God is present and speaks through the Bible. God is present and speaks through the preacher.

Reflect on the following quotations from John Calvin:

‘Hence the Scriptures obtain full authority among believers only when men regard them as having sprung from heaven, as if there the living words of God were heard’ [Inst: 1.7.1].

‘For as God alone is a fit witness of himself in his Word, so also the Word will not find acceptance in men’s hearts before it is sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit’ [Inst: 1.7.4].

‘Scripture is from God…we feel that the undoubted power of his divine majesty lives and breathes there. By this power we are drawn and inflamed, knowingly and willingly, to obey him’ [Inst: 1.8.5].

‘The Word is the Instrument by which the Lord dispenses the illumination of his Spirit to believers’ [Inst: 1.9.3]. And when God does so work in his Word and in our hearts ‘we affirm with utter certainty [just as if we were gazing upon the majesty of God himself] that it has flowed to us from the very mouth of God by the ministry of men’ [Inst: 1.7.5].

‘It is certain that if we come to church we shall not only hear a mortal man speaking, but we shall feel {even by his secret power} that God is speaking to our souls, that he is the teacher. He so touches us that the human voice enters into us and so profits us that we are refreshed and nourished by it’.[1]

‘When God’s words be preached to us by men, let us receive it as if we saw his majesty face to face…we must not take the Gospel as a doctrine bred here below, but we must always have God’s majesty before our eyes. [2]

‘{Y}et here God comes to call us…that is the way God has called us through the gospel like a trumpet calling us to assemble with his people’.[3]

‘Thus the preaching of the Gospel is like a descent that God makes to come and seek us.’[4]

‘If we obey the teaching of {Christ’s} Gospel when men speak it to us it is as if he himself spoke to us.’[5] ‘Where there is preaching, there God’s voice rings in our ears.’[6]

‘The word of truth holds us bound: both the one who speaks and those who hear. For God will rule over us, and Jesus Christ alone will be our master’. [7]

‘Therefore we must learn to see God when it pleases him to reveal himself to us, which he does as often as Jesus Christ is preached to us’.[8]

‘God works by his words that are preached to us. It is not a bare voice that sounds in the air and disappears. For God puts into his words the power of his Holy Spirit’.[9]

‘{God} calls us to him as if he had his mouth open and we saw him there in person.’[10]

If Calvin is right, should we not increase our faith, expectation, excitement, and engagement in our preaching? And should we not work to increase the faith, expectation, excitement, and engagement of our congregation? Is not God still speaking the same Bible words today to us? Is not Christ still our teacher? Does the Holy Spirit not speak today through the words he inspired when they were written?

Here are some ideas.

  • In your preparation, pray with trust and confidence that God will speak through the Scriptures, praise and thank him that he will do so.
  • Prepare the prayer you pray at the beginning and end of your sermon, so that it is full of faith and expectation, praise and thanksgiving, and also honed to reflect the content and application of the Bible passage and sermon.
  • When referring to Bible verses in the sermon, use phrases like, ‘What is God showing us in v. 3?’ ‘What is God’s word to us in v.7?’ ‘Hear God’s message in vv 9-10’ ‘What does the Holy Spirit say to us in v. 12? What does the Holy Spirit show us in v. 13? ‘See how God invites us in v. 15’.
  • Look for the drama of the Bible passage, the people, the images, the emotions, the contrasts, and the motivations. Make the most of them in the sermon, and don’t ignore them. Help people to feel all of them, with their tensions, challenges, excitements, warnings, hopes and comforts.
  • Work to achieve the full range of response that the Bible passage expects, not just understanding, but also emotions and action.
  • Use an engaged tone when you preach: engage deeply with God, and engage deeply with the people. Be appropriately self-revealing at a significant level.
  • Avoid the common ways in which preachers reduce the emotional tone of their sermons, by being merely didactic, merely educational, by defusing any emotions or drama in the text by off-hand comments or jokes, by using trivial or distracting illustrations, or by failing to engage with God, the Bible passage, or the congregation at any deep level.
  • Do not fear that ‘more heart’ means ‘less head’. God does not follow this false dichotomy in his verbal revelation in the Bible!
  • Don’t fill your sermon with so much information that there is no room for emotions!
  • Train yourself in appropriate ways to express emotions in your preaching: the emotions of God, of the Bible passage, your own emotions, or the emotions of the congregation.
  • Do not just teach and then apply. Spend time urging the congregation to respond.
  • Include application and urging during the sermon, not just at the end.
  • Include occasional sentence prayers to God in your sermon
  • Train yourself in cultural awareness so that you know how emotions work in your congregation.
  • Train yourself and your congregation to love God with heart, mind, soul, and strength.

For example, look for the people, the drama, the emotions, the motivations and the theology in this passage from Colossians 1. [Don’t just look for the meaning!]

Make the most of the people, the drama, the emotions, and the motivations, as well as the meaning and theology.

 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace. You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.  For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. NIV11

people, emotions, drama, motivations, theology, meaning …

Pump your faith and pump your expectations!

Trust that God who inspired these words would speak them again to the congregation through the Bible-reading and your preaching; that they would receive them with faith, love, and obedience, and that God would work through these words to transform, convert, encourage, rebuke, teach, and grow his people to maturity in Christ.


  1. . Calvin, John, Sermons on Timothy and Titus, trans. by L.T., London, 1579, facs. reprint, Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh, 1983, 665.

  2. . Calvin, John, Sermons on Deuteronomy, repr. Edinburgh/Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 1987 [1583], 255.

  3. . Calvin, 2008: 47.

  4. . Calvin, Sermon on 2 Samuel, as quoted in Parker, T. H. L., The Oracles of God: an Introduction to the Preaching of John Calvin, London and Redhill: Lutterworth, 1947, 56.

  5. . Calvin, Deuteronomy, 256.

  6. . Ibid, 1206.

  7. . Calvin, Timothy and Titus, 804.

  8. . Calvin, Timothy and Titus, 629.

  9. . Calvin, Timothy and Titus, 665.

  10. . Calvin, Commentary on Ephesians, as quoted in Parker, T. H. L., Calvin’s Preaching, Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1992, 42.

Peter Adam May 2022