiel have been superseded by the researches of modern times? And it may also be asked, whether the speculations of modern German divines — the children of the Reformation — have set aside the Biblical hermeneutics of their great forerunner? Those questions are worthy of our attentive replies.
The general principle of Calvin’s Interpretation of The Visions of Ezekiel is an immediate appeal to the miraculous interposition of God. He saw in them God acting directly and powerfully on the Prophet’s mind, and through him on the people. He did not consider them as merely illustrating God’s general Providence and government of the world, or as portraying any ordinary operations of his grace in the souls of the people; he looked upon them as representing a miraculous and visible interference with the ordinary laws of the Nation’s discipline. His perception of the obstinacy, ingratitude and perverseness of the Jews was so great, that he considered their remarkable idolatry and profaneness justified any breach of the laws of nature, with the view of restoring them to obedience, and securing their salvation. The moral end to be attained always appeared to him to justify the physical disturbance of the laws which regulate our outward existence. The inestimable value of the soul, when compared with anything earthly, rendered no miracle improbable to his mind, if it only tended to that ultimate result.
Comparing the Interpretations of Calvin with those of modern Continental Divines, we have no reason to conclude that the views of the great Reformer have been superseded. The progress of Biblical Criticism during the last 800 years has indeed been accompanied with some clearer views of the details, but the fundamental principles of these Lectures On Ezekiel have never been successfully impugned. The Miracles of the Old Testament have been boldly assailed, both at home and abroad, and no slight outpouring of infidel wrath has fallen upon the Calvin interpretation of those of Ezekiel. Germany, the birthplace of the Reformation, has been also the seed-bed of spurious Rationalism. The novelty of any opinion on Biblical subjects has now become a sufficient atonement for its absurdity, and he receives the greatest applause from the many, who casts farthest from him whatsoever has commanded the veneration of ages. The direct interposition of Jehovah’s power in the affairs of men, as related in the writings of the Hebrews, has lately exercised the ingenuity of German skeptics to an almost incredible extent. The mysticism of the School of Schelling has rivaled the extravagancies of the theory of accommodation proposed by the celebrated Semler.
Professors of theology in various celebrated Universities have arisen, who have rejected with contempt whatever portion of the Old Testament they could not reconcile with their own individual reason, and who have rested their instruct, ions on gratuitous assertions and groundless hypotheses, which make a larger demand on our credulity than the Miracles do on our faith. Eichhorn, Bonsdorf, Rosenmuller, and Wegscheider, are names with which the reader of Foreign Theology has become too familiar. Their theories have now given place to many a later development, including the speculative Christology of Schleiermacher, and the fanciful myths of Strauss. Highly as we value some of the grammatical and philosophical labors of this School of Hebraists, we cannot but deem them morally incompetent to be our guides in Scriptural interpretation. Far from despising the showy guesses of genius, or the solid treasures of learning, we would pause before we tender the homage of our admiration to those who profess to reconcile the study of Divinity with what they term The Enquiring Spirit of the Age. Our reverence must not be withdrawn from the piety and simplicity of a Calvin, to be prostituted to the praise of a paradoxical erudition, or a perverted ingenuity.
Nor is our view of Calvin as a Commentator overstated, in the opinion of one of the giants of orthodoxy of modern Germany. Hengstenberg, who has earned undying repute by parrying the deadly thrusts of the heroes of Rationalism, Dr. Wette Von Bohlen, Vatke and Hitzig, characterizes Calvin by saying — “This man stands still farther above his followers than above his predecessors. One cannot sufficiently wonder how such a leader could have had such followers. [...] It is impossible for any man who had carefully studied the Commentaries of Calvin to become so thoroughly and consistently superficial, as all of them show themselves to be.” For instance both Von Bohlen and Vatke have asserted that there is no trace of the existence of the Pentateuch in the Older Prophets, and hence they have invented an argumentum a silentio, on which they lay it down as an axiom, that the Older Prophets knew nothing of the Pentateuch, and that the Law was for the first time committed to writing about the times of Ezekiel!
Doctrines such as these have been industriously propagated by three critics of great influence, viz., Spencer, Le Clerc, and J. D. Michaelis. The labors of Spencer in his work De Legibus Hebraeorum Ritualibus, have, in recent times, found a kindred spirit in the virulent hostility of Strauss. In both there is the same icy coldness, the same religious weakness, the same attempt to destroy that sense of God’s presence, so conspicuously honored in Calvin’s Comments on this Prophet and the others. Spencer denies all spiritual meaning to the Visions of God’s agents, and to the appearances of the Cherubim, allowing, indeed, at times, a ratio mystica et typica, but retracting it immediately on spiritual meaning being alluded to. The grossness of his idea of God, and the lowness of his views of symbolical interpretation, may be judged of from the following passage: — “Deus interim, ut superstirtoni quovis pacto irefur obviam, ritus non paneos, mulforum annorum et gentiurn usu cohonestatos, quos ineptias norat esse tolerabiles in sacrorum suorum numerum adoptavit.” This shallow and shortsighted system spread rapidly among those who boasted themselves to be disciples of the early Reformation, because they no longer appreciated the spiritual nature of the Prophetic symbols, as so ably explained by Calvin in his Lectures.
After Spencer we have Le Clerc, who is as superficial and as unsatisfying as most Arminians of his School. Whatever indicates a living God — taking interest in the punishment or the consolation of the Hebrews, sending them Prophets to warn and to threaten — he calls anthropomorphism. He only plays with the husk, and finds no kernel. He had a kind of horror of any superhuman interposition: Miracle and Prophecy were alike rejected; everything beyond the operation of merely natural causes was put out of sight and artfully explained away.
At length Michaelis, in his Mosaisches Recht, Mosaic Jurisprudence, and in his Annotations for the Unlearned, labored most assiduously to unsettle the foundations of the Biblical Writings as inspired.
The Modern School, who look down contemptuously upon THE Credulity Of The Early Reformers, and fancy themselves emancipated from the trammels of their narrow systems, boasts in its skill of detecting truth by means of Internal Evidence. This is a weapon of two-edged power; and if used in the spirit of an earnest and sober criticism, may be used successfully in support, of the integrity of the Ancient Scriptures. Let the reader, in turning over these Lectures on Ezekiel, endeavor to discover traces of the previous existence of The Pentateuch: let him do for this Prophet what Havernick has done with reference to Hosea and Amos — scrutinizing their writings line by line, and tracing such expressions and idioms as prove them to have been familiar with The Mosaic Writings, and he will become familiar with the true use of this important instrument of Biblical Exegesis. Let him afterwards consult with diligence and apply with discretion the principles of Hengstenberg’s Christologie des Alter Testaments. He will find it profoundly learned and unweariedly laborious, illustrating fully the intimations of Ancient Prophecy respecting Messiah’s Kingdom. The reader, who has set himself at the feet of Calvin, will discover it to be a most satisfactory exposition of these Predictions. Its candor, and honesty, and accomplished philology, stand out in strong contrast with the arrogance of the Rationalists, and rebukes by its enlightened orthodoxy the reckless skepticism of their system.
Nor are such cautions without their use among ourselves. The inferences from supposed Internal Evidence have, even in our own country, been most wild and baseless. What must be our own danger, when an intimate friend of Southey, Coleridge, and Mackintosh, whose writings produced some influence on the literature of the day, could gravely put forward the following expose of his views: “I have attained the inference that the feast of Purlin is the Magophonia of Darius; the 31st Ezekiel an elegy on the death of Cyrus killed by the Massagetae; and the 14th Isaiah an elegy on the death of Cambyses, both by the same author; whom, on the ground of internal evidence, I am venturing to separate from among the different Prophets, and to call Daniel, and who is, I think, the finest ode writer in the world. Nay, Daniel is to claim of Ezekiel 25 to 32, and Ezekiel 35 to 39; of Jeremiah 46 to 51; and of Isaiah 13 to 23, and Isaiah 11 to 13; but of this last allotment I am doubtful.” Here we have a fair specimen of the manner in which every unsound opinion may be propagated under the specious plea of respecting the Internal Evidence.
Another extract from the correspondence of this writer will fully justify the warning which we have sounded against the influence of such sophistical comments. “I am busied now in Theology, and have actually drawn up a paper, ‘Who wrote the Wisdom of Solomon?’ which has for its object to prove that Jesus Christ wrote it: partly from the Internal Evidence of passages descriptive of him, partly from the External Evidence of the extreme veneration in which the Book was held by the Apostolic characters.” These verily are the men of our day — the enlightened teachers of a liberal Theology — the despisers of antiquated credulity — and the authors of a new and improved method of interpreting the Oracles of our God!
The charge of credulity may be answered by showing that even some of the chiefs of the Rationalist School have not been free From Its Influence. The Scholars Of Europe Have Not Yet Forgotten That Gesenius was imposed upon by the clumsy forgery of Wagenfeld, who pretended to have discovered a Oreck Translation of the lost Books of Sanchuniatho in a Portuguese monastery. 10 Had he relied a little more on External than Internal Evidence, had he demanded a sight of the Greek Manuscript, and also of the alleged Phoenician stone, he would have saved the discredit of the discovery that a patois of Arabic, Maltese, and Italian was palmed upon him for Phoenician, and that the celebrated Lapis Lydius of Volney will ever after serve as a landmark to indicate the credulity of this self-satisfied septic.
How painfully interesting it has become to the reader of Calvin to be made acquainted with the manner in which his views of Prophetic Interpretation have been received and adopted by later Biblical Scholars of the Continent. Three hundred years have allowed ample time for the refutation or elucidation of his Comments. The Christian Scholar who still holds fast the form of sound words received through the earliest Reformers, must grievously lament the sad degeneracy of Continental Theology. And it may here be desirable to take a slight review of the growth and progress of theories totally opposite to those of Calvin, that, by comparison, the soundness of this illustrious Expounder may become most conspicuous. For the opportunity of doing so, concisely and accurately, we are indebted to a small treatise of Dr. Tholuck’s, Vermischte Schriften grosstentheils Apologetischen Inhalts. (Miscellaneous writings for the most part Apologetical in their import.)
After the more stirring times of The Reformation had subsided into a peaceful calm, both the LUTHERANISM Of GERMANY, and the CALVINISM Of SWITZERLAND and France, were subject to gradual yet powerful changes. The pietism of Spener and Francke began to lose its hold over the minds of succeeding generations of students. A new race arose, who were destitute of their predecessors’ deep and scriptural piety. Infidelity entered Germany through its learned universities, not as it assailed France through wit and mockery. The Sceptics soon rivaled the Pietists in the depth and variety of their Hebrew scholarship, and in their anxiety to spread abroad their new teaching. First came the philosophy of Wolf, who, after banishment from Halle, by Frederick William 1st, returned again with renewed spirit to his labors, and made many disciples. In Theology S. J. Baumgarten became his most successful follower. “It is incredible,” says Tholuck, “with what enthusiasm this teacher of the Theology of his time was listened to. Above four hundred theologians, and seven jurists and physicians, sat at the feet of the venerated man, and took down every, even the minutest, word that fell from his lips. Scarcely another class could meet when Baumgarten was holding his! And, now, let any one compare his printed Prelections, as they have come down to us, what dead schematism? what dry tablemaking! and the whole dictated in the most longwinded style!” (P. 12.)
Next came the great apostle of Rationalism in Geneva. the well known Semler, a scholar of Baumgarten’s — “a man who, without founding any school of his own, yet carried the torch from which the sparks darted upon the tinder which, on every hand, was scattered among his contemporaries, and kindled a blaze which continues to the present moment. ” (P. 29.) His principle of criticism is thus stated by himself: “The only proof of the Divine authority of a book arises from the internal conviction produced by the truths therein contained; that is, the fides divina, which people, for brevity’s sake, and also to have the advantage of a biblical, though somewhat obscure mode of speech, have called the Testimony of the Holy Spirit in the mind of the reader.” Hence, with regard to The Pentateuch, he adopts the fragmentary hypothesis of Simon and Vitringa, — dismisses from the Canon some of the Historical Books, and throws doubts upon others, which are equally destructive in their tendency. Having set up his own standard of moral improvement to be derived from any book, he sets aside Daniel and The Apocalypse, as peculiarly unsuited to his views; while The New Testament is scarcely more acceptable to him in its integrity than the Old. He treats both as merely temporary and local in their character, as filled with accommodations and modes of speaking adapted to the times, but not permanent for all time. His principles, then, robbed the Scriptures of everything positive, and destroyed the very basis on which objective and eternal truths must rest.
The most surprising portion of the narrative is the unhappy influence of such Biblical views over others. There must have been a preparation in the German mind, as well as in that of Switzerland, before such principles could be received. Had they been put forth in England or in Scotland, they would have died an easy and a hasty death. The spark would never have been raised to a flame, because the touchwood was happily absent. But melancholy is the list., as given by Tholuck, of the Universities and of eminent individuals who gave the whole weight of their countenance to these pernicious doctrines. Happily this learned writer, in companionship with Neander, Olshausen and Hengstenberg, are permitted to witness the turn of the tide in favor of the long despised Evangelism which so thoroughly pervades these Lectures Of Calvin On Ezekiel.
In reviewing the manner in which Calvin has lectured on the single words and separate phrases of Ezekiel, the mind is naturally led to contemplate his theory of the Theopneustia of the Prophets. No question in Theology has been more fruitful in discussion than that of The Inspiration Of The Hebrew Prophets: it could hardly be otherwise, as their position, as the chief heralds of the future Christianity, forms a preliminary part of The Evidences of The Christian Faith. However lofty and sublime may be the Writings of the Prophets, yet their Divine Authority cannot be fully impressed, without we are persuaded that they are inspired. But a question has always arisen, what is that supernatural and infallible guidance which we understand by θεοπνευστια, or inspiration? Does it extend to every word that is uttered by the Prophet, or simply to the material and spirit of his message? Calvin, and The Early Reformers, from the very necessity of their position, contended for the Verbal Inspiration of the entire Scriptures. On these, and these alone, they took their stand against The Corruptions of Rome, and they were necessarily compelled to strengthen their position by every imaginable effort, to uphold the authority of the Written Letter.
In these days, this is too often called an “antiquated hypothesis,” and treated as an “exploded theory;” but it is important to observe that the wisest and most learned Christian Commentators have adhered to it, though not, perhaps, with the strictness of Calvin’s literal views. M. Twesten in Germany, and M. Turretin, J. F. Stopfer, and B. Pictet of Switzerland, men eminent for their piety and usefulness, have upheld the Existence, Universality, and Plenitude of Inspiration, though their views involve a slight modification of the sentiments of the Early Reformers. A few references to their Works may here be appropriate, as they are not easily accessible to the English reader. The writings of Henderson, PYE Smith, Dick, and Wilson, are too accessible to need quotation here, but it may be desirable to know what the Modern Pietists of the Continent, who are foremost in the struggle with Neology, feel to be truth on these important points.
M. Twesten, in his Vorlesung uber die Dogmatik, extends the idea of Inspiration to all parts of the Bible, but not in an equal degree to every portion. 11 This inequality of Inspiration is held as accompanied with the admission of verbal errors, which the lapse of time now renders irremediable. But it is by no means unconnected with clear views of evangelical truth, calmness of thought, and sagacity of discrimination, though not altogether free from the speculative tendencies of the German mind.
M. Turretin, a well known divine of that land which was formerly adorned with the graces and piety of the masterspirits of the Swiss Reformation, in his Institutio Theologiae Elementicae, shows how Scripture proves itself Divine, not only by an authoritative appeal to testimony, but by undoubted proofs of its Divinity. “But,” he afterwards adds, “it must not be supposed that these tokens of Divinity shine forth alike and in the same degree in all the Books of Scripture; for as one star differs from another star in brightness, so some Books emit fuller and more dazzling rays of light, and others fewer and feebler, according as they are more or less necessary to the Church, and contain doctrines of more or less moment: so that the Gospels and The Pauline Epistles glow with far richer splendor than the Book of Ruth or Esther.” 12
The language of John Frid. Stopfer is in some degree similar. He distinguishes “The things written in Scripture by the immediate Inspiration of the Holy Spirit from those which are committed to writing only by the Direction of the Holy Spirit. To the former class belong all The Peculiar Doctrines of Salvation, which as they could not be discovered by the principles of reason, could not be made known but by Revelation: to the latter class belong’ all those Truths which, though previously known, required to be inculcated on man, both to arouse him to a sense of his duty and to convince him of his need of a Revealed Salvation. The same class also includes the Historical Facts connected with the illustration and proof of Revealed Doctrines, and pointing out the various steps of Revelation, in the bestowments of grace and in the ministrations of the Church, all of which require to be known, for the fuller explanation of Divine Truth.” 13
In the Christian Theology of M. B. Pictet we find the following passage: — “I1 n’est pas necessaire de supposer que l’Esprit de Dieu a toujours diete aux prophetes et aux apotres tousles mots dont ils se sont servis, et qu’il leur a appris tout ce qu’ils ecrivoient. Il suffit qu’ils n’ont rien ecrit, que par la direction immediate do l’Esprit de Dieu en sorte que cot Esprit n’a jamais permis, qu’ils aient erre dans ce qu’ils out ecrit. Agobard, auteur du 9 siecle, dans sa reponse a Fredigise, dit, que c’est une absurdite de croire que le Sainct Esprit ait inspire les termes et les mots... Cependant c’etoit l’Esprit qui les empechoit de tomber dans aucune erreur, non pas meme dans les moindres cheses.” 14
The Theopneustia of M. Gaussen is SO well known, through the English Translation, 15 that it is only necessary to say, that his view of the Plenary Inspiration of Scripture is more stringent than that of our own Writers, Doddridge, Dick, Pye Smith, and Henderson. He contends for “the existence, universality, and plenitude of Theopneustia,” and condemns the theories of those English Divines who “have gone so far as to specify four degrees of Divine Inspiration.” All these distinctions are in his view “chimerical: The Bible itself does not authorize them: the Church during the first eight centuries of the Christian era knew nothing of them; and we believe them to be erroneous and fraught with evil.”
Having thus glanced at a few of the views of the successors of Calvin among his own countrymen, it will not be necessary to advert to the subject at greater length. It will be enough to refer the reader of Calvin On Ezekiel to Dr. Henderson’s able work on Divine Inspiration, being the fourth series of the Congregational Lectures delivered during 1836. He will there find the difficult questions connected with the subject ably, judiciously, and satisfactorily discussed. It is only necessary to mention so accessible a volume to induce the student of Calvin to apply to it for guidance and instruction.
Another boast in which the Rationalists indulge over the early Reformers, consists in their more extensive use of Rabbinical Literature. Hence it becomes necessary to investigate their claim to superior talent and research in turning to account these stores of Cabalistic tradition. We cannot thoroughly estimate the comparative value of the Commentaries of the old and new Reformers, without being well-versed in the contents of the Targums and the follies of the Gemana. Pococke and LIGHTFOOT, GROTIUS And BOCHART, ERNESTI And KEIL have all made Rabbinical and Oriental Learning subservient to the interpretation of the Hebrew Prophets; and in doing so have thrown great light upon modes of expression, grammatical usages, and peculiar customs of the Jews. And thus far we are greatly indebted to them. They have unlocked these precious treasures of Eastern tradition with a learned and a liberal hand; they have solved philological difficulties which did not yield to the perseverance and ingenuity of Calvin.
But we are not to be led away by the abuse of this species of learning, in which some of the depreciators of orthodoxy have indulged. Let the reader, for instance, turn to the Christology of the Jews, as illustrated by Bertholdt of Erlangen; let him observe how he mingles the later Hebrew Prophets, the Apocryphal Books, and the works of Philo and JOSEPHUS, and treats them as if on the same level of authority and value. The baseless speculations of “The Book or Zohar,” and the extravagant conceits of the “Nezach Israel,” are gravely used as the basis of philosophical explanations, which are to supersede the plain, spiritual, and literal interpretations of the holy men of old. The progress of Sacred Criticism, they tell us, in the three centuries which have elapsed since the Reformation, calls upon us to reject the errors of the Schoolmen at Geneva, but still we hesitate to bow down to the dicta of these visionary theorists. We protest against the improper use which they make of the unauthorized comments of foolish and infatuated Jews. These perverters of the sense of Holy Scripture were utterly ignorant of its Spirit. They are the very blindest leaders of the blind. They are the most unspiritual guides, the most puerile corrupters of the Truth, the most contemptible inventors of falsehood. And yet they are upheld as the very authorities on which we are to receive philosophical novelties, and to throw away the joys, and consolations, and blessings of the inspiration of Hebrew Prophecy. 16 Again and again must we repeat the protest., and maintain the eternal principles of childlike faith, and holy zeal, and persevering godliness which adorned and consecrated the valuable labors of the calumniated Teacher Of Switzerland.
In closing our notice of Foreign Theology, we are by no means anxious to foster any undiscerning prejudice against German divinity. We would discriminate between the tares and the wheat, while we protest against the dreamy speculations, the unsound principles, the shallow reasoning, the ostentatious and perverted scholarship, and the irreverent levity with which the Neologians have violated every law of literary evidence, and shocked every feeling of serious piety. On the other hand, we by no means desire to uphold any cramped or exploded interpretation, or to justify any details in Calvin’s Comment On Ezekiel which are inconsistent with the real improvements in Hebrew philology. Let but a spirit of disciplined humility prevail, and then our later Churches may hope to rival the elder ones in the wisdom which is from above. The patient and devout use of these additional means which are now within our reach, will lead us to comprehend “the mind of the Spirit,” and enable the Christian Commentator to east the living seed into the stream of time, in the fullest confidence that a fruitful harvest of believers shall spring up, uniting the docility of children with the intelligence of men and. the constancy of martyrs. But to this end, the spirit of the Early Reformers must be cultivated: the spirit of skeptical criticism must be abhorred. Lord Bacon’s adage is, alas, too often verified: “Certain there be that delight in giddiness, and count it a bondage to fix a belief:” for in the discursive reading? which we have found necessary for illustrating Calvin’s Ezekiel, how often have we met with writings on the Old Testament flippant and irreverent, oscillating’ for ever between fact and falsehood.
The Holy page is still undefaced — it is the eye of the self-sufficient Commentator which willingly gathers over it the misty film: the balance of truth remains what it ever was, accurate and sensible: it is the palsied hand which agitates the scales in ceaseless alternation.
While, however, we thus strenuously uphold the general principles of Prophetic Inspiration which Calvin taught, we are willing to concede that many of his attempts to explain the text are unsatisfactory. Thus, for instance, an exception may fairly be made against the conclusiveness of his explanation of the appearance of the cherubim in the tenth chapter of this Prophecy. He accounts for the appearance of the heads of an ox and a man, a lion and an eagle on the same living creature, by asserting that it represents the energizing power of God throughout animated nature. Not content with this general and probably correct exposition, he goes on to derive the motion of all living creatures from that of angels. “Now, when the Lion either roars or exercises his strength, he seems to move by his own inherent power, and so it may be said of other living creatures: but God here says that living beings are in some sense parts of Angels, although not of the same substance.”
Instead of explaining how Angels are the powers (virtutes) of God, and how he proves any “inseparable connection” between angelic and creative motion, he draws this conclusion from the mysterious emblems of the Cherubim: “Let us understand, then, that while men move about and apply themselves to their various pursuits, and when even wild beasts do the same, yet Angelic motions are underneath, so that neither men nor animals move themselves, but their whole rigor depends on this secret inspiration.”
One is surprised that the acute and welltrained mind of Calvin did not perceive that this assertion only shifts the difficulty one step farther back, and that it does not unfold one single law of either the life or motion of animated nature.
The student of Theology, however, must not expect to find in Calvin the correct expositions of the laws of natural phenomena, — the discoveries of the three last Centuries have thrown a flood of light on physical and psychological science. Let the reader distinguish between the theological and scientific explanations of these Lectures; and while he allows the latter to be capable of improvement through the gradual progress of human knowledge, he will value the former as defending and upholding “the truth of God.”
It becomes necessary also to caution the reader that he will find these Lectures at times liable to the charge of overexplanation. The Lecturer searches with microscopic scrutiny into the hidden meaning of every minute portion of a sentence, and it sometimes occurs in his explanation of Visions, Symbols, and Emblems, that he carries out his method of minute subdivision and verbal comment too far. This concession will readily be made by all who have perused the valuable treatise of Gottlob Ch. Storr on Parabolic Illustration, interspersed as it is with valuable References to Luther and Chrysostom, Ernesti and Lessing, COCCEIUS and Pfaff, Wemyss and Beckhaus.
It must not be considered that Calvin is depreciated, because he is not idolized as infallible. It is now so customary for an Editor to treat his author as a model of perfection, that it requires some degree of moral courage to assert that Calvin could possibly be indiscreet. The daily experience of life, however, convinces us that the wisest, the holiest, and the best are always fallible, and at times inconsiderate.
It may now be desirable to furnish the general reader with a few facts concerning the celebrated Gaspard De Coligny, to whom Beza dedicates these Lectures of his Master. To have been Grand Admiral of France gives him no title to admiration in the eyes of those who seek for divine, and heavenly, and soulsatisfying truth — but to have been a burning and shining light in Christ’s Holy Church in the days of its struggles and persecution, this may afford us an apology for introducing here a short account of his Christian life, and his awful martyrdom.
He was born of a noble family which had been connected with the Government of France for about three hundred years, and was the second of three brothers, all eminent for their devotion to God’s saving truth. The eldest became a Cardinal, and Gaspard consequently took possession of the paternal estate as Seigneur of Chatillon. After serving his country both by land and sea., and arriving at the high offices of both General and Admiral, he retired for a while from the distractions of public life to his residence at Chatillon, about the age of forty-three. Here both he and his excellent wife, Charlotte De La Val, study together the Word of God, and grow gradually stronger in the faith and hopes of the Gospel. Being’ fully aware of the suffering’s they must undergo, and the sacrifices they must make, and in defiance of all the edicts of persecution which they saw daily enforced around them, they persevere in reading the Writings of the Reformers, and opening’ their minds without reserve to the beams of the New Light, they resolve both to do and to suffer God’s will, as soon as they shall learn it. At length this Christian pair are joined by his brothers — Odet, the Cardinal, and Francis, the Colonel — and thenceforth they become a noble brotherhood of searchers for Divine guidance, of one mind and of one spirit, each equally earnest to be found after the image of their Redeemer.
About five years before Beza addressed him in the following dedication, the Queen Mother Of France had sent for Coligny to give his advice respecting the proper remedies for the discontent of the people. He boldly assigned Persecution for Religion as its cause, and advised the passing of an Edict of Toleration, in opposition to the arbitrary injustice of the House of Guise. He next stands by the Prince. Or Code, who is seized, imprisoned, and. condemned to death, but rescued from the scaffold by the decease of the king. But in a short period the enmity of the Duke Of Guise against the Hugonots became deadly, and 3000 Protestants, according to Beza, are “stabbed, stoned, beheaded, strangled, burned, buried alive, starved, drowned, suffocated.” Fearful wars and dreadful massacres arise, and after the assassination of the Duke Of Guise, on the 18th February 1563, Coligny retired to Chatillon, and was probably living in retirement there, when Beza announced to him the decease of Calvin.
The remainder of his history is most melancholy. The Duke Of Alva, a most inveterate persecutor of the Reformers, now gained an ascendancy over the mind of the Queen and her Council. Civil war again rages between the Romish and the Protestant parties. The Admiral is again forced into the field, the battle of Moncontour is fought and lost on the 1st of October 1569, and Coligny is wounded severely in the face. Massacre and murder rage more fiercely than ever, till at length, in the very Palace of the King, at Paris, Coligny is shot at, and seriously wounded in two places. His days are now numbered. Although both the King and Queen pay him visits of condolence, after the fingers of his right hand are cut off, he soon falls a victim to the vengeance of his foes. The fatal ST. Bartholomew Massacre is planned, and the Duke of Guise declares it to be the kings pleasure that Coligny should be the first victim. The King relents, but it is too late; the Duke is gone to the Admiral’s hotel. His slaughterers stab their way to the Admiral’s presence, and find him prepared to die. The sword is thrust through his body, and his corpse, dishonored by the Duke, is given up to the insults of the mob. For seven long’ days and nights the streets of Paris run with blood, and its river is choked with corpses. The King and his family, and many of his nobles, went to pray in public, and to offer thanksgiving to God for the success of these measures, as if resulting in his glory. And after a while they proceed to decree that the body of the Sieur De Coligny should be dragged through the streets, and then hung’ up on Montfaucon, to the execration of the people; that his Castle at Chatillon should be leveled to the ground, and all his estate laid waste; that his children should be unable to hold property; and that for all future time this infamous transaction should be annually handed down to posterity by Public Prayers and Processions throughout the capital of France. 17
The blood of the faithful at Paris was not sufficient: Throughout the cities of the provinces similar butcheries took place. The head of the Romish Church exulted also: The Pope and the Cardinals proceeded in solemn pomp to offer public thanksgiving before the altar; the ramparts of St. Angelo resounded with the thundering of artillery, while the Cardinal Lorraine celebrated solemn service in the Church of St. Louis, and attributed the slaughter of the heretics to the inspiration of God, in the presence of the sovereign Pontiff — an awful leaf in the history of Europe, which must be turned over again and again, that our children’s children may be familiar with these dreadful deeds of Anti-christ. 18
On one occasion, Beza, the writer of this address to Coligny came in close contact with this Cardinal Lorraine; for on the 9th of September 1561, a remarkable meeting was held at Poissy, near Paris, called a Colloquy, for the public discussion of the Reformed and the Unreformed doctrines. The Letter which the mother of Charles IX. wrote to Pope Pius IV., with reference to this meeting, is very characteristic of those times. It states that the Reformed had become so powerful and so numerous, that the measure was both salutary and needful. The Pope replies most mildly, and foreseeing that it. would lead to the accomplishment of his long wished for desire — the recognition of
Legate in France — leaves all to his faithful Cardinal of Lorraine. Safe-conduct was given to many leading Reformers, among whom were Theodore Beza and Peter Martyr. Beza asked permission to open the Conference by prayer, and obtained it; and such a prayer the majority of the debaters had never heard before. He then spoke boldly, ably, and like a thorough Christian. The Cardinal replied, with great plausibility and policy; and, after many meetings, no practical objects seemed to be gained. The Prince Of Conde, Coligny, and the Chancellor L’hopital, were the leading Politicians; and in the following January the Assembly of Notables was assembled at St. Germains. An Edict of Toleration was passed, which it was hoped would prove the Magna Charta of the spiritual liberties of France. But Providence ordered it otherwise, and mysteriously allowed the sacred bands of Calvin, Beza, and Martyr, to be laid low by the ax and the sword, and the progress of the Reformation to be arrested, just as it was about to burst forth as a Spiritual Reformation For Europe.
It now only remains to observe, that this Translation has been made by a careful comparison of the Latin with the French Editions; that those of Geneva, published in 1617 and 1565, have been adopted as the basis, while the reprints of 1563, 1565, 1583, and that at Amsterdam in 1667, have been consulted. No license whatever has been taken with the text, the Translation being’ uniformly as close and literal as the English idiom will admit. The Translator has carefully avoided all expression of private opinion on doctrinal and speculative points; he has not softened off any of the occasional roughness of the original views of his Author, nor has he encumbered his pages with long footnotes, either to rectify or elucidate the criticisms of the text. His object has been, not to present his readers with the views and expositions of other Commentators, but to present Calvin, with all his excellencies and defects, before the English reader, in language as clear and simple as the various difficulties of the subject will allow, tie has not introduced quotations from other Divines, who have ably and impartially treated similar subjects, but, at certain intervals, (as for instance at the close of Ezekiel 10,) he has pointed out the Authors from whose Works much valuable information may be obtained.
The Translator may venture here to express his opinion, once for all, that Calvin’s Hebrew philology is not always correct: his critical exposition of the meaning and derivation of Hebrew words should seldom be received as the best possible. The labors of GESEnIUS and Rosenmuller have thrown great light upon this department of Sacred scholarship, and the results of such modern labors will be found ably condensed and adapted to the wants of the ordinary reader, in the Notes to Bishop Newcome’s “Literal Translation of the Prophets,” rendered very accessible in Tegg’s Edition of 1836. This work is very valuable for conciseness, accuracy, and the intelligible application of real learning.
Instead of distracting the attention by a variety of incoherent foot notes, it is intended to close the Second Volume of this Translation with the following Addenda, as a contribution towards a complete Apparatus Criticus: —
1. A copious Index Of Words, Phrases, And Things, occurring in these Lectures, on the basis of the original Latin Index Locupletissimus.
2. An Index Of The Places Of Scripture illustrated in these Lectures.
3. A List Of The Sacred And Profane Authors quoted by Calvin, with references.
4. A Complete Synopsis Of The Contents Of The Whole Of Ezekiel’s Prophecies
5. A Connected Translation Of Calvin’s Version Of The First Twenty Chapters, With A New Translation Of The Remaining Chapters
6. A List Of The Chief Interpreters, Ancient And Modern
7. A Notice Of The Ancient Versions And Codexes Which Contain Ezekiel’s Prophecies
8. A few Dissertations on important subjects illustrating these Lectures, with references to various modern Treatises, philological, exegetical, and hermeneutical.
There is prefixed to the present Volume a faithful and spirited facsimile of a very rare Portrait Of Calvin, which the monogram shows to have been engraved by Henry Hondius, or De Hondt the elder, an artist of considerable eminence, who was born at Duffel, in Brabant, about 1573, and died at La Haye in 1610. Among other works, he engraved Portraits of John Wickliffe, Philip Melancthon, John Bugenhagen, John Knox, and Jerome Savonarola.
It may be worth noticing, that Jodocus Hondius, or de Hondt, (who is also called Henry Hondius the younger,) was the son of Jodocus Hondius, or de Hondt Jost, a Flemish engraver, born at Ghendt in 1563, and probably a brother of Henry the elder, who fled to England in consequence of the troubles in the Low Countries. He engraved maps and portraits, constructed mathematical instruments, founded printing types, etc. Henry the younger studied the art of engraving under his uncle, Henry the elder, and finished many of his father’s plates after his death. He engraved a number of portraits in a very neat style, which are still highly esteemed.
The old copies of the Latin and French Editions of this valuable Commentary, having remarkable Title pages, copies in facsimile follow this Introductory Notice.
Havernick, Commentar uber Ezelkiel. Erlangen, 1843, See also Wielder Bibl. Relaworterbuch, art. Ezechiel. Leipsic, 1833.
Introduction, volume 4.
Antiq. 10:5, section 1.
Einleitung, volume 3
Lowth, Hebrews Prael., 21:279. 8vo, 2nd. ed.
Volume 3. 8vo, Leipsic, 1783.
Einleitung in das A. T., volume 3, and Geschichte der Hebrews Sprache u. Schrift, p. 35.
See Foreign Quarterly Review, volume 19, and volume 20.
Loc. 2. quaest. 4.
Institut. Theol. Polem., volume 2, and volume 3.
Volume 1 50 1 100:16.
S. Bagster, 1841.
For an account of “the Book of Zohar” and the” Nezach Israel,” see Wolf’s Bibliotheca Heb., volumes 2; and 4, also volume 1. Consult also Burcker’s Historia Critic. Phil., and the Prolegom. to Bertholdt’s Christol. Judoe. Various quotations are given by Dr. M’Caul in “The Old Paths,” and the subject is treated pointedly and intelligibly by Professor Lee of Cambridge in his University Sermons, 1830.
See Lansdowe MSS. in Brit. Museum. William Cecil, grandson of Lord Burghley, was present at one anniversary. The Duke of Sully was an eyewitness. His Remains, Book 1, contain much information respecting Coligny and his contemporaries. Sec. Edit., Lond. 1756.
See Villeroy’s Memoirs of State, volume 2. Also Matttieu Hist. France, volume 1. book 6. De Thou, book 52 and 53. And Sully’s Memoirs, book 1.