Calvin’s Commentary on Daniel

In his introduction Wilbur M. Smith D.D., writes:

“Calvin himself lived in an age of ecclesiastical warfare, when many of the rulers of Europe at the time of the Reformation persecuted those who made the Word of God pre-eminent, and preached a gospel of free grace. In May 1546, Charles V, with the strong support, financial and otherwise, of Pope Paul III, began rigorously his foredoomed determination to stamp out Lutheranism in Germany. The end of that war, says Mr. A. F. Pollard, ‘had exhausted all classes in the nation, and an era of universal lassitude followed. Germany was a desert, and it was called a Religious Peace.’ Francis I attempted the same programme of fierce persecution in France, 1540-44, during which time occurred the shameful massacre of the Waldensians. In 1545 alone, twenty-two villages were burned, over three thousand men and women slain, ‘while the flower of the men were sent to the galleys.’ Many of the survivors fled to Switzerland. The year after Calvin’s work on Daniel first appeared, began the fearfully devastating Wars of Religion, eight of them, from where Europe did not recover for over two centuries. In Calvin’s time, belief meant something. It was then that any true Christian might expect to endure torture and death ‘for His Name’s sake‘. Calvin himself was an exile.

The experiences of Daniel and the Hebrew people in their captivity in Babylon, illustrated by such chapters in Daniel’s book as the casting of the three loyal Hebrew men into the fiery furnace, and Daniel’s own experience with Darius and his jealous colleagues, resulting in his being cast himself into the den of lions, gave Calvin opportunity to give expression to many things that were in his heart at this time. As he himself says in his Dedicatory Epistle, ‘I have the very best occasion of shewing you, beloved brethren, in this mirror, how God proves the faith of his people in these days by various trials; and how with wonderful wisdom he has taken care to strengthen their minds by ancient examples, that they should never be weakened by the concussion of the severest storms and tempests; or at least, if they should totter at all, that they should never finally fall away. For although the servants of God are required to run in a course impeded by many obstacles, yet whoever diligently reads this Book will find in it whatever is needed by a voluntary and active runner to guide him from the starting-post to the goal; while good and strenuous wrestlers will experimentally acknowledge that they have been sufficiently prepared for the contest…Here, then, we observe, as in a living picture, that when God spares and even indulges the wicked for a time, he proves his servants like gold and silver; so that we ought not to consider it a grievance to be thrown into the furnace of trial, while profane men enjoy the calmness of repose.’

…In a day like this, in which we are living, when the governments of the world are breaking up, in a day when a cast part of the earth is controlled by a merciless dictatorship, when multitudes of Christians have already known persecution, and many more will before this age ends, there is hardly any book in the Old Testament we could read with more profit than the book of Daniel, and scarcely a commentary on any portion of the Old Testament quite so profitable as Calvin’s two volumes on Daniel, for as Calvin says in his dedicatory preface, ‘Here we observe, as in a living picture, that when God spares and even indulges the wicked for a time, he proves his servants like gold and silver; so that we ought not to consider it a grievance to be thrown into the furnace of trial, while profane men enjoy the calmness of repose…For God shews how all earthly power which is not founded on Christ must fall; and he threatens speedy destruction to all Kingdoms which obscure Christ’s glory by extending themselves too much.’ As in Calvin’s day, so pre-eminently in ours, ‘Lo! storms and tempests now flow from another fountain! Because Rulers and Governors of the world do not willingly submit to the yoke of Christ, now even the rude multitude reject what is salutary before they even taste it. Some delight themselves in filth, like pigs, and others excited by fury rejoice in slaughter. The devil instigates by especial fury those whom he has enslaved to himself to tumults of all sorts. Hence the clash of trumpets; hence conflicts and battles.’”

Source: John Calvin, A Commentary on Daniel, trans. by the Calvin Translation Society (London: Banner of Truth, 1966), iii-iv, vi-vii.

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