In the original set of “comments” on Mr. Hart’s question about Calvin’s views, Mark included the following excerpt from an article he had co-written:
“These events seem to have encouraged Calvin to embrace a more radical approach to resisting tyrants. For instance, in a 1560 sermon on Melchizedek, Calvin contends that Abraham was a private person who received a ‘special vocation’ to pick up the sword to save his people from ungodly rulers. A wave of violence against the Huguenots beginning in 1561 apparently inspired even further movement. In a 1562 sermon, he contended that all citizens—public and private alike—have an obligation to pursue justice and righteousness. ‘We should resist evil as much as we can. And this has been enjoined on all people in general; I tell you, this was said not only to princes, magistrates, and public prosecutors, but also to all private persons.’”In a previous post, I noted that this was clearly a spiritual command for every individual – no matter their station in life – to be holy and resist evil in that sense (not permission to rebel against authority). If interested, one can look up the previous discussion to see the Bible verses and arguments I made. I want to return to the first part of the excerpt, though, and Mark’s conclusions from it that Calvin changed his mind about these issues in later years. In my original response, I noted that Calvin had discussed the role of special avengers sent from God 25 years earlier in the Institutes – this was not a new revelation for him. Given that some do not always report all the relevant information that we need from a quotation’s context, I went back to the 1560 sermon on Melchizedek to which Mark referred. The following is some of what Calvin says there:
“we must hold this for a general rule. That it is not lawful for any man whatsoever, to take Arms upon him. For it is God alone that must do that. … no man may use force and violence, without he receive the same from him [God] to which it belongeth. And therefore there are none but Kings, Princes, and, Magistrates, that may take Arms upon them, and with whom men may join themselves. … God taketh this office of revenge unto himself, if there be any extremity and wrong committed, because it is his office to punish the same … he that shall arm himself, robbeth God as I have already said, of the jurisdiction which he giveth to himself for the defense of his. To be short, private persons ought not only to abstain from all kind of violence, but also are to have a quiet and peaceable mind to suffer ….”Re Abram:
“Abram is not to be accounted of as the rest, seeing that God himself had testified unto him that he gave him the possession of this land … God might for once, give leave and liberty unto his servant Abram, to exercise the force of the sword … God giveth oftentimes singular motions unto his servants, which we must not draw unto ourselves to follow. … certain men whom God had stirred up to aide his people, the same are so many testimonies unto us, to show that we should not think, that there is always an assured and certain election [choice], when any one man should be armed, with the sword and with authority. … all that which is here recited unto us, is not for us to make a general rule thereof. For it were a mockery and a foolish argument for us this to reason.”Speaking of other specially chosen deliverers executing God’s judgment:
“they had their particular motions, as if they had been privileged thereunto by a public law. And we are in all things to note, that when God worketh extraordinarily, being grounded upon his word, that privilege is not of us to be usurped. … if I shall do the like that he doeth which is privileged: I shall join myself with him that would separate himself from the common order. For we must leave the authority of Kings and Magistrates to do whatsoever they know to be best for the commonweal … so often as we shall see God minded to remember the redemption and deliverance of his Church by such as he hath ordained to be as it were ministers of his own preparing, we must understand, these to be singular acts past from his own hand. And those men to be chosen by him: and armed also by his authority and power.”Why?:
“God would thereby show him, that when he intended to put his successors in possession of the land, that it was an easy matter for him [God] to do it … when GOD sendeth us any afflictions, although at the first they be ever so hard and grievous, yet for all that, in the end, the issue of them if profitable and beneficial to our good.” [in other words, God does these deliverances for His glory and, although suffering is a constituent element of Christianity, God works everything together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28).Clearly, there is no movement on the part of Calvin on this issue. God may remove tyrants – that’s His role and right. He may use special agents to do so on His behalf for His purposes according to His judgment. But individuals or groups of people are not to usurp that role from God, take up arms, or presume that they have any right to do so. The role of the people is to obey and suffer (if necessary). Calvin says to try to make this into a general approval of rebellion is a “mockery” of God’s rule and a “foolish argument.” These are all the same things Calvin taught 25 years earlier in the Institutes. In the context, Calvin specifically and pointedly says the opposite of Mark’s conclusion. In general, if one did not know that Calvin wrote 500 years ago and Mark just a few years ago, one might think that Calvin wrote specifically to counter Mark’s claims.