Blessed Preaching Distinguished

 Blessed Preaching Distinguished

By Curt Wildy

In this post I want to look at the hallmarks of edifying preaching. Before I begin, I want to stress that no faithful preacher is perfect just as no other Christian is. Yes, even now, the Christian is absolutely perfect before God in Christ. By His one offering He hath perfected all that are His. We have been made (and continue to be) perfect in Christ for He is our righteousness, sanctification, and completion. However, I am speaking of that temporal, experimental, subjective, lack of perfection. That lack of perfection that arises before our own eyes due to us being in this body of death. We see too much sin in ourselves, and in other saints, to boast of our perfection even though we truly are perfect in, by, and through Christ.  

Yet, despite such subjective imperfection, we all know that God is still using faithful men to mightily edify His people. From Australia, to England, to the Americas, and well beyond — God has his faithful preachers who plant and water as they trust in Him to grant the increase. Though acknowledging this lack of perfection, I think we can discern between consistently edifying preaching and consistently non-edifying preaching. Where there is doubt, there should be no fuss. As Paul and Barnabas separated when no current reconciliation was possible (rather than sow discord and discontent amongst the brethren), so should those who stand in strong doubt of the preaching separate. I am not advocating schism; I am simply stating that no Christian is called to sit under a ministry when the preaching is questionable at best. Surely it would not have been wrong to disassociate from those who preached a Diotrephesian, Judaizing, or Nicolaitan message. Likewise, it is not wrong to disassociate from those who bring in similar errors in our day. We are never to rush out; even with the problems in Corinth and Galatia, the Apostle Paul never stated to rashly abandon the assembly. However, when godly efforts (plural) have been made to bring to light just concerns, and those concerns have not been addressed in a timely and positive manner, then there is nothing wrong with breaking free — no matter what the minister at issue may say or think about it. It is our Christian duty to try the spirits, check the scriptures daily to see if their sayings are so, and to mark those who bring in grievous error and disassociate from them.

What I would like to do now is distinguish between blessed preaching and preaching that cannot truly edify (at least not in the long term). Remember, even the best of preaching will never be free from problems. The issue is one of quantity and quality; if the preaching is heavily and prolongedly filled with the negative aspects I touch upon, I find it hard to believe that it is blessed preaching. Likewise, if the preaching mightily and consistently consists of the positive factors I address, then it is hard for me to believe that it isn’t blessed preaching.

Thus, blessed preaching:

  • Is Gospel-grounded: blessed preaching is Gospel preaching; this should be completely obvious. It should be free of Arminian, Semipelagian, sacramental, Arian, Syncretic, and all other heresies. It should be free of embracing, praising, or promoting those who hold to such errors or who speak peace to (i.e. embrace as brethren in Christ) those who do.

  • Is Adorning: blessed preaching is adorning preaching. It never leaves the Gospel but it does serve to enable God’s people to adorn our profession of it (Titus 2:10; 1 Pet. 3:3-4). It does not shy away from practical aspects and life application. It gives scriptural guidance as to how walk in light of the scripture, covering such needful things as “quiet time with the Lord, “waiting on the Lord,” “bringing our thoughts into captivity,” “watching and praying,” “mortifying the flesh,” “dealing with hardship,” etc. (all as God ordained and enables).

  • Is Christ-centered: blessed preaching is transparent preaching.  I’ve heard it said several times, and in various ways, that the minister should be as transparent as possible when preaching God’s word. The sermon should so focus on the glory of Christ that the glory of the preacher is hardly (or no where) to be seen. This does not mean that we should not be able to see and acknowledge the preacher’s God-given ability to edify. However, it does mean that the focus of his messages should be on Christ, and the good of His glory and people, and not on himself.

  • Abstains from boasting and false humility: blessed preaching does not go on extensively and repeatedly about then preacher’s knowledge, his calling, his years of research, his collection of resources, or of his many years in the ministry. Similarly, blessed preaching does not wax on about the preacher’s lowliness, poorness, and humility. It does not involve drawing undue attention to ones lack of (a) ability, (b) education, and (c) resources. In moderation, blessed preaching can point to the testimony, strengths, and weaknesses of the preacher, but only as a means of glorifying Christ and uplifting His people. Sadly, and more often than not, such talk is often  used to (1) generate pity for the preacher, (2) cause others to overly-esteem or blindly support them, or to (3) develop an unhealthy form of over-reliance upon them (which can lead to a cult-like, or papal-like, mentality).

  • Abstains from self-pity: blessed preaching does not often bemoan the perceived failure of others to (a) acknowledge the preachers “calling” and/or (b) to show him the respect and submission that he believes he deserves. Blessed preaching instead focuses on Christ, and on the goodness and glory of the Triune Godhead in Him. It exhorts to submit to the authority and sovereignty of God and to walk in His light. When the preacher preaches in a consistently blessed manner, the cause for such bemoaning will no doubt greatly diminish.

  • Abstains from pride over means (or lack thereof): blessed preaching neither seeks to ridicule those who make use of faithful resources nor does it seek to boast about abstentions from such use. Likewise, blessed preaching does not flow from a preacher who overly relies upon such means to deliver his messages. Though faithful encyclopedias, concordances, lexicons, and other such resources can be of much benefit — along with trustworthy commentaries and sermon-sets from other preachers — God is the blessed preacher’s true strength and his only hope for edifying the congregation. Too much reliance on such resources often leads to pride and other forms of idolatry. It also risks putting the ‘scholarly’ work of men above the blessed word of God (again, this can lead to cult-like and papal-like scenarios). The Bible itself must be its own primary commentary and dictionary.

  • Abstains from pride over academics (or lack thereof): blessed preaching does not overly and negatively dwell on seminaries and other scholastic theological institutions even though many are indeed devoid of true spiritual life and understanding. It does not make an idol out of the preacher’s ignorance and ‘unlearnedness’ and should never proceed to ridicule academic learning when such learning is rightly used. Academic learning can be a stumbling-block when one trusts in it for their strength and understanding. However, God has used very learned men to edify his people throughout the ages. It is just as foolish to boast over ones lack of higher education as it is to boast over the obtaining of such education for God is in charge of all. Blessed preaching seeks to make use of whatever gifts God has ordained for the preacher and does not shy away from using these gifts as God enables. The original apostles were mostly men outside of academia whereas Saul of Tarsus and Luke were men of considerable learning… yet, God used both types for our spiritual benefit.

  • Avoids unnecessary error and promotes studying to understand truth: similarly, blessed preaching does not consist of oft-repeated, erroneous biblical stances that could have been avoided if one cared less about promoting their ‘unlearnedness’ and more about studying to show themselves approved. When a preacher parrots error simply because his denomination does the same, and then waxes on negatively about those who study to avoid such error, he evidences himself to be quite ignorant indeed. Even if a preacher has the truth, blessed preaching cares less about declaring what is right than expounding upon what is right. In other words, blessed preaching says “this is the truth and these are the reasons why it is the truth…” Non-edifying preaching states “what I said was the truth and you should believe it because I am amongst those few, called-of-God preachers, who preach the truth” (full stop and moving on…).

  • Is plain and clear, but not boastful in it: blessed preaching does not consist of words that sound like they came from a hard-science textbook (on the one hand) or a linguistic masterpiece (on the other). The sermon should not be filled with difficult concepts, fanciful language, or obscure references. And yet, blessed preaching should not be used as a platform to boast over ones perceived simplicity and ability to identify with (or even as) the unlearned. Blessed preaching does not belittle others for using words and phrases that the preacher deems to be too difficult for others (though not necessarily for himself, as if the standard of plain and simple speech rested upon his opinion).

  • Is not overly complex or academic: Similarly, blessed preaching will use the original languages of the Bible (Greek/Hebrew/Aramaic) to further enlighten the hearer as to the truer or fuller meaning of a word, phrase, or passage. However, it will not so heavily bog down the hearer with complex elements of grammar and definition, or with prolonged quotes in the original language, that no one without a scholarly background could follow. The overuse (abuse) of such things can be a means of establishing a dependency relationship wherein others become convinced that they could not possibly look into these things themselves and must run to the preacher for understanding (which, of course, is not true or else there would be no being like the Bereans).  

  • Cares little about whether the sermons were written: blessed preaching does incorporate fleshly pride over the preachers abstention from writing out his sermons — as if doing so is ‘relying only on the Lord‘ more heavily and faithfully than those who draft their messages beforehand. One is never more apt, faithful, or God-dependent simply because they abstain from putting their sermons to paper. This becomes especially clear when the abstaining preacher’s resulting delivery sounds more like off-the-cuff ad-libbing, repetition of canned phrases, and needless quotes than it does Spirit-led exposition. Blessed preaching consists of strong doctrine, strong experimental application, a Christ-centered point of view, and a man-humbling/rebuking/exhorting/ comforting message. Blessed preaching has little to do with the writing of the message, or the abstentions from doing so; it has everything to do with God using the message to build-up His people as He works in the preacher to bring such edification to fruition.

  • Is for the congregation and not against them: blessed preaching is preached to people (for their spiritual nourishment); it is not preached at them or about them to settle some score or to avenge some perceived slight. Blessed preaching should rarely be used to rebuke those who have questioned the preacher’s calling or authority (or who have otherwise challenged him). At times, such pulpit-based defenses are necessary, even the Apostle Paul engaged in it (see 2 Corinthians 11); but it should never be an oft-recurring theme. This is because, for the most part, the blessed preacher’s calling and authority should be self-evident. It should be heard, seen, and felt by the majority of the congregation (if the congregation is faithful). It should never be a topic of constant discussion or reminder from the pulpit. If the preacher feels the need to regularly remind his hearers of his calling/authority, he either has an extremely immature congregation (spiritually speaking) or else he evidences his need to convince himself and others because his preaching alone is not doing the job. The blessed preacher will always have enemies and naysayers (Moses, the Prophets, and the Apostles all did as well); some of these enemies will even rise up from amongst the congregation. However, the blessed minister should never feel a constant, ongoing need to defend himself from the pulpit. Except where necessary, he should never take time away from exalting the blessed Person, work, and authority of Christ to exalt his own calling or position of oversight. The faithful congregation will know that his calling and authority is true because the Holy Spirit will testify to this effect in their heart as they become more and more spiritually nourished. There may be seasons of drought and famine amongst them, mostly a result of their own doings and not the preacher’s perhaps, but they will be blessed and edified when the big picture is viewed. When you have seemingly never-ending spiritual drought amongst Christians in one church, when you have fertile, spiritual ground in other faithful churches, it may be more indicative of a pulpit problem than a hearer problem.

  • Promotes the Law of Life and Liberty in Christ but eschews evil: blessed preaching is not antinomian in nature. It does not encourage licentiousness in the guise of Christian freedom. It does not turn a blind eye to fornication, adultery, alcoholism, immodesty, abuse, and other forms of immorality (and other sin) within the congregation. However, blessed preaching is also not legalistic. It will not boast of Sabbath-keeping, clothing styles, hair length, abstention from all modern media, etc. As we walk in the good works that God foreordained for us, and leads us through, we evidence before others that which He purposed from eternity to work out in us. Concerning scripture, we read the Bible to learn of God and His will, but it is the Spirit of God that must guide us and bless us with the word unto right action (though we are to nonetheless strive against sin, fighting to do what is right and pleasing in God’s sight — working out our own salvation but knowing that it is God who is working in us both to will and to do of His good pleausre).

  • Does not bask in controversies: blessed preaching does not overly focus on topics that divide (mode of baptism, age of the baptised, psalm vs. hymn singing, mode of church government, observation of holidays, drinking alcohol, eschatology, etc.). It does not shy away from such things because all scripture is God-breathed and given for the purpose of edifying God’s people. However, blessed preaching does not so hype on these more controversial matters that they become idols. Nor does the blessed preacher hype on these matters so-as-to boast in them. Blessed preaching seeks balance, unity, and clarity.

  • Is Bible-centered: blessed preaching is Bible-based and not creedal-based. It does not tell you what Westminster teaches, or what the 1689 Baptist Confession teaches, or what the Canons of Dordt teaches, but what Scripture teaches. Blessed preaching relies on the testimony of the Bible alone, and in its entirety, and not on the consensus views of “reformed” men of old. Likewise, such preaching does not rely heavily on quotes from others. Such quotes, in moderation, can be useful to establish a clearer, or historic, understanding. But their overuse, as with the overuse of hymn text, can undermine the sermon and detract from the intended message. It can cause others to think more about the men being quoted, the work being quoted, or the song being quoted, than on God, His glory, and His message to/for us.  I think most would rather hear what God has to say about a matter than what Baxter, Calvin, Luther, Spurgeon, Bonar, Whitefield, et al, had to say… I hope this is true at least.

Evidence of calling: And what is the mark of the calling of a God-sent, blessed preacher? Is it the preaching itself, or is it a sign, an experience, a good story that convinces those who look to, and rely upon, such things. Ask yourselves, are you blessed by a sermon that drives home the glory of God, or works out your current state experimentally and points you to Him, or are you blessed because you know that your preacher heard a voice, or read a passage that convinced him of his calling. Do readers turn to the works of Huntington, Bradbury, Irons, Gadsby, Philpot, et al, because of their ‘calling experience’ or because of the effect that their words have on their hearts (albeit by God’s grace). A good experience testimony may be interesting, even stirring, but it is no substitute for consistently edifying and god-glorifying sermons.

Note also that the Lord declared in John 10:14I am the good shepherd, and know my [sheep], and am known of mine.” Blessed preachers can be likened to an under-shepherd and I trust that in most cases, the faithful congregants will hear the voice of Christ in the messages that the good under-shepherds (made good in Christ) bring. They will know that this blessed preacher is called of God and should be honoured in his God-given role. Will he be appreciated as he ought? Not likely. Will he be completely free from church strife and ill-will? No, especially not when it comes to the entirety of the congregation. However, the majority of God’s people will respect and honour the blessed preacher because he feeds them, teaches them, and otherwise cares for them. Despite the problems, they will stand by him because God has made his calling known to them. He will not have to constantly remind them or bemoan his lack of proper respect from them.

Consider also, that a Gospel calling does consist of one preaching a false gospel for years, even decades, and then switching to “the truth” when they “learn more” — all while maintaining that they were born from above the entire time. If the preacher worships the same God he did before he learned of the Doctrines of Grace (the Gospel) as he does now, then that person doesn’t know God. If he believes that he was saved for years while preaching or believing the Arminian lie, and that God led him to a higher truth and understanding later, he is still worshiping an idol. No God-called preacher clings to his old religion and old god. Likewise, if a person declares that for years, or even decades, he knew the Gospel truth (while being a regenerate child of God) but refrained from preaching it because of the familial, economic, or related hardships it may cause, we can rest knowing that far from being a God-sent preacher… he is but a hireling.  

Closing: Not being a preacher, I hope that I did not overstep my bounds when it comes to discussing such matters. However, being routinely blessed with excellent preaching both from sources of old, and from our day, I know what edifies me. I do not speak for everyone in what I have written above… but I definitely speak for, and from, my own heart. I trust that there are at least some others who share part or all of my sentiment.

To God be the glory,

Curt

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