The reading and preaching of the Word is a special ordinance, an outward means whereby Christ communicates the benefits of his mediation (WLC 154). While our Reformed forebears saw the importance of personal and family devotion (WCF 21.6), they espoused the scripturally-based centrality of hearing and receiving the Word in corporate gatherings.
A pastor recounted the recent conversion of a young woman. Before being drawn to Christ, she had been experiencing a dark time in life and so, at the invitation of a Christian, went to church. While there, she “was struck by the power of the Word and kept coming back.” This process led to unsaved parents attending her baptismal service and at least one parent gaining an interest in “things he has never considered before” and then asking for a church in his home city that taught what he heard and saw at his daughter’s church.
Not long after, I preached at a church and received an email message about a young man in the church who “had been going through some difficult times…” The young man recounted how “what he heard… preached was exactly what he needed to hear.” Now, any minster who has sought to faithfully proclaim the Word of God can no doubt recount similar accounts of the profound impact of the Word on the hearers. How does this happen?
Catechism Q&A 155
The Westminster Standards frame the preceding types of accounts as follows:
155. How is the Word made effectual to salvation?
The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching of the Word, an effectual means of enlightening, convincing, and humbling sinners; of driving them out of themselves, and drawing them unto Christ; of conforming them to his image, and subduing them to his will; of strengthening them against temptations and corruptions; of building them up in grace, and establishing their hearts in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation.
This scripturally and theologically rich question and answer summarizes in brief compass how the Holy Spirit affects the converting (‘driving [sinners] out of themselves and drawing them unto Christ’) and the ‘conforming’ of those who sit under the proclamation of the Word. In short, we’re reminded that sinners are converted by the evangel and saints are conformed into the image of Christ in edification. Note two brief observations about this rich catechism question.
Context of the Word’s Effect
The reading and preaching of the Word is a special ordinance, an outward means whereby Christ communicates the benefits of his mediation (WLC 154). While our Reformed forebears saw the importance of personal and family devotion (WCF 21.6), they espoused the scripturally-based centrality of hearing and receiving the Word in corporate gatherings. As a people who live in an era of dwindling church attendance in the West and are witness to an evangelical cottage industry that has grown around private devotions or ‘quiet time’ in the Word, we need the constant reminder: “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:25). We need the outward public means of the Word to drive and form our personal private use of the Word.