THE GOSPEL MINISTRY
Notes of a Sermon by K. W. H. Howard.
We shall consider the familiar words concerning our blessed Lord on the Emmaus Road.
“And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself”. Luke 24,27.
The two disciples were despondent, lifeless, and without a message because they did not believe in the Lord’s Resurrection. Their position I take to be somewhat our own: without the Lord to speak; without the Scripture unfolded; there can be only a desolating coldness in the Church. But when Christ the Lord speaks; when the Book of God illumines the mind; when the purposes of God’s redemptive work in His son are set forth, things happen. Their eyes were opened and they saw Him. Their understanding was opened and they knew Him. Their hearts were fired and they became zealous for Him. Their feet were loosed “the same hour”, and they were enabled to witness for Him. And this, I trust and pray, is what God in His sovereign mercy will be pleased to permit us to be and do in these latter days. Central to all this, of course, is the Ministry of the Word of God, and I begin by considering with you the place of that ministry in the Church of Christ.
First we must note the One Authority from which the Gospel ministry is derived. “By what authority doest thouÂ—or, sayest thouÂ—these things?” is a question the Christian minister must always be ready to answer. On what grounds does a puny preacher dare to face man in the name of Almighty God? It is the authority of God Himself; God incarnate in the Lord Jesus Christ. What He is, and says, is the Christian preacher’s authority:Â—”And beginning at Moses and the Prophets HeÂ—ChristÂ— expounded unto them…” What was said on the Emmaus Road by way of exposition had, and has, its significance in the Person who spoke. All that the Christian minister has the right to say in the name of God is inherent in Christ; either in His very words or deeds, or in His imprimatur on the inspired words of the prophets and apostles.
Now I take the position that the essential function of the Christian ministry is the preaching of the word. It is not only that, of course; but it is supremely that. I stand with Calvin when he says:Â—
“The other duties attaching to the pastoral office are secondary to preaching. Before the administration of the Ordinances. Before organisation and discipline. Before all other things comes the heralding forth of the Divine Word”.
This is an emphasis that has, alas, been lost in the modern Church. I trust that by God’s grace we may recover it. The essence of Christian worship, in the Biblical and Reformed understanding, is the preached word, and nothing can take its place.
So the message of the Christian minister is a word of authority because, and only insofar as, the minister himself is under this great authority of God in Christ Jesus. When he comes into the pulpit it is not to advance his own ideas, nor those of any other man, norÂ—least of allÂ—the latest theological fashions from the Continent or America. It is not in order to deal topically with some contemporary notion; nor to pass opinions on some political, social, or economic matter. When the Christian minister enters the pulpit it is to espouse the cause of God and of His eternal truth.
Neither does the minister’s authority derive from any personal gifts that he may possess; whether he be a good theologian, a sympathetic personality, or a great orator. Gifts are an asset;
indeed the possession or lack of them may be a factor in a minister’s call; but personal gifts alone are no ground of authority, for the Christian minister does not enter the pulpit in his own name at all. May God have mercy on him if he does! His authority is none other than God in Christ, and if he is not aware of that authority he will be wise to put his hand over his mouth. But if he is, he will know both his immense privilege and his terrible responsibility, and will say with the Apostle PaulÂ—”For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” (1. Cor. 9.16). Donald Cargill, one of the Scottish Covenanting martyrs, being led out to the scaffold in the Grassmarket of Edinburgh was overheard to say, “God knows, I go up this ladder with far less fear, confusion, or perturbation of mind, than ever I entered a pulpit to preach”. Going to receive the crown of glory was, to him, a matter of joyous anticipation; but standing in a pulpit between the living God and dying men wasÂ—as it still isÂ—a fearful responsibility.
Remember always that the Christian minister is primarily responsible to the One from whom he takes his authority. He is not to preach what men want him to preach. Nor is he to preach merely what he wants to preach, that is, the themes and subjects that he finds most absorbing. What we all need to know above all else in these days is what God is saying to us, that we may the better know God Himself. And any authority a minister may have in a pulpit derives from the word of God in his heart and on his lips. As God in Christ declared the things of God, and nought else, so must the minister. This is the authority of the Gospel ministry.
Then, in the second place, there is the One Book in which the message of the Gospel Ministry is authentically contained. The “court of appeal” by which all Christian preaching is to be tested is the “court” to which our Lord appealed. In order to say what He had to say on the Emmaus Road, He began ‘at Moses and all the prophets (and) expounded unto them in ill the scriptures….” It is true that these were the Scriptures of the Old Testament; but Our Lord was, and is. Himself the New Covenant. So my position is this: the Book in which the message of the Christian ministry is authentically contained, is .his Book of the Two Testaments, Old and New: the Word of God written, and therein written infallibly and inerrantly.
Of many reasons for this position, the foremost is that this is just the attitude of the Lord Jesus Christ toward this blessed Book. HeÂ—ChristÂ—began at Moses and expounded all the scriptures. He, with His truly superior knowledge and understanding
regarded this as God’s Word; never questioned it, and never set up any other standard alongside it. He claimed to fulfil the Law; He supplemented the Old Covenant with the New, but never did He cast doubt upon it. He accepted it; He embraced it; and He preached it! “Beginning at Moses…. He expounded into them in all the scriptures …” “All the scriptures”Â—including the early chapters of Genesis; including those passages that destructive criticism seeks to remove from Holy Writ with a 5air of scissors! “All the scriptures….” If He, God incarnate in Christ, embraced and preached all; and He is the authority of His Gospel ministers; then I can find no ground to reject so much as a syllable of His written word. For mere men to say “Nay”, where the Son of God has said “Yea”, can never ?e anything short of blasphemy. The Old and the New Testaments, therefore, have the blessing of the Lord upon them, and ire the Christian preacher’s message. And that has certain implications for both ministers and hearers of the Word.
On the side of the minister, it means that all he preaches must be sustained by the Scripture as a whole. He must receive his message from the Bible. He must examine and criticize all his ideas and thoughts by the great doctrines of the Bible. If he has to take in view some contemporary situation, he must begin with the Bible and its principles and not with the topic of the hour. And to those who proffer the specious advice that the preacher, in order to be relevant, must “catch the spirit of the age”, I can only say: the business of the Christian preacher is
rather to correct the spirit of the age by the uncompromising acclamation of the great doctrines of this Book, as the Spirit of God may enable him.
So I must point out that preaching based upon this Book is not required to prove the truth of its statements by logical demonstration. That would be to reduce a supernatural revelation to the level of mere rationalist philosophy. The only requirement of such ministry is that it proclaims the truth in Jesus. The question is not: “Can we approve it?”Â—but, “Has God said it?”Â—for, if He has, there is no room for debate and dialogue! A preacher is not to entertain men with theories and ideas, but to set forth as best he can “the wonderful works of God”, and to call on men to “see what God hath wrought”.
But then there is the side of the hearer. What, for him, are the implications of Scripture’s position as the “court of appeal”? When the minister stands in the pulpit and speaks in the name of God, are the people to accept in a mechanical fashion what he says as being indeed the very Word of God? Alas, this is what is happening in the modern Church; and the chief ally of heretical preachers is a body of undiscerning and undiscriminating hearers! How are the people to distinguish between the word of God and the mere words of man on the preacher’s lips? Well, in the light of this principle the answer is clear. The hearer must test what he hears by the Scripture. It is his court of appeal as well as the preacher’s. I have no right to preach other than the truth of this Book; and Christian people have no right to believe what is not the truth of this Book. The test applies in both directions. The crucial question for both preacher and hearer isÂ—How does it stand the test of Scriptural examination? If it fails, it must be cast aside as human wisdom; but if it be verily the Word of God, it must bring us all into obedience.
Our Lord began “at Moses and all the prophets (and) expounded unto them in all the scriptures”. He is the one Authority from whom the Gospel ministry derives; and His use of this
One Book establishes it as the only platform of any man’s ministry.
Further, I call attention to the One Objective of the Gospel Ministry, and in doing so I again turn to our text. With what object in view did Our Lord begin “at Moses and all the prophets (and) expound unto them in all the Scriptures”? It was with a view to setting before the disciples, the “things concerning himself”. What are they?Â—the principle things concerning the Son of God to be found in both Old and New Testaments.Â—For this is the substance of Christian preaching; and its object is to set forth and honour Him in all these respects.
There is the place Our Lord had in the eternal Covenant of Redemption; that great agreement and contract upon which all redemption rests. By which God the Father gave a people to His Son; the Son undertook to provide a ransom for His people;
and the Holy Spirit engaged Himself to apply redemption to that people until “all the ransomed Church of God, Be saved to sin no more”. What a theme! The Triune God in eternal covenant with Himself, and the Son of God taking His place there on our behalf!Â—”Things concerning himself”.
Then there is the place of our Lord in the first dispensation, or the Old Testament age of the outworking of the Covenant. His preincarnate emergence in time against the background of the Fall of man, and of human sin; and before sentence was passed upon sinful man the “Seed of the Woman” was announced to him as the Conqueror of sin and of the devil. There was His preincarnate ministry as the Angel of the Covenant, and the Angel of the Lord. Then there was His place as the Messiah of the Elect Nation, and the great Hope of the godly remnant of Judah. Through all this age of waiting and of preparation He held His place.Â—”Things concerning himself”.
Finally, there is the place of our Lord Jesus Christ in the second dispensation, or the New Testament age of the outworking of the eternal covenant. And here there are the descending steps of His humiliation; His incarnation and virgin birth;
the sufferings He endured in life; His death upon the cross, and His burial in the tomb. Then come the ascending steps of Christ’s exaltation; His resurrection from the dead; His ascension into heaven; His session at God’s right hand; and His coming again in power and glory. And all this with a view to His keeping covenant with God and with His people!
“The things concerning himself”. Christianity is Christ;
and the object of the Gospel ministry is to set Him forth, to magnify Him, in all these manifestations of His Person and work. Others may, and doubtless should, speak on other subjects, but the Christian minister is a committed man; he is committed to exalt the Son of God, and in so doing to honour the Holy Spirit, and to glorify the living God.
“And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself”, One AuthorityÂ—God incarnate in the Lord Jesus Christ. One BookÂ—”All the scriptures”. One ObjectiveÂ—to proclaim “the things concerning himself”.
His only righteousness I show,
His saving truth proclaim;
‘Tis all my business here below
To cry, “Behold the Lamb”.’
Happy, if with my latest breath
I might but gasp His name;
Preach Him to all, and cry in death,
“Behold! Behold! the Lamb!”