December 18, 2017

The Preacher’s Charge Defined

Mark Minnick

Nearly every preacher has his favorite definition of preaching. A thoroughly Biblical one comes from the phrase “preach the word” (2 Tim. 4:2). Taken literally, the expression might be explained as “heralding what God has already said.”

Although “what God has already said” is not an exact translation of logos (the Greek term translated “word”), a “word,” nevertheless, is nothing but “the thing which someone has said.” The Bible, then, is nothing but the fixed inscripturations of the words that God has already said. In other words, preaching does not involve creating words but reciting them. They already exist. They stand written in certain grammatical relationships to one another. They need only to be repeated in preached form just as they stand written.

Preaching form is “heralding.” Gerhard Friedrich explained the role of “herald” to which God is referring.

It is demanded that they deliver their message as it is given to them. The essential point about the report which they give is that it does not originate with them … Heralds adopt the mind of those who commission them, and act with the plenipotentiary authority of their masters … The good herald does not become involved in lengthy negotiations but returns at once when he has delivered his message. In rare cases he may be empowered to decide on his own. But in general he is simply an executive instrument. Being only the mouth of his master, he must not falsify the message entrusted to him by additions of his own. He must deliver it exactly as given to him. In the assembly and in court he is the voice of the chairman, and in other aspects of his work as well he must keep strictly to the words and orders of his master (Gerhard Kittel, ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, III, 687-688).

This quotation is not only worth some meditation, but probably some memorization. It cogently expresses what God wants every minister to do. He is to herald, without subtraction, substitution, or addition, the exact words that God has said. But to do this demands that the preacher exercise the preliminary role of an exegete before he ever enters the pulpit.

In his classic work on preaching, Homiletics and Pastoral Theology, W.G.T. Shedd defines “exegesis” as the “leading forth into the light of a clear perception … an idea that is shut up in human language.” The minister who is most successful at this, he further explains, is the one who reads the Bible “just as it reads, and expounds it just as it stands.”

Shedd is talking about the careful, accurate, painstaking study of Scripture that enables a preacher to discover both what God is saying in a text as well as the way in which God is saying it. God’s texts have their own inherent themes, outlines (revealed in their grammar), and progressions. Careful preliminary exegesis to discover these inherent facts soaks the preacher’s own soul in the very spirit of the Scriptures.

He who has imbibed it from the close and penetrating study of the words, clauses, sentences, paragraphs, and sections of the sacred volume, puts the seal of the Eternal Spirit upon everything that he writes and everything that he utters.

This is what every preacher desires for his ministry — that nearly indefinable but unmistakable evidence that the Spirit of God is speaking through his preaching. It is the kind of experience related by Paul when he recalled that the Thessalonians had received his preaching “not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God” (1 Thess. 2:13). What gives that evidence to a man’s preaching? It is his resolute determination to preach just what God says just as He has said it.

That cannot be done without deliberately seeking the mind of the Spirit of God, who is “not only the true Author of the written Word, but also its supreme and true Expositor” (H.C.G. Moule, Veni Creator). John Owen adds that “for a man solemnly to undertake the interpretation of any portion of Scripture without invocation of God, to be taught and instructed by His Spirit, is a high provocation of Him, nor shall I expect the discovery of truth from anyone who thus proudly engages in a work so much above his ability” (Pneumatology). But such preaching also labors to declare God’s message in the Holy Spirit’s own terms, for “the Spirit rides most triumphantly in His own chariot.”

In his Memoir of Robert Murray McCheyne, Andrew Bonar testified to the reverent efforts of his friend to expound the Scriptures in this fashion.

It was his wish to arrive nearer at the primitive mode of expounding the scripture in his sermons … He endeavoured at all times to preach the mind of the Spirit in a passage; for he feared that to do otherwise would be to grieve the Spirit who had written it. Interpretation was thus a solemn matter to him.

Do we ever think in those terms — that we might grieve the Spirit who wrote these words if we shirk the labor required to discover our texts’ own inherent themes, outlines, and progressions to their conclusions? This is a labor-intensive, time-consuming, unspeakably holy task. But it alone instills the preacher with the confidence and authority necessary to “herald what God has already said.”

Dr. Mark Minnick is the pastor of Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Greenville, South Carolina, and serves as adjunct professor of preaching and exposition at Bob Jones Seminary.

(Originally published in FrontLine • July/August 1999. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)

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