As He Spoke from the Pulpit

John Calvin’s sermons on Ephesians are a wonderful text. In the introduction to the Banner of Truth Trust’s edition of these sermons, the editors note that as we think about Calvin’s writings, we have his sermons, his commentaries, and his Institutes of the Christian Religion, but: “In these pages, we hear Calvin. Not as we do in his Institutes, which were so carefully written and reworked, nor as in his Commentaries, which he also revised, but we hear him just as he spoke from the pulpit of St. Peter’s.”

Calvin began his series on Ephesians on May 1, 1558. He preached forty-eight sermons, finishing in March 1559. When Calvin started preaching this series, he was forty-eight years old. He was beginning to enter into a period of his life where he would have significant health issues, including pain would rack his body until his death. It was also during this series that, at one point, Calvin was preaching so strenuously that he burst a blood vessel.

When Calvin preached, he used no notes, he had no manuscript, and he did not have any mechanisms set up to have those sermons recorded. About a decade before he started preaching this series, a group of French refugees in Geneva started recording Calvin’s sermons. There would be a number of them sitting there taking notes. At one point, they realized that they needed more than one note taker because at times they would get caught up in the warmth of the sermon. Thanks to those French refugees, we now have a taste of what it would have been like to hear Calvin preach.

Let’s look at a few lines from his sermon on Ephesians 1:3–4. Calvin says, “For we know that our wisdom ought always to begin with humility and this humility imports that we must not come weighing God’s judgments in our own balance or take it upon ourselves to be judges and arbiters of them.” Why is Calvin telling us that we have to be humble and that we have to recognize that we don’t weigh God’s judgments, we submit to them? It’s because he is going to talk about, in this sermon, the doctrine of predestination. And when he introduces the doctrine of predestination, Calvin says this: “There are two more reasons,” on top of those he had already given, “as to why this doctrine must, of necessity be preached. The one is the magnifying of God as He deserves. A doctrine of salvation that starts and ends and has, everywhere in the middle, God is the only doctrine that is going to give the glory worthy to God. This doctrine of predestination is one of magnifying of God that He deserves. And the other is the assurance of our salvation. If salvation is by God and from God then we are kept by God.”

And so, Calvin in these sermons on Ephesians is treating doctrinal subjects, but he is treating them in such a way as to serve the people of God. And that’s Calvin on Ephesians just as he spoke from the pulpit.

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