Today I'm off to the Westminster Fellowship in London, where I've been invited to preach and also give a paper on Word and Spirit in Preaching. Here's an excerpt from the lecture on seeking to preach the Word in the power of the Spirit:
Jesus taught that Christians should pray expectantly to the Father for the gift of the Holy Spirit, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” (Luke 11:13). Preachers are especially in need of the Spirit's work in their ministries.
The apostle Paul did not regard preaching in the power of the Spirit as being in any way automatic. He constantly urged the churches to pray for him,
praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints— and for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak. (Ephesians 6:18-20)
This boldness is given in answer to the church’s prayer when preachers were filled with the Holy Spirit, Acts 4:29-31.
We should not allow Charismatic excesses to blind us to the need for Spirit empowered preaching. This was certainly recognised by earlier generations of Reformed writers. Of course, the Spirit may use a preacher who does not agree with the view that I am arguing for here. He is sovereign and gracious. But neglect of the role of the Holy Spirit in preaching may have the effect on turning preaching into little more than a well-delivered exposition of the Bible rather than an event where the God of gospel grace is encountered by his Word.
Charles Hodge comments,
It is important that we should remember, that, in living under the dispensation of the Spirit, we are absolutely dependent on a divine Person, who gives or withholds his influence as He will; that He can be grieved and offended; that He must be acknowledged, feared, and obeyed; that his presence and gifts must be humbly and earnestly sought, and assiduously cherished, and that to Him all right thoughts and right purposes, all grace and goodness, all strength and comfort, and all success in winning souls to Christ, are to be ascribed. (Systematic Theology Volume III p. 47).We need to realise afresh that our preaching will be entirely ineffective if it is in “word only”. We need the mighty power of the Spirit to come upon us. Martyn Lloyd-Jones concludes his Preaching and Preachers on just this note,
What then are we to do about this? There is only one obvious conclusion. Seek Him! Seek Him! What can we do without Him? Seek Him! Seek Him always. But go beyond seeking Him; expect Him.
I am certain, as I have said several times before, that nothing but a return of this power of the Spirit on our preaching is going to avail us anything. This makes true preaching, and it is the greatest need of all today - never more so. Nothing can substitute for this.
This 'unction', this 'anointing', is the supreme thing. Seek it until you have it; be content with nothing less. Go on until you can say, 'And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and power.' He is still able to do 'exceedingly abundantly above all that we can ask or think.'" (Preaching and Preachers p. 325)
It is not enough for us to simply deliver a well crafted sermon. We need the dynamic presence of the Spirit of Christ to transform our preaching into an encounter with the living God. As E. M. Bounds puts it, “Unction in the preacher puts God in the gospel”. (SEP p. 116). I conclude, then that the relationship between Word and Spirit in preaching may be defined in this way,
The Spirit's empowering presence enables preachers to proclaim the Lord Jesus with boldness, liberty and life-transforming effectiveness. His presence makes preaching an event where the God of the gospel is encountered in all the fullness of his grace and power.
That, I know is the greatest need in my own ministry.