One of the texts most often preached at induction services must be 2 Tim. 4:2, ‘Preach the word!’. It is an obvious choice. But does it mean quite what we think it means? We probably take it to refer to the regular, week-by-week preaching and teaching ministry that a pastor normally exercises from his own pulpit. We imagine, perhaps, Paul instructing Timothy to work his way systematically through Isaiah or 1 Kings, chapter by chapter, expounding the meaning and applying its message to his congregation in Ephesus. But is that quite what Paul meant?
Sometimes in preaching, the simplest rules are the best: every sermon needs both doctrine and practical application.
John Owen insisted on this: doctrine alone leads to intellectual pride; application alone leads people away from the gospel. Here is what he says, in his commentary on Hebrews:
Preachers know that their preaching needs to to expound Scripture accurately and clearly, communicate with the audience in an engaging and structured manner and apply its message to those present. There are plenty of good materials available to help preachers in developing these skills, for which we should be very thankful.
There is, however, one vital element in preaching which can be neglected in our desire to improve our abilities. That element is faith.
It is the preacher’s duty to remind people of the reality of judgment and of hell.
This is neither a pleasant nor an easy responsibility to discharge. We tend to go to one of two extremes: either we neglect the subject altogether, as too difficult, or we harp on about it constantly without speaking enough about the love and mercy of God in Christ and without a due sense of compassion for the lost.
As we have seen (30th April), the human race was no better after the flood than before it. The flood did not cure us of the sin we inherit from Adam. Before the flood, God’s verdict on mankind was ‘evil’; after the flood it was the same: ‘every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood’ (Gen. 8:21).
God would therefore be justified in destroying us all, at any time, just as he did in Noah’s day.