John Calvin > The weight, beauty and comfort of the Gospel

John Calvin
The weight, beauty and comfort of the Gospel

Recently I came across a stunning preface John Calvin wrote for Pierre Robert Olivétan’s French translation of the New Testament (1534). To my knowledge the01spurgeoncalvin4.jpg English translation of this preface is found only in Joseph Haroutunian’s work, Calvin: Commentaries [a strange place to find it since this preface is not part of the commentaries]. Anyways, in it Calvin traces out the biblical storyline and the Messianic promises throughout Scripture, shows the supernatural unity of the bible’s message and the significance of the gospel message revealed in Scripture. He writes,

“Without the gospel everything is useless and vain; without the gospel we are not Christians; without the gospel all riches is poverty, all wisdom folly before God; strength is weakness, and all the justice of man is under the condemnation of God. But by the knowledge of the gospel we are made children of God, brothers of Jesus Christ, fellow townsmen with the saints, citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, heirs of God with Jesus Christ, by whom the poor are made rich, the weak strong, the fools wise, the sinner justified, the desolate comforted, the doubting sure, and slaves free. It is the power of God for the salvation of all those who believe …” (66)

Because of the weight of this gospel revealed in Scripture, it’s no surprise that Calvin closes this preface with words for preachers: “O you who call yourselves bishops and pastors of the poor people, see to it that the sheep of Jesus Christ are not deprived of their proper pasture; and that it is not prohibited and forbidden that any Christian feely and in his own language to read, handle, and hear this holy gospel…” (72).

These two quotes – one on the centrality of the gospel and the second on the importance of preaching – really reveal the heart of John Calvin as a man riveted to the Cross.

But I was especially struck by the following section where Calvin shows us that all the Christian’s comfort and hope rests in the person and work of Jesus Christ. He writes,

“It follows that every good thing we could think or desire is to be found in this same Jesus Christ alone. For, he was sold, to buy us back; captive, to deliver us; condemned, to absolve us; he was made a curse for our blessing, sin offering for our righteousness; marred that we may be made fair; he died for our life; so that by him fury is made gentle, wrath appeased, darkness turned into light, fear reassured, despisal despised, debt canceled, labor lightened, sadness made merry, misfortune made fortunate, difficulty easy, disorder ordered, division united, ignominy ennobled, rebellion subjected, intimidation intimidated, ambush uncovered, assaults assailed, force forced back, combat combated, war warred against, vengeance avenged, torment tormented, damnation damned, the abyss sunk into the abyss, hell transfixed, death dead, mortality made immortal. In short, mercy has swallowed up all misery, and goodness all misfortune. For all these things which were to be the weapons of the devil in his battle against us, and the sting of death to pierce us, are turned for us into exercises which we can turn to our profit. If we are able to boast with the apostle, saying, O hell, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? it is because by the Spirit of Christ promised to the elect, we live no longer, but Christ lives in us; and we are by the same Spirit seated among those who are in heaven, so that for us the world is no more, even while our conversation [life] is in it; but we are content in all things, whether country, place, condition, clothing, meat, and all such things. And we are comforted in tribulation, joyful in sorrow, glorying under vituperation [verbal abuse], abounding in poverty, warmed in our nakedness, patient amongst evils, living in death. This is what we should in short seek in the whole of Scripture: truly to know Jesus Christ, and the infinite riches that are comprised in him and are offered to us by him from God the Father.” (69-70)

These are beautiful words! The introduction as a whole is a masterpiece, taking the reader from the biblical storyline and the Messianic promises to the gospel itself, showing that our eternal life and present comforts rest in Christ alone. Then he finishes with an exhortation that preachers be diligent to proclaim this Word.

It is good for us to remember the grace of God in revealing His Word to ungrateful truth-suppressors and and illuminating His Word to blind sinners. Let us remember that, “Without the gospel everything is useless and vain” and let us study Scripture seeking to “truly to know Jesus Christ, and the infinite riches that are comprised in him and are offered to us by him from God the Father.”

So how do you persuade the French people towards Reformation theology? You point them to Scripture and specifically to the complete and perfect work of Jesus Christ on the Cross. Calvin persuaded masses because his message was Scripture-saturated, grace-filled, and Cross-centered. The gospel was everything! With this in mind, French readers could read right into Matthew and the rest of the New Testament on a quest to see Christ’s glory for themselves.

————————–

Click here to access previous posts in the Humble Calvinism index.

————————–

Earnest preaching and worldliness

It is easy, I have found, to fall into a lull in preaching where I forget that souls are eternal and the body is quickly fading. Our country is in need especially of earnest preaching that reminds sinners every week that the temporal life will soon peel back like a stage background to reveal the eternal world (1 Cor. 7:31). Naturally the world and even Christians tend to think more about the temporal world than the eternal. This breads a host of problems and sinful thinking.

So back to John Angell James’ powerful book, An Earnest Ministry. This week we will look at the need of earnestness from the pulpit concerning specific topics of concern. I think it is especially important to note that James is not forgetting the Spirit’s work in all of this. He does not think earnest ministry alone saves and sanctifies. He understands earnest preaching as a type of serious preaching that the Spirit of God answers to and blesses (see pp. 190-191). Here then is the first reason that makes earnest preaching so needful: Worldliness.

“What can be sufficient but an intense devotedness on the part of ministers to make things unseen and eternal bear down the usurping power of things seen and temporal? Who but the man that knows how to deal with invisible realities, and to wield the powers of the world to come, can pluck the worldling from the whirlpool of earthly mindedness, which sucks down so many, or prevent the professing Christian from being drawn into it? If our own minds are not much impressed with the awful glories and terrors of eternity, we cannot speak of these things in such a manner as is likely to rescue our hearers from the ruinous fascinations of Mammon. How we seem to want a Baxter and a Doolittle; an Edwards and a Howe; a Whitefield and a Wesley, to break in with their thunder upon the money-loving, money-grasping spirit of this grossly utilitarian age!”

- John Angell James, An Earnest Ministry: The Want of the Times (Banner of Truth, 1847/1993) pp. 192-193.

“Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you” (Ps. 73:25, ESV).

The Puritan Study (Part 9) The Strategy of Building a Puritan Study

Part 9: The Strategy of Building a Puritan Library

I assume many of you are like me, lacking access to a solid library of Puritan literature. Here in my hometown we have no seminary and it is rare to find a fellow believer who has even heard of Spurgeon, not to mention Boston, Manton and Goodwin.

So building a Puritan library was my responsibility. I just started buying Puritans that I had indexes for and especially the Puritans published by The Banner of Truth. I learned from both my successes and mistakes.

The Strategy

First, I assume you already spend a fair amount of money on books right now. If you are like me, you probably look around your library with regret at some of the volumes that serve no purpose in your expositional research. For years, my library suffered from a clear game plan.

A poorly planned library will lack important reference books like commentaries and Puritan sermons. It will be heavy on contemporary controversies and issues books. Read blogs if you want to be up-to-date on the current trends in the church. Buy commentaries and Puritans if you want a solid expositional library.

A solid library that helps support the preacher or writer in their expositional work is no accident.

This post will help you define your own personal game plan.

Bottom line

The Puritan Study I have described in this series comes to a grand total of $1,500.00. That sounds like a lot but it figures out to $1.40 a day for 3 years (which is about what I spend at Starbucks). And to have this entire library in three years is pretty fast!

I’ve broken down my list of Puritans into $500 segments. Again, this list is ordered by availability and usefulness of each author. Your first $500 will be the best-spent money. The second and third $500 increments are important but not immediate.

(Note: What follows is a simple strategy for building a Puritan library. Specific reviews of each author and set will follow the Puritan Study series. Pictures of each set can be seen here. Updated (3/17/07): Note that most of these resources can be found at a more reasonable price through Monergism Books. Please check them before making any purchases.)

Here is my strategy, broken into three phases…

// THE FIRST $500

1. Charles Haddon Spurgeon (63 sermon vols.; CD-Rom)

I cannot begin with any more important preacher than Charles (C.H.) Spurgeon. The Puritans thoroughly impact everything Spurgeon preached or wrote. Look at his commentary on the Psalms (The Treasury of David) and you will see why Spurgeon is a priceless Puritan resource. He is the great Puritan synthesizer. Spurgeon’s complete works total about 150 volumes and you can download them all for $15.00 or buy the CD-Rom for $20.00 from Ages software. (If you have extra money, I would recommend buying some printed volumes from Pilgrim Publications but especially his autobiography and the classic book on pastoral ministry, Lectures to My Students.) [Read Piper’s biography of Spurgeon here]

2. Jonathan Edwards (2 vol. works; printed)

An extraordinarily rich resource! These two volumes of works by Jonathan Edwards are gems to the Puritan researcher. I would recommend the Banner of Truth volumes for their sturdy binding. You can buy volumes one and two here in the Banner of Truth editions or a cheaper version. The complementary text files can be found online for free. [Read Piper’s biography of Edwards here]

3. John Bunyan (3 vol. works; printed)

John Bunyan is most famous for his novel, The Pilgrim’s Progress. But he was also an incredibly gifted (and imaginative) preacher. These three clothbound volumes from the Banner of Truth are well built and come with an excellent topical index. You can find them for about $89.00. All of the associated text files can be found online for free. [Read Piper’s biography of Bunyan here]

4. Thomas Boston (12 vol. works; printed)

Jonathan Edwards considered Thomas Boston, “a truly great divine.” Boston is one of my personal favorites. These precious volumes have provided me many years of sermon quotes and exegetical thoughts on God’s Word. The entire 12-volume set has been recently published by Tentmaker in a beautiful cloth binding and is available in the United States for $325.00 here or $250.00 here. Worth every penny! You can buy the incredible Memoirs alone. [Read our full review of this set here]

5. Thomas Manton (22 vol. works; CD-Rom)

A set that is simply too large to make affordable in print format. The CD-Rom of Manton’s complete 22-volume set can be purchased for only $10.00. A great price for a must-have set of works! The first three volumes are avaliable in print.

// THE SECOND $500

6. John Owen (16 vol. but especially vols. 1,2 and 6; printed)

All of John Owen’s 16-volumes works are excellent. I especially have found volumes one, two, six and seven of great use. You can add other volumes in the future but these three are essential. The volumes are clothbound (as you would expect from the Banner of Truth) and run about $25.00 each or $75.00 total. The text files are available online for free but you will want to read these volumes cover-to-cover, making the printed works a must. [Read Piper’s biography of Owen here]

7. John Flavel (6 vol. works; printed)

Another excellent Puritan I have used on several occasions. Your meditations and sermons will be greatly blessed by Flavel. The Banner of Truth volumes are clothbound and beautiful. They sell for $150.00.

8. Richard Sibbes (7 vol. works; printed)

The “sweet dropper,” Sibbes was an incredible Puritan preacher. The Banner of Truth volumes are clothbound and run $126.00.

9. Jeremiah Burroughs (misc. books; printed)

Burroughs is the most difficult author on the list because his works are not collected and published by various companies. Several of his works comprise the Gospel Life series ($91.00). The six titles include Gospel Worship, Gospel Fear, Gospel Conversation, Gospel Revelation, Gospel Remission, and Gospel Reconciliation. Beyond this there are other Burroughs titles in print including The Sinfulness of Sin or The Evil of Evil ($17.00), The Excellency of a Gracious Spirit, Hope ($15.00), Irenicum to the Lovers of Truth and Peace ($22.00), The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment ($6.25), The Saints’ Happiness, The Saints’ Treasury and A Treatise of Earthly-Mindedness. All told, it would be easy to spend $180.00 on Burroughs alone. Still, his works are indexed and very valuable.

10. Thomas Brooks (6 vol. works; printed)

The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks in six volumes is available in cloth binding from Banner of Truth for $140.00. One Puritan scholar says of Brooks, “He had a body of divinity in his head and the power of it in his heart.” Incredible material!

// THE THIRD $500

11. Thomas Goodwin (12 vol. works; printed)

Reformation Heritage Books has recently reprinted the paperback version of Goodwin’s 12 volume works. This is a great service to the Puritan community and can be purchased for $240.00. I have yet to read a Puritan that glorifies the person and works of Christ more than Goodwin. [read our full review here]

12. John Newton (6 vol. works; printed)

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me” are the words of John Newton. An excellent preacher, his complete works are available in cloth binding for $144.00. [Read Piper’s biography of Newton here]

13. David Clarkson (3 vol. works; printed)

Not as experiential as the authors above, but well indexed and valuable. The works of David Clarkson are available for $62.00.

14. Edward Reynolds (vols. 1,4,5,6 of 6 vol. works; printed)

Like Burroughs, the complete works of Reynolds are not available. Today there are five volumes in print: Commentary on Ecclesiastes, Meditations on the Holy Sacrament of the Lord’s Last Supper, Preaching Christ, Sinfulness Of Sin and Treatise on the Passions and Faculties of the Soul. All these valuable volumes can be purchased for about $115.00. Spurgeon wrote, “Reynolds was a man of vast learning and thoroughly evangelical spirit.” The digital files are beginning to appear on Google books for free download.

Conclusion

By this point you may feel totally overwhelmed (and broke). Remember, this is a long-term goal.

I don’t even think it would be beneficial to buy all these works at once! Slowly add works as you grow comfortable with the ones you already have.

If you follow this plan you will spend your money wisely and have a storehouse of expositional material at arm’s-reach. This is my promise to you: Even if the Lord blesses you with 30 more years of expositional ministry, you will never exhaust the Puritan Study you built in three years.

————–
Next time … Part 10: Concluding Thoughts, part 1
—————