Preaching & Purpose! (3)

Pastoral Element

There was much pastoral purpose too in Calvinʼs ministry. He sought to advise local and national churches. John Calvin sought to advise the Duke of Somerset under Edward VI, he sought to present him with a scheme of reform that would reform the English church. Unfortunately, Somerset died before the reforms could be accomplished and his sister, the persecutor Mary, took his place. Some of her persecutees escaped to John Calvinʼs Geneva. His influence with Elizabeth was somewhat limited because Calvin had supported John Knox and with the latterʼs “Trumpet Blast Against Women”, the damage was irreparable. However his influence in England and Scotland was immense, the latter mediated through John Knox. He often wrote to others encouraging them to look out for the persecuted English and Scottish saints, those expelled from Britain by the intolerant policy of Mary, the members of the foreign congregation of London were scattered over the Low countries and Germany. All his writings, his “Institutes of the Christian Religion”, his commentaries all had a tremendous influence. But his main concern was towards his native France. He was always encouraging others in his preaching and counselling and by other means too, pamphlets etc. There was a reign of terror in France akin to that of Mary Tudorʼs persecutions, in the midst of this Calvin called on the evangelicals to stand firm. This was his message from the start, stand firm. And this was the very basis of his book that he wrote to the Nicodemites. They thought that Calvin was far too rigorous, that he was extreme. Nicodemus was the man who came to the Lord Jesus by night (John 3), it is widely held because he was afraid of his fellow Jews, although this is questionable, this has been the thought of the church for many a long while. And so many of these people in France, who were afraid to profess the gospel openly in case of what would happen to them were termed Nicodemites.

Many of them wanted to embrace the gospel but they feared for their families, their businesses and for their own lives too. There were others who were intellectually and philosophically interested but saw no need for this Reformation that Calvin was preaching for and provoking. There were also clergymen who wanted a contemporary, charming, pleasant religion, (doesnʼt that have a contemporary ring to it), that would attract modern men. Of course, they didnʼt have electric guitars and stuff like that but they were all saying that Calvin was far, far too extreme. “No, argued Calvin, Iʼm not.” This is not a question of my opinion and yours.” Calvin simply showed them what he had found in Scripture. “I did not make my mind up in a hurry,” he says. Iʼve pondered this long and hard and what I say none of you can contradict without denying Scripture. You must give up your worldly wisdom and worship and serve God according to his word and become obedient to the word of God”. The Reformer made it clear that obedience to the word of God requires of believers an outward practice consistent with an inner commitment to the truth. “There is no room, therefore, for anyone to indulge in crafty dissimulation, or to flatter himself with a false idea of piety, pretending that he cherishes it in his heart, though he completely overturns it by outward behaviour. Genuine piety begets genuine confession. Fear of persecution or death will not serve as an excuse for participation in idolatry. Indeed, godly men and martyrs of old have left eloquent testimony about how it is better to suffer as witnesses unto the Lord than to deny the faith through acts of idolatry.

Counsel & Encouragement

John Calvin never advocated seeking persecution, no wildness, just obedience to the Lord. Not a little, he says, but total obedience. Stop playing at being religious and be religious in earnest. Not hiding by outward conformity to the Papist religion. After Nicodemus was taught by the Lord Jesus Christ he confessed Christ openly, unashamedly and even at the hour of greatest peril, says Calvin. The Reformer exhorted and strengthened many churches and many pastors and preachers. He provided all that he could in terms of his preaching, in terms of literature. He raised up and provided Ministers and within a decade he had fifty confessional churches in France. Weʼve already touched on it, but it is worth repeating, that is our own need today, to be encouraging young men and sending Ministers and gospel workers where we can if we have any responsibility, any influence on such men, let us be seen to be encouraging them. Some of you who will read this are in the ministry, you can open your pulpits, you can help to encourage these young men to preach the gospel. The best encouragement of all, of course, is that we ourselves preach the word of God, expound and apply the scriptures fearlessly, make a firm stand, in church and on street. We need to be encouraging all Christians to stand firm, sending them out, encouraging them to go with the gospel into our nation. Our literature, our evangelical papers, every means available to us should be informing and stirring up the minds of Christians. Oh, how our minds need to be stirred up. Awaken the Christian community out of this sleep of death theyʼve gotten into. And this idolatry, music, music, music. It is the preaching of Godʼs word, stirring up the minds of Godʼs people, building them up and giving them a solid platform to go out there and challenge the ungodly, even vicious culture of our day.

(©️ James R Hamilton, February 2020)
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