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Geerhardus Vos on Gospel Preaching

On our recent vacation I read Letters of Geerhardus Vos . I will be posting a full review soon, but I wanted to go ahead and make one observation from the book. The biographical sketch and letters show Vos concerned about churches who retained a conservative profession but whose preaching consisted merely of moralisms. Liberalism might be rebuked, sin would be denounced, and a good life commended but there was no gospel. Vos wrote:

“Now I do not mean to affirm that in all cases there need be the preaching of false doctrine which involves an open and direct denial of the evangelical truth. It is quite possible that both to the intention and the actual performance of the preacher any departure from the historical faith of the church may be entirely foreign. And yet there may be such a failure in the intelligent presentation of the gospel with the proper emphasis upon that which is primary and fundamental as to bring about a result almost equally deplorable as where the principles of the gospel are openly contradicted or denied. There can be a betrayal of the gospel of grace by silence. There can be disloyalty to Christ by omission as well as by positive offence against the message that he has entrusted to our keeping. It is possible, Sabbath after Sabbath and year after year, to preach things of which none can say that they are untrue and none can deny that in their proper place and time they may be important, and yet to forgo telling people plainly and to forgo giving them the distinct impression that they need forgiveness and salvation from sin through the cross of Christ” (Grace and Glory, 237-238). (82, footnote 211)

This has parallels to churches today. We might even have tacked on calls for people to “ask Jesus in their lives” but still the gospel is too often absent. We may pride ourselves in our conservatism but too much of our preaching consists merely of instructions and admonitions on being good people. The gospel begins with the fact that we are not good (and thus strips away our smug assurance) and then points us not to a victorious culture warrior but to a crucified Messiah as the answer to our plight. Of course we must have teaching on living morally, but this instruction must be rooted in the gospel (see Paul’s letters), not extracted as a few points on good living.

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