What Kind of Preaching Produces Holiness?
How is radical obedience to God kindled, and what kind of preaching is needed to help kindle it? I mean obedience like the obedience of the early Christians described in Hebrews 10 who heard that their friends were in prison and went to visit them even though it cost them the plundering of their property.
The answer may surprise you.
A few years ago, I reread some portions of David Brainerd's diary. I recalled that he had seen great repentance and contrition among the Indians at several times in his preaching. In 1745 he preached to the Indians of Crossweeksung, New Jersey, and made this observation: "It was surprising to see how their hearts seemed to be pierced with the tender and melting invitations of the Gospel, when there was not a word of terror spoken to them.
He preached on Luke 16 concerning the rich man and Lazarus. "The Word made powerful impressions upon many in the assembly, especially while I discoursed of the blessedness of Lazarus in Abraham's bosom. This, I could perceive, affected them much more than what I spoke of the rich Spring 1999 man's misery and torments. And thus it has been usually with them … They have almost always appeared much more affected with the comfortable than the dreadful truths of God's Word. And that which has distressed many of them under convictions, is that they found they wanted, and could not obtain, the happiness of the godly.
The same dynamic seems to occur in Luke 5. After teaching the crowds from a boat on the lake of Gennesaret, Jesus told the fishermen to push out into the deep and let down their nets.
Simon protested, "Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets." When the nets went down they filled with so many fish that the nets started to break. Both boats were filled and started to sink.
Peter's response was very unlike our modern self-esteeming response to grace. "When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus' knee and said, 'Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!' For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken.
What is remarkable here is that a miracle of grace, not a word of judgment, broke Peter's heart and brought him to contrite, evangelical repentance. It was the same with the Indians of Crossweeksung and the fishermen of Galilee.
Why is that? Genuine contrition for sin is a sorrow for not having holiness. However, we must be careful here. Many a criminal will weep when his sentence is read, not because he has come to love righteousness, but because his freedom to do more unrighteousness is being taken away. To cry over the punishment for wrongdoing is no sign of hating wrong, but only hating pain. This is not true repentance, and does not lead to radical Christian obedience.
To truly weep over your sin, you must long for holiness. Genuine sorrow over un-holiness comes only from a love for holiness. True evangelical contrition, true repentance, must be preceded by a falling in love with ...
John Piper is pastor for preaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota.