Preacher, Put Your Hand to the Plow
One of the misconceptions I encounter with beginning preachers is over what is involved with preaching. Many seminarians simply think of preaching is what the pastor does when he goes behind the pulpit on Sunday morning (and perhaps evening). Though Lord's Day preaching to the gathered assembly of the congregation for worship is primary - central to the life of the church - the ministry of preaching involves so much more than this weekly feeding of the sheep. Preaching is a lot more work than that!
For in the life and ministry of Jesus, we see that his and the apostles' preaching was extensive. He did preach in gathered assemblies. "He said to them, 'I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.' And he was preaching in the synagogues of Judea" (Luke 4:43-44). But he also preached openly throughout the land of Judea. Additionally, he sent the apostles out to preach widely. "They departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere" (Luke 9:6).
This type of ministry continued, spread beyond Judea, and intensified in communities after Pentecost. Luke, speaking of the apostles, said after they were persecuted that in Jerusalem "every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus" (Acts 5:42). When Paul described his three year ministry in Ephesus to their elders when he met with them on the beach, he said that "I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house" (Acts 20:20), and that "for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears" (Acts 20:31).
Hugh Latimer, the papist turned Reformed preacher in England in the 16th century, who was burned at the stake by Queen Mary for his preaching, made this point regarding the hard work of preaching vividly. His most famous sermon is known as "Sermon of the Plough", where he called men to work strenuously in their preaching ministry by reminding them of the most active preacher.
"And now I would ask you a strange question," said Latimer. "Who is the most diligent bishop and prelate in all England, that passes all the rest in doing his office? I can tell, for I know who it is. I know him well. But now I think I see you listening and hearkening that I should name him. There is one that passes all the other and is the most diligent prelate and preacher in all England. And will you know who it is? I will tell you. It is the devil.
He is the most diligent preacher of all others. He is never out of his diocese. He is never from his cure. You shall never find him unoccupied. He is ever in his parish. He keeps residence at all times. You shall never find him out of the way. A call for him when you will, he is ever at home.
He is the most diligent preacher in all the realm. He is ever at his plow. No lording nor loitering can hinder him. He is ever applying his business. You shall never find him idle, I warrant you. Where the devil is resident and has his plow going, there away with books and up with candles, away with Bibles and up with beads, away with the light of the gospel and up with the light of candles, yea, at noon day, up with man's traditions and his laws, down with God's traditions and His most holy word. Oh that our preachers would be as diligent to sow the corn of good doctrine, as Satan is to sow darnel or tares. There was never such a preacher in England as he.
As Latimer reminds us, the preacher must never forget that his people are being bombarded with the devil's sermons all day long. In the news, from the media, on the internet, across the airwaves, and in their workplaces and neighborhoods they are hearing false gospels from the evil one all day long. It will take diligent effort by the preacher, in Sunday preaching as well as great effort throughout the week, to overcome Satan's tare sowing. The preacher must use a multitude of means to put God's Word into the ears and hearts of his congregation. Visitation, Bible studies, links to sermons, blogging, catechizing, texting, phone calls, Scripture memory, family worship, etc. - the preacher must use and encourage whatever means are available and effective in his context to cause God's Word to bear fruit in the lives of his people. A man who thinks a Sunday sermon is sufficient needs to hear a final word from Latimer.
The prelates or preacher are lords and not laborers, but the devil is diligent at his plow. He is no unpreaching prelate. He is no lordly loiterer, but a busy plowman. Therefore, you unpreaching prelates, learn of the devil to be diligent in doing of your office. If you will not learn from God nor good men to be diligent in your office, learn from the devil.