Preaching + Sin Discovery

“That one main end of the Word of God,
and preaching,
is to discover this deceitful heart.
It’s to make us know ourselves;
compared therefore to a glass,
that will show a deformed man all his unloveliness,
and this is a glass,
not to the face but the heart;
all those hidden and unknown lusts may there be brought to light.
And the Ministry that is compared to light;
as the sunbeams discover those many thousands of motes in the air,
which the darkness concealed;
thus the Ministry,
in a powerful and soul-saving way dispensed,
will make thee see thyself to be that beast,
that devil,
yea to have that dunghill,
that hell in thy heart,
thou didst not perceive:
look then for this benefit by preaching,
not what may fit thy ear,
may please thy fancy,
but what may discover the dark corners of thy soul,
what may bring glorious light into thy breast;
that thou mayest cry out;
O Lord, how long have I lived and did not know myself!
I thought all was well,
everything was in quiet;
but now I am like the Syrian army,
that being by the Prophet stricken blind,
and thought they were guided to their own camp,
as soon as ever they had their eyes opened,
they found themselves in the midst of the enemy’s camp:
Thus thy eyes being opened,
thou seest thyself to be in the power of all thy sins,
all thy enemies and the curses of God.”

Anthony Burgess [d. 1664]
Spiritual Refining, Part II: A Treatise of Sin, pp. 19-20

[One note of clarification–I think the one main end of the Word of God is the application of the perfect work of Christ to sinners, not merely in discovering the depth of sin. Showing people sin is the easy part. Showing people the grace of God is not so easy. So I’m not agreeing with Burgess on all points here.]


Painting by Raphael. “St. Paul Preaching in Athens” (1515, London, Victoria and Albert Museum)

7 thoughts on “Preaching + Sin Discovery

  1. Oh, so true! Awesome post! The greatest gift God ever gave this Pharisee (me!) was showing me my sin, and the fact that I truly deserved hell, and the fact that His mercy was my only hope! What a horrible sin we commit against the lost when we shy away from calling sin what it truly is! And how sobering is God’s warning to us in Eze. 3:18-21!

  2. “And he changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings”

    Daniel 2:21

  3. “Showing people sin is the easy part. Showing people the grace of God is not so easy.”

    What I would like to hear from you, and others, as well as our Early Church, Reformation and Puritan teachers, is HOW to show people the grace of God in our preaching. As a pastor I desire to present Christ in all His goodness and glory in such a way that He is beautiful desirable, attractive and appealing, and yet I feel I so often fall short. You would think that it would be easy to present Christ in such a way that people would have a natural hunger and yearing for Him, yet I find it to be a great challenge and am frustrated that I fall so short of proclaiming Christ’s glory winsomely, fruitfully and effectively.

  4. A thought (from a member of a local church,not a pastor): As I understand the primary role of the Holy Spirit, it is to glorify Jesus (to reveal Him; to make Him known; to magnify Him; to bring us to the place where we taste and see Him and in so doing we desire Him). If the things of God are spritually discerned or understood, then asking God and acknowledging our utter dependence on Him and realizing that it is a work of grace in the hearts of people that Christ is glorious in their eyes (and often times I think this is the prayer and heart of the pastor, but not necessarily that of the people).
    A pastor may be doing an excellent job at presenting Christ to his local church, but I truly believe that the Spirit of God has to take the preached word and affect the hearts of the hearers. So one question may be, if that is not happening, why not? And there could be many reasons or a combination of reasons.
    I do think pastors should always be desiring to grow in proclaiming Christ to be more glorious, but I think trying to understand why people don’t desire God (Piper’s book When I Don’t Desire God – How to Fight for Joy comes to mind)is another area to be explored relative to your question above. And this may take sitting down with folks and drawing them out and seeking to care for and understand their souls. One may find they are trying to feed an orphange of infants meat, when what they may need is milk (or they may need to learn how to drink the milk). Or maybe one has a group of couch potatoes that need to get off the couch and exercise a bit (apply what they know). To use a Keller illustration, what is it that is keeping the coin from dropping – one may put a lot of coins in a soda machine but if the coins never drop, then one may not get the desired drink.

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