The Helvetic Confession’s High View of Preaching

“The preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God. Wherefore when this Word of God is now preached … we believe that the very Word of God is proclaimed, and received by the faithful … and that now the Word itself which is preached is to be regarded, not the minister that preaches….”

—The Second Helvetic Confession (Chapter I)

“Concerning the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven which the Lord gave to the apostles … all properly called ministers possess and exercise the keys or the use of them when they proclaim the Gospel; that is, when they teach, exhort, comfort, rebuke, and keep in discipline the people committed to their trust. For in this way they open the Kingdom of Heaven to the obedient and shut it to the disobedient. … Christ’s ministers discharge the office of an ambassador in Christ’s name, as if God himself through ministers exhorted the people to be reconciled to God. … Therefore, they excercise the keys when they persuade [men] to believe and repent. Thus they reconcile men to God. Thus they remit sins.”

—The Second Helvetic Confession (Chapter XIV)

“Ministers, therefore, rightly and effectually absolve when they preach the Gospel of Christ and thereby the remission of sins, which is promised to each one who believes, … and when they testify that it pertains to each one peculiarly. … The remission of sins in the blood of Christ is to be diligently proclaimed, and that each one is to be admonished that the forgiveness of sins pertains to him.”

—The Second Helvetic Confession (Chapter XIV)

Jonathan Edwards on Remaining True to the Emphases of Scripture

“Surely those things which Christ and his apostles chiefly insisted on in the rules they gave, ministers ought chiefly to insist on in the rules they give. To insist much on those things on which the Scripture insists little, and to insist very little on those things on which the Scripture insists much, is a dangerous thing; because it is going out of God’s way, and is to judge ourselves, and guide others, in an unscriptural manner. God knew which way of leading and guiding souls was safest and best for them; he insisted so much on some things, because he knew it to be needful that they should be insisted on; and let other things more alone, as a wise God, because he knew it was not best for us, so much to lay the weight of the trial there. As the Sabbath was made for man, so the Scriptures were made for man; and they are by infinite wisdom fitted for our use and benefit. We should therefore make them our guide in all things, in our thoughts of religion, and of ourselves. And for us to make that great which the Scripture makes little, and that little which the Scripture makes great, tends to give us a monstrous idea of religion; and (at least indirectly and gradually) to lead us wholly away from the right rule….” (Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections, III.XIV)

This is a good reminder, especially as we think about preaching.

Our aim in expository preaching is not to use the text to preach our own thoughts, ideas, applications, hobby horses, opinions, or to trampoline off the text into some topic or application we want to emphasize, but to dig into the text and let our emphasis and focus proportionally reflect that of the text (while of course contextualizing for pastoral concerns of our particular church and setting). Let’s be honest; we are not that wise (Prov 3:5-6). Our ideas are utter foolishness compared to what God has to say. Moreover, to insert our agenda or displace the emphasis of scripture is actually somewhat quite audacious — to hijack the very purpose that God had in given that passage.

My Personal Sermon Preparation Process, Passage Worksheet, & Check-List

The following is a general outline of the process I follow when preparing sermons:


Sermon Preparation Process

** Prayer throughout **

  • Understanding the text:
    • Read the text including its broader context.
    • Read the passage slowly, meditatively, and prayerfully – Compile notes.
    • Exegete and interpret – Look at text in original language; look at various translations; attend to text critical matters, grammar, syntax, word studies, structure, purpose, relevant parallel passages, theological analysis, etc.
    • Consider the passage’s relationship to redemptive history, the Gospel, Christ, and mission.
    • Anticipate sermon development: formulate passage’s purpose; develop initial conception of sermon structure; consider illustrations and applications.
    • Use resources (e.g., commentaries, sermons). Compile notes on key observations.
  • Sermon construction:
    • Determine main point/purpose.
    • Develop sermon structure.
    • Fill-in sermon substance: introduction, prayers, explanations, illustrations, and applications, and conclusion.
  • Final matters:
    • Refine/complete sermon.
    • Review sermon.
    • Preach the sermon to yourself.
    • Pray for sermon delivery and effect.

The following is my personal passage worksheet when preparing a sermon on passage.


Passage Worksheet

Download here.

Textual Properties

Structure: How is this passage organized to communicate its emphasis and make a point (i.e., how do all the parts work together as a whole and fit together to communicate a unified thought or argument)?

Context: How do the context(s) inform or illuminate your understanding of this passage?[*]

(a) Immediate literary context—sections immediately before and after.
(b) Macro-literary context—placement in and contribution to the whole book.
(c) Historical context—known historical circumstances surrounding the contents of the passage.
(d) Intended context—the situation of the original audience into which this was written and would have been received.
(e) Biblical context—allusions or references to other Biblical material.
(f) Redemptive-historical context—location in the storyline of scripture.

Original Meaning

Claim: What is the author’s controlling thought in this passage and point of which he intends to persuade his audience?

Aim: How does the author intend this passage to function in the lives of his audience? What is the desired effect this claim is meant to have on them? What is the intended response?

Gospel Connection

Gospel: How does the claim of this passage direct us to Christ and relate to the gospel event? What part(s) of the gospel are in view here?

Significance

Conclusion: What is the claim of this passage as it comes to bear on us through Christ and in light of our place redemptive history?

Response: What does it look like for us to respond to this claim and embody the aim of this passage? What would it look like for today’s audience to grow in and live out (implement; apply) the truths of this passage?

Evangelistic: How might you present the truths of this passage to a non-believer with them aim of showing them their need for salvation and persuading them to trust in Christ?

Mission: How does this passage fit into God’s plan of working redemption and renewal through the local church? In other words, how does this passage equip the church for its mission?

Preaching

Outline: How might you convey the claim of this passage in a way that reflects its structure and emphasis and captures its tone?


The following is my personal check-list I developed for consultation when preparing sermons:


Sermon Check-List

  • True to the passage’s…
    • Authorial intent?
    • Passage structure or form?
    • Genre?
    • Context and book?
    • Aim (affections, belief, trust, obedience, thoughts, actions, etc.)?
  • Biblical theology:
    • Redemptive-historical context considered?
    • Relationship to Christ?
    • Passage interpreted in light of the Gospel?
    • Mission-equipping?
    • Inspiring vision of God set forth?
  • Sermon quality:
    • Main point—clear and frequently stated?
    • Well organized—clear and helpful structure?
    • Simple—avoids unnecessary complexity?
    • Selective—on what will you choose to focus?
    • Brief—the “less is more” principle; distinguish what is important vs. what is merely interesting?
    • Perspective—don’t miss the “forest for the trees” or the “trees for the forest.”
    • Concise—high quality to quantity ratio?
    • Use of pithy, memorable phrases?
    • Helpful illustrations, introduction, and conclusion?
    • Practical? Down to earth? Thoughtful, engaging, quality applications
  • Audience consideration:
    • Sermon oriented specifically to this audience?
    • Clear, understandable language?
    • Clear explanations of theological issues?
    • Answers given to questions the average person may have of the text?
    • Audience’s translation(s) considered?
    • Conscientious of nonbelievers? Gospel presented?