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A book that changed me

September 1995 | by D. Richard Davies

John Calvin’s Commentary of the Book of Daniel spoke to me as has no other book apart from the Bible. It was first published in Latin in 1561, and translated into English within a decade after Calvin had died. Then in 1852 the Calvin Translation Society published all of his commentaries, and in 1966 the Banner of Truth reprinted that edition of Daniel, which was the one I lead. Though Martin Luther published two commentaries on the book of Daniel in the years 1524 and 1544, they have never been translated into English. They were not even chosen to be included in the fifty-six volumes of Luther’s Works published in the USA during the 1960s. Yet a new translation of Calvin on Daniel, chapters 1 -6, was published last year, the first of a projected complete set.

I was converted at the age of twenty, and two years later I started studying for the Christian ministry at a denominational theological college. That seminary was liberal in its attitudes to the Christian faith and this had a deadening effect upon me. There was a period of conflict on two levels. Firstly, on a spiritual level: there was no encouragement to any form of spiritual vitality, with little if any stimulation in discipleship. Secondly, on an intellectual level: how was I to reconcile what I believed with what I was being taught? It was here that I found J. Gresham Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism to be an immense help.

But on the spiritual level the Lord used the 800 pages of Calvin’s Commentary on the Book of Daniel to revive my flagging soul. Professor Fairbairn wrote that John Calvin ‘thought that the one way to realize Christianity was by knowing the mind of Christ, and that this mind was expressed in the Scriptures’. That was my own experience. Wilbur M. Smith wrote the introduction to this edition and said, ‘Calvin’s pages on Daniel’s going to his house to pray, the nearly one thousand words on the lines, “My God hath sent his angel and hath shut the lion’s mouths,” his words about the voice from heaven in Daniel 4:32, the significance of dreams, the deeper meaning of Belshazzar’s feast-all this is done as only Calvin could do it’ (p.vi).

What did I learn from the book?

  1. The living God is superior to all idols and the gods of this world. No one should feel ashamed of identifying with him.
  2. God is in control. He is sovereign in history and prophecy.
  3. God will be vindicated.
  4. Christ’s kingdom is a growing kingdom that will never be destroyed.
  5. The importance of a holy life. God uses faithful consistent Christian living for his own glory.
  6. Prayer is vital for the life of the true believer. The sixty-six extempore prayers of Calvin at the end of each ‘lecture’ are printed, and these were manna to my soul.

No book has encouraged me as this commentary on Daniel. It has made that Old Testament prophet my favourite book in the Bible. I have returned to it on many occasions. It may even be time for me to preach on it again!