While celebrating the growth in expository preaching over the past fifty years or so, there’s often still a missing piece in many sermons–what I call, “passionate persuasion.”

Robert Strivens addresses this in the June 2017 edition of the Banner of Truth’s Magazine. In an article entitled Preachers and Preaching: Calvin on the Pastoral Epistles, he draws nine lessons about preaching from Calvin’s commentary on these letters. After the ninth bullet point, I’ve extracted a paragraph which directly addresses the problem of passionless preaching.

  1. Your life must match your teaching.
  2. A minister must teach.
  3. In order to teach, we must study – and our study must be of the word of God.
  4. We must immerse ourselves in the study of all of God’s word.
  5. We must ensure that our doctrine is truly founded in the word of God alone.
  6. We must use whatever help we can find, to enable us to understand God’s word.
  7. Study is not an end in itself. Some men love study, which is fine, but we are never to forget that it is but a means to an end.
  8. We have to work at communicating these truths to others.
  9. We must exhort, as well as teach.

Those preachers today who believe they have fulfilled their duty when they have adequately explained the text would not have met with Calvin’s approval. Calvin reminds us that the pastor is a shepherd and “A shepherd… must not simply put forward the teaching, to say, ‘This is the meaning,’ but must exhort as well.”

So we are certainly to give the meaning of the biblical text: that is essential. But it is not enough. We must also “add to it a vehemency, so that the teaching may touch their hearts to the quick, and not only know what is good, but be moved to follow it.”

Preaching is not just a question of informing the mind: it is also a matter of moving the heart. Motivation, as well as information, is the goal. So the preacher is not to think “that he has done his duty, and is quit when he has given forth good teaching… Exhortations must be added to it, to quicken the doctrine.” Vehemency – exhortations – motivation. For Calvin, these are essential elements in preaching. “Let us be content to be stirred up, that our fire be kindled, so that we may burn with the zeal of God.” A clear but cold exposition of a biblical text is, for Calvin, not preaching. We must burn.

That’s the key, isn’t it? If we burn, so will our sermons.