The LBCF of 1689 highlights the ministry of the word in connection with saving faith: “The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts, and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the word…” It should come as no surprise to reformed Christians that God places a great emphasis upon preaching in the church of Jesus Christ.
The Bible is clear concerning the fact that sinners must hear and believe the gospel in order to be saved. There is objective truth revealed in the Bible concerning the life, death, and resurrection of Christ that sinners must hear in order to be saved. There are several passages that demonstrate the necessity of the gospel with reference to the salvation of sinners; see for instance Rom 1:16; 10:17; 1 Cor 15:1-4; Eph 1:13-14; 2 Tim 3:15-16; Jas 1:18; 1 Pet 1:23. This means that no matter how dramatic or powerful our personal testimony may be, if we do not set forth biblical truth, the sinner we witness to will not have the saving data used by the Spirit to affect life-saving change.
The Bible not only emphasizes the objective truth that must be communicated, it highlights the primary vehicle for that communication: preaching. In Rom. 10:14-17, the Apostle Paul sets forth the necessity for God-sent men to communicate the truth of the gospel for the salvation of sinners. John Murray comments, “The main point is that the saving relation to Christ involved in calling upon His name is not something that can occur in a vacuum; it occurs only in a context created by proclamation of the gospel on the part of those commissioned to proclaim it” (Romans, p.58). Note specifically verse 14 where Paul says, “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard?” We could accurately translate the second question this way: “And how shall they believe Him whom they have not heard?” When a biblically qualified man accurately expounds the Scripture, Christ is speaking in the churches. Paul illustrates this in Eph. 2:17 when he says “And He [Christ] came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near.” Jesus never physically traveled to Ephesus, but from His place of authority at the right hand of God, He preached peace by His Spirit through His earthly representatives.
In 1 Cor. 1:21, Paul summarizes the entire history of philosophy and then notes God’s means of bringing redemptive blessing upon sinners, “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.” The “message preached” refers to the objective content of preaching; but it is in fact preached. It is important to remember that there were other mediums available to communicate the message in Paul’s day, but God was pleased to use the foolishness of preaching to save those who believe. This verse ought to promote caution among ministers and churches who question the effectiveness of preaching and who are toying with means not ordained in Scripture for the communication of the gospel. In a comment on Matt. 4:9 that is fitting in this connection, C.H. Spurgeon wrote, “May thy church never yield to the world with the idea of setting up the kingdom of Christ in a more easy and rapid manner than by the simple preaching of the gospel!”
A final passage to consider is 2 Tim. 4:1-8. When a wise man comes to die, we ought to give strict attention to those words uttered in his 11th hour – such is 2 Tim 4. Paul charges Timothy to “preach the word.” He does not charge Timothy with telling stories, engaging in drama, or successfully managing the church as a CEO; he commands him to preach the word. Paul then specifies the manner of preaching: Timothy is to be ready in season and out of season, he is to convince, rebuke, exhort, he is to be patient, and he must clearly teach the truth of the Bible. Paul then gives two reasons for the command: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine” (verse 3) and “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering” (verse 6). The second reason is clear: Paul is about to die and he wants his successor to do what he himself had engaged in constantly. The first reason is clear too, if not a bit puzzling. In the midst of defection from sound doctrine on the part of the church, the God-sent preacher is to continue to preach sound doctrine! Whether or not the church wants biblical exposition and application is not the issue: Christ has commanded faithful, earnest, and accurate preaching of the whole counsel of God for the glory of God and for the edification of the saints, and the salvation of sinners.
The Second Helvetic Confession states concerning preaching: “The preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God. Wherefore when this Word of God is now preached in the church by preachers lawfully called, we believe that the very Word of God is proclaimed, and received by the faithful; and that neither any other Word of God is to be invented nor is to be expected from heaven: and that now the Word itself which is preached is to be regarded, not the minister that preaches; for even if he be evil and a sinner, nevertheless the Word of God remains still true and good” (1:4). May God indeed revive in each of us an appreciation for a sound pulpit ministry.Jim Butler, Pastor Free Grace Baptist Church of Chilliwack