“It does not answer the aim which God had in this institution, merely for men to have good commentaries and expositions on the Scripture, and other good books of divinity; because, although these may tend, as well as preaching, to give a good doctrinal or speculative understanding of the word of God, yet they have not an equal tendency to impress them on men’s hearts and affections. God hath appointed a particular and lively application of his word, in the preaching of it, as a fit means to affect sinners with the importance of religion, their own misery, the necessity of a remedy, and the glory and sufficiency of a remedy provided; to stir up the pure minds of the saints, quicken their affections by often bringing the great things of religion in their remembrance, and setting them in their proper colors, though they know them, and have been fully instructed in them already.”
We now come to the end of this series of articles on preaching by Al Martin. I have found his thoughts on this subject to be challenging and Biblical. However, I feel his advice is something we should already know, and have carelessly and rebelliously lost along our way. God help us where we have failed to bring glory to your precious Name! Help us to teach and preach by your Holy Spirit! Now, to Al Martin’s final remarks:
The manner of our delivery [preaching] should be marked by reasonable orderliness. In preaching the truth of God to men, we must never forget that they are men whose minds are so constructed as to be able to receive thoughts in a logical structure. The mind simply cannot receive truth when it comes as one big formless blob. We must seek to send our people home with a few stakes driven into the mind, and certain aspects of the truth of God hung upon those stakes.
Consider with me the necessity of directness in the manner of our preaching. There is a most excellent section on preaching the gospel in Charles Bridges’ book The Christian Ministry. In this section, he comments on the matter of directness by saying ‘For this end, we must show them from first to last, that we are not merely saying good things in their presence but directing what we say to them personally as a matter which concerns them beyond expression.’ When one reads the sermons from the great preachers of the past, one is struck with their holy directness. One feels as though these sermons of the old masters are boxing him up into a corner where he must do something with the truth with which he is being confronted. Joseph Alleine in his Alarm to the Unconverted stands as a classic illustration of this principle. Again and again, he backs the sinner against the wall, as it were, with questions that cause the sinner to reflect upon his way, upon his own state before God. . . .
May God deliver us from simply saying good things in the presence of a gathered people, and enable us so to preach that men will know that we are saying weighty things to them personally.
What is wrong with preaching today? I am sure that many of the faults are exemplified in my own life and ministry as much as in others, but I would suggest that together we consider the problem of preaching today as a problem of the MAN — in the area of personal devotional experience, in the realm of practical piety, and in the purity of his motivation. What is wrong with preaching today? Some of the problem is in the MESSAGE — the substance of what is preached, and in the manner in which it is being communicated. May God grant that where any of these things legitimately apply to us we may suffer the word of exhortation, and by the grace of God apply ourselves to be more effective communicators of the truth of the Word of God to our own needy generation. (“What is Wrong with Preaching Today?”)
Charles Spurgeon preaches here on the preacher’s call:
If a man be truly called of God to the ministry, I will defy him to withhold himself from it. A man who has really within him the inspiration of the Holy Ghost calling him to preach, cannot help it, – he must preach. As fire within the bones, so will that influence be until it blazes forth. Friends may check him, foes criticize him, despisers sneer at him, the man is indomitable; he must preach if he has the call of Heaven. All earth might forsake him; but he would preach to the barren mountain-tops. If he has the call of Heaven, if he had no congregation, he would preach to the rippling waterfalls, and let the brooks hear his voice. He could not be silent. He would become a voice crying in the wilderness, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.” I no more believe it possible to stop ministers than to stop the stars of heaven. I think it no more possible to make a man cease from preaching, if he is really called, than to stay some mighty cataract, by seeking, in an infant’s cup, to catch the rushing torrent. The man has been moved of Heaven, who shall stop him? He has been touched of God, who shall impede him? With an eagle’s wing, he must fly; who shall chain him to the earth? With a seraph’s voice, he must speak; who shall seal his lips? And when a man does speak as the Spirit gives him utterance, he will feel a holy joy akin to that of Heaven; and when it is over, he wishes to be at his work again, he longs to be once more preaching. Is not the Lord’s Word like a fire within me? Must I not speak if God has placed it there? (A sermon on 1 Corinthians 9:16, August 5, 1855 – New Park Street Pulpit Volume 1, Sermon 34)
The manner in which the Word of God is preached will certainly make the hearers aware of its importance to the preacher. Al Martin writes:
I wish to apply myself very briefly to the area of the manner of the message:
Genuine urgency is the mother of true eloquence. A man seeking to arouse people from their sleep because of the imminent danger of fire will find little success in his mission if he simply ambles up and down the hallways of the burning dwelling mouthing with correct English pronunciation some words regarding the imminent danger. However, let a man be convinced that those lives are truly in danger, and that their deliverance hinges on his ability to stir them into immediate action, and such a man will not fail to rouse people from their sleep and cause them to take the necessary action for their safety. The urgency of such a man is not primarily born of adeptness in the arts of elocution, but it breaks forth out of the womb of genuine concern and urgency. Urgency in some, because of personality, temperament, or because of built-in microphones, may express itself in volume. In others, it may be expressed in other ways in which urgency finds her own overtones.
Urgency will cause us to labor in the area of securing and maintaining vital audience contact in the context of preaching. If we have come into the pulpit not simply to deliver an oration but to communicate urgent truth to needy men and women, we shall not rest unless we have their attention. … God alone can get the truth into the heart, but you must give yourself to gaining their ears.
Holy Spirit-wrought urgency will also drive us to work cultivating the art of communicating to men in a popular vocabulary. When we use a given word in the context of preaching and receive that ‘long ago and far away’ look, we should immediately sense that the word we have used has not registered. If we are sensitive to this, we will then use a different word. . . .
Also, this matter of urgency will drive us to work at applicatory preaching. Perhaps the most difficult part of a regular pulpit ministry is the work of application. But just as a competent physician who longs for the health of those committed to his care will not be content unless he knows the specific maladies of his people and is able to apply specific remedies, so the true servant of God … will labor to know the specific expressions of sinful need and then to apply the specific remedies set forth in the fullness of our Lord Jesus Christ. (“What is Wrong with Preaching Today?”)
There is something wrong with preaching today because the counterfeit Christian is rarely challenged from the pulpit any more. Is there not something seriously wrong when we allow people to sit in our pews week after week without pointing to the matters of faith and holiness upon which they should examine the truth of their Christian walk? According to Al Martin:
Suppose I were to go to my local bank, to deposit two twenty-dollar bills. If the teller were to take them and say to me, ‘Just a minute, Mr. Martin, I think there might be a counterfeit here.’ If those bills are genuine, they stand to lose nothing by the close scrutiny which the bank teller gives them. In fact, they gain something. If he takes them to the back of the bank and places them under a magnifying glass, and examines them as to their genuineness, if they are genuine, I shall never be more confident of their genuineness than when they come back unscathed by close scrutiny. The only one that stands to lose anything is the counterfeit. This principle is true in searching applicatory preaching which sets forth the distinguishing marks of a true believer. The only one who stands to lose anything under a scriptural and balanced preaching of these things is the spurious believer. And he ought to be disturbed now while the day of salvation is still with us. If we err in making unscriptural distinctions, and unnecessarily trouble the godly, may the Lord open our eyes and bring us back from the error of our way! However, this is not the practical danger in our day. Rather, we are lulling people to sleep through our failure to set before them in a dose experimental way the marks of true faith as opposed to the faith of the demons. [See James 2:19].
Brethren, the Bible gives us many explicit statements which we may set before our people. Jesus said ‘My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.’ Let us not fear to tell our people that if they are not hearing and following Him they have no grounds to claim they are His sheep. Let us dare to tell them that though they may know all about the fact that our Lord has had His sheep upon His great heart from eternity in the covenant of redemption, though they may know all the facts of how He died for His sheep with a particular intent in His death, and how the Holy Spirit effectually calls them, the issue which we must press upon them is this: Are they hearing His voice? Are they following? We must not back off from pressing such issues. We must press the issues as set forth in the First Epistle of John, where the Apostle declares, ‘These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God that ye may know that ye have eternal life.’ [I John 5:13]. What things did John set before them? Did he give them a string of texts upon which to place their fingers for assurance? No. Rather, he gave them a series of tests, by which they were to examine their lives. He said, ‘Hereby we do know that we know Him if we keep His commandments.’ Again, ‘Hereby we know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.’ The consciences of our hearers need to be wounded in order that they might ask the question, ‘Am I truly in the faith in the light of the objective standard of the Word of God?’ (“What is Wrong with Preaching Today?”)
One of the great perils that face preachers . . . is the constant danger of lapsing into a purely cerebral form of proclamation, which falls exclusively upon the intellect. Men become obsessed with doctrine and end up as brain-oriented preachers. There is consequently a fearful impoverishment in their hearers emotionally, devotionally, and practically. Such pastors are men of books and not men of people; they know the doctrines, but they know nothing of the emotional side of religion. They set little store upon experience or upon constant fellowship and interaction with almighty God. It is one thing to explain the truth of Christianity to men and women; it is another thing to feel the overwhelming power of the sheer loveliness and enthrallment of Jesus Christ and communicate that dynamically to the whole person who listens so that there is a change of such dimensions that he loves Him with all his heart and soul and mind and strength. (“Powerful Preaching,” chapter 14 in The Preacher and Preaching, edited by Samuel T. Logan, p. 369)
A Christian pastor was recently slaughtered in the Muslim-majority African nation of Tanzania. While butchering Christian minorities is becoming increasingly common in that part of the Muslim world, the context for this latest slaughter is somewhat different than the usual forms of Christian persecution under Islam—such as allegations of “blaspheming” the name of Muslim prophet Muhammad. And yet, as in most forms of modern-day Muslim attacks on Christians, it too fits patterns and precedents.
“To know the Word of God, to live the Word of God, to preach the Word, to teach the Word, is the sum of all wisdom, the heart of all Christian service.”
An area in which Reformed churches are weak is the failure to explain the necessity and nature of repentance. The duty, nature, and fruits of repentance must be clearly preached to our congregations. According to Al Martin:
[M]uch contemporary preaching is defective in that it lacks solid doctrinal substance. We have suffered from a mentality that has regarded doctrine and theology as some form of a medieval hobgoblin! The fact of the matter is that truth is beautiful in its unity and symmetry. Doctrinal preaching is that preaching which is always disciplined by the framework of the whole counsel of God. It refuses imbalance and lopsidedness, and seeks to set every individual facet of truth into the context of the whole spectrum of divine truth. These first two factors must be fused together in an ever-increasing measure in the life of the true servant of Christ. Doctrinal preaching which is not exegetically founded and textually oriented, will lead to a philosophical orthodoxy. On the other hand, dealing with texts and the exegesis of those texts without showing the inter-relationship of truth, will lead to a disjointed and fragmented concept of divine truth.
[Another] area, in which the substance of contemporary preaching is marked by glaring weakness, is in the matter of practical application. In many ministries, there may be solid biblical content, a great measure of doctrinal substance, but very little practical application in which men are made to see the implications of the content and doctrine, so that they may know how to adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things. In regard to this general principle, I would like to suggest … areas in which Reformed circles are weak. What I now say applies to those of us who hold, without embarrassment, to that system of doctrine set forth in the great creeds that came out of the Reformation.
[O]ur preaching is weak because of its failure to spell out the necessity and nature of evangelical repentance. In our overreaction against a form of ‘works-salvation’ and in our reaction against Arminian activism, I think that some of us have fallen into the philosophical habit of thinking, ‘How can I preach man’s responsibility to repent when I know he has no ability to do this?’ Apparently, this problem did not bother the Apostle Paul. No one spoke more dearly than he of man’s utter inability to do anything spiritually good apart from the direct sovereign work of God. Yet he spoke most dearly of man’s responsibility to repent. … I have had the very unhappy experience of preaching in churches that include the doctrine of repentance in their official creed, in their confessions and in their catechisms, but where it was obviously not a doctrine preached and believed in by the rank and file of the members of those churches. Often, at the conclusion of a series of sermons on the subject of repentance, I have had people come to me expressing great amazement, and saying that they had never heard such things, even though they had spent a number of years within the framework of a good, solid Reformed church. Now, it is not that they did not hear the word ‘repentance’. They had heard it, but because the duty, the nature, and fruits of that repentance were not clearly spelled out, they were not sufficiently convinced of its nature and necessity. All who listen to us preach for any measure of time should come to the conclusion after sitting under our ministries, that unless they repent and bring forth the fruits of repentance, they will perish even though their heads may be packed full of objective and correct orthodoxy. One of the dear marks of the ministries of the men whom God has used in past days is that they all, without exception, spelled out the necessity, the nature, and the fruits of evangelical repentance. (“What is Wrong with Preaching Today?”)
If you identify yourself as a Christian, then I assume it really matters to you whether or not Jesus wants you to attend church. After all, He is your King…not just your adviser…or your buddy…but your Lord…and your God. Right?
We live in a day where many professing believers are being tempted to ditch the whole “church thing.” In some cases, it’s because they had a bad experience in a church. That is understandable…because it happens. Just as divorce takes place in marriages, pain is also experienced in certain church situations. So what’s the solution? Should you dump church…or instead, get connected to one where you will grow?
Preaching is hard work. I know some preachers make it look easy, but it is not. As noted in the following article, you must first have the talent for speaking in public and continuously seek to improve it. Secondly, you must always be filling your mind with God’s Word. This should occupy the majority of the preacher’s time. Al Martin writes:
Let us now consider what is wrong with preaching today as it relates to the message, which is being preached. It is perfectly possible for a man to be marked by an eminent degree of personal piety and practical godliness, and yet to be woefully lacking in a powerful preaching ministry. Of course, part of this problem may be due to the fact that some men were never furnished by the great Head of the church with the requisite gifts for a teaching and preaching ministry. In such cases, the only answer to the problem is that such a man must recognize that he is not in the place for which God has furnished him. With no sense of shame, he should leave an active teaching and preaching ministry and seek employment in the secular world, or in some other form of the work of Christ’s church, which does not demand some measure of God-given gifts for oral communication.
However, I am directing my remarks to men who have reasonable grounds to assume that they have been given sufficient gifts to stand as preachers of the Word of God. . . .
Most preaching today, even in good Reformed circles, lacks substantial biblical content. One of the unique things about the great preachers of the past, the thing that makes their written sermons live hundreds of years after they were written, is that they are marked by their weightiness of substantial biblical content. What is it that gives the sermons of these great ambassadors their spiritual power? It is this. They are packed full of solid biblical substance, so that one feels that standing between him and the preacher is a wall of divine truth; that the issue is not with the hearer and the preacher, but with the hearer and the Word of God being conveyed to him by the preacher. That is precisely what men ought to sense when they hear us preach. … [M]uch of the problem of preaching today in respect of its lack of biblical content is due to the fact that men are too busy running the ecclesiastical machinery of their churches to soak their minds and spirits in the truth of Holy Scripture. It is only when the preacher’s mind is saturated in Holy Scripture that the Holy Spirit will bring to remembrance the truth of God in the context of preaching, and enable the servant of God to wield the Sword of the Spirit with power and authority. Then, even the illustrations and allusions will in great measure be drawn from the very words and thought patterns of Holy Scripture. (“What is Wrong with Preaching Today?”)
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; (Acts 20:28-29 ESV)
I believe that many will agree with me that Christianity has lost much of its influence on our modern culture. It has even become politically incorrect to mention it in the history books of our nation, unless it is portrayed in a negative context. Only 150 years ago, Christian influence was obvious in American education. Most of the early colleges, such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Dartmouth were founded by Christians who believed there was no true knowledge or wisdom without Jesus Christ (see “Harvard’s Rules and Precepts”). The first 106 out of 108 colleges in the US were started as Christian schools primarily to ensure the availability of an educated clergy. University of Houston researchers, Donald Lutz and Charles Hyneman, have concluded that 34% of the quotes used by the Founding Fathers of our country between 1760 and 1805 were from the Bible. This certainly indicates that the Bible and Christianity were a major influence on these men and the early history of America. However, this is certainly not true of our leaders and the culture in general today.
How has it happened then, that Christianity has lost its prominent position of influence on American culture and modern society in the Western nations? At the core of it, I think the primary reason is that the “fear of God” has been replaced by the “fear of man”. Modern civilization has become self-absorbed. We are like a man who constantly checks the mirror to see what he thinks others see in him. It is the pride of life, which drives a man to desire independence from God while chaining himself to the ungodly opinions of others.
The sacred writings of the modern world are founded upon the wisdom of men, self-help books, psychology texts, and the latest People Magazine. The authority of Scripture is denied, if not out-rightly – then by neglect. The Bible is seen as providing “a” way, not “the” way. All men are seen as basically “good” without ever defining what “good” is.
Too many ministers today see their work as a job rather than a calling. They lack spiritual knowledge and personal holiness. Many are like the priests described by Ezekiel, “Her priests have done violence to my law and have profaned my holy things. They have made no distinction between the holy and the common, neither have they taught the difference between the unclean and the clean, and they have disregarded my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them. Her princes in her midst are like wolves tearing the prey, shedding blood, destroying lives to get dishonest gain. And her prophets have smeared whitewash for them, seeing false visions and divining lies for them, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD,’ when the LORD has not spoken.” (Ezekiel 22:26-28 ESV) The essential good news of salvation is lost in trying to make the church meet the world’s standard of success.
Therefore, increasingly – as time has passed, parents and children have passed through Sunday Schools and worship services without being given a firm foundation in the Christian faith. Is it any wonder that so many of our youth, who have attended church all their lives, go off to the modern university and promptly lose what faith they have?
When the doctrines of the church and personal beliefs are allowed to become poles apart, is it any wonder that the definition of sin becomes uncertain and “salvation by death” the acceptable conclusion of a life? The underlying wish that everyone goes to heaven has sent too many to hell.
As the clergy has become weaker by submitting itself to the bonds of public opinion, the church and its members have lost their purpose of being “salt and light”. Indeed, how can they be salt and light when the world has become the standard by which the modern church measures all things? God has not changed. The Bible has not changed. Therefore, if the church has lost much of its influence for good in society, it is because the men and women who make up the church have chosen to ride the whirlwind of public approval rather than honor God.
We would do well to follow God’s instructions: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.” (Jeremiah 6:16 ESV) God is speaking here to His people about using good judgment and not blindly following false prophets and priests. The Bible is our way mark to direct us which way to take. The ways of the world will never direct us to fulfill God’s purpose.
An Iranian-born pastor who is a U.S. citizen is undergoing physical and mental torture in a notoriously brutal Tehran prison while an international campaign for his release mounts, according to the American Center for Law and Justice.
Saeed Abedini was sentenced to eight years in prison for establishing a network of Christian house churches years ago and for “attempting to sway Iranian youth away from Islam.” Since his conviction Jan. 27, Abedini has not been allowed to communicate with his wife and two children who live in the United States.
If there is a problem with preaching today, certainly part of the problem lies with the man who is preaching. Al Martin addresses now the purity of the pastor’s motivation:
[In Preaching] pure motivation will involve love of the truth. We are called upon to declare the whole counsel of God (See Acts 20:27). Paul declares that only as he did this was he pure from the blood of all men. He declared the whole spectrum of divine revelation. There is only one reason why we preach that men are lost, bound in their sins, and under the condemnation of God — it is that God declares it to be so, and out of love to His truth we proclaim it. Whether it is palatable or unpalatable truth, our love of the truth is such that we want the whole world to know all that God has revealed.
[Another] area touching this matter of purity of motivation is love to men. I am convinced, brethren, that this is what will drive us to applicatory preaching. We must have such a love for men that we cannot stand to see them slumber under our ministries. We must have such a love that it will drive us to a sense of responsibility to do all within our power to make the truth of God live to them. M’Cheyne said, ‘The man who loves you the most is the man who tells you the most truth about yourself.’ In II Corinthians 7, Paul asks a question, ‘Am I sorry that I made you sorry?’ In answer to his own rhetorical question he said, ‘I am glad I made you sorry, because your sorrow led to your salvation.’ In another place he said, ‘Am I loved the less because I tell you the truth?’ He went on to say, ‘I am sorry, but I am going to love you anyway and continue to tell you the truth even if you don’t love me.’ What hinders us from being faithful to men is really a form of self-love. We love our own feelings so much that we are not willing to run the risk of offending people and getting them mad at us. Oh, they may perish in hell, but that is all right just so long as they perish loving us. I have heard people say of certain ministers, ‘That man surely preached in a fearless manner.’ Why, brethren, that ought to be said of every one of us, because our love to men must be such that we are willing to communicate the truth, truth that they may not relish, but which is for their good and their salvation. (“What’s Wrong with Preaching Today?”)
A minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ should know the smile of God and the fear of God. According to Al Martin:
The best definition I know of the fear of God is found in John Brown’s Commentary on I Peter where he uses eighteen pages to expound the little phrase ‘fear God.’ The essence of his comments on that section is that the fear of God is an attitude and disposition in which one regards the smile of God as his greatest delight, and hence his primary aim, and the frown of God as the greatest thing to be dreaded and avoided. A man, who walks in the fear of God amongst men, as the servant of men, but with an eye single to the smile or frown of God, is the man whose motive is such that his tongue will be loosed to speak the mind of God. God said to Jeremiah, ‘Be not afraid of their faces lest I confound thee before them. They shall fight against thee, but they shall not prevail against thee, for I am with thee, saith the Lord, to deliver thee.’ Jeremiah had previously said to the Lord, upon the indication of God’s call to the prophetic office, ‘But I am a child, I know not how to speak.’ God said to Jeremiah, ‘Say not, I am a child, for to whomsoever I shall send thee thou shalt go, and whatsoever I command thee, thou shalt speak.’ God was saying, in essence, that his call to the prophetic office was not a matter of his experience or age, but that God was looking for a vessel that would go where He would send it, and would say what He would command it. In I Thessalonians 2:4 the Apostle Paul declares, ‘As we were allowed of God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God who trieth our hearts.’
One of the elements of powerful preaching is preaching as a man that has been liberated. Liberated from what? From the ensnaring effects of the fear of men. You are never free to be an instrument of blessing to your people unless you are free from the effects of their smiles and their frowns. People know when you can be bought by their smiles and beaten by their frowns. It will not take them long to discern whether or not you are a man who is not affected either by their smiles or by their frowns. Such a man is a free man in Christ. The Word of God declares, ‘The fear of man bringeth a snare.’ Such fear will snare your tongue, so that when those flashes of spiritual light come to you in the pulpit, and there are applications that you know will sting and wound some choice member of the church, if your eye is to men, you will be unable to give utterance to that which you know you ought to. But when you are free from your people’s smiles or frowns, you are at liberty to be an instrument of blessing to them. I submit that if there is to be increased power in the pulpit, there must be a return to the purity of motivation, comprised in the fear of God. (“What’s Wrong with Preaching?”)