By Joel Beeke
When Charles H. Spurgeon preached his first sermon in the Metropolitan Tabernacle (March 25, 1861), he chose as his text Acts 5:42: “And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.” Spurgeon said: “It appears that the one subject upon which men preached in the apostolic age was Jesus Christ. … I would propose that the subject of the ministry of this house, as long as this platform shall stand, and as long as this house shall be frequented by worshippers, shall be the person of Jesus Christ.” Would this stricture limit preachers? No, Spurgeon said, for Christ is the most comprehensive of subjects: “If a man be found a preacher of Christ, he is doctrinal, experimental [experiential] and practical.”
Those called to “preach the word” must faithfully “do the work of an evangelist”—they must preach the gospel (2 Tim. 4:2, 5). If the preacher speaks to people about God and man, yet does not speak of Christ, he has not fulfilled his calling as an ambassador for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20). Indeed, a ministry that neglects Christ has not truly preached the Scriptures, for the aim of the whole Bible is “to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15). If we love God and we love people, our passion as ministers will be to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The great thrust of the Bible is to declare the glory of the triune God as revealed in the grace of the only Mediator, Jesus Christ, for the obedience of faith in all nations (Rom. 1:5). I hinted at this in the last chapter when I said we must preach the glory of God in Christ. Now I must elaborate on this subject. Christ is the overarching theme of every topic and every branch of theology. Take away Christology and you mar and mangle the branches of theology left behind, such as the doctrine of God or eschatology. In fact, take away Christ and you have no theology. Christ is the center, the circumference and the substance of Christianity.
I do not mean to set the gospel of Christ as an alternative to or a competitor alongside the doctrine of God. God’s glory remains central. As Jonathan Edwards observes, the central purpose behind all of God’s great acts is his own glorification among his creatures. Cotton Mather says that the great aim of preaching is “to restore the throne and dominion of God in the souls of men.” The mission of Christ is the great means by which the Lord glorifies himself before men and angels, and establishes his kingdom among mankind.
This may be stated in various ways. Bruce Waltke says that the Bible centers on the theme of God’s kingdom, and that God glorifies himself by bringing his kingdom through Christ and his covenant people. James Hamilton has made an intriguing case that the center of biblical theology is “God’s glory in salvation through judgment.” However we frame it, God’s glory has been manifested in Christ. Not only redemption but creation itself is accomplished through Christ (John 1:3; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2). So our very commitment to preach the glory of God demands that we preach Christ, for Christ is “the brightness of his glory” (Heb. 1:3). For all eternity, the glory of God will be our light, and the glory of the Lamb will be the light of that light (Rev. 21:23).
Furthermore, although in systematic theology we may consider Christology as a separate locus for the sake of analysis, in preaching we cannot peak to men about God apart from the Mediator, who is the God-man, our Prophet, Priest, and King. And we must not speak of Christ without also speaking to the obligations and experience of faith and repentance.
Preaching Christ to the Conscience
Reformed experiential preaching of the gospel brings the truth of Christ to bear upon the hearts of men. As Charles Bridges says, we must preach to the people, not just before them. Our sermons should communicate to each listener, “I have a message from God unto thee.” Matthew Henry says of his father, Philip Henry, “He did not shoot the arrow of the Word over their heads . . . but to their hearts in close and lively applications.”
We must address the conscience. We must speak to people as standing before the throne of God, whose eyes penetrate into all their secrets, and whose Word pierces and sifts the thoughts and intents of their hearts (Heb. 4:12–13). We must proclaim to them the Priest who is both glorious above the heavens and tenderly sympathetic to sinners who trust in him (Heb. 4:14–16).
Gospel preaching is applied preaching. As much as possible, we should make applications throughout the sermon so that people will learn constantly to connect the doctrine of Christ to their lives. Bridges says, “The method of perpetual application, therefore, where the subject will admit of it, is probably best calculated for effect—applying each head distinctly; and addressing separated classes at the close with suitable exhortation, warning, or encouragement.” If those applications are centered upon Christ as he is revealed in our particular text of Scripture, then they will not be scattered thoughts but steps moving the hearers along the line of the main thrust of that text, the line aimed at the glory of God in Christ.
We must regularly preach the gospel with unbelievers in our sights. The gospel call must go forth again and again. We never know which adults, young people, and children might yet need regeneration. In this day of the Internet, our sermons may very well reach perishing sinners on the other side of the globe. We must also preach the gospel to believers. Paul referred to the Roman church as “called,” “beloved of God,” and “saints” (Rom. 1:6–7), yet he also said, “So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also” (v. 15). He understood that nothing deepens the love of the Christian for his Savior, and moves him to walk in holiness and humility, more than the gospel of Christ. To have been forgiven much is to love much (Luke 7:47), and love is the fulfilling of the law (Rom. 13:10).
Excerpted from Reformed Preaching by Joel R. Beeke, ©2018. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, Crossway.org.