Every season of reformation and every hour of spiritual awakening has been ushered in by a recovery of biblical preaching. This cause and effect is timeless and inseparable. J.H. Merle D'Aubigné, a noted Reformation historian, writes, "The only true reformation is that which emanates from the Word of God." That is to say, as the pulpit goes, so goes the church.
Such was the case in the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. Martin Luther, John Calvin and others were raised up by God to lead His church in this era. At the forefront, it was their recovery of expository preaching that helped launch this religious movement that turned Europe and, eventually, Western civilization upside down. With sola Scriptura as their battle cry, a new generation of biblical preachers restored the pulpit to its former glory and revived Apostolic Christianity.
The same was true in the golden era of the Puritans in the 17th century. A recovery of biblical preaching spread like wild fire through the dry religion of Scotland and England. A resurgence of authentic Christianity came as an army of biblical expositors—John Owen, Jeremiah Burroughs, Samuel Rutherford and others—marched upon the kingdoms of England and Scotland with an open Bible and uplifted voice. In its wake, the monarchy was shaken and history was altered.
The eighteenth century witnessed exactly the same. The Bible-saturated preaching of Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield and the Tennents thundered through the early Colonies. The Atlantic seaboard was electrified with the proclamation of the gospel, and New England was taken by storm. The Word was preached, souls were saved and the kingdom expanded.
The fact is, the restoration of biblical preaching has always been the leading factor in any revival of genuine Christianity. Philip Schaff writes, "Every true progress in church history is conditioned by a new and deeper study of the Scriptures." That is to say, every great revival in the church has been ushered in by a return to expository preaching.
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, preacher at Westminster Chapel, London, stated, "The most urgent need in the Christian Church today is true preaching; and as it is the greatest and the most urgent need in the Church, it is the greatest need of the world also." If his diagnosis is correct, and this writer believes it is, then a return to true preaching—biblical preaching, expository preaching—is the greatest need in this critical hour. If a reformation is to come to the church, it must begin in the pulpit.
In his day, the prophet Amos warned of an approaching famine, a deadly drought that would cover the land. But this famine was not an absence of mere food or water, for this scarcity would be far more fatal. It would be a famine for hearing God's Word (Amos 8:11). Surely, the church today finds itself in similar days of shortage. Tragically, exposition is being replaced with entertainment, doctrine with drama, theology with theatrics and preaching with performances. What is so desperately needed today is for pastors to return to their highest calling—the divine summons to "preach the word" (2 Tim. 4:1–2).
What is expository preaching? The Genevan Reformer John Calvin explained, "Preaching is the public exposition of Scripture by the man sent from God, in which God Himself is present in judgment and in grace." In other words, God is unusually present, by His Spirit, in the preaching of His Word. Such preaching starts in a biblical text, stays in it, and shows its God-intended meaning in a life-changing fashion.
This was the final charge of Paul to young Timothy: "Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke and exhort, with complete patience and teaching" (2 Tim. 4:2). Such preaching necessitates declaring the full counsel of God in Scripture. The entire written Word must be expounded. No truth should be left untaught, no sin unexposed, no grace unoffered, no promise undelivered.
A heaven-sent revival will only come when Scripture is enthroned once again in the pulpit. There must be the clarion declaration of the Bible, the kind of preaching that gives a clear explanation of a biblical text with compelling application, exhortation and appeal.
Every preacher must confine himself to the truths of Scripture. When the Bible speaks, God speaks. The man of God has nothing to say apart from the Bible. He must not parade his personal opinions in the pulpit. Nor may he expound worldly philosophies. The preacher is limited to one task—to preach the Word.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon said, "I would rather speak five words out of this book than 50,000 words of the philosophers. If we want revivals, we must revive our reverence for the Word of God. If we want conversions, we must put more of God's Word into our sermons." This remains the crying need of the hour.
May a new generation of strong men step forward and speak up, and may they do so loud and clear. As the pulpit goes, so goes the church.
This article was originally published at Ligonier.org
Ligonier Ministries was founded by Dr. R.C. Sproul to help Christians know what they believe, why they believe it, how to live it, and how to share it.
Visit Ligonier Ministries at http://www.ligonier.org to access more than 8,000 faith-building resources.