The Pastor as Preacher
Preaching is not the same as lecturing. Both aim to impart information and stimulate interest. But the ultimate aim of preaching is to transform lives. That is why the preacher can never be content simply to be an orator although oratory is a valuable instrument in his armoury. Nor can he be happy that he has mastered his subject, for a theoretical grasp and an academic presentation by themselves are alike totally inadequate. The reason is that he is concerned with people, with their natural condition of alienation from God and with the new condition which he longs to see, that of being reconciled to God by Christ. In short he wants to see men and women converted and then built up in the Christian life.
The superficial hearer will ask totally inadequate questions about a sermon — Was it interesting? Was the argument logically presented? Were the illustrations helpful or unduly obtrusive? The real issue however is whether it accomplishes what Paul describes as the threefold aim of the prophet's ministry — Does it strengthen, encourage and comfort? (1 Corinthians 14:3). Does it give the hearer an enlarged understanding of the greatness of God? Does it enhance his grasp of the glory of Christ and the wonder of his redeeming work? Does it encourage holy living? Charles Simeon of Cambridge aptly summed up the distinctiveness of preaching: to humble the sinner, to exalt the Saviour and to promote holiness. With such a goal in view the preacher will recognize the demanding nature of his task. He can never be satisfied with a mere display of learning or oratory. Indeed the idea of the pulpit as a sounding board for his own abilities is anathema to him. He is there as a man sent by God with a message for men and women.
Not only will he aim to be faithful to his commission in that it is the Word of God which he ministers rather than merely human wisdom, he will also be concerned with those to whom he preaches. He is not preaching in a vacuum, but in the forum of human need. He does not want simply to stir their feelings nor to exhort them to activity in this or that direction. His is a ministry to the whole man. As a pastor he is called by God to feed the flock. The only adequate way to feed them is by the diligent preaching of the Word. He will be concerned therefore with the content of his preaching that it should be biblical. He will also be anxious to direct that message to his hearers in such a way that it reaches mind and conscience, heart and will.
Preaching to the Mind
Man by virtue of his creation is a thinker. He is homo sapiens, not because he has reached the apex of evolutionary development, but because he is made in the image of the God of infinite wisdom. That is why true biblical preaching will be directed in the first place to the mind, for it is along this avenue that saving truth enters to transform the whole life. In some evangelical circles there is a tendency to belittle the role of the intellect. Indeed there has almost been a glorifying of ignorance as if that were a desirable condition rather than one which grace purposes to dispel. True preaching can have no part in such an attitude. If men are made in the image of God with a divinely imparted ability to think, then the intellect must be challenged with the Word of God. This, after all, is the approach of the Bible. The Old Testament prophet speaks in the name of the Lord as he summons men to think on the great issues which confront them: 'Come now, let us reason together' (Isaiah 1:18). The apostle Paul has the same emphasis:
Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.Romans 10:17
It is, of course, true that man is no longer the being he was when God first created Adam. The Fall had profound consequences and affected not only man's relationship with God but every aspect of his nature. So we maintain that man is totally depraved. Our innate corruption is so deep-seated and all-pervasive that every aspect of a man's being is affected. As the source of the stream of life has been tainted, the flow of the river bears the developing evidence of that taint. That is why man's finest achievements, his noblest aims, his most exalted utterances are all permeated by this spreading corruption of the soul. Not only are our sins an abomination in God's sight, but all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.
It is in the mind that these effects are primarily seen. When Adam was first created he was a creature with whom his Creator could have a conversation. He had the intellectual ability to respond to his commission to name the animals, and in the moral sphere could appreciate the logical way in which God presented to him the terms of what Matthew Henry called 'the covenant of innocence'. Now, however, the situation is tragically different. While common grace still enables him to think, and indeed to reach great heights of intellectual attainment, his understanding has been darkened and he cannot think clearly about the things of God. Listen to some of Paul's assessments of the state of our minds as a result of Adam's fall into sin.
The god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God.2 Corinthians 4:4
The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.1 Corinthians 2:14
The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so.Romans 8:7
This does not mean that we must try to bypass the mind in order to gain an entrance for the gospel. To do so would be to deny the primacy that God has given to man's thinking ability. Rather we must recognize that while truth must be presented to a man's mind, it will require more than human ability, both on the part of the preacher to present it, and on the part of the hearer to receive it. The mind will be engaged in the task of understanding the terms of the gospel, but it is only by the enlightening power of the Spirit of God that the sinner with his darkened understanding will be able to grasp the truth. Paul appreciated this to the full as he described the great transformation wrought by grace:
God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness", made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.2 Corinthians 4:6
In similar vein he wrote to the Ephesians:
You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.Ephesians 5:8
The task of the preacher is to present the gospel in such a way that it will be intelligible to those who hear, always of course with the continuing realization that only the action of the Holy Spirit can enable sin-darkened minds to grasp the truth.
It is not only in the area of preaching to the unconverted that the preacher must appeal to the mind, but also in ministering to the saints. The summons to holiness in Scripture is also directed to the minds of believers, with the assumption that those minds have now been enlightened. So when Paul presents the call to holiness in Romans 12:1 it is with a 'therefore' which looks back to the developing argument of the previous chapters and insists on the logical conclusion to be drawn from the doctrinal premises. The renewal of the mind by the Holy Spirit is seen as the essential instrument in the realization of holy living (Romans12:2; Ephesians 4:23).
To sum up — the aim of the preacher is to declare the biblical content of his message and to depend on the Spirit to enlighten his hearers to grasp his message. The battle for the soul must be waged first in the mind. It is here that a bridgehead is established for the truth of God. As if in a military campaign, it is the establishment of the initial salient which leads to the fanning out of the truths into the total area to be occupied. The devil is fully aware of the strategic significance of the battle for the mind and deploys all his resources to retain the ground which he already holds. He utilizes doubts, fears, woolly thinking and various other aberrations from the truth. He will utilize the old army strategy of diversionary tactics by distracting the mind and subconsciously influencing thought in a totally different direction. Paul gives the answer to all these attempts to hold the mind captive to error and sin, and in so doing gives the aims which should guide the preacher:
We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.2 Corinthians 10:5
Preaching to the Conscience
Man is not only a thinking being but a moral agent. His creation in the image of God involved his reflection of that image in his realization of the difference between right and wrong. The innate reactions, 'I ought', 'I ought not' are echoes of his original creation. Adam's conscience, like the needle in a compass pulled in the direction of the magnetic pole, was directed towards God's approval of goodness and abhorrence of evil. That is why God could present to him the moral alternatives of continuing obedience to his Creator's requirements or rebellious disobedience. For the same reason he was capable of grasping the full implications of the blessing which would accompany obedience and the judgment which would follow disobedience.
By the fall, man's mind has been darkened and his conscience weakened. Those two consequences are closely related. It is the information processed by the mind which is the basis for the moral choice exercised by the conscience. In a law court where the judge gives his verdict on the basis of the evidence presented, two things are essential if a judicial verdict is to be correct: the judge must be impartial, and the witnesses must speak the truth. A corrupt judge will avoid the compelling testimony of reliable witnesses; on the other hand, the most impartial judge may reach a wrong verdict if the witnesses are committing perjury. On both these scores fallen man comes to false conclusions. Conscience shares in the general decline, so that it is fatally impaired even when the evidence is plain. All too often, however, the evidence is itself slanted because the mind which receives the Word of God is deceived by the suggestions of Satan, the blandishment of the world and the seductive pull of the flesh.
A change takes place when the Spirit enlightens the mind and restores the functioning of the conscience. To use the illustration of the law court, the evidence which is presented is assessed by a mind whose thought processes share in the blessings of the new birth — the judge on the bench has been delivered from his corrupted and weakened state, to declare an impartial verdict. However, because of the continuance of indwelling sin, there is a legacy from the past, so that at times the mind distorts what is really known to be the truth, and conscience adjusts its verdict to suit sinful self-interest. But now the judge within the soul can no longer be happy with the distorted verdict and must return, albeit with much shame, to an honest response to the truth.
Paul gives an illustration of genuine conscience-arousing preaching in his presentation of the gospel to Felix, the Roman governor at Caesarea. Here was a man whose mind had been darkened by the idolatry of the paganism with which he had grown up. His moral sense had been dulled by his own capitulation to immorality and bribery. Paul's response was a reasoned presentation of the truth — the verb Luke employs is dialogizomai which suggests reasoned argument. But it is more than a carefully presented case. It presses home the truth to the conscience of the hearer:
Paul discoursed on righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come.Acts 24:5
Felix was troubled by the message, but tragically his covetousness, so long indulged, was too strong. Paul's message (even though, like many another sermon, it was not heeded) still stands as a pattern for the preacher of righteousness.
Such preaching must be direct. It is not left in a maze of generalizations. It is directed to particular people. The pulpit to pew relationship is one of 'I' to 'you'. This will seem insufferable arrogance to some, and would be but for three factors. In the first place the preacher is not there because he has decided to run a crusade for moral improvement or to inveigh against the evils of the day, but because God has sent him with a message. In the second place he has been sent by God to the particular people who on any given occasion constitute his congregation. In the third place he is himself a pardoned sinner who has already applied personally the gospel call to repentance and the continuing calls to holy living. Without such prior conformity to the truth himself it would be sheer impertinence to address men directly with a summons to turn from sin. Having himself capitulated before the eternal judge he can use the second person approach as he calls sinners to submit to God's indictment, or calls believers to acknowledge sinful failure and seek God's righteousness.
A further requirement of such preaching is that it should be specific, and not just concerned with general themes such as holiness, law, transgression, and judgment. The biblical message deals with the specific requirements which this holy God makes, and with equally specific breaches of God's law. The epistles of Paul not only deal with sin in general but with particular sins — with covetousness, fornication, envy, drunkenness and so on. James in his epistle is also specific. He probes failure in the church as he exposes the sins of snobbery, the misuse of the tongue, and the love of money. There are sins which are more obvious in one generation rather than another, and indeed in one congregation more than another. The target area must therefore be clearly in view as the preacher deals with issues of conscience.
Such preaching must also be searching. A good physician is not content to discover the symptoms. He wants to discover the underlying malady. So it is with the physician of souls, and that is, after all, what the pastor is intended to be. He must probe below the surface. The Scriptures do precisely that, for
The Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.Hebrews 4:12
Preaching which expounds and applies these Scriptures will therefore aim to lay bare the motives which lie behind the sinful actions. It will expose the varied ramifications of indwelling sin. It will declare the foulness of pride and aim to humble the proud heart.
The goal in view is not merely to persuade the hearer to share the preacher's repugnance of sin, or even to convince him that practices he has tolerated really are sinful in the sight of God. The object rather is to evoke in the hearer a feeling of revulsion. The law which he has broken is not the impersonal dictate of some arbitrary deity but the requirement of a benevolent God who has loaded his creatures with the continuing kindness of common grace. Sin is thus grievous ingratitude in face of the generous providence of an essentially beneficent Creator. That men either ignore or reject the gospel is an aggravation of their sinfulness, since that gospel speaks of God's continuing generosity in offering his 'indescribable gift' to guilty rebels.
In view of all this the sinner ought to feel thoroughly ashamed of himself. The justified sinner with a deeper awareness of the goodness and forbearance of God will also know shame in that, having been so greatly forgiven, he should so lightly countenance compromise with the world or concessions to the flesh. In either case it is the aim of the preacher, as he speaks to the conscience, to elicit this sense of shame. Only thus does he achieve the further object of impelling the hearer to turn in repentance to the God of all grace who delights 'to forgive us our sins and to purify us from all unrighteousness' (1 John 1:9).
Preaching to the Heart
The anthropomorphisms of Scripture, in which God condescends to our finite minds by attributing to himself human emotions like joy or grief or anger, are themselves an evidence that our emotional life is a reflection of the God who created us in his likeness. If then the preacher is to direct his message to the whole man he must not only aim to inform the mind and probe the conscience, he must also aim to stir the feelings. Because of the dubious techniques sometimes employed in contemporary preaching to elicit an emotional response, there is a great danger of overreacting. Fear of emotionalism can drive good men to the opposite extreme of suppressing their own feelings and those of their congregations. The result is that while on the one side a congregation may be stirred to superficial fervour by techniques which have their roots in psychology rather than theology, the opposite situation can prevail in which people are emotionally starved. Such inhibitions are really a capitulation to the fear of being branded as unbalanced. We need therefore to distinguish between a healthy stirring of the emotions and mere emotionalism.
Emotionalism is wrong because it fails to take into account the whole nature of man. It seeks to manipulate the feelings, rather than appeal to the mind. That is why it is so short-lived in its effects and indeed often proves to be counter-productive. If the stirring of the feelings is not rooted in a deepening grasp of the truth, then not only will it soon subside, but when the mind again begins to assert itself and reflect on what has happened, there may be both a rejection of the spurious experience, and also an unhappy suspicion of all stirring of the emotions.
There is, however, abundant evidence in Scripture that we are to expect to be emotionally moved by the preaching of the Word of God. When the truths of the gospel are carefully presented, the result is not simply an intellectual acceptance of certain propositions, with a final nod of assent to the conclusion to which they lead. Rather there is the conviction of sin which cries out, 'What shall we do?' So, too, when believers advance in their grasp of the implications of the gospel which they have embraced, it is not in terms of a mere progress in orthodoxy of belief, fundamentally important though that certainly is. It leads them rather to rejoice in the Lord, to grieve over indwelling sin, to know the peace of God which passes all understanding and to 'be filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy' (1 Peter 1:8).
If preaching is thus to fire hearts, then the man who preaches must himself first be stirred by the truth which he declares. If the preacher stands in the pulpit merely as a correct theologian he will do little more than deliver a lecture and inform the minds of his hearers. If he is to be worthy of the title 'preacher' he must go as one who has himself been gripped by the word. It may be that it has exposed his own sinfulness or rebuked his sloth or challenged his coldness of heart. It may be, on the other hand, that it has deepened his assurance, or given him a fresh glimpse of the greatness of the covenant of grace, or the glory of his justification, or the wonder of the heaven which awaits him. It may be that he has had a fresh glimpse of the majesty of his heavenly Father, or the transcendent beauty of his Saviour. But in any of these experiences the fire will have been kindled within. He goes then in a spirit of prayer to the pulpit, with the longing that his words may be used to kindle a like flame in the hearts of his hearers.
The preacher will thus convey the truth, not only by the words and arguments he employs, but by the way he declares them. His very demeanour and his own evident appreciation of the message he preaches will powerfully reinforce his preaching. If he can discourse on the joy of the Lord with a lugubrious expression, it will not be surprising if the congregation remains unmoved. If he can hold forth on the ugliness of sin without any sign of revulsion, or on the glories of Christ without any evidence of exultation, then he is hardly likely to move his hearers.
To say that the preacher should show some evidence of his own appreciation of the Word is not to make any concession to the psychological manipulators of audiences. The professional smile which is so obviously affected should rightly be abominated in the pulpit. So, too, should simulated grief. I recall one of Dr Lloyd-Jones' quips at a fraternal. One man quoted a certain evangelical as saying that we should never preach on hell without a sob in our throats. True, came the quick rejoinder, as long as we don't always have a sob in our throats!
The minister who is in pastoral charge of a particular congregation has a further asset which is denied to the itinerant, in that he knows personally the people to whom he is ministering from week to week. So he has not only the basic biblical view of men and women as they are before God, but also the intimate knowledge which comes from visiting in their homes, or in hospital, meeting them in the joys of marriage, or the birth of children, or in the sorrow of bereavement. He knows the struggle of that young mother deserted by an unfaithful husband, the lonely discipleship of that young teenager from an unsympathetic and pagan home, the battles with depression or major disappointments or unemployment and all the varied problems which particular individuals are facing. He cannot look down into their faces as a mere professional in a detached pulpit. He is their pastor and he has the Lord's word for them. The word has stirred him and because he is moved by his knowledge of their joys and sorrows and problems he longs all the more to bring to their hearts the Word which the Spirit of God has already applied to his own.
Preaching to the Will
In the Genesis account of creation God is presented as first considering what he will do and then acting. His actions are thus the decisive outcome of his judgments. When man was created in God's image, he emerged as a being who not only thinks but acts purposefully. Man is not simply a bundle of instincts with conditioned reflexes stimulated by changes in his environment or situation. He acts with deliberate purpose after having formulated his plans. Furthermore, because of his power of assessing current developments and anticipating likely outcomes, he can vary his pattern of conduct accordingly. God created him as a worker with a recurring rhythm of labour and rest, and so man needs to work if he is to find fulfilment. Man the thinker, the dreamer, the appreciative spectator of the beauty of creation and the delighted recipient of its harmonies, is also man the worker. He embarks on courses of action. He fills his days with tasks of various kinds. He acts.
It is not surprising therefore that the first question forced from the lips of Saul of Tarsus was: 'What shall I do, Lord?'
It is precisely this kind of response that the preacher has in view as he brings God's Word to men. The preacher of the gospel is the herald of the King of kings and Lord of lords. His commission is from heaven and his mandate carries the authority of the Lord who has sent him. So he summons his hearers to give heed and to obey. Whether it is the gospel summons to repentance and faith, or whether it is the insistent call to the believer to holy living, the response which is required is obedience.
The preacher's task is thus to apply the truths of God's word so that the congregation grasps not only what the Lord requires to be done, but also the motives for doing it, and the methods which are legitimate for its realization.
The obvious corollary of such preaching is the consistency of the preacher's own life. In some areas of communication the character of the speaker or writer matters little. The news reader on radio or the enquiry clerk in the police station may both be immoral and yet may still fulfil their tasks adequately as they convey the correct facts. But the preacher is no mere purveyor of religious information. He brings a word from the Lord in whom he himself has trusted, and whose will he longs to fulfil. A holy minister, as M'Cheyne said, is a terrible instrument in the hands of God. But then the opposite is also true — an inconsistent, lazy or undisciplined minister is a potent weapon in the hands of Satan. Hypocrisy or sinful inconsistency in the life of the preacher blinds men to the gospel. Hence the urgent necessity for the minister not only to declare the message clearly but to embody it in his own godly living.
The very enormity of the task is daunting. To present the truth with such clarity that it penetrates the spiritual darkness of men's understanding; to lay bare the sins of men with such searching analysis that the conscience of the hearer is probed; to preach with such passion that the hearts of the people are set ablaze; to command with such authority and urgency that believers willingly respond to the call to holy living — all these aims make terrifying demands on the preacher, and all the more in view of the fact that one day he will stand before the judgment seat of Christ. How can anyone engage in such a ministry? The biblical answer to that question is the power of the Holy Spirit.
In Thomas Cranmer's Ordinal the searching question was put to the ordinand, 'Do you think that you are inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost to take upon you this office and ministration?' The answer, 'I trust so', is not simply an affirmative reply but a declaration of utter reliance on the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit who has issued the call to the ministry who must also complete his work by enabling the minister to discharge the task.
He is the Spirit of truth, guiding in the study and applying the Word from the pulpit. He is the Spirit of holiness who convicts of sin and righteousness and judgment. He is the Spirit of power and love who fires the hearts of both preacher and hearer. He is the one whose ministry it is to glorify Jesus, and so to display the excellence of the Saviour that obedience is a delighted response.
Cranmer also incorporated in his services the ancient Latin hymn 'Veni, Creator Spiritus' — 'Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire'. It is an emphasis which leads right back to the Apostles' Creed. One of its great affirmations is the ultimate basis for the whole of our ministry: 'I believe in the Holy Ghost'. It is in that faith alone that we can hope to continue to the end, and to bear fruit which will last for eternity.