The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

“Sermons on the Acts of the Apostles (Chapters 1-7)”

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Sermons on the Acts of the Apostles (Chapters 1-7) by John Calvin, trans. Rob Roy McGregor

Banner of Truth, 2008 (688pp, hbk)

john-calvin-4In the midst of the proliferation of material related to Calvin being published around the quincentenary you will find scattered a few gems of original Calvin.  One such is this collection of John Calvin’s sermons on the opening chapters of the Acts of the Apostles.  It is sadly incomplete, not only in the sense that we can proceed no further than chapter 7, but also insofar as one or two of the sermons in the series are also missing.  This does not impede the reader so much as it disappoints him.

The translation – at least from the perspective of a reader only in the English – seems rich, even ripe.  The bite and drive of Calvin’s simple vocabulary, plain delivery, and sometimes sarcastic humour are all well communicated.  No hearer of these sermons – and no reader either – is left in any doubt as to what the Word of God says and more, what it means, and further, what it means to and for me right here, right now.  Faithfulness to the text marks each sermon.  Some verses lend themselves to object lessons in particular doctrines or issues, but without disrupting the even flow of regular exposition.  While at points Calvin shows himself a man of his times, one rarely gets the sense that he is forcing anything upon the text.  The reader is stunned (or, at least, this reader was) by the occasional insight into a particular verse that stops him in his tracks and makes him ponder the truth, and where it takes him.

The organisation of the material is also fascinating.  Calvin is not without order and system in his individual sermons, but they are not usually structured in the obvious way we often see in, say, Spurgeon.  There is rather a natural progression in line with the text, with series of points attaching to a particular issue raised rather than framing the whole.

Sermons on the Acts of the Apostles (Calvin)While there are some typical emphases – the accurately low view of man’s heart, the importance of the church, the demand for consistent holiness of life, the demand for faith, the role of the Spirit, the centrality of Christ – the ignorant or prejudiced reader may be surprised at the breadth of Calvin’s reach.  This is the advantage of being governed by the text.  The preacher does not generally come across as riding particular hobby-horses, although – as one would expect – the Roman Catholic communion presents a ready and often-struck target (interestingly, yoked more often that you might anticipate with Islam, as representative of gross spiritual dangers).  Reading Calvin’s pulpit addresses gives one a sense of what Calvin’s ‘Calvinism’ really sounded and looked like, what it looked for and demanded, what it pointed to and exalted.  That is not to deny that a coherent, Scriptural system lies behind the whole, but rather to highlight the range and tone of this attempt to bring into being a full-orbed Biblical Christianity.

There are lessons here for Christians as Christians, in what it means to live in a fallen world.  There are lessons for preachers as preachers: lessons in a natural and easy style, in a close and pointed application of the truth, in the manifestation of one’s own humanity in preaching, and in how to close a sermon with a prayer that captures the nuggets of gold panned in the course of one’s exposition.

In short, this collection will leave you ready for more.  It will leave you regretting the sermons that are missing, and the fact that we have nothing beyond chapter seven.  It might, and should, whet the readers appetite for more of Calvin, and those who – like him – are governed by their Bibles in both the arc and the detail of exposition, seeking after Christ and seeking to make him known in the minds, hearts and lives of those whom they serve.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 21 August 2009 at 12:36

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