No Comment, Quotation — July 10, 2009, 5:33 am

Calvin – Working for the Common Good


It is not enough when a man can say, “Oh, I labor, I have my craft,” or “I have my trade.” That is not enough. But we must see whether it is good and profitable for the common good, and whether his neighbors may fare the better of it.

John Calvin, Sermons on the Epistle to the Ephesians (sermon on Eph. 4:26-28)(1558)

Today marks the five hundredth birthday of the Great Reformer, John Calvin. Among the many aspects of his enduring understanding of scripture, this passage on the Ephesians has an important place. It reminds us of the importance of service to the community as an aspect of faith. And it reminds us that comparable values were brought to America’s shores by the hardy group of Calvinist settlers who landed at Plymouth in 1620.

Frans Hals’s painting of a banquet for volunteer soldiers–known in Dutch as a schuttersmaal–is often studied and appreciated for the meticulous arrangement of the participants (ordered by rank), the array of silks (possibly woven in Haarlem, a center for the silk business), satins and other attributes of wealth and power that fill the canvas. The table is set for a virile feast: there is meat to be carved, and beakers for drink. The figures seem proud, rich and happy. So it is seen today. But perhaps that is not the intended message. Haarlem was occupied and brutalized by the Spanish during the religious wars, within the memory of the figures in this painting. Though devastated, the city opened it doors to Calvinists fleeing Spanish repression in Flanders, to the extent that in the era of Frans Hals the native populace was equaled or exceeded by refugee Flemings. What defines this amiable gathering of militiamen is a commitment to service to the community. These burghers have joined together to assure the defense of their community against the daunting military powers that threaten it–Catholic Spain, the Empire, later the French. Yet they are not professional soldiers; they are citizen soldiers. By day they are all men of business–traders, bankers, grain factors, craftsmen and artists. But they join together in the militia for purposes of protecting the city and for charitable service–their militia unit is actually attached to a church. Hals is commemorating the spirit of dedication to the common good that marked the golden age of the Netherlands and drove it to improbable heights. And he is reflecting the spirit of John Calvin.

Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

From the June 2014 issue

The Guantánamo “Suicides,” Revisited

A missing document suggests a possible CIA cover-up

No Comment March 28, 2014, 12:32 pm

Scott Horton Debates John Rizzo on Democracy Now!

On CIA secrecy, torture, and war-making powers

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada



September 2014

Israel and Palestine

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Washington Is Burning

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

On Free Will

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

They Were Awake

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content


Arab artists take up — and look past — regional politics
“When everyday life regularly throws up images of terror and drama and the technological sublime, how can a photographer compete?”
“Qalandia 2087, 2009,” by Wafa Hourani
“There was torture by the previous regime and by the current Iraqi regime,” Dr. Amin said. “Torture by our Kurdish government, torture by Syrians, torture by the U.S.”
Visiting His Own Grave © Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
The Tale of the Tape·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Heroin isn’t the weakness Art Pepper submits to; it’s the passion he revels in.”
Photograph (detail) © Laurie Pepper
The Soft-Kill Solution·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Policymakers, recognizing the growing influence of civil disobedience and riots on the direction of the nation, had already begun turning to science for a response."
Illustration by Richard Mia
New Books
New Books·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Almond insists that watching football does more than feed an appetite for violence. It’s a kind of modern-day human sacrifice, and it makes us more likely to go to war.”
Photograph by Harold Edgerton

Chance that a movie script copyrighted in the U.S. before 1925 was written by a woman:

1 in 2

Engineers funded by the United States military were working on electrical brain implants that will enable the creation of remote-controlled sharks.

Malaysian police were seeking fifteen people who appeared in an online video of the Malaysia-International Nude Sports Games 2014 Extravaganza, and Spanish police fined six Swiss tourists conducting an orgy in the back of a moving van for not wearing their seatbelts.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!


In Praise of Idleness


I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.

Subscribe Today