Book Review: Sermons on the Beatitudes by John Calvin

  • SermonsonBeatitudes, CalvinHardcover: 114 pages
  • Publisher: Banner of Truth (November 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0851519342
  • WTS Books

Many thanks to Banner of Truth Trust for this review copy of Sermons on the Beatitudes by John Calvin.

History and Layout

These five sermons on the Beatitudes are taken from Calvin’s Gospel Harmony, which were delivered in Geneva at the St. Peter’s church, in 1560.  They were translated from French into English by Robert White, an instructor in French Studies, University of Sydney, Australia, and has a specialist interest in the Reformation in French-speaking areas of Europe.

These five sermons are based on exposition of Matthew 5:1-12, Mark 3:13-19 and Luke 6:12-26.  At the head of each sermon is Calvin’s text, taken from the 1562 edition of the Geneva Bible.  In the endnotes, the reader finds the Scripture quotations that Calvin made throughout his sermons, whether direct quotes or paraphrases.  Calvin mainly quotes from the Psalms and the writings of Paul.


What the reader finds here are public sermons that the Geneva Reformer John Calvin delivered before his congregation of townsfolk, refugees and visitors.  They were not delivered in a vacuum.

The person who is familiar with Calvin in the Institutes and his commentaries will be thrilled to observe the consistency, and to a degree, many clarifications of Calvin’s theology.  For example, as Robert White correctly points out (and which may be confirmed by the sermons, especially the first three) Calvin does not, “however, treat the Beatitudes as entrance requirements to the kingdom announced by Jesus, but rather as marks whereby those who are already in the kingdom may be discerned, and God’s grace to them made visible.”  In other words, Calvin is clear and firm about his belief in man’s total depravity and God’s free sovereign in the calling and living of the elect.

The reader also finds Calvin’s laboring to expose the false security of the prosperity, ease, and comfort that many find in a pagan world.  His theology allowed him to be identified with the poor and the oppressed.  The reader, however, has to appreciate this drive and resolve of Calvin against the backdrop of 16th century Europe, especially with the religious persecution that abounds.  And it is not for naught that Calvin is called “the theologian of the Spirit,” as such is also evident throughout.

The Endnotes

The “Endnotes” not only trace down Calvin’s Scripture references, but they also interact with his commentaries, Institutes, and superior knowledge of the Patristic writers.  The “Endnotes” are a rich resource and certainly a plus to this work.  Thank you, Robert White, your extra labor is to be commended.

An Evaluation

These sermons were preached in the 16th century, with a few terms here and there, they certainly could have been preached today.  Given the universal condition of the human heart and the unsettling condition of the world we live in now, the 21st century reader will find these sermons not only richly biblical but timeless indeed.  The reader also finds Calvin’s expository prowess on display.  Calvin’s mastery of both the Old and New Testaments are quite evident.

As I conclude, if you’re working through the Sermon on the Mount, or the Beatitudes, in particular, Calvin’s Sermons on the Beatitudes will serve you well.  This is Calvin in the pulpit.  As I mentioned above, per contents, they are rich biblically and theologically.  More importantly, I believe they speak to the believer who finds himself living in the 21st century.

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2 Responses to Book Review: Sermons on the Beatitudes by John Calvin

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