The Urgency of the Preaching of the Gospel
The great work of the preaching of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is the glorious and wonderful work which the Lord has given to His church. This work involves the bringing of the glad tidings of salvation in Christ Jesus both in the sphere of the established church and on the mission field outside, of the established church. It includes the work of the ordained ministry who are especially the ambassadors of the Lord. In the broadest sense it also includes all of the accompanying labors of the members of the church as they support the ministry through their own efforts, through their prayers, and through their gifts. It includes also the testimony of the lives of the members of the church as they are called to walk worthy of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and as they are called to encourage and exhort one another. The work of the preaching of the gospel is therefore very really the work of the whole church and everyone of her members.
There is great urgency in the work of the preaching of the gospel. This urgency must constrain us and compel us all as members of the church, it must overwhelm us. It must fill us with holy zeal to be faithful and diligent to perform our calling. Because of the urgency of this work we ought to be ready to exert ourselves to the very utmost. We must be ready to make great sacrifice of our monies and our energies, especially we ought to be ready to give our very selves to this work. There are no sacrifices too great to make for this work because of its great urgency. Over the centuries of the history of the church many faithful saints of God have suffered severe persecution for the cause of this work, many have given their life's blood for it.
Do we as churches and as people of God have a real sense of the urgency of this work? There is always a great danger that we become cold and complacent towards this great work of our Lord Jesus Christ. How easily we become satisfied merely with our own life and salvation and with the status quo in the church of which we are members. It is surely an awful thing when this attitude prevails in the church.
Our Lord Himself stresses the great urgency of this work in the great commission so called in Matthew 28:19, 20, "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen." Our Lord surely expressed the great urgency of the preaching of the gospel when He, looking at the multitudes before Him and being moved with compassion, said to His disciples, "The harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few; Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that He will send forth laborers into His harvest" (Matthew 9:37, 38).
The apostle Paul, the greatest missionary of all times and our example, often spoke of the urgency of the work of the preaching of the gospel. In Romans 1:14-16 he states, "I am debtor both to the Greek, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise. So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you at Rome also. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first and also to the Greek." In I Corinthians 9:16 he says, "For though I preach the gospel I have nothing to glory, for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!" Many more verses could be quoted.
The great urgency of the preaching of the gospel must be heard and felt in every sermon. The preaching is not merely an intellectual discourse on some doctrine of the scriptures or an interesting retelling of some things that happened in history concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. The preaching is indeed the presentation of the doctrine of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ and it is a recounting of the wonderful things which God did in history long ago; but with that must always come the authoritative and urgent command of God to repent and believe all that which is preached.
There is great urgency that men everywhere hear and believe, repent and turn unto the Lord with fear when the gospel is preached. This is true not only on the mission field but also in the established church. For this reason the office bearers of the church must labor night and day to convince, beseech, and persuade men; they must command, exhort, admonish, warn, comfort, and counsel with all fervency and diligence. In this again we have the apostle Paul as our instructor. InII Corinthians 5:11 he writes, "Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men"; and again in verse 20 of this same chapter, "Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us; we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God." To Timothy the apostle writes in II Timothy 4:1-2, "I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, Who shall judge the quick and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine."
Wherein does the urgency of the preaching of the gospel consist? At the outset we must of course have a proper God-centered view of this urgency. We must have nothing of the conception of this urgency that is so common in the church world. This is the idea that the work of evangelism after all is dependent upon man. If man does not do it then it will not be accomplished. Those who hold to this idea speak of winning the world for Jesus by the great efforts of man. These teach further that the work of the preaching of the gospel is accomplished by sensational gospel rallies and fantastic campaigns of men. According to them men must be persuaded to believe through emotional appeals and all sorts of gimmicks and tricks. We want nothing at all of any of this and believe that it is all an abomination unto the Lord.
We believe that the preaching of the gospel is truly a sovereign work of God. It is a work which He accomplishes according to His sovereign purpose to save those whom He Himself wills for the glory of His own name. God is the One Who has chosen certain men unto everlasting salvation even from before the foundations of the world. He determines where and when the gospel of Christ Jesus must be preached. He calls men unto the work of the preaching of the gospel that brings men unto repentance and salvation. God accomplishes all of His purpose. He saves all those whom He is pleased to save. None of His elect ever go lost. It is not the case that if men do not do the work of the preaching of the gospel then many millions who otherwise would have been saved will perish. If a particular church or minister is not faithful to preach the gospel then the Lord will raise up another. He will accomplish all of His purpose and it will never fail.
But we must not conclude from the sovereignty of God that therefore there is no urgency in the preaching of the gospel and we need not be faithful. God is pleased to call His church to carry out the great work of the preaching of the gospel. We have a tremendous responsibility to be faithful in this work. God's people must always be filled with a fervent desire to do this work by the grace of God to the full extent of their ability. The Lord will surely judge the church severely that does not faithfully perform its calling.
There are various aspects of the urgency of the preaching of the gospel on which we want especially to focus. First of all, in this work we seek the glory of God. It is the very genius of the Reformed and Christian faith that it seeks in all things the glory of God. The truly Reformed Christian has a burning zeal for the glory of God. In the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ the glory of God is particularly revealed. Through the preaching of the gospel the Lord is revealed as the sovereign almighty God, the God of righteousness and truth, the God of infinite love and tender mercy, the God of unchangeable faithfulness. When we as a church and as individuals are diligently engaged in the work of the preaching of the gospel we are thereby showing forth the glory of God. We understand of course that this is true only when we preach the gospel of sovereign grace. A gospel that exalts man in his works and his great abilities is not at all God-glorifying, and to publish such a gospel is a blasphemy in the sight of God. The gospel of a salvation that is founded upon sovereign eternal election, and which involves the deliverance of the sinner who is by nature totally depraved and damnworthy only according to the wonderful sovereign grace and mercy of God speaks of the great glory of God. A gospel that declares that God not only first saves men by sovereign grace but is also so Almighty and faithful that He saves and keeps all of His own unto everlasting glory and blessedness, this is a God-glorifying gospel. We as a Reformed church have been entrusted with such a wonderful God-glorifying gospel. Ought we not, above all churches on the earth, be fervent and zealous to preach this gospel. For the sake of the honor and glory of our God we seek to keep this gospel in all the purity of its glorious truth, but we also seek to publish it wherever the Lord gives us opportunity, that all men may know of the great glory of our God.
The sincere and fervent desire for the glory of God ought also to make the members of the church see the urgent need of living worthy of the gospel in all of their lives. Again and again the scriptures emphasize that we must live holy and blameless lives so that the name of God is not blasphemed on our account. The great glory of God in the preaching of the gospel is supported by the glory of God as it is evident in the lives of Christians. When those who confess the truth of the glory of God live lives of ungodliness and worldliness and wickedness then God's name will be blasphemed. When there is hatred and strife in the church between the members, surely the name of God is greatly blasphemed. Few things do as great harm to the cause of the gospel as does the ungodly testimony of the lives of the members of the church. Men must see the good works of those who believe the gospel of Christ Jesus and glorify God in heaven.
Secondly, the great urgency of the preaching of the gospel is derived from the fact that in this work we must obey the command of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ as His faithful servants. It is urgent that the church and all her members see themselves as the servants of Christ Jesus. How especially this must be the case for the office bearers of the church who are in particular the ambassadors of Christ! Just notice how often the apostle Paul in his epistles speaks of being the servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. How overwhelmed he was with this consciousness. The church must be constrained by an earnest desire to be faithful unto her Lord in the great work of the preaching of the gospel which He has called her to perform. It is the will of the Lord that the gospel be preached unto all nations. The Lord will not return until this purpose has been fulfilled. In the day of judgment every man will be judged according to the measure of his faithfulness to the Lord. It ought to be the great desire of every sincere child of God to hear in that day from the mouth of the Lord, "Well done thou good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord."
Thirdly, the urgency of the preaching of the gospel is in the fact that this gospel is the power of God unto salvation unto all them that believe. By means of the preaching of the gospel God is pleased to bring men to repentance, faith, and salvation. Our Reformed confessions beautifully emphasize this. We find this in several places in the Heidelberg Catechism. Let me just quote from Lord's Day 25. "Since then we are made partakers of Christ and all His benefits by faith only, whence does this faith proceed? From the Holy Spirit who works faith in our hearts by the preaching of the gospel." Also in the Canons of Dordt we find again and again the emphasis that the preaching of the gospel is God's means unto the saving of men. In the first head of doctrine we read in article 3, "And that men may be brought to believe, God mercifully sends the messengers of these most joyful tidings to whom He will and at what time He pleaseth by whose ministry men are called to repentance and faith in Christ crucified." Article 5 of the second head teaches: "Moreover the promise of the gospel is that whosoever believeth in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have everlasting life. This promise together with the command to repent and believe ought to be declared and published to all, nations and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of His good pleasure sends the gospel." Article 14 of the fifth head teaches: "And as it hath pleased God, by the preaching of the gospel, to begin the work of grace in us, so He preserves, continues and perfects it by the hearing and reading of His Word, by the meditation thereon, and by exhortations, threatenings and promises thereof as well as by the use of the sacraments." It is particularly amazing how often the Canons speak of the preaching of the gospel and the great urgency of it for the salvation of men.
What a wonderful thing it is that it pleases God to use the preaching of the gospel to bring men unto repentance and salvation. What a wonderful thing it is that we as a church are called to perform the task of preaching the gospel. Knowing this we see the urgency of the preaching of the gospel. We know the awfulness of sin and the terrible misery that follows from it. We know the terrible judgment of the just and holy God against sinners. We know the dreadfulness of eternal condemnation in hell. We see the terrible darkness in which this world lives. What a wonderful thing that through the preaching of the gospel men are delivered from all of this, and made partakers of the wonderful salvation that is in Christ Jesus. We who have the blessed privilege of laboring on the mission field have experienced this in a particularly wonderful way. What an unspeakably wonderful thing it is to witness men and women brought out of the horrible darkness of heathen idolatry unto everlasting salvation in Christ Jesus.
The urgency of the preaching of the gospel is motivated by the compassion which the church must have for lost sinners and the fervent desire for their salvation. So great was the desire of the apostle for the salvation of his fellow Jews that he could wish himself to be accursed for their sakes. Do we have such an earnest desire for the salvation of men?
It is through the preaching that we earnestly call men everywhere to believe and be saved. Day and night we must not cease to call men with the gospel if peradventure the Lord will save them. We must give our all for the preaching of the gospel unto this end. With all diligence we must warn, admonish, exhort, and persuade men everywhere so that some might be saved.
This same urgency is connected with the preaching of the gospel in the established church as well. Indeed it is a dreadful thing that there will be those always in all churches who hear the preaching again and again and yet continue in their sins. For such the judgment shall be all the more terrible. Therefore with great urgency the gospel must also be preached in the established church. The word of God says, today if you will hear His voice harden not your heart, for how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation.
In conclusion let me ask some practical questions. In light of the great urgency of the preaching of the gospel are there sacrifices too great for us to make? Dare we say that, especially in the age of affluence in which we live? Are there enough ministers of the gospel in our midst? Why is it that there are always so very few? Do the young men in our churches see the great urgency of this work? Are we ready to give our lives for this great work? We have seen the wonderful things which the Lord has wrought on the mission field here. What a tremendous need there is for the preaching of the gospel, especially of the gospel of sovereign grace which God has given to us. Let us pray earnestly for this work without ceasing. Let us be ready to make any and all the necessary sacrifices. There is no greater work in all the world than this.