Mr. Chairman, Members of the Class of 1979, Brethren of the Theological School Committee and of the Synod, Brethren and Sisters gathered with us:
In my remarks, which are addressed chiefly to our graduates but in the presence of you all, I wish to concentrate on the chief work of the ministry to which these young men look forward: the work of the preaching of the Word. It is to that work that our graduates look forward and for which they have been prepared and trained. In their future ministry they must concentrate all their abilities and labor on that task: the preaching of the Word of the Lord Jehovah. And their attitude must be that of the prophet Amos as expressed in the striking comparison of the words of Amos 3:8: “The lion hath roared, who will not fear? the Lord GOD hath spoken, who can but prophesy?”
It is not my intention this evening to preach a sermon on this text in its context; that would go far beyond the purposes of this gathering tonight. But I wish to call your attention to a few pertinent thoughts in connection with this passage of Scripture.
I. A UNIQUE WORD
It is plain, first of all, that both the lion and the Lord Jehovah are recognizable from their sound. This is the first point to be noticed in the comparison of this text. The lion hath roared: there is no other sound like that lion’s roar, so that the lion may be and is recognized from his roar. The Lord Jehovah hath spoken: there is no other speech like that, so that the Lord Jehovah may be and is recognized from the unique sound, the content, of His speech. Hence, there is reference here to what God says, what He speaks, that is, to the words of God and to His Word.
What is that speech of God?
It is, in the first place, the Word that God speaks in eternal perfection in His Son. It is the Word that God speaks as the Triune God; of the Father, in the Son, and through the Holy Spirit, God speaks eternally of Himself, concerning Himself, to Himself. But here, obviously, the Word to which Amos refers is the Word that God speaks outside of Himself, in His revelation. It is the Word that God speaks of Himself, concerning Himself, in His Son, through the Holy Spirit, to His people.Also that Word, remember, returns to God Himself: it returns through His people to Himself in praise and adoration.
The Lord Jehovah has spoken His Word which consists of many words. Scripture speaks not only of the Word of God — singular — but also of the words of God — plural. This is because there are many aspects, many sides to the one Word of God and manifold riches of salvation and grace expressed by the various words of the Lord. But all those words together are nevertheless one; they are the bearers of the one Word of God: the revelation of the God of our salvation in Jesus Christ our Lord. And if you ask what the content of that revelation is, the answer is that it may all be summarized in the one Word: “I WILL ESTABLISH MY COVENANT.” Everything that belongs to the Word of God concentrates around that: “I will establish My covenant with My people in My Son Christ Jesus.” And this is emphasized, too, by implication in the text. This Word is the speech of the Lord, Adonai, the same of God which emphasizes especially that He is the Sovereign of heaven and earth. When He establishes His covenant, He does so as the Lord! He has no need of any creature. He establishes His covenant all alone! It is Hiscovenant with His people in His Son Jesus Christ. And it is His Word by which He establishes that covenant as the God Whose counsel shall stand and Who will do all His good pleasure. Further, this Word is the speech of Jehovah, the I AM. He is the Self-sufficient One, the Independent One, the Immutable One, the unchangeably faithful covenant God, Who keepeth covenant and mercy.
It is around this one Word of God, “I will establish My covenant,” that all the other words of God concentrate. It is for this purpose that Christ is ordained. It is for this purpose that a people is elected. Yes, it is for this purpose that there is sovereign reprobation: it must serve — and even the reprobate must serve — the purpose of the realization of that covenant. It is for this purpose that His elect people are delivered, liberated, justified, sanctified, and glorified — even unto God’s everlasting tabernacle in the glory of the new heavens and the new earth.
It must be stressed, too, that these words are emphatically the words of GOD! They proceed from God. They speak centrally of God. And therefore they are eternally true and stand immovably firm.
This speech of God is centrally in Christ. He is the Word become flesh, so that God immediately and directly speaks His Word in Him. For in Christ in the unity of the divine Person the human nature is united to the divine nature. And from Christ, that Word of God proceeded forth through patriarchs and prophets, through types and shadows in the old dispensation already. It proceeded forth in the fullness of time (through the very speech of the Word made flesh, our Lord Jesus Christ. And after His exaltation it proceeded forth in the new dispensation through apostles and evangelists. Moreover, we have the complete and objective record of that speech in the Scriptures. For such is the content of the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation and in their entirety: they are the record of the speech of God in Christ!
Now we have already noted that the lion’s roar and Jehovah’s speech are unique. This is implied in the comparison in Amos 3:8. The reference is to that peculiar roar of a lion immediately before he strikes his prey. In all the animal kingdom there is no other sound like it. One does not have to inquire whether that sound of a lion was perhaps the bark of a dog or the peep of a mouse or the trumpeting of an elephant. That roar is unique and is immediately recognized. Thus it is with the Word of Jehovah. There is no other speech like it in the entire universe. One does not have to inquire what sound, whose speech, whose word that is. It is peculiarly and uniquely the speech of the Lord Jehovah: “I am the Lord, the absolute Sovereign of heaven and earth. I am Jehovah, the self-existent, independent, eternal I AM, the Immutable One, the unchangeably faithful Covenant God!”
The Word of the Lord Jehovah, therefore, is spontaneously recognized, even as is the roar of the lion. When a lion roars for his prey, one does not have to go through a reasoning process. He does not have to think and say, “This is true, and this is true, and this is true and therefore I conclude that this is a lion roaring for his prey.” In fact, to do so would be fatal! No, one recognizes that roar of the lion immediately and spontaneously and intuitively; and he responds at once in trembling fear.
Thus it is with the Word of the Lord Jehovah. This is due, of course, to the inward operation of the Spirit of Christ. The prophets and the apostles of old did not have to inquire and to reason and thus come to the conclusion when the Lord spoke to them and revealed His Word, “The Lord Jehovah has spoken.” No, they knew immediately and spontaneously that the Lord had revealed His secrets to them. The same is true of us today. We do not start from a position of ignorance or skepticism, in order to go through a reasoning process and arrive at a reasoned conclusion concerning the Scriptures and at last declare: “This Bible is the very Word of God — plenarily, organically, verbally, infallibly (or: inerrantly, which is the same thing) inspired.” In fact, if you follow that method of skepticism and rationalism — as so many preachers and learned theologians do today — you will inevitably reach the opposite conclusion and deny that the Scriptures are the Word of God, the written record of the speech of the Lord Jehovah. No, that the Lord Jehovah has spoken is recognized with the spontaneity of faith. That is why even a very little child and even the simplest child of God, as well as the trained minister and the learned theologian, can and do recognize that speech and say, “The Lord Jehovah has spoken!”
II. A SPONTANEOUS AND INEVITABLE REACTION
The prophet Amos emphasizes that prophesying on his part is the inevitable and spontaneous response to the speech of the Lord Jehovah. Notice how he puts it: “The Lord Jehovah hath spoken, who shall not prophesy?” And this stands parallel with: “The lion hath roared, who will not fear?”
What is it to prophesy?
Without going into all the details of this concept, I wish to emphasize three important items in this connection. In the first place, to prophesy implies being a servant. This is plainly expressed in verse 7 of the same chapter: “Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.” Prophets are servants. And a prophet, or a preacher, is not first of all a servant of the congregation; he is that, too. But he is primarily a servant of the Lord Jehovah! A prophet is not a lord; he is not one who does his own will. But he is a servant of the Lord. And the chief characteristic of a servant is that he always asks, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” In the second place, a prophet is a servant who serves strictly in the capacity of speaking in behalf of another — the Lord Jehovah. Whether he speaks by direct inspiration and revelation; as did the prophets and apostles of old, or whether he speaks by means of and in connection with the Scriptures, as do preachers today, that makes no principal difference. What must be emphasized is the truth that a prophet delivers not his own word, but the word of his Sender, the Word already described above. In the third place, a prophet is a servant who speaks not on his own authority, but on the authority of his Sender, the Lord Jehovah. When he speaks, therefore, he does not say: “This is what I think. This is what I have discovered. This is what I have concluded on the basis of these and these considerations and after much study.” All of these have nothing to do with prophesying. A prophet says only, “Thus saith the Lord Jehovah!”
Such prophesying is your calling, members of the Class of ’79. Your task as future preachers is not essentially different from that of the prophets of the old dispensation. It is to be servants of the Lord. It is to speak in behalf of the Lord Jehovah, to speak His Word. And it is to speak on His authority, to say, “Thus saith the Lord!”
To sum it all up, your calling is to preachprophetically.
There are many, many things that can be said about that. They need saying, too! We have tried to say them to you during the three years of your seminary training. But this evening permit me to stress a few things which may well be stressed not only for you, my young brethren, but, for all of us. For one thing, you must never, never preach a vague, ill-defined sermon; but always you must preach clear, well-defined sermons. For another, you must never preach dull sermons, but always-sharp sermons. For another, you must never preach general, non-distinctive sermons. You must never preach sermons of which it could be said, “Well, that sermon could have been preached in any church of any denomination.” No, you must always preach specific, distinctive sermons. Preaching must be in bold, black-and-white, sharp lines; it must not be in fuzzy, gray, indistinct lines. Preaching must be antithetical. Preaching must not be theoretical and abstract, but concrete. Preaching must not be dogmatical. This is not to say there must be no doctrine in your sermons; a sermon without doctrine is a sermon without solid content and without a good basis. But remember: when you are in the pulpit, you are not in the dogmatics classroom. Preaching must be the living Word; it must be concrete. Moreover, preaching must not be atGod’s people. It must not merely be about God’s people, must not simply be in the third person singular or plural. I dislike the word “confrontation”; it has nuances, I think, which should be avoided. Nevertheless, it must be stressed that the preaching of the Word must be direct. There must be address in preaching. It must be personal. It must demand and call forth the response of faith and repentance.
All of these things, and many more, may be summed up in this: you candidates — and we all — must always preach so that the congregation senses unmistakably and says, “We have heard the Word of the Lord Jehovah.”
Now notice the structure of the text in Amos. There are two rhetorical questions posed, that is, questions to which the answers are obvious and implied. The answers to both questions are, “No one!” Further, these two questions are parallel to one another: “The lion hath roared, who will not fear? the Lord Jehovah hath spoken, who will not prophesy?”
The implications are plain.
As to the lion’s roar, the response to it, in the first place, is spontaneous, intuitive, instantaneous. That lion’s roar instantly, unreasoningly fills a man’s soul with fear. In the second place, the response to this roar is sure; it is inevitable and exclusive. No one who hears it will ever respond otherwise than in trembling fear. One would never think of responding, for example, by saying, “Ha, ha, ha! A lion roared! ” All this is strongly emphasized by the rhetorical question, “Who will not fear?” Fear is the one and only and spontaneous response to the roar of a lion. Thus it is with the Word of Jehovah. Such is the attitude that is expressed here by the faithful prophet Amos. For remember: this is the expression of his attitude — and the attitude of any faithful prophet-preacher — when he has heard the Lord Jehovah speaking: “Who will not prophesy?” What doesthis mean? In the first place, it means this: “As spontaneously as a man responds in fear to the lion’s roar, so spontaneously do I respond in prophesying to the Lord Jehovah’s Word. I can do nought else. Necessity is laid upon me.” In the second place, it implies this: “As surely as the inevitable response of a man to a lion’s roar is that of fear, so surely and inevitably do I respond to Jehovah’s Word by prophesying. Woe be unto me if I preach not the gospel of Christ.”
III. A SERIOUS RESPONSIBILITY But there is a difference between responding to the roar of a lion and responding to the Word of Jehovah.
This is plain from the fact, in the first place, that not everyone who occupies the office of prophet-preacher truly prophesies. There were false prophets already in the old dispensation. They were men who occupied the office of a prophet, but who refused to speak the Word of Jehovah. And there are many such instances today: men who refuse to speak the Word of Jehovah when they preach, or men who say, “Thus saith the Lord,” when the Lord has not spoken. In the second place, we must remember that while the response of fear to the roar of a lion is an unreasoning (though not unreasonable) and non-deliberative response, the response of a prophet-preacher to the Word of the Lord Jehovah is a deliberate, conscious, rational-moral response of the believing heart. There is one outstanding exception to this in the Old Testament. That most abominable hypocrite of the old dispensation, Balaam, was apparently compelled by the Lord to speak just as was his ass. But that exception in this instance only serves to emphasize the rule.
Hence, there is a very serious responsibility laid at the door of every prophet-preacher.
That responsibility is, in the first place: LISTEN! Listen not to men. Listen not to your own reason and your own wisdom. But listen to the Word of God, the Scriptures. If you do anything in your ministry, take care that you immerse yourselves in the Scriptures. Discipline yourself to do this. Insist on it. Insist on reserving time for this in your ministry. You must make certain that you hear the Word of the Lord Jehovah. Your attitude and your prayer must be, “Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth.”
And then, in the second place, PROPHESY!
Yes, orate when you preach. I like some oratory in a sermon. A sermon must not be delivered a dry, didactic manner. But remember: if your oratory is not subservient to the Word of the Lord Jehovah, it is like sounding brass and a clanging cymbal. Indeed, speak in a warm and personal and conversational tone when you preach. But if that warm, conversational tone is not subservient to the Word of the Lord, it is hollow. When you preach, apply to your sermonizing all your intellectual acumen and logic. For there must be a line in a sermon; no one can follow it if there is no line in it. But remember: without the Word of the Lord Jehovah your intellectual acumen and powers of reason and logic can produce nothing but worldly words of man’s wisdom. Yes, be pious and godly in your preaching; but remember that if your piety and godliness do not have as their content and their basis the Word of the Lord Jehovah, they are empty and vain.
In a word, preach so that all your preaching is the medium of the Word of the Lord Jehovah to His people!
May God give you, our candidates for the ministry, grace to be faithful to that calling. And may He soon give you a place in the ministry of His Word!