Calvin the Preacher

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Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
"Calvin’s purpose in preaching was to present the message of the text in a simple and straightforward manner and then to apply the text to the lives of his hearers. 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. This does not mean that Calvin was unaware of rhetoric. He was a master of it! He knew Aristotle (384 B.C– 322 B.C.), Cicero (106 B.C.– 43 B.C.), and Quintilian (ca. 35– 96) well. He had carefully schooled himself in John Chrysostom and Augustine, both accomplished in the art of rhetoric. As is often said of very great artists, he had mastered his art so completely he knew how to hide it. Calvin was well aware of all the classical rhetorical forms."

Old, Hughes Oliphant (2002-07-30). Worship, Revised and Expanded Edition: Reformed according to Scripture (p. 76). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.

Ask Mr. Religion

Flatly Unflappable
From Steven R. Lawson's chapter in the book cited below:

Calvin preached from the New Testament on Sunday mornings, from the New Testament or the Psalms on Sunday afternoons, and from the Old Testament every morning of the week, every other week. In this consecutive fashion, Calvin preached through most of the books of the Scriptures. These expositions were protracted series, often lasting more than a year.

During his Genevan pastorate, Calvin preached through the following Old Testament books: Genesis (123 sermons), Deuteronomy (201), judges (a short series), 1 Samuel (107), 2 Samuel (87), 1 Kings (various sermons), job (159), individual psalms (72), Psalm 119 (22), Isaiah (353), Jeremiah (91), Lamentations (25), Ezekiel (175), Daniel (47), Hosea (65), Joel (17), Amos (43), Obadiah (5), Jonah (6), Micah (28), Nahum (not recorded), and Zephaniah (17). For the most part, these Old Testament sermons were preached at 6 in the morning (7 during the winter months) each weekday, every other week, at St. Peter's Church.

In addition, Calvin preached through much of the New Testament, expounding its fullness and richness. During his ministry at Strasbourg, Calvin preached through the Gospel of John and Romans. In Geneva, he preached on a harmony of the Gospels (65 sermons, concluding when he died), Acts (189), 1 Corinthians (110), 2 Corinthians (66), Galatians (43), Ephesians (48), 1 and 2 Thessalonians (46), 1 Timothy (55), 2 Timothy (31), and Titus (17). This kind of exposition gave breadth to Calvin's preaching. No doctrine was left untaught, no sin unexposed, no promise undelivered.

Calvin's preaching was direct in its message. When expounding Scripture, Calvin was remarkably straightforward and to the point. He did not launch his message with a captivating story, a compelling quote, or a personal anecdote. Instead, Calvin immediately drew his listeners into the biblical text. The focus of the message was always Scripture, and he spoke what needed to be said with an economy of words. There were no wasted statements. Theodore Beza writes, "Every word weighed a pound.""

For the most part, Calvin began each message by reviewing his previous sermon. He then established the context of his passage, introducing the congregation to the thinking of the biblical author and the original recipients. Calvin next showed how the particular text fit into the building argument of the entire book. After disclosing his stated proposition for the sermon, Calvin proceeded directly to his text, expounding it phrase by phrase. Parker writes, "Clause by clause, verse by verse, the congregation was led through the epistle or the prophecy or the narrative."

Calvin's preaching was extemporaneous in its delivery. When Calvin stepped into his pulpit, he did not bring with him a written manuscript or any sermon notes. The Reformer made a conscious choice to preach extempore, that is, spontaneously. He wanted his sermons to have a natural and passionate delivery that was energetic and engaging, and he believed spontaneous preaching was best suited to achieve those ends.

The Reformer once said, "It appears to me that there is very little preaching of a lively kind in the Kingdom; but that the greater part deliver it byway of reading from a written discourse." Therefore, relying on the Holy Spirit, he stood before the people with only an open Bible. He preached from a Hebrew Bible when expounding the Old Testament and from a Greek Bible when preaching the New Testament. For his exposition, he drew on his thorough study of the passage and relied on his rigorous preparation for his other ministry assignments, especially his classroom lecturing and commentary writing. The sermon came together as he preached.

Various Contributors. John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, Doxology Kindle Edition


Puritan Board Doctor
To put it simply: Calvin took himself out of the way so that the Holy Spirit could speak to the hearts of his hearers through the text.


Puritan Board Sophomore
Quote: from Steven R Lawson's Article.
For the most part, these Old Testament sermons were preached at 6 in the morning
(7 during the winter months) each weekday, every other week, at St. Peter's Church.

Can you imagine trying this out, in our 10 minute attention span society.

Ask Mr. Religion

Flatly Unflappable
I often wonder why the providence of God has not raised up men like this in our time. I like to winsomely speculate that following the old paths are behind this fact.
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