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Calvin & the Beatitudes (Sermons)

July 20, 2011

“The Beatitude, as a literary genre, belongs to both the wisdom and the apocalyptic traditions. It may therefore be used as a vehicle of ethical instruction, inculcating certain norms or behaviour, or as a vehicle conveying to the distressed hope and assurance that God will intervene to right all wrongs. In his sermons Calvin gives great weight to the ethical demands implicit in the Beatitudes of Matthew 5:1-12 and Luke 6:20-23. Expressions of obligation (‘we should’, ‘one must’, ‘it is necessary to’) and of moral exhortation (‘let us’) abound. He 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 a fallen world. In actual fact the Beatitudes contain only one explicit command, which speaks not of moral effort but of inner, mental disposition: ‘Rejoice and the glad’ (Matt. 5:12). ‘Rejoice and leap for joy’ (Luke 6:23). Eschatological hope lies at the core of Jesus teaching here: the grieving will be comforted, the hungry will be satisfied, the pure will see God.  As a preacher Calvin is fully alert to the tension which exists between the now and the not yet, between believers’ present experience of suffering and their future exaltation in heaven.   .  .  .  .  Jesus is both the herald and the agent of the messianic blessing. All the Beatitudes are summed up in Him. Meek, pure in heart, merciful, peaceable, persecuted without cause, he enacts his own message and thus becomes the very embodiment of all righteousness. His vindication will be the vindication of all who believe in him. The Beatitudes thus send us back, not to an abstract list of moral perfections, but to the person of Jesus Christ, to whose image Christians are even now being conformed by his indwelling Spirit.  Calvin’s sermons on the Beatitudes are an appeal and an encouragement to Jesus’ followers to be what they are already reckoned to be in Him.”  (Robert White, translator; University of Sydney, Australia – from the book, and intro.. Sermons On The Beatitudes, by John Calvin, The Banner Of Truth Trust, 2006)

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