John Calvin is known historically for his theological beliefs and teachings. As the Church continues to move forward, Calvin is still found in the middle of conversations and is still being written about, although he was born over five hundred years ago. Most of these discussions and writings have to do with Calvin’s biblical understanding of soteriology. A branch of theology dealing with soteriology has been named after Calvin, and although Calvinism is comprised of many other doctrines dealing with much more than soteriology, soteriology is certainly the most discussed doctrine of Calvinism. Today, Calvinism is embraced by many, while others find this theology to be absurd and unbiblical. While Calvin was a theologian, his study of God was born out of a passion and understanding of his calling to preach the Word of God. Herman Selderhuis writes of Calvin:
Calvin took his task as a preacher seriously. He saw the preacher as God’s ambassador to the church. Calvin thought that when he spoke as a preacher, it was God himself who spoke. This also meant that Calvin would have to account for every word he uttered. It was for this reason that Calvin could not ascend the pulpit without careful consideration, because he thought of it as ”the throne of God, and from that throne he wants to govern our souls.” The presence of the pulpit meant that at church the congregation would come face to face with God’s judgment seat, where guilt must be confessed and where forgiveness would be obtained….For the preacher it meant speaking only after listening respectfully to his Taskmaster….”For God there is nothing higher than the preaching of the gospel…because it is the means to lead people to salvation.”
Preaching was taken seriously by Calvin, and as one who understood the supremacy of God and his sovereignty over all of His creation, Calvin understood that his preaching, apart from God, was powerless. He understood that his power was found in preaching the Holy Scriptures. Calvin writes, ”For Scripture is the school of the Holy Spirit, in which as nothing useful and necessary to be known has been omitted, so nothing is taught but what is of importance to know.” Calvin understood that for him to preach anything other than Scripture would be useless, because Scripture is the source through which the Holy Spirit works powerfully.
As a Southern Baptist, I know that Calvin(ism) is very much a debate within our convention, as a poll taken in 2012 showed that sixty percent of Southern Baptist Convention churches have concern that Calvinism will negatively affect the churches within the convention. Because Calvinism doctrinally proclaims that God’s election of man unto salvation is unconditional, many pastors and lay people believe that Calvinism will lead to a church that is static, as a result of the church believing God will save people through unconditional election, even if the church does nothing in regards to evangelism. Some within the Church believe this idea leads to a people who are not fervent evangelists; however, Calvin understood that Christ’s atoning work was absolutely necessary for the work of salvation, and unless Christ is preached, people will not be saved. He writes:
All that we have hitherto said of Christ leads to this one result, that condemned, dead, and lost in ourselves, we must in him seek righteousness, deliverance, life and salvation, as we are taught by the celebrated words of Peter, ”Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved,” (Acts 4:12). The name of Jesus was not given him at random, or fortuitously, or by the will of man, but was brought from heaven by an angel, as the herald of the supreme decree; the reason also being added, ”for he shall save his people from their sins,” (Matt. 1:21).
Calvin believed that Jesus was the absolute only way to be saved from the condemnation that people deserved as a result of an inherent sinful nature, and as a preacher, Calvin faithfully preached Jesus and a person’s deep spiritual need for Jesus in all of his sermons, although many in the Church-throughout history-would claim that there was nothing evangelistic about Calvin. Calvin was a faithful preacher of God’s word, who heralded Jesus as the only way to salvation, pleading with people to repent and believe in the goodness of His saving power. There is much to learn from Calvin’s sermons and his preaching, even if one does not find himself agreeing with absolutely everything Calvin taught. The purpose of this article is to examine Calvin’s preaching to understand how he faithfully proclaimed the word of God, pointing to Christ in his messages, and to produce principles that preachers in this modern world can learn from Calvin and his high value placed upon the supremacy and centrality of the Bible and Christ in his preaching.
John Calvin-actually Jean Cauvin-was born July 10, 1509. He lived in a small town in Picardy in northern France–Noyon. His father, after moving to Noyon, became a successful lawyer, and he also oversaw the financial affairs of the church. Calvin was born to a family of faith and was raised in what would be described today as a ”Christian home.” Calvin’s father, however, was excommunicated from the church in 1528, when the clergy accused him of ”underhanded dealings in connection with the estate of two priests.” Through verbal and physical abuse of his colleagues, Calvin’s brother, Charles, too, was excommunicated from the church. To say this families’ relationship with the cathedral in Noyon was somewhat troublesome is a true statement. Calvin, like his father and brothers, was strong-minded and stubborn, which led to problematic relationships, and Calvin was highly influenced by his father and brothers, because his mother passed away when Calvin was only six years old.
Because of his father’s relationship with the church, Calvin was instructed by his father to not pursue theology in his education and work, but to instead pursue a career of law. Calvin, being obedient to his father, pursued law by attending the University of Orleans-a renowned center for legal studies, where a program in civil law was also available-in 1528. However, Calvin had a deep desire to study theology, so after his father passed in 1531, Calvin returned to Paris, where he attended the College Royal to study theology. Selderhuis writes:
Calvin was surrounded there by scholars who wanted to work, learn, and teach from the original sources, including the Bible, which was exactly in line with his own interests. He received instruction in Hebrew, although it is not known from whom. Calvin had an interest in this language but would never become an expert in it, even if his knowledge did suffice to allow him to read from the Old Testament.
Calvin was a committed scholar of the word of God, and his study of the Scriptures led to something powerful happening in his life. Selderhuis continues:
Nevertheless, while there he became so absorbed in the Bible that his biographer Colladon reports that he began to preach from it in the areas surrounding Orleans and Bourges during an extended stay there in 1532 and 1533….As an official clergyman he had the right to preach, of course, but it is strange that this chaplain, who had never previously made much of his ecclesiastical work and instead had intended to become a jurist, had now become an evangelist. What happened to Calvin?
Here it is understood that Calvin believed and understood the conversion of souls to take place through the heard preaching of God’s word. There is no evidence of Calvin withholding the gospel from people and believing that God will do the work of salvation on His own; instead, Calvin believes Romans 10:14 in which Paul writes, ”…And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?”
The origin of Calvin’s life as a Reformer is believed to have begun around late 1533 or early 1534. Calvin writes of this conversion to reformed theology:
God, by a sudden conversion subdued and brought my mind to a teachable frame. . . . Having thus received some taste and knowledge of true godliness, I was immediately inflamed with intense desire to make progress.
McGrath calls Calvin’s formative years an enigma as there is not much information historically regarding Calvin during this time. While there are many writings of Calvin from his formative years, there is not much within history that allows us today to truly understand who Calvin was personally. McGrath writes of Calvin:
He considered that, despite his personal worthlessness, God had called him, changed the course of his life, directed him to Geneva, and conferred upon him the office of pastor and preacher of the gospel. Whatever authority Calvin possessed he understood to derive from God rather than his own innate talents and abilities. He was but an instrument in the hand of God. It must be stressed that Calvin shares the common Reformation emphasis, given expression in the Lutheran doctrine of justification by faith and the Reformed doctrine of election without reference to forseen merit (ante praevisa merita), on the sinfulness and worthlessness of fallen humanity. That God should choose Calvin was an expression of God’s mercy and generosity, rather than of any merit or personal qualities that Calvin might possess. To suggest that his sense of divine calling reflects his personal arrogance indicates a singular lack of familiarity with the spirituality of the Reformation.
Calvin was a private man; however, he stood firmly on his convictions of Scripture, and he proved to be stubborn and unmovable when dealing with his understanding of Scripture. Some understand this as arrogant and close-minded, while others find this to be admirable and convictional. Calvin was willing to suffer discriminatory opinions of people for the sake of his convictions, because he was convinced and convicted by his understanding of the truths of Scripture.
Even in his sickness and into the final days of his life, Calvin continued to preach faithfully the gospel of Jesus, even if he had to be carried into the church on his bed. In his final days, Calvin sought, even in his sickness, to continue his duties as a pastor, even having formal meetings with church and city officials. On May 27, 1564, Calvin breathed his final breath and entered into the presence of His Savior, Jesus.
During most of his ministry, Calvin pastored and preached in Geneva, although this was not his own personal desire; instead, he believed that his being in Geneva was the providence of God. Upon leaving France to head to Strasbourg in 1536 for what Calvin hoped would be a tranquil life, God intervened as Calvin made a stop in Geneva. He writes:
Farel, who burned with an extraordinary zeal to advance the gospel, immediately learned that my heart was set upon devoting myself to private studies, for which I wished to keep myself free from other pursuits, and finding that he gained nothing by entreaties, he proceeded to utter an imprecation that God would curse my retirement, and the tranquility of the studies which I sought, if I should withdraw and refuse to give assistance, when the necessity was so urgent. By this imprecation I was so stricken with terror, that I desisted from the journey which I had undertaken.
Calvin had his own desires for his life; however, God had different desires for Calvin’s life, and by His grace, Calvin spent most of his years pastoring and preaching in the city of Geneva, with the exception of a few years.
Along with being a preacher and pastor, Calvin was certainly a theologian, who loved to study Scripture and to write intellectually his understandings of theology, and it was in 1536 that he wrote his first edition of the Institutes of Christian Religion, which was completed in its entirety in 1559. Along with being a predominant preacher and leader in history, Calvin certainly was a predominant theologian, as the Institutes are still being used today by students of the Scripture. Although God certainly called Calvin to pastor, even though he desired nothing more than to be a student and writer, one might believe that the providence of God provided time for Calvin to write the Institutes and other valuable resources that continued to be used today in order to edify the Church. Calvin’s life was never a life of glamour; however, it was a life of obedience to God, and even in his sinfulness, Calvin sought to serve God faithfully in his life and ministry.
Cultural Factors: Geneva
Before Calvin began pastoring in Geneva, the city could be categorized as an episcopal city in decline. McGrath writes of Geneva:
Its prosperity was largely due to four annual international trade fairs, dating back to 1262, which took place at Epiphany, Easter, Petertide, and All Saints’ Day. These attracted considerable numbers of merchants from the Rhine and Danube valleys, from northern Italy, Burgundy and the Swiss Confederacy….The affairs of the pre-Reformation city were governed by the neighbouring duchy of Savoy. This domination can be traced back to the thirteenth century, when the bishop of Geneva granted the house of Savoy the office of vidomme in 1265, giving Savoy the right to select the individual responsible for maintaining civil and criminal justice for laymen within the city.
Savoy had taken over Geneva, and this greatly affected the city and all that was within the city, including the church. McGrath writes, ”The bishop of Geneva was virtually a Savoyard puppet, with no obvious religious abilities required of him.”
It was in 1519 that Geneva began developing a relationship with the Swiss, by entering into an alliance with Fribourg, which was done without Savoyard authorities’ knowledge. It was in the 1520s that Zwingli’s Reformed theology began to affect the Swiss, and this played a pivotal role in the life of Geneva, through political connections with the Swiss.  McGrath writes:
Events began to move apace in Geneva during 1532. German merchants visiting the city brought with them Lutheran publications, which found a ready market there. Lutheran placards began to be circulated in local churches. The Reformed theologian Guillaume Farel arrived, with a Bernese safe-conduct pass, and began to propagate evangelical views within the city. His preaching met with considerable success. Fribourg protested over the growing influence of evangelicalism within the city, and threatened to terminate its alliance with Geneva unless its growth was checked. On 10 April 1533 Garin Muete publicly celebrated service of holy communion according to the Reformed rite of Farel….Religious riots broke out within Geneva that May, further alarming Fribourg….In the middle of this growing crisis, Farel and Viret, both living under Bernese protection, brought increasing pressure on the city council to adopt the Reformation in its totality, rather than in a partial and piecemeal manner. The council yielded slightly; in the early summer of 1535, they announced the abolition of the catholic mass. The bishop of Geneva retaliated on 22 August by excommunicating the entire population of the city.
There was a great struggle between the Catholic Church and the Reformers. It is understood, based upon the accounts of McGrath, that the Catholic Church was so angered by what was taking place in the city of Geneva that they excommunicated the entire city. That thought seems absolutely absurd; however, after the excommunication of everyone in the city, all Catholic clergy left town in order to seek safety. After the clergy left town, the Reformers took over the church properties and dismantled them, and they even created their own money upon which the slogan, ”after the shadows, light,” was stamped. When Calvin arrived in Geneva in 1536, Geneva was committed to Reformed theology, in which they declared the desire to live the law of the Gospel and the word of God.
While Calvin accepted the offer from Farel as an understanding of God calling him to stay in Geneva, his start in Geneva was a struggle, as pastors not only preached and pastored the church, but they also led and participated in local politics. McGrath writes:
Initially, Calvin appeared ill suited to some of the challenges confronting the evangelical movement in Geneva. Withdrawn in personality and intellectual in inclination, he gave little indication of being of potential value in the cut-and-thrust world of Genevan politics of the 1530s. He totally lacked pastoral experience, and was virtually innocent of the realities of the urban political and economic life….His initial responsibilities at Geneva suited his temperament very well: he was not required to exercise any pastoral ministry, nor to liaise with the city council, nor even preach; his obligation was simply to act as a teacher, or a public lecturer on the Bible.
Calvin’s role in Geneva began almost as to what would be described today as an associate pastor role; however, this quickly changed as he was invited by Farel and Viret to present the case for reform to the Bernese city council. McGrath then explains the difficulty that Calvin and his contemporaries faced in this day:
At this point, it is necessary to stress that the evangelical ministers of Geneva in 1536 were little more than civil servants (indeed, it is highly likely Calvin was never ‘ordained’ in any ecclesiastical sense of the term; he was probably simply licensed as a pastor by the city council.) Unlike their catholic predecessors, they were devoid of power and wealth within the city; indeed, they were not even citizens of Geneva, with access to decision-making bodies. After the Reformation, the Genevan ministers were generally French émigrés, rather than local Genevans-a situation which gave rise to some tension within the city….It is true that after the second revolution of 1555, the evangelical ministers of Geneva assumed a commanding position in the domestic and international affairs of the republic of Geneva; not a hint of these future roles and status, however, is evident in the final six months of 1536. Calvin was little more than a minor civil servant, living in the city under sufferance. It was the city council-not Calvin, Farel, or Viret-who controlled the religious affairs of the new republic.
To be a pastor and to have the church governed by the government is a struggle that American pastors do not understand. Living and trying to pastor in this environment is almost impossible, unless the government is committed to a Theocracy, and history has proven that this is rarely the case. In Calvin’s pastoring within Geneva, this was not the case, and the struggle between the church and the government ultimately caused Calvin to be exiled from Geneva in 1538 for three years. These three years proved to be formative years for Calvin as he spent much time studying, writing, and seeking to discern God’s call in his life. McGrath writes of Calvin:
On 13 September of that same year , Calvin re-entered Geneva. The inexperienced and impetous young man who had left in 1538 was now replaced by an experienced and skillful ecclesiastical organizer, alert to the ways of the world. The second Genevan period would eventually see a decisive shift in the balance of power within the city in his favour.
As Calvin continued in Geneva, McGrath argues that it is Calvin’s ecclesiastical organization that truly caused him to succeed and ultimately for Calvinism to survive for so many years. Calvin sought to use the church as a method of change for Geneva. Calvin’s goal was for the church to change Geneva and govern Geneva, which is the inverse of what was taking place. Selderhuis writes, ”Calvin’s motto, ‘Improve the world, begin with Geneva,’ largely coincided with what the city wanted for itself. Those who had no desire to place themselves under this yoke with Calvin were free to build their own city elsewhere.” Through reform Calvin sought to change Geneva for the sake of the Gospel, and through the study of his sermons, it will be understood how he used preaching as the catalyst to create this change within Geneva. The power of this preaching was centralized on Jesus Christ.
John Calvin was a preacher of the word of God. After reading many of Calvin’s sermons, it is obvious that he was committed to proclaiming the word of God with the intention of saving people from Hell and leading believers to become more committed, God-honoring children of the Heavenly Father.
In studying Calvin’s sermons, it is obvious that his preaching language is much different than his writing language, which is found in his great works such as the Institutes. The language he used for his preaching would certainly be categorized as a spoken or aural language, instead of a written language, and this is a great characteristic of Calvin’s preaching. While his writing was a bit more complex in structure, his preaching is easy to understand, and I believe his intention was for the Gospel to be understood by every single person who was sitting under his preaching at that moment.
While his language was structurally spoken in nature and easy to understand, his content was no less in his preaching than in his writing. The depth-consciously teaching the richness and completeness of the Scripture-was present in every sermon studied of Calvin. In preaching on Titus 1:15-16, Calvin sets forth the idea that all people are unclean, and if one looks throughout the Old Testament, even if something is holy and is touched by a person, who is unclean, it then becomes unclean, and he likens this to worship within the New Covenant. People can worship externally or physically-perform all of the correct rituals; however, if a person’s heart is far from God, as Isaiah writes in chapter 29 of his book, his or her worship is an abomination before God, because he or she has taken what is pure and perfect and caused it to become unclean because his or her heart was unclean before God. This passage has been preached many times and too many preachers’ focus have been solely on the focus of Old Testament law, and while it is discussing Old Testament law, there are new implications and understandings to be understood by those of us who now live in the New Covenant. Calvin was committed to preaching with depth and clarity the word of God.
It is at this point that it must be understood that Calvin was convicted to faithfully exposit the word of God. His depth of preaching was not focused upon lofty ideas of man; instead, Calvin’s depth continually showed the glorious riches that are to be found in the Scripture. Every sermon I read of Calvin had the chosen passage to be preached as the central focus of the message. While he may have drawn in particular passages of Scripture from other parts of the Bible to give context or to strengthen the truth being preached by giving more clarity, Calvin was focused upon preaching the passage of Scripture that was chosen for the sermon.
To say Calvin preached the Bible is commendable, but it is also important to understand how Calvin preached the Bible. Calvin was committed to faithfully exegeting a passage-finding the original authorial intent of the passage-and then making it understood and applicable to the people of his day. Walter Kaiser quotes Calvin in saying:
It is…presumptuous and almost blasphemous to turn the meaning of Scripture around without due care, as though it were some game that we were playing. And yet many scholars have done this at one time.
Kaiser continues writing about Calvin:
More than any others, Calvin…reversed the exegetical tide which had been ebbing and flowing for and against the allegorization since before the Christian Era. Not that they themselves were always successful in their own practice of their principles, but they had set a course for the Church that was now most clearly marked for all future days.
Calvin wanted his people to understand the word of God, and he believed that Scripture had a plain, literal meaning that was true of each passage of Scripture.
Once Calvin exegeted a passage of Scripture, it was then that he sought to weave doctrine into his sermon. As Calvin preached, doctrine was readily found within his sermons, and he made it very clear, that when preaching, he wanted the doctrine to be understood by the listeners. However, he allowed the Scripture to create the doctrine. He was intentional in not allowing the doctrine to define the Scripture.
In his sermon on I Timothy 3:16, he made the doctrine of the fallen nature of people clear, and he used the fallen nature of people to show doctrinally the glory of God, as he preached on the deity and humanity of Christ. He preached these words:
We know that there is nothing at all in our nature but wretchedness and misery; nothing but a bottomless pit of stench and infection; and yet in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, we see the glory of God who is worshiped by angels, and likewise the weakness of man; and that he is God and man. Is this not a secret and hidden thing, worthy to be set out with words, and likewise enough to ravish our hearts! The very angels could never have thought upon it, as here observed by St. Paul. Seeing it pleased the Holy Ghost to set forth the goodness of God, and show us for how precious a jewel we ought to esteem it, let us beware on our part that we be not unthankful, and have our minds so shut up, that we will not taste of it, if we cannot thoroughly and perfectly understand it.
Doctrine was of utmost importance to Calvin, and he made this very clear as he preached the word of God. Today, many are scared to death to preach doctrine, many times believing that preaching doctrine will cause people to be bored. Calvin thought exactly the opposite. The doctrines of God excited him, because they unveiled the truths of God in a clear manner. To Calvin, preaching and doctrine were complements, never to be pulled apart.
Calvin believed the Bible to be the supreme declaration of his preaching, and there is great reason for this. Calvin believed that the Bible is God’s revelation of Himself to man. He writes:
The course which God followed towards his Church from the very first was to supplement these common proofs by the addition of his Word, as a surer and more direct means of discovering himself. And there can be no doubt that it was by this help, Adam, Noah, Abraham, and the other patriarchs, attained to that familiar knowledge which, in a manner, distinguished them from believers.
Calvin had a high view of Scripture because it was and is the revelation of who God is, and Calvin’s view of God was One who was glorious and majestic. He viewed Him as the absolute, sovereign God of everything, and His preaching made known constantly who God was and the perfect salvific work that had been done through Jesus Christ in order to save the elect into a perfect relationship with Him that was not deserved. Calvin explicitly preached Jesus and the grace that has been given to the elect through Him alone. Within his sermon on 1 Timothy 3:16, he preached:
What a hidden thing is this, and how wonderful a matter; that God was manifest in the flesh, and became man! Does it not so far surpass our understanding, that when we are told of it, we are astonished? Yet notwithstanding, we have a full and sufficient proof, that Jesus Christ being made man, and subject to death, is likewise the true God, who made the world, and liveth forever. Of this, his heavenly power beareth us witness. Again, we have other proofs: to wit, he was preached unto the Gentiles; who before were banished from the kingdom of God; and that faith that had its course throughout the whole world, which at that time was shut up among the Jews; and likewise Christ Jesus was lifted up on high, and entered into glory, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father….We can in no wise reach unto his majesty, which containeth all things in itself; which even the angels worship….Then let the living God, the well-spring of life, the everlasting glory, and the infinite power, come; and not only approach to us and our miseries, our wretchedness, our frailty, and to this bottomless pit of all iniquity that is in men; let not only the majesty of God come near this, but be joined to it, and made on with it, in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ!
Calvinists bear the criticism of not being evangelistic in their lives or preaching, but it is understood through Calvin’s preaching: if a preacher is not preaching Jesus and the saving power that he offers to lost and dying people, he is not truly a Calvinist. Calvin placed a strong emphasis on the depravity of people, but he preached a glorious Gospel that alone could save fallen people from the wrath and despair that was deserved.
Calvin’s sermons were presumptuous because, through Scripture, he understood the condition of the human race, and he was not afraid to preach the truth in regards to the condition of people and their sin; however, Calvin used the depravity of people as a bridge to preach the glorious work of the cross, believing that God was faithful to save those whom he had chosen. He preached grace with conviction, and through this grace, he proclaimed that the elect had been freed to live in accordance with God’s provisions and commands. Calvin believed that when he preached, he was declaring the word of God, knowing and believing that God was using his faithful proclamation to save lost people and to sanctify his chosen people, all through the power of His Holy Spirit.
Integration and Application
Calvin preached faithfully to the end of his life, and while there are many who hold Calvin in high esteem, there are others who have a great dissatisfaction with Calvin because of his theological positions dealing with soteriology. There are three areas of application that I want to present as necessary components of preaching from Calvin’s method, and I believe that these components should be true of all preachers, even if one does not agree completely with John Calvin and his theology.
The first component must be the glorification of God. Calvin beautifully paints in each sermon a glorious and majestic picture of who God is. It is through these beautiful depictions of God that people begin to understand how pitiful they truly are, and they find a deep, deep need for God. When a pastor stands in the pulpit and jumps straight from a passage of Scripture into how one must correctly live his life based upon what is said in the Scripture, usually it leads to unchanged listeners hearing nothing more than moralistic ideas that they will forget once they leave. This is anthropocentric at best. Calvin never made man the centerpiece of Scripture.
When a glorious understanding of God is preached, however, people begin to understand why they should seek to live righteous lives, and more importantly, they begin to understand that they will never live righteous lives on their own. Calvin consistently preached a glorious God, making sure that every listener understood that there was none like Him. This is the motivation to application within preaching. Men, women, and children will not change because someone told them to be better; however, when they understand who God is and what He has done and is doing, it creates an understanding of sinfulness, which leads to three responses: repentance, worship, and response. This is what happens in Isaiah’s life in chapter six of his book, and this is what, a preacher should desire in the lives of his people. Calvin provides a great model of this within his preaching. Preachers must constantly remind themselves that the Bible is first God’s revelation of Himself and His redemptive work, and it’s only through that lens that we can truly and rightly provide application to people’s lives.
Secondly, Calvin boldly preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ in each of His sermons, and this must be true of all preachers. The Gospel is woven throughout his sermons. The Gospel is no afterthought in his preaching; instead, he has intentionally woven the redemptive work of Christ through each one of his messages. It is obvious that Calvin’s ultimate goal is to preach Jesus, and this, too, should be every preacher’s goal and intention when he stands in the pulpit. It must be noted that Calvin faithfully exegeted the Scripture and did not force Jesus into the passage, but he allowed the redemptive narrative to point to Christ. Preachers should desire people to live morally upstanding lives; however, if they live morally upstanding lives, all while denying Christ as the Lord of their lives, nothing will be gained but Hell. Morally upstanding people, who do not personally know Jesus, will die and enter Hell for eternity. Through Calvin’s preaching, one can see him preaching for change in people’s lives; however, he makes it very clear that there must first be a positional change-salvation-in a person’s life in order to freely live a life that is pleasing to God.
Calvin makes it very clear that Jesus has done all of the work, and there is absolutely nothing anyone can do in order to save themselves. Ultimately, people cannot please God apart from Jesus. As preachers, this must be learned. Moralism will not save anyone. Jesus saves, and it is once a person is saved that he or she has been changed to live a life pleasing to God. Preachers cannot preach how to live a pleasing life before God, if they have not prefaced that message with, one cannot please God unless he or she has been saved, and this must be prefaced by why there is a need for salvation. Calvin did this. He never assumed anything of anyone. It is foolish to assume that congregations understand these truths if they are not preached to them each and every Sunday. Preachers must preach Jesus, as He is the only way to salvation, and it is only through Him that application is possible.
Finally, Calvin’s reliance upon the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential to preaching the word of God. Because of Calvin’s strong belief upon the sovereignty of God, he relied unswervingly upon the work of the Holy Spirit, knowing and believing that he was the proclaimer of God’s word; however, there was absolutely nothing he could do in his own power to save or sanctify men. Because of this understanding, Calvin preached boldly, believing that the Holy Spirit was working through Him in the lives of people.
Whether one is a Calvinist or not, this must be believed when preaching the word of God. Apart from the Holy Spirit, preachers are powerless. When preaching is sought to be accomplished by the power of man, it is puny and lifeless; however, when the Holy Spirit is the catalyst for preaching, it is powerful and full of life. Preachers must rely upon the Holy Spirit, and this begins outside of the pulpit. The reliance upon the Holy Spirit must begin in preparation for the sermon, because preachers preach what has been prepared, and if preparations have been made in man’s power alone-apart from prayer-the sermon will result in nothing.
Acts 2 makes very clear the power of the Holy Spirit as He descends upon men at Pentecost, and then through Peter’s preaching and the salvation of approximately 3,000 people. The Holy Spirit was given to us by God to counsel and lead men, and He does this by working powerfully in the hearts and minds of people. He is the One who does the work of salvation and application. Until a preacher rests in the power of the Gospel and believes the Holy Spirit’s saving power, he will always find himself seeking and searching to make his preaching better or more effective, but it must be understood that the most important aspect of his preaching is missing. Preachers can have brilliant Scriptural knowledge and impeccable methods for preaching, but if the Holy Spirit is not relied upon, his preaching will be done in vain. Calvin was faithful to believe and allow the Holy Spirit work, because he knew apart from Him, he was useless-nothing more than a clanging cymbal.
Though Calvin’s life was only fifty-five years, there was much he did to impact the Kingdom of God and the history of the Church, even in his own sinfulness and failures. He would attribute all of this work to the providence of God and His work in his life. Calvin believed that God was the sovereign Lord of his life. Calvin has been remembered as a stubborn, hard-to-get-along-with individual, and history books cannot truly affirm these ideas of Calvin because there is not much about his personal life recorded; however, Calvin was stubborn in areas that truly mattered. Calvin faithfully believed the word of God to be inerrant; he faithfully sought to teach the Bible in its historical context, seeking to explain its literal meaning to the original audience and then to the listeners of his day; he faithfully sought to preach a glorious and gracious God; he faithfully sought to preach that man was sinful and desperately in need of a Savior; and he faithfully sought to preach a glorious Savior, who had completed the work of salvation. He preached boldly and faithfully, and he never rested in his own power; instead, he found his strength and rest in the Holy Spirit. Calvin will be debated for more years to come; however, the Church has been blessed by the faithfulness and work of Calvin-the preacher.