The Expository Genius of John Calvin (Reader’s Den Review)

The Expository Genius of John Calvin

Steven Lawson

160 pages

Reformation Trust (2007)

Recommend: Yes

Genre: Preaching / Biography / Church History


Steven Lawson, the author of the series, A Long Line of Godly Men, will, I think, contribute much to our understanding of the wonderful truths of the Bible. Separate from this book, yet in the same series, Lawson has embarked on a five-volume series on the doctrines of grace, as they’re commonly referred to. I’m midway with the first volume (Foundations of Grace) and I am in immense gratitude for this piece of work which has expanded and taken me deeper and deeper into the wonderful doctrines of the sovereignty of God in all of human affairs — salvation included– and the great grace we experience because of His good pleasure.

Despite our thoughts of John Calvin (1509-1564), one cannot dismiss his impact on the church — effects which we still feel today. While many have written on Calvin and his life, few have written solely of him and his preaching; Lawson seeks to do just that.

It is no understatement to say that preaching today is on a downgrade within the evangelical church. Lawson points out:

“Exposition is being replaced with entertainment, preaching with performances, doctrine with drama, and technology with theatrics. Desperately does the modern-day church need to recover its way and return to a pulpit that is Bible-based, Christ-centered, and life-changing” (p. xi).

Future books in this series will delve into the ministries of such men as Martin Luther, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards (which is to come out in September of 2008, entitled, The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards), Charles Spurgeon, and others. It is no lie that my anticipation for this series is high and I’m sure I won’t be let down.

Book Structure:

The book covers everything in preaching — from core foundations to all the practical nuts-and-bolts of the preaching development to the concluding remarks of the sermon.

Here are the chapter titles:

  1. Calvin’s Life and Legacy
  2. Approaching the Pulpit
  3. Preparing the Preacher
  4. Launching the Sermon
  5. Expounding the Text
  6. Crafting the Delivery
  7. Applying the Truth
  8. Concluding the Exposition

In the chapters, Lawson breaks into very practical observations from Calvin’s preaching methodology (e.g., persuasive reasoning, vivid expressions, simple restatements, loving rebuke, climactic prayer, and many more — 32 in all).

The book as a whole is easy to read and follow. It’s a small (5.25 x 7.5) and relatively short.

[From publisher: pdf file of table of contents and sample chapter]

Notable Quotes:

  • “The greatest seasons of church history—those eras of widespread reformation and great awakening—have been those epochs in which God-fearing men took the inspired Word and unashamedly preached it in the power of the Holy Spirit” (xi-xii).
  • “Calvin’s high view of preaching was undergirded by a high view of God, a high view of Scripture, and an accurate view of man. . . . Where are such men of God today? Where are the preachers like Calvin, who will preach the Word with unwavering commitment? Where are the pastors who believe that God is uniquely with them as they mount their pulpits for the exposition of His Word? Where are the shepherds who have prioritized the preaching of the Word in public worship? Where are the expositors who will preach entire books of the Bible consecutively month after month and year after year?. . . . It is desperately essential in this hour that preachers recover a soaring vision of the supremacy of God. Life-changing, history-altering preaching will come only when pastors reclaim a high view of God’s blazing holiness and are overshadowed by His absolute sovereignty. Towering thoughts of God’s transcendent glory must captivate preachers’ souls. May you be one who leaves the lowlands of trivial thoughts about God behind. A low view of God leads only to mediocrity. But a high view of God inspires holiness and a resolute spirit. May you ascend to the heights of the mountaintop and behold, as Calvin did, the breathtaking glory of God.”  (pp. 34-35, 51).
  • Calvin: “We must all be pupils of the Holy Scriptures, even to the end; even those, I mean, who are appointed to proclaim the Word. If we enter the pulpit, it is on this condition, that we learn while teaching others. I am not speaking here merely that others may hear me; but I too, for my part, must be a pupil of God, and the word which goes forth from my lips must profit myself; otherwise woe is me! The most accomplished in the Scripture are fools, unless they acknowledge that they have need of God for their schoolmaster all the days of their life” (pp. 41-42).
  • This is where application must begin in every sermon— with the preacher himself. Before any expositor looks outward
    to the congregation, he must first look inward. One finger points out to the people, but three point back at his own heart. No preacher can take his people where he himself is not willing to go. May God give His church in this day humble and holy shepherds who practice what they preach” (p. 116).


Some might say, “There’s really no point in reading a book such as this if I don’t preach.” — Nothing can be further from the true. While preachers will benefit greatly from a work such as this, I believe that ordinary folk who sit on the pews on Sunday mornings will reap great rewards from this work. We should all walk out saying, “We truly have heard the Word of God preached and proclaimed.”

The pulpit, and the preacher who stands behind it, are one of the most important — if not the most — aspects of a church body. It is from this dynamic that God has set in place where the people of the Lord hear the Word and commit to obey. The pastor shepherds the flock, and one of the ways he does that is by leading the sheep into the marvelous truths of Scripture, in order for us be fed by it and grow in regards to salvation. Furthermore, with such insights gleaned from this book, one will be able to support and pray for one’s pastor; knowing that the call is no easy task, but one which requires the preacher to bow the knee before the Lord and His Word and then, in the power of the Spirit, proclaim it to a lost and sinful world in desperate need of the truth.

All that to say that I warmly recommend this book to both preacher and congregant alike — both will greatly benefit.


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