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Songs of the Nativity – A Review by Ben Ramsbottom

Author ,
Category Book Reviews
Date June 2, 2009

The Banner of Truth has printed for the first time in English Songs of the Nativity: Selected Sermons on Luke 1 and 2*, by John Calvin.

Calvin was without doubt a great man. Past generations have prized his writings, especially his Institutes and his commentaries. His very name (‘Calvinism’) has become almost synonymous with the doctrines of free and sovereign grace.

But in recent years The Banner of Truth Trust has emphasised Calvin as a preacher. This is how he specially thought of himself, and what he considered his life’s work, preaching almost daily in Geneva.

Songs of the Nativity contains fourteen sermons on Luke chapters 1 and 2, preached between October 1559 and March 1560. These are newly-translated from French, and only one has ever appeared in English previously. Especially are they from the songs of Mary, Zacharias, the angels and Simeon. It seems that Calvin preached with his Greek Bible before him, and when he quotes Scripture, he translates directly from the Greek.

The translation by an Australian, Robert White, runs smoothly and is obviously a labour of love. We are a little perplexed, though, at times by modern colloquialisms. For instance, ‘pulling a long face,’ ‘loggerheads,’ ‘make a splash,’ ‘play a double game,’ ‘end up chuckling,’ ‘for two pins,’ etc.

The publishers, in sending forth this book, stress the vital importance of the truth of the virgin birth.

Calvin’s sermons are beautifully simple, and there are some lovely thoughts, for instance, on the shepherds, and a deep and profitable opening up of Simeon’s blessing of the Child Jesus.

Interspersed are Calvin’s short prayers at the beginning and end of the sermons. These are very gracious. For instance:

Now let us cast ourselves down before the majesty of our good God, conscious of our faults, praying that we may truly see them as they are and renounce the foolish opinions which once deceived us, and with which Satan and his guile still bewitch poor folk. Let us also lay hold of the infinite kindness he has shown us in our Lord Jesus Christ, and since he so mildly and mercifully invites us to come to him, let us learn to obey him and to have done with all that hinders us. May we be willing to be brought low, so that he might lift us up by the powerful hand of his Son whom he has appointed to lead and govern us. And may our confidence never waver, but be firmly fixed in him. [page 122]

2009 is the 500th anniversary of Calvin’s birth. There will be many meetings and publications, and Songs of the Nativity is a good beginning.

Songs of the Nativity: Selected Sermons on Luke 1 & 2
by John Calvin, translated by Robert White
280 pages, clothbound
£15.00, $24.00
ISBN 978 1 84871 010 8

Ben Ramsbottom is Editor of the Gospel Standard, from the April 2009 edition of which the above is reprinted with permission.

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