John Calvin (translated by Robert White)
Banner of Truth; 183 pages, £14.50; ISBN: 978-1-84871-086-3
The great reformer is writing against the backdrop of the times in which he lived. Those who had turned from the idolatry of Catholicism often had their backs to the wall. Many, like those in Bloody Mary’s reign, paid the ultimate penalty for turning from the mass and other superstitions and idolatries of the Roman Church.
The book consists of four sermons. The first on Psalm 6:4: ‘On fleeing outward idolatry’; the next on Hebrews 13:13: ‘Suffering persecution for Christ’s sake’; then Psalm 27:4: ‘Valuing membership of God’s church and freedom to worship him’; and the fourth on Psalm 27:8: ‘On striving to serve God purely in a Christian church’.
There is also an exposition of Psalm 87, followed by three letters written to different people. The longest of these is to a man named Nicolas Duchemin, who was to be assistant to the Bishop of Le Mans. It warns him of the compromises he faced.
Calvin’s concern is for people tempted to deny their faith in Christ by attending mass and getting involved in other idolatries rife in the church at that time. But what relevance does it all have for us at this time? Two things come forcibly to mind.
First, Calvin brings home in a powerful way the errors of Catholicism. Whilst we may not see the Roman Church exactly as the reformers did, Calvin enables us to grasp how very far that church is from the gospel.
This is relevant in view of the comments that Rev. David Robertson recently made regarding the pope. Robertson said that reading the pope’s book Jesus of Nazareth made him warm to the pope as ‘a Christian brother’.
Robertson quoted what Robert Murray M’Cheyne said concerning the Bavarian Roman Catholic priest, Martin Boos: ‘…the living servant of Christ is dear to my heart, and welcome to address my flock, let him come from whatever quarter of the earth he may.’
Boos believed in justification by faith alone, Ratzinger, however, does not. Given what Paul wrote in Galatians 1:6-9 concerning false teachers who denied justification by faith, do we not need to be extremely careful?
Secondly, there are wider issues. We live at a time when many brothers and sisters in Christ are under enormous pressure, as were those who lived in the reformer’s time. They face, in some cases, extreme persecution. We need to pray earnestly for them and for ourselves, when our secular and religious world is constantly trying to squeeze us into its mould.
This book will not be everyone’s cup of tea. It is superbly presented by Banner and well translated by Robert White, but it is not an easy read. However, it deals thoroughly with our need to stand true to our faith in the face of religious and secular pressures, from whatever source they may come.