Sharp, pointed, penetrating gospel arrows set forth the truth of God by the power of God. Expository preaching and teaching, gospel lessons and preaching demand explanation of biblical texts. “Without explanation it is not expository” (T.H.L. Parker, Calvin’s Preaching, 79). But thorough explanations are not enough. Regurgitating commentaries to fill minds is counter-productive. Biblically, the heart, the core of the whole inner person, consists of the mind, emotions, and will.
Good illustrative material can evoke proper emotions. Good illustrative material sheds light on the truth and tends to pin truth to the heart. How a person feels about the truth will determine what actions follow. At the same time, we shun emotionalism, the manipulation of human emotions to gain an advantage. Review my previous lesson, Gospel Arrow Emotion and Illustration.
Finally, to penetrate the heart, gospel lessons and sermons must strategically apply God’s truth. Again, T.H.L. Parker, “Expository preaching consists in the explanation and application of a passage of Scripture. Without explanation it is not expository; without application it is not preaching” (ibid.).
Calvin displays this general procedure of explanation, illustration, application. Preaching from 1 Timothy 2:6, “who gave himself a ransom for all, to which witness was borne at the proper time” (Calvin’s translation, Sermons on 1 Timothy, 217), Calvin puts special emphasis on the word witness and first offers some explanation.
Notice, then, that when the gospel is said to bear witness it is so that we might have greater assurance, knowing that our Lord means us never to doubt his goodness . . . God, therefore, testifies to his goodness whenever the gospel is preached to us. For the rest, for although those who speak to us are mortal men, we should not regard them merely as men but should think of the pace to which God has raised them: he has made them his witnesses.
The great preacher then offers a brief illustration to shed light on the truth to pin the truth to our hearts.
When a man is sworn as a notary, the official documents he receives are held to be true and genuine. So that if magistrates who have but a small spark of God’s authority enjoy this privilege, and if this is allowed in civil administration, when God sends us men as his witnesses, is it mere creatures we offend when we refuse the message which they bring? Do we not see that we are doing dreadful injury to God?
But explanation embellished with illustration is insufficient to bring the truth home to the heart. There must be application. Without application, there is no real preaching. So Calvin adds an injunction to his explanation and illustration.
Let us determine, then, to give him greater obedience than we have done so far, and to treasure the teaching of the gospel, referred to here by the word ‘witness.’ May it mean more to us than it has in the past! (Quotes found on page 229).
This application is brief. It is pointed. It comes during the course of the sermon. Calvin is not concluding his message. Yet, he drives home his reason for highlighting the term ‘witness.’ At the same time, he does so with force and urgency. More on this latter point next time. Sharp and pointed gospel arrows set forth the truth of God with applications that penetrate the heart.