Ordinary Means – Preaching the Word

Sailing during the Age of Exploration was a dangerous occupation. There were innumerable hazards from the sea. And there were other hazards simply due to the nature of life away from land. Once longer sailing trips across the Indian and Pacific Oceans became part of the routes of explorations, diseases like scurvy began to enter into the picture. Scurvy was a nasty and deadly disease for sailors. Sir Richard Hawkins, the 17th century English seaman and explorer, described it as “the plague of the Sea, and the Spoyle [spoil] of Mariners.”

Scurvy was essentially a deficiency of vitamins C and B. This deficiency caused a breakdown of tissues on a cellular level. Its effects were horrific. The skin would turn black. Ulcers would appear all over the body. Teeth would fall out. There would be a hyper-sensitivity to smell, sound, and light. But the literature of the day most widely discussed the disfigurement of the sailor’s gums and his revolting breath as a result. It was a brutal disease that would wipe-out whole crews. Commodore George Anson led a squadron of six ships into the Pacific in 1740. Of his 2000 sailors over 1300 died, mostly due to scurvy.

It was discovered that citrus would cure scurvy. A healthy dose of vitamin C would be added to the sailor’s daily ration of grog (a water/rum drink common on ships) in the form of lime juice. Before “limey” was slang for a British person, it was a derogatory word for a British sailor who drank this lime juice to prevent scurvy. In short, the disease of scurvy was cured when the deficiency was supplied.

The evangelical church today is suffering from a form of spiritual scurvy. There is a deficiency in our spiritual diets that leads to all sorts of spiritual ailments. That deficiency is a lack of the Word of God in our lives. God has ordained that the ordinary manner to supply this necessity to our spiritual diet is through the reading and preaching of God’s Word. The preaching of God’s Word is a crucial and essential component of our spiritual lives. Without it we will suffer a spiritual scurvy.

The Westminster Larger Catechism instructs that the Word of God is to be preached by qualified and called men. Those who preach should be “sufficiently gifted,” meaning they are spiritually mature as demonstrated through his life (1 Tim 3:1-7). He should also be intellectually gifted and trained. He must be able to handle the Scriptures appropriately. He must be able to apply the Scriptures to everyday life. He must be able to communicate clearly. And he must be “called to that office.” An elder/pastor/preacher is a not a vocation, per se. It is not a profession as much as it is an office. The preacher is to be appropriately called by the church to fulfill that office. One does not simply decide that he will become a minister. He must be called by God and that calling must be confirmed by that church. Even Jesus did not make himself a High Priest, but he was appointed by God (Heb 5:4-5).

The preaching of God’s Word is to be done by a man properly qualified and called. And that man is to preach God’s Word with sound doctrine. He is to preach diligently and plainly. Sound doctrine is essential for Christians to come to true knowledge of who God is and what duty God requires of man. Pure food and pure water are needed for health. Pure doctrine is needed for the vitality of our souls. The preaching of God’s Word must, therefore, accurately explain the truths of Scripture.

The preacher must also preach diligently and plainly. He must preach “in season and out of season” (2 Tim 4:2). He must present the truth of Scripture in a way that is understandable. He must not skip the difficult portions or ignore unpopular passages. He is not to rely on eloquent rhetoric, but instead he is to trust the power of God’s Spirit. Augustine was one of the most eloquent and skilled rhetoricians, and yet he was captivated by the power of Ambrose’s preaching, a power that didn’t consist in rhetoric, but the Spirit. This is contrasted with how today’s evangelical is enamored with a charismatic or winsome communicator who delivered a polished and engaging speech but does not preach the power of God’s Word.

When the Word of God is not preached faithfully by qualified and called men, the people are afflicted with a severe deficit. The body that goes without the preaching of God’s Word suffers from a spiritual scurvy. If left untreated, it will lead to death. But God has provided for the proclamation of the Good News so that His People would hear His Truth for their conversion, edification, and salvation. And all of this is done toward this chief end, the glory of God.