The Power of the Preaching (1)

Rev. Houck is pastor of Peace Protestant Reformed Church in Lynwood, Illinois.

There are many who do not recognize the power of the preaching. They see the preaching as merely an offer of salvation by God to the lost sinner, an offer which the lost sinner can accept or reject. They say that God loves everyone, and that He therefore sincerely desires the salvation of everyone. He expresses His love and desire by making His generous offer in the preaching.

Thus the preaching is merely the presentation of certain information. It is information about man and his need of salvation, information about God and His loving offer, and information about the need of man to accept that offer. ‘It is important information, but only information. It is not power.

That idea of the preaching makes the preaching so powerless that the ultimate result (whether or not a man repents and believes) is not dependent upon the preaching or upon God’s love and desire, but upon the will of the man who hears. In the preaching God may admonish, plead, and even beg the sinner to accept His offer, but, if the sinner refuses, God can do nothing.

Such a conception of the preaching is totally contrary to the teaching of Holy Scripture. The Scriptures make it clear that the preaching is nothing less than an almighty power.

In Romans 1:16 we read, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God . . . .” Here it is the gospel which is said to be the power of God. But in I Corinthians 1:18 we read, “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.” Here it is the preaching, not just the gospel, which is said to be the power of God.

In these passages the word “power” is the Greek word from which we get our English word “dynamite.” The preaching is the dynamite of God, a highly explosive power.

That is because true preaching is the Word of God. In the preaching, God Himself speaks. When the words of the preacher go forth from his mouth, the Word of God also goes forth. In I Peter 1:25 we read, “But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.” The gospel which is preached is the eternal Word of God which proceeds out of His mouth.

Is God’s Word powerless? Is it only the giving out of certain information? Does it express a helpless love and desire of God which must bow before the will of man?

No, God’s Word is the almighty power of God.

Isaiah 55:10, 11 makes that very clear: “For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” Just as the rain and snow which come down from heaven do not return empty-handed but bring forth fruit (seed and bread), so God’s Word does not return void. It brings forth the fruit which God desires. It accomplishes the eternal will of God. Since the preaching is the Word of God, it is the power of God which always brings about the sovereign will of God.

That means that, for God’s chosen people, the power of the preaching is the power of God unto salvation. It is not an offer of salvation. Nor is it merely a presentation of the plan of salvation. For God’s chosen people, it is the power that actually brings them to salvation.

By the power of the preaching God’s elect are drawn out of darkness into God’s marvelous light. By the power of the preaching they become new creatures in Christ. By the power of the preaching they turn from their hatred and rebellion against God and come to faith and repentance. All that belongs to conscious salvation comes to the elect by means of the preaching. The preaching is the spiritual food that feeds their souls.

Notice Romans 1:16 again: “It is the power of God unto salvation.” I Corinthians 1:18 says, “…unto us which are saved it (preaching) is the power of God.” In I Corinthians 1:21 we read, “…it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.”

The Heidelberg Catechism teaches the same thing. In Question and Answer 65 we read, “Since then we are made partakers of Christ and all his benefits by faith only, whence doth this faith proceed? From the Holy Ghost, who works faith in our hearts by the preaching of the gospel . . . .” In the Canons, Head 5, Article 14, we read, “And as it hath pleased God, by the preaching of the gospel, to begin this work of grace in us, so he preserves, continues, and perfects it by the hearing and reading of his Word . …”

However, the preaching is not only a power unto salvation, for the reprobate wicked it is also a power unto damnation. For the reprobate, it is a power which causes them to remain in their sins so that they do not come to faith and repentance. It is a power that causes them to continue in their hatred and rebellion against God. It causes their unbelief, hatred, and rebellion to become more and more manifested. The more they are under the preaching, the more aggravated they become.

This is the teaching of Holy Scripture. In II Corinthians 2:15, 16 we read, “For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things?” Here the apostle is not talking of himself and others as mere men, but as preachers of the gospel. Preachers of the gospel are a sweet savour of Christ. As they preach, they have a sweet smell about them. That sweet smell is the aroma of Christ. That sweet smell is not only a smell of life unto life in them that are saved, but it is a smell of death unto death in them that perish. It is an aroma which brings death and damnation to the reprobate wicked.

I Peter 2:8 says that Christ is, “…a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: where unto also they were appointed.” Christ, as He is present in the preaching of the gospel and brings His Word through the minister, is a rock upon which those who were appointed unto disobedience stumble and fall into hell.

This is also the teaching of the Reformed faith. In the Heidelberg Catechism, Question and Answer 83, we read, What are the keys of the kingdom of heaven? The preaching of the holy gospel, and Christian discipline…; by these two, the kingdom of heaven is opened to believers, and shut against unbelievers.”

Even though it is not popular, it is the truth. The preaching is the power of God which works in two directions. It is the power of God unto salvation and the power of God unto damnation.

What is the nature of that power? Wherein does the power of preaching lie? Negatively, it does not lie in the external word, the sound which comes from the preacher’s mouth. Many believe that whatever power the preaching has, it is found in the words themselves. The more eloquent, reasoned, and persuasive the words, the more power the preaching will have. Thus all the emphasis is put upon the outward presentation. The preacher who can present the information in the best manner is the best preacher.

Closely connected with that is the assumption that man is able to receive that information and make a proper decision on that basis. The external words of the preaching have to be presented well, so that man will see that what is preached is true, and upon the basis of that information choose to accept God’s offer of salvation.

That, however, cannot be true. I do not mean to undervalue the importance of preaching in a good manner, but that is not where the power lies.

Is it not true that a preacher may preach a very persuasive sermon, but while some believe as a result of it, others do not? Is it not also true that a preacher may have a poor delivery, and while some are not moved by it, others are? Regardless of the manner in which the external word is presented, there is this twofold effect.

Scripture teaches that it is not the external word that is the power of the preaching. We read in I Corinthians 1:17, “For Christ sent me . . . to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.” Christ sent the apostle Paul to preach the gospel, but not with wisdom of words. If all a preacher has is wisdom of words, the preaching is of none effect. It has no power.

In I Corinthians 2:14 we read, “And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom…. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom . . . .” The apostle Paul did not come, in his preaching, with excellency of speech and wisdom. He came in weakness, fear, and trembling. His preaching was not with enticing words. There is no power in all of that.

Further, the natural man is not able spiritually to receive and understand persuasive preaching. His heart, mind, and will are enslaved to sin. He is totally depraved, so that, no matter how good the preaching, he cannot receive it. The natural man not only cannot accept any kind of offer which God is supposed to make in the preaching, he cannot even spiritually understand it.

The proof is found in I Corinthians 2:14, “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

Notice also the words of Jesus in John 8:43, 47: “Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word. . . . He that is of God heareth God’s words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God.” .The natural man does not understand Christ’s speech because he cannot spiritually hear that Word of truth. Only those who are of God can spiritually hear. If a person is to hear spiritually and understand the preaching of the gospel, he must be regenerated, so that he has a new heart, mind, and will which are made alive to the things of God. Apart from that, all the good preaching in the world will not save a single soul.

(to be continued)