Tuesday, January 27, 2009

John Calvin-His Preaching

I’ve been reading John Piper’s book The Legacy of Sovereign Joy. I highly recommend it as an excellent read particularly for those interested in expository preaching. I found the following passage about John Calvin to be particularly edifying. I hope you will be likewise encouraged.

Calvin’s preaching was of one kind from beginning to end: He preached steadily through book after book of the Bible. He never wavered from this approach to preaching for almost twentyfive years of ministry in St. Peter’s church of Geneva—with the exception of a few high festivals and special occasions. “On Sunday he took always the New Testament, except for a few Psalms on Sunday afternoons. During the week . . . it was always the Old Testament.” The records show fewer than half a dozen exceptions for the sake of the Christian year. He almost entirely ignored Christmas and Easter in the selection of his text.

To give you some idea of the scope of Calvin’s pulpit, he began his series on the book of Acts on August 25, 1549, and ended it in March 1554. After Acts he went on to the epistles to the Thessalonians (forty-six sermons), Corinthians (186 sermons), the pastoral epistles (eighty-six sermons), Galatians (forty-three sermons), Ephesians (forty-eight sermons)—until May 1558. Then there is a gap when he was ill. In the spring of 1559, he began the Harmony of the Gospels and was not finished when he died in May 1564. On the weekdays during that season he preached 159 sermons on Job, 200 on Deuteronomy, 353 on Isaiah, 123 on Genesis, and so on.

One of the clearest illustrations that this was a self-conscious choice on Calvin’s part was the fact that on Easter Day, 1538, after preaching, he left the pulpit of St. Peter’s, banished by the City Council. He returned in September 1541—over three years later— and picked up the exposition in the next verse.

Why this remarkable commitment to the centrality of sequential expository preaching? Three reasons are just as valid today as they were in the sixteenth century. First, Calvin believed that the Word of God was a lamp that had been taken away from the churches. He said in his own personal testimony, “Thy word, which ought to have shone on all thy people like a lamp, was taken away, or at least suppressed as to us. . . . And now, O Lord, what remains to a wretch like me, but . . . earnestly to supplicate thee not to judge according to [my] deserts that fearful abandonment of thy word from which, in thy wondrous goodness thou hast at last delivered me.”
Calvin reckoned that the continuous exposition of books of the Bible was the best way to overcome the “fearful abandonment of [God’s] Word.”

Second, Parker says that Calvin had a horror of those who preached their own ideas in the pulpit. He said, “When we enter the pulpit, it is not so that we may bring our own dreams and fancies with us.” He believed that by expounding the Scriptures as a whole, he would be forced to deal with all that God wanted to say, not just what he might want to say.

Third—and this brings us full circle to the beginning, where Calvin saw the majesty of God in his Word—he believed with all his heart that the Word of God was indeed the Word of God, and that all of it was inspired and profitable and radiant with the light of the glory of God.


willohroots said...

three years later, the next verse, priceless! Thanks, I love this blog!

Joe Blackmon said...

Yeah, you gotta admire someone who is THAT committed to sequential exposition, huh?