I love the relaxed pace of The Basics conference. Some conferences are almost frantic in their pacing; this one is relaxed and subdued. I like it! It makes for a very pleasant experience.
This morning brought us Alistair Begg’s first message. For this message and the next his text will be 2 Corinthians 4. He began with an explanation of why he chose this text and how he approached it (and though this may sound dry, it was actually quite interesting to hear how he wrestled with the passage to make a sermon out of it. His comments were directed primarily to younger pastors who may wonder how to prepare a sound message). He showed how this passage fits within the context of the surrounding chapters, the full letter, and Paul’s wider teaching. And what he found is that what Paul addresses here is emblematic of a prevailing problem in contemporary evangelicalism. We are a sound bite generation adopting sound bite theology that is increasingly vague and ill-defined.
Over the course of his two addresses he will look to this passage to find The Ministry, The Method, and the Men. In this first address he covered only the first of these points.
The Source of the Ministry – This ministry is not the product of human means but the product of Divine mercy. It is evangelical ministry arising from evangelical mercy. This ministry begins in the counsels of God in all eternity and begins with His unmerited favor that works in unwilling people the desire to hear and receive His Word.
The Substance of the Ministry – It is the ministry that brings righteousness (see 3:9). The gospel brings hope to man by opening the gate of life. This is at the heart of the issue in both preaching and personal living. In declaring a gospel to others, and one we seek to live ourselves, we need to remind ourselves that Jesus has achieved everything necessary for our justification—that the obedience of Jesus is reckoned to the sinner on the ground that the penalty of the sinner’s disobedience has been borne by Christ who suffered the righteous for the unrighteous to bring us to God. The issue of penal substitution is foundation to the gospel and we must study this issue, know it, and teach it.
Begg pointed to the distinction between explaining the gospel to people and explaining their need for it. We can urge people to receive the benefits of the gospel or warn of the perils of ignoring the gospel without actually announcing the gospel. The distinction between the message and the demand to believe it is absolutely critical.
He paused also to ask this: What is the difference between a lecture and a sermon? Here he turned to John Murray who defined a sermon as “a personal, passionate, plea.” And this is what we see in our text. “Be reconciled to God!” This is what the gospel minister is saying—he is asking people to receive the reconciliation that is offered to them. He is passionately pleading with them on a personal level.
His next message will continue the examination of this text…