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Review Essay, Keeping the Balance

The preacher’s knowledge of God must go beyond the conversion experience. Whilst specific time should be allocated for the work of exegesis, interpretation and application, to produce a good sermon, this cannot be divorced from an ongoing relationship with God resulting in holiness and godliness, forming a necessary part of the background preparation required for making sermons. “There is no substitute for private prayer and meditation on Scripture in order for us to be better acquainted with God”.

Downes goes on to discuss “the necessity of holiness of life for the preacher”. Quoting Robert Murray McCheyne, he notes that “in great measure, according to the purity and perfections of the instrument, will be the success. It is not great talents God blesses so much as great likeness to Jesus”. Whilst we admire gifts and abilities in others and hope to aspire to them ourselves, they must play “a secondary role to the pursuit of holiness”. In actuality, it is the little things in our daily lives that “constitute the greatest threat” in “the battle for godly character”. The preacher must study to live well just as hard as he or she studies to preach well, or their preaching will be sapped of its life and power. And all this will only be achieved by “maintaining a conscience always washed in Christ’s blood …being filled with Holy Spirit at all times, and by attaining the most entire likeness to Christ in mind, will, and heart, that is possible for a redeemed sinner to attain to in this world”, as J.I. Packer put it.

Why preaching matters Downes elaborates a little further on the importance of preaching. Recalling sincere preachers who chose ordination over service in the 1940’s, in spite of the social stigma that fastened upon them, he reminds us that the battle for men’s souls is of ultimate importance and that we are working for an everlasting kingdom. There is a real urgency and it demands compelling preaching, which in turn is dependent on a “true knowledge of God”. This leads him on to a discussion of the relationship between theology and preaching.

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Category: In Depth, Spring 2006

About the Author: W. Simpson, PhD (University of St. Andrews, Scotland), is a physicist and writer with an interest in theology, currently engaged in scientific research in the middle-east.

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