Today’s post is a really exciting one for me. We are talking about Calvin with my friend and brother in Christ, R. Andrew Myers.

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Andrew has been studying Calvin for many years now, along with the Puritans and the Reformed tradition. Here are some of his credentials:

Husband to Jessica, and Father to 5 precious children
Editor of the Matthew Poole Project (2006-2012); and author of an essay on “The Puritan Legacy Considered” (2009) published by MPP;
Transcriber and research assistant on the Westminster Assembly Project (2009);
Current student at Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary;
Blogger at Virginia is for Huguenots , a blog focusing on church history and devotional matters from a Puritan, Covenanter and Huguenot perspective;
Contributor to the website Reformed Books Online;
Administrator of the Matthew Henry Commentary Challenge group on Facebook; and pages dedicated to William Gouge, John Trapp, Matthew Poole, John Brown of Haddington;and
Lover of church history and avid reader.

Given the above, I wanted to ask Andrew a question that I have been wondering about myself for some time:

What books by Calvin should a Calvinist be reading? 

He gave his reply to several questions in that vein below. The pictures inserted in this post are from his personal collection. Hover over the titles for links to many of these works.

Thank you Andrew for sharing your wisdom and expertise!!!

1. Where should somebody start with Calvin’s theological works?

First, it should be noted that “The Reformer of Geneva wrote more in a space of thirty years than one person can adequately study and digest in an entire lifetime” (Willem van’t Spijker). That said, early in my own life as a Reformed believer I obtained a copy of Calvin’s Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life. It is extracted from the Institutes of the Christian Religion, and it is full of experimental piety. This I still recommend to those who are just beginning to study the writings of John Calvin. Next, the Institutes itself. 

2. What’s the best edition of the Institutes?

The Institutes were originally published in 1536, with a final, massively-expanded edition published in 1559 (all in Latin). For those who know Latin, the Institutes in that language specifically have been described as “classic” (B.B. Warfield), and “almost too good in its Latinity for a theologian” (B.B. Warfield, paraphrasing Joseph Scaliger). The English translations of the 1559 edition are as follows: 
  • Thomas Norton (1561)
  • John Allen (1813)
  • Henry Beveridge (1845)
  • Ford Lewis Battles (1960)

Additionally, in English, there is a Battles edition of the 1536 (Latin) Institutes ; an edition by Elsie Anne McKee of the 1541 (French) Institutes (2009); Robert White’s translation of the 1541 (French) Institutes (2014). (The 1541 edition represents Calvin’s own translation of the 1539 Latin Institutes into French. There were additional Latin editions of the Institutes published in 1543, 1545 and 1550.)

I own the following editions: Allen, Beveridge, Battles (1536 and 1559), McKee, White and a 20th century French set of the 1541 edition. Some are not as keen on Battles’ translations as they are little ‘freer’ with the text than, say, Beveridge. I know that Richard Muller, whose opinion I greatly respect, prefers Allen’s translation over any other. In terms of expense, accessibility and faithfulness in translation, I would encourage today’s reader to obtain a copy of either Beveridge or Battles, and I honestly don’t have a strong opinion as to which. I do think the 1559 edition is the first one that a student of Calvin should get as opposed to earlier editions. It is the most comprehensive, and reflects Calvin’s most mature judgment. 

To add a thought or two about how to go about reading Calvin’s Institutes, I would suggest taking it slowly. There are reading plans to read through the book in a year. There is an epitome of the work by Caspar Olevianus in the prefatory material that should not be skipped over. And there are guides to reading the Institutes such as J. Mark Beach’s Piety’s Wisdom: A Summary of Calvin’s Institutes with Study Questions, which are quite helpful. Also, Donald McKim has edited an abridged version of the Institutes (2000). All in all, the Institutes is a book to be studied with a Bible close at hand, prayerfully, and contemplatively. 

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3. Which biographies would you recommend?

Of first rank for historical purposes, Theodore Beza’s Life of Calvin is a good place to start. Beza was Calvin’s successor and confidante, and while not objective in the sense of “at a distance,” his close, personal understanding of Calvin’s life and times helped to perpetuate Calvin’s legacy. 
 
The most comprehensive biography of Calvin in any language is that of Émile Doumergue (French), Jean Calvin, Les Hommes et Les Choses de Son Temps (1899-1927, 7 volumes).
Calvin may well be one of the chronicled men in the history of Western civilization. I think there is great value in reading more than one biography of the man because each has something unique to contribute. My favorite 20th and 21st century biographies of Calvin include:
1) Jean Cadier, The Man God Mastered (1960);
2) Herman Selderhuis, John Calvin: A Pilgrim’s Life (2009);
3) Alister McGrath, A Life of John Calvin (1993);
4) T.H.L. Parker, John Calvin: A Biography (1975);
5) William J. Bouwsma, John Calvin: A Sixteenth-Century Portrait (1989);
6) Thomas Cary Johnson, John Calvin and the Genevan Reformation: A Sketch (1900);
7) W. Robert Godfrey, John Calvin: Pilgrim and Pastor (2009);
8) Philip Vollmer, John Calvin: Man of the Millennium (500th Anniversary of Calvin’s birth edition, 2009) (original 1909 title: John Calvin: Theologian, Preacher, Educator, Statesman).
 
There are many other works which focus on particular themes related to Calvin or provide helpful overviews. Herman Selderhuis edited The Calvin Handbook (2009), which is a wonderful, comprehensive resource. Ford Lewis Battles wrote The Piety of John Calvin which is largely an effort to render in poetic form certain writings by Calvin (Calvin did wrote a poem once, but is likely not the author of a hymn often attributed to him.) Wulfert de Greef’s The Writings of John Calvin: Expanded Edition(2008) is an indispensable tool for students of Calvin who wish to have a thorough resource for understanding the timeline and context of all of his writings. Jim West’s Drinking With Calvin and Luther (2003) is, I must say, a fun read. 
 
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What’s the next most important book or set of books after the institutes? Then number 3? Why those?

Prefaces — For short but profound statements of Biblical piety, be sure to read Calvin’s Preface to the Genevan Psalter, his preface to his cousin Pierre Olivétan’s French Bible, and his preface to the 1550 Geneva Bible. These represent both important and often neglected statements of faith, as well as his connection to some of the most important productions with which he was involved over the course of his life.
 
Commentaries — The full 22-volume set is wonderful to have, but I would note that it is also available online (note: there are some sections [for example, part of his comments on Gen. 38.8-10] that were not translated in the 19th century, but have been translated elsewhere). Calvin set the bar very high for all the Reformed Bible expositors who would follow him. He did not write on every book of the Bible, but his c omments everywhere are sound and insightful. His commentary on the Psalms is especially precious. It is in the Preface to his comments on that book where he wrote of his conversion; and one sees many autobiographical remarks throughout that commentary, which reflect the value his placed on the piety of the Psalms for life and worship.  
 
Tracts & Letters — The seven-volume set of Calvin’s Tracts & Letters is full of valuable resources, including The Necessity of Reforming the Church (something every Christian should read), Beza’s Life of Calvin (see above), the Forms of Prayer for the Genevan Church, his Antidote to the Council of Trent, his treatises on relics and soul sleep, and much more. His Letters are a special treasure, full of interesting anecdotes, historical insights, and pastoral counsel. He was a voluminous correspondent (over 600 letters written between 1528 and 1564) and he wrote to royalty, pastors and private friends. 
 
 

Calvin has a lot of sermons in translation. Which three are the most important to have on the shelf?

Some famous Puritan commentaries on books of the Bible and on the Westminster Shorter Catechism are actually revised sermons that were preached first and then turned into commentaries. Calvin published both commentaries on the Bible as well as sermons.
 
1. Perhaps the most relevant to contemporary times, Calvin’s three sermons on Men, Women and Order in the Church is a valuable read for today. 
 
2. His Sermons on the Beatitudes represent his mature exposition of Biblical piety. 
 
3. Calvin’s Sermons on Micah are useful for both their insights on a lesser-studied minor prophet and for his views on the holiday known as Christmas.
 
His Sermons on Job and Deuteronomy remain very important, though they are primarily available today in 16th century English facsimile form. There are still many of Calvin works, including sermons, that have not yet been translated into English, even 500+ years after his birth.
 

Calvin has a lot of “memorabilia” out there. Anything cool that you have that you’d like to share?

I have studied Calvin since 1991, and over the years have come across many interesting bits of memorabilia, including postage stamps which commemorate Calvin; as well as medals and medallions; a puzzle based on his portrait; a Calvin bobble head at Calvin College (I passed on that and purchased a Calvin mug instead); and a John Calvin and Thomas Hobbes t-shirt that someone wore at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC. But it is from Geneva that I have obtained Calvinus beer, as well as a Calvin wine glass and Calvinus poster from the International Museum of the Reformation.

 

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I am a Reformed Presbyterian. I offer all content as my own personal reflections. I am not a licensed minister.