Persecution and Providence (Calvin)

In 1557 the Reformed church in Paris was facing pretty severe persecution. In a letter that John Calvin wrote to the church in Paris during this time he mentioned his prayers for them and his desire to help them more. It seems like some Christians had attempted to send some sort of aid and helps to the suffering church in Paris. After mentioning this aid, here’s what Calvin wrote. )Yes, it’s a bit longer than usual, but it’s quite good and edifying – and applicable for us today!)

We know not if they [our attempts at help] will avail you, but be that as it may, doubt not but God has an eye on you, and that your tears and groanings are listened to by him. For if we do not repose on his providence, the slightest distress will become an abyss to swallow us up. We shall be shaken to and fro at every breath of wind: we shall be troubled in our perplexities and led astray in our counsels; in a word, our whole life will be a labyrinth, especially when a loose has been given to Satan and his agents to torment and molest the poor church of God. Truly we must fly to this thought for our stay, that if God cares for all his creatures, he will not forsake those who call upon him. Nay, if there fall not to the ground without his will a single bird, he will never be a wanting to his own children.

True it is, the temptation is great and difficult to support, to see so horrible a trouble, one which may draw after it extreme desolation, and which God is slow in raising his arm to remedy. But also it is not without cause that it is said: God desires to try our faith, like gold in the furnace. Though then he stretch not forth his hand to succour us as soon as we could wish, let us never abandon the conviction that the hairs of our head are numbered, and that if he sometimes permits the blood of his people to be shed, yet he fails not to treasure up their precious tears as it were in a phial, according to the expression of David in Psalm 56. Certain it is he has not permitted what has now happened, except to prepare the way for some great matter which surpasses our comprehension. Heretofore those who have been called to martyrdom have been contemptible according to the world, both in respect to their personal rank, and their numbers, which have not been considerable enough to produce a great movement. How know we on the present occasion, if he has not already prepared such an issue that we shall have double reason to rejoice and glorify his name?

But whatever view we take of the case, our true wisdom is to submit ourselves to him, and, though every thing be perplexed, to wait peaceably and in silence for the deliverance which he has promised. In the mean time, my dear brethren, we pray you to practise the lesson that has been taught us by the great Master, to possess our souls in patience.

We know how difficult that is for the flesh, but recollect also that then is the moment to strive against ourselves and our passions, when we are assailed by our enemies. And esteem it not a weak defence, that you are left to suffer, and shew yourselves meek and peaceable as lambs against the rage of the wolves, since you have the promise of that good and faithful Shepherd who has taken us in charge, that he will never fail you, whatever fury and enormity there may be in the cruelty of the enemy. God is powerful enough to repress it by such means as he wills, or even without any visible means.

Let it be your study to attempt nothing which is not warranted by his word. In maintaining a meek obedience to his will, we are assured that he will ward off the blow, or at least give us strength and courage to endure it; but if we go beyond the limits he has prescribed to us, let us always fear to receive at last the wages of our temerity. We say not this as being bold at your expense, but because we are well aware that in such terrors one may be urged to many undertakings in which it is difficult to preserve moderation. We give you then the advice by which we ourselves should wish to be moderated and restrained in like circumstances. And indeed better it were that we were all involved in ruin, than that the gospel of God should be exposed to the reproach of arming men to sedition and tumult; for God will always cause the ashes of his servants to fructify, but excesses and violence will bring with them nothing but barrenness. Wherefore, my dear… brethren, shew that you have profited in that school, which requires that we should sacrifice ourselves to him, sparing nothing to maintain his cause, and enduring till he break the arms of his enemies, or bring them under subjection to himself.

Bonnet, Jules. Letters of John Calvin. Vol. 1–4. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2009., vol. 3 p. 359.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015