Brevity & Clarity

1 Feb

These two words sum up John Calvin’s understanding of preaching and sermons.  The text was to be clearly communicated to the congregation, answering such questions as: What does this say? What is its meaning? How does it fit into God’s redemptive plan? How then shall we live?

Likewise, the pastor and author, Richard Baxter, wrote in his book, The Reformed Pastor:

“Our teaching must be as plain and simple as possible.  This doth best suit a teacher’s ends.  He that would be understood must speak to the capacity of his hearers.  Truth loves the light, and is most beautiful when most naked.”

What do the words of these two men from centuries past have to do with us? And how does their instruction help us to take joy in Christ?

First, their words should be of great importance to us. We live in an age, and a society, in which eloquence and ambiguity are common (and oftentimes exalted).  We need to be wary of such language, books, etc. because of the potential it has for leading us away from the precious riches of God’s Word.  This is not to say that some of those who are eloquent in speech or prose are dangerous, but Paul explains that there will come a time when people will desire to hear what they want to hear, dwell in the safety of ambiguity and be entertained by lofty talk, and all of these can lead people astray (2 Tim. 4:3). We should exercise discernment and wisdom in deciding what (as well as how) we will read or watch, and who we will listen to or sit under.

Second, the words of these men teach us an important lesson about the Gospel and the grace of God.  Just as Baxter says, “Truth loves the light, and is most beautiful when most naked.”   Thus, what is more beautiful than the Gospel, plainly presented, and powerfully proclaimed, to lost and needy people?  It is not a complex message (though, perhaps, not as simple as a napkin presentation), and it is not difficult to understand.  What a blessing it is that God chose to work out His redemptive plan, and give us His revealed will and testament, in such a way!

Yet, while the Gospel may be a simple and easy to understand message, it is not easily received.  We balk at the idea that we are broken, sinful, rebellious people who need something outside ourselves.  We do not want to believe that we cannot earn a right standing with God, and entry into His Kingdom.  And we are dumbfounded by the idea of grace: that God would send His Son to die on a cross for the sins of many, and rise again to affirm and cement His work, and take up His place of authority until He comes again.  Not only are we dumbfounded by this, but we also struggle to believe that the work Jesus accomplished on the cross and in the empty tomb is applied to us by receiving it in faith.  And this, too, is a gift of God, because we were dead in our trespasses and sin.  What a gracious and awesome God!

So as you go about your day, remember these two words: Brevity and clarity.  Seek to be brief and clear in what you believe, why you believe it, and in the way you articulate these truths to others.  And may God use you to be an instrument through which His grace flows out to others.

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