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John Calvin: Servant of the Word of God

In St. Peter’s Cathedral in Geneva there is a plaque commemorating the life and ministry of John Calvin, which simply describes him as “servant of the Word of God.”[1] Truly, above all else, Calvin was a servant of the Word.

Calvin is well known and appreciated as a biblical commentator. John Murray said, “Calvin was the exegete of the Reformation and in the first rank of biblical exegetes of all time.”[2] He wrote commentaries on several books of the Old Testament and on every book of the New Testament except Revelation, and all his commentaries are still in print.[3]

Calvin was also a lecturer on the Bible. In fact, this was his first appointment in Geneva, and he retained this role throughout his entire ministry. He delivered his lectures weekly, going through whole books of the Bible for the benefit of students, the other ministers, and especially candidates for the Gospel ministry, who go on to pastor churches in France and elsewhere.[4]

Calvin also expounded Scripture at a weekly meeting each Friday morning, which was called the congrégation.[5] This was essentially a preachers’ workshop. The ministers of Geneva and of the surrounding villages came together each week to study Scripture. The usual practice was to study whole books of the Bible, chapter by chapter, verse by verse.[6]

The point here is that in all these activities, Calvin was fulfilling the role of “servant of the Word of God.” “His whole theological labor was the exposition of Scripture.”[7]

Of course, Calvin’s primary task as servant of the Word was the reading and the preaching of the Scriptures in the worship of the Church. This was given top priority—the living voice over the written commentary; the pulpit over the lectern.

In 1909 (at the Calvin 400 celebration in Geneva) émile Doumergue (the leading Calvin scholar of the day) delivered a speech entitled, “Calvin, the Preacher of Geneva.”[8] Doumergue paints a portrait of Calvin, not as a man of action or as a man of thought, but as a man of the Word. Calvin was a man who spoke.

Here [in Geneva], like Moses and the prophets, whose speech lifted up and moved the Hebrew people; [here] like saint Ambrose or saint Chrysostom, those great bishops whose speech held the crowds of Milano or Constantinople in sway, at the foot of their pulpits; [here] like Savonarola, the reformer whose words, over a two-year period, transformed Florence, Calvin spoke. He spoke for 25 years! He spoke from his pastor’s or professor’s pulpit, sometimes every day, for month on end, sometimes two times per day, for weeks on end. He spoke with endless exhortations to the Consistory, to the Friday Congregation, to the Town Council. He spoke in his treatises, those ardent improvisations he dictated as though in a single breath. He spoke through his countless letters, letters of consolation, letters of a spiritual counselor, letters of a statesman, letters, especially, of a friend…. Here is the Calvin who seems to me the true one and the authentic Calvin, the one which explains all the others: Calvin, the preacher of Geneva, shaping the reformed soul of the 16th century by his word.[9]
Calvin was first and foremost a minister of the Word. And as T. H. L. Parker says, “he is not fully seen unless he is seen in the pulpit,” and “it is impossible to do justice to his work in Geneva unless preaching be given the main place.”[10]

Many of Calvin’s recent biographers agree that all of his labors were tethered to and structured around the pulpit. Bernard Cottret wrote,

Preaching was at the center of the Reformer’s activity; in his last years it utterly exhausted him and wore him down. His frail appearance, his short breath, his voice as if from beyond the tomb, and his back bowed by illness regained a sudden energy and a last grandeur under the impulse of the Spirit that animated and subdued them. Calvin was a man who spoke.[11]
For Calvin … preaching was not just one literary genre among others; it was the very essence of the Reformation.[12]

And so, in this presentation on Calvin, the servant of the Word, we will focus our attention on Calvin’s preaching. This is an area of Calvin’s work that has been largely neglected, at least until recent years. Thomas J. Davis observes,

When we speak of Calvin’s preaching, we approach one of the two final frontiers … in studies of Calvin; the other is exegesis. Calvin the theologian … has been the subject of a great tradition of scholarship. Within the last generation, however, many within that tradition find it no longer acceptable to study Calvin as theologian in the traditional manner: by reading solely the great Institutes of the Christian Religion. With great vigor, a number of scholars have begun the task of taking on the commentaries and are beginning to relate Calvin’s theology and exegesis in fruitful ways. Calvin’s preaching, however, is just now beginning to come into its own as an area of study.[13]

I have already mentioned Doumergue’s lecture on Calvin’s preaching delivered at the 400th anniversary in Geneva. This was indeed a rare topic in his day. At Calvin’s 500th anniversary, however, virtually every major conference on Calvin has included (or will include) a lecture on Calvin’s preaching.

The first serious work on Calvin’s sermons was written by the German scholar, Erwin Mülhaupt in 1931, Die Predigt Calvins.[14] This is what led to the Supplementa Calviniana. “The editors of the Opera Calvini did not place a lot of value on the sermons,” so they only included less than half of them, but now, “almost all remaining sermons preserved in manuscript” have been “published in the Supplementa Calviniana. Occasionally new manuscripts of sermons are found and printed.”[15]

For example, in 1994, another eighty-seven sermons on Isaiah were discovered in the library of the French Protestant Church in London.[16] Thus, the homiletical corpus of Calvin is expanding. The history of the sermon manuscripts is a tragic tale, and unfortunately, of all the sermons that he preached, only about one-third of them have been preserved.[17]

In the English world, says Davis, pioneering work into Calvin’s preaching starts, in many ways, with T. H. L. Parker’s The Oracles of God (1947). “This represents the kind of historical spadework necessary to establish the actual work of Calvin’s preaching.”[18] First of all, Parker gives us the logistics of his preaching activity. He tells us how many sermons he preached on what book and when. Secondly, Parker analyses Calvin’s homiletical form and style.

It is unnecessary to repeat here what can easily be found in hundreds of books, but just to give you an idea of the scope of Calvin’s homiletical activity—between 1549 (when a stenographer, Denis Raguenier, was hired to take down his sermons)[19] and 1564, Calvin preached over 2000 sermons, including: 123 on Genesis, 200 on Deuteronomy, 353 on Isaiah, 43 on Galatians, 86 on the Pastoral Epistles and 186 on 1 and 2 Corinthians. He also (in that time period) expounded Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, Job, Psalms, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Acts, Ephesians, and 1 and 2 Thessalonians. And beginning in 1559, he started preaching a Harmony of the Gospels, which series remained incomplete at his death in 1564.[20]

Dr. Hughes Oliphant Old says, “In more than twenty years as preacher at Geneva, Calvin must have preached through almost the entire Bible.”[21] His normal practice was to preach New Testament books on the Lord’s Day—except, at times, he preached the Psalms in the evening service—and Old Testament books during the week, except for holy week, when he preached through the Passion narrative.

With regard to his homiletical style, it is well known that Calvin adopted what has rightly been called the “Protestant plain style.” Calvin refused to embellish his sermons with rhetorical decorations. This was a matter of theological conviction. Dr. Old explains,

What surprises the modern reader of Calvin’s sermons is the simplicity of his sermons. We find no engaging introductions, no illustrative stories nor anecdotes, no quotations from great authors, no stirring conclusions. Although Calvin was one of the most literate men of his age and a master in the use of language, his sermons depend not at all on literary elegance. The forcefulness of his sermons is to be found in the clarity of his analysis of the text. Calvin seems to have no fear that the Scriptures will be boring or irrelevant unless the preacher spices them up. In fact, Calvin seems to have a horror of decorating the Word of God. Scripture does not need to be painted with artists’ colors! So confident is the reformer that God will make his Word alive in the hearts of his people, that Calvin simply explains the text and draws out its implication. The simplicity and directness of his style is based in his confidence that what he is preaching is indeed the Word of God. This simplicity is an expression of reverence.[22]

This is all the more significant when one realizes that Calvin was a master of classical rhetoric. Being educated in the schools of Christian humanism, he was greatly influenced by Cicero and Quintilian. His first published book was a commentary on Seneca’s De Clementia, in which he “shows himself acquainted with the whole of Greek and Latin classical literature, citing 155 Latin authors and twenty-two Greek, and citing them with understanding.”[23]

Calvin may have even taken the name of his great theological work, the Institutes from Quintilian’s Institutes of Oratory. Lester De Koster remarked that the Christian humanists regarded the Ciceronian style as the equivalent of Christian beatitude.[24]

“Cicero had distinguished among three types of style: the plain, the intermediate and the sublime. Calvin deliberately eschewed the use of the sublime and even of the intermediate styles and restricted himself severely to the plain” style.[25] According to Doumergue, Calvin’s language is “simple, more than simple, familiar, popular …. It is the tone, the true tone of the people.”[26]

This is important for Calvin, and it is something that Reformed ministers ought to take seriously, but looking at Calvin’s homiletical activity or style is surely not where we should spend most of our time. Parker laid the foundation for the study of Calvin’s preaching, but unfortunately, it seems that few have advanced beyond it. If we are going to find something that constitutes a legacy in preaching, then we really need to look to something more substantive, something more significant than Calvin’s preaching activity or style. To discover Calvin’s homiletical legacy, we must, first of all, examine his understanding of preaching as divine worship.

Preaching as Divine Worship

One of the primary concerns of the Reformers was to restore the reading and the preaching of the Scriptures to a central place in the worship of the Christian Church. Thus, “for the twelve thousand people of Geneva, there were fifteen services with sermon every week,” distributed throughout the three parishes of Geneva.[27]

In the Reformation, “preaching occupied a position which it had not held since” the ancient Church.[28] With Cyril of Jerusalem in the fourth century and his mystagogical catechesis and his plan to revitalize the city of Jerusalem by turning it into a pilgrimage center, the worship of the Church took a tremendous turn toward ceremonialism.[29] More and more, the reading and the preaching of Scripture in the worship of the Church receded into the background. Ceremonialism won the day, and preaching suffered greatly.

In the middle ages, more and more frequently, public worship omitted even the simplest kind of sermon.[30] There were great preachers in the middle ages such as Bernard of Clairvaux, and there were efforts to revive preaching such as the preaching orders of the Franciscans and the Dominicans, but it is not until the Reformation that preaching was restored to its central place in the worship of the Christian Church.

Calvin sums up the popular attitude toward preaching among the papists when he says, “The pope, his bishops and all his vermin” are busy with blessing organs, baptizing bells, consecrating vestments and ornaments, but preaching? “That’s trivial stuff, they’ll not deign to touch it. That’s for the mendicants, the friars.”[31]

So, the Reformers sought to restore biblical preaching after the example of the apostles and the ancient Church. But it should be born in mind that “there is no credit due to Calvin in this recovery, for he was … a member of the second generation of Reformers, who entered into the work which the first generation had done.”[32]

When Zwingli was called to Zurich in January of 1519, he began preaching through the Gospel of Matthew day after day, chapter by chapter, verse by verse, for a whole year.[33] This kind of systematic exposition of Scripture—the lectio continua or continuous reading—was patterned after the great preachers of the ancient Church. “Zwingli’s friend Johan Froeben, who at that time was Basel’s leading publisher, had sent him a copy of Chrysostom’s lectio continua sermons on Mathew shortly after they were off his presses.”[34]

Adopting this systematic exposition used by the Church fathers and the homily form of the sermon, Zwingli restored the lectio continua to the worship of the Church. This was the very first liturgical reform of Protestantism. It is Zwingli’s great contribution to the Reformation.[35] “One by one the Christian humanist preachers of the Upper Rhineland began to follow his example.”[36] Of particular importance in terms of influence on Calvin are the Reformers of Strasbourg (Matthaüs Zell, Wolfgang Capito, and Martin Bucer) and also John Oecolampadius, who won the city of Basel for the Reformation by preaching through Isaiah. Calvin closely followed the example of the Church fathers, with the same devotion to expository preaching and to the lectio continua that his Rhenish predecessors had.[37]

Like the other Christian humanists, Calvin was greatly influenced by the Church fathers. His admiration of Augustine as a theologian is well known, but with regard to preaching, he was more influenced by Chrysostom. In fact, he set out to translate all of the homilies of Chrysostom into French, but he did not get very far with that project; he never actually made it past the preface.

Since Calvin rejected the Alexandrian school of exegesis in favor of the Antiochene school with its grammatical-historical approach, he thought that while Augustine was a better theologian, Chrysostom was a better exegete. John L. Thompson observes,

Calvin’s recommendation of Chrysostom above all other patristic writers points directly to one of his hallmarks as an exegete, namely, his avowed commitment to the “literal” or “historical” sense of the text. While Calvin admits that Chrysostom’s theology has its flaws, he lauds him above all for sticking in his interpretation with the plain meaning of Scripture and the simple meaning of its words (simplici verborum sensu). Calvin’s position here is hardly new or unique, of course, for he was preceded by many other reformers who felt that the church had been badly misled by fanciful and capricious exegesis, particularly the so-called “spiritual” or allegorical exegesis of many patristic and medieval writers.[38]

Now, in addition to his grammatical-historical exegesis, Calvin was also impressed by Chrysostom’s commitment to a contextual exposition of Scripture as exemplified in his use of the lectio continua. Chrysostom wrote, “How do we find [Paul] employed at Thessalonica and Corinth, in Ephesus and in Rome itself? Did he not spend whole nights and days interpreting the Scriptures in their order?”[39] By the phrase in their order, Chrysostom means lectio continua.

It was this commitment to contextual preaching that impressed Calvin. When passages of Scripture, says Calvin, are seized on thoughtlessly and the context is ignored, it should not surprise us that mistakes arise everywhere.[40] Calvin saw that this was one of the problems with the lectionary of the Christian year. It cut up the Bible into unrelated scraps. Dr. Old writes,

It imposed an arbitrary arrangement on Scripture. As Calvin saw it, the pericopes of the lectionary often separated a text from its natural context. The texts of Scripture should be heard within the total message of a particular biblical author. A lectionary could not help but encourage over the years a stereotyped interpretation.[41]

Calvin declared, “We must not pick and cull the Scripture to please our own fancy,” but we “must receive the whole without exception.”[42] Again, commenting on Paul’s example of preaching the whole counsel of God, Calvin writes,

What order must pastors then keep in teaching? First, let them not esteem at their pleasure what is profitable to be uttered and what to be omitted; but let them leave that to God alone to be ordered at his pleasure. So shall it come to pass that the inventions of men shall have none entrance into the Church of God. Again, mortal man shall not be so bold as to mangle the Scripture and to pull it in pieces, that he may diminish this or that at his pleasure, that he may obscure something and suppress many things; but shall deliver whatsoever is revealed in the Scripture ….[43]

So, for Calvin, the lectio continua was not only to be preferred over a selected reading of Scripture, it was essential, for we have no right to pick and choose what we want to preach.

The story is well known, but perhaps it is worth repeating here. One could hardly give a presentation on Calvin’s preaching without mentioning it. After Calvin was exiled from Geneva and returned three years later, he resumed his exposition of Romans at the exact place where he left off without saying anything about his banishment. In a letter to William Farel, Calvin wrote,

When I preached to the people, everyone was very alert and expectant. But entirely omitting any mention of those matters which they all expected with certainty to hear … I took up the exposition where I had stopped—by which I indicated that I had interrupted my office of preaching for the time rather than that I had given it up entirely.[44]

So, we see that Calvin—like the other Reformers—sought to restore the contextual preaching of Scripture to its central place in the worship of the Church. And this leads us to the main point that I want to emphasize. For Calvin, “the whole purpose of preaching is to glorify God, to worship him in Spirit and in truth.”[45]

He sees it as worship every bit as much as the celebration of the sacraments and every bit as much as the service of prayer. Calvin thought of the reading and preaching of Scripture in the midst of the assembly of God’s people as worship and worship at its most profound.[46]

Furthermore, preaching is not an act of worship on the part of the minister alone but on the part of the whole congregation when it hears the Word and receives it in faith and love. Hearing “the Word of God is of the essence of worship.”[47] Dr. Old sums up Calvin’s thought:

[It] is not only the preaching of the Word, but the receiving of the preached Word, which is worship. The whole congregation worships God by receiving his Word with humility and obedience. The ministry of the Word is not a solo sport, like a game of solitaire or playing tennis against the garage door. Preaching both honors God and builds up the Church. It is, as prayer, and in fact as all worship, the work of the Holy Spirit in the body of Christ to the glory of the Father.[48]

Again he writes,

The more Augustinian theology of the Reformers brought them to understand worship not as a human work but as a divine work. The reading, the preaching and the hearing of the Word was the work not of the minister or of the congregation or even of the Church as a whole, as it was the work of the Holy Spirit. That being the case, then, the minister of the Word was a listener just as much as the believing congregation.[49]

The doxological nature and goal of preaching is clearly underscored by the fact that Calvin ended “virtually every one of his thousands of sermons [with these words] ‘And now let us bow down before the majesty of our gracious God…. ‘”[50] On this point, Sinclair Ferguson remarks that Calvin’s preaching “made God great and man bow down. By contrast, much modern preaching seems to have as its goal making man feel great, even if God Himself has to bow down.”[51]

There is much more that could be said about the subject of preaching as worship in Calvin’s pulpit, but we must move on to the next point in examining Calvin’s homiletical legacy, namely, the real presence of Christ in preaching.[52]

The Kerygmatic Real Presence of Christ

Richard Stauffer observes that for Calvin, preaching is not only a moment of worship, not only a task of the Church, but also something of a divine epiphany. In preaching, the Holy Spirit uses the words of the preacher as an occasion for the presence of God in grace and mercy.[53] Calvin says, “When the gospel is proclaimed to us, it is a manifestation of Jesus Christ.”[54]

This concept of Christ’s living presence through the preached Word is at the very heart of Calvin’s gospel.[55] The preaching of the Gospel not only conveys information about Christ, but it conveys Christ himself.[56] Christ is present in the midst of the worshiping assembly clothed in his Gospel.[57]

There are several angles from which we may examine this concept. We will limit ourselves to three. First, Calvin asserts that the minister is the mouth of God.

The word goeth out of the mouth of God in such a manner that it likewise “goeth out of the mouth” of men; for God does not speak openly from heaven, but employs men as his instruments ….[58]

When a man climbs up into the pulpit, is it so that he may be seen from afar and that he may have a higher place than the rest? No, no! But so that God may speak to us by the mouth of man and be so gracious to us to show himself here among us and will have a mortal man to be his messenger.[59]

Thus, for Calvin, the voice of God is heard in the mouth of the minister. Therefore, the preaching of the Word is the Word of God. According to T. H. L. Parker, this is a claim advanced in the sermons times without number. There cannot be many sermons where it is not asserted explicitly or at the least implied.[60]

Now, this raises the question, “In what sense did Calvin understand preaching to be the Word of God?” Mark Beach rightly notes that, for Calvin, there is a distinction between the Word of God as inspired and inscripturated and the exposition of that Word.

When the preacher preaches, his words are not verbally inspired; his message is not infallible or inerrant. In fact, the preacher’s message may have a number of errors and flaws or other shortcomings. That does not mean, however, that the voice of Christ does not come through or that Christ does not admonish his people in that sermon or instruct them or console them.[61]

[Furthermore,] To call preaching the voice of Christ does not mean that God’s Word inscripturated is incomplete or that Christ is adding new chapters to the Bible through the Sunday sermon. God’s inscripturated Word is complete. Everything we need to know for our salvation has been given to us. However, although God’s revelation is complete, the administration of that message written in the Bible is not complete. That is why Christ instituted preaching.[62]

For Calvin, the preached Word is the Word of God because it is a transmission of the Word as inspired and inscripturated. It is the Word of God in a derivative sense, but this does not make it any less the Word of God in an actual sense.[63]

The message of Scripture is the Word of God whether or not it comes from the lips of an inspired apostle or a non-inspired, post-apostolic minister. But in the post-apostolic era, preaching, ” ‘borrows’ its status of ‘Word of God’ from Scripture.”[64] The difference between apostolic and post-apostolic preaching is in the mode by which the message is mediated. The apostles preached the Word in a non-derivative fashion, but their successors do so only in a derivate fashion. The apostles spoke directly from God to the people. We, however, must take the text of Scripture and expound it for God’s people.

But the second-hand nature of post-apostolic preaching does not alter the nature of the Gospel as God’s Word. Of course, “the all important factor,” says Parker, “is not whether the preacher has received the message directly from its giver or received it at second hand, but whether the message which reaches the recipient shall be the message originally given.”[65] Calvin explains,

[This is] the difference between the apostles and their successors: the former were sure and genuine scribes of the Holy Spirit, and their writings are therefore to be considered oracles of God; but the sole office of others is to teach what is provided and sealed in the Holy Scriptures.[66]

According to Calvin, God reveals himself by accommodation. He accommodates himself to human capacity. He stoops down, as Calvin says, and clothes himself in human form, which means, primarily, human words and, ultimately, a human being, the incarnate Christ.[67]

What we want to point out here is that this concept of accommodation is also used by Calvin to explain what happens in the act of preaching. Ronald Wallace writes, “The preaching of the Word by a minister is the gracious form behind which God in coming near to men veils that in himself which man cannot bear to behold directly.”[68] Calvin says, “God has graciously condescended to stoop down to us, [so] let us not be ashamed to give this honor to [the preached] Word and [to the] Sacraments—to behold [God] there face to face.”[69]

Again, he says, Christ, “the living image of God, is evidently set before our eyes in the mirror of the gospel!”[70] Calvin frequently employs this mirror analogy to describe how we behold the face of Christ and of God in preaching.[71] Commenting on 1 Corinthians 13:12, he writes,

[There can be no doubt that Paul’s mirror metaphor refers to] the ministry of the word [and Sacrament] … For God, who is otherwise invisible, has appointed these means for discovering himself to us … The ministry of the word, I say, is like a looking-glass. For the angels have no need of preaching, or other inferior helps, nor of sacraments, for they enjoy a vision of God of another kind; and God does not give them a view of his face merely in a mirror, but openly manifests himself as present with them. We, who have not as yet reached that great height, behold the image of God as it is presented before us in the word, in the sacraments, and … in the whole of the service of the Church … we walk by faith, not by sight. Our faith, therefore, at present beholds God as absent. How so? Because it sees not his face, but rests satisfied with the image in the mirror.[72]

Another angle from which we may examine the concept of the presence of Christ in preaching is by looking at the role of the Holy Spirit. And we could not very well do justice to Calvin’s theology of preaching without giving much attention to the Holy Spirit.

Christ is present in the preached Word by the agency of the Spirit. The preaching of the Word is not merely a human work; it is a work of the Spirit. Preaching has a dual nature; it is a divine-human activity. Calvin says, “we see how God works by the Word which is preached to us, that it is not a voice which only sounds in the air and then vanishes; but God adds to it the power of His Holy Spirit.”[73] Again, he says,

For first, the Lord teaches and instructs us by his word. Secondly, he confirms it by the sacraments. Finally, he illumines our minds by the light of the Holy Spirit and opens our hearts for the Word and sacraments to enter in, which would otherwise only strike our ears and appear before our eyes, but not at all affect us within.[74]

Preaching, therefore, is powerless for salvation without the Holy Spirit. This does not mean that preaching is ever ineffectual. On the contrary, preaching is never in vain.[75] But without the Spirit, it cannot produce any saving effects. Although Calvin embraces the distinction between the Verbum Dei externum and the Verbum Dei internum, he rejects the notion of the Anabaptists that the external Word is powerless.

For delirious and even dangerous are those notions, that though the internal word is efficacious, yet that which proceeds from the mouth of man is lifeless and destitute of all power.[76]

So, for Calvin, preaching has a dual nature. God condescends to joins himself to the ministers of the Gospel and ” … shows that he uses them as his hands and his instruments.”[77] In the act of preaching, the minister is a co-laborer with God.[78] It is a divine-human activity, and Calvin consistently maintains this teaching without (on the one hand) blurring the distinction between the work of God and the work of man and (on the other hand) without separating the two. As John Leith explains, Calvin’s doctrine of preaching

enabled him both to understand preaching as a very human work and to understand it as the work of God…. From one perspective the human work of the sermon is critically important. The sermon’s fidelity to scripture, the skill of the syntax and rhetoric, the liveliness of the delivery, are of a fundamental importance that ought not to be minimized. From another perspective a sermon is a work of the Spirit of God, which may make a “poor” sermon the occasion of God’s presence and a brilliant sermon barren of [redemptive] power. Calvin unites the work of God and the work of man in the sacrament and in preaching without separation, without change, and without confusion.[79]

There is another angle from which we may examine the concept of the presence of Christ in preaching, namely, by comparing it with the presence of Christ in the sacrament. Standing in the Augustinian tradition, which defines a sacrament as a visible Word, Calvin posits the closest possible connection between Word and sacrament. The sacraments are “joined to [the Word] as a sort of appendix, with the purpose of confirming and sealing” the promises of the Gospel.[80] The sacraments cannot exist apart from the Word. The Word “throws life into the sacraments.”[81]

Furthermore, the sacraments have the same office as the Word of God: to “offer and set forth Christ to us and in him the treasures of heavenly grace.”[82] Calvin’s explicit rejection of a memorialistic understanding of the Lord’s Supper and his insistence on the real presence of Christ is well known, but not many have made the necessary connection between the eucharistic presence of Christ and, what Dr. Old has called, the kerygmatic real presence of Christ in the Word.[83]

I say this is a necessary connection because there can be no eucharistic presence of Christ apart from his kerygmatic presence. This is one reason why the sacrament cannot exist apart from the Word. The eucharistic presence of Christ is grounded in his kerygmatic presence. In both cases, Christ is really present by the agency of the Holy Spirit. Christ is near, says Calvin, “and exhibits himself to us, when the voice of the gospel cries aloud; and we do not need to seek far, or to make long circuits, as unbelievers do; for he exhibits himself [and by exhibits, he means nothing less than gives] to us in his word, that we, on our part, may draw near to him.”[84]

The main point to remember here is that in the same way that Christ is present in the eucharist, he is also present in the preached Word. What is received in the sacrament is the same thing that is received in the Word. And just as Calvin denies that the sacrament is a bare sign, so too, the preached Word is never void of the reality it proclaims. The Word is efficacious; it gives what it declares, and that is nothing less than Christ himself, the whole Christ, the living Christ and all his saving benefits with him. In the Word, we receive the same Christ that we receive in the sacraments. Robert Bruce expressed the point perfectly when he said,

[We] do not get a different or better Christ at the supper than we get in the preaching of the Word; but because the supper-sign is added to the Word preached by God’s grace and the Spirit’s ministry, we may get the same Christ better.[85]

Thomas J. Davis has set forth the thesis that just as Calvin’s doctrine of the real eucharistic presence of Christ has largely been unappreciated or even rejected by his successors, so too his doctrine of the real presence of Christ in preaching has been virtually forgotten.[86] This is certainly something worth considering for those of us who claim to be Calvin’s spiritual heirs.

Union and Communion with Christ through Preaching

The third topic with regard to Calvin’s homiletical legacy is union and communion with Christ through preaching. For Calvin, the believer’s union with Christ is established and nourished through the preaching of the Word. Calvin’s entire soteriology is based on the notion of faith-union with Christ that is effected by the work of the Holy Spirit through the ministry of the Word.[87]

Calvin underscores the importance of union with Christ in that famous passage from the Institutes, “As long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value for us.”[88] Calvin adds that this necessary union with Christ is brought about by “the secret energy of the Spirit, by which we come to enjoy Christ and all his benefits.” “The Holy Spirit,” he says, “is the bond by which Christ effectually unites us to himself.”[89]

Now, what does this have to do with preaching? The preaching of the Word is the instrument through which union with Christ is effected by the Spirit.[90] The gospel is not merely an invitation to fellowship with Christ; it is a vehicle by which Christ is communicated to us or, to put it another way, “the effective means by which communion with Christ is brought about.”[91] Calvin says,

We ought … to understand that preaching is an instrument for effecting the salvation of the faithful, and though it can do nothing without the Spirit of God, yet through his inward operation it produces the most powerful effects.[92]

Again, he writes, God has “ordained his Word as the instrument by which Jesus Christ, with all his graces, is dispensed to us.”[93]

The Holy Spirit establishes this union with Christ by working faith in the hearts of the elect. And for Calvin, there is a permanent relationship between faith and the Word; one could not separate them any more than one could separate the rays of the sun from the sun itself.[94] “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word” (Romans 10:17). Calvin says,

[T]his is a remarkable passage with regard to the efficacy of preaching, for he [declares that by preaching] faith is produced. He had indeed before declared, that of itself [preaching] is of no avail, but that when it pleases the Lord to work, it becomes the instrument of his power.[95]

Preaching is the mother, which conceives and brings forth faith.[96] Take away the preaching of the gospel, and no faith will remain.[97]

The closest thing we have from Calvin to a treatise on preaching is his “Summary of Doctrine Concerning the Ministry of the Word and the Sacraments.”[98] In this document, we find the clearest statement regarding union and communion with Christ through preaching.

The end of the whole Gospel ministry is that God … communicate Christ to us who are disunited by sin and hence ruined, that we may from him enjoy eternal life; that in a word all heavenly treasures be so applied to us that they be no less ours than Christ’s himself.

We believe this communication to be mystical, and incomprehensible to human reason, and Spiritual, since it is effected by the Holy Spirit [by whom] he joins us to Christ our Head, not in an imaginary way, but most powerfully and truly, so that we become flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone, and from his vivifying flesh he transfuses eternal life into us.

To effect this union, the Holy Spirit uses a double instrument, the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments.

When we say that the Holy Spirit uses an external minister as instrument, we mean this: both in the preaching of the Word and in the use of the sacraments, there are two ministers, who have distinct offices. The external minister administers the vocal word, and the sacred signs which are external, earthly and fallible. But the internal minister, who is the Holy Spirit, freely works internally, while by his secret virtue he effects in the hearts of whomsoever he will their union with Christ through one faith. This union is a thing internal, heavenly and indestructible.

In the preaching of the Word, the external minister holds forth the vocal word, and it is received by the ears. The internal minister, the Holy Spirit, truly communicates the thing proclaimed through the Word, that is Christ…. so that it is not necessary that Christ or for that matter his Word be received through the organs of the body, but the Holy Spirit effects this union by his secret virtue, by creating faith in us, by which he makes us living members of Christ, true God and true man.[99]

The Present Reign of Christ through Preaching

For Calvin, preaching is of the very essence of the kingdom of God; indeed, the kingdom “consisteth in the preaching of the gospel.”[100] Calvin goes so far as to call the pulpit “the throne of God” and the judgment seat of Christ from which he judges the world.[101]

As the exalted Son of David, our Lord Jesus exercises his royal dominion mediately, through the preaching of the Word. Calvin says Christ calls himself Lord and King of heaven and earth (Matthew 28:18) because when he draws men to obedience by the preaching of the Gospel, he is establishing the throne of his kingdom on earth.[102] Indeed, “Christ does not otherwise rule among us than by the doctrine of his gospel.”[103] He exercises and administers his kingly authority by his Word alone.[104]

Describing the messianic reign of the Son of David, Isaiah prophesied that Christ would strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips, he would kill the wicked (Isaiah 11:4). Calvin comments,

The Prophet here extols the efficacy of the word, which is Christ’s royal scepter…. The Prophet does not now send us to secret revelations, that Christ may reign in us, but openly recommends the outward preaching of doctrine, and shows that the gospel serves the purpose of a scepter in the hand of Christ, so far as it is preached, and so far as it is oral … otherwise it would have been to no purpose to mention the mouth and the lips. Hence it follows that all those who reject the outward preaching of the gospel shake off this scepter, as far as lies in their power, or pull it out of the hand of Christ…. Here we must again call to remembrance what is the nature of Christ’s kingdom. As he does not wear a golden crown or employ earthly armor, so he does not rule over the world by the power of arms, or gain authority by gaudy and ostentatious display, or constrain his people by terror and dread; but the doctrine of the gospel is his royal banner, which assembles believers under his dominion. Wherever, therefore, the doctrine of the Gospel is preached in purity, there we are certain that Christ reigns; and where it is rejected, his government is also set aside.[105]

Christ, therefore, has been appointed by the Father “not to rule after the manner of princes, by the force of arms … but his whole authority consists in doctrine, in the preaching of which he wishes to be sought and acknowledged; for nowhere else will he be found.”[106] “Whereas David ruled over his earthly kingdom by a golden scepter, Christ’s heavenly kingdom is presided over by the scepter of the preached gospel.”[107] It is through preaching, therefore, that Christ executes the office of a King; he advances his kingdom, subdues us to himself, rules, governs and defends us, restrains and conquers all his and our enemies and takes vengeance on all those who do not know God and obey the gospel.[108]

It is in this context that Calvin understands the power of the keys of the kingdom. The keys have a double function: to loose and to bind, to remit and to retain (Matthew 16:19, John 20:23).

But when it is a question of the keys, we must always beware lest we dream up some power separate from the preaching of the gospel …. [A]ny right of binding or loosing which Christ conferred upon his church is bound to the Word. This is especially true in the ministry of the keys, whose entire power rests in the fact that, through those whom the Lord had ordained, the grace of the gospel is publicly and privately sealed in the hearts of the believers. This can come about only through preaching.[109]

Thus, when Christ promised the apostles that they would be given the keys of the kingdom and would be able to bind and loose and to remit or retain sins, “he was referring to the effect their preaching of the Word of God was to have on its hearers.”[110]

The comparison of the keys is very properly applied to the office of [preaching, for] there is no other way in which the gate of life is opened to us than by the word of God; and hence it follows that the key is placed, as it were, in the hands of the ministers of the word …. [And] as there are many, who not only are guilty of wickedly rejecting the deliverance that is offered them, but by their obstinacy bring down on themselves a heavier judgment, the power and authority to bind is likewise granted to ministers of the Gospel.[111]

T. H. L. Parker sums up Calvin’s thought,

The “legate of Christ” is the preacher. The “mandate of reconciliation” is the Gospel. The absolution is declared by the preaching of the Gospel. He that believes receives forgiveness; he that refuses forgiveness has his sin still “retained” to him. Because the Gospel preached is God’s Word, this is the verdict of God himself from, so to say, his judgment seat the pulpit.[112]

It is also in this concept of the present reign of Christ through preaching that Calvin finds the motive for missions.[113] “The world is to be formed, so far as may be, into the kingdom of Christ,” through the proclamation of the gospel to the nations.[114]

When our Lord Jesus Christ appeared, he acquired possession of the whole world; and his kingdom was extended from one end of it to the other, especially with the proclamation of the Gospel …. God has consecrated the entire earth through the precious blood of his Son to the end that we may inhabit it and live under his reign.[115]

It was through the preaching of the Word by Jesus himself that the kingdom was inaugurated (Mark 1:14-15), and after his ascension, Jesus continues this ministry through the apostles as his Spirit-empowered agents. When the apostles asked the risen Christ, “Lord, is now the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel,” they misunderstood the true nature of the kingdom.[116] They were still thinking of an earthly, geo-political kingdom, confined ethnically to the Jews and geographically to Palestine. “They dream,” says Calvin, “of an earthly kingdom, which should flow with riches, with dainties, with external peace, and with such like good things ….”[117]

But, “the nature of the kingdom is of another sort than they judged it to have been.”[118] It is a Spiritual, heavenly kingdom; it is international in scope, encompassing all nations. And the means through which it is established and extended is the preaching of the gospel. Jesus tells the apostles that it is through their Spirit-empowered preaching that he will authoritatively exercise his rule as King and advance his kingdom throughout the world (Acts 1:8). Thus, “Christ reigns whenever he subdues the world to himself by the preaching of the gospel.”[119]

No set limits are allotted to them, but the whole earth is assigned to them to bring into obedience to Christ, in order that by spreading the gospel wherever they can among the nations, they may raise up his Kingdom everywhere.[120]

When Jesus “causes His Gospel to be preached in a country, it is as if He said, ‘I want to rule over you and be your King.'”[121] Even though the era of the apostles has ended, this worldwide effort to extend the kingdom of Christ through the preaching of the gospel continues. According to Calvin, the so-called great commission

was not spoken to the apostles alone; for the Lord promises his assistance not for a single age only, but even to the end of the world …. In like manner, experience clearly shows in the present day, that the operations of Christ are carried on wonderfully in a secret manner, so that the gospel surmounts innumerable obstacles.[122]

The ministry of the Word had transformed Geneva into “the most perfect school of Christ, which has been seen on earth since the days of the apostles,”[123] and Calvin longed to see the gospel have the same effect in other parts of the world. Although Calvin lived “before the era of self-conscious world evangelism,” Philip E. Hughes argues that Calvin may rightly be seen as a “Director of Missions.”[124] It is well known that in the generations following Calvin, the Reformed Church excelled in missions, and this may rightly be traced back to Calvin’s theology of preaching, particularly, his doctrine of the present reign of Christ through preaching.[125] This doctrine, therefore, is part of Calvin’s homiletical legacy.

Having examined Calvin’s theology of preaching under these headings (preaching as divine worship, the real kerygmatic presence of Christ, union and communion with Christ through preaching, and the present reign of Christ through preaching), it should not surprise us to hear Calvin speak so highly of the ministry of the Word. The preaching of the Word is so critical to Christianity that:

If the gospel be not preached, Jesus Christ is, as it were, [still] buried.[126]

If there be no preaching, the death and passion of our Lord Jesus Christ will come to nothing; the world will not know him to be the Redeemer of the world; it will avail us nothing at all, that he was delivered to death for us.[127]

Of what advantage would it be to us that the Son of God had suffered death and risen again the third day [if there be no preaching]?[128]

Near the end of his life, when his poor health prevented his free movement, Calvin asked to be carried to St Peter’s in a chair in order to carry out his ministerial duties.[129] On February 6, 1564, he preached his last sermon. After that, he held on “for some months, growing slowly weaker, until he died in the evening of May 27. ‘Behold as in an instant,’ mourned Beza, ‘how that very day the sun did set, and the great light that was in the world for the building of the Church of God, was taken into heaven.'”[130]

Calvin was truly, above all else, a servant of the Word of God.

[Calvin] saw himself to be the servant of the Word. God had called him to be such a servant, and he devoted all his energies to be faithful in that service …. John Calvin had such a strong sense of standing under the authority of Scripture that it kindled the devotion of a whole generation of preachers.[131]

And may God graciously grant his church a new generation of servants of the Word of God!


[1] David Wright and David Stay eds., Serving the Word of God: Celebrating the Life and Ministry of James Philip (Edinburgh: Rutherford House, 2000), 219.

[2] John Murray, Collected Writings of John Murray (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1982), 1:308.

[3] See Wulfert de Greef, The Writings of John Calvin, Expanded Edition: An Introductory Guide (Louisville; London: Westminster John Knox, 2008), 75-90.

[4] See Wulfert de Greef (2008), 90-93 and Wright and Stay (2000), 219.

[5] According to James H. Nichols, “This practice began in Zurich in 1525, and it was called prophesying …. A similar practice was followed … in à Lasco’s Church of the Strangers in London and in the English refugee congregation in Geneva.” See James H. Nichols, “The Intent of the Calvinistic Liturgy” in The Heritage of John Calvin, ed. John H. Bratt (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973), 92.

[6] See Wulfert de Greef, “Calvin’s Writings” in The Cambridge Companion to John Calvin, ed. Donald K. McKim (Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004) 45-46. Cf. Wulfert de Greef, (2008), 101-104.

[7] John Dillenberger, John Calvin, Selections from His Writings (Scholars Press, 1975), 14.

[8] This address was given at the 400th anniversary of the birth of Calvin at Saint Peter’s Cathedral in Geneva; “Calvin le Prédicateur de Genève,” Conférence faite dans la Cathédrale de Saint-Pierre, à Genève, par M. le Professeur E. Doumergue, Doyen de la Faculté de Théologie de Montauban (édition Atar, Corraterie, 12, Genève). I am indebted to the kind assistance of Mrs. Barbara Edgar for the English translation of this text. Je vous remercie pour votre aide, Madame Edgar!

[9] Doumergue (1909), 8-9.

[10] T. H. L. Parker, John Calvin (England: Lion Publishing, 1987), 114.

[11] Bernard Cottret, Calvin: A Biography (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 288.

[12] Ibid., 295.

[13] Thomas J. Davis, This is My Body: the Presence of Christ in Reformation Thought (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 94.

[14] For a brief survey of Mülhaupt’s work, see Lester Ronald De Koster, Living Themes in the Thought of John Calvin: A Biographical Study (Ph.D. Thesis, University of Michigan, 1964), 294-296.

[15] Wulfert de Greef in McKim (2004), 45.

[16] Max Engammare, “Des sermons de Calvin sur Esaïe découverts à Londres,” in Calvin et ses contemporains, ed. Olivier Millet (Geneva, 1998), 69-81; “Calvin Incognito in London: the Rediscovery in London of Sermons on Isaiah,” in Proceedings of the Huguenot Society, XXVI 4 [1996]: 453-62.

[17] For details see, Wulfert de Greef (2008), 93-100. Cf. Richard Stauffer, “Les sermons inédits de Calvin sur le livre de la Genèse,” in Revue de Théologie et de Philosophie, 3 ser., XV [1965]: 26-36; Lester De Koster (1964), 291ff.; and Bernard Gagnebin, “L’incroyable historie des sermons de Calvin,” in Bulletin de la Société d’Historie et d’Archéologie de Genève, 10/4 [1955]: 311-34.

[18] Davis (2008), 94.

[19] It should be pointed out that Calvin preached without manuscript or notes, with only a Hebrew or Greek Testament open in front of him. Wright and Stay (2000), 220. Calvin objected to the practice of “reading from a written discourse;” see his letter to Somerset, 22 October 1548, in Selected Works of John Calvin: Tracts and Letters, 7 vols., ed. Henry Beveridge and Jules Bonnet (repr. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983), 5:190.

[20] For details, see T. H. L. Parker, Calvin’s Preaching (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1992), 153ff.

[21] Hughes Oliphant Old, Worship: Reformed According to Scripture (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), 76.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Allan Menzies, A Study of Calvin: and Other Papers (London: Macmillan, 1918); cf. Lester De Koster, Light for the City: Calvin’s Preaching, Source of Life and Liberty (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 28.

[24] Lester De Koster (1964), 296.

[25] Ibid., 299.

[26] Doumergue (1909), 10-11.

[27] James H. Nichols in Bratt (1973), 89.

[28] T. H. L. Parker, The Oracles of God: An Introduction to the Preaching of John Calvin (London; Redhill: Lutterworth, 1947), 10.

[29] For more on this subject, see Hughes Oliphant Old, The Reading and the Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 3-31.

[30] Old, Worship (2002), 68.

[31] Wright and Stay (2000), 232.

[32] Parker (1947), 20.

[33] Old, Worship (2002), 71.

[34] Hughes Oliphant Old, The Reading and the Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church, vol. 4 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 46.

[35] Ibid., 43-46.

[36] Ibid., 46.

[37] Old, Worship (2002), 75.

[38] John L. Thompson, “Calvin as a Biblical Interpreter” in McKim (2004), 63.

[39] John Chrysostom, On the Priesthood, trans. W. R. W. Stephens, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 1st ser., vol. 9 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), 4.7 (emphasis added).

[40] Cf. John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Isaiah (vol. 1; Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005) 442 (Isa. 14:12).

[41] Old, Worship (2002), 75.

[42] From Calvin’s sermon on 2 Timothy 3:16, citied in LeRoy Nixon, John Calvin: Expository Preacher (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1950), 52.

[43] John Calvin, Commentary upon the Acts of the Apostles, vol. 2, trans. Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005), 251 (see Acts 20:26). Unless otherwise noted, all quotations from Calvin’s commentaries are taken from this series.

[44] Cited in Parker (1947), 34.

[45] Hughes Oliphant Old, “Preaching as Worship in the Pulpit of John Calvin” (Paper given at Calvin500 in Geneva, Switzerland, July, 2009), 29. Cf. Old, Preaching (2002), 132ff.

[46] Ibid., 2.

[47] Ibid., 12.

[48] Ibid., 17.

[49] Old, Preaching (2002), 76.

[50] Sinclair Ferguson, “Preaching to the Heart,” in Feed My Sheep: A Passionate Plea for Preaching, ed. Don Kistler (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 2002), 197.

[51] Ibid.

[52] For more on the subject, see Hughes Old’s Calvin 500 Paper, “Preaching as Worship in the Pulpit of John Calvin,” (July, 2009).

[53] Cited in John H. Leith, “Calvin’s Doctrine of the Proclamation of the Word and Its Significance for Today in the Light of Recent Research,” in John Calvin and the Church: A Prism of Reform, ed. Timothy George (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1990), 211.

[54] John Calvin, Sermons on the Saving Work of Christ, trans. LeRoy Nixon (Grand Rapids, Baker Book House, 1980), 14 (sermon on 1 John 1:1-5).

[55] Cf. B. A. Gerrish, “John Calvin and the Reformed Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper,” McCormick Quarterly 22 [1969]: 92.

[56] Cf. Dawn DeVries, Jesus Christ in the Preaching of Calvin and Schleiermacher (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1996), 17.

[57] Jean Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2006), 3.2.6.

[58] Calvin, Commentary on Isaiah 55:11.

[59] Jean Calvin, Sermons on the Epistles to Timothy and Titus (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1983) 269. Quotations from this work are given in modern English.

[60] Parker (1992), 41.

[61] Mark Beach, “The Real Presence of Christ in the Preaching of the Gospel: Luther and Calvin on the Nature of Preaching,” Mid-America Journal of Theology 10 [1999]: 125.

[62] Ibid., 126.

[63] Parker (1947), 50.

[64] Parker (1992), 23.

[65] Ibid.

[66] Institutes, 4.8.9.

[67] See Ford Lewis Battles, “God was Accommodating Himself to Human Capacity,” Interpretation 31 [1977]: 38.

[68] Ronald S. Wallace, Calvin’s Doctrine of the Word and Sacrament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957), 84.

[69] Ibid., 26. Cf. Commentary on Haggai 1:12.

[70] Calvin, Commentary on Genesis 32:30.

[71] See Wallace (1957) 24ff.; cf. Davis (2008), 118ff.

[72] Calvin, Commentary on 1 Corinthians 13:12.

[73] Cited in Parker (1947), 55.

[74] Institutes, 4.14.8.

[75] “Whether the outcome be life or death, [the Word] is never preached in vain;” Calvin, Commentary on 2 Corinthians 2:15; cf. his comments on Isaiah 6:10, 34:16, 55:11 and Hebrews 4:12.

[76] Calvin, Commentary on Hebrews 4:12.

[77] Cited in Parker (1992), 28.

[78] Calvin, Commentary on 1 Corinthians 3:9; cf. Commentary on Malachi 4:6 and Institutes, 4.1.6.

[79] John Leith in George (1990), 211-212.

[80] Institutes, 4.14.3.

[81] Calvin, Commentary on Ezekiel 2:3.

[82] Institutes, 4.14.17.

[83] Old, Preaching (2002), 133.

[84] Calvin, Commentary on Isaiah 55:6.

[85] Wright and Stay (2000), 216.

[86] See Thomas J. Davis, “Preaching and Presence: Constructing Calvin’s Homiletical Legacy,” in The Legacy of John Calvin, ed. David Foxgrover (Grand Rapids: Calvin Studies Society, 2000). Cf. Randall Zachman’s response in the same work.

[87] Cf. DeVries (1996), 9.

[88] Institutes, 3.1.1.

[89] Ibid.

[90] Cf. B. A. Gerrish, Grace and Gratitude: the Eucharistic Theology of John Calvin (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 76ff.

[91] Ibid., 84.

[92] Calvin, Commentary on Romans 11:14.

[93] Jean Calvin, “Short Treatise on the Holy Supper of Our Lord Jesus Christ,” in Tracts and Treatises on the Reformation of the Church, ed. Thomas F. Torrance (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1958), 2:165-166.

[94] Institutes, 3.2.6.

[95] Calvin, Commentary on Romans 10:17.

[96] Calvin, Commentary on 2 Corinthians 13:5.

[97] Calvin, Commentary on Acts 16:31.

[98] Jean Calvin, Theological Treatises, ed. J.K.S. Reid (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2006), 170-77. Despite the questions concerning the authenticity of this document, there are several good reasons for attributing it to Calvin as does Beza; see Reid’s introduction, Ibid., 170.

[99] Citations are from Ibid., 171-173.

[100] Calvin, Commentary on Acts 1:8. On the relationship between the reign of Christ and preaching, see Wallace (1957), 85ff. Cf. Lester De Koster’s remark, “Calvin aptly profiles how the ruling Lord exercises his authority: the pulpit as Throne of the Christ in the midst of his City!” in Lester De Koster (2004), 19.

[101] Cited in Parker (1992), 26; see Calvin, Commentary on John 16:8.

[102] Calvin, Commentary on Matthew 28:18.

[103] Calvin, Commentary on Micah 4:2. Cf. his Commentary on Psalms 96:10.

[104] Institutes, 4.3.1.

[105] Calvin, Commentary on Isaiah 11:4.

[106] Ibid., 49:2. Cf. his Commentary on Hosea 1:11.

[107] Ronald S. Wallace, Calvin, Geneva and the Reformation (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1998), 132.

[108] Larger Catechism 45.

[109] Institutes, 3.4.14.

[110] Wallace (1998), 132-33.

[111] Calvin, Commentary on Matthew 16:19.

[112] Parker (1992), 43.

[113] For Calvin’s view of missions, see the overview and bibliography in Lester De Koster (1964), 365ff. See also Philip E. Hughes, “John Calvin: Director of Missions,” and R. Pierce Beaver, “The Genevan Mission to Brazil,” in Bratt (1973), 40-73.

[114] Lester De Koster (1964), 366.

[115] From sermon no. 45 on Deuteronomy, cited in William J. Bouwsma, John Calvin: A Sixteenth Century Portrait (New York; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), 192.

[116] “There are as many errors in this question as words,” says Calvin; Commentary on Acts 1:6.

[117] Ibid.

[118] Ibid., 1:8.

[119] Calvin on Acts 1:8 as cited in Wallace (1957), 86.

[120] Institutes, 4.3.4.

[121] Calvin’s sermon on Acts 1:1-4 as cited in Wallace (1957), 87.

[122] Calvin, Commentary on Matthew 28:20.

[123] This was how John Knox described Geneva; cited in Bratt (1973), 44.

[124] Ibid., 40-54. Hughes notes that in 1556, missionaries were sent from Geneva to Brazil, and although this missionary project was unsuccessful, it testifies “strikingly to the far-reaching vision Calvin and his colleagues in Geneva had of their missionary task,” Ibid., 48.

[125] See Henry H. Meeter, “Why Calvinism Excels in Missions,” in Banner LXXVI [February 7, 1941]: 127ff.

[126] Jean Calvin, The Mystery of Godliness: And Other Selected Sermons (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1950), 99.

[127] Calvin, Sermons on Timothy and Titus, 951.

[128] Ibid., sermon on 2 Timothy 1:9-10.

[129] Theodore Beza, The Life of John Calvin (England: Evangelical Press, 1997) 101. Cf. Charles Washington Baird’s romanticized account of Calvin’s last communion service in Eutaxia: Or, the Presbyterian Liturgies (New York: M. W. Dodd Publisher, 1855), 43ff.

[130] Parker (1947) 44. Beza (1997), 118.

[131] Old, Preaching (2002), 131.

This lecture was originally given at the pre-Assembly conference (held in honor of John Calvin’s 500th anniversary) of the Seventy-sixth General Assembly in 2009. It was first published in Ordained Servant.


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