The Anatomy of the Soul: John Calvin on the Psalms


In 1557 John Calvin wrote his preface to the commentary he had produced on the Psalms. In the preface, Calvin gives an important perspective on this particular OT book. I offer it here for your reading pleasure.

I have been accustomed to call this book, I think not inappropriately, An Anatomy of the Soul; for there is not an emotion of which anyone can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror. Or rather, the Holy Spirit has here drawn to the life all the griefs, sorrows, fears, doubts, hopes, cares, perplexities, in short, all the distracting emotions with which the minds of men are wont to be agitated. The other parts of Scripture contain the commandment which God enjoined his servants to announce to us. But here the prophets themselves seeing they are exhibited to us speaking to God, and laying open all their inmost thoughts and affections, call or rather draw, each of us to the examination of himself in particular, in order that none of the many infirmities to which we are subject, and of the many vices with which we abound, may remain concealed. It is certainly a rare and singular advantage, when all lurking places are discovered, and the heart is brought into the light, purged from that most baneful infection, hypocrisy. In short, as calling upon God is one of the principal means of securing our safety, and as a better and more unerring rule for guiding us in this exercise cannot be found elsewhere than in the Psalms, it follows, that in proportion to the proficiency which a man shall have attained in understanding them, will be his knowledge of the most important part of celestial doctrine.

May our Lord use Calvin’s comments to encourage you to take up and read this OT book.

Tolle lege
* Denis Janz and Sherry E. Jordon, eds., A Reformation Reader: Primary Texts with Introductions, Augmented & improved [ed.]. (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2002), 205.

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