Derek Thomas: “The majesty of God in the preaching of John Calvin”
The Evangelical library 2009 lecture is now available on CD. The cost is £2 (postage free). Members of the library can also borrow a recording of the lecture in the same way they borrow books.
The 2009 Evangelical Library Lecture took place on Monday June 1 at Bethesda Baptist Church in Kensington Place, London. The kindness of the minister Jared Smith and the church in making their premises available is really appreciated. It being the year of the 500th anniversary of Calvin’s birth it was good to hear Dr Derek Thomas give a fine message on The majesty of God in the preaching of John Calvin. Dr Thomas is Professor of Systematic and Practical Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, Mississippi.
He began by pointing out that Calvin can be looked at from many angles – as theologian, controversialist, letter writer or Bible commentator, for example. He was, however, also a preacher and in his sermons there is a wealth to be mined – a wealth that has rather been ignored until the last 30 or 40 years.
Dr Thomas explained Calvin’s regular routine with regard to preaching, which involved preaching not only twice on Sundays but on week nights too – every other week on every night – so that for the last 15 years of his life he was preaching 10 (50-60 minute) sermons a fortnight. During that period 2, 300 sermons were taken down by Denis Rageurier using a shorthand method. These filled 44 volumes, some of which were sadly neglected and sold off in the 19th Century. Some 870 transcribed sermons remain with 680 currently being reduced to long hand. There are also printed sermons and 8 volumes of these have been printed in French in the last 20 years (on 2 Samuel, Genesis, etc). Very few were published in Calvin’s time as he felt they lacked the necessary polish for that. Calvin would preach with little preparation from the Hebrew or Greek text without notes.
He then came to a four point analysis noting
1. His commitment to the lectio continua method of preaching
Although Calvin would break from series at Christmas and Easter (and sometimes Pentecost) he was preaching through books of the Bible most of the time. He learned to do this from Zwingli (who began to do this in 1519) and probably from Chrysostom back in the 4th Century. This led to long series of sermons on Deuteronomy (200) Ezekiel (174) Acts (189) Ephesians (48), etc.
2. His commitment to expository preaching
Rejecting Mediaeval methods he sought to expound Scripture in its grammatico-historical context. He believed in a self-authenticating Bible that is to be expounded. Preaching on Galatians he once said “I who speak now, I should not bring in anything of my own, and also should not raise myself above others. For I say this to the whole company, that this doctrine must be addressed to me in the first place but must govern all without any exception whatsoever.”
3. The simplicity of his preaching
He was committed to the perspicuity of Scripture. he avoids technical words and uses oft repeated and common phrases. He would not bog people down with variant readings or translation issues, though well versed in them. He almost never uses Hebrew, Greek or Latin words. He refers to other authors but not by name. He often attacks the Papists. Although he never uses illustrations as we think of them he would sometimes illustrate with a Scripture reference.
4. The God-centredness of his preaching
For this last point Dr Thomas took us to sermon 147 (of 159) on Job which he summarised with one or two quotations showing how Calvin filled his preaching with a sense of God and meeting with God.
While recognising that we cannot simply ape Calvin, Dr Thomas closed by urging a continued commitment to expository preaching through books of the Bible and a belief in the ordinary means of grace which is chiefly in the preaching of the Word.
Gary Brady, Pastor, Child’s Hill Baptist Church, London