Calvin Preaching on the Acts – A Review by Hugh Cartwright
The Banner of Truth has published Sermons on the Acts of the Apostles, chapters 1-7, by John Calvin. John Calvin was, and regarded himself as, primarily a preacher of the Word of God. He wrote theological works which have guided the Church to a biblical understanding of the truth (and we would recommend his Institutes of the Christian Religion to any reader seriously concerned to be well-grounded doctrinally). He wrote commentaries which, because of their unadorned faithfulness to Scripture, still present the meaning of the sacred text with freshness and conviction. But all his work was aimed at securing the good of the people through the preaching of the Word, and he made that his own priority. Calvin’s careful exegesis of Scripture and systematic grasp of theology were basic to his preaching and gave it its substance and form, but preaching for him was something other than a theological lecture or a running commentary on a portion of truth.
W B Evans, in his discussion of Calvin’s preaching in his Introduction to this volume, says that ‘his sermons do not contain showy displays of learning. He leaves his scholarly apparatus, though not the fruits of his scholarship, in the study’. In his sermons, explanation and application are intertwined. The translator wonders
whether the sixteenth-century Reformer would be welcomed in many Protestant, even Presbyterian pulpits, today. Calvin is hailed for his biblical theology, but largely ignored with respect to his insistence upon the transformed-life, life-long self-abnegation demanded of genuine Christian discipleship.
This is the first-ever English translation of the 44 known extant sermons of Calvin on Acts, previously published in French. They cover much, though not all, of the first seven chapters. The translation claims to be faithful, with any restructuring of long sentences or alteration of punctuation being done for the sake of readability and accuracy. It certainly is readable and rings true to what we understand to have been Calvin’s popular preaching style. Calvin needs no recommendation from us but we can say that, as far as human words can do it, these sermons convey the truth of Scripture in language which is fresh and speaks to the mind and heart and conscience of the reader.
The prayer with which Calvin concludes the last sermon, on chapter 7:58-60, may well be ours as we read these sermons:
Following this holy teaching, let us bow ourselves before the face of our gracious God in acknowledgment of our sins, praying that he will be pleased to cut us to the quick because of them so that, being displeased with them, we will seek to bring ourselves into complete conformity with him as we use the examples he presents to us daily in holy Scripture. And may he daily make us aware of the grace he has granted us through our Lord Jesus Christ his Son.
CHAPTERS 1-7; FOURTY-FOUR SERMONS DELIVERED IN GENEVA BETWEEN 25 AUGUST 1549 AND 11 JANUARY 1555
The Banner of Truth has published Sermons on the Acts of the Apostles, chapters 1-7, by John Calvin. John Calvin was, and regarded himself as, primarily a preacher of the Word of God. He wrote theological works which have guided the Church to a biblical understanding of the truth (and we would recommend his Institutes […]
Rev Hugh M Cartwright is pastor of the Edinburgh congregation of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland. This review was first printed in the November 2008 edition of the Free Presbyterian Magazine and is reproduced here with kind permission.
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