The Benefits of Preaching for Mankind

by Humbert of Romans


V. Benefits of Preaching for Mankind

We shall now consider the benefits that preaching brings to all men. Having already shown how necessary preaching is in general for the whole world, we now fell that it is worth while to explain its advantages to the individual – a task that embraces as many diverse forms as the varied instructions offered to us by God’s preachers.

For some, the soul only resides in the body as the dead in the tombs and, just as God shall cause the resurrection of the body on the last day by the power of His word, so at the present time the soul is restored to life by the power of preaching. St. John himself wrote:

“The hour is coming, and now is here, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear shall live” (John 5:25).

Moreover, there are many who, of themselves, are not able to preserve their spiritual life and must rely on the efficacy of the word of God to sustain them:

“Not by bread alone does man live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4).

Like the poverty-stricken, deprived of the means of life and managing to live only by begging, these spiritually poor must seek out preachers in order to hear the tidings of Christ which, if humbly received, will vivify them.

Some avidly desire choice foods; but there is nothing sweeter, provided one has not a depraved taste, than the words of the Master. Listen to the Psalmist:

“How sweet are thy words to my palate, more than honey to my mouth” (Ps. 68:103).

Again, there are many who complain about their ignorance of numerous things. Preaching enlightens them and reveals all that God has taught by His Word. To refer to the Psalms once more,

“The declaration of they words giveth light; and giveth understanding to little ones” (Ps. 118:130).

Preaching can likewise be said to exert a powerful influence upon those who, because of their simplicity, do not understand anything of the spiritual order and who lead a purely animal existence. Our Lord intended His words so to act upon men when He said:

“The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and live” (John 6:64).

To yet another group, which remains groping in the dark and is incapable of following the road that leads to salvation, the penetrating character of preaching serves as a light, whose brilliance shines forth in the middle of the night and points out the way for the searchers of truth. The saintly King David recognized such enlightenment when he exclaimed:

“Thy word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my paths” (Ps. 118:105).

There are some who are physically sick and who need certain remedies. But it is an evident fact that human remedies, though undoubtedly effective in certain diseases, have no power whatsoever when used for other diseases. The same cannot be said about the word of God, since it healing power extends to all maladies as the Book of Wisdom observes:

“Your Word, oh Lord, is all powerful, which heals all thins” (Wisdom. 16:12).

Neither is the Divine Word repelled by, nor helpless against, those whose hearts have become hard and rock-like. Inspired preaching can shatter them with the sureness of a hammer:

“Are not my words as the force of a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?” (Jer. 23:29.)

Then there are others who feel depressed because they have neither piety, nor compunction, nor devotion, such as the Psalmist portrayed when he lamented:

“My soul is as earth without water unto thee” (Ps. 142:6).

They need not despair, for through the diffusion of the heavenly word they are softened and refreshed, and can truthfully say with the psalmist:

“He shall send forth his word and shall melt them” (Ps 147:18).

Among a large number of the Faithful, charity has become weak and ineffective, but, when brought into closer contact with the doctrine of Christ, strong love flames up anew.

“Are not my words as fire, saith the Lord?” (Jer 23:29.)

To the weak-hearted who, like a sterile woman, can never conceive a good resolution, preaching serves as an inspiration and succeeds in making them spiritually fruitful: “The seed is the word of God” (Luke 8:11). Moreover, such a seed performs a double task; it conceives and it actually produces fruit. This is what Isaiah meant when he said:

“And as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and return no more thither, but soak the earth, and water it, and make it to spring, and give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater, so shall be my word which shall go forth from my mouth” (Isaiah 55:10-11).

In much the same way, this word can be compared to a rich wine, and very different from a light wine which is incapable of causing intoxication. One need only recall the example of the saints. They drank deeply of God’s word and were overcome by it to the extent that they forgot the things of this world and became insensible to the blows showered upon them. To quote the Prophet Jeremiah:

“I am become as a drunken man, and as a man full of wine, at the presence of the Lord, and at the presence of His holy words” (Jer. 23:9).

Consider, further, the many unfortunates whose spirit is so dominated by the flesh that they are really slaves of their passions. Detachment is the precious boon that God’s minister of the word brings to these enslaved souls – a detachment about which St. Paul writes:

“For the word of God is living and efficient, and keener than any two-edged sword, and extending even to the division of soul and spirit” (Heb. 4:12),

which is to say that the flesh and spirit in man are separated by the power of preaching.

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For souls afflicted by temptations and in need of a strong defense, the word of God offers a sure means of protection. The Savior Himself proved this when He put His tempter to flight by recalling phrases taken from the Holy Book. It is also attested by St. Paul:

“And the sword of the spirit is the word of God” (Eph. 6:17).

Or, one can regard the word of God as a potent cleansing agent whose function is to remove all stains and at the same time to purify. Jesus told His Apostles:

“You are already clean because of the word that I have spoken to you” (John 15:3).

An example taken from the lives of the Fathers of the Desert deals with this point. They had a soiled basked which was plunged several times into water, becoming cleaner and cleaner, and yet did not retain one drop of the water.

How far from sanctity have been so many men! And now they are sanctified by the inspiration of preaching, just as the Savior wished when He prayed:

“Sanctify them in Truth. Thy word is Truth” (John 17:17).

As in the time of the early Church, the Divine Word today communicates grace, for without grace man could not survive the trials of the present life. And that preaching does diffuse grace is shown from the Book of Proverbs:

“Good doctrine shall give grace” (Prov. 13:15).

Finally, recall how many souls, weakened by serious sin, have been in danger of death and have been saved by the power of God!

“He sent his word and healed them; and delivered them from their destruction” (Ps. 106:20)

is the acknowledgement of the Psalmist. As the word of a doctor saves the body, the word of God saves the soul. St. James advises:

“With meekness receive the ingrafted word, which is able to save your souls” (James  1:21).

The above mentioned benefits are by no means a complete list of the useful effects of preaching on the individual. And, since we cannot enumerate all the advantages in this work, we shall sum up with the phrase:

“The word of God abounds in power” (Eccles 8:4).

Indeed, that word, with its countless good effects, should be cherished as a precious gem of unsurpassed value.

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This is an excerpt from the Preachers Institute publication:

On the Formation of Preachers

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About Fr. John A. Peck

Director of the Preachers Institute, priest in the Orthodox Church in America, award-winning graphic designer and media consultant, and non-profit administrator.
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