Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 40: Corinthians, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
The Epistles Of Paul To The Corinthians contain more of admonition and reproof than most of his other Epistles. While The Church Of Corinth was more than ordinarily distinguished in respect of spiritual gifts, it had fallen into corruptions and abuses, from which the other Churches appear to have been, to a great extent, free. There is, accordingly — as might be expected — in these Epistles, more frequent reference to local evils, than in most of the other Epistles of the New Testament. They are not, however, on that account the less adapted for general utility. While the reproofs which they contain were occasioned by the corrupt state of a particular Church, they will be found to involve general principles of the highest importance to the Church of Christ under all circumstances. The Epistles to the Corinthians “have,” says Dr. Guyse, in his Preface to the Second Epistle, “some advantages that are not to be met with in any other part of the word of God, as they may be deemed the seat of divine directions, relating to the spiritual privileges, rights, and powers, worship and discipline of the Churches of Christ; to the purity of doctrines, manners, and celebrations of Gospel ordinances; and to the unity, peace, and order, mutual watch and care, and religious respect to faithful pastors, that ought to be preserved among them.”
As, in the perusal of the four Gospels, the attentive reader can scarcely fail to observe, that many of the instructive sayings of our blessed Lord, which are placed on record by the Evangelists, arose naturally out of occurrences of an accidental nature, — though taking place under the watchful superintendence of him
without whom not even a sparrow falleth on the ground,
— so we find a large portion of the invaluable directions furnished in the Epistles of the New Testament for the regulation of the Church in every subsequent age, presented incidentally — as if suggested to the mind of the sacred writer by corruptions of doctrine and practice, into which some particular Church in the primitive age had been left to fall. While the unhappily corrupt state of the Church of Corinth, as indicated in the two Epistles addressed to it, tended to mar, in no inconsiderable degree, the prosperity of the cause of Christ in that city, and was an occasion of poignant grief to the mind of Paul, who felt the more solicitous for their welfare from his sustaining to them the relationship — not simply of an instructor, but of a father, (1Co 4:15,) the flagrant abuses which had crept in among them were, in the providence of God, overruled for good to the Church of Christ generally, by giving occasion for a fuller development than might otherwise have been necessary, of some of the most important principles of practical Christianity.
The Epistles to the Church of Corinth are a portion of Paul’s writings, which, as is justly observed by Dr. Alexander, in his Preface to Billroth on the Corinthians, “occupies a very important place in the sacred canon. Besides containing some loca classica upon several of the most essential positions in doctrinal theology, such, for instance, as the deity of Christ, the personality and agency of the Holy Spirit, the resurrection of the body, etc., the two Epistles to the Corinthians may be regarded as constituting the great code of practical ethics for the Christian Church. In this respect they stand to the science of practical theology in a relation analogous to that occupied by the Epistles to the Romans, the Galatians, and the Hebrews, to the science of systematic divinity; they contain the fullest development of those principles on which that science must rest, and the practices which its rules are to authorize or inculcate.” 185
What increases not a little the utility of Paul’s Epistles to the Corinthian Church is the circumstance that the latter Epistle was written by him a considerable time (about a year, it is generally supposed) subsequently to the former, when opportunity had been given for the Apostle’s receiving accounts as to the effect produced upon the minds of the Corinthians by the faithful, though at the same time affectionate counsels and admonitions, which he had addressed to them in his first Epistle. The Apostle had been intensely anxious as to the effect, which his former Epistle might produce on the minds of the Corinthians. While his authority as an Apostle, and that too in a Church which he had himself planted, was at stake, he was, we may believe, chiefly concerned for the purity of doctrine and discipline, as in danger of being seriously impaired by the corrupt state of the Church of Corinth. With feelings of deep solicitude he left Ephesus, where it is generally believed he wrote his first Epistle to the Corinthian Church, and proceeded to Troas, a sea-port town on the coast of the AEgean Sea, hoping to meet with Titus there on his return from Corinth. Disappointed in this expectation, he went forward to Macedonia, where he at length met with Titus, and received most gratifying accounts as to the favorable reception, which his former Epistle had met with from the Corinthians, and the salutary effect which it had produced in remedying, to a great extent., the evils that he had found occasion to censure.
It must have afforded to the mind of the Apostle no ordinary satisfaction to learn, that his admonitions and reproofs had awakened in the minds of the Corinthians the most poignant grief in reflecting on the unworthy part which they had acted — that they had manifested unabated esteem and affection toward him as their spiritual father — that they had, in accordance with his instructions, excluded from their society a gross offender, whose unnatural crime they had too long connived at; and farther, that the exercise of discipline in that painful case had been most salutary in its effects upon the offender himself, so that the Apostle, from what he had learned as to the evidences of repentance, was now prepared to instruct the Corinthian Christians to receive him back, without hesitation or delay, into their fellowship. He had, also, the satisfaction of learning, that his exhortations, in the close of his former Epistle, to liberality in contributing for the relief of the “poor saints at Jerusalem,” had been promptly and cheerfully responded to. While Paul’s second Epistle to the Corinthians furnishes in these and other respects, express proofs of the beneficial effects of his former Epistle, his entire silence in the latter Epistle in reference to various evils unsparingly censured by him in the former, gives reason to believe that, in connection with these also, a more hopeful state of matters had begun to appear. Among these we may notice their party contendings, their vexatious lawsuits, their corrupt administration of the Sacred Supper, their disorderly exercise of spiritual gifts, and, in fine, their erroneous views on the important subject of the resurrection.
Thus “the success” of the first Epistle to the Corinthians, as is justly observed by Barnes, in the Introduction to his Notes on that Epistle, “was all that Paul could desire. It had the effect to repress their growing strifes, to restrain their disorders, to produce true repentance, and to remove the person who had been guilty of incest in the Church. The whole Church was deeply affected with his reproofs, and engaged in hearty zeal in the work of reform. (2Co 7:9-11.) The authority of the Apostle was recognised, and his Epistle read with fear and trembling. (2Co 7:15.) The act of discipline which he had required on the incestuous person was inflicted by the whole Church. (2Co 2:6.) The collection which he had desired, (1Co 16:1-4,) and in regard to which he had boasted of their liberality to others, and expressed the utmost confidence that it would be liberal, (2 Cor. 9:2, 3,) was taken up agreeably to his wishes, and their disposition on the subject was such as to furnish the highest satisfaction to his mind. (2 Cor. 7:13, 14.) Of the success of his letter, however, and of their disposition to take up the collection, Paul was not apprised until he had gone into Macedonia, where Titus came to him, and gave him information of the happy state of things in the Church at Corinth. (2 Cor. 7:4, 13.) Never was a letter more effectual than this was, and never was authority in discipline exercised in a more happy and successful way.”
At the same time, Paul’s second Epistle to the Corinthian Church is of a mixed character, being designed in part to rectify evils still existing among them, and to vindicate the Apostle from injurious aspersions, thrown out against him by the false teachers. In various parts of the Epistle, but more particularly toward the close, he establishes his claims to apostolical authority.
A succinct view of the general tenor and design of this Epistle is given by Poole, in his Annotations, in the following terms: — “The occasion of his” (Paul’s) “writing this second Epistle seemeth to be partly the false teachers aspersing him:
1. As an inconstant man, because he had promised to come in person to Corinth, and was not yet come; the reason of which he showeth, 2Co 1:12-2:4, was not levity, but the troubles he met with in Asia, and his desire to hear that they had first reformed the abuses he had taxed them for.
2. As an imperious man, because of the incestuous person against whom he had wrote; which charge he avoids, by showing the necessity of his writing in that manner, and giving new orders for the restoring him, upon the repentance he had showed.
3. As a proud and vain-glorious man.
4. As a contemptible person — base in his person, as he expresseth it.
The further occasions of his writing were — to commend them for their kind reception of, and compliance with, the precepts and admonitions of his former Epistle, and their kind reception of Titus — as also to exhort them to a liberal contribution to the necessities of the saints in Judea, to which they had showed their forwardness a year before; and his hearing that there was yet a party amongst them bad enough, that went on vilifying him and his authority, as well as in other sinful courses; against whom he vindicateth himself, magnifying his office, assuring them that he was about to come to Corinth, when they should find him present, such as being absent he had by his letters declared himself, if they were not reformed.
“The substance, therefore, of this Epistle, is partly apologetical, or excusatory, where he excuseth himself for his not coming to Corinth so soon as he thought, and for his so severe writing as to the incestuous person — partly hortatory, where he persuadeth them more generally to walk worthy of the gospel; more specially (2Co 8:9) to a liberal contribution to the saints — partly minatory or threatening, where he threateneth severity against those whom, when he came amongst them, he should find contumacious and impenitent offenders. He concludes the Epistle (as usually) with a salutation of them, pious exhortations to them, and a prayer for them.”
Calvin, it will be observed, dedicates his Commentary on the second Epistle to the Corinthians to Melchior Wolmar, a man of great celebrity, under whom Calvin acquired a knowledge of the Greek language. “The academy of Bourges,” says Beza, in his Life of Calvin, “had [...] acquired great celebrity through Andrew Alciat, (undoubtedly the first lawyer of his age,) who had been invited to it from Italy. Calvin thought right to study under him also. He accordingly went thither, and on grounds both religious and literary, formed a friendship with Melchior Wolmar, a German from Rothweil, and professor of Greek. I have the greater pleasure in mentioning his name, because he was my own teacher, and the only one I had from boyhood up to youth. His learning, piety, and other virtues, together with his admirable abilities as a teacher of youth, cannot be sufficiently praised. On his suggestion, and with his assistance, Calvin learned Greek. The recollection of the benefit which he thus received from Wolmar he afterwards publicly testified, by dedicating to him his Commentary on the First” (Second) “Epistle to the Corinthians.” 186
The circumstances connected with his attendance on the instructions of that distinguished teacher are interesting, as giving occasion to mark the leadings of providence in preparing Calvin for the important work, which was afterwards assigned him in the Church of Christ. His father had originally intended him for the ministry, and procured for him a benefice in the cathedral church of Noyon, and afterwards the rectory of Pont-Eveque, the birthplace of his father.
Not long afterwards, however, his father resolved to send him to study civil law, as a more likely means of worldly preferment, while in the mean time Calvin, having been made acquainted with the doctrines of the reformed faith by one of his own relations, Peter Robert Olivet, had begun to feel dissatisfied with the Romish Church, and had left off attendance on the public services of the Church. With the view of devoting himself to the study of law, he removed to Orleans, and placed himself under the tuition of Peter De L’etoile, a French lawyer of great celebrity, and made in a short time surprising progress, so that very frequently, in the absence of the professors, he supplied their place, and was regarded as a teacher rather than a pupil. He afterwards went to Bourges, with the view of prosecuting the study of law under the celebrated Andrew Alciat. While there he formed, as is stated in the foregoing extract from Beza’s Life of Calvin, an intimate friendship with Melchior Wolmar, his instructor in the Greek tongue. Having received intimation of the sudden death of his father, he broke off abruptly the studies in which he was engaged, and having returned to Noyon, his native town, he soon afterwards devoted himself to other and higher pursuits. The study of civil law, to which he had devoted himself for a time, in compliance with his father’s wishes, though ultimately abandoned, was not without its use, in connection with those sacred pursuits to which his subsequent life was devoted. It may be interesting to the reader to observe unequivocal evidences of this, as furnished in the following encomiums pronounced upon Calvin by two eminent writers of sound and unbiassed judgment: —
“A founder,” says Hooker, “it” (the Presbyterian polity) “had, whom, for mine own part, I think incomparably the wisest man that ever the French Church did enjoy, since the hour it enjoyed him. His bringing up was in the study of the civil law. Divine knowledge he gathered, not by hearing and reading, so much as by teaching others. For, though thousands were debtors to him as touching knowledge in that kind, yet he to none but only to God, the Author of that most blessed fountain, the Book of Life, and of the admirable dexterity of wit, together with the helps of other learning, which were his guide.” 187 “Calvin,” says M. D’alembert, “who with justice enjoyed a high reputation, was a scholar of the first order. He wrote in Latin as well as is possible in a dead language, and in French with a purity that was extraordinary for his time. This purity, which is to the present day admired by our critics, renders his writings greatly superior to almost all of the same age; as the works of MM. de Port Royal are still distinguished on the same account, from the barbarous rhapsodies of their opponents and contemporaries. Calvin being a skilful lawyer, and as enlightened a divine as a heretic can be, drew up, in concert with the magistrates, a code of laws,” etc. 188
While Calvin’s large acquirements in the study of civil law were thus eminently serviceable in other and higher departments of labor, the other branch of study cultivated by him while at Bourges — the knowledge of the Greek tongue — was more directly fitted to prepare him, though he little thought of it at the time, for the sacred pursuits in which Providence called him to engage, with devotedness and success, in after years. Under the tuition of Wolmar, he appears to have applied himself to the study of the Greek language with the greatest diligence and ardour. “He did not indeed,” says Tholuck, “learn Greek before his residence in Bourges, but he could not have been then, at most, more than twenty-two years old; and it is not therefore strange, that, with his resolute spirit, he made himself complete master of it.” 189 His instructor in this department, Melchior Wolmar, was a man of distinguished talent, and of high moral worth. Beza, who, as we have seen, expresses in his Life of Calvin, in the strongest terms, his esteem for Wolmar, his sole instructor, has furnished in his Icones, (French edition,) entitled, “Les vrais Pourtraits des Hommes illustres,” (à Génève 1581, pp. 148-51,) the following interesting sketch of the leading particulars of the life of this distinguished man.
“Melior Wolmar of Rotweil, Professor of Civil Law, and of the Greek Language, in the University of Tübingen, (originally called Melchior, but latterly Joachim Camerarius, a very learned personage, and also Professor of Literature in Tübingen, admiring the probity of Wolmar, softened the name and changed it thus,) was born at Rotweil, which is an allied town of the Cantons, was brought up at Berne, and studied at Paris, where he immediately became well known for his admirable expertness in the Greek and Latin languages, as also in the town of Orleans, and more particularly at Bourges, where, being in the pay of Margaret Of Valois, Queen Of Navarre, and Duchess of Berry, he read in Greek and in Latin, was admitted as teacher by the advice of Andrew Alciat, the prince of lawyers in our times. Farther, his house was frequented by men that were learned and fearers of God, among whom must be numbered John Calvin, who had no hesitation in placing himself under Wolmar, to learn from him the Greek language, he having opened a school expressly for certain young men of good family and of great hope, in which he succeeded so admirably, that there could not have been found a man better qualified for the successful training of youth, and there was no one who had educated in a proper manner so large a number as he had done.
“France would have reaped more fruits of Melior’s industry, had not the persecutions that arose against the Church of God, and respect for Ulrich, Duke Of Wittemberg, by whom he was invited, drawn him away to Tübingen in the year 1535, when, having read in law, and having interpreted Greek authors during upwards of twenty years with great honor, he was at length permitted to resign. Having retired, with his wife, named Margaret, to Isne, a town belonging to that lady, he was attacked with paralysis, and at the end of some months, he and his wife (overcome as she was with grief) died on the same day — it being the will of God, that those whom a sacred friendship had held bound during the space of twenty-seven years complete, should be inclosed in the same tomb.
“He was an accomplished personage in all the gifts that are requisite for making a man accomplished. Above all he was amazingly charitable to the poor, and at the same time so remote from ambition, that, while he had the Greek and Latin languages at his command, he put to the press nothing but an elegant preface, 190 introductory to the Grammar of Demetrius Chalcondyles.
“Having had in my childhood, as my preceptor, so distinguished a personage, (revered by me, while he lived, as my own father), I have bewailed his death, and that of his wife, in three Latin Epigrams, now rendered into French. He died at Isne in the year 1561, at the age of 64 years.
Vous, que le sainct lien de mariage assemble,
En ces deux contemplez d’vn mariage heureux,
L’exemplaire certain et rare tout ensemble,
MELIOR, Marguerite, en mesme iour es cieux,
Se virent esleuez. Ainsi ceux que la vie
Auoit apariez eurent par mesme mort,
La vie en mesme tombe à la mort asseruie,
Attendant ce iour plaisant et lumineux,
Que de l’heur eternel ils iouiront tous deux.
MELIOR, le meilleur, et le plus docte aussi
Qu’ait bienheuré ce temps ci,
Es tu donques couché, muet, dessous la charge
D’vn tombeau pesant et large?
Et ton disciple parle et demeure debout?
Las! oui, mais iusques au bout
Le viure et le parler desormais le martyre:
Car son cœur rien ne desire,
Sinon en mesme creux estre pres toy couché
Puis qu’auec toy gist caché
Le beau chœur des neuf sœurs, du ciel de fauorites,
La douceur, les Charites.
Mausolee superbe, et vous, tant rechantees,
En l’Egypte iadis Pyramides plantees,
A iust occasion vous pouuez d’vn faux œil
Regarder maintenant de ces deux le cercueil.
Il n’y a rien meilleur que nostre Melior, 191
La perle ou Marguerite 192 est d’Inde le Thresor.
Calvin’s Commentary On The Second Epistle To The Corinthians appears to have been published by him only a few months after his Commentary on the First Epistle, his dedication to his Commentary on the Second Epistle bearing date 1st August 1546, while his first dedication to the Commentary on the First Epistle bears date 24th January 1546.
In Senebier’s Literary History of Geneva, quoted in Calvin on Genesis, (vol. 1.) a list of Calvin’s Commentaries is given in the order in which they are supposed to have been published. In that list the Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans is placed first in order, and is stated to have been published in 1540. Next in order is the “Commentary on all the Epistles of Paul,” which is stated to have been published in 1548. It will be observed, however, that while the Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans is supposed to have been published in 1540, the first dedication to the Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, and the dedication to the Commentary on the Second Epistle, both of them bear date 1546. It is stated by Beza in his Life of Calvin, that during the contentions which prevailed in the Church in 1548, and some preceding years, Calvin was “not only not idle, but, as if he had been living in retirement, wrote most learned commentaries on six of Paul’s Epistles.” 193 The six Epistles referred to appear to have been the two Epistles to the Corinthians, and the Epistles to the Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians, Calvin’s Commentary on the last four of these having been published, as appears from the dedication prefixed to it, in 1548.
What is chiefly of importance to be observed, in connection with the respective dates of the Epistles above referred to, is the circumstance noticed by Beza — that Calvin wrote his “most learned Commentaries” on those Epistles “as if he had been living in retirement,” while in reality amidst scenes, which would have incapacitated any ordinary mind for such pursuits. In the careful study of these interesting portions of the Volume of Inspiration, Calvin’s devout mind found refreshment amidst scenes of turmoil; and we cannot doubt, that while preparing, under circumstances like these, his Commentaries on the Epistles to the Corinthians, and most of Paul’s other Epistles, he had ample experience of what he himself so beautifully expresses, when commenting on Ps 119:50,
This is my comfort in my affliction, for thy word hath quickened me:
“The Prophet... had good reason for stating, that in the time of affliction the faithful experience animation and vigour solely from the word of God inspiring them with life. Hence, if we meditate carefully on his word, we shall live even in the midst of death, nor will we meet with any sorrow so heavy for which it will not furnish us with a remedy. And if we are bereft of consolation and succour in our adversities, the blame must rest with ourselves; because, despising or overlooking the word of God, we purposely deceive ourselves with vain consolation.” 194
Elgin, June 1849.
Biblical Cabinet, volume 21.
Calvin’s Tracts, volume 1.
Hooker’s Ecclesiastical Polity, pref., p. 44 Folio. Lond. 1676.
Encyclopédie, Art. Génève.
Merits of Calvin, p. 26.
It is stated by Lemprière, in his Universal Dictionary, (Art. Wolmar Melchior,) that Wolmar “wrote Commentaries on the two first Books of the Iliad.” Beza’s meaning evidently is, that he did not publish any original work. — Ed.
There is here, obviously, a play upon words, (common in that age,) founded on the coincidence between the names of Melior and Margaret with melior (Fr. meilleur) better, and margarita (Fr. marguerite) a pearl. — Ed.
The original versions of the first and third Epigrams are given in Beza’s “Poemata Varia,” (Genevae, 1614,) p. 47, as follows: —
“Melioris Volmarii, patria Rotvillensis, viri spectatiss. tum pietatis, tum doctrinae, praeceptoris perpetua memoria colendi, et Margaritae ipsius coniugis: uno eodemque die fato functorum, et eodem tumulo conditorum, Memoriae;” — “To the memory of Melchior Wolmar, a native of Rotweil, a man most highly esteemed at once for piety and learning, an instructor to be ever kept in remembrance, and Margaret, his spouse, who died on one and the same day, and were buried in the same tomb”
“Coniugii exemplum rarum, certumque beati
Spectate cuncti coniuges:
Una dies nobis Meliorem sustulit, una
Et Margaritam sustulit:
Sic uno quos vita thoro coniunxerat, uno
Mors una tumulo condidit:
Una ambos donec reddat lux unius olim
“Quum tumulo lateat Melior Volmarius isto,
Cui Margarita adest comes,
Est illi cur inuideas Mausole, diuque
Celebrata Pyramidum strues,
Namque nihil melius Meliore, nec India quidquam
Fert Margarita carius.”
In addition to the above, two Latin Epigrams by Beza, in honor of Wolmar, are to be found in his “Poemata Varia:” —
“In Meliorem Volmarum praeceptorem summe observandum, doctissime Homerum in Academia Bituricensi interpretantem, anno Domini cloloXXXiv, quum ageret annum Beza 15
“Flacce, tibi quandoque bonus dormitat Homerus,
Sed num propterea caecus Homerus erat?
Immo oculis captus quinam credatur Homerus,
Quem sequitur vaturn caetera turba ducem?
Illius sed enim splendorem longa vetustas
Obruerat densis, heu, nimium tenebris.
Tu Melior, donec fato meliora renato
Dux ipsi fieres, Volmare magne, duci.”
BEZA’s “Poemata Varia,” p. 77.
“Meliori Volmaro praeceptori, summe observando.
Ergo placet nostros iterum vulgare furores?
Ergo semel non est desipuisse satis?
Sic, Volmare, iubes: et ego tibi (quaeso) iubenti
Quid tandem iusta cum ratione negem?
Quid facerem? quae nos tibi consecrauimus olim,
Eripere haec eadem quo tibi iure queam?
Adde, quod ipse tuus quum sit quoque muneris auctor
Haec quum dona petis, tu tua dona petis.
Fama igitur valeat, nos iam nil fama moratur
Fas, tibi quo placeam, displicuisse mihi.”
Beza’s “Poemata Varia,” p. 87.
Calvin’s Tracts, volume 1.
Calvin on the Psalms, vol. 4, p. 437.