« PrécédentContinuer »
Few writers or divines, in any age, have been more exposed to the calumnies of their enemies, or less flattered by their friends, than John Calvin. His genius, his talents, his learning, his unwearied labour, his persevering activity, and his striking disinterestedness, secured for him no small share in the reformation. His system of church government, which originated in a great measure from the peculiar circumstances of affairs in Geneva, and was extended to France, Scotland, Holland, &c., gave him a more extended influence, and undisputed power, than he would otherwise have obtained, and contributed also to make him an object of hatred to the Roman hierarchy.
A deep and well-founded conviction that he has long laboured in my own country under a heavy load of unmerited obloquy induces me to draw a few outlines of his character. In doing this, I have been guided by all the authentic documents which I could command, without paying any regard to the statements either of his friends or foes.
Timidity, nay, even pusillanimity was one of the most striking features in the natural character of Calvin. He wanted courage, as a man, to face and encounter the commonest danger, while, as a Christian, he was prepared to meet the violent assaults of the most powerful emperors and monarchs, and to smile, with the most composed complacency, at the grim countenance of the king of terrors in his most horrid forms. He placed no confidence in himself, but depended upon the protection, and guidance, and strength of the arm of Omnipotence. He knew that his own power was nothing; but, relying upon the promises of unchanging Truth and infinite Love, no dominion, however great—no opposition, however violent-made him shrink from his Christian duty, or in any instance either to deny or recant the truth. He rested safe and secure under the panoply of the Lord of Hosts, whether threatened by the blasts of the pope and his minions, or attacked in Geneva by the vilest and most unprincipled of men. His religious and moral courage--the gift of the Holy Spirit—in which he was not surpassed by Luther himself, never forsook him; and he was equally intrepid in exposing what he considered the errors or improper compliances of the most distinguished leaders in the reformation, as he was unflinching in his opposition to every kind of heresy, and every heresiarch whose views diminished the simplicity, undermined the truth, or obscured the glory of the gospel. Our reformer, in carrying on his own unceasing combat with antichrist, used no armour but what he took from the impregnable tower of divine truth, and gloried in no strength, but the love, the righteousness, the grace, and regenerating influences of the Most High.
Calvin, from his earliest years, was unwearied in the pursuit of knowledge, and from the first moment that the book of God was opened to his mind by the Spirit of truth, to the last thread of his existence,
no labour, however great—no study, however arduous—no meditation, however intense, retarded him in his glorious career of doing all in his power for extending the kingdom of heaven. His most violent and implacable enemies have never dared to deny him this praise, and even Voltaire holds him up to the admiration and imitation of mankind for his almost unparalleled industry, and his admirable disinterestedness. If all his published and unpublished works were translated, they would form at least seventy octavo volumes, which were prepared in the midst of constant preaching and lecturing, of unceasing care for the church of God, continued controversies with the opponents of the gospel, arduous struggles for preserving the doctrines and discipline of the church of Geneva, frequent trials from his enemies, and repeated indisposition, during the short period of thirty-one years. He lived and laboured ever mindful of the coming of his Saviour; and was distinguished by study, contemplation, watchfulness, thanksgiving, and prayer.
Calvin's labours were incessant. He delivered more than 300 sermons and lectures every year ; and his correspondence, commentaries, controversial writings, and admonitions, &c., would form annually, during the period of thirty-one years, between two and three volumes octavo. The following extract from a letter to Farel, written in 1539, when he published his Commentary on Romans, gives us a clear view of the active character and persevering labours of our reformer. " When the messenger called for my book, I had twenty sheets to revise—to preachto read to the congregation—to write forty-two letters—to attend to some controversies—and to return answers to more than ten persons who interrupted me in the midst of my labours for advice.” If Protestant divines, in the nineteenth century, exhibited the same perseverance and alacrity in business which distinguished the great luminaries of the reformation, we should not hear of complaints about the increase of the Roman Catholics. The hierarchy of the church of Rome, both in England, in Ireland, and Scotland, can only be overcome by out-preaching, out-praying, and out-living them.
There is no part of the conduct of the reformers more worthy of imitation than their admirable disinterestedness. The following passage from a letter of Calvin to Farel, written in 1539, proves under how great a préssure of poverty his Commentary to the Romans was written. “ The Waldensian brethren are indebted to me for a crown, one part of which I lent them, and the other I paid to their messenger, who came with my brother to bring the letter from Sonerius. I requested them to give it you as a partial payment of my debt. I will return you the rest when I am able. My present condition is so very poor, that I have not one penny. It is singular, although my expenses are so great, that I must still live upon my own money unless I would burden my brethren. It is not easy for me to take that care of my health which you so affectionately recommended.” Had the ministers of the gospel in all ages displayed the same disinterestedness of conduct which marked Calvin, who left only three hundred crowns, even scandal itself could never have accused the clergy of avarice. Had all our archbishops and bishops exhibited the same spirit of love which distinguished the late bishop of Durham, who expended between two and three hundred thousand pounds in religious and benevolent purposes, and in giving money even for the building of Dissenting places of worship, no true Christian could have complained on account of the large annual stipends which the English bishops receive. Let the Dissenting ministers
imitate the conduct of John Wesley, who spent more than twenty thousand pounds in promoting the interests of religion and philanthropy, and died nearly as poor as Calvin ; and the constant example of disinterested conduct, which the clergy of all denominations would then exhibit, could not fail to increase the liberal character of the laymen. His learning was unc
incommonly accurate, and so extensive that Scaliger considered him the profoundest scholar since the days of the apostles. No man has made less parade and show of his knowledge, or been more assiduous in rendering it subservient to the great purpose of religion. The defence, illustration, and explanation of the Scriptures formed the great and leading object of his life; and his writings will ever remain a monument of his zeal and ardour in the cause of God and truth. Although he knew how to appreciate every kind and every department of literature and science, yet he was fully convinced that the treasury of the divine word, which had for so many centuries been concealed from the world by a tyrannical hierarchy, could only be unlocked by the most patient research, and extensive acquaintance with all the stores of ancient and modern knowledge.*
Few men seem to have possessed a stronger or more retentive memory, both for words and things, than this great luminary of the reformation, Close attention, clearness of thinking, order, frequent repetition, uncommon pleasure, and deep interest, in the great object of his pursuit, gave him an accuracy, extent, and quickness of retentive faculties rarely surpassed. He laid up all his varied stores of learning in well-arranged compartments, and was enabled
* Which gives a light to every age,
Which gives, but borrows none.