Rev. Kleyn is pastor of First Protestant Reformed Church in Holland, Michigan. Previous article in this series: April 15, 2007, p. 327.
Of all the elements of worship, none is more important to the believer than the preaching. True preaching is not simply something the child of God is interested in only if it is convenient for him to come to church, or only if he likes what is said. But it is indispensable. It is the chief (most important) means of grace. It works faith. It comforts the soul. It instructs in the way of righteousness. It makes God’s people wise unto salvation (II Tim. 3:15). And most importantly, it is the power of God to save (Rom. 1:16).
The preaching, therefore, must be central in our worship services. And that it is ought to be evident from a number of things. First, the pulpit, from which the Word of God sounds forth, should not be off in a corner, replaced by music stands, microphones, drums, guitars, or a choir, but in the front and center. Secondly, the sermons, because they are the most important part of the worship service, are to be the longest part of it. And thirdly, the church ought to have two worship services each Sunday, which the people of God faithfully attend to hear the preaching of the gospel.
The preaching needs to be guarded by us in our worship services. We should never want less of it. We should never want it to be replaced by other things. It must be central.
As we well know, it is the minister of the Word who is called to do the work of preaching. He is given the solemn charge by Christ, “Preach the Word!” (See II Tim. 4:1, 2.) This, the Scriptures make plain, is to be his main work. It is true that he also has other duties, especially as a pastor and shepherd to the flock that is entrusted to his care. But the outstanding and fundamental calling he has is to preach. This is the work he must be busy at, and thus the work that should take up the majority of his time.
The minister has an awesome calling. He is a herald who has been sent to proclaim the words of King Jesus. He has been given an official message from Christ, and must see to it that he brings only Christ’s words.
His sermons, then, may not be a setting forth of the words and ideas of men. The preacher may not bring Christ’s words and his own, thus adding to what Christ says. Nor may he speak only some of Christ’s words, thus taking away from what Christ says. He must preach the official message that Christ has given Him, and he must preach all of it. He should be able to say concerning every word in every sermon, “Thus saith the Lord!”
When we say that the Word of Christ must be preached, we are in essence saying that the main content of every sermon is to be the gospel. That gospel is the good news of salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the gospel that assures the people of God of the forgiveness of sins and of life eternal. It is the gospel that gives them hope and comfort and peace. No matter what the text is, from either the Old or New Testament, this gospel must be proclaimed.
To preach the gospel faithfully is to preach Christ and Him crucified. That involves preaching sin, and preaching it pointedly, so that God’s children are humbled and led to seek pardon and deliverance in their Savior. It is preaching that proclaims the grace of God to all who are His in Christ. And it is the gospel that instructs and motivates the people of God to show their gratitude to God for His great and gracious deliverance. The minister of the Word must preach the gospel of peace and bring glad tidings of good things.
True and faithful gospel preaching in the church of Christ is preaching that comes with authority and with power.
It does so because when a minister, who has been lawfully called and sent by Christ, faithfully speaks the Word, the Lord Jesus Himself speaks to His church. The apostle Paul points this out when he says to the believers, “ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus” (Eph. 4:21). Christ states the same thing when He says, “My sheep hear my voice” (John 10:27a).
Thus Christ in effect tells ministers what He told His disciples: “He that heareth you heareth me” (Luke 10:16a). Through the preaching, Christ speaks with authority. He, the Son of God, speaks to us. This means that we must sit up and listen. We should be interested in every word He has to say. And what He says must be gladly obeyed. We may not, as listeners, simply take it or leave it as we please. We may not view faithful preaching as being simply a man’s opinion. We must hear and heed it as the Word that Christ speaks.
Christ also speaks with power—a power that, according to His will, either hardens or saves. No preacher is himself able to save anyone. No matter how powerful his oratory, and no matter how passionately he utters the call to repentance and faith, he is himself incapable of converting a single soul. All his efforts are fruitless and vain without the work of Christ and His Spirit. Only because Christ Himself speaks through the preaching, and only because the Spirit applies that Word to those who hear, is it powerful to accomplish its purpose.
That Christ speaks means that the preaching will always bear fruit. No one can hear Christ and remain neutral in relation to Him, or be unaffected by what He says. No one can sit under the true preaching of the gospel and return home the same as when he or she came to church. One either hates what he hears and thus shuts his ears and heart to it, or else he delights in it, obeys it, and is comforted by it. The Word of Christ will never return unto Him void, but it will accomplish what He pleases, and will prosper in the thing whereto He sends it (Isaiah 55:11). The elect will be saved, and the reprobate will be hardened in unbelief. Faithful preaching is always powerful, effective, and fruitful.
True preaching of the Word is critically important for the child of God, for it gives nourishment to his soul. When God’s Word is faithfully preached, the people of God are spiritually fed.
The believer comes to church spiritually weary. The daily battles against temptation and sin have caused his faith to become weak, and his assurance of salvation and of the love of God to grow dim. He needs to hear the gospel, for on numerous occasions during the past week he has stumbled and fallen into sin. He is spiritually hungry and thirsty on account of the weariness that results from facing countless afflictions and distresses in life. He comes to the house of God with the need and the desire to be once again fed with spiritual food that will revive and strengthen him again for the battle of faith.
When the believer comes to church each Sunday with this desire, Christ is pleased to feed him. He uses the preaching to strengthen our faith, to comfort our sin-troubled souls, and to assure us of His love and of eternal life. The pilgrim is thus equipped to continue on in his earthly sojourn, strengthened to face whatever the Lord sends in the coming week.
For this reason the church and people of God need good and sound preaching of the Scriptures. If the word that is proclaimed is Christ-less or gospel-less, the children of God cannot survive. If the preaching is simply a moral homily, souls are not fed. The preaching must provide good spiritual nourishment.
Thus the preacher must preach the Word. He may not be controlled by or give in to the pew. That is always a temptation. There are many things that the people of God prefer not to hear, and to which they are not naturally receptive. They would rather not hear pointed and humbling truths from the Word of God, especially truths that touch on their own sins. They prefer that the sins that they love and enjoy be left alone.
Faithful preaching requires that the whole Word of God be preached, and that it be preached sharply and pointedly. The preacher must not be afraid of what men might say or think. He must not cave in to the pressure of the listeners. The pew does not dictate what is preached, but Christ does. And Christ’s Word must never be watered down, or have its sharp edges trimmed away. The preacher must ever remain faithful to the charge Christ has given, “Preach the Word!” Only then will the preaching feed and nourish hungry and thirsty souls.
Do not take the preaching for granted. Be truly thankful for Christ’s gracious provision of this chief means of grace. Make good use of the preaching. And see to it that the preaching ever remains of central importance, not only in worship, but also in your life.
May God be pleased to continue to use the preached gospel as a powerful means to make us grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.