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A History of the Reformation (Vol. 2 of 2)

With whom Calvin constantly conversed in spirit


The

work which Calvin did for his co-religionists in France was immense. He carried on a constant correspondence with them; he sustained their courage; he gave their faith a sublime exaltation. When he heard of a French Romanist who had begun to hesitate, he wrote to him combining persuasion with instruction. He pleaded the cause of the Reformation with its nominal supporters. He encouraged the weak. He sent letters to the persecuted. He forwarded short theological treatises to assist those who had got into controversies concerning their faith. He advised the organisation of congregations. He recommended energetic pastors. He warned slothful ministers.

"We must not think," he says, "that our work is confined within such narrow limits that our task is ended when we have preached sermons ... it is our part to maintain a vigilant oversight of those committed to our care, and take the greatest pains to guard from evil those whose blood will one day be demanded from us if they are lost through our negligence."[189]

He answered question after question about the difficulty of reconciling the demands of the Christian life with what was required by the world around--a matter which pressed hard on the consciences of men and women who belonged to a religious minority in a great Roman Catholic kingdom. He was no casuist. He wrote to Madame de Cany, the sister of the Duchess d'Etampes, that "no

one, great or small, ought to believe themselves exempt from suffering for the sake of our sovereign King." He was listened to with reverence; for he was not a counsellor who advised others to do what he was not prepared to do himself. He could say, "Be ye followers of me, as I am of the Lord Jesus Christ." Frenchmen and Frenchwomen knew that the master whom they obeyed, the director they consulted, to whom they whispered the secrets of their souls, lived the hardest and most ascetic life of any man in Europe,--scarcely eating, drinking, or sleeping; that his frail body was kept alive by the energy of his indomitable soul.

Frenchmen of varying schools of thought have not been slow to recognise the secret of the power of their great countryman. Jules Michelet says:

"Among the martyrs, with whom Calvin constantly conversed in spirit, he became a martyr himself; he lived and felt like a man before whom the whole earth disappears, and who tunes his last Psalm his whole eye fixed upon the eye of God, because he knows that on the following morning he may have to ascend the pyre."

Ernest Renan is no less emphatic:

"It is surprising that a man who appears to us in his life and writings so unsympathetic should have been the centre of an immense movement in his generation, and that this harsh and severe tone should have exercised so great an influence on the minds of his contemporaries. How was it, for example, that one of the most distinguished women of her time, Renee of France, in her Court at Ferrara, surrounded by the flower of European wits, was captivated by that stern master, and by him drawn into a course that must have been so thickly strewn with thorns? This kind of austere seduction is exercised only by those who work with real conviction. Lacking that vivid, deep, sympathetic ardour which was one of the secrets of Luther's success, lacking the charm, the perilous, languishing tenderness of Francis de Sales, Calvin succeeded, in an age and in a country which called for a reaction towards Christianity, simply because _he was the most Christian man of his generation_."


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