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THE English Reader is here presented with a Translation of one of the principal theological productions of the sixteenth century. Few persons, into whose hands this translation is likely to fall, will require to be informed that the author of the original work was one of an illustrious triumvirate, who acted the most conspicuous part in what has been generally and justly denominated THE REFORMATION. Of that important revolution in ecclesiastical affairs, so necessary to the interests of true religion, and productive of such immense advantages even to civil society, LUTHER, ZUINGLE, and CALVIN, were honoured, by the providence of God, to be the most highly distinguished instruments. It is no degradation to the memory of the many other ornaments of that age, to consider them as brilliant satellites in the firmament of the Church, revolving round these primary luminaries, to whom they were indebted for much of that lustre which they diffused over the earth; while they were all to
gether revolving around one and the same centre, though, it must be confessed, with considerable varieties of approximation, velocity, and obliquity in their courses; yet all deriving more or less copious communications of light from the great Sun of the moral system, THE TRUE LIGHT OF THE WORLD.
Differing in the powers of their minds as well as in the temperament of their bodily constitutions, placed in different circumstances, and called to act in different scenes, these leading Reformers, though engaged in the same common cause, displayed their characteristic and peculiar excellencies; which, it is no disparagement of that cause to admit, were likewise accompanied by peculiar failings. It is not the design of this Preface to pourtray and discriminate their respective characters. They alike devoted their lives and labours to rescue Christianity from the absurdities, superstitions, and vices by which it had been so deplorably deformed, mutilated, and obscured, and to recal the attention of mankind from the doubtful traditions of men to the unerring word of God. But while they were all distinguished Reformers, Calvin has been generally acknowledged to have been the most eminent theologian of the three.
Such was the superiority of the talents and attainments of Calvin to those of most other great men, that the strictest truth is in danger of being taken for exagge- . ration. It is impossible for any candid and intelligent person to have even a slight acquaintance with his writ
ings, without admiring his various knowledge, extensive learning, profound penetration, solid judgment, acute reasoning, pure morality, and fervent piety.
His Commentaries on the Scriptures have been celebrated for a juster method of exposition than had been exhibited by any preceding writer. Above a hundred years after his death, Pool, the Author of the Synopsis, in the preface to that valuable work, says; “ Calvin's
“ Commentaries abound in solid discussions of theological subjects, and practical improvements of them. Subsequent writers have borrowed most of their materials from Calvin, and his interpretations adorn the books even of those who repay the obligation by reproaching their master.” And nothing can more satisfactorily evince the high estimation to which they are still entitled from the biblical student, than the following testimony given after the lapse of another century by the late learned bishop Horsley: “ I hold the memory of Calvin in high veneration; his works have a place in my library; and, in the study of the Holy Scriptures, he is one of the commentators whom I frequently consult.”
But perhaps of all the writings of Calvin none has excited so much attention as his INSTITUTES OF THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION.
His original design in commencing this work is stated by himself, in the beginning of his Dedication, to have been to supply his countrymen, the French, with an elementary compendium for their instruction in the principles of true religion. But we learn from Beza, that, by the time of its completion, existing circumstances furpished the Author with an additional motive for sending it into the world, during his residence at Basil, whither he had retired to avoid the persecution which was then raging in France against all the dissentients from the Church of Rome. Francis the First, king of France, courted the friendship of the Protestant princes of Germany; and knowing their detestation of the cruelties which he employed against his subjects of the reformed religion, he endeavoured to excuse his conduct by al. leging, that he caused none to be put to death except some fanatics; who, so far from taking the word of God as the rule of their faith, gave themselves up to the impulses of their disordered imaginations, and even openly avowed a contempt for magistrates and sovereign princes. Unable to bear such foul aspersions of his brethren, Calvin determined on the immediate publication of this Treatise, which he thought would serve as an answer to the calumnies circulated by the enemies of the truth, and as an apology for his pious and persecuted countrymen.
The Dedication to Francis is one of the most mas. terly compositions of modern times. The purity, elegance, and energy of style; the bold, yet respectful, freedom of address; the firm attachment to the Divine word; the Christian fortitude in the midst of persecution; the triumphant refutation of the calumnies of detractors; with other qualities which distinguish this celebrated remon. strance, will surely permit no reader of taste or piety to withhold his concurrence from the general admiration which it has received.
The Author composed this Treatise in Latin and French; and though at its first appearance it was little more than an outline of what it afterwards became, it was received with uncommon approbation, and a second edition was soon required. How many editions it passed through during his life, it is difficult, if not impossible, now to ascertain; but it obtained a very extensive cir. culation, and was reprinted several times, and every time was further improved and enlarged by him, till in the year 1559, twenty-three years after the first impression, he put the finishing hand to his work, and published it in Latin and French, with his last corrections and addi. tions.
The circulation which it enjoyed was not confined to persons capable of reading it in the languages in which it was written. It was translated into High Dutch, Low Dutch, Italian, and Spanish.
Soon after the publication of the Author's last edition, it was translated from the Latin into English. In this language it appears to have reached six editions in the life of the Translator. A reflection on the small number of
persons who may be supposed to have had inclination and ability to read such a book at that period, compared with the number of readers in the present age, may excite some wonder that there should have been a demand for so many editions. But no surprise at this cir. VOL. I.