Calvin produced commentaries on most of the books of the Bible. His commentaries cover the larger part of the Old Testament, and all of the new excepting Second and Third John and the Apocalypse. His commentaries and lectures stand in the front rank of Biblical interpretation. Commentaries On The Gospel Of John are numerous, and some of them are written with great learning and ability. Rarely has a separate and extended interpretation been given to any of the other three Gospels, which are, indeed, so closely interwoven with each other, that it is scarcely possible to expound one of them in a satisfactory manner, without bringing the whole into one view, comparing parallel passages, accounting for apparent contradictions, and supplying the omissions of each narrative, to such an extent as to produce what shall be in substance, though not always in form, a HARMONY OF THE THREE EVANGELISTS. The present Work brings under review some of the most intricate questions in theology; and in handling them he is not more careful to learn all that has been revealed than to avoid unauthorized speculation. They who know the difficulty of the path will the more highly appreciate so skillful a guide, who advances with a firm step, points out the bypaths which have misled the unwary, conducts us to scenes which we had not previously explored, and aids us in listening to a Divine voice which says, This is the way, walk, ye in it. This edition contains the commentaries on John 1 - 11.
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Commentaries On The Gospel Of John Vol. 1
John Calvin – A Biography
Commentaries On The Gospel Of John Vol. 1
The Translator’s Preface
To The Reader
The Author’s Epistle Dedicatory
The Argument Of The Gospel Of John
Commentaries On The Gospel Of John Vol. 1, John Calvin
Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck
86450 Altenmünster, Germany
By William Barry
This man, undoubtedly the greatest of Protestant divines, and perhaps, after St. Augustine, the most perseveringly followed by his disciples of any Western writer on theology, was born at Noyon in Picardy, France, 10 July, 1509, and died at Geneva, 27 May, 1564.
A generation divided him from Luther, whom he never met. By birth, education, and temper these two protagonists of the reforming movement were strongly contrasted. Luther was a Saxon peasant, his father a miner; Calvin sprang from the French middle-class, and his father, an attorney, had purchased the freedom of the City of Noyon, where he practised civil and canon law. Luther entered the Order of Augustinian Hermits, took a monk's vows, was made a priest and incurred much odium by marrying a nun. Calvin never was ordained in the Catholic Church; his training was chiefly in law and the humanities; he took no vows. Luther's eloquence made him popular by its force, humour, rudeness, and vulgar style. Calvin spoke to the learned at all times, even when preaching before multitudes. His manner is classical; he reasons on system; he has little humour; instead of striking with a cudgel he uses the weapons of a deadly logic and persuades by a teacher's authority, not by a demagogue's calling of names. He writes French as well as Luther writes German, and like him has been reckoned a pioneer in the modern development of his native tongue. Lastly, if we term the doctor of Wittenberg a mystic, we may sum up Calvin as a scholastic; he gives articulate expression to the principles which Luther had stormily thrown out upon the world in his vehement pamphleteering; and the "Institutes" as they were left by their author have remained ever since the standard of orthodox Protestant belief in all the Churches known as "Reformed." His French disciples called their sect "the religion"; such it has proved to be outside the Roman world.
The family name, spelt in many ways, was Cauvin latinized according to the custom of the age as Calvinus. For some unknown reason the Reformer is commonly called Maître Jean C. His mother, Jeanne Le Franc, born in the Diocese of Cambrai, is mentioned as "beautiful and devout"; she took her little son to various shrines and brought him up a good Catholic. On the father's side, his ancestors were seafaring men. His grandfather settled at Pont l'Evêque near Paris, and had two sons who became locksmiths; the third was Gerard, who turned procurator at Noyon, and there his four sons and two daughters saw the light. He lived in the Place au Blé (Cornmarket). Noyon, a bishop's see, had long been a fief of the powerful old family of Hangest, who treated it as their personal property. But an everlasting quarrel, in which the city took part, went on between the bishop and the chapter. Charles de Hangest, nephew of the too well-known Georges d'Amboise, Archbishop of Rouen, surrendered the bishopric in 1525 to his own nephew John, becoming his vicar-general. John kept up the battle with his canons until the Parliament of Paris intervened, upon which he went to Rome, and at last died in Paris in 1577. This prelate had Protestant kinsfolk; he is charged with having fostered heresy which in those years was beginning to raise its head among the French. Clerical dissensions, at all events, allowed the new doctrines a promising field; and the Calvins were more or less infected by them before 1530.
Gerard's four sons were made clerics and held benefices at a tender age. The Reformer was given one when a boy of twelve, he became Curé of Saint-Martin de Marteville in the Vermandois in 1527, and of Pont l'Eveque in 1529. Three of the boys attended the local Collège des Capettes, and there John proved himself an apt scholar. But his people were intimate with greater folk, the de Montmor, a branch of the line of Hangest, which led to his accompanying some of their children to Paris in 1523, when his mother was probably dead and his father had married again. The latter died in 1531, under excommunication from the chapter for not sending in his accounts. The old man's illness, not his lack of honesty, was, we are told, the cause. Yet his son Charles, nettled by the censure, drew towards the Protestant doctrines. He was accused in 1534 of denying the Catholic dogma of the Eucharist, and died out of the Church in 1536; his body was publicly gibbeted as that of a recusant.
Meanwhile, young John was going through his own trials at the University of Paris, the dean or syndic of which, Noel Bédier, had stood up against Erasmus and bore hard upon Le Fèvre d'Etaples (Stapulensis), celebrated for his translation of the Bible into French. Calvin, a "martinet", or oppidan, in the Collèege de la Marche, made this man's acquaintance (he was from Picardy) and may have glanced into his Latin commentary on St. Paul, dated 1512, which Doumergue considers the first Protestant book emanating from a French pen. Another influence tending the same way was that of Corderius, Calvin's tutor, to whom he dedicated afterwards his annotation of I Thessalonians, remarking, "if there be any good thing in what I have published, I owe it to you". Corderius had an excellent Latin style, his life was austere, and his "Colloquies" earned him enduring fame. But he fell under suspicion of heresy, and by Calvin's aid took refuge in Geneva, where he died September 1564. A third herald of the "New Learning" was George Cop, physician to Francis I, in whose house Calvin found a welcome and gave ear to the religious discussions which Cop favoured. And a fourth was Pierre-Robert d'Olivet of Noyon, who also translated the Scriptures, our youthful man of letters, his nephew, writing (in 1535) a Latin preface to the Old Testament and a French one — his first appearance as a native author — to the New Testament.
By 1527, when no more than eighteen, Calvin's educatlon was complete in its main lines. He had learned to be a humanist and a reformer. The "sudden conversion" to a spiritual life in 1529, of which he speaks, must not be taken quite literally. He had never been an ardent Catholic; but the stories told at one time of his ill-regulated conduct have no foundation; and by a very natural process he went over to the side on which his family were taking their stand. In 1528 he inscribed himself at Orléans as a law student, made friends with Francis Daniel, and then went for a year to Bourges, where he began preaching in private. Margaret d'Angoulême, sister of Francis I, and Duchess of Berry, was living there with many heterodox Germans about her.
He is found again at Paris in 1531. Wolmar had taught him Greek at Bourges; from Vatable he learned Hebrew; and he entertained some relations with the erudite Budaeus. About this date he printed a commentary on Seneca's "De Clementiâ". It was merely an exercise in scholarship, having no political significance. Francis I was, indeed, handling Protestants severely, and Calvin, now Doctor of Law at Orléans, composed, so the story runs, an oration on Christian philosophy which Nicholas Cop delivered on All Saints' Day, 1532, both writer and speaker having to take instant flight from pursuit by the royal inquisitors. This legend has been rejected by modern critics. Calvin spent some time, however, with Canon du Tillet at Angoulême under a feigned designation. In May, 1534, he went to Noyon, gave up his benefice, and, it is said, was imprisoned. But he got away to Nerac in Bearn, the residence of the Duchess Margaret, and there again encountered Le Fèvre, whose French Bible had been condemned by the Sorbonne to the flames. His next visit to Paris fell out during a violent campaign of the Lutherans against the Mass, which brought on reprisals, Etienne de la Forge and others were burnt in the Place de Grève; and Calvin accompanied by du Tillet, escaped — though not without adventures — to Metz and Strasburg. In the latter city Bucer reigned supreme. The leading reformers dictated laws from the pulpit to their adherents, and this journey proved a decisive one for the French humanist, who, though by nature timid and shy, committed himself to a war on paper with his own sovereign. The famous letter to Francis I is dated 23 August, 1535. It served as a prologue to the "Institutes", of which the first edition came out in March, 1536, not in French but in Latin. Calvin's apology for lecturing the king was, that placards denouncing the Protestants as rebels had been posted up all over the realm. Francis I did not read these pages, but if he had done so he would have discovered in them a plea, not for toleration, which the Reformer utterly scorned, but for doing away with Catholicism in favour of the new gospel. There could be only one true Church, said the young theologian, therefore kings ought to make an utter end of popery. (For an account of the "Institutes" see ) The second edition belongs to 1539, the first French translation to 1541; the final Latin, as revised by its author, is of 1559; but that in common use, dated 1560, has additions by his disciples. "It was more God's work than mine", said Calvin, who took for his motto "Omnia ad Dei gloriam", and in allusion to the change he had undergone in 1529 assumed for his device a hand stretched out from a burning heart.
A much disputed chapter in Calvin's biography is the visit which he was long thought to have paid at Ferraro to the Protestant Duchess Renée, daughter of Louis XII. Many stories clustered about his journey, now given up by the best-informed writers. All we know for certain is that the Reformer, after settling his family affairs and bringing over two of his brothers and sisters to the views he had adopted undertook, in consequence of the war between Charles V and Francis I, to reach Bale by way of Geneva, in July, 1536. At Geneva the Swiss preacher Fare, then looking for help in his propaganda, besought him with such vehemence to stay and teach theology that, as Calvin himself relates, he was terrified into submission. We are not accustomed to fancy the austere prophet so easily frightened. But as a student and recluse new to public responsibilities, he may well have hesitated before plunging into the troubled waters of Geneva, then at their stormiest period. No portrait of him belonging to this time is extant. Later he is represented as of middle height, with bent shoulders, piercing eyes, and a large forehead; his hair was of an auburn tinge. Study and fasting occasioned the severe headaches from which he suffered continually. In private life he was cheerful but sensitive, not to say overbearing, his friends treated him with delicate consideration. His habits were simple; he cared nothing for wealth, and he never allowed himself a holiday. His correspondence, of which 4271 letters remain, turns chiefly on doctrinal subjects. Yet his strong, reserved character told on all with whom he came in contact; Geneva submitted to his theocratic rule, and the Reformed Churches accepted his teaching as though it were infallible.
Such was the stranger whom Farel recommended to his fellow Protestants, "this Frenchman", chosen to lecture on the Bible in a city divided against itself. Geneva had about 15,000 inhabitants. Its bishop had long been its prince limited, however, by popular privileges. The vidomne, or mayor, was the Count of Savoy, and to his family the bishopric seemed a property which, from 1450, they bestowed on their younger children. John of Savoy, illegitimate son of the previous bishop, sold his rights to the duke, who was head of the clan, and died in 1519 at Pignerol. Jean de la Baume, last of its ecclesiastical princes, abandoned the city, which received Protestant teachers from Berne in 1519 and from Fribourg in 1526. In 1527 the arms of Savoy were torn down; in 1530 the Catholic party underwent defeat, and Geneva became independent. It had two councils, but the final verdict on public measures rested with the people. These appointed Farel, a convert of Le Fevre, as their preacher in 1534. A discussion between the two Churches from 30 May to 24 June, 1535 ended in victory for the Protestants. The altars were desecrated, the sacred images broken, the Mass done away with. Bernese troops entered and "the Gospel" was accepted, 21 May, 1536. This implied persecution of Catholics by the councils which acted both as Church and State. Priests were thrown into prison; citizens were fined for not attending sermons. At Zürich, Basle, and Berne the same laws were established. Toleration did not enter into the ideas of the time.
But though Calvin had not introduced this legislation, it was mainly by his influence that in January, 1537 the "articles" were voted which insisted on communion four times a year, set spies on delinquents, established a moral censorship, and punished the unruly with excommunication. There was to be a children's catechism, which he drew up; it ranks among his best writings. The city now broke into "jurants" and "nonjurors" for many would not swear to the "articles"; indeed, they never were completely accepted. Questions had arisen with Berne touching points that Calvin judged to be indifferent. He made a figure in the debates at Lausanne defending the freedom of Geneva. But disorders ensued at home, where recusancy was yet rife; in 1538 the council exiled Farel, Calvin, and the blind evangelist, Couraud. The Reformer went to Strasburg, became the guest of Capito and Bucer, and in 1539 was explaining the New Testament to French refugees at fifty two florins a year. Cardinal Sadolet had addressed an open letter to the Genevans, which their exile now answered. Sadolet urged that schism was a crime; Calvin replied that the Roman Church was corrupt. He gained applause by his keen debating powers at Hagenau, Worms, and Ratisbon. But he complains of his poverty and ill-health, which did not prevent him from marrying at this time Idelette de Bure, the widow of an Anabaptist whom he had converted. Nothing more is known of this lady, except that she brought him a son who died almost at birth in 1542, and that her own death took place in 1549.
After some negotiation Ami Perrin, commissioner for Geneva, persuaded Calvin to return. He did so, not very willingly, on 13 September, 1541. His entry was modest enough. The church constitution now recognized "pastors, doctors, elders, deacons" but supreme power was given to the magistrate. Ministers had the spiritual weapon of God's word; the consistory never, as such, wielded the secular arm Preachers, led by Calvin, and the councils, instigated by his opponents, came frequently into collision. Yet the ordinances of 1541 were maintained; the clergy, assisted by lay elders, governed despotically and in detail the actions of every citizen. A presbyterian Sparta might be seen at Geneva; it set an example to later Puritans, who did all in their power to imitate its discipline. The pattern held up was that of the Old Testament, although Christians were supposed to enjoy Gospel liberty. In November, 1552, the Council declared that Calvin's "Institutes" were a "holy doctrine which no man might speak against." Thus the State issued dogmatic decrees, the force of which had been anticipated earlier, as when Jacques Gouet was imprisoned on charges of impiety in June, 1547, and after severe torture was beheaded in July. Some of the accusations brought against the unhappy young man were frivolous, others doubtful. What share, if any, Calvin took in this judgment is not easy to ascertain. The execution of however must be laid at his door; it has given greater offence by far than the banishment of Castellio or the penalties inflicted on Bolsec — moderate men opposed to extreme views in discipline and doctrine, who fell under suspicion as reactionary. The Reformer did not shrink from his self-appointed task. Within five years fifty-eight sentences of death and seventy-six of exile, besides numerous committals of the most eminent citizens to prison, took place in Geneva. The iron yoke could not be shaken off. In 1555, under Ami Perrin, a sort of revolt was attempted. No blood was shed, but Perrin lost the day, and Calvin's theocracy triumphed.
"I am more deeply scandalized", wrote Gibbon "at the single execution of Servetus than at the hecatombs which have blazed in the autos-da-fé of Spain and Portugal". He ascribes the enmity of Calvin to personal malice and perhaps envy. The facts of the case are pretty well ascertained. Born in 1511, perhaps at Tudela, Michael Served y Reves studied at Toulouse and was present in Bologna at the coronation of Charles V. He travelled in Germany and brought out in 1531 at Hagenau his treatise "De Trinitatis Erroribus", a strong Unitarian work which made much commotion among the more orthodox Reformers. He met Calvin and disputed with him at Paris in 1534, became corrector of the press at Lyons; gave attention to medicine, discovered the lesser circulation of the blood, and entered into a fatal correspondence with the dictator of Geneva touching a new volume "Christianismi Restitutio," which he intended to publish. In 1546 the exchange of letters ceased. The Reformer called Servetus arrogant (he had dared to criticize the "Institutes" in marginal glosses), and uttered the significant menace, "If he comes here and I have any authority, I will never let him leave the place alive." The "Restitutio" appeared in 1553. Calvin at once had its author delated to the Dominican inquisitor Ory at Lyons, sending on to him the man's letters of 1545-46 and these glosses. Hereupon the Spaniard was imprisoned at Vienne, but he escaped by friendly connivance, and was burnt there only in effigy. Some extraordinary fascination drew him to Geneva, from which he intended to pass the Alps. He arrived on 13 August, 1553. The next day Calvin, who had remarked him at the sermon, got his critic arrested, the preacher's own secretary coming forward to accuse him. Calvin drew up forty articles of charge under three heads, concerning the nature of God, infant baptism, and the attack which Servetus had ventured on his own teaching. The council hesitated before taking a deadly decision, but the dictator, reinforced by Farel, drove them on. In prison the culprit suffered much and loudly complained. The Bernese and other Swiss voted for some indefinite penalty. But to Calvin his power in Geneva seemed lost, while the stigma of heresy; as he insisted, would cling to all Protestants if this innovator were not put to death. "Let the world see" Bullinger counselled him, "that Geneva wills the glory of Christ."
Accordingly, sentence was pronounced 26 October, 1553, of burning at the stake. "Tomorrow he dies," wrote Calvin to Farel. When the deed was done, the Reformer alleged that he had been anxious to mitigate the punishment, but of this fact no record appears in the documents. He disputed with Servetus on the day of execution and saw the end. A defence and apology next year received the adhesion of the Genevan ministers. Melanchthon, who had taken deep umbrage at the blasphemies of the Spanish Unitarian, strongly approved in well-known words. But a group that included Castellio published at Basle in 1554 a pamphlet with the title, "Should heretics be persecuted?" It is considered the first plea for toleration in modern times. Beza replied by an argument for the affirmative, couched in violent terms; and Calvin, whose favorite disciple he was, translated it into French in 1559. The dialogue, "Vaticanus", written against the "Pope of Geneva" by Castellio, did not get into print until 1612. Freedom of opinion, as Gibbon remarks, "was the consequence rather than the design of the Reformation."
Another victim to his fiery zeal was Gentile, one of an Italian sect in Geneva, which also numbered among its adherents Alciati and Gribaldo. As more or less Unitarian in their views, they were required to sign a confession drawn up by Calvin in 1558. Gentile subscribed it reluctantly, but in the upshot he was condemned and imprisoned as a perjurer. He escaped only to be twice incarcerated at Berne, where in 1566, he was beheaded. Calvin's impassioned polemic against these Italians betrays fear of the Socinianism which was to lay waste his vineyard. Politically he leaned on the French refugees, now abounding in the city, and more than equal in energy — if not in numbers — to the older native factions. Opposition died out. His continual preaching, represented by 2300 sermons extant in the manuscripts and a vast correspondence, gave to the Reformer an influence without example in his closing years. He wrote to Edward VI, helped in revising the Book of Common Prayer, and intervened between the rival English parties abroad during the Marian period. In the Huguenot troubles he sided with the more moderate. His censure of the conspiracy of Amboise in 1560 does him honour. One great literary institution founded by him, the College, afterwards the University, of Geneva, flourished exceedingly. The students were mostly French. When Beza was rector it had nearly 1500 students of various grades.
Geneva now sent out pastors to the French congregations and was looked upon as the Protestant Rome. Through Knox, "the Scottish champion of the Swiss Reformation", who had been preacher to the exiles in that city, his native land accepted the discipline of the Presbytery and the doctrine of predestination as expounded in Calvin's "Institutes". The Puritans in England were also descendants of the French theologian. His dislike of theatres, dancing and the amenities of society was fully shared by them. The town on Lake Leman was described as without crime and destitute of amusements. Calvin declaimed against the "Libertines", but there is no evidence that any such people had a footing inside its walls The cold, hard, but upright disposition characteristic of the Reformed Churches, less genial than that derived from Luther, is due entirely to their founder himself. Its essence is a concentrated pride, a love of disputation, a scorn of opponents. The only art that it tolerates is music, and that not instrumental. It will have no Christian feasts in its calendar, and it is austere to the verge of Manichaean hatred of the body. When dogma fails the Calvinist, he becomes, as in the instance of Carlyle, almost a pure Stoic. "At Geneva, as for a time in Scotland," says J. A. Froude, "moral sins were treated as crimes to be punished by the magistrate." The Bible was a code of law, administered by the clergy. Down to his dying day Calvin preached and taught. By no means an aged man, he was worn out in these frequent controversies. On 25 April, 1564, he made his will, leaving 225 French crowns, of which he bequeathed ten to his college, ten to the poor, and the remainder to his nephews and nieces. His last letter was addressed to Farel. He was buried without pomp, in a spot which is not now ascertainable. In the year 1900 a monument of expiation was erected to Servetus in the Place Champel. Geneva has long since ceased to be the head of Calvinism. It is a rallying point for Free Thought, Socialist propaganda, and Nihilist conspiracies. But in history it stands out as the Sparta of the Reformed churches, and Calvin is its Lycurgus.
COMMENTARIES ON THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JOHN are numerous, and some of them are written with great learning and ability. Rarely has a separate and extended interpretation been given to any of the other three Gospels, which are, indeed, so closely interwoven with each other, that it is scarcely possible to expound one of them in a satisfactory manner, without bringing the whole into one view, comparing parallel passages, accounting for apparent contradictions, and supplying the omissions of each narrative, to such an extent as to produce what shall be in substance, though not always in form, a HARMONY OF THE THREE EVANGELISTS.
Few of these difficulties meet the expositor of John’s Gospel, in which the slender thread of narrative — until it reaches the period of the last sufferings of our Savior — does little more than connect long discourses, which He delivered to the multitude and to his disciples. Whatever opinion may be formed as to the theory of the elder Tittmann, that JOHN, wrote his work for the express purpose of proving the supreme Divinity of Christ, we cannot avoid being struck with the fact, that the miracles which he selects are distinguished by peculiar grandeur, and that the discourses which he relates contain the most abundant and delightful exhibitions of the glory of the Son of God, and of the nature of his mediatorial office, which our great Master was pleased to make during his personal ministry.
Lampe, Hutcheson, and Tittmann, are better known, and more highly esteemed, in this country than any other Commentator on JOHN that could be named. The three quarto volumes of Lampe are a monument of judicious toil, and present such stores of philological, historical, and theological learning as ought never to be mentioned but with respect and gratitude. Though not free from the faults of the Cocceian School, of which his miscellaneous treatises afford some unhappy proofs, his Commentary displays generally such caution and judgment, that it deserves to be not only consulted, but perused throughout, and carefully studied. Hutcheson wanted both the acuteness and the industry requisite for the successful elucidation of the Holy Scriptures, but is justly admired for the copiousness, variety, and excellence of his practical observations.
Tittmann’s MeletemataSacra in Evangelium Joannis, now happily rendered accessible to the English reader, f1 I must be regarded as one of the most valuable contributions of modern times to biblical interpretation. Accurate scholarship, elegant and flowing language, deep reverence for the inspired volume, and a warmth of affectionate piety closely resembling that of the disciple whom Jesus loved, have gained for that work a reputation which is likely to increase. To the reader who is chiefly desirous to ascertain the meaning of Scripture, and who willingly dispenses with what serves no other purpose than illustration: Tittmann’s exposition of the first four Chapters of JOHN’S Gospel will be highly acceptable; though it must be acknowledged that the remaining portion of the work — not executed till towards the close of the life of the venerable author — is somewhat less attractive, and, if it has been prepared with equal care, yet, in consequence of extreme unwillingness to bring forward explanations which had been already given, it will sometimes disappoint one who only dips into an occasional passage, and has not made himself familiar with the profound views unfolded in the earlier pages.
These and other eminent writers have been deeply indebted to CALVIN’S Commentary on JOHN’S GOSPEL, but have left its claims to the attention of all classes of readers as strong and urgent as ever. Where they differ from him, they often go astray, and where they agree with him, they generally fall below the instructive power of his own pen; for few can equal his clear and vigorous statements. When he places in a just light — as he frequently does — those texts which had been wrested for the confutation of heretics, none but eager and unscrupulous controversialists will complain. Every honorable mind will admire the unbending integrity of our Author, which, even in the defense of truth, disdains to employ an unlawful weapon, and devoutly bows to the dictates of the Holy Spirit.
The present Work brings under review some of the most intricate questions in theology; and in handling them he is not more careful to learn all that has been revealed than to avoid unauthorized speculation. They who know the difficulty of the path will the more highly appreciate so skillful a guide, who advances with a firm step, points out the bypaths which have misled the unwary, conducts us to scenes which we had not previously explored, and aids us in listening to a Divine voice which says, This is the way, walk, ye in it.
In the HARMONY OF THE THREE EVANGELISTS, the reader is so constantly referred to this Commentary, which appeared two years sooner, that the benefit of the former cannot be fully reaped, unless the latter be at hand. The Author’s references are sometimes vague, but the Translator has endeavored to discover and point out the page in which the desired information may be obtained.
W.P.AUCHTERARDER, 10th April, 1847.
TO THE RIGHT HONORABLE
EARLE OF LEYCESTER,
BARON OF DENBIGH, MAISTER OF THE HORSE TO THE QUEENE’S MAIESTIE,KNIGHT OF THE NOBLE ORDER OF THE GARTER, AND ONE OF THEQUEENE’S MAIESTIE, MOST HONORABLE PRIUIE COUNSEL,CHANCELOUR OF THE MOST FAMOUS VNIUERSITIEOF OXFORD, CHRISTOPHER FETHERSTONE,WISHETH ENCREASE OF SPIRITUALLGIFTES, LONG LIFE, HAPPYDAYES, AND ENCREASEOF HONOUR
IT is an old saying, (Right Honorable,) and no lesse true then olde, that saleable wines neede no iuie bush which prouerb importeth thus much, that thinges which are of themselues good & commendable haue not any, at leaste no greate need of commendation. If, therefore, I should with fine filed phrases, with gay geason woords, with straunge examples, and notable hystories, compound some long Prologue and tedious Preface in commendation of this most excellent work and Commentarie, of that famous member and faithfull Doctour of God’s Church, Maister Iohn Caluine, I might cause your Honour to suspect the fondnesse thereof: I my selfe should seeme to doubte of the goodnesse thereof: and, finally, minister occasion to many to condemne me of folly. Omitting, therefore, that which is needlesse, I descend vnto that which is needefull: to wit, to excuse my selfe of arrogancie wherof some may accuse me, in that I dare presume to dedicate vnto your Honour this my translation, vnto whom I am altogether vnknowne. The loade stone, as men say, writers do testifie and experience doth teach, hath in it selfe such power, force, and vertue, that it draweth iron vnto it though it be farre distant; right so, vertue doth drawe men vnto it, and the reporte thereof causeth men to loue those whome they haue not seene, and to reuerence those of who they haue onely heard, which thing, sithence it is so, there is no cause why I shoulde either be accused of arrogancie or condemned of impudencie for approching so boldly vnto your Honour, and for suffering this my translation to appeare in your name. For your friendes confesse, and your foes cannot Justly denie, that God hath placed in your noble breast great aboundance of most heroicall vertues, I omit to speake of that rare report of your vnfeigned religion which resoundeth euery where, and redoundeth to your prayse. I should be tedious if I should set downe particularly the most vndoubted testimonies of your faithfulness toward your dread Soueraigne: I should seeme to flatter if I would extoll that godly magnanimiti, wherwith the Lord hath endued you to maintaine his truth, to defend the realm, to subdue those proud aspiring Papists. That great and earnest care which your Honour hath alwaies had, and euen now hath, to support the poore ministers of the Word and Gospell of Iesus Christ in God’s cause, and in good causes, hath in it selfe sufficient force to enforce not onely me, but all thankfull heartes, by word and writing, to bewray all thankfulnesse and dutifulnesse towards your good Honor, as this, so that singular liberalitie vsed at all times by your Lordship towards my friends, hath caused me, in dedicating of this booke to your Honour, to testifie some parte of my thankfull minde in their behalfe. And heere I am to craue pardon of you, whiche I hope I shall easily obtaine, for that I haue not behaued my selfe finely as I might though faithfully as I ought in this my worke. And thus, fearing prolixitie, I conclude, praying; unto the Lorde God of heauen and earth, that King of Kinges and Lorde of Lordes, that he will graunt vnto your Honour and to the rest (whom he hath placed in the like degree of dignitie) his Holy Spirite, that Spirite of wisdome and vnder-standing, that you may thereby be so directed that all your thoughts, woordes, and workes, may tend to the setting foorth of God’s glory, the maintenance of true religion, the preseruation of the realme. So shall England haue wealth, be voide of woe, enjoy, solace, be free from sorrow, possesse plentie, nor tast of pouertie, inherite pleasure, and not see paine. Which God graunt.
Your Honour’s most humble and obedient,CHRISTOPHER FETHERSTONE
BEING instantly requested (gentle reader) by my godly zealous friendes, to enterprise the translating of this most learned Commentarie of M. Iohn Caluine, and being perswaded thervnto by many godly reasons, whereof God’s glory and the profite of his Church should be the cheife, I could not nor would not refuse to take that charge vp on me, vnlesse I should haue forgotten my dutie towardes God, his Church, and my friendes; and now, forasmuch (gentle reader) as the principal recompence of my paines shal be that profit which thou shalt reape by the reading of this my translation, I beseech thee refuse not to take some paines in reading the same. I have not stuft it full of strange words deriued of the Latine, which might no lesse molest thee then if they continued Latine as they were. I haue not racked the phrases to make them runn smoothly to please daintie eares, and so digressed from the truth and meaning of the authour; but, so much as possible I could, I haue translated worde for worde, which the learned by conference shall wel perceiue. Long time haue the godly desired to haue this worke published in the English tongue, and seeing they haue their desire now, my request vnto them is to accept of my paines herein. I dare not, good reader, presume so farre vpon mine owne skill as to saye that there is no faultes committed heerein, but I am earnestly to desire thee rather courteously to amend them then curiously to condemne me for them. And thus, trusting to thy curtiesie, I committe thee to the tuition og the Almightie, who so direct thee by his Spirite, that by reading thou maiest profite.
Thine in the Lorde,CHRISTOPHER FETHERSTONE
TRULY HONOURABLE AND ILLUSTRIOUS LORDS,
THE SYNDICS AND COUNCIL OF GENEVA,
SUPPLICATES FROM THE LORD THE SPIRIT OF WISDOM AND FIRMNESS, AND A PROSPEROUS ADMINISTRATION.
I NEVER call to remembrance that saying of Christ, in which he sets so high a value on the duty of receiving strangers with kindness as to reckon it done to himself, without considering, at the same time, the extraordinary honor which he has been pleased to confer on you, by making your city the resort, not of one or a few individuals, but of his Church at large. Among heathen countries hospitality was always commended, and was even accounted one of the principal virtues; and, accordingly, when they intended to denounce any people as barbarians and savages of the lowest stamp, they called them, ajxe>nouv, or — which means the same thing — inhospitable. But far higher praise is due to you that, in these troublesome and unhappy times, the Lord has appointed you to be the persons whose support and protection should be solicited by godly and inoffensive men banished and driven from their native countries by the wicked and cruel tyranny of Antichrist. And not only so, but he has also dedicated to his name a sacred dwelling-place among you, where his worship may be maintained in purity.
Whoever attempts, in the slightest degree, openly to invade, or secretly to take from you, these two advantages, not only labors to deprive your city of its brightest ornaments, but beholds its existence and safety with an envious eye. For though the kind offices which are here performed towards Christ and his scattered members excite the barking of wicked men against you, still you ought to look upon yourselves as abundantly compensated by this single consideration, that angels bless you from heaven, and the children of God bless you from every quarter of the world; so that you may boldly despise the foul slander of those men who are not restrained either by scruples of conscience, or by shame, from pouring out more outrageous insults on God himself than on you, — nay, who, when they wish to calumniate you, begin with blaspheming God. Though this very occasion f2 kindles the rage of many people against you, yet you have no reason to dread any danger arising from it, so long as their fury shall be counteracted by the protection of His hand who hath promised that He will be the faithful Guardian of those cities in which the doctrine of His Gospel shall remain, and in which godly men, whom the world cannot endure, shall be permitted to dwell. I say nothing as to its being unnecessary to give yourselves any uneasiness about conciliating this class of enemies; for there is no man that is hostile to you for the sake of the Gospel, who would not desire to see you ruined or oppressed on other grounds. But granting that there were no other reason why you are hated by the avowed enemies of sound doctrine, than because they see you employed in defending it, still, disregarding their stratagems and threatenings, you ought resolutely to defend those two impregnable bulwarks, the purity of religious worship, and a godly anxiety to maintain the Church which Christ has placed under the shelter of your wings.
So far as relates to the slanders which are thrown at us by the Pope’s hired brawlers — that we have apostatized from the Church, because we have withdrawn from subjection to the See of Rome — I wish it were as much in our power to protest with unshaken confidence before God and the angels, that we are at the greatest possible distance from that filthy puddle, as we can easily and readily defend ourselves from the crime which they are in the habit of laying to our charge. They boast, indeed, of the name of the Catholic Church, though no part of the whole doctrine of the Law and the Gospel has been permitted by them to remain free from shameful corruptions, though they have profaned the whole worship of God by the filth of their superstitions, and have not scrupled to debase all the ordinances of God by their inventions. Nay more, so Catholic — so universal — is the mass of errors by which they have overturned the whole of religion, that it would be enough to destroy and swallow up the Church a hundred times over. We can never, therefore, extol, in terms so lofty as the matter deserves, the unbounded goodness of God, by which we have miraculously escaped from that destructive whirlpool, and have fixed the anchor of our faith on the firm and everlasting truth of God. f3 And, indeed, this Commentary will itself, I trust, be a sufficient proof that Popery is nothing else than a monster formed out of the innumerable deceptions of Satan, and that what they call the Church is more confused than Babylon.
Yet I will candidly acknowledge — what is actually true — that we are not at a sufficient distance from that filthy pit, the contagion of which is too widely spread. Antichrist complains that we have fallen away from him; but we f4 are compelled to groan that too many of the pollutions with which he has infected the whole world remain amongst us. God has graciously restored to us f5 uncontaminated purity of doctrine, religion in its primitive state, the unadulterated worship of God, and a faithful administration of the Sacraments, as they were delivered to us by Christ. But the principal cause which hinders us from attaining that reformation of conduct and of life which ought to exist is, that very many persons, remembering that unbridled licentiousness in which the Papists indulge in opposition to the command of God, cannot become accustomed to the yoke of Christ. Accordingly, when our enemies, in order to excite against us unfounded dislike among the ignorant, raise a vexatious outcry that we have broken all discipline, their calumny is abundantly refuted (even though we should remain silent) by this single consideration, that at home we have no contest more severe than about — what is considered, at least, by many people to be — our excessive severity. But since you are the most competent witnesses for myself and my colleagues, that we are not more rigid and severe than the claim of duty demands and even compels us to be, as we freely submit to the decision of your conscience respecting us; so, on the other hand, you will easily perceive at a glance the singularly ridiculous impudence of our enemies on this subject.
I shall now say a few words about myself as an individual. Though I trust that my numerous writings will be a sufficient attestation to the world in what manner I have taught this Church, yet I have thought that it would be of very great importance for me to draw up a special record on this subject inscribed with your name; for it is highly necessary that the kind of doctrine which you acknowledge to be taught by me should be exhibited to the view of all. f6 Now though, in all the books which I have hitherto published, it has been my endeavor that you and the people under your charge should derive advantage from them even after my death, and though it would be highly unbecoming that the doctrine which has emanated from your city to foreign nations should yield fruit extensively, but be neglected in the place of its abode, yet I trust that this Commentary, which is especially dedicated to you, will take a firmer hold of your memory. For this purpose I pray to God to inscribe it so deeply with His own finger on your hearts that it may never be obliterated by any stratagem of Satan; for to Him does it belong to crown my labor with success, who has hitherto given me such courage as to desire nothing more than to watch faithfully over the safety of you all. Farther, as I freely acknowledge before the world that I am very far from possessing the careful diligence and the other virtues which the greatness and excellence of the office requires in a good Pastor, and as I continually bewail before God the numerous sins which obstruct my progress. Do I venture to declare that I am not without an honest and sincere desire to perform my duty. And if, in the meantime, wicked men do not cease to annoy me, as it is my duty — by well-doing — to refute their slanders, so it will belong to you to restrain those slanders by the exercise of that sacred authority with which you are invested. Wherefore, my Illustrious and highly honored Lords, I recommend you to the protection of our good God, entreating Him to give you always the spirit of prudence and virtue for governing aright, and to make your administration prosperous, so that His name may be thereby glorified, and that the result may be happy for you and yours. f7
GENEVA,1st January, 1553.
The meaning of the Greek word, eujagge>lion (Gospel) is well known. f8 In Scripture it denotes, by way of eminence, (kat j ejxoch<n,) the glad and delightful message of the grace exhibited to us in Christ, in order to instruct us, by despising the world and its fading riches and pleasures, to desire with our whole heart, and to embrace when offered to us, this invaluable blessing. The conduct which we perceive in irreligious men, who take an extravagant delight in the empty enjoyments of the world, while they are little if at all, affected by a relish for spiritual blessings, is natural to us all. For the purpose of correcting this fault, God expressly bestows the name Gospel on the message which he orders to be proclaimed concerning Christ; for thus he reminds us that nowhere else can true and solid happiness be obtained, and that in him we have all that is necessary for the perfection of a happy life.
Some consider the word Gospel as extending to all the gracious promises of God which are found scattered even in the Law and the Prophets. Nor can it be denied that, whenever God declares that he will be reconciled to men, and forgives their sins, he at the same time exhibits Christ, whose peculiar office it is, wherever he shines, to spread abroad the rays of joy. I acknowledge, therefore, that the Fathers were partakers of the same Gospel with ourselves, so far as relates to the faith of a gratuitous salvation. But as it is the ordinary declaration made by the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures, that the Gospel was first proclaimed when Christ came, let us also adhere to this mode of expression; and let us keep by that definition of the Gospel which I have given, that it is a solemn publication of the grace revealed in Christ. On this account the Gospel is called
the power of God to salvation to every one who believeth, (Romans 1:16)
because in it God displays his righteousness. It is called also an
embassy, by which he reconciles men to himself, (2 Corinthians 5:20)
and as Christ is the pledge of the mercy of God, and of his fatherly love towards us, so he is, in a peculiar manner, the subject of the Gospel.
Hence it came that the histories which relate that Christ appeared in the flesh and died, and was raised from the dead, and at length was taken up into heaven, have peculiarly obtained the name Gospel. For although, for the reason already stated:, this word means the New Testament, yet the name which denote, the whole has come, by general practice, to stand for that part of it which declares that Christ was manifested to us in the flesh, and died, and rose from the dead. But as the bare history would not be enough, and, indeed, would be of no advantage for salvation, the Evangelists do not merely relate that Christ was born, and that he died and vanquished death, but also explain for what purpose he was born, and died, and rose again, and what benefit we derive from those events.
Yet there is also this difference between them, that the other three are more copious in their narrative of the life and death of Christ, but John dwells more largely on the doctrine by which the office of Christ, together with the power of his death and resurrection, is unfolded. They do not, indeed, omit to mention that Christ came to bring salvation to the world, to atone for the sins of the world by the sacrifice of his death, and, in short, to perform every thing that was required from the Mediator, (as John also devotes a portion of his work to historical details;) but the doctrine, which points out to us the power and benefit of the coming of Christ, is far more clearly exhibited by him than by the rest. And as all of them had the same object in view, to point out Christ, the three former exhibit his body, if we may be permitted to use the expression, but John exhibits his soul. On this account, I am accustomed to say that this Gospel is a key to open the door for understanding the rest; for whoever shall understand the power of Christ, as it is here strikingly portrayed, will afterwards read with advantage what the others relate about the Redeemer who was manifested.
John is believed to have written chiefly with the intention of maintaining the Divinity of Christ, in opposition to the wicked blasphemies of Ebion and Cerinthus; and this is asserted by Eusebius and Jerome, in accordance with the general opinion of the ancients. But whatever might be his motive for writing at that time, there can be no doubt whatever that God intended a far higher benefit for his Church. He therefore dictated to the Four Evangelists what they should write, in such a manner that, while each had his own part assigned him, the whole might be collected into one body; and it is our duty now to blend the Four by a mutual relation, so that we may permit ourselves to be taught by all of them, as by one mouth. As to John being placed the fourth in order, it was done on account of the time when he wrote, but in reading them, a different order would be more advantageous, which is, that when we wish to read in Matthew and the others, that Christ was given to us by the Father, we should first learn from John the purpose for which he was manifested.
1. In the beginning was the Speech, and the Speech was with God, and the Speech was God. 2. He was in the beginning with God. 3. All things were made by him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5. And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
1. In the beginning was the Speech. In this introduction he asserts the eternal Divinity of Christ, in order to inform us that he is the eternal God, who was manifested in the flesh, (1 Timothy 4:16.) The design is, to show it to have been necessary that the restoration of mankind should be accomplished by the Son of God, since by his power all things were created, since he alone breathes into all the creatures life and energy, so that they remain in their condition; and since in man himself he has given a remarkable display both of his power and of his grace, and even subsequently to the fall of man has not ceased to show liberality and kindness towards his posterity. And this doctrine is highly necessary to be known; for since apart from God we ought not at all to seek life and salvation, how could our faith rest on Christ, if we did not know with certainty what is here taught? By these words, therefore, the Evangelist assures us that we do not withdraw from the only and eternal God, when we believe in Christ, and likewise that life is now restored to the dead through the kindness of him who was the source and cause of life, when the nature of man was still uncorrupted.
As to the Evangelist calling the Son of God the Speech, the simple reason appears to me to be, first, because he is the eternal Wisdom and Will of God; and, secondly, because he is the lively image of His purpose; for, as Speech is said to be among men the image of the mind, so it is not inappropriate to apply this to God, and to say that He reveals himself to us by his Speech. The other significations of the Greek word lo>gov (Logos) do not apply so well. It means, no doubt, definition, and reasoning, and calculation; but I am unwilling to carry the abstruseness of philosophy beyond the measure of my faith. And we perceive that the Spirit of God is so far from approving of such subtleties that, in prattling with us, by his very silence he cries aloud with what sobriety we ought to handle such lofty mysteries.
Now as God, in creating the world, revealed himself by that Speech, so he formerly had him concealed with himself, so that there is a twofold relation; the former to God, and the latter to men. Servetus, a haughty scoundrel belonging to the Spanish nation, invents the statement, that this eternal Speech began to exist at that time when he was displayed in the creation of the world, as if he did not exist before his power was made known by external operation. Very differently does the Evangelist teach in this passage; for he does not ascribe to the Speech a beginning of time, but says that he was from the beginning, and thus rises beyond all ages. I am fully aware how this dog barks against us, and what cavils were formerly raised by the Arians, namely, that
in the beginning God created the heaven and the earth, (Genesis 1:1)
which nevertheless are not eternal, because the word beginning refers to order, instead of denoting eternity. But the Evangelist meets this calumny when he says,
And the Speech was with God.If the Speech began to be at some time, they must find out some succession of time in God; and undoubtedly by this clause John intended to distinguish him from all created things. For many questions might arise, Where was this Speech? How did he exert his power? What was his nature? How might he be known? The Evangelist, therefore, declares that we must not confine our views to the world and to created things; for he was always united to God, before the world existed. Now when men date the beginning from the origin of heaven and earth, do they not reduce Christ to the common order of the world, from which he is excluded in express terms by this passage? By this proceeding they offer an egregious insult not only to the Son of God, but to his eternal Father, whom they deprive of his wisdom. If we are not at liberty to conceive of God without his wisdom, it must be acknowledged that we ought not to seek the origin of the Speech any where else than in the Eternal Wisdom of God.
Servetus objects that the Speech cannot be admitted to have existed any earlier than when Moses introduces God as speaking. As if he did not subsist in God, because he was not publicly made known: that is, as if he did not exist within, until he began to appear without. But every pretense for outrageously absurd fancies of this description is cut off by the Evangelist, when he affirms without reservation, that the Speech was with God; for he expressly withdraws us from every moment of time.
Those who infer from the imperfect tense of the verb f9 which is here used, that it denotes continued existence, have little strength of argument to support them. Was, they say, is a word more fitted to express the idea of uninterrupted succession, than if John had said, Has been. But on matters so weighty we ought to employ more solid arguments; and, indeed, the argument which I have brought forward ought to be reckoned by us sufficient; namely, that the Evangelist sends us to the eternal secrets of God, that we may there learn that the Speech was, as it were hidden, before he revealed himself in the external structure of the world. Justly, therefore, does Augustine remark, that this beginning, which is now mentioned, has no beginning; for though, in the order of nature, the Father came before his Wisdom, yet those who conceive of any point of time when he went before his Wisdom, deprive Him of his glory. And this is the eternal generation, which, during a period of infinite extent before the foundation of the world, lay hid in God, so to speak — which, for a long succession of years, was obscurely shadowed out to the Fathers under the Law, and at length was more fully manifested in flesh.
I wonder what induced the Latins to render oJ lo>gov by Verbum, (the Word;) for that would rather have been the translation of to< rJh~ma. But granting that they had some plausible reason, still it cannot be denied that Sermo (the Speech) would have been far more appropriate. Hence it is evident, what barbarous tyranny was exercised by the theologians of the Sorbonne, f10 who teased and stormed at Erasmus in such a manner, because he had changed a single word for the better.
And the Speech was with God. We have already said that the Son of God is thus placed above the world and above all the creatures, and is declared to have existed before all ages. But at the same time this mode of expression attributes to him a distinct personality from the Father; for it would have been absurd in the Evangelist to say that the Speech was always with God, if he had not some kind of subsistence peculiar to himself in God. This passage serves, therefore, to refute the error of Sabellius; for it shows that the Son is distinct from the Father. I have already remarked that we ought to be sober in thinking, and modest in speaking, about such high mysteries. And yet the ancient writers of the Church were excusable, when, finding that they could not in any other way maintain sound and pure doctrine in opposition to the perplexed and ambiguous phraseology of the heretics, they were compelled to invent some words, which after all had no other meaning than what is taught in the Scriptures. They said that there are three Hypostases, or Subsistences, or Persons, in the one and simple essence of God. The word; uJpo>stasiv (Hypostasis) occurs in this sense in Hebrews 1:3, to which corresponds the Latin word Substaatia, (substance) as it is employed by Hilary. The Persons (ta< pro>swpa) were called by them distinct properties in God, which present themselves to the view of our minds; as Gregory Nazianzen says, “I cannot think of the One (God) without having the Three (Persons) shining around me. f11
And the Speech was God. That there may be no remaining doubt as to Christ’s divine essence, the Evangelist distinctly asserts that he is God. Now since there is but one God, it follows that Christ is of the same essence with the Father, and yet that, in some respect, he is distinct from the Father. But of the second clause we have already spoken. As to the unity of the divine essence, Arius showed prodigious wickedness, when, to avoid being compelled to acknowledge the eternal Divinity of Christ, he prattled about I know not what imaginary Deity; f12 but for our part, when we are informed that the Speech was God, what right have we any longer to call in question his eternal essence?
2.He was in the beginning
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