Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Guidelines for Preaching from John Calvin.

The following are seven quotes from The Expository Genius of John Calvin by Steven Lawson.

We trust they are a blessing to you.

Approaching the Pulpit

1. Calvin was now Genevan dictator, ruling the population with a rod of iron. He was not even a citizen of Geneva throughout his time there, and was thus denied access to political authority. His status was simply that of a pastor who was in no position to dictate to the magisterial authorities who administered the city….Calvin’s influence over Geneva rested ultimately not in his formal legal standing (which was insignificant) but in his considerable personal authority as a preacher and pastor.- Alister E. McGrath [p.21]

Preparing the Preacher

2. Calvin always persevered in ministry, never slacking before his audience of One. Charles H. Spurgeon confessed, “I do love that man of God; suffering all his life long, enduring not only persecutions from without but a complication of disorders from within, and yet serving his Master with all his heart.”

However, Calvin was quick to credit divine grace for his endurance, affirming that “when anyone is drawn into arduous and difficult struggles he is, at the same time, especially strengthened by the Lord.” Calvin simply believed that strong preaching is the result of a strong drive within the preacher, and that fueled by God. He declared that mental and volitional weakness has no place in a pastor’s heart. He wrote, “Nothing is more contrary to the pure and free preaching of the gospel than the straits of a faint heart.”[p. 49-50]

Launching the Sermon

3. Calvin’s sermons usually lasted an hour and were in the nature of continuous expositions. He began at the first verse of a Bible book and then treated it in successive sections, averaging four or five verses, until he reached the end, at which point he began another book.- James Montgomery Boice [p.53]

4. As John Calvin ascended the pulpit, an all-absorbing purpose lay before him-the faithful exposition of scripture. His mind was not diverted by the varied tasks of the contemporary pulpit. He did not need to jump through the modern-day hoops of prolonged announcements, mostly of a trivial nature. He was not jolted by the artificial stimuli of the hard-driving music so often forced on churches today. Rather, with singularity of thought, sublimity of spirit, and spirituality of mind, Calvin stood to bring a sermon that would unveil the matchless glory of God. [p.53-54]

5. Calvin was not a sliver tongued orator, but a Bible-teaching expositor. Above all else, he desired to bring his people to the scriptures. [p.55]

6. When Calvin stepped into his pulpit, he did not bring a manuscript of his sermon with him. But that was not because he had neglected intense study and rigorous preparation, as some have charged. In fact, the Reformer was well-prepared in the text as he stood to preach. As we have seen, he studied with utmost diligence before he approached the pulpit. As Calvin himself said:

If I should enter the public without deigning to look at a book and should frivolously think to myself, “Oh, well, when I preach, God will give me enough to say,” and come here without troubling to read or think what I ought to declare, and do nor carefully consider how I must apply Holy Scripture to the edification of the people, then I should be an arrogant upstart.

Calvin made a conscious choice to expound the Scriptures with no preaching notes before him. Mindful that he must speak to everyday people where they lived, and not to professional theologians, he wanted his sermons to have a pastoral tone and natural delivery. Relying on the Holy Spirit, he stood before the people with only an open Bible and drew upon his thorough study of the passage. The resulting exposition was a clear, compact explanation of the text, accompanied by practical application and passionate exhortation. [p.58]

7. By this practice of stating his theme in the introduction, Calvin established the framework of a building argument before expositing the text itself. In doing so, he put his listeners into the mind of the biblical author from the very outset of the sermon. Laying out the overarching argument of the book and showing how a particular passage fit into it was a significant aspect of Calvin’s expository genius. [p.62]

Steven J. Lawson, The Expository Genius of John Calvin, Reformation Trust Publishing, Orlando, Florida, 2007.

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