Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 31: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
AUTHOR’S EPISTLE DEDICATORY
The Very Noble And Illustrious Lords,
THE BURGOMASTERS AND COUNCIL
OF THE NOBLE CITY OF FRANKFORT,
If virtuous examples were ever necessary to be held out for imitation, in order to stimulate lazy, sluggish, or inactive persons, the sloth, and—what is more—the indifference of this very corrupt age makes it necessary that the greater part of men, who do not of their own accord advance, but rather fall back, should at least be compelled by shame to discharge their duty. All, indeed, are seen to be influenced, both in public and in private, by a disgraceful emulation. There is not a king who does not labor to show that he is equal to his neighbors in the address, or perseverance, or energy, or courage, necessary for extending, by every possible method, the bounds of his dominion. There is not a state or commonwealth that yields the preference to others for cunning and all the arts of deception, nor a single individual among the ranks of the ambitious who will acknowledge his inferiority to others in wicked contrivances. In short, we would almost say that they had entered into a silent but mutual conspiracy to challenge each other to a contest of vices, and every man who carries wickedness to an extreme easily ruins a vast multitude by his example; so that, amidst the general prevalence of crimes, very few persons are to be found who exhibit a pattern of uprightness.
For these reasons I reckon it to be the more advantageous that those uncommon excellencies, by which eminent persons are distinguished, should receive the commendations which they deserve, and should be raised to an elevated situation so as to be seen at a great distance, that the desire of imitating them may be awakened in many breasts. And this I acknowledge, most honorable Lords, to be the principal reason why I am desirous that this work of mine should be given to the world under the sanction of your name. For though my undertaking will be regarded by me as having obtained a distinguished reward, if your readiness to do good shall derive from it any increase, yet I have had more particularly in my eye the other object which has been mentioned, namely, that others may equal your progress, or at least may follow the same course.
I have no intention, however, to frame a catalogue of all the excellencies by which you are distinguished, but shall satisfy myself for the present with mentioning, in terms of commendation, one excellence which has bound to you myself and a great number of the servants of Christ by what may be called a more sacred tie. It was a great matter that, more than five years ago, when all were seized with dreadful alarm, when a fearful devastation of the churches of Germany, and almost the destruction of the Gospel, was threatened by the calamity which had occurred, you, on whom the first shower of darts fell, stood firm in an open profession of the faith which was at that time extremely odious, and steadily maintained the pure doctrine of godliness which you had embraced, so as to make it evident that, amidst the greatest anxieties and dangers, there is nothing which you value more highly than to fight under the banner of Christ. But it is still more remarkable, and more worthy of being put on record, that you not only maintain the pure worship of God among yourselves, and faithfully endeavor to keep your fellow-citizens within the fold of Christ, but that you collect as torn members those fragments of a dispersed church which had been thrown out in other countries.
In the present melancholy state of affairs, it has given me no small consolation to learn that devout worshippers of God, who had come to you as exiles from England and from other places, were received by you with warm hospitality; and that you not only opened your gates to them in their wretched exile, but rendered deserved honor to the Son of God, by making his Gospel to be distinctly heard in your city in foreign languages. A similar instance of distinguished kindness was recently showed to the unhappy natives of Locarno by the Council of Zurich, who not only threw open their city to them, (when they were not permitted to worship Christ at home according to their consciences) but even assigned to them a church for holding their religious assemblies, and were not prevented by a diversity of language from desiring to hear Christ talk Italian in their own city.
To return to yourselves: as soon as I heard that you had had the kindness to allow persons who speak our language to found a church amongst you, I considered that you had laid me under private obligations, and resolved to take this opportunity of testifying my gratitude. For while there is good reason for deploring the state of our nation to be such, that the sacrilegious tyranny of Popery has made a residence in our own country to be little else than a banishment from the kingdom of God, so, on the other hand, it is a distinguished favor to have a habitation granted to us on a foreign soil, where the lawful worship of God may be observed. This truly sacred hospitality—which was rendered not to men, but rather to Christ himself—will, I trust, add to your already prosperous condition fresh acts of the divine kindness, and secure them to you in uninterrupted succession.
For my own part at least, as I have just now declared, such were my inducements to dedicate to you this work of mine. It is a Harmony arranged out of Three Evangelists, and has been prepared by me with the greatest fidelity and diligence. What toil I have bestowed on it would serve no purpose to detail; and how far I have succeeded must be left to others to decide. The readers to whom I refer are those honest, learned, and well-disposed persons, whose desire of making progress is not retarded by a barbarous shame at receiving instruction, and who feel an interest in the public advantage. I do not trouble myself with mean and wicked scoundrels; and such I call not only the hooded monks, who, in defending the tyranny of the Pope, carry on open war with us, but those useless drones 8 who, mixing with us, seize on every pretense for concealing their ignorance, and would wish to have the light of doctrine wholly extinguished. Let them impudently bark at me as much as they please: my reply will be always ready. Neither divine nor human obligation subjects me to the judgment of those who deserve the lash for their most disgraceful ignorance, as much as they deserve the whip for their obstinate and hardened malice and insolence.
I may be allowed at least to say, without the imputation of boasting, that I have faithfully endeavored to be of service to the Church of God. Two years ago, John was published along with my Commentary, which, I trust, was not without advantage. And thus like one of the heralds, 9 I have endeavored, to the utmost extent that my ability allowed, to do honor to Christ riding magnificently in his royal chariot drawn by four horses; and feel assured that candid readers, who have derived advantage from my labors, will not be ashamed to acknowledge that the success has, in some measure, corresponded to my wish. The evangelical history, related by four witnesses divinely appointed, is justly compared by me to a chariot drawn by four horses: for by this appropriate and just harmony God appears to have expressly prepared for his Son a triumphal chariot, from which he may make a magnificent display to the whole body of believers, and in which, with rapid progress, he may review the world. Augustine, too, makes an apt comparison of the Four Evangelists to trumpets, the sound of which fills every region of the world, so that the Church, gathered from the East, and West, and South, and North, flows into a holy unity of faith. So much the more intolerable is the curiosity of those who, not satisfied with the heavenly heralds, obtrude upon us, under the name of a Gospel, disgusting tales, which serve no other purpose than to pollute the purity of faith, and to expose the name of Christ to the sneers and ridicule of the ungodly.
With regard to yourselves, most noble Lords, as you detest every kind of leaven, by which the native purity of the Gospel is corrupted, and show that you have nothing more at heart than to defend and maintain the pure doctrine, as it was delivered by Christ, I feel assured that this production, which opens up the treasure of the Gospel, will receive your warmest approbation, and trust that my dedication of it to you will be accepted as a mark of my regard. Farewell, most illustrious Lords. May Christ always direct you by his Spirit, support you by his power, defend you by his protection, and enrich your city and commonwealth with all abundance of blessings.
Geneva, 1st August, M.D.LV.
“Mais aussi de ces vermines, lesquels meslez entre nous comme bourdons entre abeilles;” — “but likewise those wretches who mixing with us like drones among bees.”
“Comme estant un de la compagnie de ceux qui vont devant pour faire place a leur Roy;” — “as being one of the company of those who go before to make way for their King.”