Book review: Sermons on the Beatitudes by John Calvin, translated by Robert White (0851519342)

Book review:

Sermons on the Beatitudes by John Calvin (translated by Robert White)

John Calvin [1509-1564] was a great theologian. I know this from the Institutes of the Christian Religion. Calvin was a great commentator. That his cherished commentary remains printed and popular is evidence enough. But until recently I was unaware Calvin also excelled as a preacher [frequently Calvin has been criticized in church history for being a poor one].

The book, Sermons on the Beatitudes (translated by Robert White), marks my introduction to Calvin the preacher. This collection of recently translated material by the Banner of Truth is a short book (a little under 100 pages of five sermons and a little over 100 pages with the scriptural index and many helpful footnotes). The volume was assembled well and the translation is very sharp and clear.

Examples

Two examples show the tremendous heart Calvin had as a shepherd. The first expounds upon the words of Jesus that those who weep will be comforted:

“Jesus says blessed are those who weep, for in the end they will rejoice and be comforted. Here he affirms more or less what we have already learnt. For if we are poor in spirit, we cannon avoid weeping; we cannot be other than distressed. We are not, after all, without feelings, like those madmen I mentioned earlier, who expect us to remain as immovable as an anvil or a rock! Such a thing goes against our nature. We have instead to feel our miseries, which are meant to press us to the point where we bend and break: we can no longer hold our heads up, our breath is taken from us, we are, so to speak, dead men.”

“That is why our Lord in this passage [Matt. 5:1-4] associates weeping and poverty in spirit. It is as if he were saying: ‘When I tell you that nothing will take away your blessedness, however oppressed and afflicted you are, I do not mean that you should dumbly resist regardless of feelings, or that you should be like senseless blocks of wood. No! You will weep, you will experience want, dishonor, illness, and other kinds of affliction in this world. These things you will suffer; they will wound you to the very core and make you weep. But nothing will take your blessedness from you’” (p. 28).

These are the words of a man who experienced the weeping here explained. He experienced want, dishonor, much illness and afflictions. He was here preaching as a real man to real people through the real promises of God. Our hearts will be broken – we will feel the pain and the pain will be real. What experiential sensitivity and wonderful tenderness!

Much of the volume addresses the dangers of worldliness. This second example helps us to navigate through this temporary world through prosperity and trials. Notice his experiential understanding of the believer and unbeliever in similar situations.

“We should not cling to happiness or greet its passing with a hollow laugh, for it is fleeting. Nor should we exult when men applaud us, as if we had already attained our reward for a virtuous life on earth. No, we are determined to press on through good report and bad. Such is the measured and moderate path pursued by the believer. We do not get drowsy, still less intoxicated, when times are good. And we are always willing to abandon everything if God requires. This is not how it is with unbelievers. Prosperity goes immediately to their heads, fills them to bursting; they are so befuddled that not once do they spare a thought for God or the spiritual life. In time they grow hard, and when misfortune comes they grind their teeth and blaspheme against God” (pp. 78-79).

Each of these examples highlight Calvin’s heart, something we often miss in his theology and commentary.

Conclusion

As you probably already knew, Calvin was an incredibly gifted figure from the Protestant reformation. But these sermons shed new light on the tenderness and experiential-mindedness of Calvin the shepherd. He was as gifted in preaching as he was in commentating and writing theology. This volume, though very brief, is a gem!


Boards
: clothbound, hardcover (green, gilded)
Pages: 114
Dust jacket: yes
Binding: Smyth sewn
Text: recent translation, perfect type
Topical Index: no
Textual index: yes
Publisher: Banner of Truth Trust
Price USD: $20.00/$15.00 + free ship from BoT store
ISBNs: 0851519342, 9780851519340

More information on this book here.

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

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2 thoughts on “Book review: Sermons on the Beatitudes by John Calvin, translated by Robert White (0851519342)

  1. Thank you for your hard work and for your site. It has blessed me, encouraged me, challenged me, and convicted me. I really appreciate your materials. I pray that God will abundanlty bless you, your family and your ministry.

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