Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 24: Daniel, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
To ALL THE Pious WORSHIPPERS OF GOD WHO DESIRE THE KINGDOM OFCHRIST TO BE RIGHTLY
CONSTITUTED IN FRANCE.
Although I have been absent these six-and-twenty years, with little regret, from that native land which I own in common with yourselves, and whose agreeable climate attracts many foreigners from the most distant quarters of the world; yet it would be in no degree pleasing or desirable to me to dwell in a region from which the Truth of God, pure Religion, and the doctrine of eternal salvation are banished, and the very kingdom of Christ laid prostrate! Hence, I have no desire to return to it; yet it would be neither in accordance with human nor Divine obligation to forget the people from which I am sprung, and to put away all regard for their welfare. I think I have given some strong proofs, how seriously and ardently I desire to benefit my fellow-countrymen, to whom perhaps my absence has been useful, in enabling them to reap the greater profit from my studies. And the contemplation of this advantage has not only deprived my banishment of its sting, but has rendered it even pleasant and joyful.
Since, therefore, throughout the whole of this period I have publicly endeavored to benefit The Inhabitants OF France, and have never ceased privately to rouse the torpid, to stimulate the sluggish, to animate the trembling, and to encourage the doubtful and the wavering to perseverance, I must now strive to the utmost that my duty towards them may not fail at a period so urgent and so pressing. A most excellent opportunity has been providentially afforded to me; for in publishing the Lectures which contain my Interpretation Of The Prophecies Of Daniel, I have the very best occasion of showing you, beloved brethren, in this mirror, how God proves the faith of his people in these days by various trials; and how with wonderful wisdom he has taken care to strengthen their minds by ancient examples, that they should never be weakened by the concussion of the severest storms and tempests; or at least, if they should totter at all, that they should never finally fall away. For although the servants of God are required to run in a course impeded by many obstacles, yet whoever diligently reads this Book will find in it whatever is needed by a voluntary and active runner to guide him from the starting-post to the goal; while good and strenuous wrestlers will experimentally acknowledge that they have been sufficiently prepared for the contest.
First of all, a very mournful and yet profitable history will be recorded for us, in the exile of Daniel and his companions while the kingdom and priesthood were still standing, as if God, through ignominy and shame, would devote the choicest flower of his elect people to extreme calamity. For what, at first sight, is more unbecoming, than that youths endued with almost angelic virtues should be the slaves and captives of a proud conqueror, when the most wicked and abandoned despisers of God remained at home hi perfect safety? Was this the reward of a pious and innocent life, that while the impious were sweetly flattering themselves through their escape from punishment, the saints should pay the penalty which they had deserved? Here, then, we observe, as in a living picture, that when God spares and even indulges the wicked for a time, he proves his servants like gold and silver; so that we ought not to consider it a grievance to be thrown into the furnace of trial, while profane men enjoy the calmness of repose.
Secondly, we have here an example of most manly prudence and of singular consistency, united with a magnanimity truly heroic. When pious youths of a tender age are tempted by the enticements of a Court, they not only overcome the temptations presented to them by their temperance, but perceive themselves cunningly enticed to depart by degrees from the sincere worship of God; and then, when they have extricated themselves from the snares of the devil, they boldly and freely despise all poison-stained honor, at the imminent risk of instant death. A more cruel and formidable contest will follow when the companions of Daniel, as a memorable example, of incredible constancy, are never turned aside by atrocious threats to pollute themselves by adoring the Image, and are at length prepared to vindicate the pure worship of God, not only with their blood, but in defiance of a horrible torture set before their eyes. Thus the goodness of God shines forth at the close of this tragedy, and tends in no slight degree to arm us with invincible confidence.
A similar contest and victory of Daniel himself will be added; when he preferred to be cast among savage lions, to desisting from the open profession of his faith three times a-day; lest by perfidious dissembling he should prostitute the Sacred Name of God to. the jests of the impious. Thus he was wonderfully drawn out of the pit which was all but his grave, and triumphed over Satan and his faction. Here philosophers do not come before us skillfully disputing about the virtues peacefully in the shade; but the indefatigable constancy of holy men in the pursuit of piety, invites us; with a loud voice to imitate them. Therefore, unless we are altogether untouchable, we ought to learn from these masters, if Satan lays the snares of flattery for us, to be prudent and cautious that we are not entangled in them; and if he attacks us violently, to oppose all his assaults by a fearless contempt of death and of all evils. Should any one object, that the examples of either kind of deliverance which we have mentioned are rare, I confess indeed that God does not always stretch forth his hand from heaven in the same way to preserve his people; but it ought to satisfy us that he has promised that he will be a faithful guardian of our life, as often as we are harassed by any trouble. We cannot be exposed to the power of the impious without his restraining their furious and turbulent plots against us, according to his pleasure. And we must not look at the results alone; but observe how courageously holy men devoted themselves to death for the vindication of God’s glory; and although they were snatched away from it, yet their willing alacrity in offering themselves as victims is in no degree less deserving of praise.
It is also worth while to consider how variously the Prophet was tossed about and agitated during the Seventy years which he spent in exile. No King treated him so humanely as Nebuchadnezzar, and yet he found him act like a wild beast. The cruelty of others was greater, until after the sudden death of Belshazzar and the taking of the City, he was delivered up to its new masters, The Medes and Persians. Their hostile irruption struck terror into the minds of all, and there is no doubt that the Prophet partook of the general feeling. Although he was kindly received by Darius, so that his slavery was rendered tolerable, yet the envy of the nobles and their tricked conspiracy against him subjected him to the greatest dangers. But he was more anxious for the common safety of the Church than for his own personal security. He evidently suffered the greatest grief, and was distracted with the utmost anxiety, when the position of affairs discovered no limit to so severe and miserable an oppression of the people. He acquiesced indeed, in the Prophecy of Jeremiah; still it was a proof of his incomparable forbearance that his hope, so long suspended, did not languish; nay, that when tossed hither and thither amidst tempestuous waves, it was not entirely drowned.
I come now to the Prophecies themselves. The former part were uttered against the Babyloians; partly, because God wished to adorn his servants with sure testimonies, which might compel that most proud and victorious Nation to revere him; and partly, because His Name ought to be held in reverence with the profane. Thus he would exercise the prophetic gift among his own people more freely, through being endued with authority. After his name had become celebrated among The Chaldeans, God entrusted him with Prophecies of greater moment, which were peculiar to his elect people. Moreover, God so accommodated them to the use of his Ancient people, and they so soothed their sorrows by suitable remedies, and sustained their vacillating minds till The Advent Of Christ — that they have no less value in our time; for whatever was predicted concerning the changing and vanishing splendor of these Monarchies, and the perpetual existence of Christ’s Kingdom, is in these days no less useful to be known than formerly. For God shows how all earthy power which is not founded on Christ must fall; and he threatens speedy destruction to all Kingdoms which obscure Christ’s glory by extending themselves too much. And those Kings whose sway is most extended shall feel by sorrowful experience how horrible a judgment will fall upon them, unless they willingly submit themselves to the sway of Christ! And what is less tolerable than to deprive Him of his right by whose protection their dignity remains safe? And we see how few of their number admit The Sons Of God; nay, how they turn every;stone and try every possible scheme to prevent his entrance into their territories! Many of their Councilors studiously use their utmost endeavors and influence to close every avenue against him. For while they put forward the name of Christianity, and boast themselves to be the best. defenders of the Catholic Faith, their frivolous vanity is easily refuted, if men hold the true and genuine definition of the Kingdom of Christ. For his throne or scepter is nothing else but the doctrine of the Gospel. Nor does his Majesty shine elsewhere, nor his Empire otherwise exist, than when all, from the highest to the lowest, hear His voice with the calm docility of sheep, and follow wherever he calls them. These Kings not only completely reject this doctrine, which contains the substance of True Religion, and the lawful Worship of God, in which the eternal salvation of men and their true happiness consists; but they drive it far away from them by threats and terrors, by the sword and flame, nor do they omit any violence in their efforts to exterminate it. How great, how prodigious this blindness, when they cannot bear that those whom the only-begotten Sort of God invites mercifully to himself should era.-brace him! But many in their own pride, forsooth, think themselves reduced. to the common level, if they lower their ensigns of royalty to the Supreme King others are unwilling to bridle their lusts, and since hypocrisy seizes on all their senses, they seek darkness, and dread to be dragged into light. No plague is worse than this fear, like Herod’s as if tie who offers a celestial empire to the least and most despised of the people, would snatch away the kingdoms of the earth from its monarchs. In addition to this, when each regards the c, pinion of others, this mutual league retains them all bound in a distinctive bond under the yoke of impiety. For if they would seriously apply their minds to inquire what is true and right; nay, if they would only open their eyes, they could not fail to discover it.
Since it has often been found, by experience, that when Christ goes forth with his Gospel serious commotion’s arise, thus Kings have a plausible pretext for rejecting the heavenly doctrine by consulting for the public safety. I confess, indeed, that all change which occasions disturbance ought to be esteemed odious; but the injustice to God is great, unless this also is attributed to his power, that whatever tumults arise he allays them, and thus the kingdom of his Son is established! Although the heavens should mingle with the earth, the worship of God is so precious, that not even the least diminution of it can be compensated at any price. But those who pretend that the Gospel is the source of disturbances, accuse it falsely and unjustly. (Hag 2:7.) It is indeed true, that God thunders therein with the vehemence of His voice, which shakes heaven and earth; but while the Prophet gains attention to its preaching by this testimony, such concussion is to be wished for and expected. And, surely if God’s glory did not shine forth his its own degree, until all flesh was humbled, it would be necessary that man’s pride shone to be humbled by the bold and strong hand of God; since that pride raise, itself against him, and never yields of its own accord. But if the earth trembled at the promulgation of the Law, (Ex 19:18,)it is not surprising that the force and efficacy of the Gospel should appear more resplendent. Wherefore, it becomes us to embrace that consoling doctrine which raises the dead from the grave, and opens heaven, and implants unaccustomed rigor in those whom the earth is unworthy to sustain, as if all the elements were subservient to our salvation.
But, lo! storms and tempests now flow from another fountain! Because the Rulers and Governors of the world do not willingly submit to the yoke of Christ, now even the rude multitude reject what is salutary before they even taste it. Some delight themselves in filth, like pigs, and others excited by fury rejoice in slaughter. The devil instigates by especial fury those whom he has enslaved to himself to tumults of all sorts. Hence the clash of trumpets; hence conflicts and battles. Meanwhile, The Roman Protest — a Heliogabalus — with his red and sanguinary cohorts and horned beasts, 61 rages with a hasty rush against Christ and fetches from every side his allies from the filth of his foul Clergy, 62 all of whom sup the food on which they subsist from the same pot, though it be not equally dainty. Many hungry fellows also run up to offer their assistance. Most of the Judges are accustomed to gratify their appetites at these sumptuous banquets, and to fight for the kitchen and the kettle! and besides this, the haunts of the Monks, 63 and the dens of the Sorbonne, 64 send forth their gluttons who add fuel to the flame. I omit the clandestine arts and wicked conspiracies of which my best witnesses are these notorious enemies to piety! I mention no one by name, it is enough to point with the finger to those who are too well known to you. In this confused assault of wild beasts, it is not surprising if those who depend only on the complicated events of things hesitate through perplexity, while they unjustly and unfairly throw the blame of their distrust upon the Sacred Gospel of Christ. Let us suppose that all the infernal regions with their furies should offer us battle, will God sit at ease in heaven, and desert and betray his own cause? and when he has entered into the conflict, will either the crafty cunning, or the impetuous rush of men deprive Him of his victory?
The Pope they say will draw with him a large faction — it is the just reward of unbelief to tremble at the sound of a falling leaf!(Le 26:36.) Why, O ye counselors, have ye so little fore-sight? Christ will take care that no novelty shall disturb you. In a short time ye will feel how far more satisfactory it is to have God propitious, to despise terrors as of no moment, and to rest in His protection, than to harass Him by open warfare, through that of the wrath of the evil and the hypocritical. In truth, after all these discussions, the superstition which has hitherto reigned is with the defenders of the Pope, nothing else but well-placed evil, 65 and they think it cannot be removed, because the attempt would occasion irreparable damage. But those who regard the glory of God, and are endued with sincere piety, ought to have far higher objects in view, and so to submit themselves to the will of God as to approve of all the events of his providence. If he had not promised us anything, there might be just cause for fear and constant vacillation; but since he has so often declared, that his help shall never be wanting in upholding the kingdom of his Christ, the reliance on this promise is the one sole basis of right action.
Hence it is your duty, dearest brethren, as far as lies in your power, and your calling demands it, to use your hearty endeavors, that true religion may recover its perfect state. It is not necessary for me to relate how strenuously I have hitherto endeavored to cut off all occasion for tumult; yea, I call you all with the angels to witness before the Supreme Judge of all men, that it is no fault of mine if the kingdom of Christ does not progress quietly without any injury. And I think it is owing to my carefulness that private persons have not transgressed beyond their bounds. Now, although God by his wonderful skill has carried forward the restoration of his Church further than I had dared to hope for, yet it is well to remember what Christ taught his disciples, namely, that they should possess their souls in patience. (Lu 21:19.)
This is one object of the Vision which Daniel has explained. The Stone by which those kingdoms were destroyed, which had made war on God, was not formed by the hand of man and although it was rude and unpolished, yet it increased to a great mountain. I thought that ye required reminding of this, that ye may remain calm amidst the threatening thunders, while the empty clouds vanish away through being dispersed by heavenly agency. It does not escape me, while I pass by the numberless fires of thirty years, that ye have endured very great indignities during the last six months. How often in many places an irruption was made against you by a ferocious populace, and how often ye were attacked at one time by stones, and at another by swords! How your enemies plotted against you, and repressed your peaceful assemblies by sudden and unlocked for violence! How some were slain in their dwellings, and others by the wayside while the bodies of your dead were dragged about as a laughing-stock, your women ravished, and many of your party wounded, and even the pregnant female with her offspring pierced through, and their homes ransacked and made desolate. But, although more atrocious things should be yet at hand, that ye may be approved as Christ’s disciples, and be wisely instructed in his school, you must use every effort, that no madness of the impious who act thus intemperately, should deprive you of that moderation by which alone they have thus far been conquered and broken down. And if the length of your affliction should cause you weariness, bear in mind that celebrated prophecy in which the Church’s condition is depicted to the life. God therein shews his Prophet what contests and anxieties, troubles and difficulties, awaited the Jews from the close of their exile, and from their joyful return to their country until the advent of Christ.
The similarity of the times adapts these predictions to ourselves, and fits them for our own use. Daniel congratulated the wretched Church which had so long been submerged in a deluge of evils, when he collected from the computation of the years, that the day of deliverance predicted by Jeremiah was at hand. (Jer 25:12, and Jer 29:10.) But he receives for an answer, that the lot of the people from the time of their permission to return would be more bitter, so that they would scarcely breathe again under a continual series of oppressive evils. With the bitterest grief, and with many sorrows, the people had dragged on in hope for seventy years, but now God increases the period sevenfold, and inwardly inflicts A deadly wound on their heart. He not only pronounces that the people, after their return home, should collect their strength and build their city and temple, and then suffer new anxieties, but he predicts fresh troubles amidst the very commencement of their joy, whilst they had scarcely tasted the sweetness of grace. Then with regard to the calamities which shortly followed, the multiform catalogue here presented affrights us even who have only heard of them: then how bitter and how distressing were they to that rude nation! To see the temple profaned by the audacity of a sacrilegious tyrant, its sacred rites shamefully mingled with foul pollution’s, all the books of the law cast into the fire, and the whole of the ceremonies abolished, — how horrible the spectacle! Since all who professed to persist boldly and constantly in the worship of God were seized and subjected to the same burning, how could the tender and weak behold this without the greatest consternation! Yet this was the tyrant’s plan, that the cruelty might excite the less earnest to deny their faith. Under the Maccabees, some relaxation seems to have taken place, but yet such as is soon deformed by the most cruel slaughters, and was never without its share of lamentation and woe. For since the enemy far excelled them in forces and in every equipment for war, nothing was left for those who had taken up arms for the defense of the Church but to hide themselves in the dens of wild beasts, or to wander through the woods in the greatest distress, and in utter destitution. Another source of temptation was added, since impious and abandoned men, in the boasting of a fallacious zeal as Daniel says, joined the party of Judas and his brethren, by which artifice of Satan infamy became attached to the band which Judas had collected, as if it had been a band of robbers. (Da 11:34.)
But nothing was a source of greater sorrow to the righteous, than to find the priests themselves betraying the temple and worship of God, by wicked compacts according to the prompting of their interested ambition. For not only was that sacred dignity both bought and sold, but it was purchased by mutual murders and parricides. Hence it happened, that men of all ranks grew more and more profane, and corruption’s multiplied everywhere with impunity, although circumcision and the sacrifices still remained in use, so that the expectation of the kingdom of God, when Christ appeared, was a strange and unheard of marvel. Very few, indeed, are entitled to even this praise. If then, in that unworthy deformity of the Church, if in the midst of its many dispersions and its dreadful terrors, of the devastation of the lands, the destruction of the dwellings and the consequent dangers to life itself, this prophecy of Daniel sustained the spirit of the pious, when the religious ceremonies were involved in obscure shadows, and doctrine was almost extinct, when the priests were most degenerate, and all sacred ordinances abolished, — how ashamed should we be of our cowardice, if the clearness of the Gospel, in which God shews to us his paternal face, does not raise us above all obstacles, and prop us up with unwearied constancy?
There is no doubt that the servants of God accommodated to their own times the predictions of this Prophet concerning the exile at Babylon, and thus lightened the pressure of present calamities. Thus, also, we ought to have our eyes fixed on the miseries of the Fathers, that we may not object to be joined with the body of that Church to which it was said,
“O, thou little flock, borne down by the tempest and deprived of comfort, behold, I take thee up.” (Isa 54:11.)
And, again, after she has complained that her back had been torn by the ungodly, like a field cut up by the course of the furrows, yet she boasts immediately afterwards, that their cords were cut away by a just God, so that they did not prevail against her. (Ps 129:1-4.) The Prophet, then, not only animates us to hope and patience, by the example of those times, but adds an exhortation dictated by the Spirit, which extends to the whole reign or Christ, and is applicable to us. Wherefore it is no hardship to us to be comprehended in the number of those whom he announces shall be proved and purified by fire, since the inestimable happiness and glory which springs from this process more than compensates for all its crosses and distresses. And although these things are insipid to the majority, lest their sloth and stupidity should render us too sluggish, we should fix deeply in our hearts the denunciation of the Prophets, namely, that the ungodly will act impiously, since they understand nothing; while the sons of God will be endued with wisdom to hold on the course of their divine calling. It is worth while, then, to perceive the origin of that gross blindness which is commonly observed, so that the heavenly doctrine may make us wise. Hence, it too often happens that the multitude revile Christ and his Gospel; they indulge themselves without either care, or fear, or any perception of their dangers, and they are not aroused by God’s wrath to an ardent and serious desire for that redemption which alone snatches us from the abyss of eternal destruction. In the meantime they are caught or rather fascinated by luxuries, pleasures, and other enticements, and pay no regard to the prospect of a happy eternity. Although there are many sects who contemptuously despise the teaching of the Gospel, some are remarkable for pride, others for imbecility, some for want of sobriety of mind, and others for a sleepy torpidly, yet we shall find that contempt flows from profane security, since no one descends into himself to shake off his own miseries by finding a remedy for them. Yet, when God’s curse rests upon us, and his just vengeance urges us, it is the height of madness to cast aside all anxiety, and to please ourselves as if we need fear nothing. Yet it is a very common fault for those who are guilty of a thousand sins, and deserve a thousand eternal deaths, to discharge with levity a few frivolous ceremonies towards God, and then give themselves up to sloth and lethargy. Moreover, Paul denounces the savor of the Gospel (1Co 2:16) to be deadly towards all whose minds are fascinated by Satan; so that to taste of its life-giving savor, it is necessary for us to stand at God’s tribunal, and there also to cite out own consciences when wounded with serious terror.
Thus, we esteem, according to its proper worth and value, that reconciliation which Christ procured for us by his precious blood. Thus, the angel, that he might acquire reverence and respect for Christ’s authority, brings a message concerning eternal justice which he sealed by the sacrifice of his death, and expresses the mode and plant by which iniquity was abolished and expiated. Thus, while the world revels in its lusts, let the knowledge of the condemnation which we have deserved inspire us with fear, and humble us before God and while the profane involve themselves in the whirl of earthly gratification’s, let us eagerly embrace this incomparable treasure, in which solid blessedness is laid up. Let our enemies jeer as they please, every man ought to take care to have God propitious to him, and it is clear that the very foundation of the faith is overthrown by those who think he is to be doubtfully invoked. Let them deride our faith with as much petulance as they please, but let us be sure of this, that no one obtains this privilege except by God’s good gift, for men can only call God “Father” by relying on the advocacy of Christ, through a free and peaceful confidence. But the pursuit of piety will never flourish in us as it ought, until we learn to raise our minds upwards, since they are too inclined to grovel upon earth, and we should exercise them in continual meditation upon the heavenly life. And in this respect, the surprising vanity of the human race manifests itself, since though all speak eloquently, like philosophers, on the shortness of life, yet no one aspires to that perpetual existence. So that when Paul contends the faith and charity of the Colossians, he very truly says, that they were animated by a hope laid up in the heavens. (Col 1:5.) And when discussing elsewhere the results of the grace which is open to us in Christ, he says — we must be so built. up therein, that all impiety and worldly desires must be mortified, and we must live soberly, justly, and piously in this world, and wait for the blessed hope, and glorious advent of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ. (Titus 2:12, 13.)
Let, then, this expectation free us from all hindrances, and draw us towards itself, and though the world is steeped in more than epicurean pollution, lest the contagion should reach us, we ought to strive the more earnestly until we arrive at the goal. Although it is truly a matter of grief, that so great a multitude should willfully perish, and rush devotedly on their own destruction, yet their foolish fury need not disturb us; for another admonition of Daniel should succor us, namely, that certain salvation is laid up for all who have been found written in the book. But although our election is hidden in God’s secret counsel, which is the prime cause of our salvation, yet, since the adoption of all who are inserted into the body of Christ, by faith in the gospel, is by no means doubtful, be ye content with this testimony, and persevere in the course which ye have happily begun. But if ye must contend still longer, (and I announce, that contests more severe than ye contemplate yet remain for you,) by whatsoever attack the madness of the impious bursts forth, as if it stirred up the regions below, remember that your course has been defined by a heavenly Master of the contest, whose laws ye must obey the more cheerfully, since he will supply you with strength unto the end.
Since, then, it is not lawful for me to desert the station to which God has appointed me, I have Dedicated to you this my labor, as a pledge of my desire to help you, until at the completion of my pilgrimage our heavenly Father, of his immeasurable pity, shall gather me together with you, to his eternal inheritance.
May the Lord govern you by His Spirit, may He defend my most beloved brethren by His own protection, against all the plots of their enemies, and sustain them by his invisible power.
Geneva, August 19, 1561
The Cardinals and Bishops.
The Romish priesthood.
The Sorbonne was a Popish seminary
Latine, “malam, bene positum:” the French translation takes the phrase as a proverbs” comme dit le proverb, un mal qui est bien en repos ” Anglice, “well-poised.”