The Best Preacher in the World
Every church needs two preachers: A human preacher and the divine Holy Spirit
Every church needs two preachers. We need a human preacher, one who is visible, audible, tangible. But we also need a divine preacher, one that is invisible, inaudible, and intangible. I’m speaking of the Holy Spirit, without whom the work of the human preacher is in vain.
A Personal Preacher
How can I call the Holy Spirit ‘a preacher’? In various places the Holy Spirit is called the parakletos (eg. John 14:16). There isn’t really a comparable English word to translate this, leading to varied inadequate translations such as ‘comforter,’ ‘helper,’ or ‘Advocate.’ The literal translation is something like ‘one who comes alongside to call with words.’ Do you see how I can call the Holy Spirit a preacher? He comes alongside Christians and calls them, or exhorts them, with words.
He is very personal preacher, not only in that he is a person rather than a force or power – a real HE coming to a real you – but also because his pulpit is your own heart. He lives within the Christian and preaches to him with God’s words, preaching so personally and intimately as if he was the only one in his congregation.
A Pure Preacher
Every preacher has his flaws, and eventually the congregation will see them. That’s why visiting preachers often seem much better than our own pastor. It’s because we don’t know them and their flaws in the same way as we know our own pastor. But the Holy Spirit is different, primarily because he is the HOLY Spirit. As such, he is flawless and faultless.
He’s also pure in the sense of having the purest of motives. The entertainer is after your applause, the politician is after your vote, the attorney is after your verdict, the financier is after your money, the advertiser is after your eyeballs, but the Holy Spirit is after the good of your soul. He is pure in his effect as well, the result of his work in the Christian being a holier spirit.
A Present Preacher
When the Pope visited the USA a few years ago, one media commentator said, “Isn’t it wonderful that the vicar of Christ has visited the USA!” The ‘vicar of Christ’ means the stand-in, or spokesman, for Christ, and is one of the titles the Pope takes to himself. Well I’ve got news for you, the vicar of Christ visits the USA every day! That’s because the true vicar of Christ is the Holy Spirit, not the pope of Rome.
When Jesus was leaving his disciples he said, that he would send the Holy Spirit as his vicar, as his stand-in, someone who would stay with his disciples forever (John 14:16). That’s why the martyr Ignatius sometimes called himself Theophorus (literally, ‘God-carrier’), explaining to his hearers, “I bear about with me the Holy Spirit.”
Sometimes, Sunday sermons make a great impression on us, but it wears off by Monday morning, and we mourn, “If only I could have the preacher beside me every day to motivate and drive me on.” Well you can, because the Holy Spirit is your ever-present preacher.
A Perfect Preacher
When we looked at the Holy Spirit as a pure preacher, we were speaking of his character. Now let’s look at his perfect gifts and talents. Unlike the best human preacher, he has perfect knowledge of Scripture. As the Spirit of Truth, he knows it all, understands it all, and can apply it all perfectly. He has perfect knowledge of you, your character, your providence, your circumstances. He knows exactly how to fit the Word to you. He can even take sermons that seem irrelevant and make them applicable to you if you ask him.
A Patient Preacher
Many preachers go through seasons of discouragement. They get weary, cynical, self-pitying, and, sometimes, in frustration with their listeners, even lose their tempers. The Holy Spirit doesn’t fall into these traps. He comes to you again, and again, and again. Patiently calling, pleading, exhorting, directing. For the Christian, thankfully, he doesn’t give up but returns even after being ignored or deliberately rejected.
A Powerful Preacher
One common English translation of parakletos is ‘Comforter.’ That’s derived from two Latin words and means ‘with strength.’ The Holy Spirit comes with power. He strengthens the weak through speaking God’s Word. He takes the weakest human sermons and transforms them into almighty words.
When the disciples heard that Jesus was leaving them, they were discouraged. They felt weak and impoverished. But Jesus told them that, on the contrary, they are about to be enriched and strengthened by the empowering work of the Holy Spirit. What an encouragement to pastors when facing desperately difficult and even impossible situations. We are weak and our words are weak. But there’s another preacher with us who is omnipotent.
A Particular Preacher
The Holy Spirit is very particular and discriminating in his preaching. He doesn’t have the same message for everybody. Immediately after being promised the Holy Spirit, Jesus informed the disciples that the world cannot receive the Holy Spirit because it neither sees him nor knows him (John 14:17). While the primary preaching work of the Holy Spirit in believers is comfort, in the unbeliever it is conviction. “When he has come, he will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (Jn. 16:8). He strengthens and comforts believers; he weakens and discomforts unbelievers. But he does so in order to make unbelievers seek his strength and comfort.
So, yes, pray for your human preacher—he needs it. But also pray for more of the divine preacher—you need him.
David Murray is Professor of Old Testament & Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary.