Assurance and Preaching the Word

Attaining assurance “is a matter of the highest importance."

To the man who stands tall in false assurance, God’s word is the “hammer that breaks the rock in pieces” (Jer. 23:29). And to the man who stoops low, not even lifting his eyes up to heaven, burdened under the weight of doubt, God’s word is perfect, reviving the soul and rejoicing the heart (Psalm 19:7,8). And yet, when it comes to assurance, the preacher must use the sharp, two edged blade of Scripture with surgical precision, applying God’s word with wisdom and tact.

 

On any given Sunday there are, sitting in the pews of church, myriad kinds of different people. There are, of course, the faithful who have battled well against unbelief throughout the previous week and are hungering and thirsting for the nourishment that comes from hearing God’s word preached among the fellowship of God’s people.

But there are also those saints who come to church much more bruised and beaten up; weary and entirely unsure of their standing before God. They are those “smoking flax” Christians where the flame of assurance has gone out. Though the smoke that rises evidences Christ’s gentle breath of love upon them, keeping that ever-so-small ember of faith alive, subjectively the Christian feels lost.  Of course, there are also those people who come with too much assurance. Folks who assume they are entirely safe and stand secure before God but when their lives are brought before the light of God’s word, it becomes evident that they ought not to have any assurance at all.

It is here where the preacher of God’s word is to apply the living and active word of God to each case. To the man who stands tall in false assurance, God’s word is the “hammer that breaks the rock in pieces” (Jer. 23:29). And to the man who stoops low, not even lifting his eyes up to heaven, burdened under the weight of doubt, God’s word is perfect, reviving the soul and rejoicing the heart (Psalm 19:7,8). And yet, when it comes to assurance, the preacher must use the sharp, two edged blade of Scripture with surgical precision, applying God’s word with wisdom and tact.

It is there, underneath the pulpit of a godly ministry, where a man preeminently must examine himself to see whether he is in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5), giving diligence to make his calling and election sure (2 Peter 2:10). But how can a pastor rightly bring his preaching to bear upon each individual, working to either build up and bring assurance or, in contrast, ploughing up the hardness of heart found in so many? Here are three brief directives.

First, pastors must pray. The Apostle Paul speaks of his authority to either build up or tear down (2 Cor. 13:10), and will do so according to what he see’s in the Corinthian congregation. And this too is what a preacher is called to every time he steps behind the pulpit. But ever before he begins to preach he must be on his knees praying. After Paul calls the Corinthians to examine themselves he says that he is “praying to God that you do not do wrong” (2 Cor. 13:7). The preacher must be in constant, earnest prayer for the people he’s preaching to, knowing that it is God who will ultimately do the work of building up in assurance or of tearing down in gospel humility, which leads to the second point.

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