Avoiding Legalism and License in Preaching

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Kevin DeYoung:

Wise words from John Witherspoon’s farewell sermon in Paisley, the bustling Scotland town the famous Kirk minister left for America in May 1768:

If you preach the free forgiveness of sin through Christ, without at the same time showing the necessity of regeneration and sanctification by his Spirit, it will either not be embraced at all, or it will be turned into licentiousness.

And if you preach the duties of the law, without at the same time displaying the grace of the gospel and the vital influence that flows from the head to the members, you will either build up men in a destructive system of Pharisaical religion and self-righteousness, or bring them under the Egyptian bondage of making brick through they are not furnished with straw.

The privileges and duties of the gospel stand in an inseparable connection; if you take away the first you starve and mortify the last. (“Ministerial Fidelity in Declaring the Whole Counsel of God” in Works, 2.518)

This strikes me as good biblical balance. Preach the free offer of the gospel, while also calling sinners to be born again and be holy as God is holy. And when you preach the imperatives of Scripture, make sure these same sinners know there is mercy for all their imperfections and sanctifying power in the midst of all their weaknesses.

Witherspoon was right: the privileges and duties of the gospel stand in inseparable connection.

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I am currently serving churches and colleges as a bible teacher, overseas and in the UK.

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