Calvin’s Preaching: Persevering in the Pulpit

Calvin demonstrated his obedience and faithfulness to the Word by preaching it faithfully week in and week out. After taking the pulpit in St. Peter’s (St. Pierre’s) church in Geneva, his custom became to preach ten times in two weeks. The church held services at daybreak (believed to be around 6 A.M.), 9 A.M. and 3 P.M. each Sunday. Calvin would generally preach twice on Sunday and each time from the New Testament, with the exception of periodic sermons or series of sermons from the Psalms on Sunday afternoon. He rarely broke this cycle, and for the most part, completely ignored the Church calendar, some years not even stopping for Christmas and Easter.

At first he preached also weekdays on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, but in 1549, sermons began to be preached every day and he thus usually preached every day on alternate weeks and twice on Sundays, a total of ten times every two weeks. During these weekday sermons, he usually preached from Old Testament books. The only break in the trend was during the occasional years that he preached from relevant texts during Christmas and Easter week. In 1549 he preached all Easter week from Matthew 26 and 27, and Matthew 28 on Easter Sunday. The next two years he preached from the relevant texts in John’s Gospel and in 1553 and 1554 he preached from another, unspecified Gospel, and in 1555 he returned to Matthew. All the Christmas sermons still extant are from Luke (we can only assume chapter 2). With these few exceptions, all of his sermons are series through Bible books preached faithfully to his congregation in St Peter’s.[1]

The year 1549 is significant because that was the year that a society of French refugees undertook to hire someone to transcribe all of his sermons. Until then, many secretaries had tried to record hi sermons but were unable to do more than outline the headings. In 1549, however, the society found a Frenchman named Denis Raguenier who had either learned or invented a system of shorthand that enables him to capture the rather large sermons (about six thousand words each) with a quill pen and ink. What is remarkable is that he was able to do this winter and summer, hot or cold, and work for more than an hour each time. Calvin played no part in the editing process, they were simply recorded, then transcribed and bound.

[1] Parker, Calvin’s Preaching, 63.

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About Michael R. Jones

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