TO CHRISTIAN READERS, HEALTH.
When some years ago the most learned John Calvin, at the request and entreaty of his friends, undertook to explain in the School The Psalms Of David, some of us, his hearers, took notes from the beginning of a few things in our own way, for our own private meditation, according to our own judgment and discretion. But being at length admonished by our own experience, we began to think how great a loss would it be to many, and almost to the whole Church, that the benefit of such Lectures should be confined to a few hearers. Having therefore gathered courage, we fully thought that it was our duty to unite a care and concern for the public with our own private benefit, and this seemed possible, if, instead of following our usual practice, we tried, as far as we could, to take down the Lectures word for word. Without delay I joined myself as the third to two zealous brethren in this undertaking; and it so happened, through God's kindness, that a happy issue was not wholly wanting to our attempt: for when the labors of each of us were compared together, and the Lectures were immediately written out, we found that so few things had escaped us, that the gaps could easily be made up. And that this was the case as to the work in which was made the first trial of our capacities, Calvin himself is a witness to us; and that this has been far more fully the case with respect to the Lectures on Hosea, (as by long use and exercise we became more skillful) even all the hearers will readily acknowledge.
But the design on this occasion was to induce him, if possible, to publish complete Commentaries on this Author; but it then happened to us otherwise than we expected: for all hope of obtaining this object he cut off from us from reverence to Bucer, who, in this case, as well as in all other things, had performed most faithful and most useful services, as the whole Church acknowledges, and as Calvin in particular has at all times most honorably declared to us and to all. It therefore remained that the Lectures, as taken down by us, should be published. And as all the most pious promised to themselves great benefit from our labor, we daily increased our exertions, that such a hope might not pass away into smoke. Being therefore stirred on by these desires, as well, doubtless, as by the prospect of benefiting the godly, we exerted ourselves so much, that all readily allowed that we exercised nothing short of the greatest diligence. The more wonderful it may seem, that he was afterwards induced to change his mind, so as to frustrate our hope and that of many of the godly; and that, on the other hand, he was constrained, however anxious to perform a most useful service to the Church, to incur the great envy and implacable hatred of many. But those who plead only the authority of Bucer in this affair are moved, I willingly acknowledge, by a reason not altogether unjust; yet they will seem to me too stiff and unbending, if they will not suffer themselves to be influenced by sufficient excuses, which I hope will be the case before long. But as to those who are carried away by the insane love of evil-speaking, and avail themselves of the least opportunity of strife, as they ought to be disregarded and detested as monsters by all the godly, so it is not needful to labor much to satisfy them, for the barking of dogs, provided it hurt not the Church, may without great danger be passed by and despised.
We have, indeed, prefaced these things for the sake of those who have very often solicited us respecting the Lectures On The Psalms, that they may not think themselves to have been deceived by us with a vain expectation; for, let them know, that they shall sometimes have, through God's favor, correct and complete Commentaries on The Book of Psalms. But if this long desire does much distress them, let them remember that we also no less anxiously look for that great treasure. But it is right that we both should pardon a man who has constant and most burdensome occupations, and somewhat moderate our too prurient and premature wishes: and to indulge him seems right even on this one account, that he, the least of all, indulges himself, never taking any rest or relaxation of mind from his vast labors, so that it is a matter of doubt to none but that he drags a little body, not only through the divine kindness, but by a singular miracle, which cannot be told to posterity, -- a body, by nature weak, violently attacked by frequent diseases, and then exhausted by immense labors; and, lastly, pierced by the unceasing stings of the ungodly, and on all sides distressed and tormented by all kinds of reproaches.
But as this is not the place for making complaints, I now come to you, Christian Readers, to whom it is our purpose to dedicate this work, The Lectures On The Prophet Hosea; and we dedicate it, not that we claim any thing as our own, except the diligence we employed in collecting it: but we hesitate not to make it, as it were, our own, for it would have never come to you except through our assistance. For though we judged the work altogether excellent, which is now offered to the Church, yet we could hardly at last convince the author of this; and he suffered himself to be overcome by our importunate entreaties only on this condition, that we were to be accountable for whatever judgment good men might form of the work: so unfit a judge he is of his own productions. But we, though he may modestly extenuate them more than what is right, yet dare to promise to ourselves, that not only the author's labor will be duly appreciated by you, but that we shall also secure to ourselves no common favor.
These Lectures, we trust, will not be less acceptable to you, because the author, regarding the benefit of the school, (as it was right,)in some degree departed from the usual elegance of all his other works, and from embellishment of style. For, being oppressed with a vast quantity of business, he was constrained to leave home, after having had hardly, for the most part, half an hour to meditate on these Lectures: he preferred to advance the edification and benefit of his hearers by eliciting the true sense and making it plain, rather than by vain pomp of words to delight their ears, or to regard ostentation and his own glory. I would not, at the same time, deny, but that these Lectures were delivered more in the scholastic than in the oratorical style. If, however, this simple, though not rude, mode of speaking should offend any one, let him have recourse to the works of others, or of this author himself, especially those in which, being freed from the laws of the school, he appears no less the orator than the illustrious theologian: and this we declare without hesitation, and with no less modesty than with the full consent and approbation of the best and the most learned.
We do not indeed thus speak as if we would, by a censorious superciliousness, claim for him alone the glory of an orator, or would not, by calling him a theologian, acknowledge many others as celebrated men. Far from us be such a folly. But an occasion such as this being offered of testifying our mind, we could hardly, even in any other way, excuse our neglect to the godly, to whom it is well known, that our silence concerning Calvin has not hitherto well pleased turbulent men; who are more willing to have their vanity expressly reprobated by us, than to suffer us by a tacit consent and modest silence either to approve of his doctrine, and to acknowledge in him an evidence, the most clear, of God's kindness towards us, or to cover by a fraternal dissimulation their madness; and thus each of us would have to mourn by himself in silence.
But, as I have said, the language here is unadorned and simple, very like that which we know was ever wont to be used formerly in Lectures: not such as many of whom we have heard employ, who repeat to their hearers from a written paper what had been previously prepared at home; but such as could be formed and framed at the time, more adapted to teach and edify than to please the ear. Except, then, we are greatly mistaken, he so expresses almost to the life the mind of the Prophet, that no addition seems possible. For, after having carefully examined every sentence, he then briefly shows the use and application of the doctrine, so that no one, however ignorant, can mistake the meaning: in short, he so unfolds and opens the subjects and fountains of true theology, that it is easy for any one to draw from them what is needful to restore and refresh the soul; yea, the ministers of the word may hence advantageously derive ample streams, with which, as by a celestial dew, they may abundantly refresh the people of God, whether by exhortation, or consolation, or reproof, or edification. And of these things we clearly see some instances and examples in all his discourses, especially in those in which he so accommodates the doctrine of the Prophets to our own times, that it seems to suit their age no better than ours.
But that we may at length make an end, it remains, Christian Readers, that we receive and embrace with suitable gratitude all the other innumerable gifts of God which he daily pours on us in great abundance, as well as this incomparable treasure of his goodness, and employ them for the purpose of leading a holy and godly life to the glory of his name, and to the edification of our brethren: and that this may be done, we must pray for the Spirit of God, that we may come to the reading of Scripture instructed by him, and bring a mind purified from the defilement's of the flesh, and a meek spirit capable of receiving celestial truth. And for this end much help may be given us by the short prayers which we have taken care to add at the close of every Lecture, as gathered by us with the same care and fidelity as the Lectures were: the minds of the pious may by these be refreshed, and may collect new vigor for the next Lecture; and the ignorant may also have in these a pattern, as it were, painted before them, by which they may form their prayers from the words of Scripture. For as at the beginning of the Lectures he ever used the same form of prayer, which we intend also to add, that his manner of teaching may be fully known to you; so he was wont ever to finish every Lecture by a new prayer formed at the time, as given him by the Spirit of God, and accommodated to the subject of the Lecture.
If we shall understand that these Commentaries will be acceptable to you, though the work is the fruit of anothers labor, we shall yet engage, God favoring us, to do the same as to the remaining Prophets. When he shall undertake to lecture on them, it is our purpose to follow him with no less diligence, and take down what remains to the end. In the meantime, enjoy these. Farewell.
Geneva, February 14, 1557.