And Nathan said to David, Thou art the man. 2 Samuel 12:7
I recently listened to a sermon on the free offer of the gospel on SermonAudio. As the minutes rolled on, I could not help to note that the sermon was rather detached and lecture-like. When the sermon was more than 3/4 of the way through it struck me that it was unlikely this minister was going to press his congregation to see if they had freely received Christ for themselves. He did not preach as if Christ had been crucified among them (Galatians 3:1). The assumption seemed to be that the congregation only needed to understand the Bible’s theology better.
This happens all too often in Reformed pulpits but what made it more jarring was this was done during a sermon on the gospel itself. A sermon with no exhortations to close with Christ (John 1:12). Sadly, I hear the same kind of thing from many students that preach in Presbytery trials, they simply do not do what Bible preaching demands – to search out the hearers. After preaching that salvation is of the Lord, few today will take the next step and ask their hearers the simple question: “have you yourself, seen that you are a sinner, and have you cast yourself entirely upon Jesus for salvation?“
And so, it is the case, sad to say, in addition to a famine of practical preaching, there is a great famine of discriminatory preaching in Reformed Churches. Discriminatory preaching does not discriminate as we use the word today to show bigotry between ethnicities or sexes or something of that sort. Instead, it is a discrimination between sheep and goats – the true Christian and the non-Christian or the “almost Christian” (the same as the non-Christian).
Because such discrimination is not sought in preaching – the outcome is that hypocrites are never confronted with their sinfulness and will hear on that last day, “I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matthew 7:23). Sadly, many covenant children apostatize because their minister has never preached in a way that exposes their sinfulness and their own need for a Savior.
Confront the hypocrite
Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?
2 Corinthians 13:5.
This need for searching in preaching is seen in 2 Corinthians 13. The apostle Paul confronts the Corinthians to see if they are in the faith or are reprobates.
Today, no less than in the 1st century, preaching must seek to confront the hypocrite with their standing with the Lord. Have they really trusted in the Lord for their salvation – all of it? Are they clinging onto their good works as their hope for salvation, their profession of faith notwithstanding? Are they walking in repentance and faith? Are they reprobates, or are they truly in the faith?
It is this kind of searching that must be put before the people of God. David would pray in the 139th psalm:
Search me, O God, and know my heart:
Try me, and know my thoughts:
And see if there be any wicked way in me,
And lead me in the way everlasting.
The preaching of the Word must search the people out in this manner. Preaching must not just exposit the propositional truths of the Scripture, but to take the next step, and bring those truths out in such a way that the Holy Ghost might search out the congregation, so they might flee to Christ for everlasting life and new obedience in the way everlasting. Ministers must do it earnestly and plead with them as the Lord would have them (2 Corinthians 5:20).
Comfort the saint
But I trust that ye shall know that we are not reprobates.
2 Corinthians 13:6.
But even as the preacher preaches in a searching manner, he must also see that the aim is not that men and women would live in terror but flee to Jesus Christ for comfort. For the Spirit to awaken them to their awful condition but send them to the arms of Jesus for everlasting life and blessedness, laying hold of Jesus as a free gift. This is what is so striking about 2 Corinthians 13, soon after the apostle tells the Corinthians to see if they are reprobates, he seeks to console true believers to show they can know they are not reprobates by looking at signs of grace in them.
For believers, then, such discrimination is mean to fill them with assurance that they are on the Lord’s side forever. That as they see the marks of grace in them, that if they seek to (however imperfectly) deny themselves, take up their Cross daily, and follow Him is one of the marks of a saved soul, one born again, and one who will enter the joy of their Lord. But always knowing those are marks / fruits of salvation, but it is Jesus who saves them to the uttermost.
Ministers, preach in this manner, for the Lord will hold you accountable for the souls under your charge.
But if the watchman see the sword come, and blow not the trumpet, and the people be not warned; if the sword come, and take any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at the watchman’s hand.
A solemn word, so preach in a manner that none of your people can stand before the Lord on the judgment day and complain to the Lord that you did not confront them with their personal need to receive Christ and to consider their standing before the Almighty. You will be accountable for the blood of your hearers.
Below are two simple sermon clips from recent preaching. The first asks the congregation to consider which side they are on, the sheep or the goats. To have them understand there is a distinction between the two.
The second clip seeks to call believers in every state to the Lord’s Table, in the hopes that the Lord would cause believers in every situation to cling to the arms of Jesus for comfort and consolation.
These are not great examples, perhaps, but it does show the difference between a lecture where one explains the way of salvation and preaching that inquires of the congregation their spiritual state before the Lord.