Preaching: A Reflection

Preaching as the Primary Means of Grace:
A Reflection

by Jonny Woodrow

I have often thought that a book on pastoral ministry along the lines of The Secret Barrister – it would need to be written by an anonymous elder – would sell well. I suspect that a collection of stories on what really goes on throughout the week and in the internal monologue of an elder would be met with mutterings along the lines of “I’m not the only one who thinks that then?!” One of the chapters on preparing for next Sunday’s sermon could be entitled “Monday Mornings: Pushing the Boulder up the Hill…Again”. Alternatively, it could be called “Can I be Bothered to Prepare a Sermon for Only Four People in an Evening Service?” 

"Preaching as the Primary Means of Grace makes the weary pastor and preacher excited about preaching again."

Pastors can often default to this way of thinking about the task of preaching, especially when they struggle to see results in ministry. However, Julius Santiago’s book, Preaching as The Primary Means of Grace, makes the weary pastor and preacher excited about preaching again. Jesus speaks each week to his sheep as preachers faithfully proclaim the content of scripture in the power of the Holy Spirit. Santiago shows us how the bible and the Reformed tradition see preaching as the instrumental word of God. 

As the preacher proclaims the canonical word of God, Jesus himself (the personal word of God) addresses, challenges, brings to faith, encourages, feeds and grows his people. 

Suppose the mainstream media knew that God was going to speak from heaven to people at an appointed time in a specific place. In that case, you would expect them to show up with cameras and reporters. Santiago’s book’s central argument is that God speaks to his people every time his appointed preacher declares his word. Sunday by Sunday, God speaks and is present with his people as his word is preached:

  • The Father testifies about his Son through the preached word, which comes with the Spirit’s power.
  • The Son speaks of the Father by the Spirit as he washes his bride with the word.
  • The Spirit enables his people to commune with Father and Son as they hear the word.
Preaching is the primary means of grace because Christ institutes it as the ordinary means by which he brings his inspired, canonical word to bear. He commands his people, bringing them to faith and repentance, enabling them to grow in godliness.

Once you see this central truth, that Christ is active in preaching, you begin to see it all over scripture. Santiago takes us to three key texts: 

  • 1 Thessalonians 2:13
  • Ephesians 2:17, and 
  • Romans 10:14-15. 

First, in 1 Thessalonians 2:13, Paul says:

“And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers” [1]

The gospel word proclaimed by the apostles was the word of God. God spoke through the words of men as they preached the gospel. 

Next, in Ephesians 2:17, Paul says:

“And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near” [2]

Christ preached to the gentiles through the preaching of the gospel. Jesus didn’t set foot in Ephesus but spoke through the proclamation of God’s word. 

Finally, Santiago takes us to Romans 10:14-15 as the most important text on preaching in the Bible:

“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” [3]

A better rendering of verse 14 reads, “And how are they to believe in him whom they have never heard”. In other words, Christ himself speaks through preaching, calling people to faith. The hearing comes by preaching, and men preach through being sent. Christ’s work of calling elders and men gifted in preaching through proper church processes comes into view when we read Romans 10:15 alongside texts like Ephesians 4:11-13, 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. Where Christ’s word is proclaimed, he speaks. Psalm 22:22-23 also comes to mind; the crucified Christ, from the cross, thinks forward to the time when he will proclaim the name of God in the assembly and call us to worship. When does he do this? From his throne as the raised and reigning prophet, priest and King, through preaching in the gathered congregation every Sunday.

If the risen and reigning Christ speaks to us through the preached word by his Spirit, then preparing the sermon is not a pointless boulder-pushing exercise up a hill, only to have to repeat it the following week. Instead, Christ will be present to feed his sheep, speaking through our efforts to proclaim his word. Preaching to a small gathering is not pointless. The risen and reigning Christ does not despise a small gathering. Where two or three gather in his name, Christ promises his presence to do his work of tending the sheep and making disciples among us (Matthew 18:20 and 28:18-20). 

What, then, is the glory of preaching? The glory of preaching is the risen and reigning Christ who institutes and uses it as the primary means of grace to bring salvation and sanctify his people. Santiago’s book is like a solid and encouraging dialogue with the thoughts that run through the minds of tired and discouraged preachers.

"The glory of preaching is the risen and reigning Christ who institutes and uses it as the primary means of grace to bring salvation and sanctify his people."

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Th 2:13). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Eph 2:17). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ro 10:14–15). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.