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HOME > Classical Novels > History of the Reformation in Europe in the Time of Calvin > CHAPTER XVII.
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(Summer, 1536.)
One evening in the month of July, 1536, a carriage from France arrived at Geneva. A man, still young, alighted from it. He was short, thin, and pale; his beard was black and pointed, his organization weak,
and his frame somewhat worn by study; but in his high forehead, lively and severe eyes, regular and expressive features, there were indications of a profound spirit, an elevated soul, and an indomitable character. His intention was to 'pass through Geneva hastily, without stopping more than one night in the city.'[841] He was accompanied by a man and woman of about the same age. The three travellers belonged to the same family—two brothers and a sister. The foremost of them, long accustomed to keep himself in the background, desired to pass through Geneva unobserved. He inquired for an inn where he could spend the night: his voice was mild, and his manner attractive. Scarcely a carriage arrived from France without being surrounded by some of the Genevans, or at least by French refugees; for it might bring new fugitives, obliged to seek a country in which they were free to profess the doctrine of Christ. A young Frenchman, at that time the friend and disciple of the traveller, who had gone to the place where the carriage from France put up, in order to see if it brought anybody whom he knew, recognized the man with the intelligent face, and conducted him to an hotel. The traveller was John Calvin, and his friend was Louis Du Tillet, ex-canon of Angoulême, Calvin's travelling companion during his Italian journey. From Strasburg, whither he had gone to meet Calvin, he had returned to Geneva, no doubt because he thought that the war between Francis I. and Charles V. would compel his friend to make a bend and pass through Bresse and the valley of the Leman. This was actually what happened.
Calvin, who had come to Geneva without a plan and even against his will, having sat down with Du Tillet in his room at the hotel, their conversation naturally turned on the city in which they were, and of which the reformer know but little. He learnt, either from his
friend or from others subsequently, what he probably knew something about already; namely, that popery had been driven out of it shortly before; that the zeal, struggles, trials, and evangelical labors of William Farel were incessant; but that affairs were not yet 'put in order in the city;' that there were dangerous divisions, and that Farel was contending almost alone for the triumph of the Gospel. Calvin had long respected Farel as the most zealous of evangelists; but it does not appear that they had ever met. Du Tillet could not keep to himself the news of his friend's arrival, and after leaving Calvin, he called on Master William. 'After discovering me, he made my coming known to others,' says Calvin.[842]
Farel, who had read the Christian Institutes, had recognized in the author of that work the most eminent genius, the most scriptural theologian, and the most eloquent writer of the age. The thought that this extraordinary man was in Geneva, and that he could see and hear him, moved and delighted Farel. He went with all haste to the inn and entered into conversation with the youthful theologian. Everything confirmed him in his former opinion. He had long been looking for a servant of God to help him, yet had never thought of Calvin. But now a flash of light shone into his soul, an inward voice said to him: This is the man of God you are seeking. 'At the very moment when I was thinking least about it,' he said, 'the grace of God led me to him.' From that moment there was no hesitation or delay. 'Farel, who glowed with a marvellous zeal for promoting the Gospel,' says Calvin, 'made every effort to retain me.'[843]
Would he succeed? Seldom has there been a man
who, like Calvin, was placed in the influential position he was to occupy all his life, not only without his concurrence but even against his will. 'Stay with me,' said Farel, 'and help me. There is work to be done in this city.' Calvin replied with astonishment: 'Excuse me, I cannot stop here more than one night.'—'Why do you seek elsewhere for what is now offered you?' replied Farel; 'why refuse to edify the Church of Geneva by your faith, zeal, and knowledge?' The appeal was fruitless: to undertake so great a task seemed to Calvin impossible. 'But Farel, inspired by the spirit of a hero,' says Theodore Beza, 'would not be discouraged.' He pointed out to the stranger that as the Reformation had been miraculously established in Geneva, it ought not to be abandoned in a cowardly manner; that if he did not take the part offered to him in this task, the work might probably perish, and he would be the cause of the ruin of the Church.[844] Calvin could not make up his mind; he did not want to bind himself to a particular church; he told his new friend that he preferred travelling in search of knowledge, and making himself useful in the places where he chanced to halt. 'Look first at the place in which you are now,' answered Farel; 'popery has been driven out and traditions abolished, and now the doctrine of the Scriptures must be taught here.' 'I cannot teach,' exclaimed Calvin; 'on the contrary, I have need to learn. There are special labors for which I wish to reserve myself. This city cannot afford me the leisure that I require.'
He explained his plan. He wanted to go to Strasburg, to Bucer, and Capito, and then putting himself in communication with the other doctors of Germany, to increase his knowledge by continued study. 'Study! leisure! knowledge!' said Farel. 'What! must we never practise? I am sinking under my task; pray help me.' The young doctor had still other reasons.
His constitution was weak. 'The frail state of my health needs rest,' he said.—'Rest!' exclaimed Farel, 'death alone permits the soldiers of Christ to rest from their labors.' Calvin certainly did not mean to do nothing. He would labor, but each man labors according to the gift he has received: he would defend the Reformation not by his deeds but by words.[845]
The reformer had not yet expressed his whole thought: it was not only the work they asked him to undertake that frightened him, it was also the locality in which he would have to carry it out. He did not feel himself strong enough to bear the combat he would have to engage in. He shrank from appearing before the assemblies of Geneva. The violence, the tumults, the indomitable temper of the Genevese were much talked of, and they intimidated and alarmed him. To this Farel replied, 'that the severer the disease, the stronger the measures to be employed to cure it.' The Genevese storm, it is true; they burst out like a squall of wind in a gale; but was that a reason for leaving him, Farel, alone to meet these furious tempests? 'I entreat you,' said the intrepid evangelist, 'to take your share. These matters are harder than death.' The burden was too heavy for his shoulders; he wanted the help of a younger man. But the young man of Noyon was surprised that he should be thought of. 'I am timid and naturally pusillanimous,' he said. 'How can I withstand such roaring waves?'[846] At this Farel could not restrain a feeling of anger and almost of contempt. 'Ought the servants of Jesus Christ to be so delicate,' he exclaimed, 'as to be frightened at warfare?'[847] This blow touched the young reformer to the heart. He frightened!—he prefer his own ease to the service of the Saviour! His conscience was troubled and his feelings were violently agitated.
But his great humility still held him back: he had a deep sentiment of his incapacity for the kind of work they wanted him to undertake. 'I beg of you, in God's name,' he exclaimed, 'to have pity on me! Leave me to serve Him in another way than what you desire.'
Farel, seeing that neither prayers nor exhortations could avail with Calvin, reminded him of a frightful example of disobedience similar to his own. 'Jonah, also,' he said, 'wanted to flee from the presence of the Lord, but the Lord cast him into the sea.' The struggle in the young doctor's heart became more keen. He was violently shaken, like an oak assailed by the tempest; he bent before the blast, and rose up again, but a last gust, more impetuous than all the others, was shortly about to uproot him. The emotion of the elder of the two speakers had gradually increased, in proportion as the young man's had also increased. Farel's heart was hot within him. At that supreme moment, feeling as if inspired by the Spirit of God, he raised his hand towards heaven and exclaimed: 'You are thinking only of your tranquillity, you care for nothing but your studies. Be it so. In the name of Almighty God, I declare that if you do not answer to His summons, He will not bless your plans.' Then, perceiving that the critical moment had come, he added an 'alarming adjuration' to his declaration: he even ventured on an imprecation. Fixing his eyes of fire on the young man, and placing his hands on the head of his victim, he exclaimed in his voice of thunder: 'May God curse your repose! may God curse your studies, if in such a great necessity as ours you withdraw and refuse to give us help and support!'
At these words, the young doctor, whom Farel had for some time kept on the rack, trembled. He shook in every limb; he felt that Farel's words did not proceed from himself: God was there, the holiness of the presence of Jehovah laid strong hold of his mind; he saw
Him who is invisible. It appeared to him, he said, 'that the hand of God was stretched down from heaven, that it lay hold of him, and fixed him irrevocably to the place he was so impatient to leave.'[848] He could not free himself from that terrible grasp. Like Lot's wife when she looked back on her tranquil home, he was rooted to his seat, powerless to move. At last he raised his head and peace returned to his soul; he had yielded, he had sacrificed the studies he loved so well, he had laid his Isaac on the altar, he consented to lose his life to save it. His conscience, now convinced, made him surmount every obstacle in order that he might obey. That heart, so faithful and sincere, gave itself, and gave itself for ever. Seeing that what was required of him was God's pleasure, says Farel, he did violence to himself, adding: 'And he did more, and that more promptly, than any one else could have done.'
The call of Calvin in Geneva is perhaps, after that of St. Paul, the most remarkable to be found in the history of the Church. It was not miraculous, like that of the Apostle on the road to Damascus; and yet in the chamber of that inn, there was the flash of light and the roar as of thunder; the voice which the Lord made to sound in Calvin's heart, terrified him, broke down his obstinacy, and prostrated him as if a thunderbolt from heaven had struck him. His heart had been pierced; he had bowed his head with humility, and almost prostrate on the earth he had felt that he could no longer fight against God and kick against the pricks. At the same time confidence in God filled his soul. He knew that He who made him feel those 'stings'[849] had a sovereign remedy calculated to heal all his wounds. Has not God said, 'Commit thy way unto the Lord, and He shall bring it to pass?' The young man desired no longer to run restive like a fiery courser, but, 'like a
docile steed, permit himself to be guided peaceably by the hand of his Master.'[850]
From that hour the propagation and defence of truth became the sole passion of his life, and to them he consecrated all the powers of his heart. He had still, after this solemn hour, to undergo, as he says, 'great anxiety, sorrow, tears, and distress.' But his resolution was taken. He belonged to himself no longer, but to God. 'In everything and in every place he would guide himself entirely by his obedience.' He never forgot the fearful adjuration which Farel had employed. He had not set himself (he thought) in the place he occupied, but had been put there by the arm of the Almighty. Hence, whenever he met with obstacles, he called to mind 'the hand stretched down from heaven,' and knowing its sovereign power, he took courage.
The reformer did not, however, stop at Geneva immediately. On leaving France, he had undertaken to accompany one of his relations, named Artois, to Basle. For some days the brethren of Geneva refused to let him go. At............
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