Page images

he was born. Here Calvin, though unordained, preached frequently. How little did it appear from Calvin's present situation and prospects, (a member and a minister of the church of Rome, that he should be an instrument appointed to overthrow that pile of corruption !

Calvin, having been instructed in the true religion by one of his relatives, and having carefully perused the scriptures, began to be disgusted with the church of Rome, and resolved to renounce her communion. His father, in the mean time, resolved to have him study the law, being convinced that it was the most certain method of acquiring riches and honour. Thus, either to comply with his father's wishes, or his own inclination, he quitted the study of theology, for that of the law : he removed to Orleans, where he made such progress in that science, under one of the most celebrated of all the French civilians, that he was considered rather a master than a scholar. In the absence of the professors, he frequently supplied their places, and acquired so much esteem in the university, that he was offered a doctor's degree.

In the midst of his various employments, our reformer was a diligent student of the Holy Scriptures. He was so diligent at this time, that after having supped lightly, he continued reading until midnight; and in the morning was employed, while in bed, in reviewing what he had read the night before. Although these late studies contributed to his extensive erudition, and his remarkable memory, yet they injured his health materially, and brought on that weakness of stomach with which he was afflicted during his life, and which at length shortened his days.

Calvin studied Greek under Melchior Wolmar, a professor of considerable merit, and an excellent tutor. With his laborious studies he associated an

incessant perusal of the scriptures, and sometimes preached in a small town in Berri. His father dying, he was obliged to abandon the study of law, and return to Noyon. He visited Paris shortly afterwards, where he published his Commentary on Seneca's Book on Clemency, an author, the purity of whose sentiments were in perfect unison with the morals of Calvin. He was then only twentyfour years of age ; but, notwithstanding his youth, he soon became known, and highly esteemed.

During his residence at Paris, renouncing the pursuit of all other sciences, he consecrated himself to theology and to God. While here, having spoken against some public errours in religion, an attempt was made to take him prisoner, but he made his escape by flight. The queen of Navarre, a princess of uncommon merit, having sent for Calvin, treated him with great respect. She made use of her influence with the king, Francis I., her brother, to appease the tempest which had arisen against the reformed. Having quitted Paris, Calvin retired to Xaintonge, where, at the request of a friend, he composed some formularies of sermons and christian exhortations, which he induced the rectors to use as homilies, in order to excite the people to pursue their inquiries into the truth.

Calvin soon returned to Paris, but having many enemies there, who had meditated his destruction, he was obliged to remain concealed. The following year was disgraced by many cruelties inflicted upon several pious characters. The king, Francis I., being influenced by the Catholics, was so highly incensed by some writings which had been published against the Mass, that he commanded eight of the reformed to be burned alive, in the middle of the four most frequented parts of the city; and swore he would not spare his own children, should they be infected with that execrable heresy.

Considering the deplorable state to which his brethren were reduced, Calvin resolved to quit the kingdom. He therefore proceeded to Basil by the way of Lorraine, where he applied himself to the study of the Hebrew language. Though he wished at this time to remain in obscurity, as appears by a letter written to him by Bucer, yet he was constrained to publish his Christian Institutes, to serve as an apology for his persecuted brethren. For as Francis I. was desirous of the friendship of the protestant princes of Germany, and knew that they would disapprove of the murder of his protestant subjects, he affirmed that he had only put to death the Anabaptists, who, far from making the word of God the rule of their faith, gave themselves up to their disordered imaginations, professing a contempt for magistrates and sovereign authorities.

Calvin, who could not bear to see the true religion thus calumniated, thought it necessary to publish his Institutes, which he dedicated to Francis I. While he was finishing this work, he learned that in many places of Italy, ideas were cherished favourable to the Reformation : he therefore flew to the celebra-ted Dutchess de Ferrare, the daughter of Louis XII., who received him with distinction, and whom Calvin confirmed in her principles. Notwithstanding this protection, the Inquisition, aroused by the name of Calvin, pursued him to the court of the Dutchess, from which he was obliged to make his escape. It was, no doubt, at this time that he arrived at the town of Piedmont, in which he at first preached the Reformation with success; but from whence he was afterwards driven by intolerance. This fact is attested by a pillar of eight feet in height, still existing, erected to immortalize the arrival of Calvin at Aost, and his banishment from thence.

On quitting Italy, Calvin returned to France : but on account of the persecutions which then ran

high, he soon resolved to return to Basil or Strasbourg. But the direct road being then impassable on account of the war, he was compelled to go through Geneva. This was in the month of August, 1536. The reformed religion had been wonderfully established there by Guillaume Farel and Pierre Viret. Calvin, not willing to pass through Geneva without paying his respects to them, made them a visit ; on which occasion, Farel earnestly entreated him to stop at Geneva, and help him in the labour to which God had called him. Calvin submitted to their wishes, and was received to the charge of the ministry the same month.

From this time, says the Rev. A. Le Mercier, in his Church History of Geneva, “ The excellent works, the various circumstances of the life, the great pains, and unwearied industry of this great man, make up a great part of the ecclesiastical history of Geneva, for near thirty years.” Soon after Calvin came to Geneva, he engaged in a defence of the reformed, who were attacked by the Anabaptists, against whom he employed scripture and argument with so much success, that he entirely expelled that sect from Geneva.

In the same year obliged to plead his cause at Bern, against Caroly, who had accused him of Arianism.

Geneva was at this time very far from being in a. state of tranquillity, although the true religion was established, and the faith of the church of Rome abolished. Calvin and Farel were hated by those who preferred their vices and pleasures to good order; they therefore united their efforts to get rid of those vigilant ministers. And taking advantage of some disagreements between the church of Bern and that of Geneva, respecting ecclesiastical discipline, they procured an order from the council, by which these faithful ministers were commanded to leave the town in three days. Farel retired to

he was

Neufchatel, and Calvin to Strasbourg ; where the council of that town appointed him professor of theology, and pastor of a French church, into which he introduced his ecclesiastical discipline.

Calvin expressed much tenderness toward the Genevese, and took an interest in all their afflictions. He addressed several letters to them from Strasbourg, wherein he exhorted them to repentance, to peace, to charity, and to the love of God; teaching them to hope that a bright light would soon dissipate the fatal darkness in which they were enveloped. The event justified the prediction. At this time he republished his Christian Institutes, with many additions : he also published a piece on the Lord's Supper, which was very much admired. He reclaimed many Anabaptists, who were brought to him from various parts; and amongst others, Paul Volse, who died a minister of Strasbourg, and Jean Storder Liegeois, whose widow Calvin afterwards married, by the advice of Bucer : she was a person of extraordinary merit.

Such were the occupations of Calvin until the year 1541, when the Emperor Charles V. convoked a diet at Worms, and afterwards at Ratisbonne, to settle the differences which had arisen in Germany. Calvin, by desire of the ministers of Strasbourg, assisted at the diet, in which he proved useful to the churches, and particularly to those of France. Philip Melancthon, who always spoke with applause of Calvin, called him The Theologian.

The faction which had procured the banishment of Calvin being overthrown, the Genevese were anxious to recal him; but he resisted the offers which they made him. At length, solicited afresh by the council and the ministers of that town, and encouraged by Bucer, who informed him that the council had revoked his banishment, on the 1st of May, 1541, he set out for Geneva, where, upon

« PreviousContinue »