“…we have full occasion to observe of how great importance it is, to preach the special doctrine of the gospel, the doctrine of faith; and that, not only in order to give sinners encouragement respecting free justification, but also with regard to sanctification.
The Gospel, the doctrine of faith, is the special truth of God, and of divine revelation; this is the great means of sanctification, according to that declaration and petition of our blessed Saviour to his Father: Sanctify them through thy truth; thy word is truth.
“The Gospel, the doctrine of faith, is the special truth of God, and of divine revelation; this is the great means of sanctification…”
It is not always the Gospel that is delivered from the pulpit. A man may preach very sensibly concerning the divine perfections, and the authority of God’s government and laws. He may set forth the general obligations to duty and obedience. He may inculcate the amiableness of virtue in general, or of particular virtues; and may represent many worthy examples, for men’s encouragement and excitement.
He may earnestly call on men to repent of their sins, and to reform the disposition of their hearts, and their course of life. He may inculcate this with all the advantage of elocution, earnestness, and action, that would entitle him to the character of the complete orator. The composition may be very skilful, the language elegant and pathetical, and the preacher may be so greatly applauded, that is may sometimes be said, He hath his reward. Not only may the ears of the hearers be tickled, but their minds may be very agreeably entertained with sentiments that are in themselves just, and with many a good thought.
“A discourse may have in it much truth that is consistent with the gospel, and presupposed by it, and yet having nothing in it of the gospel, properly so called.”
Yet in all this there may be nothing by which a soul may be relieved and refreshed, that labours and is heavy laden; nothing by which a serious soul may be directed to the proper sources of sanctification. A discourse may have in it much truth that is consistent with the gospel, and presupposed by it, and yet having nothing in it of the gospel, properly so called.
Of such a discourse, with all its advantage of sentiment and expression, it may be said, as the apostle says of the law, that it is weak through the flesh. The corruption of nature, in which sin hath dominion, is too strong for philosophy, logic, and rhetoric- too strong for refined speculation, strong argument, and the greatest oratory.
It is only the law of the Spirit of life that can make men free from the unhappy law of sin and death, that prevails naturally in the hearts of men; and what arguments or exhortations will prevail with the hearts of men to be truly holy and virtuous, whilst they are under the miserable law and dominion of sin?
“It is the gospel that exhibits God’s highest glory…”
It is the gospel that is the ministration of the Spirit. Men receive the Spirit through faith (Gal. iii., 14) by the hearing of faith (Gal. iii. 2). It is the gospel that exhibits God’s highest glory, which he chiefly designs to display before sinful men, even that glory of God that shineth in the face of Christ, and by which the Holy Spirit himself is glorified; and it is it that will be honoured with the concomitant influence of the Holy Spirit.
“…the chief thing in preaching should be to preach Christ, and the doctrine of the gospel concerning him.”
It is true after all, that whilst the faithful preacher may be to God, a sweet savour of Christ he may be to them who perish the savour of death, through their own fault; yet the powerful influence of the Holy Spirit is not likely to attend any other means, even any other truth, than the truth and doctrine of faith, the gospel, which will be the savour of life unto life to some…the chief thing in preaching should be to preach Christ, and the doctrine of the gospel concerning him. Too many sermons come abroad into the world that are much wanting in that respect.”
(James Fraser of Alness, A Treatise on Sanctification: An Explication of Romans Chapters 6, 7 & 8:1-4, pp. 463-464; 468)