Shelburne: A page from an old sermon stands test of time

For a lover of the Word and words, a preacher-type who loves anything good and beautiful set in type, you just couldn't find a better Christmas gift than one I received over a decade ago and am still loving.

The gift I want to describe is a beautifully-framed actual page from a book of sermons on Deuteronomy written by the great Reformation preacher John Calvin.

The sermon that begins on this particular page is labeled as the "16th Sermon [in the book] which is the Second upon the Third Chapter [of Deuteronomy]," and it was preached on Wednesday, the 8th of May, 1555. It was translated "out of French" by Arthur Golding and printed by "Henry Middleton for George Bishop, London [the publisher] in 1583." All of which means that this page has been around for well over 400 years. I'm amazed it's still here, and I'm even more amazed to have it.

I learn some things just by looking at this page from John Calvin's old sermon. Some of what I learn is just interesting.

The typeface catches my attention. A final "s" looks like an "s" but an "s" in the middle of a word looks like an "f." A "u" is often but not always printed as a "v" and uice uersa. I mean "vice versa." For example, "Nowe let vs kneele downe in the prefence of our good God … vntil he haue ioyned vs fullye and perfectly to himfelfe."

And, yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as a bookworm. The page's character is enhanced by a number of small round holes. Bookworms of the necessarily illiterate variety evidently found this work of literature absolutely delicious. (It tasted like chicken?)

I doubt that anything we put on electronic media–disks, DVDs, CDs (a painful realization since I just recorded a music CD)–will be around a fraction of the time this old page has been.

I barely remember what I preached on last Sunday, but here is proof positive that some sermons last longer than a week. (At least, if you're John Calvin.)

And, no surprise, some preachers on paper or in the pulpit can be long-winded. This one book on Deuteronomy went on for 1200 pages.

More importantly, this page is also silent evidence that fashions and fads and empty philosophies may come and go, but even good words about God's Word may partake in a bit of its timelessness.

Theologically, I'm not a Calvinist, though I don't doubt the man was a giant who had more sense and scholarship and sheer courage in his little finger than you'll find in a big boatload of pastoral pygmies like me who sit around, drink coffee, and authoritatively discuss Calvinism.

But that which unites me to John Calvin and to the many millions of much less famous and, to me, mostly faceless citizens of God's kingdom, dead or alive but alive with God's life just the same, is faith in the Living Word. That Word is the Christ of whom Calvin wrote and preached, and to whom every page of God's written word, be it printed in 1583 or yesterday, truly points.

Curtis Shelburne is pastor of 16th & Ave. D. Church of Christ in Muleshoe. Contact him at ckshel@aol.com

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