Posted by: Michael M. Dewalt | February 13, 2009

Calvin and Joshua

John Calvin’s final commentary before his death was on the Book of Joshua. He stated his intent to complete a commentary on this book in a letter of Nov. 30, 1563. Thus, while his strength was fading and his illness was encroaching, Calvin set his hand to leave insights on this book. Below are several paragraphs that show its continuing validity. The editor of the 1845 edition (Henry Beveridge) made this observation:

Such are the circumstances in which this Commentary was composed, and it is impossible, in reflecting on them, not to admire the indomitable energy which Calvin displayed in proceeding with his task, and in meeting the remonstrance’s of those who would have withdrawn him from it, with the heroic exclamation, “Would you that the Lord, when He comes, should find me idle!”

A Work written at such a time, and in such a spirit, might justly claim exemption from criticism; but it has no need of indulgence, and can well afford to be judged by its own intrinsic merits. Viewed merely as an intellectual effort, it displays all the excellencies which characterize the other Commentaries of its distinguished Author: viewed in a higher and better light, it is his dying bequest to the Church — a solemn ratification of the whole System of Doctrine which he had so long, so earnestly, and so successfully promulgated.

The Beveridge edition also included an essay by German theologian August Tholuck on Calvin’s merit as a biblical interpreter. Unfortunately, that essay—and a collection of testimonies to additional excellencies of Calvin—are not in the Baker reprint of Calvin’s Commentary on Joshua. Any links to either, if posted on the web, would be appreciated.

On Joshua 1:6: “From this passage, therefore, let us learn that we can never be fit for executing difficult and arduous matters unless we exert our utmost endeavors, both because our abilities are weak, and Satan rudely assails us, and there is nothing we are more inclined to than to relax our efforts. But, as many exert their strength to no purpose in making erroneous or desultory attempts, it is added as a true source of fortitude that Joshua shall make it his constant study to observe the Law. By this we are taught that the only way in which we can become truly invincible is by striving to yield a faithful obedience to God. Otherwise it were better to lie indolent and effeminate than to be hurried on by headlong audacity.”

On Joshua 1:8: “Assiduous meditation on the Law is also commanded; because, whenever it is intermitted, even for a short time, many errors readily creep in, and the memory becomes rusted, so that many, after ceasing from the continuous study of it, engage in practical business, as if they were mere ignorant tyros. God therefore enjoins his servant to make daily progress, and never cease, during the whole course of his life, to profit in the Law. Hence it follows that those who hold this study in disdain are blinded by intolerable arrogance. . . . Everything which profane men endeavour to accomplish in contempt of the word of God must ultimately fail of success, and however prosperous the commencement may sometimes seem to be, the issue will be disastrous; because prosperous results can be hoped for only from the divine favor, which is justly withheld from counsels rashly adopted, and from all arrogance of which contempt of God himself is the usual accompaniment. Let believers, therefore, in order that their affairs may turn out as they wish, conciliate the divine blessing alike by diligence in learning and by fidelity in obeying.”

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Responses

  1. For convenient reference, here is Joshua 1:6-8 (New American Standard Version) about which Calvin’s Commentary speaks:

    “6 “Be strong and courageous, for you shall give this people possession of the land which I swore to their fathers to give them.

    7 “Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go.

    8 “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.”


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