Jesus Christ Invites Us so Gently to His Table

Communion was no light topic for the reformers. That’s why I’ve enjoyed reading some of Calvin’s writings on the subject. While there is a heavy emphasis on personal examination prior to coming to the table, I enjoyed finding the assurance that even our self examination is to be found wanting and that, eventually, we just have to come in faith and receive the gift of God in the table. Despite our weakness, he bids us come. In The Manner of Celebrating the Lord’s Supper Calvin puts it this way (emphasis mine):

Next, let us not be ungrateful to the infinite goodness of our Saviour, who displays all his riches and blessings at this table, in order to dispense them to us; for, in giving himself to us, he bears testimony to us that all which he has is ours. Moreover, let us receive this sacrament as a pledge that the virtue of his death and passion is imputed to us for righteousness, just as if we had suffered it in our own persons. Let us not be so perverse as to keep back when Jesus Christ invites us so gently by his word; but while reflecting on the dignity of the precious gift which he gives us, let us present ourselves to him with ardent zeal, in order that he may make us capable of receiving him.

John Calvin and Henry Beveridge, Tracts Relating to the Reformation, Volume 2 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), 121.

Centrality of the Languages in Study

In the establishment of the Genevan Academy we see Calvin’s passion for the biblical languages shine. It is clear from the heavy emphasis on the Biblical languages that Calvin felt they were of utmost important for those who would be pastors of the church. As I read the section below, I could not help but wonder what great things might come of us leading our children towards Hebrew and Greek at young ages:

The Genevan Academy had two departments: the schola private (the lower department) and the schola publica (the upper level). The former was for children beginning school at six years of age. There were seven levels of education; the seventh class was the most rudimentary and the first class was the highest order in the school. The content of the various levels are well-known and we do not need to repeat them here. When one reads them, however, one is immediately struck by the amount and centrality of the linguistic work. Bilingual instruction commenced in level seven, that is, the opening grade: students began to learn both French and Latin at this early age. By the fourth class they were introduced to the Greek language. In the upper three class levels the students were preparing almost all of their work in the original languages of Latin and Greek: they read, for example, Homer, Virgil, Cicero from their original tongues. They also translated directly from the New Testament; in level two they were reading the Gospel of Luke and in level one they were translating the Epistles.

The schola private served as a feeder to the schola publica; the latter had its primary purpose to train future ministers of the gospel. These were students who were preparing to preach the Word of God. And since ‘the exposition of the Bible was central to the sermon, Calvin ensured that the biblical languages were given primary place in the curriculum.’ Walker concludes that Calvin’s purpose was to ‘make Geneva the theological seminary of Reformed Protestantism.’ To Calvin, the Academy was to be an institution of great learning. And he believed that erudition required mastery of three languages: Hebrew, Greek, and Latin.

John D. Currid, Calvin and the Biblical Languages (Fearn, Ross-shire, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 2006), 57-58.

Of Confidence in the Forgiveness of Sins

John Calvin wrote against the Adultero-German Intrim in his tract The True Method for Giving Peace to Christendom and Reforming the Church. However, there is still some really great stuff in there . For instance, there is a great reminder to the church throughout all time the confidence which the have in the powerful blood of Christ. (emphasis mine)

“Then care must be taken that we do not either make men too secure and confident in themselves, or drive them by anxious doubting to despair. Wherefore, since Paul says, (Gal. 2.,) that he was indeed conscious of no sin, but yet by this was not justified, man cannot believe that his sins are forgiven without a doubt of his own weakness or indisposition. But although he ought not to boast in himself, he is not to be so terrified as to doubt the promises of God, and the efficacy of the death and resurrection of Christ, and despair of obtaining the forgiveness of sins and salvation. All hope, and the assurance of all confidence, ought to be in the precious blood of Christ, which was shed because of us and our salvation. In him alone we both can with certainty, and we ought, to breathe and confide, having the confirmation of the Holy Spirit, who bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.

John Calvin and Hendry Beveridge, Tracts Relating to the Reformation, Volume 3 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), 201-02.

Calvin Taught Directly From the Greek & Hebrew

Not only did Calvin teach and preach without any notes, he did so directly from the original language:

Calvin would then read a text in Hebrew or Greek, and offer a very literal translation of it into Latin. After that, he would provide a smoother Latin translation, followed by his commentary. Jean Crispin, a publisher of Calvin’s day, attended some of the reformer’s lectures. He commented on Calvin’s lecture style as follows: ‘… but he kept on lecturing continuously for a full hour and did not write down one single word in his book to help his memory.’ The book in question was the Hebrew Old Testament and, thus, Calvin was sight-reading the Hebrew text without any linguistic aids. Then, also without notes, he made comment on the text that had been read.

Colladon also remarked on Calvin’s teaching style; he said:

When lecturing, he always had only the bare text of Scripture; and yet, see how well he ordered what he said! Even when (some years before his death) he was lecturing on Daniel, although at some places he had to narrate historical facts at length, as we see from the lectures, he never had any paper before him as an aide-mémoire. And it was not as if he had adequate time to prepare; for, whatever he may have wished, he simply had not the opportunity. To say the truth, he usually had less than an hour to prepare.

John D. Currid, Calvin and the Biblical Languages (Fearn, Ross-shire, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 2006), 47.

Preaching to the Very End

The thought of “retirement” in the traditional sense doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. There is a part of me that hopes I can continue preaching and ministry to the very end. I was encouraged to read of Calvin’s passion to preach as long as his body would hold out:

Calvin loved preaching, and he continued preaching nearly to the end of his life. He died on May 27, 1564. We read that near the close of his life, when he was beset with infirmities and could not walk, he was carried in a chair to his well-loved and familiar pulpit. Colladon, who wrote a biography of Calvin in 1565, provides an account of these last days of preaching.

… his gout began to abate somewhat, and then he forced himself to go out sometimes to be entertained among his friends, but chiefly to lecture and even to preach, having himself carried to church in a chair … he continued to do all he could of his public office, always dragging his poor body along, until the beginning of February 1564 … on the Sunday, February 6, [he gave] his last sermon on the Harmony of the Three Gospels. Thereafter he never went up into the pulpit.

John D. Currid, Calvin and the Biblical Languages (Fearn, Ross-shire, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 2006), 28.

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Loving Your Enemies

Even though Geneva banished Calvin, Calvin still held the city close in his heart. His care for its people, for the truth of the Gospel, ran so deep that he even fought for its faith while in exile.

“Not long after this unjust banishment, Calvin extinguished a greater evil, which would probably have been attended with the worst consequences, had not this illustrious exile applied a prompt remedy to it. Jacques Sadolet, Bishop of Carpentras, was a man of considerable eloquence, which he employed only to oppose the truth. His morals being regular, the pope made him a cardinal, with a view to give a currency to the false doctrine taught in his church. The cardinal, seeing that the people of Geneva were deprived of such excellent pastors, thought this a favourable opportunity to attract them to the Romish religion, with which view he wrote a long letter wherein he employed all his address and talents to over-throw the reformed religion, and to establish his own. There was at this time no person in the town capable of answering him, and if this letter had been written in French, it is probable that it would have created considerable disturbances amongst a people so much divided and so ill disposed as they were at this time. But Calvin, forgetting all the injuries which he had sustained, evinced that the love which he had professed for that church was not diminished; and answered the cardinal with so much eloquence and spirit, that he abandoned his project entirely.”

Theodore Beza and John Mackenzie, Memoirs of the Life and Writings of John Calvin (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), 46–47.

Living Preaching is Done Without Notes

As one who often preaches from a transcript, I was cut by Calvin’s comments to the Duke of Somerset about the “little living preaching” done in his kingdom (emphasis mine).

Calvin objected to read sermons. He was a ‘pattern extempore preacher’. He frequently intimated that the power of God could only pour forth most powerfully in extemporary preaching. In a letter to the Duke of Somerset, Calvin commented, ‘I say this to your Highness because there is little of living preaching in your kingdom, sermons there being mostly read or recited.

John D. Currid, Calvin and the Biblical Languages (Fearn, Ross-shire, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 2006), 25-26.

Preaching Without Notes

Whenever I preach, I typically create an outline and then work on a transcription of everything I plan on saying. I then bring the transcript to the pulpit where I will reference it as needed throughout the sermon. This was not how John Calvin rolled:

Based on all available evidence, Calvin preached with no notes, but it was extemporary preaching directly from the original text. We have no manuscripts of Calvin’s preaching extant from his own hand. Gerstner remarks, ‘Calvin preached not only without a manuscript; not only without notes; but apparently without any outline whatever unless it was the order of the verses in the Bible itself.’ The only reason we have so many of his sermons is because a man named Denis Raguenier wrote them down in shorthand between the years 1549 and 1560 (the year of Raguenier’s death). In this period of ten and a half years, Raguenier was able to take down about 2,000 of Calvin’s sermons ipsissima verba, that is, word for word.

John D. Currid, Calvin and the Biblical Languages (Fearn, Ross-shire, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 2006), 25.

Calvin Preached 200 Sermons on Deuteronomy

John Calvin’s dedication to preaching verse by verse through the Bible was impressive. He was a firm believer in preaching from the original language, in the historical-grammatical approach, with application to the hearer. What is even more amazing is to see the shear number of sermons he preached on various books of the Bible (emphasis mine):

Calvin’s method of preaching is well-documented: it was consecutive, expositional preaching through various books of the Bible. He would begin in verse 1, chapter 1 of a particular book and then preach through the book until the end. The next sermon would begin a new book, and he would preach that book sequentially until finished. This is serial preaching at its best. Calvin’s immediate movement to preach one book after another is what Gerstner calls ‘chain preaching.’ He spent, for example, one year preaching through Job, a year and a half on Deuteronomy (200 sermons), and three years on Isaiah (350 sermons).

According to Beeke, ‘The average length of texts covered in each of Calvin’s sermons was four or five verses in the Old Testament and two or three verses in the New Testament. His sermons were fairly short for his day (perhaps due in part to his asthmatic condition), probably averaging thirty-five to forty minutes.’

John D. Currid, Calvin and the Biblical Languages (Fearn, Ross-shire, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 2006), 22-23.

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The Second London Baptist Confession of 1689, pt.2

Connections to Today’s Current Situation: The London Baptist 1689 Confession of Faith’s Influence on the Abstracts of Principles

James Petigru Boyce, often called the Cavalier and Puritan, was a pastor, a university professor, and above all, the founder and first president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS), a seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Boyce more than appreciated Calvinistic theology—he was raised by a mother of Presbyterian descent, and he studied under Archibald Alexander at Princeton Theological Seminary. As Timothy George has stated, “Princeton provided Boyce with a systematic framework in which to cast the Calvinist theology he had imbibed from Basil Manly Sr. and his other Charleston pastors.” After his education at Princeton, Boyce pastored for two years before moving on to teach at Furman University. In 1856, Boyce gave an address titled “Three Changes in Theological Institutions,” which would not only affect where he worked at the time, but also bring about the foundation of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

As Boyce made clear during the birth of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS), three ideals were essential to building a common theological seminary in the South: The first was openness, creating a seminary for everyone and anyone who was called by God regardless of academic background or social status. The second was excellence—Boyce was intent on establishing an advanced program of theological study that, in its academic rigor, would be comparable to the type of instruction offered at Princeton, Andover, Harvard, and Yale. The third change that Boyce brought to SBTS established a set of mandatory doctrines and a confessional guideline for SBTS’s instructors. Timothy George sheds light on this in his Theologians of the Baptist Tradition.

“The third ideal was confessional identity. Boyce proposed that the seminary be established on a set of doctrinal principles that would provide consistency and direction for the future. This, too, was a radical step in the context of nineteenth-century Baptist life. Newton Theological Institute, the first seminary founded by Baptists in America, had no such confessional guidelines. Nor, indeed, did the Southern Baptist Convention, organized in 1845. However, Boyce firmly believed that it was necessary to protect the seminary from doctrinal erosion. From his student days in New England, Boyce was aware of the recent currents in theology: Unitarianism, Transcendentalism, the New Divinity. In particular, he spoke against the “blasphemous doctrines” of Theodore Parker, who had denied that Christianity was based on a special revelation of God. At the same time he was concerned about populist theologies in the South, and warned against the “twin errors of Campbellism and Arminianism.”

While all three areas of Boyce’s address and vision are true of SBTS today (thanks to Dr. Al Mohler), that is not the case for the SBC. It is not false in the light that it has fallen short of Boyce’s Abstracts of Principles—the SBC was not, in fact, founded on Boyce’s Abstracts of Principles—but the SBC did not follow the examples set before it by its earlier Baptist forerunners (London Baptist in 1689, Philadelphia Baptist in 1742, and New Hampshire Baptist in 1833) in making a confessional theology, which would have given it a denominational foundation. The SBC was finally organized as a convention by 1845, but it had no foundational set of doctrines to follow until 80 years later, in 1925. These have been edited, revised, and added to a number of times throughout the past century, and they have led to the different views within the SBC on salvation, especially in the absence of the SBC doctrines’ earlier Calvinistic brother, the New Hampshire Confession of Faith (1833).

The SBTS still holds to its original confessional standard, maintaining that its professors agree to the same Abstracts of Principles that Boyce meant to define the SBC. As Timothy George points out, “The Abstract of Principles was intentionally modeled on the Philadelphia Confession of Faith, which was based on the Second London Confession, which, in turn, was a Baptist adaptation of the Westminster Confession.” Thus one sees the historical value in taking a look back into his or her church history. Seeing the godly examples, the doctrinal stances, and theological guidelines God has given to His Church brings great value to the Church’s future growth.

For Additional Information
Theologians of the Baptist Tradition, ed. Timothy George and David S. Dockery (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001).