Truth For All Time: A Brief Outline of the Christian Faith, by John Calvin, translated by Stuart Olyott.
Banner of Truth Trust, 1998, paperback, xi + 77 pages, £2.95.
Available from the Free Presbyterian Bookroom, 133 Woodlands Road, Glasgow, G3 6LE.
JOHN CALVIN is noted for his Institutes of the Christian Religion, a work which he revised repeatedly between its first appearance in 1536 and his final edition of 1559. In the Institutes Calvin aimed to provide a systematic statement of Biblical doctrine which, as he put it, “will be a kind of key opening up to all the children of God a right and ready access to the understanding of the sacred volume…an introduction to the profitable reading both of the Old and New Testament”. His concern, as in his commentaries and lectures, was to let the Word of God be heard.
The Brief Outline was published by Calvin as a popularly written summary of the first edition of the Institutes. For various reasons the work was replaced by others, but the publishers have considered it worthwhile to bring it out again in a new translation from the French.
There are six sections: Knowing God and knowing ourselves. The Law of the Lord; Faith; Prayer; The Sacraments; Order in Church and State. Included are brief expositions of the Ten Commandments, the Lords Prayer and the Apostles Creed. Sections and sub-sections are short. Sentences are clear and to the point. The approach is warmly devotional, experimental and practical. In short compass Calvin introduces readers to a wide range of Biblical truth.
The book can be read through at one sitting and then studied more carefully paragraph by paragraph for maximum benefit. The goodly number of young people scattered throughout our congregations who show an interest in the Gospel would probably be helped by it in their desire to develop a framework of Biblical doctrine. Even those who have read quite widely will benefit from being confronted in a simple though profound way with basic Christian truth. Careful reading should provoke thought, promote understanding, and even whet the appetite for the Institutes themselves.
It is a pity that the plural rather than the singular is used in the occasional places where God is addressed when the English language has the ability to reflect accurately the original languages in this respect. It is also necessary to guard against wrong deductions from Calvins statements regarding aspects of the Sabbath which he regarded as shadows done away in Christ. Though Calvin considered that the Sabbath had temporary typical implications for the Jews prior to the coming of Christ, it is clear from his writings that he also maintained that the day was of Divine appointment and has been retained in the New Testament Church, that Gods reasons for appointing it are equally applicable to us, and that those restless spirits who were making an outcry about the observance of the Lords Day were to be opposed. He was resisting a superstitious use of the Sabbath. Even Calvins statements must be assessed in the context of his general teaching, and must be examined in the sight of Gods Word. Calvin would approve of that approach.
Rev. H. M. Cartwright