The Foundation of Sermon Preparation (Part Two)

GENEVA2As we saw last time, we must have certain settled convictions before we ever step in the pulpit. We looked specifically at our convictions about our God and about ourselves. This time I’d like to take a look at the necessary convictions about our Bible.

This is especially necessary given that the Bible is what the minister of the Word has been called to proclaim, and with out settled convictions here, all might well be lost. We recognize that God, out of nothing but His mercy, has spoken and continues to speak to all of humanity through his works of creation and providence. And while this “general” revelation makes God’s goodness, wisdom and power known, it is not sufficient to show lost sinners the way of salvation. For this reason, in a further display of His mercy, God made a “special” revelation of this necessary knowledge. It is this special revelation about which the preacher must have certain clear convictions.

First, we must believe that God, by a mighty work of the Holy Spirit, has infallibly secured an accurate and permanent written record of His special revelation. This work of the Holy Spirit, commonly called inspiration, secures an infallibility that extends to every word of Scripture. In other words, we must have a settled conviction about the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture.

Second, especially in a day when Scripture is being questioned and undermined at every turn and when every man, woman, and even child regards their own opinion as the final authority, it is essential that the preacher be completely convinced of Scripture’s ultimate and final authority. The preacher must not only understand, but communicate that the words he preaches are not his own but God’s, and as such they are not optional, but are binding upon all.

Third, the preacher must be convinced that the Word of God is God’s all-sufficient and only sufficient method of saving sinners and sanctifying the saints (cf. Hebrews 4:12-13). The Westminster Confession of Faith summarizes this nicely when it says:

The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. (WCF 1.6)

Finally, the preacher must be convinced that while there are difficult passages of Scripture, it can be interpreted using the ordinary means God has provided. Again, the Westminster Confession of Faith puts this quite succinctly:

Those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them. (WCF 1.7)

There is a balance that needs to be struck here. On the one hand, God has made enough of His word so clear that only blind and willful disbelief will not understand. On the other hand, God has made enough of his Word so deep that even the most faithful minister must depend on divine enlightenment rather than his own intellect.

Having seen the convictions we ought to have regarding our God, our Bible, and ourselves, tomorrow I’d like to take a look at the last necessary conviction we ought to have settled long before we begin to preach: namely, our convictions about our hearers.

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4 thoughts on “The Foundation of Sermon Preparation (Part Two)

  1. Bravo, and very well stated. Now, brother, you know the last thing I am interested in is a fruitless debate, but I am very and genuinely curious about your third point, about Scripture being “all-sufficient and only sufficient.” It seems to me that such is never presented in Scripture, even by “necessary consequence” — resulting in this statement’s apparent contradiction of itself. (I wrote a post not too long ago probing this same statement in the Westminster Confession.) I would very much like to see an argument for this position from Scripture (perhaps in its own post, to which I needn’t even reply), particularly from an exegete of your caliber. For a preacher to be convinced of this, he can’t simply take it for granted, no?

    • I would completely agree that the sufficiency of Scripture shouldn’t take for granted, although all to often it is taken for granted. Of all my readers, you well know that I would be the first to admit that there is something of a Protestant-in-name-only phenomenon that lurks out there. It’s not so much that those folks are Protestant per se as it is that they’re just not Catholic.

      Where the sufficiency of Scripture being demonstrated in Scripture is concerned…I sincerely doubt my own ability to post anything meaningful in that regard; the subject is far too large and involved, even for a series of posts. It would necessitate delving into more than just the question of sufficiency. By the very nature of the case, it would have to deal not just with the sufficiency of Scripture, but also with the concomitant presuppositions about God, man, and revelation—and it would have to do so across, not just the Reformed/Roman divide, but across the Reformed/evangelical divide as well. To my knowledge the only person who even attempted such a feat was Cornelius Van Til, and even then it was only in the broadest possible outlines as part of his class syllabus The Doctrine of Scripture.

      Give me some time to think about it, and I might be just unbalanced enough to attempt it…

      • Thanks; that’s very helpful. I’ve been looking for something meaty to read on the subject, and this looks meaty. I look forward to reading what you have to say, if you accept the challenge. 😉

        I would say, if so crucial a doctrine to the faith, indeed the very formal principle of the Reformation — of which is commonly stated that all the necessary doctrines of salvation and Christian life are “perspicuous” in Scripture (again, WCF I.7) — is itself so difficult to exposit from Scripture, then it might be something of a problem for itself.

        • I just emailed you a brief and incomplete outline of what would be necessary in my opinion in order to cover the topic in a way that would do it justice. I’ll say publicly here what I said privately there: the problem with attempting this sort of thing is that no one doctrine/dogma stands entirely on its own; it is always part of a wider web of beliefs. In this case it includes (at minimum) certain beliefs about natural (or general) revelation, analogical thinking as it’s revealed in Scripture, the Reformed doctrine of inspiration (with its concomitant implications), and the Roman Catholic view of the authority of Scripture.

          All of this is involved at the presuppositional level; that’s why Reformed/Roman Catholic discussions on this point so rarely accomplish anything other than producing a lot of heat and very little light.

          This is also why most Roman Catholics find the exposition of Scripture’s sufficiency from Scripture so difficult to accept; there’s a presuppositional commitment to a particular view of authority, inspiration, etc. that from the outset makes the Reformed exegesis on this subject seem prima facie untenable.

"I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve." (Romans 16:17-18) Please read "The Comments Policy."

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