Calvin’s Ecclesiastical Advice, tr. Mary Beaty and Benjamin W. Farley. Foreword by John Haddon Leith. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster/ John Knox Press, 1991. 184 pages. Paper. $14.95. [Reviewed by the Editor.]
One of the most valuable benefits of the various conferences devoted to the study of the theology of John Calvin is the translation and publication of writings of the Reformer that have not previously appeared in English. Such is this volume. It has its origin in the Colloquium on Calvin studies held every two years at the Davidson College Presbyterian Church and Davidson College in North Carolina. The book consists of forty-six short writings of Calvin, mostly letters, newly translated into English from the original Latin and French.
The writings are Calvin’s advice on matters of theology, ethics, worship, politics, economics, and church practices. In them Calvin applies his theology to concrete situations in the life of the Reformed churches and of Reformed believers of his day. The translators have distributed the writings among these categories: dogmatics and polemics; on the changes and need for changes in religion; concerning the worship of images; ecclesiastical discipline; marriage questions; judicial questions; and miscellanies.
The special value of published correspondence is that it allows the reader a glimpse of the writer when he has opened himself up more than he would when writing for the general public, as well, in this case, as indicating the application of the author’s doctrine to specific, practical cases. One such instance is Calvin’s advice to a local church to depose an unworthy minister, threatening that failure to do so would result in that church’s being separated from the fellowship of the Reformed churches (p. 101). Another is Calvin’s judgment that “attending papist funeral services” is sinful (p. 156).
In a circular letter sent to several congregations, Calvin views dice games and cards as “small corruptions.” The Reformer is not able “utterly (to) condemn games of this sort,” but warns of the evils that usually bedevil these games: “blaspheming, cheating, and fiery quarrels.” Therefore, Calvin concludes that “it is expedient to stay away from these games as much as possible, and it is best to abstain from them altogether” (pp. 158, 159).
A large section of the book is devoted to Calvin’s advice on marriage matters. Calvin permitted the remarriage of both the innocent and the guilty parties. On the other hand, he spoke of the “sacred and indissoluble bond” (p. 135). On the basis of Old Testament laws, he forbade marrying one’s dead wife’s sister and one’s dead brother’s widow. A man’s incapability of consummating the marriage is valid ground for annulment of the marriage.
Two brief appendices are included. One is Calvin’s “Essay on the Lord’s Supper” from The Form of Prayers, 1542 and 1545. The other is entitled, “A Copy of the Inquisitor Horris’s Paper, Given to Those at Lyons Who were Imprisoned for Preaching the Word, to be Transmitted to M. Jean Calvin.” The latter is a denial that the ten commandments of the Old Testament are binding upon New Testament Christians in the interests of defending the Roman Catholic worship of images. Calvin answers this document in one of the writings that make up the main body of the book.
College and seminary libraries will certainly want the book. All students of Calvin will find it worthwhile and delightful reading.
It is my fervent hope that the people of the Colloquium on Calvin Studies will be encouraged to give us more translation in English of hitherto untranslated, and largely unavailable, writings of John Calvin.
The Suffering Savior: Meditations on the Last Days of Christ, by F.W. Krummacher. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1992. 444 pp., $15.99 (paper). [Reviewed by Prof. Robert D. Decker.]
Friedrich Wilhelm Krummacher (1796-1868) was a preacher in the Reformed Church in Germany. The denomination then already was shot through with Rationalism. Krummacher was a Calvinist. He believed in the sinfulness of man and in the vicarious atonement of Jesus Christ for the sins of the elect. He held firmly to the belief that the Bible is the inspired, infallible Word of God and, therefore, the absolute rule for the faith and life of the Christian.
Krummacher preached these truths for his entire ministry. One of the more famous churches he served was Trinity Church in Berlin, long the scene of Schleiermacher’s ministry. In 1853 he was appointed court preacher at Potsdam, a position he held until his death in 1868.
The book contains fifty-three printed sermons on the suffering of our Lord. Here is, for the most part, good stuff. Pastors will find insightful exegesis that will enrich their preaching. All of God’s people will find these sermons to be good devotional material.
No Reformed person will agree with Krummacher’s exegesis of the first Word spoken by Jesus from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (pp. 351-358).
Nevertheless, books like this belong in our church and home libraries and ought to be read by us.