The human effort of mind and will and body that goes into preaching is not contrary to the purposes of God to bring about supernatural effects. And, therefore, my plea is for preachers to expend every effort in thinking2 and explaining and arguing and illustrating with all their rational powers to make the intention of the biblical authors clear and compelling. We will do this knowing that only the supernatural grace of God will bring about the desired seeing, savoring, and showing of the glory of God.
Making the Fullest Use of Our Natural Powers
How do the supernatural and the natural intersect in the act of preaching? The emphasis will be on the fact that God intends for preachers to make the fullest use of their natural powers in preaching, even though the aim is to waken and sustain worship that is possible only in the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit.
When I speak of natural powers, I am referring to everything the preacher and people are capable of, simply by virtue of being human and having received a basic education along with ordinary life experience.1 For example, the preacher and the people have the natural power to listen and speak. They can identify the existence of words and phrases and clauses (even if they do not know the terms phrase or clause). They can construe a speaker’s or author’s intention from what he said or wrote. Otherwise, ordinary people would not be communicating. They can see relationships between the different parts of what they hear. They can see connections between what they learn and other things they already know. They can remember things they’ve discovered. They can get enough sleep and food and exercise (or coffee) so that their powers are assisted by mental alertness and physical vigor. And they can seek help from other people (in books or in person). And so on. This is what I mean by our natural powers.
God’s ordinary way of revealing his glory to the hearts of his people is not by circumventing their natural powers but by making those powers the means of supernatural discovery.
Supernatural Grace Does Not Replace Means of Grace
God’s ordinary way of revealing his glory to the hearts of his people is not by circumventing their natural powers but by making those powers the means of supernatural discovery. When Jesus said, “No one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matt. 11:27), he did not mean that people should not use their natural ability to look at him and listen to him. The miracle of seeing Jesus as the all-satisfying Son of God was a miracle mediated through the natural act of listening to Jesus and looking at Jesus. The supernatural sight happened through the use of natural powers. Supernatural grace does not replace means of grace.