Rev. Houck is pastor of Peace Protestant Reformed Church in Lynwood, Illinois.
(In the previous article we pointed out that in the preaching, God Himself speaks, and that the Word which He speaks is a twofold power – a power that brings salvation to the elect, and a power by which the reprobate wicked are hardened. Further, we began to note that that power is not dependent on the eloquence of the preacher; for the natural man is in himself spiritually incapable of receiving the preaching, no matter how persuasive. We concluded that article by affirming that “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.” In what follows, we conclude our treatment of this subject.)
In the Canons, Head III/IV, Article 10, we read, “But that others who are called by the gospel, obey the call, and are converted, is not to be ascribed to the proper exercise of free will, . . . but it must be wholly ascribed to God.” It is not by an exercise of free will. The natural man has no free will.
The power of the preaching is not external but internal. It is not in the sound that goes out, but in the bare power of God Himself. The Holy Spirit uses the external preaching as a means of working by His sovereign power in the innermost being of the hearer. The power of the preaching is that internal, powerful Word of the Spirit which you cannot hear with the physical ear and which has no physical sound.
In I Corinthians 2:4 we read, “And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power . . . .” I Thessalonians 1:5 says, “For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost….”
With respect to God’s chosen people, for whom the preaching is the power of God unto salvation, the power of the preaching is the inner power of God’s grace. The preaching of the gospel, with that inner Word of the Spirit, is the chief means whereby God gives His grace to His chosen people. The word which is spoken by the Spirit is the word, “Grace.”
Salvation does not come about because man accepts an offer made by God. God’s people are saved because in the preaching of the gospel God’s grace works in their hearts and lives. They come out of darkness into God’s marvelous light, out of death into life, because in the preaching the light of God’s grace shines upon them and gives to them life.
On the other hand, with respect to the reprobate wicked for whom the preaching is the power of God unto damnation, the inner Word of God is the hardening power of God. In the preaching God does not give grace to the reprobate wicked. He withholds His grace so that they are left in their sinful, unbelieving, and rebellious condition.
In Mark 4:11, 12 we read, “And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: that seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.” When Christ preached to the reprobate wicked, He spoke no inner word of grace to them. Even though they heard what He said and could see the points He made, they did not see and understand spiritually, and therefore they were not converted.
However, for the reprobate wicked the preaching is more than a lack of grace. If it were only a lack of grace, it would not be a power. The preaching is a savor of death unto death to those that perish because it is the hardening power of God.
Consider the hardening of Pharaoh. God commissioned Moses to go to Pharaoh and preach to him. He preached that Pharaoh was to let Israel go. However, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart through Moses’ preaching. The more Moses preached to him, and the more that preaching was authenticated by the miracles, the harder Pharaoh’s heart became.
We read of that in Exodus 4:21: “And the Lord said unto Moses, When thou goest to return into Egypt, see that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand: but I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go.”
Thus it is with all of the reprobate wicked. The inner Word of the Spirit in the preaching hardens them more and more. The more they hear the preaching, the more they manifest their hatred and rebellion against God.
What is the purpose of the power of the preaching? What are God’s intentions with the preaching?
Closely connected with these questions is a further question. Why has God made this powerful preaching such an important part of the calling of the church?
Jesus has commanded His church in Mark 16:15, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” The church is to preach the gospel to the world. She is not to distinguish between rich and poor, Jew and Gentile, bond and free, righteous and wicked. The gospel is to be preached to all the different kinds of people in the world. That is so important, that the church is to devote a great part of her resources and time to this one task. That is the chief task of the church. Why?
Is the purpose of the preaching to get that gospel out to all the people of the world so that everyone will have a chance to be saved? Is it to get that vital information out so that all men will have a basis for making a decision for or against Christ? Is the purpose of the preaching and its power to demonstrate to the world that God loves everyone and wants all to be saved? Many would answer, “Yes.” They make it very urgent. If we care about our fellowman, we will get the Word out.
In the light of all that we have said, the only correct answer to these questions is “No.” These are not God’s purpose, and they should not be the church’s either.
Since the power of the preaching is a twofold power, the power of God unto salvation and damnation, how can the preaching possibly indicate a purpose in God to give everyone in the world a chance to be saved? Since in the preaching God gives grace only to His chosen people but hardens the reprobate wicked in their sins, how can the preaching be an indication of God’s love of all?
In the light of all that we have said about the power of the preaching, it ought to be obvious that the purpose of the preaching is the purpose of predestination. The power of the preaching indicates that God is a predestinating God. He is a God who loves His people and them only, and out of that love has chosen them to eternal salvation. But He is also a God who hates the reprobate wicked, and out of that hatred has appointed them to eternal damnation.
The apostle says in Romans 9:18, “Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.” God, in the preaching, shows mercy or hardens according to His eternal will of predestination. The purpose of the preaching is the accomplishment of God’s will of election and reprobation.
That the purpose of the preaching is predestination very powerfully demonstrates to us that salvation is all of God. Since the power of the preaching is the determining factor in salvation, salvation cannot be of man and his will or works. Thus we read in Romans 9:16, “So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.”
It also demonstrates that the purpose of the powerful preaching is the glory of God, for there is nothing in which man can boast. Oh, the true preaching of God’s Word does not seem like much to the world. Many people think of it as foolishness. But that is precisely what gives all the glory to God. He uses weak means in order that He might manifest His power and in that way receive all the glory.