Calvin’s Preaching: Proclaiming the Themes of Scripture

“[Calvin’s] manner of delivery was lively, passionate, intimate, direct, and clear.”[1] He pulled no punches and could be downright coarse and harsh at times, but was also gentle and compassionate at other times. “His language was clear and easy. He spoke in a way the Genovese could understand, even, it would seem, to the point of using some of their idiosyncrasies of French.”[2] He was always careful to explain difficult words in terms the common people could understand.

The reader will remember his saying that he “studied to be simple.” This is demonstrated by his carefulness of explanation. He even at times enacted conversations between himself and an opponent in order to get his point across. Calvin was concerned that his hearers understand what the Bible is saying and thus he is neither ashamed nor afraid to do what is necessary to make it clear.

Many have the mistaken idea that his sermons were lengthy diatribes in defense of predestination or church discipline or against the papacy or the people for their sin. Nothing could be further from the truth. One cannot say what the theme of his preaching is because

their theme is the theme of Scripture. Thus it is easier to declare what an individual sermon is about than the whole body of sermons. If his sermon is from Job, then he will expound and apply that passage. If from Ephesians, then he will expound and apply that passage. He will never commit the contempt of Scripture that prevails today of reading a verse from the Bible and preaching about something quite different.[3]

[1] Parker, John Calvin, 93.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid., 94.

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About Michael R. Jones

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