The Divine Majesty of the Word: John Calvin, The Man and His Preaching -- By: John Piper

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 03:2 (Summer 1999)
Article: The Divine Majesty of the Word: John Calvin, The Man and His Preaching
Author: John Piper


The Divine Majesty of the Word:
John Calvin, The Man and His Preaching

John Piper

John Piper has been the senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota since 1980. He has the Dr. Theol. in New Testament from the University of Munich and taught for six years at Bethel College in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is the author of nine books and numerous articles, the most recent being God’s Passion for His Glory: Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards (Crossway).

A Profound Sense of God

In 1538, the Italian Cardinal Sadolet wrote to the leaders of Geneva trying to win them back to the Catholic Church after they had turned to the Reformed teachings. He began his letter with a long conciliatory section on the preciousness of eternal life, before coming to his accusations against the Reformation. Calvin wrote a response to Sadolet in six days in the fall of 1539. It was one of his earliest writings and spread his name as a reformer across Europe. Luther read it and said, “Here is a writing which has hands and feet. I rejoice that God raises up such men.”1

Calvin’s response to Sadolet is important because it uncovers the root of Calvin’s quarrel with Rome that determined his whole life. The issue is not, first, justification or priestly abuses or transubstantiation or prayers to saints or papal authority. All of these were important for Calvin. Beneath all of them, the fundamental issue for John Calvin, from the beginning to the end of his life, was the issue of the centrality and supremacy and majesty of the glory of God.

Calvin responded to the Cardinal as follows: “[Your] zeal for heavenly life [is] a zeal which keeps a man entirely devoted to himself, and does not, even by one expression, arouse him to sanctify the name of God.” In other words, even precious truth about eternal life can be so skewed as to displace God as the center and goal. And this was Calvin’s chief contention with Rome. It comes out in his writings over and over again. He goes on and says to Sadolet that what he should do—and what Calvin aims to do with all his life —is to “set before [man], as the prime motive of his existence, zeal to illustrate the glory of God.”2

I think this would be a fitting banner over all of John Calvin’s life and work— zeal to illustrate the glory of God. The essential meaning of John Calvin’s life and preaching is that he recovered and embodied a passion for the absolute reality and majesty of God. Benjamin Warfield said of Calvin, “No man ever had a profounder sense of God than he.”You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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