The Need for Prayer in Preaching

“Rather than lower the standard for preaching, we should lower ourselves to our knees before the Father. The Puritans saturated all their preaching in prayer. They were great preachers only because they were also great petitioners who wrestled with God for divine blessing on their preaching. Richard Baxter said, ‘Prayer must carry on our work as well as preaching; he preacheth not heartily to his people, that prayeth not earnestly for them. If we prevail not with God to give them faith and repentance, we shall never prevail with them to believe and repent.’ Robert Traill wrote, ‘Some ministers of meaner [fewer] gifts and parts are more successful than some that are far above them in abilities; not because they preach better, so much as because they pray more. Many good sermons are lost for lack of much prayer in study.’ And John Owen said, ‘He that is more frequent in his pulpit to his people than he is in his closet for his people is but a sorry watchman.’ Let us therefore bring ourselves and our preaching into the presence of God, and find grace in the time of our need (Heb. 4:16).” – Joel Beeke, A Puritan Theology. 

PRC (7): Puritans, Assurance, and Preaching

The Puritans and Assurance

In my last blog post, I spent a good deal of time talking about the Puritan practice of discriminatory preaching. I know that some of the things that I said in that post are controversial, especially saying that the preacher may preach, at times, with the intent to cause doubt in the hearers. In this post, I hope to further develop and elaborate upon some of the things that I said regarding the Puritans, assurance, and briefly, preaching.

First, I think it is important to state that the PRC, in recent articles and literature, has come down hard on certain teachings of the Puritans, especially as it pertains to the doctrine of the assurance. Thus, many in the Protestant Reformed Churches are very reluctant to read the Puritans (which I believe is a very sad thing). Rev. McGeown writes in the Protestant Reformed Theological Journal, reviewing Prepared by Grace, for Grace by Joel Beeke and Paul Smalley,

  • The Puritans have written some good material, but their doctrine of assurance (which flows out of their doctrine of preparation) is, quite frankly, miserable. Why, then, do Beeke and his allies insist on publishing books which praise the worst of what the Puritans have written? If you are interested in historical theology, this book will be helpful; if you are interested in the assurance of salvation, avoid the Puritans. A more appropriate title for this book would be “A Dart in the Liver,” to echo the miserable experience of John Winthrop whose assurance was shaken through reading the “old Puritan writers, who convinced him that he had gone no further in spirituality than a reprobate man.”[1]

Prof. Herman Hanko in his pamphlet, “Ought the Church to Pray for Revival” compares certain teachings of the Puritans to Roman Catholicism. He states,

  • It is very striking that that Roman Catholic idea of mysticism found a certain analogy in the thinking of the Puritans. Now, I know when I say anything bad about the Puritans it is almost as if I am beating a sacred cow. And I do not want to leave the impression that the Puritans are of no value. The works which they produced, especially the early Puritans, can be read even today by any child of God with a great deal of pleasure and spiritual benefit, so much so that I would urge you to read Puritan literature. And, in fact, I can think of little devotional literature that is better to read than Puritan literature. That does not alter the fact, however, that they were wrong, desperately wrong, in their conception of Christian experience. What the medieval mystics called the “dark night of the soul” became, in Puritan thinking, “the conviction of sin” or “being under the conviction of sin.”[2]

Prof. David Engelsma goes into great depth in his criticism of the Puritan doctrine of assurance in his pamphlet The Gift of Assurance. He writes,

  • Do not quench the Spirit of assurance either by listening to Puritan preaching that is forever questioning your assurance, forever challenging your right to assurance, forever sending you on a quest for assurance, and forever instilling doubt.[3]

Disclaimer Regarding the Puritans

I do not think the Puritans are above reproach. Indeed, I believe some of them often went too far with preaching doubt. They failed at times to bring the full gospel of Jesus Christ to their congregations. So, I do not defend every single Puritan (indeed the Puritans were an extremely vast movement, covering several centuries, and different geographical regions. Thus one always has to be careful in using the term Puritan). Nor do I defend ever single thing that they said and taught. I believe that the Puritans, exactly like us, were prone to sin and error. As Joel Beeke rightly states,

  • Puritan ministers and their sermons were not perfect. At times, some of them took on a legalistic tone. Some of their sermons are so packed full of doctrine that one forgets the text being expounded. Sometimes their ‘uses’ seem endless. Sometimes they focus so heavily on the individual that these lose sight of the corporate body of Christ.[4]

I also believe some Puritans went too far from the relationship between justification and sanctification and taught Antinomianism. John Crisp is a good example of this. Hoeksema quotes him in his commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism as saying “’An elect person is not in a condemned state while an unbeliever; and should he happen to die before God calls him to believe, he would not be lost.’ And again ‘Repentance and confession of sin are not necessary to forgiveness. A believer may certainly conclude before confession, yea, as soon as he hath committed sin, the interest he hath in Christ, and the love of Christ embracing him.’”[5] That certainly is not a Biblical view of the relationship between justification and sanctification!

The Only Ground for True Assurance: Justification by Faith

True assurance is only found in justification by faith alone. We are only assured of our salvation when we look to Christ and see our justification. As Hoeksema states, “When the Catechism teaches here [Lord’s Day 32] that everyone may be assured by good works of his faith, we must not change this into the statement that good works assure faith. True and saving faith does not require any props, or external supports. It can and does indeed stand alone. For faith is itself assurance.”[6] Indeed, all the good works we do can never truly grant us real lasting assurance. Indeed, one could very well be deceived into thinking he was saved by his outward righteousness (as were so many of the Pharisees).

Faith is intimately connected to assurance, as Calvin states,

  • Now we shall possess a right definition of faith if we call it a firm and certain knowledge of God’s benevolence towards us, founded upon the truth of the freely given promise in Christ, both revealed to our minds and sealed upon our hearts through the Holy Spirit. [Faith is connected intimately to assurance. To have faith is to have assurance!][7]

Thus, assurance must be found in every true believer. Anybody whom God has truly justified is also granted the gift of assurance. That being said, assurance is going to vary in every believer. Some are going to struggle with assurance all their life and to these people, Jesus Christ must be preached. Part of the sorrow of living in a fallen and depraved world, is that the believer is always going to have to struggle with faith and assurance. It is the job of the pastor to help the believer with that, as he himself deals with it.

I also believe some may falsely believe they have assurance, when in very truth they do not. This is a Biblical idea as evidenced from Matthew 7:22 – 23, “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? And in they name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”

Thomas Brooks and Assurance

Regarding the doctrine of assurance some Puritans greatly erred. They seemingly taught that assurance was not granted to all those who were justified. I here quote Thomas Brooks, from Engelsma’s critique of the Puritan doctrine of assurance in The Gift of Assurance. Brook states,

  • Now though this full assurance [his distinction between full assurance and assurance bears studying on my part SM] is earnestly desired, and highly prized, and the want of it much lamented, and the enjoyment of it much endeavored after by all saints, yet it is only obtained by a few. Assurance is a mercy too weighty for most men’s heads. Assurance is optimum maximum, the best and greatest mercy; and therefore God will only give it to his best and dearest friends. . . . Among those few that have a share or portion in the special love and favor of God, there are but a very few that have an assurance of his love. It is one mercy for God to love the soul, and another mercy for God to assure the soul of his love.[8]

Having not read Brooks, Heaven on Earth: A Serious Discourse, Touching a Well-Grounded Assurance yet (from which the above quote is taken), I do not wish to pass judgment on him, with the same forcefulness of Engelsma. The major issue that I have with the quote above is that he states that very few actual believers have assurance of the love of God. In that he is absolutely dead wrong!! Brooks makes too sharp of a distinction between justification and assurance. The believer who is justified will also have assurance of his justification! What then is the point of knowing we are justified if we cannot revel and joy in that justification?! Having assurance that we are at peace with God?

Yet I strongly believe, and I have experienced it in my own life, that believers grow in assurance. I think The Gift of Assurance fails to mention this. There is a very real sense in which the believer grows in assurance, grows in confidence, grows in knowledge and experience of his salvation. As he progresses throughout the Christian pilgrimage he grows in the confidence that he has truly been saved. He grows in boldness in stating “yes! Jesus Christ died for me!” Perhaps this is in part what Brooks is getting at (again I need to study his doctrine of assurance in greater depth).

Puritans and Salvation by Works??

However, I do believe that Engelsma goes too far in The Gift of Assurance saying that “The Puritan doctrine of assurance is a form of salvation by works.”[9] It was not the intention of many of the Puritans to teach justification by works. Indeed, that would be the farthest thing from their mind and that is something they would often be accused of by their antinomian enemies. That is a selective understanding of the Puritans: an understanding that only focuses on their teachings on assurance. Joel Beeke states on Thomas Brooks, “Thomas Brooks (1608 – 1680) asserted that sanctification is simply a living out of one’s adoption and sonship (John 1:12; Rom. 8:18). He wrote, ‘If thou art a holy person, then of a child of wrath thou art become a child of God, a child of love; and of an heir of hell thou art become an heir heaven; and of a slave, thou art become a son.’” [Emphasis Mine] [10]

Puritans on the Relationship between Justification and Sanctification

Many of the Puritan writers (Samuel Rutherford, Thomas Edwards, Jonathan Edwards)[11] were responding to the Antinomianism of the day. Indeed, their very name indicates the opposition they faced in this regard. John Spurr, a historian of 17th century Puritans, argues that the caricatured idea of a puritan (someone who was a “kill-joy, a contentious busybody, rebuking others for alleged failures of morality and piety, while unaware of the mote in his or her own eye”[12]) became cemented in the mind of the populous at the beginning of the 17th century. In fact, the term puritan is one of derision and not something that puritans applied to themselves.[13] This is especially evidenced in this quote from a clergyman during the 16th century:

  • If a private Christian makes conscience of swearing, sanctifying the Sabbath, frequenting sermons, or abstaining from the common corruptions of the time he shall straightaway be condemned for a puritan, and consequently be less favoured than either a carnal gospeller or a close papist.[14]

Thus, Jonathan Edwards spoke out against was the belief “that sanctification is not evidence of justification, and all not notes and sign of a Christian’s estate are legal and unlawful.”[15] Thus, the Puritan quite often emphasized the relationship between justification and sanctification (some of which is shown in that quote above by Thomas Brooks.

Thomas Bedford also wrote in the 17th century that,

  • There must also be another law written in tables, and to be read by the eye, to be heard by the ear: Else…how shall the believer himself be sure that he doth not swerve from the right way wherein he ought to walk?… The Spirit, I grant, is the justified man’s Guide and Teacher…. But he teacheth them…by the law and testimony.[16]

This is not a teaching that our sanctification, our keeping of the law, merits us eternal life, as is the contention of many of the Federal Visionists. Rather, the Puritan Samuel Bolton, in response to the claim that he was preaching justification by works writes, “We preach obedience to the law, but not as they do; they preach obedience to justification, and we preach justification that we may obey. We cry down works in opposition to grace in justification; and cry up obedience as the fruits of grace in sanctification.”[17]

Bolton once again,

  • The law…is subservient to the gospel, to convince and humble us, and the gospel…enables [us] to the obedience of the law. The law sends us to the gospel for our justification, and the gospel sends us to the law to frame our [conduct]; and our obedience to the law is nothing else but the expression of our thankfulness to that God, who hath so freely justified us.[18]

Evidence of Justification: Good Works

Our good works give evidence of our justification by faith. This is often forgotten in both the liberal church world and the even conservative church world. Churches are full of the immoral. But the basic connection between justification and sanctification is what is clearly taught in the Heidelberg Catechism clearly Question and Answer 86,

  • 86. Since then we are delivered from our misery merely of grace, through Christ, without any merit of ours, why must we still do good works?
    A. Because Christ, having redeemed and delivered us by His blood, also renews us by His Holy Spirit after His own image; that so we may testify by the whole of our conduct our gratitude to God for His blessings, and that He may be praised by us; also, that every one may be assured in himself of his faith by the fruits thereof; and that by our godly conversation others may be gained to Christ. [Emphasis Mine]

So when we examine our own lives and see good works and growth in holiness we are not looking at those works in such a way that we believe we are saved by them. Rather, we are looking at those works as the work of the Holy Spirit in us. We look at those works and then those works point us to Jesus Christ and His work in and for us. We look at those works remembering the words of 1 John 1:6 “If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth.” We also remember 1 John 2:3 – 4, “And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” Finally, we remember James 2:17, “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.” As we grow in holiness, we rejoice for we see God working in us!

However, we also sorrow. For if we truly examine ourselves we will see sin. We will see lack of growth. This should rightly cause us to tremble. But then this is where 1 John comes in again. The apostle John in his sharp rebukes regarding the absolute necessity for sanctification in the life of the believer, never forgets the cross. He is always urging us to examine our lives to see if we walk in the truth. But when we find that we do not walk in the truth, he does not command us to work so that we may be saved. Rather, he points to Jesus Christ, our advocate. He states in chapter 2:1 – 2, “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for ours sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”

Is this not a contradiction? We must keep the law, but yet we must look to Christ?

This is what I find the amazing thing about the Law of God. The more we see our complete wretchedness, the more we see our complete unrighteousness, the more we will see our utter need for Jesus Christ. This is why I so strongly call for the harsh, convicting, discriminatory preaching of the law.

The more we see our need for Jesus Christ, the more we will cling to Him as our only hope.

The more we cling to Him as our only hope, the more we will want to give thanks to Him for our blessed salvation.

And the more we will want to give thanks to Him for our blessed salvation, the more we will seek to do His law.

The more we will seek to do His law, the more we will see our inadequacies to fulfill that law.

And so the blessed circle continues. This blessed circle is what God uses to sanctify us. This is the use of the law! This is the use of Christ! This is the importance of self-examination!

Conclusion:

This blessing is one reason I believe, among the numerous reasons I presented in my last post, that the preacher may preach discriminatory sermons: he may on occasion preach with the intent of causing doubt in some of his hearers. This will not only work to the salvation or further damnation of hypocrites, but it will also work to the strengthening of believers in both their justification and sanctification. I want to see people converted by the preaching. I want to see believers grow in their justification and sanctification. I think the Puritans strove for the same thing and I believe this is one thing that makes their preaching so effective.

Footnotes

[1] Martyn McGeown, “Book Review: Prepared by Grace, for Grace by Joel Beeke and Paul Smalley” in the Protestant Reformed Theological Journal Vol. 49, Issue. 2 (April 2016)

[2] Herman Hanko, “Ought the Church to Pray for Revival”

[3] David Engelsma, The Gift of Assurance, 53

[4] Joel Beeke, A Puritan Theology, 710

[5] Hoeksema, Love the Lord Thy God, 35

[6] Hoeksema, Love the Lord Thy God, 56

[7] John Calvin, Institutes, 3.2.7

[8] Engelsma, The Gift of Assurance, 10

[9] Engelsma, The Gift of Assurance, 12

[10] Beeke, A Puritan Theology, 541

[11] Beeke, A Puritan Theology, 558 – 559

[12] Beeke, A Puritan Theology, 23

[13] Beeke, A Puritan Theology, 23

[14] Beeke, A Puritan Theology, 19

[15] Beeke, A Puritan Theology, 559

[16] Beeke, A Puritan Theology, 559 – 560

[17] Beeke, A Puritan Theology, 562

[18] Beeke, A Puritan Theology, 566 – 567

PRC (6): Discriminatory Preaching

There is not a sermon which is heard, but it sets us nearer heaven or hell – John Preston

Discriminatory Preaching

Should the preaching on occasion cause members of the congregation to doubt their salvation?

I am talking here about preaching with the specific intent of the pastor to cause members to doubt their salvation. This is preaching with the specific purpose of waking up slumbering members and causing them to see their need of salvation. This is not because the pastor likes a congregation full of doubters, but rather has an earnest desire to bring those who are unsaved and hypocrites inside the congregation to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

I bring up this question because I believe there is a great lack of this type of discriminatory preaching in the PRC. Indeed, I have had people in the PRC tell me that the minister should never preach with the intent of causing people to doubt their salvation.

The Puritans believed strongly in this kind of discriminatory preaching. I do believe they at times went too far with it, especially in how some of them articulated the doctrine of assurance (a topic I may deal with in a future post) and I have no trouble condemning them for that. Yet, I believe there is much usefulness in Puritan preaching and I strongly encourage people to read the Puritans.

What is discriminatory preaching?

Joel Beeke defines it well,

  • Discriminatory preaching defines the difference between the non-Christian and the Christian. Discriminatory preaching pronounces the wrath of God and eternal condemnation upon the unbelieving and impenitent. It likewise offers forgiveness of sins and eternal life to all who embrace Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord by true faith (Matt. 7:22 – 27; I Cor. 1:30; 2:2).
  • The Puritans knew the deceitfulness of the human heart. Consequently, Puritan preachers took great pains to identify the marks of grace that distinguish the church from the world, true believers from merely professing believers, and saving faith from temporary faith. Thomas Shephard in The Ten Virgins, Matthew Mead in The Almost Christian Discovered, Jonathan Edwards in Religious Affections, and other Puritans wrote dozens of works to differentiate imposters from true believers.[1] [Emphasis Mine]

Discriminatory preaching is ultimately aimed at the conversion of the hearers. It is the harsh preaching of the Law. It is preaching that speaks of the close relationship between justification and sanctification. It is preaching that states that these two should never be mixed and yet preaching that confesses that the one can never exist without the other.

To be sure, this kind of preaching is not fun. It does not tickle the ears. It convicts. It causes sorrow. It is also not easy for the preacher to preach this way. But it works for the ultimate good of the believer.

Was the intent of the Puritans in all this to create a morbid people, continually self-examining themselves, always in despair, always in the “dark night of the soul”, never without hope or joy?

No. That was not the intent of the Puritans at all. I repeat myself here for emphasis: the Puritans were zealous for souls. They wanted to establish faith, not dead orthodoxy, in their congregations. They felt the burden of the gospel to preach to the lost, including the lost in their own congregations. They wanted true believers. They did not want to maintain the status quo among their congregations. They did not want average believers. They wanted gospel-impacted believers!

That was not the intent of the Puritans at all. I repeat myself here for emphasis: the Puritans were zealous for souls. They wanted to establish faith, not dead orthodoxy, in their congregations. They felt the burden of the gospel to preach to the lost, including the lost in their own congregations. They wanted true believers. They did not want to maintain the status quo among their congregations. They did not want average believers. They wanted gospel-impacted believers!

Thus, they were almost always preaching with this intent: the conversion of souls and the edification and growth of the saints.

Observe a few quotes from the Puritans below:

John Owen: “A sermon is not made with an eye upon the sermon, but with both eyes upon the people and all the heart upon God…. Ministers are seldom honoured with success unless they are continually aiming at the conversion of sinners.”[9]

Thomas Brooks: “Ministers must so speak to the people as if they lived in the very hearts of the people; as if they had been told all their wants, and all their ways, all their sins, and all their doubts.”[10]

Richard Baxter: “The whole course of our ministry must be carried on in a tender love to our people…. When the people see that you [sincerely] love them, they will hear anything, and bear anything, and follow you the more easily.”[11]

Is your pastor preaching with the intent of the conversion of souls? Pastor, are you doing this? Is this one of things that you are aiming at in your preaching?

What does discriminatory preaching look like?

The Puritans always understood that they were preaching to a mixed group. They understood that the church was composed of the saved, the unsaved elect, and the reprobate. Thus, “each sermon included directions to both believers and unbelievers. The unbeliever was usually called to examine how he was living and what behavior needed changing, then he was admonished to flee to Christ, who alone could fulfill his needs.”[3]

This view of the church and great zeal for the conversion of souls caused the Puritans to preach to the conscience of their hearers. This meant often asking pointed questions. Beeke writes,

  • Plain preaching named specific sins, then asked questions to press home the guilt of those sins upon the consciences of men, women, and children. As one Puritan wrote, ‘We must go with the stick of divine truth and beat every busy behind which a sinner hides, until like Adam who hid, he stands before God in his nakedness.’[4] [Emphasis Mine]

Calvin too believed that this type of preaching was important. He preached harshly, with the intent that people would be edified unto salvation. He writes,

  • When I expound Holy Scripture, I must always make this my rule: That those who hear me may receive profit from the teaching I put forward and be edified unto salvation. If I have not that affection, if I do not procure the edification of those who hear me, I am a sacrilege, profaning God’s Word…. Teaching on its own is not sufficient, for we are cold and indifferent to God’s truth. We need to be pierced. The preacher has to use vehemence, so that we may know that this is not a game.
  • And the people must not say, “Ho! that is too hard to be borne. You ought not to go on like that.” Those who cannot bear to be reproved had better look for another school-master than God. There are many who will not stand it: “What! is this the way to teach? Ho! we want to be won by sweetness.” “You do? Then go and teach God his lessons!” These are our sensitive folk who cannot bear a single reproof to be offered to them. And why? “Ho! we want to be taught in another style.” “Well then, go to the devil’s school! he will flatter you enough — and destroy you.” But believers humble themselves and are willing to be treated severely so that they may profit in God’s school.[5] [Emphasis Mine]

Calvin also understood the deceitfulness of the heart and saw the need for preaching that aroused the hearers from their spiritual slumber. He writes in his commentary on Matthew 7:21,

  • Not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord. Christ extends his discourse farther: for he speaks not only of false prophets, who rush upon the flock to tear and devour, but of hirelings, who insinuate themselves, under fair appearances, as pastors, though they have no feeling of piety. This doctrine embraces all hypocrites, whatever may be their rank or station, but at present he refers particularly to pretended teachers,2 who seem to excel others. He not only directs his discourse to them, to rouse them from the indifference, in which they lie asleep like drunk people, but also warns believers, not to estimate such masks beyond their proper value. In a word, he declares that, so soon as the doctrine of the Gospel shall have begun to bear fruit by obtaining many disciples, there will not only be very many of the common people who falsely and hypocritically submit to it, but even in the rank of pastors there will be the same treachery, so that they will deny by their actions and life what they profess with the mouth. “Whoever then desires to be reckoned among the disciples, must labour to devote himself, sincerely and honestly, to the exercises of a new life.[6] [Emphasis Mine]

Is discriminatory preaching Biblical?

Yes, it is.

The Scriptures often call us to examine ourselves, to see if we are in the Lord, if we have fellowship with the Father and the Son. The issue of assurance and true faith is one of the fundamental purposes of 1 John: “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.” (I John 5:13)

We are then to read 1 John with the purpose of seeing if we have eternal life. 1 John is about establishing assurance in the heart of the believer! One of the chief ways that John does this is in causing individuals to examine their lives and their obedience to the laws of God. He reminds his readers that only those who walk in the light and who keep God’s commandments are in fellowship with God. And yet, John never divorces the issue of sanctification from justification. He is constantly pointing his readers to Jesus Christ. We not only must keep the law of God, but we must also look to Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of all our sins. Indeed, we must see our sins, for anybody who says he has no sin is a liar and the truth is not in him! It is only in the atonement of Jesus Christ that there is any basis for assurance. Good works are the evidence of our justification, not the act of our justification. Thus, John is arguing that justification will never ever exist without sanctification. And part of our sanctification is a growing dependence upon our justification.

John then writes with the intent of separating true believers from false believers, hypocrites from the pious, true Christians from false Christians. He also writes with the intent of establishing true faith in the hearts of those who may just have outward faith. He writes these things that “ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.”

Preachers, then, may certainly preach in such a way that it may cause doubt in some. He may also preach with the intent of causing doubt in some so that they may the more clearly see if they are truly in the faith. John does this: anybody who reads 1 John should question whether he is in the faith. The way the importance of sanctification is preached in this epistle should leave everybody convicted, it should leave any serious reader with the question: am I truly in Christ? After all, who can say that he has walked perfectly in the light?

The Apostle Paul also calls us to examine ourselves. We read in I Corinthians 11:31: “For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.” To this Calvin remarks in his commentary,

  • For if we would judge ourselves. Here we have another remarkable statement—that God does not all of a sudden become enraged against us, so as to inflict punishment immediately upon our sinning, but that, for the most part, it is owing to our carelessness, that he is in a manner constrained to punish us, when he sees that we are in a careless and drowsy state, and are flattering ourselves in our sins. Hence we either avert, or mitigate impending punishment, if we first call ourselves to account, and, actuated by a spirit of repentance, deprecate the anger of God by inflicting punishment voluntarily upon ourselves.2 In short, believers anticipate, by repentance, the judgment of God, and there is no other remedy, by which they may obtain absolution in the sight of God, but by voluntarily condemning themselves.[7] [Emphasis mine]

Further, Peter in 2 Peter 1:10 states, “Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall.” To this Calvin writes,

  • He draws this conclusion, that it is one proof that we have been really elected, and not in vain called by the Lord, if a good conscience and integrity of life correspond with our profession of faith. And he infers, that there ought to be more labour and diligence, because he had said before, that faith ought not to be barren.[8] [Emphasis mine]

Does your life match with your confession? Or are you merely professing faith in Jesus Christ, with no effect on your life? To answer those questions requires self-examination. It requires preaching that causes us to examine ourselves. It requires preaching that wakes us up from our lazy consciences: preaching that convicts. It is vitally important to answer these questions: justification can never exist without sanctification. Thus, Peter urges you to make sure that you are living a sanctified life, a life impacted by the gospel, a life impacted by your justification.

Paul, in 2 Corinthians 13:5 further calls us to examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith. He states, “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” Paul calls his audience to do this, not to create a spirit of continual doubting in the Corinthian church, but to affirm his own ministry. If they do find that they are in the faith, that they believe in Jesus Christ, then he is being a faithful minister of the gospel. Thus, Paul is calling the Corinthians to examine their hearts in accordance with what they knew about the Scriptures. He is wanting them to see if he is stablishing their faith in Jesus Christ by his preaching. Does their faith and, especially, Paul’s preaching match up with the gospel?

Is your pastor calling you to examine yourself to see if you are in the faith? Is he calling you to examine your walk, life, and profession to see if it is in accordance with the Scripture?

If, upon examination, you find that your faith is founded upon Scripture, rests alone in Jesus Christ, and has impacted your life, rejoice and have assurance! Rejoice also in knowing that your pastor is a faithful man of God, preaching Jesus Christ to you!

Conclusion:

I wish to conclude with an apt quote from Joel Beeke which nicely summarizes a lot of what I attempted to convey in this post:

Today, many preachers are reticent to confront the conscience. We need to learn from the Puritans that the friend who loves you most will tell you the most truth about yourself. Like Paul and the Puritans, we must testify earnestly and with tears of the need for “repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.[12]

[1] Joel Beeke, A Puritan Theology, 701

[2] Ibid, 701

[3] Ibid, 701

[4] Ibid, 688

[5] Parker, Calvin’s Preaching, 11 – 12

[6] John Calvin and William Pringle, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke, vol. 1 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 367.

[7] John Calvin and John Pringle, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians, vol. 1 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 392.

[8] John Calvin and John Owen, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 376.

[9] Beeke, A Puritan Theology, 708

[10] Beeke, 709

[11] Beeke, 709

[12] Beeke,688

PRC (5): Some Suggestions Regarding Evangelism:

In recent blog posts I have criticized the evangelism methods of the PRC. I wish to offer some helpful suggestions on how these methods can be improved in this article.

Suggestion #1: Prayer. Prayer. Prayer.

I cannot emphasis this enough. The congregation must be earnestly praying for the salvation of souls, both publically and privately. It must have a prayerful zeal for the conversion of the hearers. It must have a passion for the gospel. Prayer is a means of grace: God will only give to those who ask Him. This is the teaching of the Heidelberg Catechism in Question and Answer 116:

  • 116. Why is prayer necessary for Christians?
    A. Because it is the chief part of thankfulness which God requires of us because God will give His grace and Holy Spirit to those only who desires continually ask them of Him, and are thankful for them.

Rev. Hanko states in his pamphlet Reformed Evangelism,

  • We need to emphasize the fact that because evangelism is the work of the church all believers have an important part in that work, though they themselves do not preach. They have the important calling to pray for the work, to support it in that way and with their gifts, and to be themselves witnesses of the truth in all their life. Without faithfulness on the part of God’s people, no evangelism work can prosper.

In preparation for the evangelism sermon you could have a prayer service and a psalm sing.

Also publically announce that you are asking the congregation to pray for the upcoming lecture, that God would use it as a means to the salvation of many (and keep reminding them). Remember also to pray for the minister, he needs your prayers.

Suggestion #2: Make it a Sermon and not a Lecture.

I do strongly believe that there should be evangelism sermons and not lectures (and I write this as somebody who was once on the evangelism committee of a PRC and organized “evangelism” lectures. When the PRC has “evangelism” lectures they are stating a number of things. First, I would argue that they are stating they are more interested in reaching out to other Christians, and not directly to the lost, when giving lectures. Second, they are implicitly denying that the preaching is one of the keys of the kingdom and a chief means of grace when having these lectures. Perhaps, in some fundamental sense, they have forgotten the power of preaching when witnessing to the lost, or at least lost the distinction between preaching and lecturing. Third, they are implicitely stating that they are more interested in an intellectual change in the hearer, rather than a radical spiritual change (i.e. conversion).

What is the difference between a sermon and a lecture?

I think Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones explains it well in his book Preaching and Preachers.

  • I assert that preaching a sermon is not to be confused with giving a lecture. This, again, is something quite different, and for these reasons. A lecture starts with a subject, and what it is concerned to do is to give knowledge and information concerning this particular subject. Its appeal is primarily and almost exclusively to the mind; its object is to give instruction and state facts. That is its primary purpose and function. So a lecture, again, lacks, and should lack, the element of attack, the concern to do something to the listener, which is a vital element in preaching. But the big difference, I would say, between a lecture a sermon is that a sermon does not start with a subject; a sermon should always be expository. In a sermon the theme or the doctrine is something that arises out of the text and its context, it is something which is illustrated by that text and context. So a sermon should not start with the subject as such; it should start with Scripture which has in it a doctrine or a theme. That doctrine should then be dealt with in terms of this particular setting.
  • I therefore lay down this proposition that a sermon should always be expository. (71 – 72)

The Heidelberg Catechism also helps differentiate the difference between preaching and giving a lecture. In Question and Answer 84 it states,

  1. 84. How is the kingdom of heaven opened and shut by the preaching of the holy gospel?
    A. Thus: when according to the command of Christ it is declared and publicly testified to all and every believer, that, whenever they receive the promise of the gospel by a true faith, all their sins are really forgiven them of God, for the sake of Christ’s merits; and on the contrary, when it is declared and testified to all unbelievers, and such as do not sincerely repent, that they stand exposed to the wrath of God and eternal condemnation, so long as they are unconverted; according to which testimony of the gospel God will judge them, both in this and in the life to come.

Preaching then contains the fundamental gospel message via the proper exposition of a passage of Scripture and is not some discourse on a theological topic, church history, or a specific issue of Christian living. It is the clear exposition of a passage of Scripture, with the intent of preaching of the conversion of the hearers, the edification of the saints, and the glory of Christ.

It is through the means of the preaching, not giving lectures, that God is pleased to gather His church. As the Compendium states,

  • 48. Who worketh that faith in thee?
    A. The Holy Ghost.
    Q. 49. By what means?
    A. By the hearing of the Word preached (Rom. 10:14-17).

Thus, Rev. Hanko states that “the gospel is the means God uses to gather His elect and to bring them to saving faith in Christ and so to salvation.” (Reformed Evangelism). Rev. Hanko also states that

  • As obvious as this seems, many have forgotten it. Thus they talk endlessly about evangelistic methods and spend a great deal of time drawing up complicated and expensive evangelism schemes for their church. It never seems to enter their mind that evangelism means preaching. (Reformed Evangelism).

What should this type of sermon look like?

Rev. Hanko argues in his pamphlet Reformed Evangelism that anytime “the Scriptures are properly preached, Christ is preached. If Christ is being preached, the gospel is being preached.” I whole heartedly agree. He also argues that

  • This does not mean . . . that there is not a difference between preaching the gospel in the church and to those who are outside the church, or that Reformed people believe only in preaching the gospel within the church.

I also agree with this, qualifying that statement with something else that Rev. Hanko states:

  • We would add that the call to repentance and faith is not just for unbelievers either. Those who are already saved need to hear that call in order that they too may turn from their sins (and they do commit sin as long as they are in this body of flesh) and that their faith may be stirred up and strengthened. This is also part of true evangelism.
  • With this in mind there is no need for the preacher to divide the congregation up into groups in his own mind or in his preaching, directing some of his preaching to one group and some to another. ALL the hearers need to hear whatever God the Lord says in a particular passage of His Word. There is not one message for the church, another for the world, one for the “unconverted,” another for those who are “saved and safe.”

While I agree with that I would further qualify it (as a bit of a sidenote) by stating that we should not look at our churches as simply composed of the saved, or believers. We should also realize that there are the unconverted elect and reprobate in it as well. We should then never preach inside the church assuming everybody in it is saved, we should preach what the particular text demands of us. Sometimes that text will be directed to the saved, other times it will be directed to the unsaved. We should always preach the text and not necessarily let our ecclesiology dictate how we preach.

By that I mean that I have no trouble calling the visible church, “the church of God.” I have no trouble calling the visible church “the beloved of God.” I have no trouble calling the visible church “believers.” This is Biblical. God called Israel, “His chosen people.” That does not mean that everybody is saved in it or that I should preach as though everybody is saved inside the church. I should preach as the text demands.

Rev. Hanko makes three suggestions for preaching, when it is particularly directed to the unsaved. While he is speaking particularly of the mission field, I believe this same advice is useful for our own evangelism sermons.

  1. First, in preaching to those who have not heard the gospel before, the message must be simplified and preached in such a way that those who hear understand clearly what the evangelist is saying. This is especially difficult when preaching to heathen who have never heard of sin, grace, redemption and of so many other great gospel truths. . . .
  2. Second, this kind of gospel preaching will address the audience as unsaved in showing them the need for repentance and faith in Jesus Christ as the only way of salvation. The preacher will beseech and exhort those who hear, pressing upon them the demands of the gospel and the urgency of their own need (II Cor. 5:18 – 21; cf. Matt. 3:7 – 12). [So here the minister might want to pick a text that directly lends itself to this kind of preaching] . . . .
  3. Third, mission preaching involves going out to preach to the unsaved (Matt. 28:19). . . . It will not do, therefore, for the church to attempt to carry out its calling to engage in missions by holding an “evangelistic service” every Lord’s Day evening.

Suggestion #3: Personal Invitations

The more believers see the preciousness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the more willing they are to start sharing the gospel with unbelievers. This can be classmates, coworkers, neighbours, etc. The individual members of the congregation need to get passionate about the gospel of Jesus Christ. They need to radically see the wonder of God’s grace and salvation. They need to see the absolute importance of spreading it. Part of this passion will be one of the spiritual blessings of good gospel preaching.

The question always is: how to go about sharing the gospel?

Well for one, you may find it helpful to write up a short pamphlet explaining the holiness of God, the sinfulness of man, and the message of salvation in Jesus Christ. It does not have to be very complicated, it could just be a couple of sentences with a bunch of Bible verses. Hand these out to the people you invite, mentioning the topic of the sermon (and obviously the date and time of the meeting).

Two, train people in basic evangelism. Maybe here you could have some actual lectures that teach people in your congregation how to do this.

When I talk to people, I often ask them: “If you were to die today, would you end up in heaven or hell?” Most people say heaven. Ask them why they think that. Again most people say because “they are for the most part good people.” From there you can go on to talk about the Law of God, maybe asking the person some pointed questions like: have you ever lied? Have you ever stolen anything? Have you ever looked lustfully at another person? From there you can go on to talk about how because of our sinfulness, we are all deserving of the righteous judgment of God. God is a holy God and must punish us for our sins. From there, you can go on to talk about Jesus Christ, the cross, and the need for us to repent of all our sins (an actual turning away) and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.

Suggestion #4: Be Active

It is very easy for us reformed folks to get complacent when it comes to evangelism. We can often get discouraged in the battle by seeing the complete disregard people have for the truth, the sinfulness of society, and the mockery it makes of the Bible. We can then enter into the type of thinking that states that “nobody else wants to hear the gospel. It’s too radical. Why should I even try? This church has been in this neighbourhood for years, everybody who is going to come has come. I then don’t need to actively go out.”

You should try because God commands you to speak of Him, to share the good news of Jesus Christ.

You should also try because God commands you to love your neighbour. It is hateful of you to be silent regarding the gospel and let your fellow human beings go happily on their way to destruction and the fires of hell.

There is also another way we can get complacent. This is when we forget that God works through means. We can use the age old excuse that God is sovereign and thus, if He wants somebody to get saved, he will get saved. Yes, God is sovereign but He works through His people as a means of spreading the gospel. You are to be a witness of the truth and God will use you as a means to bring people to a saving knowledge of the truth. This may be through a conversation with a co-worker in which you encourage him to come to church on Sunday. This may be through a random conversation with somebody on the street. But always God uses means to spread the gospel.

Let us ever grow then in our zeal for the salvation of souls and in the spreading of the gospel of Jesus Christ! Let our desire ever be that of Whitefield:

My heart is full of love to you. I would speak till I could speak no more, so I could but bring you to Christ – George Whitefield

PRC (4): Preaching and Covenant Children

Preaching and Covenant Children

One of my concerns with Protestant Reformed preaching relates to how the children of believers are treated in the preaching and this ultimately respects how the issue of the covenant is treated in the PRC.

Now my understanding of children of believers and the covenant is that developed by Hoeksema and Kersten in their writings on the subject.

I, in agreement with the official PR position, wholeheartedly reject the notion of presupposed regeneration as a basis for infant baptism. As Hoeksema states in his Reformed Dogmatics Volume II:

  • “With this idea of presumptive regeneration as a basis for infant baptism, we cannot agree. We do not deny that infants can be regenerated or that it is possible for them to have the faculty or power of faith. We even believe that it is the usual mode of God’s working in the church of Christ to regenerate little children from their infancy. But this does not mean that we can presume that all the children born under the dispensation of the covenant are regenerated, nor can we baptize infants on the basis of a presupposition or a resumption of their regeneration. We cannot state as a fact that all the children of believing parents are regenerated, for Scripture plainly teaches the very opposite. Not all are Israel that are of Israel. Only the children of the promise are counted for the seed (Rom. 9:8). There is chaff among the wheat, and many carnal children are among those born of believing parents. Therefore, we certainly cannot and may not presuppose that which is so evidently contrary to Scripture and to all reality.” (375 – 376)

I bring up the issue of presupposed regeneration here because often times it is the contention of people outside the PRC that the PRC holds to presupposed regeneration. Obviously, that is not the case as shown above. Although this misunderstanding does beg the question: why do people think that the PRC holds to this position? Is there perhaps too strong an emphasis in PR preaching and practice that children of believing parents are saved? Is perhaps the fact that not all children are saved, not preached enough? Are there not enough calls for children to repent and be converted in the PRC?

This confusion over the issue of presupposed regeneration could also be due to the difficult rendering of the Reformed Baptism Form. If I did not have knowledge of the history and interpretation of this form, I would be inclined to say that it sounds like it supports presupposed regeneration. How much more then, children growing up and never being taught the correct meaning of the form? How much more young people growing up in the PRC, hearing the form say this baptism after baptism? How much more the young people, who never study the issue of the covenant?

The section I am obviously referring to here in the Baptism Form is the first question that the parents are asked:

  • “Whether you acknowledge that although our children are conceived and born in sin, and therefore are subject to all miseries, yea to condemnation itself, yet that they are sanctified in Christ, and therefore, as members of His church, ought to be baptized?” [Emphasis Mine]

Even Bastiaan Wielenga seems to think that this wording is misleading, though he quite clearly argues that it does not teach presupposed regeneration in his commentary on the form: The Reformed Baptism Form. (For more discussion on this point see Wielenga, The Reformed Baptism Form, 321 – 325).

Back to the issue of baptism. I hold to infant baptism because I firmly believe that God establishes His covenant in the line of continued generations. This is good, old-fashioned, Biblical, Reformed and Presbyterian church growth.

As the Heidelberg Catechism states in Question and Answer 74:

  • Are infants also to be baptized?
  • Yes; for since they, as well as the adult, are included in the covenant and church of God; and since redemption from sin by the blood of Christ, and the Holy Ghost, the author of faith, is promised to them no less than to the adult; they must therefore by baptism, as a sign of the covenant, be also admitted into the Christian church, and be distinguished from the children of unbelievers as was done in the
    old covenant or testament by circumcision, instead of which baptism is instituted in the new covenant. [Emphasis mine]

This does not mean that all the children of believing parents are of the invisible church: the elect of God. As Hoeksema again states in his Reformed Dogmatics Volume II:

  • “The church in the world is the gathering of confessing believers and their children. They form one people . . . . They are called after his name. All who outwardly belong to them are subject to the same dealings. According to the will of God, all are baptized in the name of God triune. To all the word is preached. And all – unless they violate the covenant of God before they ever come to confession of faith in the church – celebrate the death of the Lord Jesus Christ at the communion table . . . . Always in the line of the generations of the people of God there are the true spiritual seed; but always there exist also the carnal seed, who live in close proximity and outward fellowship with the spiritual seed, dwell in the same house with them, and are subject to the same influences, but who are not children of the promise and receive not the grace of God in their hearts.
  • The significance of the presence of this carnal seed with the generations of the people of God is very clear both from Scripture and from actual experience. Because of the perpetual presence of that carnal element in the church of Christ in the world, the church must fight her hardest battle in her own house, for by this carnal element the measure of iniquity is filled.” [Emphasis Mine] (380 – 381)

The last statement of that quotation brings up some important questions: Is the PRC fighting its hardest battle in her own house, or with other denominations and their doctrinal errors? Is the PRC directing its hardest preaching towards itself and its own members, or to others?

I believe the fact that not all the children of believers are saved is sometimes forgotten in the preaching in the PRC. Too often it is assumed that everybody in a particular congregation is saved and that comes out in the preaching. Too often there is the tendency to just preach as though the entire congregation is elect. Too often the command of the gospel to “Repent! Believe!” is forgotten.

I am not alone in this concern. Prof. David Engelsma also agrees with me that the church has to be on guard about this and that  the call for conversion is neglected in the preaching. He states in his pamphlet “The Covenant of God and the Children of Believers”:

  • Let us admit that there is a danger that the important place of conversion in the life of the covenant child is neglected both by Reformed parents and by the Reformed church, and therefore also by the child. It is possible that this neglect is due to a misunderstanding, as though mention of conversion of the covenant child threatens either the truth that the salvation of the child is the fruit of the covenant or the truth that in the covenant it is God alone Who saves the child. In part, the hesitation of Reformed Christians to speak of, much less to emphasize, the conversion of the children of the covenant is due to their reaction against the sin against God’s covenant that becomes more and more popular today in Reformed circles, namely, that covenant, baptized, Reformed young people are made the objects of an “evangelism” that treats them as unsaved sinners who must be saved by accepting Christ. If this is what is meant by the conversion of the child, Reformed parents and the Reformed church reject it in the name of the covenant of God sealed to their children in infancy.

That quote by Engelsma raises an important issue: should baptized children be treated as the object of evangelism?

I would argue no, not as though they were outside of the visible church. The children of believers are in a special covenantal position. They are weekly under the means of grace in the preaching, prayer, instruction, worship, etc. I would argue then, (keeping in mind that God always saves through the means of grace) that the church has a duty to preach to them to repent of their specific sins and look to Jesus Christ. The church must also pray continually for their conversion; they must pray for their salvation. The church should not lull them to sleep and false assurance by reminding them that they are part of a true church. The church should not just preach the gospel to them, as though they are already saved. But the church, while taking comfort in the fact that God establishes His covenant in the line of continued generations, should always remember that God saves through the means of grace. God saves by means of the harsh preaching of the law and the comforting preaching of Jesus Christ.

As Engelsma states in the same pamphlet:

  • “parents and church not only may but are also solemnly required by God to call their children to conversion. They must do this with regard to specific sins, as well as with regard to the entire life of the children. They do this, not only by saying, “Believe!” “Repent!” but also by thorough, careful instruction in the entire gospel of Scripture; by discipline; and by godly example. God works conversion by His Word. Therefore, church and parents teach the children the Bible. He works it also in answer to prayers. Therefore, church and parents are to pray for the conversion of the children.”

There are always two dangers when preaching to covenant children, as Hoeksema points out in his book, Believers and Their Seed:

  • God forms His covenant people in the line of believers and their seed. As such they manifest the figure of such an organic whole. He, then, who would refuse to call that people by the name of the people of God, he who would refuse to address them as God’s people, he who would refuse to assure them as God’s people of the riches of God’s promises in Christ, he who would refuse to point them as God’s people to their calling as those who are of the party of the living God in the midst of the world, but who would rather treat them as a mixed multitude, without any spiritual character or stamp – that man would surely err sorely. Yet, on the other hand, he who would think that he may presuppose that there are absolutely no unregenerate and reprobate individuals among that people, and who therefore would refuse to proclaim woe as well as weal to them if they do not walk in the paths of God covenant, – that man would err just as sorely. No, that entire people must be addressed, treated, comforted, and admonished as the Israel of God. And yet, at the same time, you may never forget that not all is Israel that is called Israel. There are branches which never bear fruit, which bring forth wild fruit, and which are presently cut off.” (115)

I am concerned that the PRC often forgets this or reacts too harshly in response to those who think the children of believers should be treated just like the wicked outside the church. That is one reason I left the Protestant Reformed Churches.

Why I left the Protestant Reformed Church (3)

If you read my first blog post on this subject, I also humbly ask you to read this one. I wish to be abundantly clear in what I say, lest I bear false witness against the PRC in any of these blog posts.

I as a man who has to do battle with the old man every day, am ever in the need of the grace of God and growth in holiness. Thus, my words will never be perfect. I readily admit I can be prone to exaggeration, generalization, and error.

So I wish to remind you that I am writing this from my perspective in the Edmonton PRC. I again state I cannot speak for every church in the PRC. Some of my criticisms and concerns are not applicable to every pastor in the PRC.

That is part of the reason I ask my readers so many questions. I want them to think through these issues themselves. I want them to prayerfully and honestly answer the questions I ask. If your answers do not coincide with my conclusions and if you believe my concerns are not an issue in your church, I rejoice.

But I also write these posts knowing that no church is perfect. My current church and any church has growing to do. That is part of my reason in writing these and trying to get a discussion going about these things. How can we grow in these areas of our ministry? And so I also write these posts, not just to the PR audience, but the reformed church world in general. Evangelism is something that every denomination and church can grow in.

Further, no preaching is ever perfect. I do not believe a pastor can ever say that he has preached against sin enough. That he has preached the cross enough. That he has brought out the beauty of the gospel enough. Preachers are but weak, finite men, preaching about the perfect, infinite God. They are always going to fail for all the words in the entire world are not adequate enough to describe God and His grace. It is by the grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit that preaching is made useful and a blessing. We can say all the right words, can expound all the right doctrine, but it is all in vain if not blessed by God.

I also do not want you to get the perspective in my posts that I find no good in the PRC. Or that I have never been blessed by PR preaching and writings. If I was to say such I would be lying. I have been convicted of sin by PR preaching. I have been shown the cross by PR preaching. If I had not been, I may not be here writing the things that I do. I do believe there are numerous good pastors in the PRC, some of whom I have been really blessed by. When I applied at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary I readily admitted this. I went so far as to say that this preaching had brought me to a greater understanding of the gospel. I was convicted of sin. I was brought to realize the judgment of God upon sin. I was brought to realize the wonder of sovereign particular grace. I realize that in my first post I said I would not name names, but I think it is important for me to name names here in commendation (nor is this an exhaustive list, these are just some of the names that immediately come to mind). I have been really blest by the preaching of men like Rev. Houck, Rev. Hanko, Prof. Hanko, Prof. Gritters, Rev. Eriks, Rev. Brummel, and Rev. Barnhill. I also still find much usefulness in PR literature. One of the first Dogmatic books I will turn to is Hoeksema’s.

A great difficulty with talking about preaching goes back to the fact that it is God who blesses it. The effectiveness of a preacher is due to the work of the Holy Spirit. A preacher may think he has delivered the best sermon ever and yet God may not bless it. A preacher may think he has delivered the worst sermon ever and God will bless that. I am not stating here that content does not matter. I cannot emphasize enough that content is important. A sermon must always be grounded in the truths of Scripture and orthodox Christian doctrine. A good sermon must always properly exegete a text. Good sermons always have specific elements in them.

I was relatively content listening to PR sermons until I began to listen to other men preach. I was around 16 years old when I first heard a sermon outside the PRC. It was Paul Washer’s famous “Shocking Youth Message.” I listened to it because some families that had left the PRC were saying it was a good sermon.

I did not believe them. I listened to that sermon to find fault with it and I did. I argued that Paul Washer was teaching salvation by works. I argued his presentation of the material demonstrated this. I did not like his preaching because it was not PR and because people who had left the PR liked it. Paul Washer was baptist after all, so there must be something wrong with it. In my foolishness and sinful pride, I looked specifically for errors.

But I had some wise men tell me that there was nothing inherently wrong with it. What it was saying was true. We need to practice sanctification in our lives. We cannot just claim justification and not evidence any fruits of that justification. We need to be truly regenerated. The Christian life is not one of just confessing with the mouth. There must be a changed life and a changed heart as well.

I then started listening to Washer’s sermons with a different attitude and began to be really blessed by them. I began devouring his sermons, realizing more and more there was a fundamental difference between his sermons and those I was hearing on a regular basis in the PR. It was not simply a matter of me “liking” his preaching better because it was more charismatic. It was not simply tickling my ears.

That simply is not true. This is because I began to notice a change in my life. My devotional life began to change. My prayer life began to change. I started to have a deeper love for the Laws of God. I would weep when I considered my sins. I would weep tears of joy when I considered the amazing love of God. His preaching was having a radical effect on my life.

I do not call this a conversion experience. I do not believe I was converted by his preaching. From as far back as I can remember I have always believed in Jesus Christ as my Saviour. But it was Paul Washer’s sermons that helped me come to a much more personal and experiential relationship with my Saviour. His preaching, by the grace of God, made my faith not merely something I knew in my head, but something I knew in my heart.

I realize this is going to sound very subjective to a lot of you.

But it does beg the question: what is the difference between his preaching and preaching in the PRC? Why are so many men and women being converted by his preaching? He is a man being used by God in a powerful way. His preaching is being blessed by God. Is there something we can learn from him? Is there an emphasis in his preaching that is not found in PR preaching?

From my observation, that difference is found in his preaching on the law and the importance of sanctification in the believer’s life. Thus, the arguments in my first blog post.