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The Testimony of Calvin.
IT has fallen to the lot of few individuals to be more mistaken and misrepresented than the venerable Calvin. His great talents, his profound learn. ing, his fervent piety, his stupendous labours, his astonishing self-denial, and his sublime disinterestedness, have all been insufficient to protect him from the grossest abuse. His personal character, his theological opinions, and the form of ecclesiastical government which he preferred, have each, in turn, been the objects of accusation and slander. Had these unfair statements been either always the same, or consistent with themselves, it would not have been wonderful to find them making some impression on persons who had no access to sources of correct information. But when scarcely any two of these statements can be reconciled with each other; and when the most of them are expressly contradicted by authentic documents, it is truly, a matter of wonder that they should be favourably received by any who have the least claim to the character of learning or impar
tiality. This wonder, however, exists. We can hardly open a controversial work from the pen of any of our Episcopal brethren, without finding more or less obloquy directed against the illustrious Reformer of Geneva.
Dr. Bowden and Mr. How have indulged themselves in this obloquy in a manner, and to an extent, which appears to me to demand animadversion. And as they lay so much stress on the supposed concessions of Calvin in favour of Episcopacy; and, at the same time, appear to enter with such hearty good will into every attempt, by whomsoever made, to load his character with reproach, I have resolved to devote the whole of the present letter to a view of the writings, the opinions, and the general character of that celebrated man.
Had these gentlemen, been contented with exhibiting Calvin, as a man of a " fierce," " bulent," and "intolerant spirit;" had they spoken only of his "characteristic violence," of his "playing the tyrant," and of his malignant disposition to crush all who opposed him ;-to such charges I should have thought it unnecessary to reply. To refute them, completely and triumphantly, as applicable in any peculiar or preeminent degree to that apostolic man, nothing more is requisite than a tolerable acquaintance with the history of his life and time. When so many of the greatest and best Prelates that ever adorned the Church of England; men really learned, and breathing in an extraordinary degree the spirit of
the Gospel, have delighted to dwell on the praises of Calvin; when they have almost exhausted every epithet of respect in eulogizing his talents, his learning, his piety, his judgment, and the usefulness of his labours; his memory surely needs no defence against the attacks of Dr. Bowden and Mr. How. But when these gentlemen bring forward allegations and extracts, which are calculated to mislead even their intelligent readers, and to set the declarations and the practice of the pious Reformer at variance; I deem it my duty to make a few remarks, and to state a few facts, in vindication of what I consider as the cause of primitive truth and order.
Dr. Bowden and Mr. How represent Presbyterianism as having originated with Calvin. Now it happens that Presbyterianism, (to say nothing of its apostolic origin,) was introduced into Geneva, before Calvin ever saw that city, when he was about nineteen years of age, and while he was yet in the communion of the Church of Rome. The following quotation from Dr. Heylin, a high-toned Episcopalian, and a favourite authority of Dr. Bowden, will be considered by him as decisive. "In this "condition it (Geneva) continued, till the year "1528, when those of Berne, after a public dispu"tation held, had made an alteration in religion, "defacing images, and innovating all things in the "Church on the Zuinglian principles. Viretus and "Farellus, two men exceeding studious of the "Reformation, had gained some footing in Geneva, "about that time, and laboured with the Bishop to
"admit of such alterations, as had been newly "made in Berne. But when they saw no hopes "of prevailing with him, they practised on the "lower part of the people, with whom they had (6 gotten most esteem, and travelled so effectually "with them in it, that the Bishop and his clergy, "in a popular tumult, are expelled the town, never "to be restored to their former power. After "which they proceeded to reform the Church, de"facing images, and following in all points the ex"ample of Berne, as by Viretus and Farellus they "had been instructed; whose doings in the same, 66 were afterwards countenanced and approved by "Calvin, as himself confesseth*."
The declaration of Calvin to which Heylin refers, is probably that which he makes in his famous Letter to Cardinal Sadolet. In the beginning of that Letter, he expressly informs the Cardinal, that "the religious system of Geneva had been institu"ted, and its ecclesiastical government reformed, "before he was called thither. But that what had "been done by Farel and Viret, he heartily ap66 proved, and strove, by all the means in his power, to preserve and establish."
Beza also informs us, and, after him, Melchior Adam, and others, that in the year 1536, when Calvin stopped at Geneva, on his way to Basil, without having the remotest thought of settling at the former place, Farel and Viret, then Pastors of Geneva,
earnestly importuned him to remain in that city, and to become their associate in the ministry; that he still, however, declined; that it was not until Farel ventured, in the name of the Omnipotent God, to denounce a curse against him, if he should persist in refusing, that he consented to remain at Geneva; and that he at length submitted himself to the will of the PRESBYTERY, and of the magistrates, by whose suffrages, the consent of the people being obtained, he was elected and set apart as a Pastor, and also as a public Teacher of divinity, in the month of August, 1536*. From this statement one fact is indubitable, viz. that there was a Presbytery in Geneva before Calvin went thither. Another fact is equally clear, viz. that the settlement of a minister was considered as a proper act of the Presbytery. Nor will it in the least degree serve the cause of my opponents to contend that the ecclesiastical system of Geneva was, afterwards, newmodelled and improved by Calvin. Be it so. Still it is certain that the leading principles of Presbyterian polity, viz. the the doctrine of ministerial parity, the government of the Church by Presbyteries, and the appointment of Ruling Elders, or a number of pious and judicious laymen, formed into Church Sessions, or Consistories, to assist in administering discipline, were received and in use, before the public ministry of Calvin commenced, or any of his writings had appeared.
* See Beza's Life of Calvin; and Melchior Adam's do.