This is from Tullian Tchvidjian's blog...it was so good, had to re-post here! May this truth soak down deep into our souls and may we realize just how amazing the gospel truly is!
Last week my I was thrilled to see that my friend Justin Taylor highlighted on his blog Bo Giertz’s fictional work The Hammer of God. A relatively unknown book in Evangelical circles, Justin noted that Leland Ryken–longtime literature professor at Wheaton College–referred to Giertz’ book as “one of the best literary finds I have ever made.” I couldn’t agree more!
After sitting on my shelf uncracked for the better part of a year, I finally decided this past summer to read The Hammer of God(first published in 1941). I first heard about it from my friends Elyse Fitzpatrick and Mike Horton. I couldn’t put it down. It was simply breathtaking. Giertz was a master storyteller and theologian. Both of these gifts shine brightly on every page of this book. It tells three stories (novella’s) of three different pastors who learn in three different ways the nature and necessity of relying on God’s grace. It is law/gospel theology in captivating narrative form. You have to read it.
To whet your appetite, I want to share one part that I found especially illuminating for preachers. I need to first give some context, though.
Set in Sweden in the early 1800-s, Henrik is a young, remarkably gifted and fiery preacher who very much looks up to Justus Johan Linder, a preacher ten years his senior. Henrik is having a crisis of faith. Bothered by the behavioral worldliness all around him, he has become widely known for his passionate pleas and exhortations for people to stop sinning. He’s meticulous in his examination of sinful behavior both in and out of the pulpit. And it is bearing fruit. The church is packed every Sunday and licentious behavior is declining in the village. But, much to his surprise, “new sins” are popping up everywhere. He notices that while drinking and debauchery may be at an all time low, a self-righteous and legalistic hardness of heart has emerged in their place. While on the one hand Henrik is encouraged to see external worldliness dissipating, he’s remarkably discouraged to see a cold, loveless culture developing. Not only that, but now he’s beginning to realize the depth of his own sin. He feels like a hypocrite for preaching so strongly against the fruit of sin (behavior) while ignoring the deeper problem of sin’s root (unbelief). In despair over his own inability to be as good as he tells other people to be, he breaks down and confesses to Linder that he’s not even sure he’s saved. Linder’s response is pure gold:
Henrik, we must start again from the beginning. We have thundered like the storm [speaking of the way he and Henrik have preached God's Law], we have bombarded with the heaviest mortars of God’s Law in an attempt to break down the walls of sin. And that was surely right. I still load my gun with the best powder when I aim at unrepentance. But we had almost forgotten to let the sunshine of the gospel shine through the clouds. Our method has been to destroy all carnal security by our volley’s, but we have left it to the soul’s to build something new with their own resolutions and their own honest attempts at amending their lives. In that way, Henrik, it is never finished. We have not become finished ourselves. Now I have instead begun to preach about that which is finished, about that which is built on Calvary and which is a safe fortress to come to when the thunder rolls over our sinful heads. And now I always apportion the Word of God in three directions, not only to the self-satisfied [the bad people] as I did formerly, but also to the awakened [the "good" people] and to the anxious, the heavy laden and to the poor in spirit. And I find strength each day for my own poor heart at the fount of redemption.
Henrik is captivated by the “new” way in which Linder is preaching and he asks about the results. “Do you note any difference?”
In the first place, I myself see light where formerly I saw only darkness. There is light in my heart and light over the congregation. Before, I was in despair over my people, at their impenitence. I see now that this was because I kept thinking that everything depended on what we should do, for when I saw so little of true repentance and victory over sin, helplessness crept into my heart. I counted and summed up all that they did [to clean up their act], and not the smallest percentage of debt was paid. But now I see that which is done, and I see that the whole debt is paid. Now therefore I go about my duties as might a prison warden who carries in his pocket a letter of pardon for all his criminals. Do you wonder why I am so happy? Now I see everything in the sun’s light. If God has done so much already, surely there is hope for what remains.
The way Linder describes the transformation that took place in his preaching is almost identical to the transformation that took place in mine (and Chuck’s-click here). I have a long way to go (bad habits die slowly), but a number of years ago a Copernican revolution of sorts took place in my own heart regarding the need to preach the law then the gospelwithout going back to the law as the way to keep God’s favor.
Preachers these days are expected to major in “Christian moral renovation.” They are expected to provide a practical “to-do” list, rather than announce, “It is finished.” They are expected to do something other than–more than–lift up before their congregations eyes Christ’s finished work, preaching a full absolution solely on the basis of the complete righteousness of Another. To be sure, preachers need to “load their guns with the best powder when aiming at unrepentance”, but far too often a preacher’s final word to Christians is law and not Gospel. To finish a sermon asking “What would Jesus do?” instead of announcing “This is what Jesus has done!” is to betray the final word God speaks over Christians.
“Life is a web of trials and temptations”, says Robert Capon, “but only one of them can ever be fatal–the temptation to think it is by further, better, and more aggressive living that we can have life.” Given this sobering statement, it would seem that many preachers unwittingly lead their congregations “into temptation” by implying (not explicitly stating, of course) that you can live your way to life. The fact is, however, that you can only “die [your] way there, lose [your] way there…For Jesus came to raise the dead. He did not come to reward the rewardable, improve the improvable, or correct the correctable; he came simply to be the resurrection and the life of those who will take their stand on a death he can use instead of on a life he cannot.” After our preaching of the law rightly pushes people under water, we all too often lead them to think that they must “save” themselves by giving them swimming lessons: “Paddle harder, kick faster.”
I want the last word I speak over Christians when I preach to be the last word God speaks over Christians–”Paid in full.” The Gospel always has the last word over a believer. Always. When it’s all said and done there are two types of sermons: Jesus + Nothing = Everything or Jesus + Something = Everything.
May God raise up a generation of bold preachers who storm the gates of works-righteousness in all its forms (both religious and secular) with nothing more and nothing less than:
In my place condemned he stood, and sealed my pardon with his blood. Hallelujah, what a Savior.