Calvin’s Forgettable Sermon

This book, Registers of the Consistory of Geneva in the Time of Calvin is a fascinating look into the historical context of the Protestant Reformation in one city: Geneva, Switzerland. The book is an English translation of the notes that the consistory of the Reformed church in Geneva took between 1542 and 1544. It’s full of fascinating facts and interesting tidbits. Some of the information is mundane. But some of it makes the reader pause and think!

One account that made me stop and think is found is the notes from Thursday, March 30, 1542. In this meeting, the consistory (John Calvin, Pierre Viret, and nine other men) met with several members of the church to shepherd them by discussing their Christian faith and life. One woman they met with was a widow so they asked her about her son and also about her faith. Here’s the account (although it was written in summary form and is not complete):

“Asked [her] about frequenting of sermons, etc., and about the child her son has had by her maid. Answers that she has put the child out to nurse. Asked about her faith, she says the Pater (Our Father) in the new Reformed manner, but does not know the Credo (the Apostles’ Creed). And that she has nursed her husband six years in illness…. And [she answered] that she was at the sermon Sunday morning and that she believes it was Monsieur Calvin. And that she does not know about her son. The consistory ordered her to frequent more sermons….”

Since we don’t have all the details we don’t want to read too much into these consistory notes. However, one thing that stuck out to me was the fact that the woman wasn’t one hundred percent sure that the man who she heard preach the last Sunday morning was John Calvin. She “believed” it was Calvin but she couldn’t say for certain. I realize the woman may not have been paying close attention to the sermon for various reasons. But it is good to remember that although God used Calvin (and other Reformers) for the good of his church, the Reformers weren’t always celebrity preachers as we might think of them today. Sometimes their sermons were forgettable. Sometimes people didn’t appreciate their sermons. And sometimes people forgot who had preached at their church the week before!

Thankfully God uses ordinary means to accomplish his extraordinary purposes in and among his people. A good Christian preacher’s sermon might not win awards and might not be remembered by all. But we trust God by his Spirit will work in and through the preaching of the word for his glory and the good of his people. (For more on this topic, see Q/A #154-155 of the Westminster Larger Catechism.)

The above quote is found in Registers of the Consistory of Geneva in the Time of Geneva, ed. Robert Kingdon; trans. M. Wallace McDonald, p. 27.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

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