LIVING UNDER AUTHORITY
BY: RC SPROUL
As I read the scriptures, particularly the New Testament, there is a theme that recurs again and again regarding the Christian’s willingness to be in submission to various types of authority. Given the rebellious spirit of our age, that frightens me. It’s all too easy for us to get caught up in an attitude that will bring us into open defiance of the authority of God.
Let’s turn our attention to 1 Peter 2:11–16:
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
Peter is speaking to people who were subjected to brutal, fierce, and violent persecution—the kind of activity that can incite within us the worst possible responses, including anger, resentment, and hatred. But Peter pleads with those people who were the victims of the hatred of their culture to behave in an honorable manner before the watching world. Paul gives a similar plea time and time again that we’re to try to live at peace with all men as much as possible.
The “therefore” of verse 13 introduces a key manifestation of living honorably before the watching world. We’re to submit ourselves to the ordinances of man. Why? I find the answer startling and fascinating. The Apostle’s admonition is that we’re to submit for the Lord’s sake. But how is obedience to human ordinances done for the Lord’s sake? How does my obedience to my professors, my boss, or the government in any way benefit Christ?
To understand this, we have to understand the deeper problem that all of Scripture is dealing with—the problem of sin. At the most fundamental level, sin is an act of rebellion and disobedience to a higher law and Lawgiver. The biggest problem with the world is lawlessness. The reason people are violated, killed, and maimed in battle, the reason there are murders, robberies, and so forth is that we’re lawless. We disobey, first of all, the law of God. The root problem in all of creation is disobedience to law, defiance of authority. And the ultimate authority of the universe is God Himself.
But God delegates authority as He reigns and rules over His creation. God raises up human governments. It is God who instituted government in the first place (Rom. 13). That’s why Christians are called to honor and pray for the king, pay their taxes, and submit as much as possible to the authorities in all things—because the authorities are instituted by God. Moreover, He shares supreme authority with Christ, who said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given [by the Father] to me” (Matt. 28:18). So, no ruler in this world has any authority except that which has been delegated to him by God and by His Christ, who is the King of kings and Lord of lords. Thus, disobedience to the lawful commands of earthly authorities is ultimately disobedience to God and to Christ because they ordained the governing authorities.
The world has gone crazy in lawlessness, but we’re to be different. Wherever we find ourselves under authority—and we all find ourselves submitting to various authorities—we’re to submit to that authority. Nobody in this world is autonomous. Every one of us has not just one boss, but several bosses. Everyone I know, including me, is accountable not to just one person but to all kinds of authority structures. Throw a brick through a store window, and you’ll find out quickly that you’re accountable, that you’re under authority, that there are laws to be obeyed and law enforcement officers to make sure the laws are obeyed.
Christians are free in Christ, but we aren’t to use our liberty as a license for sin, because even though on the one hand we’re free, on the other hand we remain indentured servants.
We’re bondservants to God. We’re slaves of Jesus Christ. So, even if the rest of the world is running on the track of anti-authority and anti-submissiveness, we aren’t allowed to join in. We’re called to be scrupulous to maintain order. There is such a thing as law and order that God Himself has ordained in the universe. And we’re called to bear witness to that, even by suffering through uncomfortable, inconvenient, and sometimes painful submission to the lawful rules of even those authorities who do not recognize God, for even the godless authorities have been established by God.
I think we all have experiences where we bristle and chafe under authority and under mandates with which we vehemently disagree. Let me just suggest as a matter of practical consideration that if we look to these human institutions or these human persons who are tyrannical, unfair, unjust, and all that, and we seek to submit to them individually or even institutionally, considered in and of themselves, we will find it extremely difficult to submit with any kind of good attitude. But if somehow we can look through them, look past them, look over them, and see the One whom the Father has invested with ultimate cosmic authority, namely, Christ Himself, we’ll have an easier time submitting. We’ll find help with our struggle to submit when we recognize we’re submitting ultimately to Christ, because we know He’ll never tyrannize or abuse us.
PREACHING OF D. MARTYN LLOYD-JONES
BY PASTOR JOEL BEKE
David Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981) was undoubtedly one of the best and most powerful preachers of the twentieth century. Despite a busy ministry with numerous responsibilities, for decades he consistently preached well, and often-virtually every Sunday morning and evening except during long vacations in July and August, and he also gave sermonic “lectures” on Friday evenings. Countless people concur that though his books (which usually consist of repackaged sermons) are very good, and the recordings of his sermons are even better, to hear him in person was most unforgettable.
What was it that made his preaching so memorable? I suppose a book could be written to answer this question. Here I would like to expound just three of Lloyd-Jones’s outstanding preaching characteristics that we can learn from today for the contemporary pulpit.
Preaching the Glory of God
A defining characteristic of Lloyd-Jones’s preaching was that his hearers came away feeling greatly reduced in their own eyes before the immense majesty of God in Christ. J. I. Packer remembers the Doctor as like “a lion, fierce on matters of principle, austere in his gravity, able in his prime both to growl and to roar as his argument required.” Yet, personally, he was “delightfully relaxed . . . twinkling and witty to the last degree.” His public arguments were “severe to the point of crushing, but always with transparent patience and good humor,” even when people stupidly provoked him. He preached with all his energy, and with “the God-given liveliness and authority that in past eras was called unction.”
Packer recalls hearing him preach in the winter of 1948-1949, noting that “I felt and saw as never before the glory of Christ and of his gospel as modern man’s only lifeline and learned by experience why historic Protestantism looks on preaching as the supreme means of grace and of communion with God.” Lloyd-Jones “never put on any sort of act,” but always “spoke as a debater making a case” or “as a physician making a diagnosis.” Like Isaiah, his preaching seized men who thought themselves great and God small, and lifted their eyes to see that they are small and God is great. His preaching always aimed at preaching Christ and Him crucified. Packer says as well in his Collected Shorter Writings, “I have never known anyone whose speech communicated such a sense of the reality of God.”
In the second volume of his biography of the London preacher, Iain Murray repeats some counsel that Lloyd-Jones gave him over the phone when Murray had to prepare to speak on “Is Calvinistic Evangelistic Preaching Necessary?” The Doctor told him:
The superficiality of modern evangelism is not the result of an overemphasis on justification; it was because it did not preach the law, the depth of sin and the holiness of God. The gospel was being preached in terms of the offer of a friend and a helper. The characteristic of Calvinistic evangelism is that the majesty and glory of God is put first, instead of some benefit provided for man.
Lecturing to students at Westminster Seminary, Lloyd-Jones asked: “What is preaching? Logic on fire . . . theology on fire. . . . Preaching is theology coming through a man on fire.” He also queried, “What is the chief end of preaching?” and answered, “It is to give men and women a sense of God and His presence.” He explained:
I can forgive a man for a bad sermon, I can forgive the preacher almost anything if he gives me a sense of God, if he gives me something for my soul, if he gives me the sense that, though he is inadequate himself, he is handling something which is very great and very glorious, if he gives me some dim glimpse of the majesty and glory of God, the love of Christ my Savior, and the magnificence of the Gospel. (Preaching and Preachers)
Preaching the Truth of Holy Scripture
Lloyd-Jones was well aware of the scientific advancements of the modern age. He was a brilliant medical doctor. Even after his calling into ministry, he continued to follow developments in the medical world. In a sermon on 1 Thessalonians 1, “Not in Word Only,” he says that he hears the constant clamor of voices saying that “owing to the advance of knowledge, and particularly science, we are confronted by a situation such as never confronted the Christian church before in her whole great and long history.” He goes on to explain that we are told that people don’t understand theological words, such as justification and sanctification, so we must learn how to communicate with such modern people. As a result, even in the 1960s, the church was pressed to “learn the methods of big business advertising” and to “modernize everything.”
Against this tendency and its imperative of so-called relevance, Lloyd-Jones asserts, “The problem confronting us is precisely the problem that has always confronted the Christian Church.” The world “never varies,” but always “hates God.” It uses different terminology, but the differences are only on the surface. What varies, sadly, is the state of the church. But the indifference and hostility of the world are not “new or novel or unique.” The apostle Paul arrived in Thessalonica with his little missionary team and faced a pagan society immersed in immorality and ignorant of biblical truth-very much like the modern world.
The apostle responded with the ministry of Word and Spirit: “For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance” (1 Thess 1:5). Lloyd-Jones maintained that this is exactly what the church needs today to evangelize the lost, “the message and the power of the Spirit upon it.” The apostles did not come with anti-war protests, political agendas, or vague talk about inexpressible experiences of God. They came with doctrine. So must the church today, despite the sad reality that we live in an age when people dislike doctrine, theology, definitions, and clear and careful thinking, as Lloyd-Jones points out. But when have men ever liked the truth?
The message that pagans need to hear begins with God, as we see in 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10, quoted thus by Lloyd-Jones: “For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.” Even before we tell them about Christ and salvation, people need to hear about the true God. Lloyd-Jones warns: “We start with ourselves, our needs, and then we always want something to satisfy us. Christianity never starts with man. It always starts with God.” Then, it moves on to Christ, His death and resurrection, and salvation.
He preaches: “We are in such a hurry. We say, ‘Come to Jesus,’ and the people do not come to Jesus. Do you know why? I can tell you. They have never seen any need of Jesus.” They may look for emotional happiness, the healing of their bodies, guidance, or solutions to earthly problems, but without seeing the glory of God and His holy law, they will not come to Christ.
The way to preach doctrine that centers on God in Christ is to preach the Holy Scriptures. Lloyd-Jones sees a place for lectures, but preaching is not lecturing with Scripture verses attached. Preaching is “always expository,” as he says in Preachers and Preaching. That is, it always derives its message and main points from a passage of the Bible.
The “golden rule” of sermon preparation, according to Lloyd-Jones, is that the preacher must deal honestly with the meaning of the text. He cannot seize an idea or a phrase from the Bible and then say whatever he wants. Nor may he give a scholarly report about the text while neglecting the “main thrust” of its “spiritual meaning.” It is remarkable how men can avoid preaching Christ and His cross, and end up in a sideshow that neglects the real message of that Scripture in its context. A text such as 2 Timothy 2:8, “Remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my gospel,” is twisted into an assertion of bare experientiality (“my gospel”-the only gospel that counts is the one that I have made my own). Meanwhile, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is neglected, if not denied outright. Preaching the true message of Scripture requires “spiritual perception” or “unction” from the Holy Spirit (1 John 2:20, 27).
Lloyd-Jones became known for his expository series of sermons on books of the Bible, such as Romans, Ephesians, and 1 John, or on long passages such as the Sermon on the Mount. There is great wisdom in preaching through the Scriptures in a continuous fashion for the edification of the saints. However, it is less often appreciated that Lloyd-Jones always preached evangelistic sermons on Sunday nights. Generally, as Iain Murray has noted, each of these evangelistic messages expounded a Scripture text selected for the occasion without being part of a series.
Lloyd-Jones advocates quite a bit of liberty in selecting the text for the sermon, whether for evangelism or for edification. He warns preachers against mapping out in advance exactly what they will preach for the next six months and sticking rigidly to the plan. At times, a text will speak powerfully to the preacher’s soul. When this happens, he advises, preachers should write down an outline and a few thoughts, and save them for a future occasion. Sometimes a number of texts will coalesce into a theme that the preacher can turn into a series, as Lloyd-Jones did with the sermons that became his book Spiritual Depression. The calendar, current world crises, or catastrophic events may provide opportunities to bring the Word of God directly to bear on what people are thinking about.
The preacher must be sensitive to the needs of his people. That includes not preaching a series that is too deep and too long for the congregation to follow. But whatever one preaches, it must be the Word of God. It is worth noting that Lloyd-Jones began his work in serial exposition with a relatively short and simple series of sermons later published as Expository Sermons on 2 Peter. He was content to begin that way, and so train his people for the more advanced kind of preaching found in the sermons on Romans and Ephesians.
Preaching with the Unction of the Holy Spirit
It is not enough to bring the Word; there must be the Spirit too. Lloyd-Jones says that when Paul wrote of the Word going out “in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance” (1 Thess 1:5), he was referring not merely to the experience of the listeners but also to the preacher. Paul preached “in the power of the Holy Ghost,” as Lloyd-Jones specifies in “Not in Word Only.”
Lloyd-Jones long stressed the necessity of preaching truth for doctrinal understanding. As he said in an interview with Carl Henry, “When I came to England, evangelicalism was non-theological, pietistic, and sentimental.” However, Murray reminds us that in the 1960s, Lloyd-Jones also began to emphasize that those who embraced orthodoxy must not rest therein; they needed the work of the Holy Spirit in personal experience, and especially for assurance of salvation. The church needs both a clear understanding of biblical truth and a warm embrace of spiritual experience.
Experiential Christianity is not just a result of preaching; it is an essential qualification for the preacher. As Paul explained to the Thessalonians, he preached with purity of heart, not seeking to please men (1 Thess 2:3-5). Lloyd-Jones enjoyed humor, but in “Not in Word Only” he says, “I cannot imagine the Apostle Paul bouncing up on to a platform, cracking a few jokes to put the congregation at ease, and then entertaining them with flippancies in order just to play upon their feelings.” On the contrary, he quotes 1 Corinthians 2:4: “And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.”
The same Spirit worked in Paul’s listeners, so that they received the message not as the words of men but as the Word of God (1 Thess 2:13). As a result, they turned from idols to serve the living God with faith, hope, and love, even in persecution (1 Thess 1:3, 6, 9). Only the Holy Spirit can produce such a change; only He can convict of sin, illuminate the soul, and give life to the dead. This apostolic kind of gospel proclamation is preaching in the Holy Spirit, and it is an instrument of regeneration by the Spirit.
We must both preach the sovereign grace of regeneration and preach with faith, believing it ourselves. Lloyd-Jones once told Murray: “Modern evangelism pays lip service to regeneration, but it does not really believe in it. True Calvinistic preaching shows the complete helplessness of man and regards the humbling of man as the main part of its work. If that is left out, the true glory of salvation cannot begin to be measured.”
Lloyd-Jones knew that preaching involves us in a mysterious partnership or cooperation with almighty God. For this reason, despite all his experience in writing and delivering sermons, he confessed in 1967 that “to me, preaching is a great mystery” (see Knowing the Times: Addresses Delivered on Various Occasions). At times, God grants a freedom and power that has little to do with our preparations and abilities. Yet, preaching always feels like “an impossible task.” It comes with “the element of dread, of terrible responsibility”; there is “the sense of fear, the sense of awe.” The preacher cannot be sent by himself. He is sent by God by means of the call of the church (Rom. 10:15). The Spirit-empowered preacher speaks, as Paul confessed in 1 Corinthians 2:3, “in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.” Great preachers, such as Paul or George Whitefield, did not slip easily into preaching. They were alarmed by their unworthiness and the solemn majesty of Christ.
Preaching is also a personal interaction between the preacher and the congregation. It is not at all true that the preacher disappears and only God is seen. Lloyd-Jones agrees with Phillips Brooks’s statement that preaching is “truth mediated through personality.” He says:
The whole man is involved in preaching. . . . It is not merely what the man says, it is the way in which he says it-this total involvement of the man; his body is involved, every part of him, every faculty is involved if it is true preaching, the whole personality of the individual; and, at the same time, as I said, the congregation is also making its contribution. Here are spiritually minded people, they have come prepared and they are under the influence of the Spirit, and so these two things blend together. There is a unity between preacher and hearers and there is a transaction backwards and forwards. That, to me, is true preaching.
Preaching is a spiritual triangle whereby God draws the preacher and the hearers closer to Himself and to each other. The Holy Spirit is at work, the preacher feels a holy “compulsion,” and the people are “gripped and fixed” by the truth. This is a far cry from preaching only because it is Sunday and it’s your job. It is a labor of love. Love moves us to study and to organize our thoughts. But Lloyd-Jones says that to dress up our sermons simply “to attract people” is not love, but “prostitution.”
Preaching is delivering a “word from God,” not in the sense of direct revelation, but as the result of studying Scripture and then speaking the truth of Scripture “in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Cor 2:4). The preacher is an agent of God, and he himself is “taken up” by God into “this realm of the Spirit, and God is giving a message through this man to the people.” He is not tied to his notes or to following some perfect form, but speaks with a holy “freedom,” often leaving “loose ends” or even interrupting himself in ways one would not expect in a polished theological treatise. God gives him insights and fire even in the act of preaching that he did not have before. As a result, the preacher may say: “I am preaching, yet not I, but I am being used of God; I am being taken up, I am being employed, and God is using even me to speak to these people. I am an ambassador for God, I am a sent one, I am aware of this great responsibility-but it is all right, I am enabled to do it because of His grace and the power that He is gracious enough to give me.”
This is the divine mystery of preaching as Lloyd-Jones described it and as he experienced it through a lifetime of ministry in the pulpit. May God raise up more men like Lloyd-Jones who will preach His truth to His glory with the Spirit’s unction to the salvation of the lost and the maturation of the saints in Christ.
“THE CALVIN PROJECT”: THE CALVIN WE TEND TO FORGET BY PASTOR SINCLAIR FERGUSON
Most readers of these pages will be familiar not only with the name but also with the ministry of John Calvin. But “the Calvin we tend to forget”? What new revelations about the Genevan Reformer are we about to discover? Many of us handle his commentaries on an almost weekly basis. Forget Calvin? Not subscribers to The Expositor, surely? Perhaps not. But he has been forgotten before. As is well known, at one time there was such disinterest in his life and work that-alas-many of the manuscripts of his sermons, carefully taken down and collated by a team of diligent amanuenses, were sold for the paper to be recycled. No matter how much Calvin you have collected-even if you owned the set of Ioannis Calvini opera quae supersunt omnia, a mere fifty-nine massive tomes, plus additions-you still would not have Calvin’s complete works!
Despite this prodigious body of material to be found in so many university libraries, in the academic world, Calvin the great theologian and Reformer was all but forgotten a century or so ago. Were it not for the influence of Karl Barth’s rediscovery of him, the five hundredth anniversary of his birth might have aroused little interest in the academy. Calvin was yesterday’s man.
The same was true in the church. Were it not for an unexpected and unpredicted movement of the Spirit throughout the world in the last half century or so, which led to the rediscovery and republication of the works of the sixteenth century Reformers and the seventeenth century Puritans, few preachers today would ever read a word written by John Calvin. Indeed, when I was a student in Scotland, celebrating my twenty-first birthday with money my mother had given to me, I had to import a set of Calvin’s commentaries from the U.S. They cost the equivalent of a week and a half of the average national wage. I knew no contemporaries who possessed a set, and few who wanted to. In sharp contrast, Calvin’s writings are currently in abundant supply; a set of his commentaries can be had for the monetary equivalent of a few hours’ work.
How, then, could we “forget” Calvin? We look back to him as a standard model of systematic expository preaching. Like him, many of us are resolutely committed to preaching consecutively through books of Scripture. We feel we are following in the path he blazed.
But are we? Certainly, we have seen a remarkable restoration of systematic expository preaching. What was rare fifty years ago is now commonplace,and indeed, is sometimes seen as the only proper way to preach-verse by verse, chapter by chapter, book by book-just like Calvin did.
We know he was neither alone nor original. Huldrych Zwingli (1484-1531) had recovered the pattern he saw in Augustine and Chrysostom in the early church. He had launched his career as People’s Preacher at the Old Minster in Zurich in 1519 by the stunningly novel practice of preaching systematically through the New Testament, beginning with Matthew. Others followed. But none of his contemporaries rivalled Calvin in exegetical ability. He was a superbly gifted and highly trained literary exegete, and he brought those God-given gifts to bear on the task of gospel ministry. His rare autobiographical comments in the introduction to his Commentary on the Psalms gives us a clear hint that his insight into the meaning of Scripture was already evident within the first year after the “sudden [or perhaps unexpected] conversion” by which God subdued him. And later in life, he was without peer in his sheer dogged persistence in expounding and applying the text of Scripture over many years. The effect on Geneva and far beyond (especially France) was staggering-although the story of Calvin’s ministry, and the Minutes of the Consistory of Geneva, make clear that by no means were all enthusiastic about his sermons.
But despite these gifts, Calvin had what would today be regarded as an excruciatingly difficult, perhaps even disastrous first pastorate. Humanly speaking, he was little prepared for the rough and tumble of pastoral ministry. He was, after all, a scholar, and still in his mid-twenties.
If it is still true that the average first pastorate in the U.S. lasts about two years, Calvin was, at first, a quintessentially average pastor. Within that period-accompanied by William Farel and other colleagues-he upset large and influential sections of the Genevan citizenry. A crisis point was reached on Easter weekend of 1538, and within a matter of days, Calvin was forced out of town. Famously, some three and a half years later, he was invited back. He saw his return as a fate worse than death. But he came, older, more mature, wiser, and-in addition-having already taken the first steps in initiating what we might call “The Calvin Project.”
What was “The Calvin Project”? The idea was certainly his even if the description is ours. In essence, it was his answer to the question, “What should a genuinely biblical ministry look like in sixteenth-century Switzerland?”
We are all familiar with Calvin’s answer. Expository preaching was its heart and backbone.. However much he might have preferred the life of secluded scholarship, Calvin had now become, for better or worse, a gospel preacher first and foremost.
The season Calvin spent in Strasbourg under the wise and watchful eye of Martin Bucer had matured him. It had also enlarged his view of what his ministry should be, and “The Calvin Project” was soon underway. “The Project” was comprised of a series of elements:
1. The Pen
While there, pastoring his own congregation, Calvin conceived an ambitious program for the benefit of the church. He would explain, expound, and apply the Scriptures in writing. He planned to write his way through the books of the New Testament (just as later he would lecture through much of the Old Testament). Despite the busyness of life and the pressures of his position, within a period of about twenty-five years he had commented on almost the whole of the New Testament. He did so out of the conviction that literate Christians needed to study Scripture for themselves, and his goal was to help them to do so.
Calvin did not set out to write technical critical commentaries of the modern genre, but ones that were marked by clarity and brevity and suffused with a genuine reverence for the details of the text, treating them as God’s own words. The measure of his success here can be seen in this: a few preachers today might consult Luther on a passage-but largely to be gripped and inspired by his purple prose. Many, however, turn to Calvin for the clear exposition and application of the text. Had he done this alone, his contribution would have been immense.
“The Project” envisaged a fraternal relationship between the Commentaries and the Institutes of the Christian Religion. They were the two parts of a unified whole. And so The Institutes, which had been first published in 1536 as a six-chapter primer on the Reformed faith was now progressively reworked to become a handbook of evangelical theology, expounding Christian doctrine at length and in a biblical way. The Commentaries then exegeted the biblical text and, when necessary, redirected readers to the Institutes for the elucidation of points of doctrine. The combination of biblical exegesis and exposition with a coherent and warm-hearted exposition of a biblically informed theology thus became the supporting pillars for the rest of his work.
It is surprisingly easy to miss the point here. Calvin not only spoke the Word; he wrote the Word. He viewed writing as an integral part of his ministry.
Calvin was called to be a preacher and to be an author. Not all preachers are called to be authors. The spoken word and the written word are two very different modes of communication, even although both employ words. But most preachers will be writers. The existence of new social media has paradoxically created a whole new generation of writers. But there can be writing on social media by Christians, and by pastors, unfortunately, that is simply self-obsessed, and indeed self-promoting. The medium can become a means not of ministry, but of self-expression. But given the widespread use of communication technology, these media can also be wonderful tools to communicate the Word of God to our people-a mechanism by which we do for our own people what Calvin was doing for his. This requires that we first see writing as an aspect of our ministry of the Word, and that we do it under Paul’s rubric: “for we do notproclaim ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor 4:5). Who would have thought that in a world of blogs and tweets and Facebook and the like, remembering Calvin’s vision for his writing would transform what we write into a ministry of the Word?
That said, the spoken ministry clearly lay at the heart of Calvin’s vision. In fact, it did so on a virtually daily basis from the day he returned to Geneva.
2. The Pulpit
The atmosphere in St. Peter’s Church must have been electric in the fall of 1541 as the congregation crowded into the dark sanctuary to watch Calvin once again mount the pulpit steps. Three years ago they had exiled him. What would he say? What text would he use to excoriate them? What happened is well known. No doubt the memory of Calvin’s last sermon, perhaps of his last sentences, had lingered long in the memories of these Genevans. They surely steeled themselves for a loud trumpet blast against their sins. Calvin turned the pages in his Bible until he found the place-and began to expound the passage he had been preaching on in the series that had ended so abruptly three years and more before. From that hour he continued, day after day, week after week, for more than two decades, in the consecutive exposition of Scripture-verse after verse, chapter after chapter, book after book after book.
What, however, we are liable to forget is that when Calvin had finished his sermon, the next time he preached was not a whole week but only a day later. For, although his schedule was adjusted at various times to make it workable for a man plagued with a catalogue of medical problems, Calvin preached on a daily, not a weekly basis. Eventually, the rotation that he found workable was, in addition to preaching at least twice every Sunday, preaching also on every weekday during every second week. In other words, his preaching pattern was not merely consecutive exposition in terms of biblical passages, but in chronological terms too. It was daily exposition (whether by him or by one of the other ministers). On average, then, Calvin preached six or seven sermons each week.
To many contemporary preachers this statistic is staggering. Only a genius could do this. By definition we see it as an idiosyncratic happenstance.
To think this way, however, is to misunderstand Calvin’s the goal of “The Project” he had conceived. His vision was to pour the Word into the minds, affections, and souls of the Genevans, not merely to give them a biblical education. He had in view the transformation of their whole lives by the renewal of their minds through the ministry of the Word. Unlike so much contemporary evangelicalism, he placed great weight on the work the Word itself accomplished, not just on what we must accomplish in response to it. If the most important thing about preaching is what we do as a result of it, then a moderate-length sermon once a week is all most of us can handle. But if, as our Lord prayed, we are to be sanctified through the truth, then the more of that truth that is preached to us the better. If we really want to be Calvin’s heirs and to see similar fruit, then we do well to explore how we can implement this aspect of “The Calvin Project” today, not now in Geneva Switzerland (unless we live there!), but in Smallsville, U.S.A., or wherever the Lord has placed us.
Calvin’s question was: “What does genuinely apostolic ministry look like in this place (Geneva) and at this time (1541-1564)?” The guidelines he found in the New Testament included that it would produce a devotion to the apostles’ teaching that involved very frequently gathering for their preaching. Not only does Luke say (i) “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42) but (ii) that in order to do so they gathered “day by day” (Acts 2:46, 47).
In a very different context, the “last of the apostles” applied this same pattern, now in Ephesus rather than Jerusalem. Paul hired the lecture hall of Tyrannus. There he could be found “reasoning daily” with the disciples, continuing to do so “for two years” (Acts 19:9-10). Our modern translations often include a footnote at this point. It comes from the so-called “Western” textual tradition of Acts 19:9 and is sufficiently well attested to be at least reckoned an accurate hypothesis. Paul taught the word daily “from the fifth hour to the tenth,” or in our terms, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.-the period when the sun was at its zenith and every self-respecting student in Tyrannus’ philosophy class was having a siesta in the shade. That amounts to five hours each day!
What Calvin was doing, therefore, was not underwritten by the conviction that he had unique skills and could sustain the workload or was a good enough preacher to be able to sustain the attendance. No, his vision was to immerse his people in Scripture until its teaching cleansed and transformed them into men and women in whom a biblical understanding and lifestyle was, as it were, instinctive to them-as if it were second nature. Not merely informed minds, but transformed lives that issue from the renewing of the mind was the goal in view.
Compare this to current patterns of ministry. Should it not make us ask whether the comparative impoverishment of Christian character, the low levels of biblical understanding, and the all-too-superficial impact made on society by the evangelical church are virtually inevitable given the comparative famine of the hearing of the Word of God that many churches endure? How can we hope to live a genuinely cutting-edge Christian life if we are on a subsistence diet? Our churches’ leaderships need to look very closely at this issue and engage in the self-examination required to develop better patterns of church life. It is insufficient to say, “We live neither in sixteenth-century Geneva, nor even in SmallTown, U.S.A., and therefore this kind of vision is impractical to the point of impossibility.” Rather we need to ask serious questions about our vision and our desire for spiritual growth and find creative answers. And perhaps ultimately we need to be asking questions about the shape, size, and even location of the church we attend to make greater exposure to the Word possible.
All this, of course, assumes-with Calvin-that the public and corporate ministry of the Word is foundational and fundamental, and not a merely individual matter. Granted this, how can we make it possible for our people to have a diet of the Word that is more than the approximately fifteen percent of the intake a believer in Geneva might have had? At the very least, it calls for more than one gathering on the Lord’s Day and opportunity during the week for the exposition of Scripture.
Perhaps it is worth noting in passing that here is a difference between preaching consecutively through Bible books day by day and week by week. Seventy-eight sermons on Philippians, for example, is the work of a year and a half in contemporary church life. In Geneva, it was the work of about three months. There is an important psychological difference between the two experiences. Calvin could work his way through any book of Scripture in a fifth of the time we could, while still preaching the same number of sermons. We need to be careful lest following Calvin slavishly lead to lethargy in the congregation (not all of us have the gifts to sustain a series on a short book for eighteen months!). Doing so may also mean that, unless we genuinely have developed a “Calvin-Like Project” in our ministry, many months and even years may pass without us handling all kinds of important doctrines, emphases, and issues.
It is precisely here that the other dimensions of “The Calvin Project” become relevant. He understood that preaching the Word is not the whole of the ministry of the Word.
How, then, did he further develop “The Project”? In several ways. The first of these was catechetical teaching.
3. The Catechism
Calvin held the view that a catechism was of such importance that the church could not survive without it. For this reason, every Sunday there was a catechetical service for youngsters-to which, on occasion, the Consistory would also send adults lacking in their understanding of the basics of the Christian faith. Calvin himself wrote a catechism for children. Granted some of the questions are quite long-doctrinal statements with a question tagged on-but Calvin was not so obtuse that he did not provide simple answers-such as (my own favorite): “It is as you say”!
But why did he see this as so vital?
There are considerable intellectual benefits from learning a catechism. For one thing, it teaches us to think clearly and logically. It also teaches us that Scripture truth discloses itself to us only when right and appropriate questions are asked and we listen to what it actually says (a principle that in the Reformation context men of learning would apply with great effect in the scientific enterprise). But more than this it provides the believer’s mind with categories of thought that make it possible for us to grasp and retain the content of the exposition of Scripture we are hearing. This, in turn, enables us to speak the gospel coherently, to see through the wisdom of the world so that we are not easily deceived children, and it saves us from being so doctrine-light that we are blown to and fro by every new wind of teaching in town. In addition, we learn to think great thoughts of God and so to grasp the wonder of all that He is and has done for us and given to us.
The result? The child or adult who knows his or her catechism is equipped to think biblically and clearly about God, themselves, the gospel, and the lifestyle to which we are called in Christ, and to speak coherently and persuasively about it to those who are not yet believers, so much so that a young teenager in Calvin’s Geneva who had diligently attended the catechism service on Sunday afternoon knew and could articulate far more Christian doctrine than the vast majority of members of evangelical churches today.
I recall being told of an incident at a youth retreat in one of the congregations I served. Two mothers were helping the youth staff, and during some of the “down time,” the youngsters were sitting around asking all kinds of theological questions. One of the mothers patiently provided lucid answer after lucid answer to them, with what seemed to the other to be a remarkable display of biblical knowledge and wisdom. Later, when they were talking privately, the second mother commented on this. “How do you know all that?” she asked; “Your answers were amazingly clear and helpful!” “Oh” said the other mother, almost casually, “it’s all in The Shorter Catechism.” We may smile; but Calvin knew exactly what he was doing.
Catechizing carries a bad odor in many churches today. We have had the wool pulled over our eyes by educationalists and psychologists who tell us children neither want to know nor are able to understand Christian doctrine. Have they never listened to the questions young people actually ask? Or do they refused to listen to them because they were embarrassed they do not know the answer? We need to learn from “The Calvin Project” how important and wonderfully healthy it is to grow in the knowledge and understanding of God. And we need to find ways of reintroducing catechism-whether by returning to the old ones or employing some of the new and usually simpler ones, or by finding other ways of teaching the children in the church-and their parents-the riches of the gospel.
One illustration of such a re-introduction could be seen in Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, when James Montgomery Boice was minister. His express vision ran counter to what he perceived happening in American evangelicalism. “While many churches are encouraging adults to behave like youngsters in worship; here we want to see our children growing to be adults in worship.” And this was many years before the publication of Thomas Bergler’s 2012 study The Juvenilization of American Christianity.
Most guest preachers would easily recall one of the ways this vision was developed. The preacher would go to the children’s Sunday School class and point out one or two things for them to listen out for in the sermon. Then, during a period of varied activities, each child would at some point leave his or her place and go to a wonderful and warm-hearted elder sitting on his own at the back of the room. There they would repeat the catechism question and answer for the week before returning to their place. The elder had been carefully chosen-a man universally respected, well-proven, trusted in every respect, and loved-a man with a big heart and a welcoming smile. It was obvious how much the children looked forward to their few minutes with him. And so they discovered the pleasures of learning and confessing. At the same time they learned how much their elders cared for them as well as for their parents.
Young boys grow into young men. “The Calvin Project” also encompassed them. Here we meet Calvin the professor of Old Testament.
4. The Lectern
The word “professor” suggests to us the ivory towers of the university or seminary. And it is true that Calvin served as a Bible professor specializing in the Old Testament. He gave three lectures each week-so appreciated that sometimes, in order to accommodate the numbers, they were held in the church sanctuary rather than in the lecture room. Many of those lectures remain in print, wonderfully concluding with his customary prayer at the end of the class.
This may be of interest to us as preachers-it certainly makes Calvin seem all the more impressive. But what relevance does it have to our ministry? Most of us do not possess the kind of gifts that seminary professors are expected to have. But we would be mistaken to conclude this. For what Calvin was essentially doing was preparing younger men for gospel ministry, investing his gifts in them out of a burden to send preachers of the gospel throughout Europe and beyond, but especially to the France in which he himself had become a persona non grata. The astonishing fact is that he prepared hundreds of such young men to become “church planters.” Some of them would be martyred. His vision was that serious.
Simply put, then, the real Calvin was a man with a missionary zeal and a burden to invest all he could in the ministers of the future. They came to Geneva in droves, largely to sit under his teaching and to be near enough to feel the vibrations of ministry. They lived with members of the church and attended the various worship services. And with this combination of influences, they became some of the best fruit of “The Calvin Project.”
What might we so easily forget about Calvin in this context? Perhaps we never expected that he would be like Moses, surrounded by Joshuas, or like Elijah, surrounded by Elishas, or like Paul, surrounded by Timothys. But he was. And we should be too.
There was yet more, however. Even many who know about Calvin’s ministry forget about Les Congrégations–
5. The Congregations
But what were “The Congregations”? Each Friday pastors and others from Geneva and its environs met together for the study of Scripture and for mutual exhortation. It was a pattern that the Puritans would later follow in a less structured fashion by gathering in the market town on market day for preaching and then “combining” (taking a meal together and discussing not only the message preached but other matters). They would bring younger men with them to benefit from the ministry of the more seasoned ministers.
In Geneva, the pastors studied the Scriptures together. It is not difficult to imagine what frequently happened. Whenever he was present, Calvin was looked to for a sure-footed understanding of the passage under consideration-and would therefore add a further impromptu exposition to those he was giving in public. These occasions must have felt like being in the workshop of the master exegete. Not only did they serve as continuing education opportunities (fifty-two times a year!), but they provided occasions when it was possible to observe at close quarters a model of handling Scripture accurately and pastorally.
This was not the typical pastors’ fraternal where papers on topics of interest are read and coffee is drunk. For one thing, the mutual exhortation was much more serious; it was an occasion of mutual ministry. Men heard each other handle Scripture on a regular basis, learned from one another, and helped each other.
There is surely a pattern here that needs to be recovered. It long persisted in the communion season of past generations. Granted (in my own view) the Lord’s Supper was celebrated far too infrequently (perhaps only twice a year), the pattern had two merits. The first was that the “season” lasted for perhaps five days. People arranged their lives so that they could be under the ministry of the Word, and in fellowship corporately and privately in a more intensive way than normal, for an extended period of time. Friends from elsewhere gathered. Frequently, great blessing was enjoyed by the congregation.
In addition to these blessings for the people, however, given the number of preaching occasions during the “season,” the local pastor would invite two or three friends to share the ministry of the Word. In this way, brethren heard one another preach, spent time together in talking about the ministry they were receiving, and had the opportunity for mutual exhortation and encouragement. More was accomplished, therefore, than in our contemporary annual church conferences where we invite as well-known a preacher as we can (even if we do not know him!) to preach through a weekend. It is a pattern worth recovering-and around a communion season would be an ideal time to recover it. Apart from other benefits that might be listed, a congregation then gets to know their pastor in the context of other pastors who also know him well.
“The Calvin Project” was centered on the ongoing preaching of the Word, immersing the people in the truth of the gospel. It was further strengthened by the written word-Commentaries, Institutes, and other materials. Future ministry was carefully instructed and trained in an educational setting in which the students were intimately related to the life of the local church, and the present ministry was strengthened and challenged by the weekly congregations. It was a simple yet wonderfully effective plan.
But one further element was essential-prayer.
6. The Prayers
When he returned to Geneva in 1541, Calvin was able to see implemented a practice he saw as key to the whole project. Every Wednesday in Geneva was designated the Day of Prayer, and specific gatherings for prayer were held. Calvin realized that apostolic ministry cannot be revived without the basic apostolic pattern: “We will devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4).
Would it perhaps be this element of “The Calvin Project” that would meet with least enthusiastic response today? We are keen to learn-preaching, lectures, teaching, fraternals, conferences-these we can organize; but not prayer. Herein perhaps lies the greatest challenge for the leadership in our churches. Calvin knew that, but he was not daunted by it.
Occasionally, one encounters a church and/or a pastor that conveys the impression they “do things right” and are “really reformed” and “follow Calvin.” Perhaps. But it is doubtful that we can claim to be following Calvin without seeking ways to do all that Calvin did. Sadly, such congregations sometimes mean no more than that they celebrate the Lord’s Supper on a weekly basis (something Calvin desired but never attained). But there is so much more to “The Calvin Project” than that-preaching, communicating in writing, committing ourselves to the future preachers of the gospel, engaging with other preachers and sitting under each other’s ministries-and much prayer.
Calvin was by no means perfect, nor did he perfectly accomplish his project. But he surely responded to the exhortation of the apostle Paul: “Brethren, join in following my example”-and the words that follow surely encourage us to follow in his footsteps: “Observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us” (Phil 3:17)
It is easy to forget some things about Calvin and his ministry. There was a good deal more to “The Calvin Project” than we may have thought. There is still much to learn from him.
MARTYN LLOYD-JONES’ “PREACHING AND PREACHERS” BY LIGON DUNCAN
I received my first copy of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ Preaching and Preachers as a gift from a family in my home church as I was just beginning my studies in seminary. My copy was from the 14th printing of the first edition. I had been introduced to Lloyd-Jones before, as a teenager, through his Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (my mother had worn bare a copy of the old original two volume edition) and through the preaching ministry of my boyhood pastor who (along with so many other evangelical ministers of his day) had been deeply edified by reading Lloyd-Jones’ sermons in book form. Indeed, many of the “Gospel men” in the old Southern Presbyterian Church and in the nascent reforming movements of the early 1970s had been profoundly affected by Lloyd-Jones through his preaching at the Pensacola Theological Institute at the McIlwain Presbyterian Church in Pensacola, Florida in August of 1969 (as Hurricane Camille was crashing ashore in Mississippi).
I read Lloyd-Jones’ preaching in written form before I read Preachers and Preaching and I was greatly impacted by the power of his words, even in printed form, from the first. Sentences and paragraphs from these sermons still grip me, utterly. I only heard audio recordings of his messages later, and the medium of his voice added a layer of effect that I had not been able to appreciate before. Preaching and Preachers is a very different book from his books of sermons. It was given as a series of lectures, and it bears those marks, but it is also the reflections of a man who had spent a lifetime preaching and thinking about preaching and who was one of the great preachers of his age. And the fire breaks through. Over and over again. And the lecturer on preaching becomes the preacher.
It may be helpful to tempt you to be on the lookout for some special aspects of this book. The following still arrest my attention when I re-read it. I think that when you read this book, several (at least sixteen!) things will strike you.
1. How much the landscape of the church has changed since Lloyd-Jones mused on the background to the decline of preaching in our time. And yet, his discussion is helpful and thought-provoking.
2. His crystal clear and emphatic definition of the work of church and pastor: “the primary task of the Church and of the Christian minister is the preaching of the Word of God.” He gives an overview and summary of his biblical case for this. His position is widely denied today, but deserves reconsideration.
3. His assertion that renewed, great preaching heralds and characterizes the great movements in the history of the Church. Reformation and Revival, he says, are always attended by great preachers and preaching.
4. His reflections on the then-current emphasis on the social application of the Gospel, in relation to the primacy of preaching. Needless to say, this is a timely discussion for evangelicals again today. In connection with this subject, his assertion that “the ultimate justification for asserting the primacy of preaching is theological,” and his argument for it, will supply you ample food for thought.
5. His argument for the importance of gathered, corporate, public worship. “Now the Church is a missionary body,” Lloyd-Jones says “and we must recapture this notion that the whole Church is part of this witness to the Gospel and its truth and its message. It is therefore important that people should come together and listen in companies in the realm of the Church. That has an impact in and of itself.” “The very presence of a body of people in itself is a part of the preaching, and these influences begin to act immediately upon anyone who comes into a service.”
6. His rejection of what he calls “modern substitutes for preaching” (whether debates or discussion groups, etc.). Preaching, he says, “may be slow work; it often is; it is a long-term policy. But my whole contention is that it works, that it pays, and that it is honoured, and must be, because it is God’s own method.”
7. His taxonomy of three types of impacting: (1) evangelistic, (2) instructional-experimental (or experiential), and (3) didactic instructional, and his assertion that no type of preaching should be “non-theological.” He fruitfully challenges us in this discussion to be theological in our preaching without turning our preaching into lecturing on theology, and he urges that we preach the Gospel, not preach about the Gospel.
8. His proposition that “a sermon should always be expository,” and his discussion of what that means and how to go about preparing the expository message. This whole section bears thoughtful engagement.
9. His treatment of the preacher’s personality, authority, freedom, exchange, seriousness, liveliness, zeal, a sense of concern, warmth, rapport, urgency, persuasiveness, pathos or emotion, and power in the act of preaching. This section is solid gold. It is here that he says: “preaching is theology coming through a man who is on fire” and that the chief end of preaching is “to give men and women a sense of God and His presence.”
10. His negative assessment of “lay-preaching” and his counsel on what constitutes a call to ministry. Accompanying this section are very useful remarks on the training and preparation of preachers, and what they need to know to do their work. Along the way, homiletics classes come in for a pounding!
11. His discussion of “the pew” wrongly controlling “the pulpit” is fascinating. And should provoke some important rumination on how things that are assumed about our audiences negatively affect our approach to preaching. But Lloyd-Jones is remarkably balanced in this, he says: “I would lay it down as being axiomatic that the pew is never to dictate to, or control, the pulpit. This needs to be emphasized at the present time. But having said that I would emphasize equally that the preacher nevertheless has to assess the condition of those in the pew and to bear that in mind in the preparation and delivery of his message.”
12. His warning to preachers not to “assume that all who claim to be Christians, and who think they are Christians, and who are members of the Church, are therefore of necessity Christians” is, again, timely, and will, perhaps, be controversial to some. But Lloyd-Jones needs to be heard here.
13. His urging that “all the people who attend a church need to be brought under the power of the Gospel” and thus the need for more than one service on Sunday, and for the cultivation of a congregational attitude that is “I want as much of the Word of God, the presence of the Lord, the worship of God as I can get” – surely this bears contemplation in our “one hour a week” era of Christian worship.
14. His wise counsel: “Keep the music in its place. It is handmaiden, a servant, and it must not be allowed to dominate or to control in any sense.” This is guidance more needed today than ever before.
15. Lloyd-Jones encouraging words about “the romance of preaching” may well provide a new hope and spark a new flame in tired preachers hearts. Here, he reflects on the incomparable feeling of preaching the Word of God to your own people, never knowing when the message is going to unfold in ways you didn’t expect even as you preach it, and never knowing when God is going to change someone’s life using words that you are privileged to speak for him.
16. His emphasis on the unction or anointing of the Spirit. “What is this? It is the Holy Spirit falling upon the preacher in a special manner. It is an access of power. It is God giving power, and enabling, through the Spirit, to the preacher in order that he may do this work in a manner that lifts it up beyond the efforts and endeavours of man to a position in which the preacher is being used by the Spirit and becomes the channel through whom the Spirit works.”
You may argue with Lloyd-Jones from time-to-time as you read (I do!), but you will always find him a worthy and rewarding conversation partner, and wise mentor. If you are new to the task of preaching, simply engaging with Lloyd-Jones will be a good, shaping, directing exercise in the formation of your practice of preaching. And if you have been long at the task and are now weary in the work of preaching, you may remember some things that you thought you’d long forgotten, and feel a renewed passion to proclaim the Gospel and preach the cross and minister the Word.