This excerpt from Machen’s Education, Christianity & the State points to the importance of doctrinal teaching and preaching. Exhortation, he says, has unfortunately taken the primary place.
We have been discussing today the uses of Christian scholarship. It is important… for evangelism; it is important, in the second place… for the defence of the faith. But it has still another use. It is important, in the third place, for the building up of the Church.
At this point, as at the first two points, we have the New Testament on our side. At the beginning of the Church’s life, as we are told in the Book of Acts, the Apostolic Church continued steadfastly, not only in fellowship and in breaking of bread and prayers, but also in the apostles’ teaching. There is no encouragement whatever, in the New Testament, for the notion that when a man has been converted all has been done for him that needs to be done. Read the Epistles of Paul, in particular, from that point of view. Paul was the greatest of evangelists, and he gloried particularly in preaching the gospel just in places where it had never been heard; yet his Epistles are full of the edification or building up of those who have already been won; and the whole New Testament clearly discourages the exclusive nourishment of Christians with milk instead of with solid food.
In the modern Church, this important work of edification has been sadly neglected; it has been neglected even by some of those who believe that the Bible is the Word of God. Too often doctrinal preaching has been pushed from the primary place, in which it rightly belongs, to a secondary place; exhortation has taken the place of systematic instruction; and the people have not been built up. Is it any wonder that a church thus nurtured is carried away with every wind of doctrine and is helpless in the presence of unbelief? A return to solid instruction in the pulpit, at the desk of the Sunday School teacher, and particularly in the home, is one of the crying needs of the hour.
I do not mean that a sermon should be a lecture; I do not mean that a preacher should address his congregation as a teacher addresses his class. No doubt some young preachers do err in that way. Impressed with the truth that we are trying to present tonight, they have endeavoured to instruct the people in Christian doctrine; but in their efforts to be instructive they have put entirely too many points into one sermon and the congregation has been confused. That error, unquestionably, should be avoided. But it should be avoided not by the abandonment of doctrinal preaching, but by our making doctrinal preaching real preaching. The preacher should present to his congregation the doctrine that the Holy Scripture contains; but he should fire the presentation of that doctrine with the devotion of the heart, and he should show how it can be made fruitful for Christian life. (J. Gresham Machen, Education, Christianity & the State, pp. 35-36)
This post is the thirteenth of a series of excerpts from chapter 2 of J. Gresham Machen’s book Education, Christianity & the State, “The Importance of Christian Scholarship.” This chapter is a compilation of addresses given at the Bible League meetings in Westminster, London, on June 17, 1932. Page references are from the 1987 Trinity Foundation edition of this book.