Preach as though you were dying.
Purposing to unfold the Scriptures so that all may “see Jesus.”
One of the most profound quotes I’ve ever come across, and one that has shaped my preaching ministry to a great degree, comes from the English Puritan, Richard Baxter. To be sure, I don’t stand by all the assertions which Baxter propagated and published — contemporary Reformed churchman R. Scott Clark has a number of insightful and informative resources detailing Baxter’s more tenuous assertions. But, even still, Baxter’s distillation of the heart of the ministry could not be more resonant. According to Baxter, the “preaching event” is nothing more than a dying man proclaiming good news to other dying men. In his Poetical Fragments, he declares:
I Preach’d, as never sure to Preach again,
And as a dying man to dying men!
Before I speak, regardless of audience or venue, I ask myself, “What if I preached to everyone as if they were dying? What message would they need?” This is a habit which 1517’s Dan Price clued me into — and, to that end, I’ve made it my aim to abide by that paradigm whenever I get to preach. My chief concern when stepping into the pulpit is to announce both God’s word of law and God’s word of gospel, preaching them faithfully and trusting in the work of the Spirit to bring to bear these words in the hearts, minds, and souls of those in earshot. I trust that in the declaration of God’s law, man is brought low, reminded of his deadness — which paves the way for the declaration of God’s gospel, which raises the dead.
But as for me, I will never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Gal. 6:14)
Every week, I pray to be able to get out of the way so that the spotlight of worship might fall squarely on Christ crucified (1 Cor. 1:22–23). I know, beyond any doubt, that there’s nothing else I need to hear — which, I imagine, is also true for the churchgoers to whom I’m preaching. I pray to always be captivated by this good news whenever I’m afforded the opportunity to proclaim God’s Word. “If you can make up your mind, when you go into the pulpit,” says Robert Capon, “to forget everything except Jesus Christ and him crucified, you’ll have nothing to give them but Good News.”
Such is my heart in preaching. I do not take such occasions lightly. I consider it one of the highest privileges in this life that I get to deliver the message of God’s glorious grace to folks from all walks of life. My supreme desire is to “preach the word,” and nothing but the Word (2 Tim. 4:2). To, like St. Paul, “know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). At every turn, my aim is to unfold the Scriptures so that all may “see Jesus” (John 12:21). My chief priority is to “preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15). May the God of all grace and glory be magnified as I declare his grace and truth.
Grace and peace.
Richard Baxter, Poetical Fragments: Heart-Imployments with God and It Self (London: J. Dunton, 1689), 30.
Robert Capon, The Foolishness of Preaching: Proclaiming the Gospel against the Wisdom of the World (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 13.