The Westminster Assembly had a high view of preaching by those called to the office. When the Assembly wrote their confession and catechisms, preaching was on the heart of the assembly, as the preacher and his work appear over thirty times in the confession and catechisms. The hope was to reform the pulpit as much as they hoped to reform the church.
The English pulpit, in the years leading up to the assembly, was in shambles. Dr. Chad Van Dixhoorn cites a published account that “publicly catalogued the failings of a hundred ministers ejected from their pulpits in London.” He says the English pulpit was so bad that there was “neglect of the pulpit, flirting from the pulpit, misogynist jokes from the pulpit, making a business ventures of out of burials, begging for money during Communion, and bad tempered behavior: throwing communion elements on the ground, name-calling from the pulpit and public cursing…”
The Westminster Assembly sought to reform the English pulpit and, by God’s grace, that occurred through seeing that only called men preached; through instruction in preaching; and a robust theology of what occurs in the pulpit. Some of the assembly’s work over a decade was spent in examining and licensing men for the ministry. Preaching that is according to the Scriptures was to be received as the Word of God.
By God’s grace, those who enter into a confessionally-minded Presbyterian church will be in contact with preaching that glorifies Christ, elevates the means of grace, pricks the heart and conscience, and comforts those in need of the Spirit’s consolation. Hopefully you have this type of preaching, or at least long to see it in your church’s pulpit.
But good preaching was not the end for the Westminster Assembly. They did not see the work of preaching as a one-sided endeavor. The preacher did not just preach “good” sermons and the churches were to experience spiritual and numerical growth. No, the ordinary means of grace were not merely replacing the implicit faith required of those hearing the mass or readings from the Prayer Book. The ordinary means of grace were just that: means. The preaching of the Word required a reception, it required a hearing of the Word. Preaching required an audience.
For the Westminster Assembly, the right hearing of the Word preached was as important as the right preaching of the Word. The Westminster Larger Catechism asks in question 160, “What is required of those that hear the Word preached?” The answer that the assembly gave was:
It is required of those that hear the Word preached, that they attend upon it with diligence, preparation, and prayer; examine what they hear by the Scriptures; receive the truth with faith, love, meekness, and readiness of mind, as the Word of God; meditate, and confer of it; hide it in their hearts, and bring forth the fruit of it in their lives.
In other words, the hearer cannot merely say, “Pastor, your messages are not cutting it for me!” The hearer has work to do as well, and when this work is put in—both in preaching and hearing—robust, warm, godly churches and Christians will emerge.
Believer, are you diligent in your hearing? Are you prayerful in your preparation? Do you examine yourself according to the preaching that you hear? Do you say, “This is God’s Word for me this week!”? Do you meditate on the Word or does it fall to the wayside once the preacher says, “Amen”? Do you talk to others about the preaching that you hear? Do you hide it in your heart, or is it quickly forgotten? Does the preaching of the Word change your life as you apply it to your specific needs? If not, you are not hearing in a reformed and presbyterian manner. You are not a Westminster hearer, although you may have a Westminster preacher. Believer, let the Word change you—hear it as our Standards would have you to hear.