Saturday, April 24, 2010

Contending for the Gospel

By John Calvin

...With the very same charge which we are now forced to hear, wicked Ahab once upbraided Elijah: that is, that he was the disturber of Israel. But the holy prophet by his reply acquitted us. "I," says he, "have not troubled Israel, but thou and thy father's house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the Lord, and thou hast followed Baalim," (1 Kings 18:17-18). It is unfair, therefore, to load us with odium, on account of the fierce contest concerning religion which this day rages in Christendom, unless, indeed, it be thought proper first to condemn Elijah, with whom we have a common defense. His sole excuse is, that he had fought only to vindicate the glory and restore the pure worship of God, and he retorts the charge of exciting contention and disturbances upon those who stirred up tumults as a means of resisting the truth.

And what is it that we have done hitherto, and what do we even now, but strive that the one God may be worshipped amongst us, and that his simple truth may reign in the church? If our adversaries deny this, let them, at least, convict us of impious doctrine before they charge it upon us, as a fault, that we dissent from others. For what were we to do? The only terms on which we could purchase peace were to betray the truth of God by silence. Though, indeed, it would not have been enough to be silent, unless we had also, by tacit consent, approved of impious doctrine, of open blasphemies against God, and the most degrading superstitions. What else, then, at the very least, could we do, than testify with a clear voice that we had no fellowship with impiety? We have, therefore, simply studied to do what was our duty. That matters have blazed forth into hostile strife is an evil, the blame of which must rest with those who chose to confound heaven and earth, rather than give a place to pious and sound doctrine their object being, by whatever means, to keep possession of the tyranny which they had usurped.

It ought to be sufficient, and more than sufficient, for our defense, that the sacred truth of God, in asserting which we sustain so many contests, is on our side, whereas our adversaries, in contending with us, war not so much against us as God himself. Then it is not of our own accord that we engage in this fervor of contention. It is their intemperance which has dragged us into it against our expectation. Let the result, then, have been what it may, there is no reason why we should be loaded with hatred. For as it is not ours to govern events, neither is it ours to prevent them. But there is an ancient practice which the wicked have resorted to in all ages: that is, to take occasion from the preaching of the gospel to excite tumult, and then to defame the gospel as the cause of dissension dissension which, even in the absence of opportunity, they wickedly and eagerly court. And, as in the primitive church, the prophecy behooved to be fulfillled, that Christ should be to his own countrymen a stone of stumbling and rock of offense, so it is not surprising if the same thing holds true in our time also. It may well indeed be thought strange for the builders to reject the stone which ought to occupy the principal place in the foundation, but as this happened at the beginning, in the case of Christ, let it not surprise us that it is also a common event in the present day....

...In such circumstances, what became of the salvation of men? Where there was such necessity for speaking, had we kept silence, we should have been not only ungrateful and treacherous towards God, but also cruel towards men, over whom we saw eternal destruction impending, unless they were brought back into the proper path.

Were a dog to see an injury offered to his master, equal to the insult which is offered to God in the sacraments, he would instantly bark, and expose his own life to danger, sooner than silently allow his master to be so insulted. Ought we to show less devotedness to God than a brute is wont to show to man?...

Christ with a whip drove the money-changers out of the temple, threw down their tables, and scattered their merchandise. I admit it is not lawful for every man to take the whip into his own hand, but it is incumbent on all who professedly belong to Christ to burn with the zeal with which Christ was animated, when he vindicated the glory of his Father. Therefore, that profanation of the temple, at which he, in a manner so marked, expressed his strong displeasure, it is at least our part to condemn, in a free, firm, and decided tone...

But be the issue what it may, we will never repent of having begun, and of having proceeded thus far. The Holy Spirit is a faithful and unerring witness to our doctrine. We know, I say, that it is the eternal truth of God that we preach. We are, indeed, desirous, as we ought to be, that our ministry may prove salutary to the world; but to give it this effect belongs to God, not to us. If, to punish, partly the ingratitude, and partly the stubbornness of those to whom we desire to do good, success must prove desperate, and all things go to worse, I will say what it befits a Christian man to say, and what all who are true to this holy profession will subscribe: We will die, but in death even be conquerors, not only because through it we shall have a sure passage to a better life, but because we know that our blood will be as seed to propagate the divine truth which men now despise.


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