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John Calvin and the Importance of Application in Preaching

June 7, 2016

While this may come as a shock to some, John Calvin’s preaching was accessible in its simplicity. “As a preacher, Calvin’s primary aim was not to communicate to other theologians, but to reach the common person in the pew. … Occasionally, Calvin would explain the meaning of a word more carefully, but without ever giving the Hebrew or Greek original. Yet Calvin did not hesitate to use the language of the Bible.”[1] Moreover, Calvin’s preaching was pastoral in its tone. “The Genevan Reformer never lost sight of the fact that he was a pastor. Thus, he warmly applied Scripture with loving exhortation to shepherd his flock. He preached with the intent of prompting and encouraging his sheep to follow the Word.”[2]


Shepherd-preachers, like Calvin, must apply the word of God pastorally, effectively, and in a God-honoring manner. David Murray defines application as “the process by which the unchanging principles of God’s word are brought into life-changing contact with people who live in an ever-changing world.”[3]  Murray lays out eight helpful, key components to effective, biblical application in our preaching:


1. Passage:  The faithful preacher bases his application not on anecdotes or inspiring stories, but on God’s Word, and on that particular preaching passage.


2. Primary:  Preachers must not draw applications from the accidental, incidental, or coincidental parts of a passage, but from its essentials alone.


3. Persistent:  Although at times it may be appropriate to leave application to the conclusion of a sermon, it is usually best to apply throughout.


4. Prepared:  Unprepared application usually means repetitive application.


5. Present:  Applications should be up-to-date and relevant.


6. Personal: Hearers must know that they are being addressed personally and even individually. 


7. Precise:  The general principle must be pointed to specific, concrete, everyday situations by asking “How? Where? When?”


8. Proportionate:  Application must be varied and balanced.[4]


By God’s grace, with humility, wisdom, and intentionality, may the Lord help us to apply the Word of God in such a way that those who sit under our preaching don’t simply grow as hearers of the Word, but joyful doers of the Word (James 1:22).




            [1] Nathan Bingham, “10 Distinguishing Marks of John Calvin’s Preaching.”


            [2] Ibid.


            [3] David Murray, “8 Principles of Sermon Application,” Head, Heart, Hand Blog, May, 2013, accessed July 10, 2014, http://headhearthand.org/?s=application.


            [4] Ibid.

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