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? And how shall they preach except they be sent? Rom. 10:14, 15a
Even as salvation in the new dispensation, in distinction from the old, is intended to be universal, that is, for all nations, so that there is no difference between Jew and Greek, so the gospel of God concerning His Son must be universally disseminated, must be preached to all nations. Therefore, there must be a preacher. And a preacher is necessarily one that is sent.
Thus we may indicate the connection between our present text and the preceding verses.
There was a time when salvation, and, consequently, also the preaching, in as far as one may speak of preaching in that period, were limited to the nation of Israel. Salvation, the righteousness which is by faith, was not openly and fully revealed. It was wrapped up in the form of the law. The believing Jew certainly knew of that righteousness, for he could discern by the wrapper of the law what it contained. Christ is the end of the law. The law pointed to Christ. The wrapper, therefore, plainly indicated that the righteousness of faith was within. And this gift of righteousness wrapped up in the law was addressed to the Jew only. It could be transferred to no other. Salvation was particularistic in the national sense of the word. Universal preaching was unknown.
But when the fullness of time came, God sent His Son, made of a woman, made under the law. And He proved to be the One to Whom all the law had pointed for centuries, the hope of the law. He fulfilled it. There was no need of the wrapper anymore. The righteousness of faith was realized and fully revealed. The wrapper was thrown away. Righteousness is now revealed without the law. And with the wrapper the particular address also is thrown away. What was already plainly foretold in the old dispensation is now become blessed reality: salvation is for all the nations of the world. There is no longer any difference between Jew and Greek. The same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon Him. And whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
Hence, also the preaching of the gospel is extended to all the nations of the world.
And this requires a preacher.
For, how shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? Faith is first. Before one can call on the name of the Lord, seek His refuge in the Name, he must have faith and that faith must be active. But how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? Hearing is essential to active and conscious faith. But again, how shall they hear without a preacher? Preaching and, therefore, the preacher are indispensable to the hearing of faith.
But a preacher must be sent. This truth is sharply emphasized in the text. Preaching differs from lecturing. For, even through the preaching, the Word of God must be conveyed to the hearer, not the mere word of man. But if this be true, preaching must needs be official. It must be the carrying out of a commission.
The preacher must needs be one that is sent. How shall they preach, except they be sent?
And, therefore, I will speak to you on this theme of the text:
The Mission Of The Preacher
I. The Preacher;
II. His Mission;
III. The Significance Of Preaching.
I. The Preacher
How shall they hear without a preacher? What is a preacher? And what is preaching in the biblical sense of the word? These are by no means superfluous questions. For, our text emphasizes the importance of the preacher and his mission. And in our day of gross ignorance in respect to fundamental questions of doctrine, this importance is very little understood. Today everybody preaches, except those, perhaps, whose specific calling it is. Many that call themselves ministers of the divine Word have become unfaithful to their calling, and devote themselves to lecturing on sundry subjects rather than to the preaching of the Word of God. On the other hand, there are in our day not a few that pretend to preach while they have no mission, and that utterly disregard the truth expressed with emphasis in the question: how shall they preach except they be sent? Not only men, but women and children preach. Societies, institutes and other groups that exist and operate apart from the church, prepare and send out preachers. And one of the chief purposes many of these preachers seem to have in view is to draw a crowd. Unto this end they are even frequently employed by some churches, when the fountain of sensationalism in the local preacher runs dry, to create that temporary stir of religious emotions which is called a revival. These preachers advertise themselves in the local papers; they announce the strangest topics as the theme of their sermons; they sometimes offer a more entertaining show than the theaters; they accompany their philippics by the wildest gesticulations; they even perform acrobatic stunts that are worthy of a circus; and they one and all hawk the Christ as if He were the cheapest article on the market. And the fruit of their labors is a wave of sensationalism, that passes over as quickly as it is aroused. And when many people speak of a "nice sermon", they mean not at all a sermon that served as a vehicle to bring the Word of God to them, but one that for approximately forty five minutes could entertain them, -- a play on their emotions.
What, then, according to the words of our text, is a preacher?
And in answer to that question I would emphasize, first of all, that a preacher is a man through whom it pleases Christ, the exalted Lord of all, the chief prophet of God, to speak to you. This is plainly expressed in the text. I must call your attention to an apparently small and insignificant mistake in the translation as we find it in the King James Version, that was corrected in the Revised Version. In the former you read: "How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard"; while the latter renders: "How shall they believe in him whom they have not heard." The former, evidently, misunderstood the genitive of the relative pronoun that appears in the Greek, overlooking that the genitive in Greek is the direct object of the verb "have heard". The proper translation, therefore, is not "of whom" but "whom" they have not heard. And you will understand that the difference is important. When you hear of someone, he is not present. You do not hear his own voice, but the voice of someone else, who tells you something about him. But when you hear someone, you hear his own voice. He is present with you. He is addressing you. Thus the difference in the translation is evidently quite significant, though it concerns only one little word. In the one case the text merely asserts in question form that it is impossible to believe in Him, unless we have heard about Him. And this is, of course, quite true. But it does not convey the full meaning of the text. In the other case, however, the text teaches us, that you cannot believe in Christ unless you have heard Him speak to you, unless you can say, as the well-known hymn has it: "I heard the voice of Jesus say: come unto Me and rest." And this is exactly the meaning of the text : "how can they believe in him whom they have not heard?"
And this is quite in harmony with other parts of Scripture. The Lord says in John 5 :24: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death into life." And in the twenty fifth verse of the same chapter we read: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, 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." And of His sheep the Lord says in John 10:3: "To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out." And in vs. 4 of that same chapter: "And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice." And again in vs. 27: "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me".
The word of man is not sufficient to serve as a basis for that certain knowledge, whereby I know that all my sins are forgiven me, and that perfect confidence whereby I rely in life and death on my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. How shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? But how shall they hear without a preacher? How shall they hear, not of Him, but Himself, His own voice? This is the point of the text. Anyone can tell you aboutJesus, and about His Word and work, about the cross and the atonement, about the resurrection and justification. And to do this, to be witnesses of Christ, is certainly our calling. The Christian must be a witness for Christ in the world, must confess His name, must extol His name and tell all about Him. But this does not make him a preacher. For, a preacher is not a person who merely speaks concerning Christ, but one through whom it pleases Christ Himself to speak, to cause His own voice to be heard.
Now this is an important truth to understand and to remember, both for the preacher and his audience. If you understand this, you will immediately recognize that in listening to a preacher the important thing, the thing that matters, is not at all whether or not you hear a "nice sermon". This may mean nothing more than that the sermon pleased you, entertained you for thirty or forty five minutes. And if your purpose is to be entertained, you may just as well, and, perhaps, better, attend a theater as a church. Really, I am expressing my deepest conviction, that it is not a whit more pious or religious to come to a church to be entertained by a sermon than to attend a theater to be amused by a show. I mean, you understand, that the latter is not a whit more wicked. The great question, the essential thing in preaching, is whether Christ Himself speaks to you through the person that officiates as a preacher. If Christ does not speak, all the wisdom of the world, all the glittering oratory of a fluent speaker, all the keen arguments of the logician, all the wild gesticulations and acrobatic stunts of the revivalist, all the sentimentalism of pretty, rouged and lipsticked lady-preachers (and I heard one of these would-be lady-preachers introduce herself to the audience once by saying that she just had her "face lifted" and her hair dyed), -- all these do not make a preacher. And if it be Christ's will that a woman shall be silent in the Church of God, then there are no women-preachers. A preacher is a man through whom it pleases Christ to speak. And for you and me the thing that matters, while hearing a sermon, is whether we hear the voice of Jesus say: "Come unto me and rest"; whether we hear Him say: "repent and believe"; whether His voice resounds in our deepest soul: "your sins are forgiven and I give unto you eternal life".
Christ is the officebearer in God's House. He must build the House, not we. The task to gather His own is committed to Him. It is and remains His, never can it become ours. Even though it pleases Him to gather His flock and to build His Church through the instrumentality of men, so that they become co-workers with Him, the work still remains His. All that is merely our work, not the work of Christ, shall be burnt. "And I, when I shall be lifted up, shall draw all unto me"! And when it pleases the Lord Jesus Christ to gather His flock, to cause His voice to be heard, so that His sheep hear it and follow Him, -- when it pleases Him to do this through a man, then you have a preacher and in no other instance. And it was in the consciousness of being such a preacher that the apostle could write in II Cor. 5:20: "Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God." That is preaching.
From what we have said it follows, with respect to the contents of the message which a preacher brings to his audience, whether within the Church or without, that it may never be anything else than the Word of Christ. For the Lord will not speak through anything but His own Word. He gave His own Word directly to the apostles, as Paul declares in II Cor. 5:19: "and hath committed unto us (posited in us, according to the original) the word of reconciliation." Thus Christ made preachers out of the apostles. He put His own Word in them. Just as, when an ambassador from one government to another delivers a message, he takes the word of his own government along, so Christ gave His Word to the apostles. And this same Word of Christ is committed unto the Church in the Holy Scriptures. And preaching as to its contents is strictly limited to this Word of Christ in the Bible. A preacher has nothing of his own to deliver. Strictly nothing. Whenever he delivers a message of his own, apart from the Word of Christ, he ceases to be a preacher. If an ambassador to a foreign government has a definite commission and a definite message from his own government to deliver, and after having delivered it begins to express his own views and opinions on the matter in question, he cannot do the latter in his capacity as ambassador. The same is true of a preacher. In the measure that he goes outside of the Word of God he ceases to be a preacher. This may be applied to modern "social" and "political" preaching. Many preachers today use the pulpit to express their views on various social, economic and political questions. Well, perhaps, when you listen to one of these men, you are hearing a well worked out lecture on the subject under discussion; perhaps, and this is more often the case, the attempt is very amateurish. Having heard the man, you may probably say that you have been instructed or that you have learned nothing, as the case may be. You may agree or disagree with the speaker. But the man was not a preacher. And if he offered his social or political views under the pretext of his being a V.D.M., a minister of the Word of God, he is a deceiver too. For a preacher has nothing else than the Word of Christ to bring. And although this Word of Christ may throw light on the calling of a Christian with respect to social and political life, a mere lecture on social and political problems is no preaching.
In the second place it must be remembered, as far as the contents of the preaching is concerned, that a preacher must bring the Word of Christ concerning Himself. Jesus Christ, as the revelation of the God of our salvation, that is the central theme of all preaching. Hence, the apostle speaks in the latter part of verse 15 of my text of the preacher as one that brings the gospel of peace, the glad tidings of good things. This is the A, B, C, of preaching. It is the Word of Christ concerning Himself, the gospel of God concerning His Son, the word of faith, the word that God through Christ has blotted out the handwriting of sin that was against us, has reconciled us unto Himself, has justified us in Christ; the glad tidings of such good things as the forgiveness of sins, the adoption unto children and heirs, the deliverance by almighty grace from the bonds of sin and the dominion of death, regeneration, sanctification, the hope of eternal life and glory, it is that Word of Christ which the preacher must bring. He may present that Word of Christ from different angles, in many different ways, with application to different phases and spheres of life; he may cause the light of that Word of Christ concerning Himself as the God of our salvation to shine upon the Christian's calling and attitude in and over against peace and war, prosperity and adversity, sickness and health, fruitful and barren years, life and death, the home and society, church and state; in fact, he must preach the whole counsel of God; but always it must be the Word of Christ concerning Himself, the glad tidings of good things, which he preaches.
Again, for the same reason, namely, that Christ must speak through the preached Word, it follows that also as to form a preacher must preach. The word for preaching in the New Testament really means to speak as a herald. The preacher must bring his message, nothing more, and he must deliver it in the name of Christ and with authority. He must clearly leave the impression that the audience is under obligation to hear and to do the Word that is preached, that they and he together must bow before that Word, just because it is the Word of Christ. He must not say: "now, listen, this is my opinion, and I will show you why"; nor must he beg his audience: "will you not, please, agree with me and accept what I say?" He must say: "Thus saith the Lord !" For, a preacher is an ambassador, and as such he must speak. No false show of humility nor fear of men may keep him from addressing his audience with authority, provided he brings the Word of Christ. Pride and conceit it would be, indeed, were he to bring his own word, the philosophy of men, with a note of authority. Man's word has no power. Conceit, too, it is if the preacher does not include himself in his message; for he also is a sinful man. But if he stand in the consciousness of his calling, and if he brings the Word of Christ, it is only a matter of humble and fearless obedience, if he brings his message with authority.
In close connection with what I have just said stands this other requisite, that the preacher must remember, that the fruit of his preaching depends solely on Christ's speaking in and through his message. No word of man can touch and change the heart of man. No preacher can bring a single sinner to Christ. Nor must he leave the impression in his preaching that it really depends on his efforts, on his ability to convince by wisdom of words, on his play upon the emotions and his power to move the audience to tears or to make them tremble with the fear of damnation, whether souls shall be won for Christ or not. In this connection I want to point to what I consider a great evil in modern preaching. I refer to what is known as the "Altar call". It is delivered when the sermon is finished, when the preacher can break loose from his text. It is a strong and prolonged play upon the emotions, often accompanied by a soft strain of music and a few appropriate hymns. Always it consists of presenting Jesus as a poor beggar, Who would fain save a few souls if they would only come to Him before it is too late. I make it no secret that this travesty on preaching always impressed me as a burlesque caricature of the preaching of the apostles. Will He, Who declared: "no man can come unto me except the Father draw him"; and "all that the Father giveth unto me shall come unto me", speak and cause His voice to be heard through such burlesque presentations of Himself? I cannot believe it. And I do not hesitate to say that this is no preaching. There are several examples of preaching in the Holy Scriptures. The prophets of the old dispensation preached. Christ Himself delivered His discourses, when He sojourned among us. The apostles went into all the world and preached the gospel to every creature. But in vain does one look for any indication in all their preaching, that they hawked the Savior and played upon the emotions of men as it is done in the modern "altar call". And, therefore, a preacher may apply all his God-given powers and talents to the preparation and deliverance of his message; in fact, he should, for the Word he preaches is worthy of his very best; but he must be fully conscious of the fact that the fruit of his preaching is the work, not of himself, but of Christ; and it must become clearly evident in the form of his preaching that he expects it all from Him.
II. The Preacher's Mission
Now, if the calling and work of the preacher is as we tried to describe it, it must be very evident that it is essential that the preacher be sent. This is true of all preachers, whether they proclaim the Word of God in the established church, or preach the gospel of peace in the heathen world. In this strict sense of the word all preachers are missionaries. They must be sent. And this is emphasized in the words of our text, for the apostle writes: "And how shall they preach except they be sent?" The meaning of this question is plain. The sending is indispensable to the preaching. Without the former the latter is impossible. One may witness for Christ, one may have an answer to anyone that asks him a reason for the hope that is in him, one may confess his faith, one can tell others all about Christ, but one cannot preach unless he be sent. Such is the plain implication of the question. And this indispensable requisite of the sending is easily understood if only we bear in mind that preaching is the authoritative deliverance of the Word of Christ, the gospel of peace, the glad tidings of good things, the vehicle upon which it pleases Christ to carry His own Word to His people. You can have two men, that virtually say the same thing while yet there is a wide difference between the word of the one and the other as far as its power and significance is concerned. Suppose, if I may use that illustration of an ambassador once more, that there are two men in Washington that know that our government determined upon a declaration of war upon another country. Suppose, for the sake of the illustration, that both these men have their information from the President, so that they are equally well informed. Suppose further that one of these men is officially appointed to bring in person or write or telegraph this declaration of war to the government of the country upon which war is declared. And suppose that also this other person, that was equally well informed about the declaration of war, makes a trip to that foreign country, and arrives there and spreads the news, even informs the government about the declaration of war, before the latter receives the official declaration. Then, of course, the message of this latter informant has no power beyond mere information. It is the official word by the officially appointed ambassador that weighs. The former spoke the truth, but his word had no authority, did not actually change the state of things, for the simple reason that he was not sent. Thus it is also with a preacher. He is one that brings the authoritative Word of Christ. He must be very definitely sent. How shall they preach except they be sent?
Again, considering the fact that a preacher is one through whom it pleases Christ to speak His Word, it stands to reason that He will speak this Word only through him whom He has sent. To be sent, therefore, implies, first of all, that one has received the official commission from Christ to preach; to speak His Word, the gospel of peace to proclaim. It includes, in the second place, the promise that Christ will be with that preacher, empower him by His Spirit to preach, and that He will surely speak His own irresistible Word through the ministry of the one that is sent. And it means, in the third place, that it is Christ also Who sends, not only whomsoever He will, but also wheresoever it pleases Him.
How shall they preach except they be sent? How shall they deliver the authoritative message of the gospel of peace in the name of Christ, unless they have received their commission from Christ Himself? How shall they preach unless they have the promise that through their word Christ will speak His own Word unto the effectual calling, unto salvation and the righteousness which is by faith? How shall they preach, unless they know that in the very place where they deliver the message they labor in Christ's name and because they were sent thither by their Lord? Our fathers always made the distinction between speaking an edifying word from the Scriptures and preaching. The former may be done by any Christian; but for the latter one must be sent.
You ask, perhaps: but how is a preacher sent? And how can one be sure that Christ has commissioned him to preach the gospel of peace?
With respect to the apostles this question can easily be answered. Their very name expresses that they were sent. And they received their calling and commission from Christ directly and in person. I consider it even the chief distinguishing mark of an apostle that he was directly and immediately called by the Lord. And it is also for this same reason that I believe that not Matthias, who was chosen by lot, but Paul, who was directly called and sent by Christ, is the twelfth apostle that filled the place vacated by Judas. Surely, the apostles were sent. And they always emphasize that they are sent directly by Christ. They received their commission to preach from Christ's own lips. They had the promise of the Spirit, Christ put His own Word in them, and He sent them whithersoever He would, the Spirit leading them and sometimes preventing them from going to one place and directing them to another. And, therefore, with respect to the sending of the apostles there is no difficulty. They had their commission directly from the Lord.
But can our text be applied also to him that serves in the ministry of the divine Word today, whether he labor in the heathen world or in a local church? Is not the apostle, perhaps, referring only to himself and to his fellow apostles, when he asserts that the sending is indispensable to the preaching? Certainly not. There is no reason for such limitation in the text. The text speaks of the preacher, entirely in general. And if there be preachers today, it applies to them as well as to the apostles that they cannot possibly preach except they be sent. Of course, this, sending of the preacher is no longer direct and immediate as with the apostles. It is well for anyone who desires to serve the Lord in the ministry to understand this. A mere abiding desire to become a preacher, even though this desire gradually develop into a conviction that one is called by the Lord, is not sufficient. It happens occasionally that a man with such an inward desire and conviction attempts in different ways to enter into the ministry and become a preacher, and if he fails to find a place and receive a call in the regular way, still insists that he is called, merely on the ground of that inward conviction. This is a mistake. And if a man acts upon that mistake and tries to arrange a place for himself as a preacher, as is frequently done in such cases, he sins. And he surely will never be a preacher. For a preacher must be sent. And Christ sends no man directly, either by an immediate and special revelation, or by creating in one's heart the conviction that he is called.
Nevertheless, the sending of a preacher is just as real and peremptory as it was with the apostles, though the way of sending is now different. We must remember, in the first place, that Christ gave to His church in the world the commission to preach. He did so when He was about to be taken up into heaven in the well-known words: "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature." To be sure, directly He was addressing the apostles, when He spoke these words. But, as has often been pointed out and rightly so, this commission to preach the gospel cannot possibly be limited to the persons of the apostles, but was given to them as representatives of the New Testament church in the world, and must needs be extended to the church even unto the end of the world. This is evident from the fact that the apostles personally could not fulfill the task of preaching the gospel in all the world. Nor can the promise which the Lord adds to this injunction be limited to the lifetime of the apostles: "and lo, I am with you even unto the end of the world". And, therefore, not the apostles only are commissioned here to preach the gospel; neither can it be said that this commission is given to believers individually, for the apostles surely are the representatives of the church; but to the New Testament church in the world the Lord addresses the command: "preach the gospel". The church is the "pillar and ground of the truth"; to the church the Lord entrusted His Word; that (church must keep the Word, receive it, interpret it, confess it; and that church in the world must preach the gospel. She has the commission authoritatively to speak the Word of Christ. And the promise of the Spirit that will lead her into all the truth was fulfilled in her. It is well that also this be emphasized in our own day. Not the individual believer apart from the Church of Christ in the world; not all kinds of groups of believers, societies, boards, sects, "salvation armies", movements, are the pillar and ground of the truth and have the commission to preach the Word. And whatever influence for good such groups, extraneous from the church, may appear to have, we should never forget that their existence and labor in separation from the church is disobedience, and the ultimate effect of their work can only be detrimental to the cause of the truth. The church only has the commission to preach.
Nor is it difficult to see that this commission to preach the Word of Christ must be fulfilled by the church as institute, and, therefore, through its ministry. Christ gave to His church some apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, Eph. 4:11. And He gave these "for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ," Eph. 4:12. It is, therefore, through the ministry that the church carries out the commission she has received to preach the gospel. Not the person of the minister has the commission to preach, but the church has, and she fulfills her task through the ministry. Hence, only they whom the church separates unto this ministry can properly feel that they are sent by Christ. And, therefore, it is this calling by the church that is the all important factor in the determination of one's being sent by Christ to preach the gospel. Only when a man is so called by the church to stand in the position of instituted ministry, and when in that position he strictly adheres in all he delivers to the Word of God as revealed in the Scriptures, can he rightfully claim that he is a preacher. For, how shall they preach except they he sent?
III. The Significance of Preaching
And now let us notice, finally, how great is the importance which the Word of God in my text attaches to the preaching of the Word. In fact it presents the preaching as indispensable. Salvation depends on it. There can be no doubt about this. In question form the apostle offers as it were a syllogism, the conclusion of which is that the calling upon the name of the Lord, which is necessary unto salvation, is impossible unless there be a preacher. The first question is: How shall they call upon Him in Whom they have not believed? As we stated in our previous sermon, to call upon the name of the Lord must not be understood in the general sense of "to worship". In the light of the text in Joel that is here quoted, it has the very specific meaning of crying out to the Lord Jesus Christ from the midst of trouble. To seek help and refuge in Him, in His name, from the depth of guilt and sin and death and damnation; to cry out to Him for forgiveness and deliverance, for justification and life, to call upon Him for salvation,-- that it is to call upon the name of the Lord. But this calling upon the name of the Lord is an act of faith. It is by faith that we know our sins and damnation and deplore them; it is by faith that we seek all our righteousness in the cross and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ; it is, therefore, by an act of conscious faith only that we call upon the Lord. Hence, the question: how shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? This is impossible.
But to this question the apostle adds another: how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? To believe in the Lord Jesus Christ is an act of certain, positive, personal, spiritual knowledge, together with a most implicit confidence on Christ as the author and ground of my righteousness and salvation. If I believe in Christ, I wholly rely on Him, in life and in death, now and in the hour of judgment. I know with absolute certainty that in Him I have righteousness and eternal life. But how shall I or anyone else perform this act of faith? What can create in my heart such absolute confidence in life and in death? Can a word of man? Never! Is the word of man as he tells me all about Christ able to create that faith in my heart? No! I must hear Him! I must hear the voice of Jesus say to me: "Come unto me and I will give you rest". Then I come. Then I lean on His bosom. Then I find rest. I must hear Him declare unto me: "Thy sins are forgiven thee!" On His Word I can rely. And, therefore, the second question must be added to the first: "How shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard?" Also this is impossible. You and I must receive His own Word, His irresistible calling, through the Spirit, in order to believe.
And now note the final question: "And how shall they hear without a preacher?" It is evident that also this question means: it is impossible to hear the Word of Christ that causes you to believe and to call upon His name, except through a preacher that is sent, and through whom Christ will speak His own Word and cause His own voice to be heard! And this makes faith and salvation dependent upon the preaching of the gospel. Preaching and the preacher are indispensable.
You will object, perhaps, that this can be maintained only for the time of the apostles, who were inspired by the Holy Spirit; and in our day only for the missionary that is sent out into the heathen world, and without whose labors the heathen could not possibly believe on Christ. But today we have so many other means through which we may learn to know all about the Lord, that preaching is quite superfluous, or, at least, not necessary unto faith. We have our Bibles and we can read them. We have many books and tracts that explain the Scriptures and that bring the gospel to us. We are being taught at home and in the Christian School and from very infancy are brought into contact with the gospel. Surely, the question which the apostle asks in the words of our text cannot be applied to the church: "How shall they hear without a preacher?"
Let me reply to this objection, first of all, by saying that I certainly do not wish to minimize the value of all the means of instruction in the truth which we possess today. Least of all would I underrate the great significance of Bible reading and Bible study, in the home, by individual believers, by societies. We certainly believe the perspicuity of Holy Scripture. And we believe that all believers have the unction of the Holy One. And yet, all these means cannot and may never be separated from the work of Christ through the church as institute, especially through the ministry of the Word. Suppose there had been no ministry, no official preaching of the Word through all the ages of the new dispensation, where would be our Bibles, translated in every language; where would be our confessions, in which the truth is preserved from generation to generation; where would be your commentaries and other books that interpret Holy Writ; where would be your fathers and mothers to instruct you in the truth from childhood? They would not be at all! Or, see it for yourself, what becomes of the man and woman, of the family, that separate themselves from the church, proudly ignoring the Word of God, that it is impossible to hear without a preacher, and claiming that they can just as well hear Christ by reading their Bibles at home. It does not take long before they have weaned away from the truth and are lost in the world. And, therefore, centrally and organically it is just as true today and for the church of Christ, as it was for the time of the apostles and as it is for the heathen world: how shall they hear without a preacher?
If it pleases Christ to cause His Word to be heard through the preaching, what business have you or I to say, that He can just as well speak to us in different ways and through different means? If it pleases Christ to bless your soul and the soul of your children through the instituted sacraments, observed and administered by the church, shall you and I presume to say, that we can just as well baptize our children at home, and that we eat the broken bread and drink the wine that signifies His blood in our family circle? God forbid! But when it pleases Christ to send us preachers, through whom He will speak His own Word to us and our children, shall we deliberately go our own way and separate ourselves from this blessed ministry? Again, God forbid!
Do not object that this presentation makes salvation dependent upon man, upon a preacher. For, this would be quite contrary to the truth. All other views ultimately present the matter as if salvation is dependent upon man, be it ourselves or others. But to maintain that a preacher is indispensable to the hearing of the Word of Christ is to make that hearing dependent upon Him. For, the last word is always: how shall they preach except they be sent? It is Christ that sends whomsoever and whithersoever He will. It is Christ that blesses us with the preacher and the preaching, that speaks His own Word through that preaching to whomsoever He pleases, that draws all unto Him! And, therefore, rather than wantonly choose our own way and despise His own ministry through the preaching of the Word, let us receive this glorious blessing of our Lord with the thankful words on our lips: "How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!"
Herman Hoeksema (1886-1965) was born in Groningen, the Netherlands on March 13, 1886 and passed away in Grand Rapids, MI on September 2, 1965. He attended the Theological School of the Christian Reformed Church and was ordained into the minitry in September of 1915.
"H.H." is considered one of the founding "fathers" of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America. He and his consistory (Eastern Ave. Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, MI) were suspended and deposed from their offices in 1924-1925 because of their opposition to the "Three Points of Common Grace" adopted by the Christian Reformed Church in the Synod of Kalamazoo, MI in 1924. He, together with Rev. George M. Ophoff, Rev. H. Danhof and their consistories continued in office in the "Protesting Christian Reformed Church" which shortly thereafter were named the "Protestant Reformed Churches in America."
Herman Hoeksema served as pastor in the 14th Street Christian Reformed Church in Holland, MI (1915-1920), Eastern Ave. Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, MI (1920-1924), and First Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, MI (1924-1964), He taught in the Seminary of the Protestant Reformed Churches from its founding and retired in 1964.
For an enlarged biography, see: Herman Hoeksema: Theologian and Reformer
Notes: You may also find many sermons of "H.H." at the RFPA website. And you may find copies in print of an entire set of "H.H.'s" catechism sermons here.