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Preaching: From God or from Man?

Category Articles
Date June 3, 2008

Gresham Machen, professor of New Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary (1929-1937), wrote the following introduction to The Narrow and the Broad Way, a book of sermons by J. Marcellus Kik (published bv Zondervan in 1934). This piece has not been included in any previous bibliography or compilation of Machen’s works, and was spotted by Richard A. Nelson, pastor of Grace OPC in Hamilton Township, N.J. It was printed in the June 2008 New Horizons and is reproduced here with permission.

Various opinions are prevalent today as to what the business of the preacher is. The preacher is sometimes thought to be merely a sort of convenient middleman who presents a number of worthy causes, each in its proper turn, to that picked audience of charitable and public-spirited citizens that meets on Sunday mornings in church. More commonly still he is thought to be a specialist in the human phenomena of religion, a man who has studied various manifestations of religion in human life in order that he may tell people which kind of religion seems to work best in the age in which we are living.

Very different is that conception of the preacher’s function which underlies the sermons in the present volume. According to the author of these sermons, the preacher is not a promotion agent of a society of general welfare, or a specialist in the phenomena of religion, but he is a ‘steward of the mysteries of God’; he is a man who can tell people the facts about God that remain secrets or mysteries except as God has been pleased to make them known.

But where has God made those mysteries known? The Christian answer to that question is perfectly plain. God has made known the facts about himself in the revelation which is recorded with complete truthfulness in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament. There, in the first place, we find confirmed and made clear the revelation given already in nature and in conscience but obscured from men’s eyes by the blinding effects of sin; and there, in the second place, we find a revelation of divine grace and a record of a divine act of redemption, of which nature and conscience give no hint.

It is with the open Bible that the real Christian preacher comes before his congregation. He does not come to present his own opinions; he does not come to present the results of his researches in the phenomena of religion: but he comes to set forth what is contained in the Word of God.

People sometimes say that that is a degrading notion of the work of the preacher; it makes the preacher, they say, merely the expounder of a book. In answer, we say that it might be a degrading notion if the book that the preacher is expounding were just a human book, but that it is not a degrading notion when that book is the very Word of God. It is, indeed, a humble function to be an expounder of the Word of God. If it is to be performed aright, it demands an utter abandonment of pride. But if it is a humble function, it is also the most solemn and tremendous function that can possibly be given to mortal man; it is the function of being an ambassador of God.

The majesty of that function will impress the attentive reader of the following pages. There is, indeed, in these pages a refreshing lack of bombast or fine writing. This preacher comes before his readers here, as he came before his congregation, with an utter simplicity. But he is a true preacher because he says, ‘Thus saith the Lord’; he is a true preacher because he finds his message always in what God has told us in his Word.

Without that reliance upon the Bible, a man may be an orator; he may be an effective publicity agent; but let us never say that he can be a Christian preacher. Real Christian preaching depends always upon the authority of Holy Scripture. If a man is not clear about the basis of what he is saying, if he is not clear about the ultimate court of appeal, if he is not clear about his warrant for speaking, then he had far better keep silent in the church.

We may thank God that the writer of these sermons is clear about these momentous questions. He preaches not himself, but Christ; and he preaches Christ as Christ is presented to us in God’s Word. The Holy Spirit attends such preaching with gracious and yet terrifying power. As we read, we are pricked in our hearts. If the readers of this book know not Christ, they may be led by the reading to know him and trust him, they will feel anew the responsibility of being called by his blessed name.

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