Calvin’s Preaching: Preaching to the Lives of His Hearers

All of this discussion of the priotity of the text should not lead one to believe that Calvin merely explained textual issues and issues of interpretation. In fact, Calvin saw all of those issues as underlying the real task of Scriptural preaching: to demonstrate how the believer must live. He believed in the relevance of God’s Word for everyone under the sound of his preaching, meaning that every part of every passage is addressed directly to that congregation.

The Word in its action within the Church can never remain simply a vague word addressed to the people of God as a whole. It must become a word that reaches and singles out each individual with particular relevance to the problems and circumstances that beset each individual within the Church.[1]

He therefore sought to make application from the Word to the listener. Many today falsely believe that God’s Word must be made relevant to the modern hearer and thus end up making the text say things that it doesn’t say. Calvin rightly left this to the Holy Spirit. He believed in what Parker calls the “universal relevance of Holy Scripture.”[2] He sought to make the meaning of Scripture as plain as possible to the hearer and left the rest up to the Holy Spirit.

This is not to say that he never applies the passage he is preaching, quite the contrary, his applications are direct and often forceful. He simply refused to make an application when it was not warranted by the text. Calvin was horrified by those who brought their own ideas into the pulpit. “When we enter into the pulpit, it is not so that we may bring our own dreams and fancies with us.”[3] Indeed, Calvin

[…] was careful to make a distinction between the preacher and the Word of God. The preacher is not God, but an envoy sent by God. In himself he is nothing. All his authority and all the justification for his preaching lies in his ambassadorship, that is to say, in the two facts that God called him to preach and that he preaches only what God in Holy Scripture commands him to preach. When, however, these two conditions are fulfilled, the preacher cannot retreat from the claim that the Gospel which he preaches is the Word of God and as such demands the complete obedience of himself and his congregation.[4]

[1] Ronald S. Wallace, Calvin’s Doctrine of the Christian Life, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1959), 213.
[2] Parker, Calvin’s Preaching, 89.
[3] Parker, John Calvin, 90.
[4] Ibid.

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About Michael R. Jones

Pastor and PhD candidate writing on Paul's theology of suffering.
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