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  • Mark Hallock

John Calvin and the Importance of Application in Preaching


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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