Preaching in a large assembly of pastors and elders, I quoted W. G. T. Shedd, where he speaks about how impressive it is when the Word of God touches us. See the full quote below. After the sermon, one of the pastors in the congregation countered me, and Shedd, on this characteristic of preaching. “You lost me at that point,” he said. However, Christ intends His gospel arrows to not only touch the heart but to pierce the heart and to elicit a response (Psalm 45:5). Note the effect of Peter’s preaching, how his message touches feelings and moves emotions. “Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’” (Acts 2:37).
Remember, in biblical Greek, the heart is the “center and source of the whole inner life, w. its thinking, feeling, and volition, in the case of the natural man as well as the redeemed man” (A Greek-English lexicon of the new testament, 1963). In biblical Hebrew, the heart includes “the inner man … comprehending mind, affections, and will” (A Hebrew and English lexicon of the old testament, 1962). While addressing the mind, we touch and influence emotions. There is a chain reaction. How people feel about what we say influences what they do.
Calvin (2018b) opens his exposition of 2 Timothy by saying, “In truth, if we read this letter carefully we will see that God’s Spirit there reveals himself with such power and majesty that we cannot avoid feeling thrilled” (pp. 1-2). He then affirms, “If we want the kind of testimony to God’s truth which will pierce our hearts, we can do no better than tarry here” (p. 2).
Calvin also emphasizes the importance of God’s Word profoundly touching us. “God’s word cannot rightly thrive in us unless we have clearly understood what is presented to us, unless we are deeply touched by it … ” (Calvin, 2009, p. 607). Yes, sitting under the preaching of the word of God, we must be touched by the Word coming to us in the power of the Spirit. As Calvin urges, we should, “when we come to preaching, let the word of God touch us and awaken us” (p. 634). Westminster’s “Directory for the Public Worship of God” agrees. It indicates that the application of the Scripture in preaching ought to make us “feel the word of God” (“Directory,” 1988, p. 380). In speaking about the Flood, Calvin (2009) also declares, “But when the events are made specific for us, we get a vivid picture of God’s wrath and are touched even more … ” (p. 642).
T.H.L. Parker (1992) quotes Calvin similarly on the word of God preached: “It is a living reality and full of hidden energy which leaves no part of man untouched” (p. 30). Parker quotes Calvin’s first sermon on 2 Timothy more extensively:
It is certain that if we come to church we shall not hear only mortal man speaking but we shall feel (even by his secret power) that God is speaking to our souls, that he is the teacher (meistre). He so touches us that the human voice enters into us and so profits us that we are refreshed and nourished by it (p. 42).
In speaking about plainness in preaching, W. G. T. Shedd (1877) again reminds us,
There is a prodigious power in this plainness of presentation. It is the power of actual contact. A plain writer, or speaker, makes the truth and the mind impinge upon each other. When the style is plain, the mind of the hearer experiences the sensation of being touched; and this sensation is always impressive, for a man starts when he is touched (p. 64).
The sermon should be constructed as oral communication to strike the soul, to “touch” and “start” the people. The sermon is an arrow to pierce the heart. When God’s Word touches you by the power of the Spirit, it is like someone coming up behind you unexpectedly and touching you. The contact surprises you. You start. Each time you sit and listen to your pastor, you should listen actively. Anticipate that God, by His Word and Spirit, will touch your soul and change you. Trust him to use this means to conform you more closely to the image of Jesus Christ, your savior.
As a teacher or preacher, you must prepare Bible lessons and sermons as gospel arrows intended to contact, pierce, and change individuals who are listening. I wonder if those of us whom God calls to proclaim His Word believe that preaching is His chosen instrument for change. Oh, yes! We memorize the Shorter Catechism Q&A 89, “The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching, of the Word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation.” Do we preach as though we earnestly believe this truth?
There are potentially aggravating factors. We emphasize that pastors are teaching elders (1 Timothy 5:17). In doing so, we often buy into the modern notion of teaching: Give people enough correct information, and they will make the right decisions. We become sharers of information rather than proclaimers of truth. In keeping with this model, pastors and professors believe that putting together a sermon, intended for listening, is just like writing a paper, designed for reading. Pastors become scribes who, after doing their study, disseminate information rather than preach with authority (Mark 1:22). When you implement such a perspective, God’s Word does not “touch” and “start.” Gospel arrows become blunt instruments.
Several years ago, after morning worship, I said to my wife, “Pastor is writing another book.” She asked quizzically, “How do you know?” My answer was simple, “We just heard the first chapter.” Did our pastor prepare his sermon with the people in mind? Perhaps. From the perspective of content and structure, his preparation also had the printing press in mind. Biblical preaching and teaching ought to press God’s truth into minds and hearts first of all rather than into notes and books. Failure to do so weakens the force of preaching. God’s Word does not “touch” and “start” those listening. Gospel arrows become blunt instruments.
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