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History of the Christian Church, Volume VIII: Modern Christianity. The Swiss Reformation.
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§ 81. Calvin’s Arrival and Settlement at Geneva.


Calvin arrived at Geneva in the later part of July, 1536,467467    Not in August (as stated by Beza, Annal. 126, 203, and most biographers). He went to Basel for two weeks (August 4-19), and returned to Geneva, according to promise, about the middle of August, for settlement. See his letter to Daniel, Oct. 13, 1536, in Herminjard, IV. 87; comp. 77 note; also Rilliet and Roget. two months after the Reformation had been publicly introduced (May 21).

He intended to stop only a night, as he says, but Providence had decreed otherwise. It was the decisive hour of his life which turned the quiet scholar into an active reformer.

His presence was made known to Farel through the imprudent zeal of Du Tillet, who had come from Basel via Neuchâtel, and remained in Geneva for more than a year. Farel instinctively felt that the providential man had come who was to complete and to save the Reformation of Geneva. He at once called on Calvin and held him fast, as by divine command. Calvin protested, pleading his youth, his inexperience, his need of further study, his natural timidity and bashfulness, which unfitted him for public action. But all in vain. Farel, "who burned of a marvellous zeal to advance the Gospel," threatened him with the curse of Almighty God if he preferred his studies to the work of the Lord, and his own interest to the cause of Christ. Calvin was terrified and shaken by these words of the fearless evangelist, and felt "as if God from on high had stretched out his hand." He submitted, and accepted the call to the ministry, as teacher and pastor of the evangelical Church of Geneva.468468    Beza (Vita, XXI. 125): "At ego tibi, inquit [Farellus], studia tua praetexenti denuncio omnipotentis Dei nomine futurum ut, nisi in opus istud Domini nobiscum incumbas, tibi non tam Christum quam te ipsum quaerenti Dominus maledicat. Hac terribili denunciatione territus, Calvinus sese presbyterii et magistratus voluntati permisit, quorum suffragiis, accedente plebis consensu, delectus non concionator tantum (hoc autem primum recusarat), sed etiam sacrarum literarum doctor, quod unum admittebat, est designatus anno Domini MDXXXVI. mense Augusto." With this should be compared Calvin’s own account in the Preface to his commentary on the Psalms, and Ann. Calv. 203 sq. Merle d’Aubigné, at the close of vol. V. 534-550, gives a dramatic description of Calvin’s first arrival and interview with Farel at Geneva, with some embellishments of his imagination.

It was an act of obedience, a sacrifice of his desires to a sense of duty, of his will to the will of God.

Farel gave the Reformation to Geneva, and gave Calvin to Geneva—two gifts by which he crowned his own work and immortalized his name, as one of the greatest benefactors of that city and of Reformed Christendom.

Calvin was foreordained for Geneva, and Geneva for Calvin. Both have made, their calling and election sure."

He found in the city on Lake Leman "a tottering republic, a wavering faith, a nascent Church." He left it a Gibraltar of Protestantism, a school of nations and churches.469469    Michelet has an eloquent chapter on the transformation of Geneva by Calvin, who made it from a city of pleasure and commerce "a fabric of saints and martyrs," a "ville étonnante oùtout était flamme et prière, lecture, travail, austerité" (XI. 96).

The city had then only about twelve thousand inhabitants, but by her situation on the borders of France and Switzerland, her recent deliverance from political and ecclesiastical despotism, and her raw experiments in republican self-government, she offered rare advantages for the solution of the great social and religious problems which agitated Europe.

Calvin’s first labors in that city were an apparent failure. The Genevese were not ready yet and expelled him, but after a few years they recalled him. They might have expelled him again and forever; for he was poor, feeble, and unprotected. But they gradually yielded to the moulding force of his genius and character. Those who call him "the pope of Geneva" involuntarily pay him the highest compliment. His success was achieved by moral and spiritual means, and stands almost alone in history.



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