Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2018

Throughout much of 1554 and 1555 Calvin was preaching on the Pastoral Epistles, and so preached 31 sermons on 2 Timothy. Alas, the sermon on 2 Timothy 1:11-12 is missing, but Robert White has provided a masterly and easy-to-read translation of the rest. Calvin loved 2 Timothy, and recorded: ‘For my part, I know that this letter has done me as much good as any book of Scripture.’ That delight shines through his sermons.

As a preacher, Calvin was comprehensive and vivid. On 1:3 he commented that even ‘a half-angel’ needs prayer – which is an odd way to put it, but it makes the point that we all need prayer. Noting Paul’s desire for books to be sent to his prison cell (4:13), Calvin marvels that Paul ‘still desires to use his time profitably, even though he has one foot in the grave.’ He compared reproof in 3:16 to lancing a boil – it comes from a loving God. There is no skating over the text, and he contended that 4:19-21 proves that Peter was not in Rome at the time of Paul’s execution – unless he abandoned the faith.

To Calvin, grace meant electing grace, so on 1:9 he says that ‘we can never truly grasp God’s goodness until we face the issue of election.’ It is all of grace: ‘We are no better than they yet such was God’s good pleasure.’ Yet speculation was not to be the way of the Christian, as ‘Satan has no easier or more effective way to undermine our faith than by embroiling us in silly and speculative disputes.’ Truth is what matters, and Calvin regarded the false teacher as ‘no better than a poisoner’. His insights derived from his experience as a pastor as well as a Bible teacher: ‘Notice moreover that those who once savoured the gospel are far worse enemies, and a hundred times more bitter, than the poor blind souls who did not know true teaching.’

Church discipline was and is needed, but Calvin realised the dangers of perfectionism. He summarised it in this way: ‘Thus, although we might dearly wish that everything in God’s church was pure and above reproach, we must nevertheless concede that scandals will arise and that there will be much confusion.’ He cross-referenced Matthew 7:6, but virtually says that we cannot apply it. So Calvin preached (on 2:24-25): ‘We must never reject the ignorant as dogs or swine. However much they resist God and go against him, until we have proved that they are past correction and that they are stubbornly set in their opposition, we must not close the door to them but must try instead to win them over.’

The great Genevan reformer informs the mind and warms the heart. Here is Calvin’s prayer at the end of one of his sermons on 2 Timothy 3:

Now let us cast ourselves down before the face of our good God, acknowledging our faults and praying that he may make us feel them better than before. May he open our eyes, so that we may hate our sins and our defilement and seek to be healed of them. It is one of life’s regrets that so many of Calvin’s sermons have been lost, but we ought to be grateful those which have been preserved, in particular this series on 2 Timothy.

Sermons on 2 Timothy

Translated by Robert White

John Calvin | Banner of Truth

Available at Reformers Bookshop