There are many kinds of preachers, just as there are many kinds of theologians or fishermen … or sausages, for that matter. While it may or may not be helpful to try and distinguish between them, I want to suggest that there are basically two kinds of Christian preachers . There are those who preach the gospel as a thing done, and there are those who preach about the gospel as a thing still to be finished, usually by way of human response other than that offered vicariously by the last Adam. [Of course there are others – many in fact – who preach neither a thing done, nor a thing to do. While some of these may be preaching Christians, they are not Christian preachers in any sense of the word! Some of these even try to hide behind the rhetoric of doing ‘expository’ preaching. Of course, all preaching worthy of the name is expository, but I have in mind here those who think that the preaching task is finished when one has explained what the text means].
Among the former, that is among those who preach the gospel as a thing done, are people like James Denney. I’ve been reading Denney today, and have been struck afresh at just how different his word is to so much of what passes for evangelical preaching today. Here’s a wee passage that struck a good chord:
The work of reconciliation, in the sense of the New Testament, is a work which is finished, and which we must conceive to be finished, before the gospel is preached. It is the good tidings of the Gospel, with which the evangelists go forth, that God has wrought in Christ a work of reconciliation which avails for no less than the world, and of which the whole world may have the benefit. The summons of the evangelist is – ‘Receive the reconciliation; consent that it become effective in your case.’ The work of reconciliation is not a work wrought upon the souls of men, though it is a work wrought in their interests, and bearing so directly upon them that we can say God has reconciled the world to Himself; it is a work – as Cromwell said of the covenant – outside of us, in which God so deals in Christ with the sin of the world, that it shall no longer be a barrier between Himself and men … Reconciliation is not something which is doing; it is something which is done. No doubt there is a work of Christ which is in process, but it has as its basis a finished work of Christ; it is in virtue of something already consummated on His cross that Christ is able to make the appeal to us which He does, and to win the response in which we receive the reconciliation. A finished work of Christ and an objective atonement – a katallagh. – in the New Testament sense – are synonymous terms; the one means exactly the same as the other; and it seems to me self-evident, as I think it did to St. Paul, that unless we can preach a finished work of Christ in relation to sin, a katallagh. or reconciliation or peace which has been achieved independently of us, at an infinite cost, and to which we are called in a word or ministry of reconciliation, we have no real gospel for sinful men at all’. – James Denney, The Death of Christ: Its Place and Interpretation in the New Testament (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1909), 144–5, 146.
To be sure, there is an appropriation that must take place – by both reconciled parties – but it is an appropriation of a finished work, the entering into what is already de facto a reconciled situation, a new creation. God’s reconciliation in Christ was not ‘a tentative, preliminary affair’ (Forsyth) but a finished one. ‘Paul did not preach a gradual reconciliation. He preached what the old divines use to call a finished work’ (Forsyth). We live in a reconciled world.
Blessed are those with eyes to see, ears to hear, and faith to proclaim …