Blog 243: 4.20.10 - 4.20.26

Paul Helm

No doubt having the Anabaptists in mind,  and having already defended the right to litigate, Calvin proceeds to defend the entire judicial process. He discourages using the law for the taking of revenge, but upholds the use of due process, 'through which God may work for our good'. (It is interesting that in his teaching Calvin primarily seems to have mind not Geneva, which by this time in his career he believed was governed along right lines, but countries where the law may remain hostile to evangelical Christianity). The use of the law is not incompatible with Christ's injunctions in Matthew 5, he says, since seeking legal help may not be incompatible with personal friendliness to one's adversaries. (This seems a hard saying, does it not?)  He thinks that he has Paul (I Cor. 6.5-8) on his side. And he has a word for the litigiousness of his own time.  'Christians ought indeed so to conduct themselves that they always refer to yield their own right rather than go into a court, from which the can scarcely get away without a heart stirred and kindled to hatred of their brother'. (3.20.12).  (This seems more realistic.)

But what about obeying the law when the rulers are wicked? Calvin's basic principle is:
the magistrate is God's minister, and so disobedience to the him is disobedience to God. (4.20.23)  This obedience is not to be less when the ruler is 'a very wicked man', who might be playing the role of God's scourge.