A review of Calvin’s sermons on Acts 1-7
Calvin on Acts 1-7 has 44 sermons, originally begun in 1549, not long after Calvin’s wife had died and he was again charged by the city council to preach twice on Sundays. It was in 1549 that a professional scribe began to take down his sermons in shorthand as they were delivered, in fact, so these are some of the earliest Calvin sermons that we have.
Some of Calvin’s sermons on Acts 1-2 have sadly been lost, but what we have here reflect a period of his ministry where there was a great deal of struggle for the establishment of the Reformation in Geneva. They are in many ways programmatic, with a focus on the power of the word and Spirit together to change hearts and minds, an emphasis on preaching, and the establishment of a godly community of believers. The preacher, he says,
“must reprove us daily for our sins. Otherwise, we would have a gospel made to our order. It would not be the one God has given us. That fact greatly annoys us, whatever the situation. Some are vexed and others gnash their teeth, but we must nonetheless uphold the teaching of God in the midst of his church. If we think we are doing them a favour by being lenient, we shall be contributing to their ruin.”
Hard preaching to hear. But how relevant, in any age. As well as this sort of thing, there are also those classic sixteenth century rhetorical touches which remind us that we live in a different age, such as Calvin’s pithy parallel between the Pope and the Prophet Mohammed, whom he described as “the two horns of the devil set on killing the poor world and imprisoning it.”
All the same, “When God comes to judge the world, the Turks, Gentiles, papists, and other unbelievers will be treated much more gently than we, unless we take better advantage than we usually do of the kindness and benefits God provides for us daily.”
This review was first published in Churchman 128/2 (2014).