‘Sermons on Ephesians’ – A Review by Brian Garrard
A review by Brian Garrard of John Calvin’s Sermons on the Epistle to the Ephesians.1
These sermons by John Calvin (JC) were first published in 1562 and were in French. An English translation by Arthur Golding appeared in 1577, followed by a revision by Leslie Rawlinson and S. M. Houghton in 1973. JC is justly famous and appreciated for his theological writings such as his Institutes2 and commentaries etc., but perhaps not for his sermons. Yet they ought not to be ignored and disregarded by the Christian public. It is notable that John Knox valued the preaching of JC and even had his wife read from this volume in 1572 when he was dying.
Before all else the Genevan reformer saw himself as a pastor whose first duty was to preach the word. His output was amazing, producing at least 10 sermons to the same congregation in a two-week period (see pages vii and viii). An example as to how he viewed preaching can be seen in the opening words of his first sermon on Ephesians 6,
Our resorting to sermons must be not only to hear things we do not know, but also to be stirred up to do our duty and to be awakened when we are slack and slothful by good and holy warnings, and to be rebuked if there be any stubbornness and malice in us’ (page 618).
He did not believe in mere exegesis and interpretation, but saw to it that his preaching had plenty of truly practical application and exhortation. ‘Where possible he would avoid dealing with technicalities in scholarship and theology, keeping those for commentaries and lectures to students’ (page xiv and footnote 2 and page xv). JC preached without notes, although this does not mean he did not prepare for the pulpit. He was very diligent in this respect and strongly disliked carelessness in study. However, his sermons were meticulously written down by his hearers and then turned into printed copies. Thus the reader can have a reasonably accurate record of what he spoke.
Many may be acquainted with the theological writings of JC and think the preaching is similar. It is not; therefore do not judge the sermons by those standards. They are fresh and alive and this is confirmed by C. H. Spurgeon when he wrote about them that they are ‘not the same as the expositions. The sermons are priceless.’ These pulpit utterances are beyond doubt excellent and edifying and have stirred this reviewer’s heart. However they are best read slowly so that every part can be carefully savoured.
The only regret, if that is the correct word, is the lack of a fuller treatment on Ephesians chapter 6. The publishers comment upon this by saying that the answer for this ‘may lie in the additional pressure and weariness which his accumulated labours were imposing upon him during the days when these verses had to be expounded’ (page x).
Concerning the book itself, there is a table of contents so this aids the reader for easy reference. In all there are 48 sermons on the whole epistle and each one covers, on average, 3 or 4 verses. Sometimes there may be more, but the point is that JC never becomes tedious. For those who may want to read more by the reformer, the Trust does publish other titles by him. Some of these are sermons on Genesis, 2 Samuel, Acts, and Galatians, etc. It must be stressed that these are not the same as the commentaries stocked by the Trust but quite different.3
A review by Brian Garrard of John Calvin’s Sermons on the Epistle to the Ephesians.1 These sermons by John Calvin (JC) were first published in 1562 and were in French. An English translation by Arthur Golding appeared in 1577, followed […]
- The many Calvin titles available from the Trust can be found on the website here.
Taken with permission from the Bible League Quarterly, October-December 2014.