31 Days, 31 Books
Martin Luther and John Calvin were both fully employed several times over. Both pastored churches and had numerous duties connected with overseeing and shepherding their congregations. The preaching schedules of both men were extensive. It was not merely a Sunday morning service with a Wednesday night prayer meeting. Concerning Calvin, his preaching schedule included sermons given once or twice on Sundays and often every day of the week on alternate weeks. This amounted to somewhere between 200 and 300 sermons a year. Calvin’s series included 189 sermons on Acts; 65 on the harmony of the Gospels; 174 sermons on Ezekiel; 159 on Job; 200 on Deuteronomy; 342 on Isaiah; 123 on Genesis; 107 on 1st Samuel and 87 on 2nd Samuel.
Both men were heavily involved in training young men for the ministry, conferring with fellow pastors, and dealing with all sorts of people, ranging from political leaders to common folks. No wonder that both men died relatively young–in their 50s. Both lived by burning the candle at both ends and giving their all to advancing the Kingdom of God.
From their preaching, teaching, letters, and specific writing assignments, both Luther and Calvin were both prolific authors. Luther was a virtual internet of blog articles dealing with all sorts of issues. He apparently wrote fast and furiously. He was loud and boistrous, sometimes angry, and eager to push open any doors he came to. That is what makes Luther so much fun. His mouth and pen sometimes got him into trouble. That is what makes Luther so interesting. His idiosyncrasies and inconsistencies shook up his friends as well as his enemies. That is what makes him so…Luther.
Fortress Press publishes the 55 plus volumes of Luther’s works. Sad to report, I don’t own the set. I do have one lone volume of Luther’s letters out of the set that I acquired years ago. The whole set contains commentaries Luther gave in the form of lectures, tracts and writings, and sermons. A prize volume is number 54, Table Talk. This volume consists of snippets, saying, and comments Luther made to his many guest, mostly theology students, who ate with him. Here are a few snippets:
“When God wills to punish a people or a kingdom, he takes away from it the good and godly teachers and preachers, and bereaves it of wise, godly, and honest rulers and counsellors, and of brave, upright, and experienced soldiers, and of good men.” (64)
“God very wonderfully entrusts his highest office to preachers that are themselves poor sinners who, while teaching it, very weakly follow it.” (66)
“If Moses had continued to work his miracles in Egypt but two or three years, the people would have become accustomed thereto, and heedless, as we who are accustomed to the sun and moon, hold them in no esteem.” (142)
Perhaps more influential than Table Talks was Luther’s Lectures on Galatians. It has been an influence down through the ages, inspiring and instructing such men as John Wesley, Charles H. Spurgeon, and most recently, my son Nick, who used the book in a class on Galatians at Wheaton College. Galatians, like Romans, clearly defined, documented, and defended the doctrine of justification by faith, which was so dear to Luther.
As a consolation for not owning Luther’s Works in full, I do have a few volumes of his writings, including an edition of his work on Galatians and a portion of his Table Talks. Also, I recently acquired Through the Year with Martin Luther: A Selection of His Sermons Celebrating the Feasts and Seasons of the Christian Year. I have not read from it yet, but hope to during the approaching Advent Season.
Few quite a few years now, Calvin’s Commentaries have been rather easy to acquire. Baker Book House has been publishing Calvin’s Commentaries for quite a few years, and various sellers have offered the set of 22 volumes with great discounts. Some of the on-going reprints have resulted in poorer quality paper and covers, but the contents are readily accessible. John Calvin is still, after 5 centuries, a useful commentator on Scripture.
Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion are also readily accessible. The two volumes Westminster Press edition, translated by Ford Lewis Battles and edited by John T. McNeill, is, in my opinion, the best edition. Other people prefer the older, more 19th century styled Henry Beveridge translation. I use the Beveridge translation in my Humanities class when we read extensively from Calvin’s Institutes in the Modern World course.
More of Calvin can be found in Tracts and Letters, recently published in 7 beautiful volumes by Banner of Truth Trust. Again, I must lament my not owning this set. I do have and treasure an older four volumes of Calvin’s Letters.