Rev. Langerak is pastor of Southeast Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
The Expository Genius of John Calvin, by Steven J. Lawson. Reformation Trust Publishing, 2007. ISBN 1567690858. 142 pp. Hardcover. Available at monergismbooks.com ($11.25), christianbook.com ($12.99), or publisher at Ligonier.org ($12.00). Reviewed by Rev. Douglas J. Kuiper.
Steven Lawson, pastor of Christ Fellowship Baptist Church in Mobile, AL, begins a series of short books under the series “A Long Line of Godly Men Profile.” Upcoming books in this series will focus on Martin Luther, George Whitefield, Charles Spurgeon, and others.
Lawson argues that the situation in the evangelical church now is just as it was in Calvin’s dayï¿½apparently flourishing (think of the mega-churches, and filled-stadiums at Christian men’s revivals), but in fact a whitewashed tomb (where is the emphasis on gospel preaching?). The crying need of the church 500 years ago was for a Calvin who expounded the Scriptures faithfully; likewise, the crying need of the church today is for more men like Calvin. So the goal of this book is to inspire preachers to be like Calvin.
In the first chapter of this book, Lawson gives a biographical survey of Calvin’s life. In the next seven chapters he sets forth 32 characteristics of Calvin’s preaching.
In chapter 2, he explains how Calvin approached the pulpit. Calvin preached in the conviction that the Scriptures are God’s inspired Word and are the only and final authority for the church; that when the Scriptures are preached, God is present with His church; and that the preaching of the gospel is to be central in the worship service. In order to give his congregation a comprehensive understanding of Scripture, Calvin made it his practice to preach through the Bible in sequence.
Because God’s glory was Calvin’s great goal and passion, he prepared himself spiritually and intellectually for preaching. Chapter 3 sets forth three ways in which he did soï¿½by coming to a clear understanding of Scripture; by devoting his heart and life to God; and by a relentless will to work, even with physical ailments.
Chapter 4 notes that Calvin began his sermons with a brief introduction that led him quickly and directly to his text. In his introduction, Calvin briefly explained the context and set forth the text’s main theme. He came into the pulpit well prepared, but without a manuscript or notes.
Substance, not style, characterized his exposition (chapter 5). He chose a specific text, examining it in light of its historical context, and explaining its words precisely. He interpreted the text literally (meaning he avoided allegory, a common method of interpretation in his day). As Scripture interprets Scripture, Calvin would refer to other passages in his sermonï¿½but sparingly, so as not to shift the emphasis away from the particular text. He set forth the meaning of the text persuasively, and made reasonable deductions from it.
In his delivery (chapter 6) Calvin used familiar words and vivid illustrations, asked provocative questions, often restated the text simply, only rarely used quotations, followed an outline but did not tell the people its main points, and moved seamlessly from one point to another. All this enabled him to hold the congregation’s attention well, but, more especially, his intensity as a preacher helped him do so.
Calvin applied the text to the congregation (chapter 7) by exhortations and rebukes, as well as by requiring the congregants to examine themselves in light of it. He was polemical when necessary, pointing out the errors of others, Rome especially. Among those in the congregation to whom he applied the text was Calvin himself.
Calvin’s conclusion to the sermon (chapter 8) was as deliberate as his introduction. In it he briefly restated the main theme of the sermon and made a final point of application. In his prayer following his sermon, Calvin left the congregation with God.
Preachers and seminary students alike will certainly want to read this book, and learn from Calvin’s exposition and his preaching techniques. But the book is recommended to a larger audience as well, because it demonstrates what makes a good preacher. Not only does the church need such preachers, but the people of the church must also know what makes a good preacher, so that they recognize good preaching when they hear it. He is not a good preacher who entertains; rather, he is a good preacher who expounds the Scriptures to the edification of the congregation. Not every good preacher will be as highly gifted as Calvin was; but he will be diligent in preparing himself to preach. For such preachers, the church must pray; for such, she must be thankful; when she has such, she must attend faithfully to such preaching.
The book is also recommended to a larger audience because it is written in a simple style, easy for all to understand.
Redeemed by Judgment: Sermons on Isaiah (Vol. 1), by Homer C. Hoeksema. Reformed Free Publishing Association (RFPA), 2008. ISBN 9780916206987. Hardcover. $32.00. Available from the publisher at rfpa.org or christianbook.com. Reviewed by Rev. William Langerak.
Few sermons should be published. Not even great sermons should readily find their way into book form. It is not an issue of quality. Even poor sermons have been used by the Lord to sustain His church in this dry and thirsty land. The problem is that they are…sermons. And, like a sermon that is read when it is delivered, there simply is something about putting it into print afterwards that seems to transform that lively, life-giving feast into mere leftovers. There are, of course, exceptions. I believe this book is one of them.
Redeemed With Judgment consists of 49 sermons on the first 39 chapters of Isaiahï¿½the title comes from the thematic 3rd sermon on chapter 1:27. It is the first volume of some 125 sermons that Homer C. Hoeksema preached on Isaiah over a period of thirty years, mostly in Protestant Reformed churches, while Professor of Dogmatics and Old Testament history in the denominational seminary, a position he was appointed to in 1959. It would be wrong to say these sermons are his legacy. However, due to their quality, popularity, incredible number of people and churches who heard them, and regularity with which he preached them, Hoeksema and his sermons on Isaiah were inseparably identified. Publishing them was not his choice. Rather, HCH (as familiarly known to distinguish him from his father and denominational patriarch, Herman or HH), had wanted to write a commentary on Isaiah, but his death in 1989 prevented it.
Putting these sermons into print has been a long process—tape recordings had to be procured literally from one end of the United States to the other, transcribed, and then meticulously edited. Much of this work was done capably by his son, Mark Hoeksema, who also provided the preface, introduction, and helpful editorial comments. I cannot speak to what has been lost in the transformation of these sermons from spoken to written word, since I was just a boy when they were preached. I do remember that when HCH came to fill in at our church, which was frequent during one extended period between ministers, we could always expect to hear a rousing Isaiah sermon by this man with a gnarly voice, wavy white hair, and hand that shook as he wiped his brow (I was also fairly convinced it was how Isaiah looked, albeit with sandals and a robe). But, regardless of the extent to which any liveliness of preaching may have been dulled by publication, this book of sermons has considerable value. First, each sermon is a model of Reformed expository preaching (particularly on both prophetic and historical passages) that current or future Reformed ministers, and elders as overseers, could study profitably. They are the fruit of decades of dedicated toil by a gifted, thoroughly Reformed theologian and avid student of Old Testament history at the height of his exegetical and theological powers. Throughout, HCH uses the time-tested method of thematic homiletics, whereby the main theme of each text is determined, then developed by arranging the material under two or three related thoughts. The sermons are masterpieces of sound exegesis, especially considering the many difficult texts that are tackled. Concisely and systematically, he breaks down the various components of each text, treats all the main thoughts, defines important or difficult words and concepts, shows the various textual connections and relationships, explains the meaning in light of the historical and theological context, and applies it spiritually to the covenant people today in understandable language and vivid illustrations as required.
Secondly, this volume would be a profitable commentary to supplement the study of Isaiah, or even a devotional for officebearers and lay-people alike to read daily, one sermon at a time. Even though each sermon concentrates upon the main verse(s) of any particular passage, the other verses are usually brought in and explained contextually. The result is a rather complete exposition of each chapter, which if lacking any usefulness of a detailed commentary on every phrase, has the benefit of making perfectly plain the main thought in each chapter to the people of God, without clutter and jargon.
It is a distinctly Reformed commentary that will build up the believer in sound doctrine. Such commentaries on Isaiah are rare. Rarer still are those that faithfully examine the prophecy from an amillennial and covenantal perspective, which Hoeksema does. Where applicable, which is often in this eschatologically important prophecy, he weighs in against pre- and post-millennial error, and instead points out the rich, blessed fulfillment of the prophecies in the establishment of Christ’s spiritual kingdom in the New Testament church and new creation. As regards the covenant, he remonstrates against the conditional contract view, and demonstrates its failure to explain adequately the historical reality without being Arminian. Valuable is Hoeksema’s consistent application, instead, of the covenant as an everlasting, unconditional bond of friendship God graciously establishes with His chosen in Jesus Christ. Also prominent throughout is his development of the organic idea of the covenant, i.e., the distinction between physical and spiritual Israel, or as Paul put it in Romans 9:6-8, between those of Israel (children of the flesh) andIsrael (children of the promise), elected by God in eternity, and with whom He establishes and maintains His covenant by separating and redeeming them with judgment.
If anyone imagines that because they are thoroughly doctrinal these sermons are dry and abstract, he would be mistaken. Though now simply words on paper that lack the dynamism of the living voice, they always speak to the heart, and at times are moving. For one, the doctrines themselves are precious. In his expositions, the absolute sovereignty, righteousness, justice, and holiness of God are exalted, His gracious salvation praised, His everlasting covenant extolled, while man is brought low to repentance and sorrow of heart.
The sermons are also intensely practical. Any suggestion should be dispelled that since he preached election, irresistible grace, justification without works, and an unconditional covenant, therefore Hoeksema was an antinomian who refused to preach the demands of the law. The admonitions are brought, they are contemporary, sharp, and pointed. He had a gift, not only for faithfully interpreting the historical context and doctrinal instruction, but also for applying it to the life and culture of today’s church in a way that even little boys could understand and thus become men. Thus, the believing reader, as Israel of old, is brought in each sermon before God Himself and before the cross of Jesus Christ, and is built up spiritually in the faith.