Scott Clark takes on “legal preaching” and the “good fellows” of Moscow here. As I read through his post, I am struck by how unconfessional his basic approach is. He dissects legal preachers and preaching, and he does so while by-passing the confessions entirely.
He objects to the following sorts of errors. The legal preacher “majors in” the law, and he does so “to the neglect of” the gospel. But how can a man know whether he has fallen into this error? Clark began his post by insisting that the law must be preached in its first and third uses. So in order to be confessional, a man must preach law more than 0% of the time, but less than . . . what? What are the margins? Clark says that it is not enough to “every so often” mention “grace and faith.” Okay, so what is the threshold past which I am not doing it “every so often”?
Since the confessions don’t tell us how many yards of law to use, or how many pounds of grace must be included, this means that we cannot judge on the basis of touchy-feely emphases. And so this drives Clark to insist that such an error must be found in a corrupt intent of the preacher’s heart, or as Clark put it, “he isn’t really enamored with the gospel.”
Now the fact that I agree with all three uses of the law, and I agree with them in the standard and ordinary way, without fooling about with definitions or anything, and can still be tagged as a “legal preacher” is interesting. This can only be done if Clark peers into my heart, and finds out that I am “not enamored” with the gospel. The most striking thing about this approach is how unconfessional an approach it is. Pietists can discern the thoughts and intents of somebody else’s heart at 50 yards, but confessionalists?
In the old fashioned world I live in, the way you would demonstrate someone to be unconfessional would be by pointing out that the confession says “x,” and the unconfessional guy says “no, no, not x.”
Say, for example, a preacher refuses to say from the pulpit that the civil magistrate has a responsibility to ensure that “the truth of God be kept pure and entire, that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed, all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed, and all the ordinances of God duly settled, administrated, and observed” (WCF 23.3). He refuses to say anything like that because he disagrees with all that stuff, and because he teaches at Westminster West. That really would be unconfessional, and it would be fair to say that it was unconfessional because that is how confessions work — with words, affirmed or denied.
But let us pretend that Clark affirmed that he did actually believe the Confession at this point. And then suppose I called him unconfessional anyway because I didn’t think he meant it deep down in his heart. Now what? Well, somebody should point out that my heart-reading is probably about as accurate as one of those bad-lip-reading videos, and that my reading of hearts like this is about as unconfessional a way of proceeding as you can imagine.
Having said this, let me return to the general problem that Clark identifies. I can agree with him here — I know what that kind of suffocating preaching sounds like. The third use of the law places applications, like nails that hold the board up. A bumbling use of the law creates a heavy blanket over the congregation that is entirely exhausting. All exhortation makes Jack a dull boy.
But I can only agree here because I think “high confessionalism” is not all of life, and when attempted, it ends, as I have argued above, with a functional rejection of the confessions at the very place where confessions were designed to operate.
I entirely agree that it is our job to preach Christ, and not our petty moralistic lists.
“And it is undoubtedly a chief defect in the sermons even of evangelical pulpits, that there is not enough of Christ in them . . . Flavel was right: ‘The excellency of a sermon lies in the plainest discoveries and liveliest applications of Jesus Christ’” (Fish, Power in the Pulpit, p. 6).