XI. Coming and Preaching
How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? -- Rom. 10:14.
The coming of the sinner to Jesus, which implies the will to come to Him, is the fruit of that gracious operation of the Father upon the heart and mind and will and all the desires of the sinner which the Scriptures designate by the word drawing. By the drawing of the Father the sinner is convicted of sin, enlightened with spiritual knowledge, attracted to Christ, and sealed by the Spirit of promise. And this marvelous operation is performed in a way that passes our understanding by the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Christ.
However, this drawing of the sinner by which he is enabled to come to the Savior, to embrace Him, and to appropriate all the blessings of salvation, is accomplished through the preaching of the gospel. Without the gospel, no man can come to Christ. For, first of all, the Christ to Whom the sinner must come unto salvation is revealed in, and presented by the gospel as it is contained and preserved in the Holy Scriptures. Another Christ than that of the Scriptures there is not. Without the gospel, therefore, there is no knowledge of Him, and without knowledge of the Savior the sinner can have no contact with Him. All other things being equal, he is the richer Christian, who has the richer and fuller knowledge of the Christ of the Scriptures. It is by increasing in knowledge that a Christian grows in grace. The preaching of the gospel, therefore, is the means through which the Father draws us to Christ. This is implied in the words of John 6:44, 45: "No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him... It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me." This hearing, and teaching, and learning, takes place through the preaching of the gospel. And this is also plainly expressed in Rom. 10:14, "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? and how shall they hear without a preacher?"
Besides, the drawing operation of grace is never such that it violates the rational and moral nature of the sinner that is drawn to Jesus. It is not a compelling action. The sinner is not forced to Christ against his will and without his understanding. On the contrary, by this operation the sinner is made willing. He is so overpowered by the irresistible grace of God, that he becomes very willing to come, and that he himself makes the conscious and willing choice to turn to the God of his salvation. His will is not destroyed by grace, but turned about; his mind is not set aside, but spiritually enlightened. He is taught of God. But for this very reason the preaching of the gospel is an indispensable means. While God through the Spirit draws the sinner from within, He calls him through the gospel, and thus the sinner performs the act of coming to the Savior consciously and willingly.
From this it will be evident how highly important it is for the Church of Christ in the world to understand, and to be faithful to her one and sacred calling: to preach the Word! For the preaching of the Word is the divinely instituted means through which it pleases God in Christ to draw sinners unto Him. To be drawn unto Christ, sinners must hear His voice, His own Word to them personally. They must hear Him. Nothing less will do unto salvation. The word of a man, even though he should derive the contents of his speech from the Scriptures, is not sufficient: the sinner must hear the Word of God The word of man is powerless, only the Word of God is with power. It alone is "quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." Heb. 4:12. Only the Word of God is efficacious: it brings to pass that which it expresses. God alone calls the things that are not as if they were. His mighty Word alone quickens the dead. When He says "Let there be light," there is light. When Christ, standing at the grave of Lazarus, calls: "Lazarus, come forth," the dead does come out of his grave, John 11:43, 44. When Christ Himself says: "Come unto Me," the sinner surely comes. That Word He alone can speak. No word of man can take its place. And it is absolutely necessary that the sinner hear that Word. For thus the Lord declares: "The hour is coming and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live." John 5:25. And again: "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me." John 10:27. And in Rom. 10:14 the apostle Paul writes: "How shall they believe in Him whom (not: of whom) they have not heard"
How could it be different? How could a word of man, how could all the begging of a preacher, ever take the place of this mighty Word of Christ unto the salvation of a sinner? How could anyone believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, except through and upon His own Word? To come to Jesus is to believe in Him. And to believe in Him is an act of absolutely certain, positive, spiritual knowledge, together with a most perfect and implicit confidence in Him as the ground and implication of my righteousness and salvation. By faith I cast myself upon Him for life and death, for time and eternity. By faith I am righteous in the midst of sin. By faith I live in the midst of death. By faith I hope in the midst of despair. By faith I am unspeakably happy in the midst of misery. By faith I contradict and am victorious over all the things my present experience: guilt, damnation, death, the wrath of God, hell and the devil; and I am confident that I am justified, that I live, that I am the object of God's favor, that I am heir of everlasting life and glory. And all this is true, because I believe in Christ!
But how shall a sinner perform such an act of faith? Can such faith rest upon the word of a mere man, even though he should speak about Jesus? Or can the mere word of a man create such marvelous faith in the heart of a sinner, spiritually dead, perverse of will, corrupt in heart, darkened in his understanding? I tell you nay! For such a faith nothing less than the certainty that I heard Him, Christ, the Son of God Himself, speak to me personally, can serve as a ground. Such a faith can be wrought in me only by His own Word, spoken by Himself! I must hear the Word of God! I must hear the voice of the Good Shepherd! I must hear the voice of Jesus say to me: "Come unto me, and rest." His own Word must reach out to me, and I must hear Him call me: "Come and drink." He must Himself stand by my spiritual grave, and call: "Come forth, and rise from the dead !" Then and then only, can I cast myself upon Him, rely on Him, come to Him, lean on His bosom, and find the promised rest.
Now, it pleases Christ to speak this mighty Word by which He draws men to Him through the preaching. The Word of Christ does not come to us by an inner voice, which He immediately, directly, and mystically addresses to our hearts. On the contrary, the apostle writes in that same fourteenth verse of Romans 10: "How shall they hear without a preacher?" Christ instituted the preaching of the gospel as a means whereby it pleases Him to draw His own unto Him, and to speak His Word unto them. And from this truth follow a few important points with regard to the preaching of the Word, to which I must briefly call your attention.
First of all, it is important to emphasize that preaching is ministry of the Word of God in Christ. And that denotes that it stands entirely in the service of that Word. It is and wants to be a means for the mighty and irresistible Word of Christ Himself to go forth. If you remember this, you will realize immediately that it is a deeply serious matter to listen to the preaching of the Word. You go to church, not to hear "a nice sermon," not to be entertained by splendid oratory, not to discover the opinion of a certain learned man on a subject, but to hear the Word of Christ addressed to you by Him. And that is a matter of life and death. For this is the essential thing in true preaching, that which distinguishes preaching from mere lecturing, that Christ Himself speaks to you through the word of him that officiates as a preacher. If Christ does not speak, there is no preaching. All the wisdom of the world, all the glittering oratory of a wonderfully fluent and attractive speaker, all the sentimentalism of a modern revivalist, all the touching stories he may be able to tell, all his emotional begging and pleading, are vain. What matters, as you and I listen to the preaching of the Word, is that we hear the voice of Jesus say: "Come unto me, and rest," that we hear Him call: "Repent and believe," that we hear Himself assure us: "Thy sins are forgiven thee, go in peace." Unto this end preaching is a means.
Secondly, it follows that a preacher, as far as the contents of his message is concerned, is bound to his mandate as contained in the Holy Scriptures. A preacher has no message of his own to deliver. He is an ambassador of Christ. And as an ambassador he must deliver the message with which he is charged by Him that sent him. One who occupies the place of a preacher, and pretends to be a minister of the Word, but who disregards this mandate and delivers his own philosophy on various topics pertaining to this world, is a false prophet. And the Church that is unfaithful to her calling, and that, instead preaching the pure Word of God according to the Scriptures, presses its pulpit into the service of the world and its humanistic philosophy, is an abomination to Jehovah. She is like Jerusalem of old that killed the prophets, and that, when through these prophets Christ would gather her children, as a hen gathereth her chicks under her wings, would not serve that purpose, but opposed Him, and wantonly devoured the people of God. O, Christ will surely gather His people! Jerusalem's children will not perish. But the judgment upon wicked Jerusalem, that while supposed to be subservient to this purpose of gathering Jerusalem's children, scatters them, will be terrible. And the modern church, that proclaims the philosophy of man instead the Word of God, and the gospel of Jesus Christ and Him crucified, and feeds its peoples stones for bread, is the culmination of the false prophet, the servant of Anti-christ, that with the devil and the beast will be cast into the lake that burns with fire and sulfur!
When one considers the condition of what is known as the Church in the world today, she presents a sorry spectacle indeed! It seems that by far the greater part of her has forsaken the truth of the gospel. When one happens to be in a strange place on the Sabbath, far away from his home church, and enters one of the buildings that by their style of architecture suggest that it is dedicated to the ministry of the Word, and he is hungry for the bread of life, he will be bitterly disappointed in by far the majority of cases. Instead of bread he is offered stones. The Bible is, indeed, still on the pulpit. And presently, there appears in that pulpit a man who is clad in the robe of a minister of the Word, but who, when he opens his mouth to speak, becomes at once revealed as a deceiver who wholly ignores his calling, and corrupts the Word of God. And withal he makes the impression of a silly ass, for usually he is but poorly acquainted even with the philosophy he presents with a show of learning. The Church that neglects her calling to preach the Word of God is like the salt that has lost its savor: it is good for only the dunghill.
All the more reason this is why the true Church of Christ should be faithful and diligently watch and be vigilant that the pure Word of God be proclaimed by her and in her midst, whether it be in her public worship or by those that preach the Word, the whole Word of God, the full counsel of God. She must preach the gospel. And the gospel is the promise, the sure promise of God. And the promise of God is Christ in all His fullness of salvation. Christ, the incarnated Son of God, the revelation of the God of our salvation, Who was delivered for our transgressions, and raised for our justification; the Christ of God, through Whom God actually reconciled us unto Himself, and by Whom He regenerates us, justifies us, forgives our sins, adopts us unto His children, preserves us unto the end, and glorifies us with Christ in the final resurrection; Christ, Who receives all that come unto Him, not by themselves but through the grace of the Father that draws them, and Who surely gives drink to the thirsty, bread to the hungry, rest to the weary, beauty for ashes, glory for shame, life to the dead,--that Christ is the contents of the gospel. And that Word of Christ concerning Himself the preacher must proclaim. He dare not present it as a mere offer to all men, the reception of which depends on the whim of man's will; He may not preach a mere possibility of salvation: the promise of the gospel is the promise of the living God, and the promise of God is faithful and sure. Salvation is not a chance: it is a certainty. God Himself, not by the will of the sinner, but in spite of his unwillingness, realizes it. That Christ, and that promise of the gospel, sure for all that repent and believe, that hunger and thirst, that labor and are weary and heavy laden, the preacher must proclaim. And the fruit of it he may and must leave to God, Who alone is able to save, and Who is merciful to whom He will be merciful, while whom He will he hardens.
To this must be added, finally, that a preacher must be sent. For "how shall they preach except they be sent?" Nor is there anything very dark or mysterious about this calling and mission of the preacher. For through the apostles, Christ commissioned His Church in the world to preach the gospel. "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature," is a commission, not to any individual, but to the apostles, and through them to the Church they represented. The Church is "the pillar and ground of truth." To the Church is given the promise that the Spirit will lead her into all the truth. To the Church the Lord entrusted His Word. The Church must preserve, interpret, confess, preach the Word of life. Hence, while the Church fulfills this calling through the ministry of the Word, a preacher must be called and sent by the Church. Not the individual believer can be a preacher on his own initiative: he must be sent. Not all kinds of groups, schools, societies, boards, sects, often functioning apart from the Church, and speaking of her in deprecating language frequently, but the Church is commissioned to preach, and she alone can send and call the preacher. For that reason, the preacher will not pride himself on being "undenominational;" nor will he try to introduce all kinds of strange and new doctrines. On the contrary, he will feel himself called by the Church, and connected with the Church of all ages, will proclaim the gospel of Christ as confessed by that Church that was led by the Spirit into all the truth.
Through that preaching Christ will speak His own Word of power, and draw His own unto Him. I say: His own. For not all that outwardly hear the gospel are drawn by the Father. It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy. There are always those that will be hardened, to whom the precious cornerstone is a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense. But His own He surely calls. And they surely come to Him. And He surely receives them. For His sheep hear His voice, and they follow Him, and He gives them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can ever pluck them out of His hand!