Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 34: John, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
THE AUTHOR’S EPISTLE DEDICATORY
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, ἀξένους, 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 2 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. 3 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 4 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 5 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. 6 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. 7
1st January, 1553.
(“Ascavoir que l’Evangile, et ceux qui y veulent adherer, ont yei leur retraitte,”) — (namely, that the gospel, and those who wish to abide by it, have their retreat here)
The French version adds “a ce qu’elle ne flottast plus parmi les traditions des hommes;” — “that it might no longer be tossed about among; the traditions of men.”
“Nous qui taschons de remettre l’estat de l’Eglise a son entier;” — “we who endeavor to restore the Church to her original condition.”
“Dieu par sa grace nous a restitue.”
The French copy adds: “afin qu’on n’en juge point a l’aventure, ni a, credit;” — “that they may not judge of it at random, or on trust.”
In the concluding sentence, the more amplified form of the French version has been followed. — Ed.)