Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 39: Corinthians, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
THE AUTHOR’S FIRST EPISTLE DEDICATORY
TO THAT ILLUSTRIOUS MAN, JAMES OF BURGUNDY,
MASTER OF FALAIS AND BREDA
Would that this my Commentary, in which I have attempted to expound an Epistle not less obscure than useful, published, as it now is, in accordance with the earnest solicitations of many for a long time past, and even reiterated demands, may be correspondingly answerable to the hopes and wishes of all! I say this, not with the view of earning from this work any need of praise — an ambition that ought to be quite away from the minds of Christ’s servants — but from a desire that it may do good at all, which it cannot do, if it does meet with acceptance. I have, for my part, labored with the utmost faithfulness, and with no less diligence, that it may, without any show, be of the greatest service to the Church of God. How far I have succeeded, my readers will judge for themselves.
This much at least I am confident that I have secured — that it will furnish no ordinary assistance for thoroughly understanding Paul’s mind. That it will to you, most illustrious Sir, prove exceedingly acceptable, is so far from appearing to me doubtful, that I find it necessary even to warn you against allowing yourself to be carried beyond due bounds by an undue attachment to me, though, if it should so happen, I shall nevertheless regard your judgment as of so much importance, that I shall reckon myself to have succeeded admirably in my labors, if they have secured your unqualified approbation.
In dedicating my Work to you, 17 however, I have not been influenced solely by the hope of its being acceptable to you, but by various other considerations; and more especially this, that your personal character corresponded admirably with the argument of Paul’s Epistle. For while too many in the present day convert the Gospel into a cold and shadowy philosophy, imagining that they have sufficiently discharged their duty, if they simply give a nod of assent to what they hear, you, on the other hand, are an illustrious pattern of that living efficacy, 18 which Paul testifies, ought to breathe in the Gospel. This, assuredly, I do not mention on your account, but because I consider it to be of great importance by way of example.
It would have been an important point gained, though there had been nothing more than this, that, in the first order of nobility, in the elevated station of honor which you had obtained, and amidst a large abundance of fortune and wealth, (situations in life that are all of them at the present day overrun with so many corruptions,) you have yourself lived moderately and temperately, and have regulated your household in a chaste and honorable discipline. You have done both admirably. For you have conducted yourself in such a manner, as to lead all to perceive, by clear tokens, that you are altogether free from ambition. While retaining your splendor, as was necessary, it has been in such a manner, that, moderate as has been your style of living, no symptom of meanness was to be seen; while, at the same time, it was abundantly apparent that you avoided magnificence rather than courted it. You have shown yourself affable and kind to all, so that all were constrained to commend your moderation, while there was not even the slightest token of haughtiness or insolence to give offense to any one. As to your household, suffice it to say, in one word, that is has been regulated in such a manner, as to reflect the mind and manners of the Lord, as a mirror does the person. Even this would have been an illustrious and rare pattern of virtue for imitation.
I reckon it, however, of much greater importance, that while you have been groundlessly charged before the Emperor, through the calumnies of wicked men, and that, too, simply because Christ’s kingdom, whenever it begins to flourish in any quarter, drives them to madness and fury, you bear up with unconquerable magnanimity, and are now in exile from your native country, with no less credit than you had when adorning it previously with your presence. Other things I pass over, because it were tedious to enlarge. It ought indeed to be more than simply common and customary among Christians, not merely to leave contentedly behind them estates, castles, and princely domains, for Christ’s sake, but even cheerfully and willingly to despise in comparison with Him every thing that is most valued under heaven. In consequence, however, of the backwardness and indifference, too, of almost all of us, as the virtue itself is worthy of special admiration, so when it is seen in you so conspicuously, I do most earnestly desire that it may stir up many to a desire of emulation, that they may not in future be always lurking idly in their nests, but may at length discover openly some spark, if they have any, of Christian spirit.
As to your being assaulted from time to time with fresh accusations by those who are manifestly the infuriated enemies of piety, they will gain nothing by this, except to make themselves more and more odious by their gross indulgence in falsehood. At least every man in his senses, perceives that they are mad dogs, that would fain tear you in pieces, and when they cannot bite, take revenge upon themselves by barking. It is well that they do so at a distance, so as to be perfectly harmless. From the injuries of the wicked, however, much as they have diminished your pecuniary resources, there has accrued to you no less glory among the pious. You, however, as becomes a Christian, look beyond this. For you rest satisfied with nothing short of the heavenly glory, which is laid up for us with God, and will be manifested, so soon as “our outward man perishes.” — (2Co 4:16.)
Farewell, most illustrious Sir, with your noble partner. The Lord Jesus long preserve you both in safety for the spread of His kingdom, and always triumph in you over Satan, and the whole band of his troops!
Geneva, 24th January 1546.
In the interesting volume already referred to — “Lettres de Calvin a Jaque de Bourgogne“ — there is preserved the original letter of Calvin to James of Burgundy, (received on the 6th February 1546,) requesting permission to dedicate to him the Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians. The following translation of such parts of said letter as bear upon this point, will be interesting to the reader: —
“Since my letter was written, I have taken another thought as to the Dedicatory Epistle to my Commentary; for as there is much trouble and difficulty in binding one’s self to fill up a certain number of pages, and no more, I send it quite complete. At the same time it is with the understanding, that it is not to be printed, except by your order. Accordingly I enclose it in this, in order that Vendelin may not have it otherwise than through your hands. If it does not appear to you expedient that I should address it to you, I shall, on receiving notice to that effect, prepare a new one.
“Be not surprised, however, if I speak of you briefly; for I was afraid of coming upon some thorny points by going into more detail. But, according as matters shall turn out, we shall be able, God willing, in the second impression, to present fully in detail everything that will be necessary.”
In a subsequent letter to James of Burgundy, (received on the 2nd April 1546,) Calvin expresses in the following terms his high satisfaction on receiving permission to dedicate the Commentary to him: — “I give praise to our Lord, because the present of my Commentary is agreeable to you.” (Lettres de Calvin, etc.) — Ed.
Among other passages in the First Epistle to the Corinthians, which Calvin may be supposed to have had more particularly in his eye, there are the following, — 1Co 1:24; 1Co 2:4; and 1Co 4:20. In commenting on the last of these passages, he complains, as above, of the very general lack in his times of “spiritualis efficacia,” (spiritual efficacy.) — Ed.