As it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness, so in challenging ministers to proclaim the whole counsel of God it is better to suggest what to preach than to warn of what to avoid. What finer boon for Christendom could there be than for every Church of England and Episcopal rector to trumpet “Justification” next Sunday in the incisive tones of their “judicious” Richard Hooker; or for every Church of Scotland and Presbyterian minister to unite with John Maclaurin in “Glorying in the Cross” or in James Denney’s “The Death of Christ”; or for every Methodist to proclaim the Gospel as clearly as John Wesley did in his sermon “The Lord Our Righteousness”; or for every Baptist pastor to send forth the message in the urgent tones of Spurgeon’s “Pardon and Justification.”

But preachers seeking inspiration need not rely only on their denominational forebears nor assume that spiritual insight is a thing of the past. God calls a good steward to bring out of his storehouse things new as well as old, and preachers may also learn from contemporaries to keep in the center of their proclamation “Christ clothed with his Gospel.” Those who find stimulation in current European thinking are invited to turn from the liberalism of Harnack’s What Is Christianity? to the evangelical stress in J. Jeremias’s The Central Message of the New Testament (SCM, 1965), or to T. F. Torrance’s Reconstruction in Theology (Eerdmans, 1965). Those who look to Church of England scholarship are challenged to demonstrate their apostolic succession by concurring with Principal Leon Morris in The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross (IVF and Eerdmans, 1955) and in his The Cross in the New Testament (Eerdmans, 1965).

What shall the preacher preach? John Calvin, in his Instruction in Faith, answers, “God in Christ is the perpetual object of Christian faith.” Answers from other writers and ministers follow.

“It is Jesus who speaks when the word of the Gospel is truly preached. It is Jesus who is proffered and who blesses when the sacraments are rightly administered. It is Jesus who heals or helps when practical help is extended to the needy.…

“The Christian minister is called to minister Christ Himself as the Eternal Word incarnate for us men and for our salvation. The focus of attention is not preaching or teaching as such; otherwise a false importance is given to the spoken word of man. It is the theme and content of preaching. By means of the ministry Christ Himself is handed over to others to be received and then passed on by them as God’s own Word of revelation and redemption” (G. W. Bromiley, Christian Ministry, Eerdmans, 1960, pp. 17, 52).

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“The sermon that does not distinctly present Christ in the beauty and glory of His mediatorial character, is no better than a cloud without water, a casket without a jewel, a shadow without the substance, or the body without the soul” (Daniel Baker, as cited by J. M. Wells, Southern Presbyterian Worthies, p. 99).

“Jesus Christ exercises His lordship in the Church by announcing and declaring to us His presence, on the basis of the apostolic witness. By His Word preached and declared, He announces to us His pardon, shows us His will, exalts and instructs us, nourishes us, and communicates His life to us in such a way as to draw near to our existence in its totality.…

“If Jesus Christ is the subject, the substance and the end of edification, it means that He calls men to participate in this work of edification” (Jean Bosc, The Kingly Office of the Lord Jesus Christ, 1959, pp. 123, 119).

“Christian ministers must take their starting point in what Christ has done, and they can do no more than minister His gospel to men. Their task is to point men to Christ that He may meet their need.…

“The really essential thing about the New Testament view of the ministry is that the one basic ministry is that of Christ Himself. Ministers in the Church are never regarded by virtue of any inherent power or right of their own. All that they do they do only because of what Christ has done for them. More than that, what they do they do not only on the basis of that work of Christ, but as the continuation of it” (Leon Morris, Ministers of God, 1964, pp. 12, 25).

In a personal letter, John Knox writes: “But consider, sister, what I have affirmed, to wit, that where Christ Jesus is not preached—marke well what I say, preached—that there hath the sacrament neither life or soule; and farther, that I say, none can be a lawful minister of Christ’s sacrament, who first is not a minister of his blessed Word” (Laing’s Works of John Konx, VI, 14).

“I would call the Church back today to its main task of proclaiming Christ and him crucified as the only panacea for the problems of the world” (Billy Graham, “False Prophets in the Church,” CHRISTIANITY TODAY, Jan. 19, 1968).

“How frequently the sermon is not an exposition of the Word of God but an exposition of the minister’s own views on this or that subject!… The whole concept of the ministry and of worship in our Reformed Churches needs to be brought back to the criticism of the Word of God, that we may learn again the meaning of justification by Christ alone in the midst of the Church’s life and work” (T. F. Torrance, Theology in Reconstruction, 1965, p. 168).

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“The preacher’s task first of all is to expound the Bible, to expose a text, not force on it a meaning which is not there.…

“He is not the spokesman of a congregation, but of God” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, No Rusty Swords, p. 20; Ethics, p. 293).

“The awakening of men to the authority of the Bible is the primary task for the Protestant Church today. It is as men find the authority of the Bible in its testimony to the saving work of God in Christ that they come to a live understanding of what it means to be members of the Church, the new humanity into which they are baptised and of which He is King and Head” (John Kennedy, Presbyterian Authority and Discipline, 1960, p. 19).

Dr. Thomas Goulding, the first professor at Columbia Theological Seminary and later a pastor in Columbus, Georgia, often expressed his favorite guideline for the benefit of young ministers: Let every sermon contain so much of the plan of salvation that someone who had never before heard the Gospel, and would never hear it again, would learn enough to know what he had to do to be saved.

“If we ask, what are [the ministry’s] specific tasks, we must answer: first and foremost, to preach the Gospel. But this preaching the Gospel is not limited to speaking alone; the ministry must preach the Gospel by living the Life of Christ in the world. We would almost say, the ministry must be the Gospel. At least it must represent Christ to the world, but primarily to the Church, so that the Church may represent Christ to the world” (A. T. Hanson, The Pioneer Ministry, 1961, p. 85).

William M. McPheeters, who preached the Gospel for half a century and taught at Columbia Seminary for nearly that long, gave this admonition for ministers a few days before his death: “Oh! that our ministers would only realize the utter reasonableness of doing just what the Apostles did: Preach the Word and pray the Holy Spirit to bless it.”

Milton D. Hunnex is professor and head of the department of philosophy at Willamette University, Salem, Oregon. He received the B.A. and M.A. degrees from the University of Redlands and the Ph.D. in the Inter-collegiate Program in Graduate Studies, Claremont, California. He is author of “Philosophies and Philosophers.”

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