The Importance Of Preaching
Since we live in the dispensation of the return of Christ, the principle sign of Christ’s coming is the preaching of the gospel. This sign is the cause of all the other signs which speak eloquently that our Lord is coming back.
This, while specifically elucidated in Scripture, is evident also from the fact that the return of Christ is most intimately connected with His work of atonement on the cross and in the resurrection. Christ comes again to finish the work which He began to do so long ago on Calvary and in Joseph’s garden. The point of connection between the work of Christ upon the cross and His return is His sovereign rule over all things from His Father’s right hand in heaven. He is the sovereign Lord of lords and King of kings. All that takes place, according to the counsel and will of God, is through the work of Christ. All the events of history, all the work of the preaching of the gospel as the power of the salvation of the elect, is Christ’s work which He performs. And these works are all performed by Christin order that He may come again. They are preparation for His coming. They are necessary works which have to be done to make all things ready for His return. He is doing what still must be done, according to God’s eternal purpose, that His kingdom may come at the end of the age. All things which take place therefore, are subservient to this glorious purpose — the culmination of history and the establishment of the everlasting kingdom of righteousness in the new heavens and the new earth.
Hence there are signs of Christ’s coming. All the work which He does are signs. They are signs because they point us to the fact that Christ is working according to God’s will. And when we see that Christ is working, then we know that these works are necessary works which must be performed that He may return. We see in these works of Christ signs which point us therefore, to the end of the ages.
The preaching of the gospel is the principle sign. It is the principle sign because it is the chief work of Christ. It is the work therefore from which all the other works proceed. There are two reasons especially for this. To one reason we have called your attention in our previous article. (Cf. The Standard Bearer, January 1, 1967) There we called attention to the fact that the gospel is always a two-fold power. It is the power to save; but it is equally the power to harden. It is the sovereign means in the hands of Christ to bring the elect to repentance and salvation; but it is also the sovereign means to harden the wicked in their sin.
There is another point here however, which ought not to escape us. The purpose of God which He has determined in His eternal counsel is the glory of His own name. On this we are all agreed. But this glory of God’s name, God determines to attain through Jesus Christ. That is, God chooses to attain this noble and lofty purpose of His will by revealing all the depths of His glory and all the riches of His infinite perfection through His only Son Christ Jesus. But just as soon as we have said “Christ Jesus”, we have also spoken, necessarily, of all Christ’s work which He performed on earth. Christ, in His work, is the full revelation of God’s glory. But now, just as soon as we have said “Christ’s work” we have also said “Christ’s people.” That is, God chooses, eternally, to reveal His glory through Christ by saving His elect people whom He has chosen to be His ‘own possession in Christ. The cross is the redemption of the elect. The resurrection is the justification of all God’s chosen people. Hence, the purpose of God is fully realized when all these elect are gathered into heaven, where all sin and death are banished, where righteousness fills the earth, where Christ and His elect church live forever to the praise and the glory of God.
But this purpose in the salvation of the elect is accomplished through the preaching of the gospel. All that takes place in all the history of the world is subservient to this. Hence, it follows that the preaching of the gospel is chiefly the power whereby all things take place.
It is time now to develop this more specifically and carry through the broad lines suggested by these truths. We shall do this in the remainder of this article and in subsequent articles.
We return first of all (as we said we would) to that important quotation we made in our first article which we took from Rev. H. Hoeksema’s Commentary on the Book of Revelation. We shall not quote the entire section again; only that part of it which is now of concern to us. The quote can be found in The Standard Bearer, Vol. XXXIV, p. 30. In discussing the opening of the first seal and in explaining the running of the white horse as being the progress of the preaching of the gospel, Rev. Hoeksema goes on to say:
That victorious warrior, going forth conquering and to conquer, shoots his sharp arrows into the hearts of the enemies, and thus brings them into subjection to the Lord of lords and the King of kings. Up to the present day this rider has pursued in the main a very definite course. He did not ride at random and roam in every direction, all over the earth; but clearly he had his course prescribed and definitely mapped out. Starting from Jerusalem, he drove to Antioch and through the various cities of Asia Minor. From thence he crossed over into Europe, first scoring his victories in Macedonia and Greece, then boldly striking for the very heart of the mighty Roman Empire, in order from there to sweep over the mountains and plains of Europe, and finally cross over into the western hemisphere when the time was ripe. Surely, today he also rides in other parts of the world, and the inhabitants of Asia and Africa must bow before his power. But there is a distinct difference between his work in Europe and America, and that among the nations of the far east and south. In the former countries his victories were so pronounced that outwardly entire peoples have been Christianized, while in the latter the result of his drive is noticeable only in the conversion of individuals. And thus the ultimate result of the drive of the first warrior is that the tremendous contrast is called into existence between the so-called Christian world and the world of heathendom, Israel and the Gog and Magog.
There are many signs of Christ’s return. These signs can, in general, be classified into three groups: signs in creation; signs in history; and signs in the church. The signs in creation are such as the pestilences which stalk the earth, earthquakes and other catastrophes in the brute world, signs in the heavens such as the falling of the stars, the turning of the sun into darkness and the moon into blood, etc. These signs also are caused by the sovereign rule of Christ which extends over the whole creation of God. The creation is groaning and travailing in pain waiting for her final redemption.
Signs in the history of the world include such signs as wars and rumors of wars, the division of the nations between Christendom and Gog and Magog, the rise of Antichrist and the establishment of his universal kingdom, etc.
Signs in the church include such signs as the great apostasy, the great tribulation, the preaching of the gospel, etc. (It is interesting to note that there is an overlapping between these groups. E.g., the sign of Antichrist belongs both to the signs of the church and of the history of the world. He is the head of a universal political kingdom, but he is also the head of the false church. He arises out of the church, i.e., out of false Christianity, and is also the chief agent in the persecution of the saints.)
Now Scripture is quite explicit about it that the preaching of the gospel is the cause of all these signs in history and in the church. And the history which has gone by is adequate proof of the truth of this.
According to Revelation 6 the running of the white horse is followed by the running of the red horse, the black horse and the pale green horse. If, in general, the running of the white horse is symbolic of the progress of the preaching of the gospel, the running of the red horse speaks of war; the running of the black horse of poverty and its contrast in riches; the running of the green horse, of death. But it can readily be seen that there is the closest possible connection between these signs. War brings with it poverty and wealth and its horrible contrasts. And also the opposite is equally true. War brings in its wake death and destruction, pestilence and famine. And yet the fundamental cause of it all is to be found in the running of the white horse. How important a part in the history of the world do not these horses play. But principle to it all is the white horse in its predetermined and fixed path through the ages.
From the day of Pentecost onward the preaching of the gospel has dominated the history of the world. As Rev. Hoeksema pointed out, the progress of the gospel has been predominantly westward. According to the book of Acts, with the close of the apostolic era, the gospel has already been preached in the whole known world of that day. It had penetrated into the far reaches of the Roman Empire. And by the beginning of the Fourth Century it had become the established and favored religion of the empire. After this, it was the gospel which brought civilization to the heart of the continent of Europe and to our own country in the 16th Century. We need not specifically spell this out in detail; the fact of it is obvious.
However, because the gospel always has a two-fold effect, the history of the church is a history filled with bitter and lengthy struggles in the defense of the faith. All those who came under the influence of the gospel and were brought by it into the outward institution of the church were not, by any means, God’s elect. The result was again and again, that wicked men arose in the church to destroy the truth of God’s Word and thus destroy the cause of God. Think of the great Trinitarian and Christological controversies of the Fourth and Fifth Centuries. Think of the Pelagian Controversy of the Fifth Century in which Augustine played such a vital role. Think of the terrible heresies which developed in the Roman Catholic Church which made the Reformation a necessity to preserve the true church of Christ and the heritage of the truth. And so it has continued till today. But these controversies which swirled through history and affected so greatly the course of history were brought on by the preaching of the gospel. The gospel is the determinative factor. Without its preaching, there never would have been any of these things. It gives the impetus to all history and has principle control over the events which take place in the world. And through it all has arisen a large mass of false Christianity, the apostate church.
But you can readily see the results of this all as far as the signs of Christ’s coming are concerned.
The gospel operates differently in different parts of the world. This is not an arbitrary and senseless and inexplicable consequence of the gospel. This is sovereignly determined by Jesus Christ.
In Asia Minor, in Europe, in America, the gospel has what we may call national influence. It brings under its influence entire peoples, whole nations, complete continents. The result is that, because the gospel always has a certain civilizing influence, these nations become civilized nations where culture advances rapidly and where there is dramatic development in science, technology, the arts — all culture in general. And, not only is this true, but these nations become Christian nations in the outward sense of the word. We do not mean that all the citizens of these nations are true people of God; that the church to be found in these nations is entirely the true church. This is far from the case. But it does meant that there is a certain external Christianity brought about by the gospel in the nations as a whole. They, from the highest to the lowest, profess some kind of faith in God. They are interested (for good or bad) in the truth of God’s Word contained in the Scriptures. They belong, be it but outwardly, to the institutional church. The gospel brings all this about.
Yet the gospel does not always have this effect where it is preached. Because it is the Lord’s purpose to save His church from every nation under heaven, the gospel is also preached in other nations of the world. But in many of these nations, the gospel does not have the national impact that it does, e.g., in Europe and America. So to speak, the gospel strikes at the periphery of these nations, glancing, as it were, off their borders. It plucks out a certain number whom God has ordained to eternal life; but it never enters into the life of these nations and makes the radical and extensive changes brought about in those countries which are civilized by the power of the gospel. Indeed, even in these nations, the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. The elect are called out of darkness into light. They are brought into the fellowship of the church of Christ. But they are saved as individuals. They are saved as a small minority in the hordes which populate these nations. And the nations themselves remain under the dark sway of pagan religion. This too the gospel does according to the purpose of Christ.