Calvin addresses particularly those in positions of authority regarding their responsibility for the overall tenor of those individuals or groups under their care. There is no diminishment in Calvin's thought of individual responsibility - certainly anyone who is in a submissive position relative to a particular God-ordained authority figure over them is still responsible for his or her own sin. No question about that - but rarely do we (do I) think sufficiently about the responsibilities accruing to the account of those in authority over those people. In particular, Calvin is discussing the fact that Job sacrificed and prayed for his children, lest any of them be guilty of sin requiring blood covering. Today, sacrifices of animals are passed away, since Christ has made the last and only effectual sacrifice on the cross - still, the souls of those under our care must be on our minds, and the sacrifice of prayer must be part of our particular service to God as those whom he has invested with particular authority.
From the words of Calvin - it is a long extract, but oh, so rich with sound exhortation:
...such as have charge of others, must be watchful, and that when any fault happeneth, they must hold themselves blameworthy before God for the same. And this is well worthy to be marked. For we see how ambition reigneth in the world. If a man have many children, he is glad that he hath so many reasonable creatures to be under him at his commandment. If he have wherewith to find a great household, he liketh well of himself for it. But what? All is but mere ambition, or vainglory! For there is no regard had of the charge that is matched with it. [emphasis mine - TKP] True it is that God doeth men great honor, when he giveth those whom he hath created after his own image, unto them to be their underlings. But yet wherewithall, this honor carrieth a great bond with it: namely that such as have households to govern, must always be watchful. For if an offense be committed against God in any household, he that is the head and master of the house, must think himself blameworthie. (p. 12, Sermons on Job, Banner of Truth)Again - not as though he had been primarily responsible, as the first actor in the sin - but that in his care for the house he has possibly failed in some regard. Hence, he must be mournful over the sin that has arisen within the house over which he has charge. This is so hard, but hard teachings abound in Scripture - and we whom God has made fathers and husbands should take note, with an appropriate and Biblical balance, of these things.
He must mourn before God as if himself were the party that had done the deed; and although he be not consenting unto it, yet must he think thus with himself: 'I have not discharged myself of my duty, albeit that I watch both night and day. Although I exhort as well my children as also my men-servants and my maid-servants to serve God. Yet it is impossible for me to do all that I ought to do. For I see my children offend, I see faults in my men-servants, and maid-servants. Of whom take they it? Although I take pain to instruct them, yet are there many things to be found fault with. For I have not given them such example as I ought. Had I walked in the fear of God as becometh me, they must needs have followed my steps; and so it may be that their stepping aside from the right way, hath been through my default and offense; and therefore I must show them such example as I would have them to follow.' If fathers and masters that have children and servants under their hand, had this regard with them, things would be better ordered than they be. (p. 12-13, Sermons on Job, Banner of Truth)Indeed... and this raises itself as I see the sins of my own household, particularly as my children get older. It is amazing how quickly God shows us the faults we have by means of their reflection in our kids. Sadly, it comes as a shock at times - and too often later than it should have if I had been more watchful over my own heart.
Calvin continues (what good stuff this is!)
And above all others, princes and magistrates ought to mark this precedent, that it behooveth them to be watchful, and to set good guard upon such as are committed to their charge so as if there be any fault, they must think themselves to blame for it, and if they see any disorders or looseness, they must assure themselves that it is because they themselves have not discharged their duty. Likewise is it with the ministers of God's word. If they perceive that the church behaveth not as it ought to do, so as it have troubles and contrarieties in it, and specially that God's name be blasphemed, it behooveth them to sigh for it, and to bear the burden of it, assuring themselves that God showeth unto them, that they have not discharged themselves as they should have done. And here see why Saint Paul sayeth, that he is brought low because of the faults that were in the Church of Corinth (2 Cor. 12:20). Behold, it was God's will (saith he) to do me shame there. Had Saint Paul consented to whoredom, or to robbery, or to wantonness, or to other such vices of the Corinthians? No, he had labored to rebuke them by all possible means: can it be said that he had showed them the way of riot? No whit at all. But although he had discharged himself to the uttermost towards men, yet notwithstanding he ceased not to feel still, that God meant as it were to disgrace him in part, so as he was fain to bewail the offenses and disorders that happened in the church whereof he had the direction and charge. If Saint Paul, who had such zeal to do his duty, did nevertheless feel himself blameworthy when there befell any misorder in the church: I pray you what will become of us, who are as cold as ice in respect of him? What shall become of them which make no account at all whether God be honored or no; but all is one with them so they may make their own profit and maintain their own state? Then let us mark well that which is said here - that Job sacrificed according to the number of his children and let us likewise take good advice to humble ourselves afore God, and not only to ask him forgiveness when the mischief is come to pass, but also to prevent it as much as is possible. And how? That parents hold their children short: that masters look well about them, so as God be served and honored by them, and their houses well ruled in all pureness, that they may be as it were little churches. (p. 13, Sermons on Job, Banner of Truth)We have a hard enough time feeling the responsibility and dishonring of God that arises from our OWN sins, let alone those of our houses. We are SOMETIMES willing to own up to the responsibilities directly related to our own actions - but how often are we truly willing to accept the responsibility that we have for the sins of our children? It is of course not a "primary" sort of responsibility, but as Calvin ably notes, there is a responsibility of parents for the conduct of the house... clearly we see this in Paul's writings wherein the households of potential elders are to be considered when evaluating their qualifications. I pray that those of us who are husbands and fathers - and myself primarily - would be granted God-given eyes to see and ears to hear what the Spirit says to us in God's Holy Word. There is so much for me to learn about walking in His ways. Thanks be to God that He gives us a lifetime to learn from His Word and embrace His truth and take baby step after baby step toward Christlikeness. Thanks most of all for the One Sacrifice for our sins - whereby we may submit ourselves freely to His correction, knowing that Christ bore our punishment.