Right from the very beginning of his long ministry, CH Spurgeon professed himself to be an admirer of John Calvin. Early on in his first volume of published sermons, he described John Calvin as being an able writer and preacher on the doctrines of grace. The tributes grew to telling us that he knew more about the gospel than almost any uninspired man who ever lived, and again, that John Calvin was the most consistent expositor of the Bible that ever lived. When under bitter attack from some very vocal Hyper Calvinists because he believed in duty faith and duty repentance and the free offer of the gospel (they branded him as a mongerel Calvinst) Spurgeon retorted that this mongerel Calvinist had read most of Calvins commentaries and Calvin's Institutes (pictured above). This was not the only reference, Spurgeon made to the Institutes of the Christian Religion (effectively Calvin's systematic theology book). He called them later on "a most wonderful production for thought if not for accuracy" although (rightly so) claiming that he believed nothing nor drew any inspiration because Calvin wrote it but simply because he found the sentiments contained therein to be Biblical.
An interesting observation flows from the pen of Spurgeon, which will detain us here, for a short while. With all his fundamental endorsement of Calvin's Insitutes, Spurgeon claimed that there were times when Calvin cut them to pieces when expounding the Scriptures from his pulpit. I must give the whole quote here because it is important:
"Good Calvin says, and his remarks are always weighty, and always excellent — (I do not hesitate to say that Calvin is the grandest expositor that ever yet thought to make plain the Word of God; in his commentary I have often found him cutting his own Institutes to pieces, not attempting to give a passage a Calvinistic meaning, but always trying to interpret God’s Word as he finds it) — Calvin says this man had in the first place, only a faith, which relied for one thing upon Christ." (MTP: Vol 6 #317)
Yesterday, while travelling home on the bus from evangelistic outreach in Dublin, I may have come across such a passage. I was reading one of Calvin's sermons which he preached on Jeremiah 23:36 about God judging the wicked people to whom Jeremiah ministered. Calvin preached:
"In forbidding them to mention the word burden, it was the same thing as though he had said, “Let not this form of speaking be any longer in use among you.” He then adds, For to every one his word shall be his burden. By these words he shews that what is bitter in prophecies is as it were accidental; for God has nothing else in view in addressing men, but to call them to salvation. The word of God then in itself ought to be deemed sweet and delightful. Whence then is this bitterness and hatred towards it? even from the wickedness of men alone. As when a sick person, eating the most wholesome food finds it turned into poison, the cause being in himself; so it is with us, it is our own fault that the word of God becomes a burden. It was, moreover, the Prophet’s design to shew that the Jews had no reason to complain that prophecies were grievous to them, and always announced some trouble; for God wishes to address men with lenity and kindness, but he is forced by their wickedness to deal sharply with them."
One thing, though, whether in the Institutes or in the commentaries, Calvin always held that while salvation was always by grace, the cause of man's damnation always lay within himself. No wonder CH Spurgeon thought so highly of him and recommended his writings to others.
* Calvin's Commentaries online here
* Calvin's Institutes online here
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