Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 22: Ezekiel, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
To The Most Noble Sire, Illustrious For Piety, 19
And Other Christian Virtues,
D. GASPAR DE COLIGNY,
Grand Admiral Of France, Theodore Beza, Minister Of The Church Of Geneva, Wishes Health And Peace From The Lord.
Although I am sure, most Noble Sire, that you are accustomed to profit much by the other writings of that great and truly excellent servant of God, John Calvin, and that you will also fully enjoy this last swanlike song’ of his, yet I do not doubt that the same feelings will affect you when reading, as they do me while writing, namely, that at the name of such a man, that recent grief, which we felt so severely at his death, will break out again with the heaviest sense of our loss. And truly this sorrow is the more just and necessary, since it neither can nor ought to be hastily put away from us, so that I think it quite lawful for us to indulge it.
As to the tempests which, of late years, God’s Church has sustained,, no one can be ignorant of them, since they have shaken the whole world, so that we can now use that expression — “What region of the World is not full of our sufferings?”
But many have not sufficiently taken notice, 20 with what defenders our Religion has been protected. The Lord has raised you up like Gideons and Samsons, not only in Germany, but in England and Scotland; and also lately, under the auspices of the most illustrious Prince or Conde, in our France, who, when your own life was in danger, through a variety of perils, turned away the swords of certain opponents from the necks of the pious. And, in truth, the chief enemies of the Church are not flesh and blood, since these can only injure the ‘body. Therefore, although that is in reality a most excellent gift of God, and your praise is very great, even before the angels of God, because at a most seasonable crisis so formidable an attack was averted by your prowess; yet with far other enemies, and with far other weapons, must we make war, and even now do we contend; and this contest, although not so formidable in appearance, yet is really more dangerous, because it involves the ruin of the whole family of God. I speak of spiritual wickedness, by which Satan endeavors to infect the doctrine, and to corrupt the morals; and if these are lost, the Church must not only be injured, but perish entirely. In carrying on this war, there are doubtless those leaders whom God has appointed Pastors, Teachers, and Presbyters of his Church, for this very purpose, that, by teaching, convincing, and praying, they may administer the kingdom of the Son of God; for these are the arms by which hostile forces are to be overcome. If you judge by names alone, you will find them numerous enough; if by reality, you will find them but few. Yet this our age has many of this kind, of whose constancy and labors we ourselves are the fruit and the harvest. But that the world is unworthy of such, this fact declares, that within three years, at a most unsuitable juncture, we have lost the very best and bravest; so that indeed, out of those mighty heroes who, in our time, so bravely and so successfully have thrown down Antichrist from his seat, we now behold but very few surviving, as Henry Bullinger, by God’s goodness, lately preserved to us from the pestilence, William Farrel, that old man of invincible strength, and Peter Viret, even up to this time contending in the Church at Lyons with success, even in the very front of the battle. Philip Melancthon was the first who fell in this last slaughter; next to him fell Peter the Martyr, when he had returned to his charge at Zurich, after the Assembly at Poissy. After him followed Wolfgang Musculus, and then Andrew Hyperius, as if the hand of the smiting Deity turned itself from north to south; for Melancthon died in Saxony, Hyperius in Hesse, and the two others in Switzerland. Alas! what great men, and how dearly beloved!
Yet, while John Calvin was alive, all these calamities were lightened; for that great man, far superior to others, while he was safe, made all other losses, however great, seem but light. And behold, our sins have snatched him also away from us last year, and no one can estimate the loss which The Church has suffered, unless those who were eyewitnesses of his labors. For what did that man not achieve? Who was to be compared with him in Meetings, in Lecturing, and in Writings. Who was shorter in teaching, and yet more solid — more happy in solving difficulties, more vehement in reproving, sweeter in consoling, and more correct in confuting errors? I know that, on the one hand, there are some Epicureans who laugh at what I say, (for will they not deride the servant when they mock at his Load?) and, on the other hand, that stupid and foolish men, to whom ignorance is the highest wisdom, despise it. Yet., I know this, that there is none among the more cunning enemies of God who does not silently think of him the same as I do. Each faction among the followers of Antichrist has and praises its own patron, and that, too, not without depreciating others. But may that stupid and profane ambition be far from us! We boast of neither Cephas, nor Paul, nor Apollos. Our language of Canaan is one! we have one Lord, by whom we swear.
But since there are different offices for the limbs of the same body, we prefer eyes to hands and feet; and since there are so many eyes of so large a body, we feel some more efficacious than others; but we praise and adore God in each part of this body. May this praise be offered entirely to our God and Lord; and he who does not perceive that we owe thanks for Calvin in a peculiar sense, has no judgment! But to what purpose are these remarks? There is this sweetness in these celestial goods, that by their recollection alone they most singularly profit and delight us. Hence the benefit of examples in both ways; nor is there any other end and scope of Sacred History, than that we should be affected while reading it, just as if we beheld the events themselves. So in that grief, with which all pious and good men ought ‘to be affected by the death of so great a man, and especially those who received daily almost incredible advantages from his presence, by his remarkable teaching and his wonderful prudence, two things ought chiefly to console us: One, that we are in no slight degree assisted by his recent and most beautiful examples of both sayings and doings, until also we ourselves, when the course of our navigation is finished, may be conveyed to the same port. The other, that no one has existed within our memory to whom it has been permitted to leave so many and such exact monuments of his doctrine; for, if God had granted to us for another year or two the enjoyment of so great a light, I do not see what could be wanting to the perfect understanding of the Books of either Covenant! There remain the Books called Historical, except Joshua, also Job and the two Books of Solomon, which he has not illustrated by his Commentaries; although his Discourses on Job, Samuel, and the First Book of Kilos, will partly supply this want to the French, as they were received from his mouth. For this great man obtained from the Load this gift also, that he spoke not much otherwise than he wrote. Of the Prophets, he illustrated Isaiah with complete Commentaries: his Lectures on the remaining Prophets are extant, edited with the greatest diligence and fidelity by two of his disciples, endued with learning and piety, John Bude, son of the great Bude, and Charles De Jonviller. But his premature death prevented him from completing Ezekiel, which is the more to be lamented by the Church, because this Prophet, especially towards the last, is the most obscure of all, and I know not who will ever arise to complete this picture commenced by such an Apelles!
We think that we have little reason to render an account why we have determined to edit this imperfect work. If any one should chance to ask, Why I have dedicated it to you rather than to any one else? I plainly tell him, that Calvin is responsible for it, on the principle of every one deciding as he pleases in things which concern himself, and that for most just and important reasons I have purposely done the very same that he also wished.
Why, then, should I not assent to his judgment, who in your absence admired and plainly perceived those surprising endowments of both body and mind, of which I was myself an eyewitness during twenty months, both in peace and war. But he said that in the Preface to his Works he trod in the footsteps of Paul, who salutes some persons by name in his Epistles with this special intention, that he might set before the Churches certain chosen men to be looked at by the rest., by whose examples they might be excited to true piety and to other virtues. As to the truth of his judgment concerning you, how many and what certain testimonies can be offered, if either your modesty would allow you to be praised to your face, or if it were proper to seek them, as if it were a matter of doubt? But there will be another opportunity, and I hope a more suitable one, of discussing these things.
I now prefer treating another point more pleasing to you, a man of exalted station, and yet the least ambitious of all. I had rather exhort you, most Noble Sire, with all diligence, to do what you are already doing, and have most successfully begun — not only to read, hear, and meditate upon these sacred things continually, and to use them really; but also, that you apply yourself to defend and preserve the Churches by all just means consistent with your dignity and fortitude of mind. Your mortal enemies, and those of all pious men, do not disguise the fact that you are especially aimed at by those who think that they themselves cannot exist if Religion is preserved. But I do not know you, if these very dangers do not rather sharpen than relax your courage. You yourself have most strikingly felt and experienced God’s care in defending his own. Your innocence and integrity sufficiently defend you against all accusations. You possess, if any of your rank does, that inward and invincible guard within the breast, which profane men call a wall of brass — I mean a good conscience, in reliance upon which, believe me, you will easily surpass all your adversaries.
In these contests nothing will strengthen you so much as a diligent comparison of the Prophetic with the Historic Writings. For here the events of the future are not falsely conjectured, as mankind are accustomed to do, from an observation of past events. Here no doubtful counsels are taken, no events are obstructed by a chance coincidence of second causes; but you enter, as it were, into the very plans of the Almighty; you behold the true causes, beginning, progress, and end of all changes; and those, too, plainly and clearly declared. For although the Prophets have their enigmas, yet to those who carefully compare all things among themselves, and are acquainted with the idioms of the Prophets, and thus compare their predictions with the events themselves, all things become so plain, that you seem to look down from above upon all human things, especially while relying upon that faithful Leader, who can lead you through a sure path in the midst of impassable and inaccessible places. Nor is there any cause why these things should be despised, as already spread abroad; or be neglected, as the relation of things long ago obsolete, as certain little wits of this day esteem them. For the Prophets do not treat of small and plebeian things, as some who are unskilled in these matters suppose, but concerning the greatest Monarchies, far surpassing any of these days; about the state of the greatest Kings and Princes; about the great God of Hosts sitting in judgment on the preservation and destruction of the greatest States — such are the contents of these Books. For in those times, the Kings, although profane and impious, never did what many do now, who are so ashamed of asking counsel of God speaking’ through his servants, that they are utterly careless of that; and dare to accuse of ambition the faithful servants of God, while discharging their duty. Indeed, there was not at that time any Nation, as all Sacred and Profane Historians testify, which decided on measures of importance, without first consulting its Prophets. And while I say this, I would not place the Ministers of the Word on the throne of Kings or Princes, or any other Magistrates, nor would I favor the ambition of any; but I state what is a fact, and what experience itself has lately proved, as I remember that you, most noble Sire, both perceived and expressed in good time.
Lastly, while I am saying something about the times, their fashion changes, I confess; but there is the same Lord, the same Providence, the same mercy towards the righteous, the same indignation towards the ungodly. But there are those perpetual and invariable, and, therefore, firmer laws of development, 21 than are found in even Mathematics themselves; since, if there is any firmness and consistency in events of any kind, it all depends upon the nature and will of God. We shall find the clearest declarations of these principles, not only generally as in the Law, but also particularly, in the Prophetic Writings, if we only compare past times with our own, and with the objects of our daily inquiry. Do you want an example? It is just four years ago since, at the Council at Poissy, The French Churches promised themselves the greatest peace and tranquillity, and their adversaries did not know where to turn themselves; but thus our man of God, at that time dedicating his Lectures On Daniel to those Churches, broke forth into these words: “But, if we must fight any longer, (as I announce to you that severer contests than ye think for are in store for you,) with whatsoever madness the rage of the impious may burst forth, so as to rouse up the very depths themselves, remember that your course is determined by the celestial Master of the race; whose laws ye ought to obey with the greater alacrity, because he supplies strength to his own even unto the end.” That he denounced this in a spirit truly prophetic, while the majority were anticipating the contrary, the numberless calamities which immediately followed declare; and of these no end even yet appears. ]Do you ask, whence came that prediction? Certainly not from that most deceptive and profane divination of Astrology, which he of all others used to condemn from God’s Word, but from those very Prophetic Books which he was then interpreting. Since, therefore, he saw the same evils prevalent in France, on account of which God was accustomed to chastise His people most severely, and to take vengeance on his enemies with just penalties, why should he not pronounce float the same inflictions hung over the impenitent?
In like manner, Luther foresaw and predicted The Late Slaughters In Germany, through contempt of God’s Word; and I wish that he had noticed better their principal causes. So also, at this very time, it is not difficult to perceive that throughout France, and especially among those who ought to know better, not only are notorious superstitions and manifest idolatries defended, but even open Epicureanism and horrible blasphemies, unheard of in all former times, are tolerated by all men hearing and laughing, since at length no place is left for justice and equity, and edicts and laws are enacted in vain. Who, then, is so blind that he cannot see horrible punishments hanging over the authors and defenders of these crimes, and possibly even over the whole kingdom? And in this instance I wish I may be a false prophet! For surely heaven and earth shall pass away, before God will permit these things to remain unrevenged — things which would horrify even the Turks! — and the longer their punishment is delayed, the heavier it will appear when it does come. I know that some will deride these things, as even Noah himself was derided: some also will vehemently accuse them, as Jeremiah was esteemed a man of strife. But, nevertheless, the truth of God will stand firm.
I pray God, therefore, most noble Sire, first, that He would specially endue his Majesty the King with all holy virtues, which, since it is already partly accomplished, all hope and wish may be continued. Next, I pray God to grant him many Counselors like thee and a few others, endowed — I say it without flattery — with the sacred prudence of His Spirit, and zeal for piety and justice, which is the symbol of Royal Majesty, by whose counsels so many faults may be seriously corrected, and a holy and just government happily instituted by the Sacred Word of God and the authority of the Royal Majesty. Lastly, I pray that God would happily establish and preserve you, with your truly Christian wife and children, and your most noble brothers and their holy families, and, lastly, all the assembly of the pious, who, after God and the King, look up to the most illustrious Prince Of Conde, concerning whom I hope to have another opportunity of speaking, and to thee, and to the rest of the pious and religious Nobility throughout France.
GENEVA, January 18th, 1565.
The French has “mirror and example of piety.”
The French reads — “But the evil is, that few have observed who those have been who have taken up the defense of religion.”
ἀποδείξεων principia. The French has simply “maximes,” which is not strong enough. The comparison with Mathematics is excellent, and suggests a mathematical expression.