A recent (2006) booklet by John Cheeseman on the (very possibly under-discussed) topic of preaching and the work of the preacher includes the following excerpt from Edmund Clowney:
“The work of the apostolic preacher is described in contrast to jovial flippancy, high-flown speculation, sentimental gush, moralistic nagging, and a dozen other abuses of the pulpit. Nor can it be applied readily to such sermon substitutes as book reviews, interpretative dancing, feature movies or baptised vaudeville.”
(Without access to Clowney’s book I can’t be sure, but I expect that ‘apostolic preachers’ are not so much actual apostles but preachers whose message is the same as what the apostles taught.)
Not only the reading of the scriptures but the preaching of them is said to be one way for people to be converted and built up in the faith – which means, I suppose, not only that (i) the preaching of the Word is not something that churches should shy away from or feel the need to apologise for, but also that (ii) the messages which come from teachers and leaders in churches should be material which consciously and deliberately aims at the conversion and building up of the hearers.
These two points are things which seem to have been taken for granted by Thomas Watson, the 17th century pastor of St Stephen’s church in Walbrook, London. The following piece of advice, for example, in a small volume written for a very general audience, simply assumes that people will be regular attenders at a place of worship, that a significant portion of their time of worship will be taken up with listening to the preaching of the Word, and that the preaching will deal primarily with matters relating to their souls, their need of reconciliation with God, and their everyday lives here and now seen from the perspective of eternity ahead.
“Let us consider the weightiness of the matters delivered to us, as Moses said to Israel, ‘I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death,’ Deut 30:19.We preach to men of Christ and of eternal recompences; here are the magnalia legis, the weighty matters of the law; and does not all this call for serious attention? There is a great deal of difference between a letter of news read to us, and a letter of special business wherein our whole land and estate are concerned. In the Word preached, our salvation is concerned; here we are instructed towards the kingdom of God; and if ever we will be serious, it should be now. ‘It is not a vain thing for you, because it is your life,’ Deut 32:47.”
As he explained earlier, “When we come to the Word preached, we come to a matter of the highest importance; therefore we should stir up ourselves and hear with the greatest devotion.” Although churches which neglect to treat the preaching of the Word as a matter of the highest importance are doing their members and attendees a great disservice, it is no less of a problem that people who do have access to the frank and serious preaching of the weighty matters of the Word let it wash over them as if they weren’t much concerned in it. The call that goes out in the gospel is a universal call that excludes nobody, whether people hear or whether they forbear, but nobody should be under any illusions that its contents can be lightly dismissed.
John Cheeseman (2006), The Priority of Preaching. Banner of Truth
Thomas Watson (1992 ), Heaven Taken by Storm. Soli Deo Gloria