Excerpted, by permission, from Sermons on Galatians, Old Paths Publications, 1 Bittersweet Path, Willow Street, PA 17584. Although John Calvin did not give titles to his sermons, we suggest that this, indeed, was his ‘theme’ of this part of “The Thirtieth Sermon . . . .”
“Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.
But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now.
Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.
So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free.”
Galatians 4:29-31 And hereupon Saint Paul saith, that it is so even yet still at this day, according as Moses declareth under the figure which he did set forth this morning: For in Abraham’s house (saith he) there was an elder son called Ishmael, and he persecuted Isaac which was the lawful son. Now then, it behooveth us to be so handled and dealt withal that such as have nothing but dissimulation and hypocrisy in them, which are but as bastardships, and which are utterly corrupt and become strangers, may nevertheless crake [brag] and boast their fill, and set up their bristles [show fight] against us as though we were unworthy to kiss their feet.
Such manner of men then must perk up in all pride and persecute us, but yet let us be constant, saith Saint Paul, and let not our faith be shaken down by such loftiness, nor by the wiles that are cast in our way by those hypocrites and falsifiers which have perverted God’s doctrine. For in the end the same will happen to them (saith he) which is reported of the house of Abraham, namely, drive out the son of the bondwoman, for he shall not be heir. All they then that vaunt themselves to be faithful and will needs be taken to be of God’s household, shall be cut off as rotten members and not have any part or piece of inheritance there.
And it is moreover a right excellent lesson, which containeth a very profitable admonition, even to confirm the thing which I have touched already, which is that the pomps of this world must not blear our eyes, to carry away at a gaze when we see great solemnities and gorgeous deckings. If a man should believe no further than he sees when the Pope were in his Pontificalibus [vestments], he might be taken for a God, he hath so many knickknacks glistering about him. And no marvel though many be amazed at it, as though one had knocked them on the head with a club, and become as good as brute beasts. For why? Men are so given to judge fleshly, that they be worse than little children in things that concern God’s kingdom.
But yet for all this, behold, Saint Paul saith, that they which have the primacy, and are all in all, and are dreaded of every man, and finally which bear the title of first begotten, are oftentimes but Ishmaelites, so as they be but bastards, allege they their eldership never so much. But if Saint Paul were alive at this day, that one text of his were enough to make him to be burnt a hundred times. For let men write and speak as much as they list [please, wish], and they cannot more lively decipher or bewray [reveal] that the Pope and all his clergy are a heap of Ishmaelites and filthy bastards which fight against God and all his true and right begotten children, according also as Moses hath reported it. For what else allege the Papists for themselves, save that it is not a day or twain ago, or a hundred years ago, that they have had possession, but that they have kept their traditions and Ceremonies these eight or nine hundred years? But surely even in this behalf also they lie, and are past shame…. [The] eldership of theirs which they allege is not better nor of greater value than was the eldership of Ishmael.
Again, unto their eldership they add also multitude, saying that we be but a handful of folk in comparison to them; they have kings and Princes on their side, the whole world agreeth with them, both great and small say as they say, and the largeness of their kingdom stretcheth out far and wide throughout all Europe well near, and into a piece of Africa. When they have all this for themselves, very well, it is even as the eldership of Ishmael.
Nay, it were more meet for them to have begun at the other end, that is, to wit, at the holding fast of the pure doctrine of the Law and the Gospel, without mingling anything at all with it, for else it is a general conclusion that there is nothing in them 27 but corruptness and bastardy. But they will not enter into this discourse that men might know whether they be basebegotten [humbly born] of God’s word or no, for it is seen too manifestly already. And in good faith (as I have said already) under the name of the Church, they have boldly taken upon them to disannul and falsify the whole word of God….
Now we for our part had need to be armed with patience: for it is a right hard temptation, that they which are God’s deadly foes should after a sort possess the highest rooms in his house, and that we should be hidden under them like corn under chaff upon a barn floor. This is a hard and irksome plight.
And surely we see many that give over the Gospel through infirmity. When the poor simple souls hear these so brave titles of Catholic Church, of Apostolic See, of Vicar of Christ, of Successor of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, of Prelates, and of Bishops—I say, when all this gar geer [whimsical mockery] is flashed out before the silly souls, they are amazed at it, and conclude by and by, then must we needs stick to it. For they be ravished at the sight of these visors that serve to scare little children. But they that have any firmness in them, and judge according to that which God showeth them, are not at that point….
And so let us mark what is told us here by Saint Paul, that is, to wit, that it was not once only that there was an Ishmael in God’s Church to persecute Isaac, but that we see the like at this day, and that the children of God shall be borne down and trampled underfoot, by such as have no more but the bare title of Eldership, and under that shadow beguile the simple sort, cloaking all their filths and foulness under the pretense of gay colors. But howsoever the world go, let us prepare ourselves to battle (saith Saint Paul) and let not our faith quail [wither, fall away] at the sight of the price of the enemies of God’s truth, yea even of the household enemies of it, which are not as Turks and heathen men, but keep a garrison in the Church, and yet will needs be Prelates and more than great pillars of it. Howsoever the world go (I say) let us not be abashed for it, sith [since] we be fenced with the example of our father Isaac, to the intent we should hold out stoutly, forasmuch as we be regenerated by the pure seed which God alloweth, whereby we be made his lawful children and heirs of his heavenly kingdom….
…Now let us fall down before the majesty of our good God, with acknowledgment of our sins, praying him to make us feel them in such wise as it may lead us to true repentance, that we may mourn continually before his majesty, and be so abashed in ourselves, as yet notwithstanding we may not doubt but that he accepteth us for our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, and that we shall always obtain sure forgiveness of our sins, if we seek it in true faith without swerving to the right hand or to the left, but only following the path which he hath showed us, as indeed we can never go amiss when we have the daysun of righteousness shining upon us. That it may please him to grant this grace, not only to us, but also to all people and nations of the earth, etc.