Failing to Preach Christ (Continued)

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Another area where I have so failed to preach the gospel of Christ and Him crucified is in preaching about our duties as Christians. And from the many sermons I have heard over the years, especially from men who love exposition such as I do, this is one failure that is often committed. Do you know why? Because expositors generally love those juicy portions of Scripture known as hortatory. These are the epistles where line upon line and word upon word is filled with deep insights waiting to be mined by disciplined exegesis.

But where I have failed so often, and where I hear others failing as I have, is in preaching the instruction that comes from the epistles or from other genres such as law (Ten Commandments, Levitical Laws, Psalms, Proverbs, etc.) yet without the very source from which these instructions flow, and without the very target toward which these instructions ought to flow. That is the gospel, of course. The source of all instruction is Jesus Christ, and the target of all our obedience is the glory of Jesus Christ. McIlvaine has written,

"There may be no shrinking from the fullest exposition of the Scriptures concerning the end of the impenitent; no lack of earnest calls to repentance, nor of solemn declarations of the necessity of the new heart, and of holiness if we would see the Lord" (p. 12).

This adequately described me at one point in my ministry. But even as I began to learn the place of Christ in my preaching, I begin to find that even that was not enough. McIlvaine continues,

"Still more: the office of Christ as the only Saviour, and his merits as the only plea, may be introduced not unfrequently, and yet there may be a great lack of such distinct holding up of Christ crucified, as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness before the dying Israelites for all to see and live - such presentations of God's great remedy for every man's necessities as belongs to the consistency, simplicity, and fullness of the work committed to the minister of the gospel" (p. 12).

The author explains in more detail why such preaching is a failure. In short, as already alluded to, and as I would apply what he has written, if the source from which our power to obey the instruction is conspicuously missing, then we ought not be surprised at the lack of power in our church members' lives. Further, if the target toward which our obedience should be directed is conspicuously missing, then we ought not be surprised at the lack of joy in our church members' lives. Here's McIlvaine with his thoughts.

"While speaking much of duty, the grace to enable us to do it may not be proportionately presented. While the need of personal holiness, and of a new heart as its essential basis, may be strongly urged, you may keep almost entirely out of sight the work of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, from whom all holy desires and all newness of heart and life proceed."

"While the penalties of sin may be kept in full view, the fullness, and tenderness, and earnestness of the invitations and promises of Christ to the sinner turning unto God may be very dimly exhibited" (pp. 12-13).

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