This letter serves several purposes. One of my purposes is to express appreciation for the editorial, “How Does Christ Speak in the Preaching of the Gospel?” in the January 15, 2001 issue of the Standard Bearer.
The other purposes are to remark and to seek a better understanding for myself and other readers of the truth of the hardening of the reprobate by the preaching as mentioned in the above editorial, also the hardening of the reprobate who are not in the church in any sense.
In light of my following comments, questions, and the risk of being misunderstood, I find it necessary to state first that our triune, covenant God may never be charged with sin or be made the author of sin. Our God is perfectly holy (Rev. 15:4). It is also necessary to state that I and all of God’s elect are no less guilty of judgment in this life and in the life to come than the reprobate (II Tim. 1:9 “… who saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began”). Sovereign, particular grace!
Concerning those who remain unregenerated, does not God continue to harden and blind them with greater blindness and use sin to bring them greater judgment as part of their punishment as Romans 1 teaches? In Exodus 9:12 we are told that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart; and in Numbers 22:20ff. we read that Balaam was told by God to go with the servants of Balak, and when Balaam went, God’s anger was kindled against him. Can this be a proof-text that God uses sin to punish and confuse the reprobate?
Having established that Christ is the one speaking in the preaching of the Word, softening the hearts of the elect and hardening the hearts of the reprobate, don’t we have to conclude that Christ by the Holy Spirit is indeed the one doing the hardening? Is this indeed the teaching of John 12:40 and Romans 9:18?
Romans 1:18ff. teaches divine hardening of sinners through the revelation of God in creation. John 12:37ff., Romans 9:18, and II Corinthians 2:16 teach Christ’s hardening of reprobate sinners through the gospel.
Thanks for your clear explanation of the Protestant Reformed Churches’ view of preaching in the recent Standard Bearer (January 15, 2001). I found the parallel drawn between this view of preaching and the Calvinistic interpretation of the Communion particularly helpful. However, a few questions remain about which I would appreciate further clarification.
My primary concern with the position that Christ speaks directly in the preaching of the gospel is that it implies that the preaching of a minister is infallible, and therefore beyond question or scrutiny. If such a situation exists, how can we exercise our Reformation right of private judgment over what is preached (Acts 17:11)? This position seems further to imply that the minister is mediating the word of God to His people, just as Roman Catholic priests believe themselves to be standing between Christ and the laity. But does not the Word of God exist directly for both ministers and congregation in the Scriptures themselves, about which the minister merely provides his fallible interpretation when he preaches, which has ecclesiastical authority insofar as it remains within the bounds of creedal orthodoxy?
Ballymena, Northern Ireland
“Ecclesiastical authority” for the preaching is something, but it is not enough. Ecclesiastical authority does not work faith, forgive sins, or open and shut the kingdom of heaven, Rome to the contrary notwithstanding.
We must hear Jesus Christ and be taught by Him (Eph. 4:20, 21).
And this is what the believer wants. As the Greeks desired of Philip in John 12:21, he desires of the minister on the Lord’s Day, “Sir, we would see—and hear—Jesus.” He is not satisfied with hearing a learned, or not so learned, man share his fine, or not so fine, insights into Scripture.
The biblical and Reformed doctrine that Christ speaks His living Word by means of the faithful preaching of the gospel of Scripture does not imply either that the minister is infallible or that the preaching is exempt from testing.
No minister, though he be John Calvin, is infallible, whether in the pulpit or out of it.
Every believer has not only the right but also the duty to test the sermon, whether it is faithful to Scripture, the sole infallible standard of all preaching and teaching. Indeed, the Holy Spirit commends the Bereans for testing the inspired preaching of the apostle himself: “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11).
The explanation of Christ’sspeaking through fallible preaching, which preaching may and must be tested by the believer, lies in the error of your adverb. Christ does not speak “directly” in the preaching. He speaks indirectly. There is a twofold indirection. He speaks by means of a man who is weak, sinful, and capable of erring. And He speaks by means of Holy Scripture, which this fallible man authoritatively proclaims in the office of the ministry.
We may describe the twofold indirection this way. Christ speaks by means of a fallible preacher faithfully proclaiming the (true) gospel set forth in the infallible Scripture.
When the weak, sinful, fallible minister does faithfully proclaim the one, true gospel, drawn from Scripture and in harmony with it, Christ speaks through the preaching of the man exercising the office of the ministry in the church. Christ speaks through this preaching, even though the minister has a weak voice, makes grammatical errors (once in a while), mixes up his facts (occasionally), and even gets a certain point of exegesis wrong (which is not the same as heresy).
That Christ is willing to use such an unlikely instrument to sound His own blessed voice is another testimony to His amazing grace and condescension. There are no depths to which He will not stoop to save us.
That Christ is able to use such a foolish means is another testimony to His almighty power, that is, His Spirit. There is nothing that He cannot do to save us.
And when the believer has compared the sermon with Scripture and has been assured (by the Spirit working through the preaching and in connection with the Scripture being preached) that the sermon is the gospel of Scripture, he ought to receive it with all readiness of mind, not as the words of men but as the Word of God, which, in truth, it is (I Thess. 2:13).