But the learning of Calvin manifests itself in the most desirable manner, and adds great weight to his interpretations. Of his acquaintance with Hebrew it is unnecessary now to speak.
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His familiarity with the Greek language appears less in observations on phrases, or allusions to the various renderings of some passages, than in a close adherence to those shades of meaning which no translation of the Scriptures can convey. Even when he appears to have overlooked or mistaken the words, a reference to the original, which had been studiously kept out of view, will justify the unexpected remark. Origen, Chrysostom, and other Greek Fathers, were among his familiar authors. Classical writers are introduced on every proper occasion, for illustrating a term, or a custom, or the general principles of reasoning.
Quotations are made from these writers, and from some of their philosophical treatises, which are seldom even consulted except by those who can read the language with considerable freedom. To say nothing of the Stagyrite, every scholar knows, for example, that no Greek prose offers more serious difficulties than the idiomatic, though fascinating, style of Plato. In that minute analysis which is peculiar to modern criticism, Calvin may have been deficient.
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That he wanted the skill necessary for such investigations is not so manifest. The absence of those processes by which he arrived at his conclusions makes it difficult to determine how far the subtle elements of language had undergone his scrutiny. If we shall suppose him to have neglected these matters, our astonishment must be the greater that the deductions of recent inquirers should have been so largely anticipated. Conjectures thrown out by Sir Isaac Newton were long afterwards verified by experiments of extreme labor and delicacy. But Calvin speaks habitually with a tone of confidence. We must therefore conclude that, like the shrewd remarks to which the philosopher was pleased to give the name of conjectures, his discoveries were reached by a shorter route, which other minds could with difficulty follow.
This extraordinary sagacity was accompanied by another quality not less needed in an interpreter, a sound judgment, which leaned neither to ancient usage nor to ingenious novelties, which refused to bow to the authority of great names, and sternly rebuked the most plausible sophistry when opposed to the plain and obvious meaning of Scripture.
He took a dispassionate and wide survey, not only of the passage immediately under consideration, but of kindred expressions or sentiments that were found in any of the inspired writers. It was left to the industry of later times to collect parallels, and arrange them on the margin of our Bibles, as an invaluable aid to interpretation. But his own perusal of the sacred volume supplied him largely with such materials, and enabled him to draw them out with instinctive readiness as occasion required.
As we pass along, we meet with direct quotations, largely but appositely introduced, and tending to confirm the views which he had adopted. Still more frequently we observe a copious use of that phraseology which is peculiar to the sacred writers, and which falls on the pious ear with refreshing melody. In him it rises higher than that felicitous application of Scripture which our more elegant writers have cultivated for the purpose of imparting a literary charm to their compositions; for those beauties came to him unsought while he was aiming at something higher than the mere ornaments of diction, and the language of Scripture had been so thoroughly interwoven with his ordinary style, that he must have been frequently unconscious of its presence.
To aid the reader in discovering those allusions, the passages from which they have been taken are generally marked. The references made by our Author himself may be supposed to be abundant, and must have struck many persons as a prominent feature of his writings; but in far more numerous cases, no clue was given to his authorities, and some pains have been taken to supply the omissions.
The Latin original has been scrupulously followed. His own vernacular version gives us some idea of the freedom, spirit, and elegance, with which he would have accommodated himself to the taste of the English reader, if it had been executed in our language. But a translator is not permitted to use the same liberties as the author, and faithfulness demands that he shall adhere strictly to the copy which is set before him.
The meaning has been given without addition or omission, and even the structure of the sentences has been followed, so far as that could be done without violating the purity of English idiom. To exhibit the peculiar excellencies of such a writer, or, where that could not be done, to find in a modern tongue a suitable equivalent, was no easy task.
His admirably concise diction, and rapid but masterly transitions, and above all, that rare felicity of expression for which his severest judges have given him credit, render it difficult to represent the style and manner of so great a master of composition. It would have been unwise as well as ungrateful to leave out of view so authoritative an exposition of his meaning, or to disregard the production of one whose command of his native tongue is acknowledged by the ablest critics to have anticipated the elegancies of a later age.
This purity, which is to the present day admired by our skillful critics, renders his writings greatly superior to almost all of the same age; as the works of Messieurs de Port Royal are still distinguished on the same account from the barbarous rhapsodies of their opponents and contemporaries. It must be observed, however, that the Latin and French texts have been treated apart, as if they had not proceeded from the same pen, and have been separated by a broad line which meets the eye of the reader. In the new translations prepared for the C alvin S ociety, care has been taken to adhere scrupulously to the Latin text, and at the same time to give the English reader the full benefit of those illustrations which the Author thought fit to employ in submitting the work to the perusal of his countrymen.
The French translation has been all along collated with the original; and whenever it contained additional matter, or removed obscurity by greater copiousness of language, or even when a striking phrase occurred, the passages have been exhibited and translated at the bottom of the page. Notes, partly selected, but chiefly original, have been added. Others are devoted to history, or to biblical criticism. Those which have been written by myself, and for which I must be held responsible, are marked.
All questions of a doctrinal nature have been excluded from these Notes. The publications of the C alvin T ranslation S ociety are addressed to the whole Church of Christ, and ought not to wear the badge of any of the sections into which that Church is unhappily divided. In every thing that relates to doctrine the Author has been left in full possession of the field.
It will scarcely be supposed that every interpretation contained in this work has my entire concurrence. The great principles inculcated in the writings of Calvin have my cordial approbation; and, indeed, I could scarcely name a writer with whose views of Divine truth I more fully coincide. As a Commentator, ever since I became acquainted with him, I have been accustomed to assign to him the highest rank, and to receive his expositions with the deepest respect.
My labors on this and on a former occasion fa5 led me to examine his opinions more closely than before, and have raised him still more highly in my estimation. There are some points on which I feel assured that he mistook the meaning of Scripture; but almost all of them had been little investigated in his day, and do not appear to have been subjected to his usual severity of judgment. It will excite more general surprise to find the great Reformer maintaining the right of the civil magistrate to punish heretics, and even to inflict on them the last sentence of the law.
Men far inferior to him in learning and ability have avoided mistakes from which his powerful and enlightened mind was not exempted. They ought to regard with admiration and gratitude the conduct of a gracious Providence, which preserved his creed so remarkably free from Romish errors, and enabled him to approach so closely to the mind of the Holy Spirit. A may be expected to resemble other works which bear the same title.
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To meet one obvious disadvantage of this arrangement, a Table of the passages expounded, which may enable the reader easily to discover where the exposition is to be found, becomes necessary. Such a Table, together with a list of the passages taken from other books of Scripture which are quoted or illustrated in this work, and a copious Index to the subjects of which it treats, will be given in the Third volume. The old translator of the Harmony, Eusebius Paget, deserves to be honored by the admirers of Calvin. It was indeed to be expected that, after the lapse of nearly three centuries, his version would be found unsuitable to modern taste.
But it is highly creditable to his scholarship, and to his scrupulous fidelity to the original, for which his well known integrity, and his warm attachment to the writings of the Reformer, were a sufficient guarantee. His name has come down to us in connection with sermons and other works, which appear to have been much esteemed, but are now little known. This volume is adorned by a well-authenticated likeness of the Reformer.
His friends observed with grief the forerunners of an event which, when it arrived, they could not but mourn as the premature close of a life so highly valued. A uchterarder, 4th January, Privy council; Grace and peace from god, with the increase of that true Honor which is from god, and lasteth for ever. T he choice Right Honourable which Luke the Evangelist made in dedicating this History of the Gospel, which he wrote, to that noble man Theophilus, and which that man of worthy memory, M.
John Calvin, took in dedicating these his labors to the Lords of Frankfort, driveth me to dedicate this my small labor of translating this book into the English tongue. Men do commonly, in their Epistles, write either in the commendation of the work, or in the praise of their patron, or in discharging of themselves of the discredit which their enemies would lay upon them. But I crave pardon of your Honor, if, in studying to be short, I omit these things. C alvin, the gatherer of The Harmony and the writer of The Commentary, do yield more credit and commendation to the matter than all that I can say of it, all the days of my life.
Only this I say of M. Next, for your praises, as you like not to hear them, so I will not offend you in setting them down, nor give others occasion to condemn me of flattery. They which have best known you say, that you began a good course in your youth; that you witnessed a good confession in the late time of persecution; that your constancy hath been testified by your troubles at home and travels in foreign countries: You have continued your profession in the midst of your dignity, lordships, and living, left by your parents, and in the seat of government wherein our sovereign and most gracious Queen hath placed you; not falling asleep, in security, in this so peaceable a time.
My Lord, continue to the end, so shall you be safe. I speak not this as if it were your own strength that hath holden you up all this while; but meditate sometimes, I pray you, upon the seventy-first Psalm; and pray that Lord, as David did, who kept you in your youth, that He will keep you in your old age, now that your hair is hoar and hairs grey. And I beseech the mighty Lord to thrust them forward which are drawn back by their youthly affections, and to raise up them that fell away for fear of troubles, and to waken those which in this quiet and calm time do sleep in security, or wax wanton with the wealth of the world; that we may meet the Lord with true humility and earnest repentance, to see if He will be intreated to continue His mercies towards us; lest he turn his correcting rod, which he hath so oft shaken over us, into a devouting sword to consume us.
Of myself I will say nothing. The mouths of the wicked cannot be stopped. Their false tongues, I hope, shall teach me to walk warily; and I have learned, I thank my God, to pass through good report and through evil, and to commit myself and my cause to Him that judgeth right.
The Lord of lords preserve your Honour in safety, and multiply all spiritual blessings upon you and yours. From Kiltehampton, in Cornwall, this 28th of, January, E usebius P aget.
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.
Harmony of the Law - Volume 1
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.
For my own part at least, as I have just now declared, such were my inducements to dedicate to you this work of mine.
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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 l 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.