THE BEST PREACHER
By Thomas Watson (1620 – 1686)
‘He went up.’ He in whom there was a combination of virtues, a constellation of beauties. He whose lips were not only sweet as the honey-comb, but did drop as the honey-comb. His words, an oracle; his works, a miracle; his life, a pattern; his death, a sacrifice. ‘He went up into a mountain and taught., Jesus Christ was every way ennobled and qualified for the work of the ministry.
(i) Christ was an intelligent preacher.
He had ‘the Spirit without measure’ (John 3:34) and knew how to speak a word in due season, when to humble, when to comfort. We cannot know all the faces of our hearers. Christ knew the hearts of his hearers. He understood what doctrine would best suit them, as the husbandman can tell what sort of grain is proper for such-and-such a soil.
(ii) Christ was a powerful preacher.
‘He spake with authority’ (Matthew 7:29). He could set men’s sins before them and show them their very hearts. ‘Come, see a man which told me all things that ever I did’ (John 4:29). That is the best glass, not which is most richly set with pearl, but which shows the truest face. Christ was a preacher to the conscience. He breathed as much zeal as eloquence. He often touched upon the heart-strings. What is said of Luther is more truly applicable to Christ. He spake ‘as if he had been within a man’. He could drive the wedge of his doctrine in the most knotty piece. He was able with his twoedged sword to pierce an heart of stone. ‘Never man spake like this man’ (John 7:46)
(iii) Christ was a successful preacher.
He had the art of converting souls. ‘Many believed on him.’ (John 10:42), yea, persons of rank and quality. ‘Among the chief rulers many believed’ (John 12:42). He who had ‘grace poured into his lips’ (Psalm 45:2), could pour grace into his hearers’ hearts. He had the key of David in his hand, and when he pleased did open the hearts of men, and make way both for himself and his doctrine to enter. If he did blow the trumpet his very enemies would come under his banner. Upon his summons none dare but surrender.
(iv) Christ was a lawful preacher.
As he had his unction from his Father, so his mission. ‘The Father that sent me bears witness of me’ (John 8:18). Christ, in whom were all perfections concentred, yet would be solemnly sealed and inaugurated into his ministerial as well as mediatory office. If Jesus Christ would not enter upon the work of the ministry without a commission, how absurdly impudent are they who without any warrant dare invade this holy function! There must be a lawful admission of men into the ministry. ‘No man takes this honour to himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron’ (Hebrews 5:4).
Our Lord Christ, as he gave apostles and prophets who were extraordinary ministers, so pastors and teachers who were initiated and made in an ordinary way (Ephesians 4:11); and he will have a ministry perpetuated; ‘Lo I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world’ (Matthew 28:20). Sure, there is as much need of ordination now as in Christ’s time and in the time of the apostles, there being then extraordinary gifts in the church which are now ceased.
But why should not the ministry lie in common? ‘Hath the Lord spoken only by Moses?’ (Numbers 12:2). Why should not one preach as well as another? I answer — Because God (who is the God of order) has made the work of the ministry a select, distinct office from any other. As in the body natural the members have a distinct office, the eye is to see, the hand to work; you may as well say, why should not the hand see as well as the eye? Because God has made the distinction. He has put the seeing faculty into the one and not the other. So here, God has made a distinction between the work of the ministry and other work. Where is this distinction? We find in Scripture a distinction between pastor and people. ‘The elders (or ministers) I exhort . . . Feed the flock of God which is among you’ (1 Peter 5:2). If anyone may preach, by the same rule all may, and then what will become of the apostle’s distinction? Where will the flock of God be if all be pastors?
God has cut out the minister his work which is proper for him and does not belong to any other. ‘Give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine . . . give thyself wholly to them’, or, as it is in the Greek, ‘Be thou wholly in them’ (1 Timothy 4, 13-15). This charge is peculiar to the minister and does not concern any other. It is not spoken to the tradesman that he should give himself wholly to doctrine and exhortation. No, let him look to his shop. It is not spoken to the ploughman that he should give himself wholly to preaching. No, let him give himself to his plough. It is the minister’s charge. The apostle speaks to Timothy and, in him, to the rest who had the hands of the presbytery laid on them. And ‘Study to shew thyself approved . . ., a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth’ (2 Timothy 2:15). This is spoken peculiarly to the minister.
Everyone that can read the word aright cannot divide the word aright. So that the work of the ministry does not lie in common; it is a select, peculiar work. As none might touch the ark but the priests, none may touch this temple-office but such as are called to it. But if a man has gifts, is not this sufficient? I answer, No! As grace is not sufficient to make a minister, so neither are gifts. The Scripture puts a difference between gifting and sending. ‘How shall they preach unless they be sent?’ (Romans 10:15). If gifts were enough to constitute a minister, the apostle should have said, ‘How shall they preach unless they be gifted?, but he says ‘unless they be sent?’
As in other callings, gifts do not make a magistrate. The attorney that pleads at the bar may have as good gifts as the judge that sits upon the bench, but he must have a commission before he sit as judge. If it be thus in matters civil, much more in ecclesiastical and sacred, which are, as Bucer says, ‘things of the highest importance’. Those therefore that usurp the ministerial work without any special designation and appointment discover more pride than zeal. They act out of their sphere and are guilty of theft. They steal upon a people, and, as they come without a call, so they stay without a blessing. ‘I sent them not, therefore they shall not profit this people at all’ (Jeremiah 23:32).