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Book Notes

Written by Rev. C. and Frederika Pronk
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Sermons on Galatians by John Calvin. Published by Old Paths Publications, 223 Princeton Rd., Audubon, New Jersey 08106 USA, 1995; 964 pp.; hardcover; $49.50 US.
First, a word of appreciation to Old Paths Publications for making not only this significant and important volume of sermons of John Calvin available, but also for their endeavours "for the cause of Christ and His Church" by publishing other Reformed literature. As stated in the book's jacket, their aim is that "in our day, where true Christianity is increasingly under attack, ... to bring together a united and confessional Reformed and Presbyterian thought, through the publishing of gospel truths given to us by the Spirit of God through His faithful elect..."

This weighty volume is presented in an attractive cover and printed in large, clear print. Although the English translation was done by a contemporary of Calvin, Arthur Golding, the type-setting and editing has been done to reflect contemporary spelling, which makes it quite easy to read, especially if you are used to KJ English. This book of sermons, available again in English for the first time in over 400 years, comes with a foreword by the well-known Dr. W. Robert Godfrey of Westminster Theological Seminary in California. He writes: "In our day Calvin's reputation has largely overshadowed his reputation as a preacher and his sermons have often been difficult to find... These sermons will help us see again the greatness of Calvin as a preacher, but much more importantly they will be a source of great spiritual blessing to every believer who reads them." In this instructive Foreword Godfrey further states: "Calvin believed that the work of preaching was central to the life of the church... He [Calvin] can call preachers 'the very mouth of God... We are ministers of the Spirit, not because we hold him enclosed and as it were captive, not because we confer his grace on all and sundry at our own will, but because through us Christ enlightens minds, renews hearts--in a word, regenerates men wholly.'"

Although Calvin wrote a commentary on Galatians, this volume of sermons is not a mere repetition of his commentary but an application of his exegetical studies. The sermons are addressed to the mind with the intention that they reach the heart and convict to change the will. There is always application and exhortation. Calvin believed that sermons are the spiritual food of God's people: "God will have His people to be edified... When we come together in the name of God, it is not to hear merry songs, and to be fed with wind, that is, with vain and unprofitable curiosity, but to receive spiritual nourishment."

In addition to his preaching--about eight times every two weeks--Calvin wrote, lectured and counselled. He preached without notes, translating as he went along, using the Greek New Testament and the Hebrew Old Testament in the pulpit. The translation of Scripture, therefore, is Calvin's own. His approach was to preach straight through books of the Bible, each sermon being on two or three verses of the New Testament and taking a larger pericope when preaching from the Old Testament. Calvin's sermons were about thirty to forty minutes long. He believed in lively preaching, but he did not use stories or all kinds of illustrations. His style was simple and forceful. He made use of a powerful and rich vocabulary and vivid descriptions.

These sermons are still timely. In a day where truths once held without question in the Reformed tradition are being attacked, it is helpful to read these sermons. In these sermons basic doctrines, such as justification by faith, Christian liberty, the abolishing of ceremonies, the use of the law, and Christian living are dealt with in a pastoral way. You will be confirmed and happily assured that the interpretation held by our churches is still the same as that held by Calvin. When you read the 23rd Sermon, based on Galatians 3:26-29, you will notice that Calvin held the same view on infant baptism and the distinction between males and females as taught in our churches.

If you already have Calvin's sermons on Ephesians, Timothy and Titus, Deuteronomy and Job (published by Banner of Truth Trust), you will enjoy these sermons too. If you have never read anything pastoral of Calvin, don't hesitate to start here. You will see that Calvin was no stern predestinarian, nor mere intellectual theologian. He is still relevant and accessible today, as was made clear to us recently. At Christmas time we received a note from a former neighbour who we had introduced to Reformed literature through our church's library. This elderly lady wrote us: "I am about 3/4 way through Calvin's Institutes and I just love his writings. They are so rich and so deep." Take and read!

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