The following biography was originally published in The Evangelical Guardian and Review, Vol. II, April 1819, No. 12:
Sketch of the Life of the celebrated Francis Turrettine, Professor of Divinity at Geneva, who died Anno 1687. Translated from B. Pictet's Latin Oration, delivered before the Academy of Geneva, when he ascended the Theological Chair, in the room of Turrettine, his uncle. A brief biography of Francis Turretin based on an oral address given by his nephew, and translated into English.
"IT is not a hall filled with smoky statutes," as Seneca observes, "that can make a man illustrious; because no one hath lived for our glory, nor is any thing ours which existed before us." Yet, if dignity of family is of any avail to procure just veneration from lofty minds, that our Turrettine was nobly descended, is well known to all who have heard that his ancestors held the first rank in the very ancient republic of Lucca. The first of that family who came to Geneva was Francis Turrettine, the grandfather of our deceased friend. This man, more than a century since, impelled by an ardent zeal for knowing, and professing the reformed religion, renounced every thing dear in his native country, and after suffering many hardships, arrived at this happy place. He had lived for some years in Antwerp, and was intimately acquainted with the most illustrious Marnix Santaldegond. But that place being besieged by the Duke of Parma, he was forced to leave it at the hazard of his life, and came first to Geneva, and afterward to that sacred asylum for proscribed humanity and persecuted religion, Zurich. After he had resided more than five years there, he returned to this city, where he spent the remainder of his days. He was a man of the strictest integrity, and of a very blameless life; faithful to his promises, and a lover of true religion, which he proved by many acts of beneficence to the poor. Thus he acquired a reputation which shed a lustre on his posterity, outlived this transitory world, and does not need to fear the corroding tooth of time. Of him it may be said, "he hath dispersed, he hath given to the poor; his righteousness endureth for ever."
His son, Benedict Turrettine, was the father of our departed friend. He was long the principal ornament of this city, academy, and Church. He shone with no common lustre, and was a very warm defender of divine truth. To him may be applied, what Gregory Nazianzen said of Athanasius, "In praising Athanasius, we praise virtue itself." The most animated of Benedict's works was his answer to father Cotton, the Jesuit, that most inveterate enemy of the Reformation. Cotton had attacked our translation of the Bible; and forgetting his argument, and instigated, doubtless, by the father of lies, ventured to predict the time when the city of Geneva should be destroyed, and the heresy of Calvin obliterated from the earth. Blessed be God, he has been found a liar. Turrettine obtained a complete victory over him, and hung up the spoils in the temple of the God of heaven. In the year 1620, he attended the Synod of Alez, in the Cevennes. Peter Du Moulin, a man famous in all the Christian world, was moderator in that venerable assembly. Benedict Turrettine gained the love of all the divines present. It was difficult to know, whether he excelled most in human learning, or in the knowledge of the Scriptures. In him were united a happy commanding authority, unaffected piety, and wonderful eloquence. He had the simplicity of a child united to the magnanimity of a hero. His love of peace, and forbearing spirit, were equalled only by his love to truth and holiness; virtues which, Erasmus said, met in Leo X, but of which, as all the world knows, he did not possess the most distant resemblance. He that had acquired immortal honour seemed deserving of a long life. But he, such was the will of God, only paid a visit to this globe; for be had not reached his forty-ninth year, when he was torn, as it were, from the bowels of his country, by a premature death, by means of a severe fever. He left many children behind him.
Francis Turrettine, the son of Benedict, was born the 17th of October, 1623. In this year died Philip Du Plessis, and the great Paul Sarpi, of Venice; illustrious characters, whom no praise can appreciate. When the stars disappear in one part of our horizon, others come forth to view in another. In this year, also, died Pope Gregory XV. It was, likewise, famous for the Synod of Charentoa. In the same year, the Genevan Church, according to the custom of the primitive Christians, began to use leavened bread in the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper.
We admire the early beams of the sun, and from the stem we conjecture the future harvest. From his early years Turrettine gave remarkable specimens of his greatness in after life. In him was confirmed what a historian of the first rank asserts concerning Probus the emperor, that no man ever arrived at a high degree of eminence in virtue, who did not, when young, discover something great. These seeds of excellence, and sparks of genius, were not unobserved by Turrettine's sagacious father, who, when at the point of death, caused his son to be brought to his bedside, and said, as with a prophetic impulse, "This child is sealed with the seal of the living God!" In some such manner, Athanasius and Basil are said to have discovered that greatness in early years, which, by the grace of God, they afterward attained.
Turrettine soon completed his course in the languages and philosophy. Such was the happy turn of his mind, such his astonishing progress in learning, that his companions willingly confessed his superiority. His vigorous mind left nothing unsearched; and though but a youth, he read books with the eye and attention of one far advanced in life. He soon exceeded the sanguine expectations of his friends; and every day showed that the operations of the mind outrun the velocity of time. Having finished his course of philosophy, he applied all his attention to theology. He had the greatest men of his time for preceptors: John Deodate, that eminent divine, who, in the Synod of Dort, a council more celebrated than any for many ages past, had as many witnesses of his immense learning and acute judgment as he had hearers; who, in a convention held at Saumor, so composed the differences of the hot-spirited divines, that the queen of France, oftener than once, ordered thanks to be given him in her name; whose friendship crowned heads, and purpled eminences of the Church of Rome, eagerly sought; and whose work on the Bible is a monument more lasting than brass: Theodore Tronchin, who was also a member of the Synod of Dort, and who conducted himself in such a manner in that assembly as to merit the name of a great divine. Nor is it the least of his praise, that he pleased the very brave De Rohan. He was a most spirited defender of the Reformation, and wrote an animated answer to father Cotton; he lived, as a light to the youth in sacred studies, to an extreme old age, and is yet revered by us as reviving in his excellent son. Another of Turrettine's instructers was Frederick Spanheim, whose memory and reputation will never perish from the annals of sacred literature, while the sun rules the day, and the stars burn by night; who was the miracle of Europe, and whose death the Reformed Churches would not cease to lament, if he had not left behind him two such sons as Ezekiel and Frederick. What great men ! the very eyes of the republic of letters, and whose worth no lapse of time can obliterate, or almost equal. Alexander More, one of the most eloquent of men, so cherished Turrettine, that, when the latter published, anno 1644, theses concerning divine grace, as he had defended one before on political happiness, the master did not think it unworthy of his station to celebrate the merit of his pupil in verse.
Under such masters, how much he acquired let the world judge; I will be silent. Suffice it to say, such were his powers of expression that he could give probability to the amiable reveries of certain philosophers; and his mind not only learned, but registered what he was taught. By the peculiar favour of heaven, what cost others much attention and labour, was but a sport to him to acquire. When he had studied some years at Geneva, he wished to visit other seminaries of learning at that time famous in the world. He accordingly left his native country, and carried with him a very honourable testimony to his character. Leyden, which was then, and still is, the abode of the Muses and the nursery of great divines, was the first place he visited. In this celebrated seat of learning, Turrettine gained, not only the private affection, but the public honorary esteem of all the academy. He defended a thesis, on the written word of God, before the great Spanheim. He followed all the divines in Holland, who were eminent for learning and holiness of life. What a group of wonderful divines were then at Leyden ; Rivet, Salmasius, Voet, Hornbeck, &c. ! Turrettine profited much by their prelections and conversation; and having carried away in his capacious mind almost every thing valuable in Leyden, went to Utrecht. There he saw, with wonder, that most illustrious and learned virgin, Anna Maria a Schurman ; a woman in whom were concentrated immense learning and sterling piety; a woman not inferior, in any degree, to the Paulas, Laetas, &c. mentioned by the ancient fathers. Having visited every place in Belgium, where he could find anything to make a good Minister of the Gospel, he went, anno 1645, to France, which country has, from time immemorial, abounded with men eminent in every branch of science. He went first to Paris, the metropolis of Europe, and the mother of learning. At that time many great men taught there; as, Falcair, Mestrezat, Drelincourt, Daille, and Blondel. He lodged in the house of the incomparable Daille; and soon gained his entire affection. All admired that greatness of mind, that invincible love of learning, that accurate judgment, and tenacious memory, which distinguished this youug man; above all, his amiable modesty, and a course of virtue without a stain. While at Paris he studied the doctrine of the sphere, under Gassendi, that prince of philosophers. He left Paris, and went to Saumur, Montauban, and Nistnes, places famous for learned divines, and for the Reformation. In this last city, celebrated for its antiquities, the stupendous remains of the Roman grandeur, Turrettine's father once discharged the pastoral office. There he saluted the venerable Calvus, who was an intimate friend of Benedict, and who, seeing in Francis the very image of his father, could not think of parting with him. Thus, having almost travelled over all France, and having left a grateful remembrance of himself in every place, Turrettine returned, enriched with the knowledge of men and things, to his native country.
The time was now come, when those talents, committed to him by God, should be devoted to the service of the Church. Accordingly, he was get apart to the holy ministry, anno 1648, and in the following year was, with the consent of the Senate, admitted a Pastor of this Church. He first exercised his talents in the Italian congregation; for he could preach, with equal facility, in the French, Latin, and Italian languages. Whenever he began to speak in public, all acknowledged his father revived in him, and admired Benedict in Francis. As often as he ascended the pulpit, all flocked after him. Such was the power of his eloquence, such his commanding manner and majestic mien, that he seemed to have been educated at Athens itself; and begat an attention in the audience which nothing could interrupt; and an eagerness scarcely ever to be satisfied, as he conciliated the regard of all the citizens of Geneva, and the Senate were so pleased with his abilities, they oftener than once offered him a professorship in philosophy; this, however, he as often refused.
The fame of Turrettine was not confined to the narrow precincts of Geneva. The Church of Lyons, which had lately lost the very valuable Aaron More, their pastor, invited Turrettine, by letter, to supply his place, in the words of the man of Macedonia, "Come over and help us." This call, with the consent of the Senate, he accepted; and was received at Lyons with every mark of affection and esteem. The Church of Lyons had not been misinformed about their illustrious Pastor; for he so exerted himself, that, though he was but one year among them, the flames which raged before in that congregation were extinguished, and the most perfect tranquillity was restored. He was, during his short stay, eminently successful. The Church of Lyons was very unwilling to part with him; but his native country could not want such a man any longer. He left a sorrowful people in Lyons; and returning in safety, was received at Geneva with open arms; it being resolved, that he should teach divinity in the place of the venerable Tronchin, who was, through old age and infirmity, unable to discharge the duties of his office. Turrettine accordingly ascended the theological chair in the year 1653, and delivered an inaugural oration on the first verse of the Epistle, to the Hebrews, which gained applause from all his auditors.
From this day he devoted all his time and abilities to the duties of his office; and how much knowledge he acquired, and with what assiduity and learning he taught, let others say. It would be fulsome for me to say too much of my dear deceased uncle, let others inform posterity how much he did to promote the glory and kingdom of Christ; to overthrow the power and tyranny of Antichrist; what was his incessant solicitude for the good of the Church; how solidly and learnedly he explained the Gospel of Christ, not with the enticing words of man's wisdom, but feeding his hearers with sound doctrine, keeping the medium between farcical ostentation and a creeping vulgarity, and exercising the greatest fear, lest the majesty of divine truth should sink in the glare of pompous expressions. Let others relate, with what boldness he lashed the manners of our age, how neither the blandishments of the polite, nor the frowns of power, could make him hold his peace. With what intrepidity of soul, and force of expression, did he thunder against the vicious and profane! How did he, with showers of tears, call the wicked to repentance ? beseeching and warning every man, not in passionate irritating words, but with the yearnings of a father over his profligate son. With what diligence he taught in the theological chair! With what ease he made, dark things clear, distinguished between truth and error, solved difficult questions in divinity, followed the sophist into his lurking places, and pursued the enemy of truth through all his winding! All the Pastors of the Church, except three or four, were nursed under his care; and though we should be silent, many eminent divines in France, and Holland, and Switzerland, will tell what a teacher he was. Would to God he had been teaching still!
Turrettine was a modest divine, if ever there was one. As at mount Sinai the Lord set bounds to the curiosity of the Israelites, so there are certain limits fixed by God to human knowledge in this world; and some things in the Scriptures over which Jehovah has thrown a veil, and which we will not and cannot know, till we see Christ as he is. He had continual heaviness in his heart, because he saw all things in the world and Church growing worse and worse. He saw, with the utmost concern, the coat of Christ torn to pieces; the progress and increase of error; the apostacy of many from the reformed religion, either through a cowardly or avaricious spirit; the awful mysteries of Christianity weighed in the balance of depraved reason, and sported with by petty philosophers and profane infidels; the introduction of a flood of Arian, Socinian, and Arminian errors, nay, of the horrors of Atheism. These things made him almost shed tears of blood. He admired, but did not seek, to comprehend the deep things of God; and he was wont to tell his pupils, with awful solemnity, that it was the province of a mad philosophy, and an evidence of a bold impious spirit, to seek farther than the plain decisions or native consequences of revelation.
Turrettine lived as he believed, and walked as he taught. He was foremost in every thing lovely, grave, and of good report. He was not like those who speak as angels, and walk as men. What Nazianzen said of Athanasius was evidently true of Turrettine: He was low in his opinion of himself, but sublime in all his actions. Though Turrentine wished to do actions worthy of praise, yet he did not court the applause of men; nor did he ever thrust himself forward to public observation. A well-earned reputation he did not decline; but he neither studiously sought it, nor built it on the ruins of another man's. As far as can be observed, he never acted to please himself. All he did was for the glory of Christ, the good of the Church, and especially for the advantage of his pupils, who were dear to him as his own soul. Turrettine was not like many divines, who despise every thing but their own productions; who defend an opinion, not because it is true, but because it is their own; who measure themselves by themselves, and are not wise. His authority was never stretched too far. He might have enjoined, but for love's sake, he rather besought. His mind was the very seat of candour, and consequently a stranger to those little jealousies and unsanctified heats that disgrace the religion of Jesus. He was not an evil speaker, nor soon angry at an opposing brother. His character, in this instance, was the reverse of Jerome's, and other great men mentioned in Church history, who, on all occasions, treated their antagonists with the utmost severity of manner, and acrimony of style, and thus injured rather than promoted their cause. Our deceased friend was a great lover of peace: he often said, that the Ministers of the Gospel of Peace ought not to be the heralds of war; and that the trumpet of Zion should not be sounded to excite contention among saints. He often lamented, that in time of common danger, divines should, by their petty squabbles, open the gates to the enemies of truth.
Turrettine did not, through envy, look with an evil eye upon the excellence and reputation of other men. He was a real friend to humanity, and to humanity in affliction. Nothing excelled his beneficence, but the happy way of his discovering it. The widow and the fatherless, the orphan and the stranger, found in him a patron and defender. He was, in fact, what the Scriptures and the fathers of the Church say a bishop should be, given to hospitality, and a lover of the poor. As Olympiodorus speaks, he did not measure his bounty by his wealth, but from the largeness of his affection to the needy. His house was a kind of home to every religious stranger that visited Geneva, and none left his house without profit; for he reckoned with Titus and Frederick I that a day was lost in which he had
done no good. Turrettine was very laborious in study; his mind was always on the stretch. His study was his pleasure and recreation.
In a short time after he was made professor of divinity, he was called to the rectorship of this academy. This office he discharged for many years, with much credit to himself, and advantage to the republic, and delivered anniversary orations in the fullest assembly of the Genevans, on topics worthy of a man of God, and of a polite and religious audience, viz. On the origin or birthday of the school and academy; on the election of Pope Alexander VII; on the union between virtue and truth; and on the prejudices that hinder the spread of the Gospel.
In the year 1662, another office of great honour and difficulty was imposed upon Turrettine. When the walls of this city were to he repaired, and the expense was found more than the state could bear, it was agreed to seek the assistance of the Swiss cantons, and of the United States of Holland; and none was reckoned more fit for this embassy than the son of Benedict Turrettine, who had been more than forty years before sent for the same purpose. Francis Turrettine left Geneva in the month of May. His reception at Basle was very flattering; the divines of that seminary vied with each other in testifying their great affection for him. From thence he went to Holland, where their High Mightinesses received him very cordially; and, as a token of their esteem, honoured him with a golden chain, and a large piece of plate. Turrettine could never forget the attentions he received in Holland, especially the marked regard of that miracle of our age, the prince of Orange. His embassy succeeded to his wish; and if we are silent, the fortifications of the city will cry out. It is unnecessary here to narrate how much the Churches in Holland, especially the Church at the Hague, wished to have this luminary of the Reformation again among them. But their attempts to recall him were fruitless. He left them; and, from a strong love to Geneva, broke through every entanglement of honour, affection, and grief. He continued, however, to correspond with the great and good men of that country to the day of his death. Turrettine, taking another route on his way home travelled through Germany, and returned home by the way of Paris. Thither he went to congratulate his old preceptors. Those of them who were alive, rejoiced to see their former scholar, now wiser than his teachers. He preached twice to most crowded audiences in the Church of Charenton, which, alas ! is now no more. At that time he became acquainted with the matchless John Claude, the glory and eminent defender of the Reformation, whose character is far above my praise. Turrettine returned safely home, and was received with open arms by all his countrymen. The city and Church, though at that time in mourning on account of the death of the great Leger, were comforted by the arrival and presence of Turrettine.
He returned to his work with greater alacrity than ever. In the year 1608, he was again rector of this academy, and, with his usual judgment and eloquence, delivered an oration on the preservation of Geneva, and the evils and scandals of the Church. Nothing was now wanting to his external happiness but a consort. He married, about this time, Elizabeth de Masse, a most illustrious virgin. She brought him one daughter, and three sons. Only one of the sons is now alive, and seems, in every respect, worthy of such a father.
In the year 1664, Turrettine refuted the letter of the Pope, and vindicated the Reformation from the cavils and reproaches of its enemies. In 1666, be published his disputations concerning the satisfaction of Christ, against Socinus and his hell-hatched brood. In the year 1674, be corrected his celebrated System. With this system every divine ought to be acquainted, otherwise he will fight in the dark against the enemies of the truth. Turrettine long hesitated whether he should publish his great work. He knew that the world was already filled with books of this kind, and that the taste of the age was fonder of books that fed the fancy than instructed the mind. His love of truth, and the cause of Christ, however, prevailed over his inclination, and that work, so long desired by the public, was published, and gratified their fullest expectations. He received letters from many learned divines, testifying their approbation of his views of divine truth. He published his Sermons the same year, which are in almost every body's possession, In the year 1668, he revised and published his Disputations anew, and added ten new ones to that edition. He had begun to revise part of his System, when he was taken to Heaven by the Sovereign Head of the Church.
This man, who feared God greatly, had been long bowed down to the grave with grief, on account of the melancholy state of the Reformed Churches. As was said of Basil, so we may say of Turrettine, "While others regard only their own things, and see only what is among their own feet, or what concerns their own interest, he went farther, his spirit trembled for every thing done against Christ's spouse ; in every thing he was moderate, but in this he knew no bounds; when truth lay in the street, when the members of Christ were scattered, he could take no sleep, his soul was rent with anguish."How often have we heard him groaning, and seen him weeping over the massacres of Piedmont, and when he beheld the miserable remains of our brethren there? How often was his face foul with weeping at the state of the Protestant Churches in France, who are now the sport of bigoted priests and faithless tyrants! With what feeling did he repeat the latter part of the eightieth Psalm! Great God, thou heardest these groans, thou sawest these tears; and ye, my hearers, have seen him in tears, when bewailing the Churches of Christ. The Lord hath now wiped all his tears away: and thus we come to the concluding scene of his life.
Turrettine's health had long been very good. If the strictest temperance and an unshaken mind could have ensured a long life, he had lived long indeed! We seldom saw him sick. He was sometimes subjected to a colic, and twice felt the excruciating pains of the gout. We promised ourselves a long possession of such an invaluable treasure; but it was determined otherwise. Turrettine's great soul could dwell no longer in the frail tenement of the body! On the 26th of September, 1687, the day in which he was first confined to bed, he rose very early, long before the rising of the sun, and wrote letters to some of the dearest friends in the Church; as to Heidegger and Peter Jurieu, the luminaries of the age in which they lived, and would have written more, but his strength failed him. He conversed, that day, about the interests of the kingdom of Christ, with several of his friends, till ten o'clock, when, on a sudden, he felt the approach of the last enemy.