by John Calvin
Translated by Henry Cole
"CALVIN'S CALVINISM." This definitive title is prefixed to the present publications advisedly and purposely, as embodying in its expression the nature of the original works of the Genevese Reformer, and also the object of the present translation. The originals are Calvin's testimony and real mind concerning the doctrines of God's electing, predestinating and sovereign grace; while his own exposition and expression of his faith therein satisfactorily evince and beautifully manifest the spirit in which he held and taught those divine and sublime doctrines.
No servant of Christ, probably, since the days of the apostles and of the Gospel witnesses of their century, has been more grossly misrepresented or more maliciously maligned than the faithful, fearless and beloved Calvin. But the British Church of Christ shall now (the Translator intends, under the Divine blessing) see, and love, and admire, while the whole nation shall know what the heavenly John Calvin really was in his ministry, and is still, and ever will be, in his writings, as long as the originals shall survive the desolations of time.
The present and (D.v.) forthcoming Treatises derive a considerable accession of value and interest from the fact that they are the only productions of Calvin which he devoted expressly, exclusively and purposely, to the exposition and defence of the sublime doctrines of electing, predestinating and persevering grace. Those glorious truths are indeed, as a matter of natural consequence, interwoven with the whole of his written and voluminous labours, which consist principally of commentaries on most, or nearly all, the books of the Holy Scriptures. But the two Treatises now under publication are devoted wholly by the pre-eminent Reformer to the statement and vindication of those all-high doctrines which formed the burden of his faith, testimony, confession and ministry, and as such they are signally interesting and valuable.
There are, in the religious world, almost as many different shades, phases, kinds and degrees, of Calvinism as there are Calvinists (or professors of the doctrines of Calvin), and almost as many diverse opinions on the faith and character of the Reformer himself. But (as the present Translator has already remarked) he now presents the Church of Christ in England, and the British public in general, with (they may rest fully assured) " CALVIN'S own CALVINISM."
Calvinism is a designation, by which the doctrines of the sovereign grace of God have been distinguished for the last two centuries, but more particularly and generally for the last century. The term derives, of course, its descriptiveness from the historical fact that the eminent Swiss Reformer was the chosen servant of God, appointed by Him to proclaim and defend more prominently than any contemporary or antecedent witness the sublime doctrines in question. Not that these stupendous truths originated with Calvin, but with God Himself. They form an essential portion of the revelation of His Word. They are no more Calvinism than Augustinism, or Lutherism, or Bucerism, or Cranmerism, or Latimerism, for they are Bibleism, and the ism of every saint and true minister of Christ; they are the solidity and security of all true religion; they are the fast-hold of faith; they form a substantial ingredient in every true ministry of the Gospel; and they constitute an essential doctrine in the confession of every true Church of Christ. Hence it is that the truthful and faithful Reformers interwove it with the whole worship and services, and laid it at the foundation of the confession of the Church of England!
The admirable Calvin has treated this stupendous subject with all the penetrating acumen and commanding might of mind with which he was peculiarly endowed by nature, and with that accuracy, conclusiveness and force of logical argument, of which he was a perfect and powerful master. These natural and acquired qualifications for his important task, enabled him to discover, at the farthest distance, the subtle aims of his opponents in all their hostile reality, and to establish against them a self-defending bulwark of Divine truth with impregnable and lasting solidity; while "the unction from the Holy One," with which he was himself anointed as a son and a servant of the Most High (1 John ii. 20), sanctifying all his intellectual and literary powers, has rendered these holy and masterly Treatises as much a delight and a profit to the Church of Christ as an exposure, refutation and condemnation of the world, of human reason, scepticism and infidelity. The crowning success of the whole, however, is that the God of truth is greatly glorified by this His noble and edifying witness's indestructible testimony
When Martin Luther had, by the "hammer" of God's " Word " (Jer. xxiii. 29), beaten to atoms the mighty pile of superstition, idolatry, hypocrisy, formality, "will-worship," work-worship and infinite "abominations," erected by the twelve centuries' labour of the anti-Christian Harlot of the World, and had based on its prostrate and exposed ruins the great cardinal doctrine of salvation, Justification by Faith; the Church of Christ, thus reformed and "turned from dead works to serve the living God " (1 Thess. i. 9), soon required, under her characteristic infirmities, a stability and confidence in her newly "given faith" (Eph. ii. 8), and a security that should assure her of its appointed end " ? " the salvation of the soul " (1 Pet. i. 9). The great and merciful Head of His Church, seeing this, raised up John Calvin, and divinely and powerfully equipped him to go forth and minister to the yet unassured Church the doctrines of His electing, predestinating and immutable grace, founded on His sovereign will and inscrutable purpose. These glorious doctrines formed then, as they do now, and ever will do, "chambers" (Isa. xxvi. 20; Song i. 4) into which believers might enter, and "beds" upon which they might securely and eternally rest (Isa. lvii. 2; Psa. cxlix. 5). Thus a scope and foundation were given for the assurance of faith as broad and as sure as the Eternal Mind!
The human and unregenerate mind, however, utterly incapable of soaring to an adequate and reverential contemplation of these all-high and supernatural truths, has ever fallen back, dazzled and confounded, upon its own vain, ineffectual and often irreverent and profane reasonings (1 Cor. ii. 14). These reasonings, in all their forms, the present work of Calvin meets, exposes, refutes and condemns. It explains the real nature of these sublime mysteries, and exalts them in triumph over all the reason, pride and malice of the "natural man." Nor has there ever been, nor is there now, nor is there likely to be, an opposing argument of unsanctified reason which the present works do not state, or anticipate, expose and refute.
And wherever the "natural man," unrenewed and untaught by the Spirit of God, does receive the sublime doctrines of grace "in the letter" of them (for myriads of such receivers there ever are), planted, as they then must be, in the soil of a graceless, hard, unbroken and unhumbled spirit; such professors of them state them, expound, teach, preach and enforce them in a manner immeasurably beneath their highness and their holiness; in a manner tainted, more or less, with irreverence, if not with presumption or even with profanity. Such an unsanctified method of setting forth the sublime verities of electing and predestinating grace can never profit either sinner or saint, but must create in both, grief, or offence, or disgust. But where these mighty truths are taught by the Spirit of their glorious Author, which is ever the case with all the children of God, ministers and people ("All thy children shall be taught of the Lord," Isa. liv. 13), their profoundly reverent tenure and their holy exposition are always inseparably united. When thus received and deposited in the broken and humbled hearts of the disciples of Christ, under "the unction that teacheth" (1 John ii. 20), they will be held, without exception, in all humility, reverence and adoration, and under their saving influence the prostration of soul before their majesty will be equal to the confidence they inspire, and to the triumph of faith over sin, death and hell, which they secure. In a word, they will ever be held and taught by all who are saved by them, as they were by the heavenly John Calvin, the possessor, teacher and defender of their truth, their value, their sublimity and their incomprehensibility.
There is not, perhaps, an extra-Bible saint recorded or known in whom can be found greater humility, meekness, contrition, reverence and adoration, than are evident throughout the life, ministry and writings of John Calvin. In him, therefore, all the " family of heaven" (Eph. iii. 15) on earth find not only a burning and a shining light as an eminent servant of Christ, but a holy, humble and loving brother, a broken-hearted fellow-sinner, a saved fellow-saint, and a profound fellow-worshipper; a "lamb " before the saints, but a " lion" before the world; a "lamb" before God, but a "'lion" for God. One with whom they can "see eye to eye (Isa. lii. 8) in all Divine things, while they gladly bow before the authority and power of his testimony.
Illegitimate Calvinists (as sound divines and faithful men have during the last century correctly designated the graceless imitators of Calvin) know nothing of the spirit or religion of Calvin; nor can they know either, because they possess neither. We have already described their spirit, their profession and their teaching, which are as far and as diverse from those of Calvin as darkness from light, as the "Spirit which is from above" from the spirit which is from the earth, or from beneath. They neither know Calvin's religion, nor can have any fellowship with him therein, nor he with them. These illegitimate representatives of the humble and holy Reformer, being unregenerate persons, are often unholy as well as unhumbled men. They are frequently Antinomians in doctrine, if not in practice. Not so was Calvin. He was as holy as he was truthful; as humble as he was fearless; as remarkable for his chastity as for his intrepidity. Were he now on earth, he would not acknowledge these characters as his legitimate offspring. One hour's attempt to hold communion with them would force from him that solemn sentence which will, it may be feared, be one day pronounced on them by "a Greater" than Calvin: " I know you not!"
It has been a matter of much wonder to the Translator that no English versions of these important Treatises of Calvin have ever appeared, for they embody the very faith, and testimony, and ministry of the prominent Reformer. It is surprising that none of those good and industrious men who translated into English that invaluable and imperishable work, Luther "On the Galatians," and those other standard reformative productions?Luther "On the Psalms of Degrees," Luther's "Sermons," Calvin "On Job," and Dean Nowell's "Catechism," etc., etc. ?did not give the British Church an English version of the present Treatises. Yet so it is. No English translation of these two productions has ever appeared till the present and the (D.v.) immediately forthcoming publications.
That no English illegitimates ever undertook the duty of representing in English their pretended father is no marvel at all. The work must have been by far too hot for them to undertake. Their labour would have condemned and consumed their religion as fast as they proceeded. Calvin's truth would have crushed and annihilated their error; his light would have discovered and exposed their darkness; his life would have awestruck their death; and his holy fire would have consumed their graceless profession to ashes. No one, indeed, could faithfully and really translate Calvin or Luther, or any other kindred servant of God, but a true participator in the religion of the original authors. One of a general acquaintance with the Latin, or French, or German languages of the original productions might transvert the one language into another, but he could not trans-convey the mind, and most certainly could not transfuse the saving spirit of his author, whether Calvin or Luther. None could do this but a partaker of Calvin's or Luther's spirit, faith and religion.
Whether it be the intent of the present meritoriously labouring Calvin Society to translate into English the two Treatises now under publication the present Translator knows not. If it be so, there must lie in the way of every general English lover of Calvin a very formidable pecuniary impediment. He could not procure either of these Treatises without purchasing the whole of the already-issued series of the Calvin Society, amounting to forty or more volumes. The sight of this serious difficulty formed one portion of the present Translator's resolve to undertake his delightful task, knowing that he could thereby put these invaluable relic-testimonies into the hand of any English reader for a moderate sum, and thus render the British Church of Christ a considerable monetary help, and confer upon her a lasting benefit, thus furnishing, for her perusal and profit, two invaluable productions of the Geneva Reformer, which had lain unprofitable to her, and unknown by her, for above 300 years.*
One word more in conclusion. Above 300 years ago were the divine contents of these Treatises penned by Calvin. But such is the enduring and unchangeable nature of all Divine Truth and its confession, that these testimonies of the beloved Reformer, which flowed from his heart, to be left by his pen on the pages of the originals, still meet, even when re-clothed in a different language, the spirits of all the "family of heaven" (Eph. iii. 15), as they read them with the same divine life, freshness and unction, as they would have been felt if heard from the heart-supplied lips of John Calvin at Geneva. So blessed, glorious and true, is that word: "For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting: and His truth endureth from generation to generation" (Psa. c. 5).
If, by the Divine blessing upon the present Translations, the disciples of Christ shall be comforted, and their faith confirmed; if the lovers of the truth shall be rejoiced and its defenders re-armed; if reasoners shall be rendered dumb and infidels confounded and ashamed; if the Church of Christ shall be edified and God glorified; the Translator's satisfaction, object and reward will have been fully and abundantly realised.
3 Upper Islington Terrace, London.
December 27th, 1855.
Table of contents
Treatise - (Part I) "The Eternal Predestination of God"
Section VII. "A Brief Reply. . ."
Treatise - (Part II) "A Defence of the Secret Providence of God"
Introduction by John Calvin