Calvin the preacher
Nearly 500 people marked the 500th anniversary of Calvin’s birth when they attended the 2009 Evangelical Library lecture, at Bethesda Baptist Church in Kensington Place, London.
The lecture was given by Dr Derek Thomas, professor of systematic and practical theology at the Reformed Theological Seminary, Mississippi, who spoke on ‘The majesty of God in the preaching of John Calvin’.
Dr Thomas said that Calvin could be regarded as a theologian, controversialist, letter writer and Bible commentator, but was especially a preacher. Calvin’s regular routine involved preaching twice on Sundays and also on week nights. In the last 15 years of his life, he preached ten sermons a fortnight. During that period, 2300 sermons were taken down in shorthand, resulting in some 44 volumes of books.
Dr Thomas drew attention to four aspects of Calvin’s preaching. First was his commitment to the lectio continua method. Although Calvin would break from series preaching at Christmas and Easter, he preached through books of the Bible most of the time. This led to series of sermons on such books as Deuteronomy, Ezekiel, Acts and Ephesians.
Second was Calvin’s commitment to expository preaching. He rejected medieval allegorical methods and sought to expound Scripture in its historical context.
Then there was the simplicity of his preaching. He was committed to the clarity of Scripture; he avoided technical words and often used common everyday phrases.
Derek Thomas’ final point was the God-centredness of Calvin’s preaching. For this, he explored published sermon 147 on Job, which he summarised using actual quotations to show how Calvin filled his preaching with a sense of God.
Things have changed much since Calvin’s day, but attendees were urged to be committed to expository preaching through the Bible and to believe in the efficacy of the ordinary means of grace, especially the preaching of the Word.