Commencement exercises of the Protestant Reformed Theological Seminary were held on June 19, 2012 at First Protestant Reformed Church of Grand Rapids. The text of Prof. Cammenga’s address on that occasion concludes here.
Previous article in this series: July 2012, p. 427.
It is God who commissions the prophet/preacher. God knows him, God sanctifies him, and God ordains him (Jer. 1:5). God commissions the prophet/preacher to speak. This is the great calling that God gives to the prophet/preacher.
This is plain from Jeremiah 1. All the emphasis in the passage is on the prophet’s calling to speak. Jeremiah’s objection when God first called him had been, “I cannot speak” (v. 6). According to verse 7, God sends Jeremiah to speak: “ . . . and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak.” The action of the Lord in verse 9 concerns Jeremiah’s speaking: “Then the Lord put forth his hand, and touched my mouth. And the Lord said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth.” And that’s verse 17: “Thou therefore gird up thy loins, and arise, and speak unto them all that I command thee.”
The Lord does not commission the prophet/preacher to entertain. He does not commission him to run the social programs of the church. He does not commission him to be a good human-relations man. He does not call him to head up the many special programs that are designed for all the different age groups in the church. He does not commission him to be the CEO of a church that is structured after a business model.
But the Lord commissions the prophet/preacher to speak. He must proclaim. He must preach. He must declare. He must teach, warn, and exhort.
What the prophet/preacher must speak, the Lord makes plain in His commission of Jeremiah. He may not speak just any word. It is not left up to the prophet/preacher what word he will speak. He may not bring his own word. Neither is it the decision of the church what word he will speak. Rather, the prophet is sent by God to speak the Word of God. That is verse 7: “the word that I command thee thou shalt speak.” In verse 9 the Lord touches the prophet’s mouth and says, “Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth.” And in verse 17 He says, “. . . and speak unto them all that I command thee.”
Jeremiah is commissioned to speak the Word of the Lord. This is the Word of the Lord, not only because it is a Word that comes from the Lord, a word having its source in the Lord, true as that is. But this is chiefly the Word of the Lord because it is a Word about the Lord, a Word that has the Lord God as its content. It is the Word that He is the Lord, the only Lord God, and that the idols whom the children of Judah have been serving are no lords. It is the Word that because He is the only Lord God, Judah must worship Him and Him alone. It is the Word that He is the Lord who graciously and with a stretched-out arm brought His people out of the bondage, misery, and death of Egypt. In New Testament terms, it is the Word concerning the Lord Jesus Christ who by His cross and death has delivered His elect people from the bondage, misery, and death of their sin and the guilt of their sin. It is the Word that the Lord has made them to be members of the covenant of His grace. It is the Word that out of love and gratitude Judah is to keep His commandments and live thankful and holy lives, not as conditions unto the covenant but as their part in the covenant. It is the Word that sets before God’s people the hope of Canaan, which is in reality the hope of heaven and everlasting life—the covenant perfected.
At the same time, the Word that the prophet/preacher is called to bring is the Word of warning and judgment against all who go on impenitent in their sins—all in Judah, that is, the church, who profane and despise God’s covenant. They will be judged by God, both in this life and in the life to come. That, too, belongs to the Word of the Lord, as verse 16 makes abundantly plain: “And I will utter my judgments against them touching all their wickedness, who have forsaken me, and have burned incense unto other gods, and worshipped the works of their own hands.”
Since God’s Word is set down in the Holy Scriptures, the calling of God’s prophet/preacher today is the calling to preach the Holy Scriptures. He must bring these Scriptures as the Word of the Lord, from beginning to end the very Word of the Lord. As the Word of the Lord, these Scriptures are the rule of faith and of life, both for the individual believer and for the church. Here is defined the task of the preacher: the exposition of the Word of the Lord. All of your training the past five years, brother Ibe, has focused on this great calling. All of your training has equipped you to exegete and proclaim these Scriptures. This is the one great calling that God gives you in your ministry in the Philippines. Don’t let anything distract you from this calling. Expend yourself in this calling.
The Prophet’s Effectiveness
Commissioned by the Lord, called to bring the Word of the Lord, the prophet/preacher has the assurance from God that that Word will be effective.
That the prophet’s word would be effective is the point of the two visions that the prophet is given in the chapter. The first of those two visions is the vision of a branch from an almond tree. “Moreover the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Jeremiah, what seest thou? And I said, I see a rod of an almond tree.” The almond tree was the first tree to bud in the spring. The budding of the almond tree was the sure word of God in nature (creation) that spring was coming, and that the earth would soon be renewed again. Just so would the prophet’s word be the Word of God, and so certainly would that Word come to pass. “Then said the Lord unto me, Thou hast well seen: for I will hasten my word to perform it” (v. 12).
The second vision is of a seething, that is, boiling, pot. “And the word of the Lord came unto me the second time, saying, What seest thou? And I said, I see a seething pot; and the face thereof is toward the north” (v. 13). Jeremiah sees a large pot boiling on account of the heat of the fire beneath it. He sees a wind from the north fanning the flame under the pot, causing it to boil over. So certainly would God bring to pass the warning of His prophet concerning Judah’s judgment at the hand of Babylon. “Then the Lord said unto me, Out of the north an evil shall break forth upon all the inhabitants of the land. For, lo, I will call all the families of the kingdoms of the north, saith the Lord; and they shall set every one his throne at the entering of the gates of Jerusalem, and against all the walls thereof round about, and against all the cities of Judah” (vv. 14, 15).
The Word of the Lord out of the mouth of His prophet shall surely come to pass. This is also the assurance that God gives the prophet in verse 10: “See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant.” The prophet’s word would be a powerful, effective word. The people may disregard the prophet/preacher; many do. The people may become upset and angry with the prophet/preacher; many do. The people may reject the prophet/preacher, oppose him, and persecute him; many do. This has always been the experience of the faithful servants of the Lord. This was Jeremiah’s experience as well. This will, undoubtedly, be your experience, brother Ibe. Sooner or later, you will experience the opposition and rejection that every faithful prophet/preacher experiences.
Nevertheless, the word of the prophet/preacher is effective. That word cannot be successfully resisted or silenced, as Judah found out. There is one explanation for that: the word of the faithful prophet/preacher is the Word of the Lord, the almighty, the efficacious Word of the Lord. That is verse 9: “Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth.” God is pleased to speak His Word through the mouth of those whom He commissions to be His spokesmen. This underscores the calling of the preacher, that he must proclaim God’s Word, only and ever God’s Word. And this underscores the calling of God’s people, that they must receive God’s servants who proclaim His Word faithfully.
The effectiveness of the Word of the prophet will show itself in two ways. According to verse 10, there will be a twofold effect of the Word brought by the prophet/preacher: “to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build and to plant.”
The first result of the Word brought by the prophet/preacher is negative: “to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down.” This is not simply the result of the proclamation of the Word. But this is the very purpose of God in commissioning the prophet/preacher. Contrary to the teaching of the well-meant offer of the gospel, God’s will in the preaching of the gospel is not a positive will in the case of all who hear the Word. He does not love and desire the salvation of everyone who hears the Word. Neither does He express His love for all and desire to save all in an offer of salvation to all who hear the Word. Rather, God’s purpose with the preaching of the gospel includes rooting out, pulling down, destroying, and throwing down. This is God’s will: “See, I have this day set thee . . . to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down.” God touches the mouth of His servant and puts His Word into His servant’s mouth, and uses that Word in such a way that by it some who hear are rooted out, pulled down, destroyed, and thrown down. To use the language of the apostle Paul in the New Testament: “For we are unto God a sweet savor of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: To the one we are the savor of death unto death; and to the other the savor of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things?” (II Cor. 2:15, 16).
But there is also a positive purpose of God in the bringing of the prophetic Word. God accomplished that positive purpose in the prophetic ministry of Jeremiah. And God accomplishes that positive purpose in the preaching of the Word by the faithful preacher of the gospel today. This is truly amazing! God uses the preaching of the gospel as a means of grace and salvation. In the words of Jeremiah 1:10, God uses the Word “to build, and to plant.” That God should use the word of a mere man, a sinful man at that, in order to save His elect people out of the nations, that He should be pleased to use his sermons in order “to build, and to plant,” that is truly an amazing thing. How humbling that truth is, that God should use and be pleased to use our preaching to gather and build up His church. How thankful to God we should be that He is pleased to use our preaching as a means of grace and salvation.
He does it so that all the glory for salvation may be His and His alone.