Editor’s Note: This is part 6 of a 10 part series on Westminster Larger Catechism Question and Answers 154-160.
It is still technically true that the sun never sets on the British Empire. At every hour of the day, some portion of land under British control receives sunlight. Additionally, Great Britain continues to wield considerable influence and garner considerable interest around the world. As such, the royal wedding of Harry and Megan was a global television event. It was estimated that 2 billion people watched this event. If this is true, it is possible that the brief sermon delivered by Rev. Michael Curry, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, USA, was the most watched sermon ever.
Almost immediately his sermon lit up social media. He preached on the topic of love. Using fire as a metaphor for love, he spoke about the power of love to change the world. It received rave reviews in the press. Celebrities gushed over it. Not a few PCA ministers were enthusiastic about it. Some proclaimed, “Now, this is preaching!” And to be fair, there was much to appreciate. His style was engaging and passionate, yet dignified. The topic of love is a worthy one for a wedding. But on arguably the largest stage a preacher has ever had, he whiffed. He presented Christ as merely an example and our works as the means of salvation. He did not preach the Word. People heard pleasing words and a rousing speech that will not ultimately point them to their need for redemption and salvation in Jesus Christ.
Twenty miles to the east of Windsor Castle stands Westminster Abbey, where over 400 years earlier Divines gathered to articulate the system of doctrine contained in the Bible. They sought to answer questions like, “How is the Word of God to be preached by those that are called thereunto?” (WLC 159). The answered that those who are called to preach are to preach diligently, plainly, faithfully, wisely, zealously, and sincerely. Oh, that ministers would heed this instruction.
The Word must be preached diligently.
He must preach “in season and out of season” (2 Tim 4:2). In every situation, whether good or bad, the Word is to be preached. There are times when it seems most profitable to preach; God is moving and revival is afoot! He should preach. There are times when it does not seem like the Spirit will work; hearts seem cold and aloof. He should preach. In all times and in all places, the Word must be preached.
The Word must be preached plainly.
In 1 Cor. 14, Paul is arguing that speaking in tongues is of no benefit because it is unintelligible. He uses an illustration of instruments. If played without purpose or skill, they simply create a cacophony. Likewise, “If with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said?” (1 Cor 14:9). And yet the goal is not simply the crafting of beautiful language. Poets and wordsmiths may make gorgeous phrases that titillate the ear and tantalize the intellect. But preaching is not intended to entertain the erudite. The preacher must find the appropriate balance between the extremes of simplistic babbling and technical jargon. Gregory the Great explained that “Scripture is like a river again, broad and deep, shallow enough here for a lamb to go wading, but deep enough there for the elephant to swim.” The Word must be preached plainly so that all may understand.
The Word must be preached faithfully.
The faithful preaching of God’s Word includes preaching the whole counsel of God. A commitment to preach and teach all of God’s Word is necessary for the preacher. If only those topics which seem to be the immediate felt needs of the people are preached, then it is not God’s Word that is preached but the preacher’s own advice. If difficult topics like sin, Hell, wrath, and judgment are avoided, then a distorted and deformed picture of God is presented to the people. Faithful preaching presents the God who is before a people who need.
The Word must be preached wisely.
The Word must be applied to the lives of the people. A ’68 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 can generate 355-hp from its 428-cubic-inch big-block engine. But if it doesn’t have tires to apply that force to the road, my ’02 Saturn will beat it. The preacher must understand the needs and abilities of the people receiving the Word. He needs to understand their fears and joys, their triumphs and failures, so that he might apply the power of the Word to their lives.
The Word must be preached zealously.
He must love God and the people placed under his care. The work of preaching the Word must be done as a fulfillment of two Great Commandments (Matt. 22:37-40). If that love is effervescent and vibrant, then the preaching will be lively and engaging. If that love is rote and perfunctory, then the preaching will be dead and vapid. Preaching without zeal is like replacing your child’s beloved teddy bear with a cold, dead codfish.
The Word must be preached sincerely.
What is the aim of preaching? Is it to be applauded by men? Is it to garner a following? Is it to earn money? Is it to be celebrated? Paul declares that neither he nor the brothers came to the people seeking their own glory or benefit (1 Thess. 2:4-6). But rather, they sought the glory of God. That which was most glorious, precious, pleasing, and beautiful in their sight was God. And their preaching sought to magnify and exalt that highest and greatest good. Paul knew that if they sought the glory of God among the people, then the greatest enjoyment of the people would be found in God (WSC 1). Preaching for the glory of God will result in the conversion and salvation of the lost and the edification of the saved.
The Word must be preached.
It must be preached diligently, plainly, faithfully, wisely, zealously, and sincerely. When this happens, the people are nourished and they truly flourish. God has provided for the proclamation of the Good News so that His People would hear His Truth for their conversion, edification, and salvation. And all of this is done toward this chief end, the glory of God.