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  • Samuel at Gilgal

    This year I will be sharing brief excerpts from the articles, sermons, and books I am currently reading. My posts will not follow a regular schedule but will be published as I find well-written thoughts that should be of interest to maturing Christian readers. Whenever possible, I encourage you to go to the source and read the complete work of the author.

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PREACHER

R. C. SproulR.C. Sproul:

“Your task, O preacher, is to make sure that you are faithful to the text, that you are faithful to the proclamation of that gospel, that you are faithful to set forth the whole counsel of God, and then step back and let it happen.”

 

Geoffrey Thomas on Powerful Preaching

Geoffrey ThomasGeoffrey Thomas, pastor of Alfred Place Baptist Church in Aberystwyth, Wales:

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 [Presbyterian and Reformed, 1986], p. 369)

The Holy Spirit and the Word

Charles H. SpurgeonCharles H. Spurgeon:

“The gospel is preached in the ears of all men; it only comes with power to some. The power that is in the gospel does not lie in the eloquence of the preacher otherwise; men would be converters of souls. Nor does it lie in the preacher’s learning; otherwise, it could consist of the wisdom of men. We might preach till our tongues rotted, till we should exhaust our lungs and die, but never a soul would be converted unless there were mysterious power going with it – the Holy Ghost changing the will of man. O Sirs! We might as well preach to stone walls as preach to humanity unless the Holy Ghost be with the word, to give it power to convert the soul.”

The Preacher’s Call

Charles H. SpurgeonCharles 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 Price of Passion

In 1860 Thomas Phillips wrote the first comprehensive account of the 1859 revival in Wales. It is simply titled The Welsh Revival. There were other revivals in Wales after 1859. There are published accounts of these as well. G. Campbell Morgan uses this account from the great Welsh Revival to illustrate the price of passion in preaching:

The preacher comes with good news; but he does not come with something to be trifled with. His message has an insistent demand, because he comes on behalf of a King.

During the great Welsh Revival, it is said, a certain minister was marvelously successful in his preaching. He had but one sermon, but under it hundreds of men were saved. Far away from where he lived in a lonely valley, news of this wonderful success reached a brother preacher. Forthwith he became anxious to find out the secret of his success. At length, reaching the humble cottage where the good man lived, he said, “Brother, where did you get that sermon?”

He was taken into a poorly furnished room and pointed to a spot where the carpet was worn shabby and bare, near a window that looked out toward the mountains. The minister said,

“Brother, that’s where I got that sermon. My heart was heavy for men. One evening I knelt there and cried for power to preach as I had never preached before.

“The hours passed until the midnight struck, and the stars looked down on the sleeping valley and silent hills; but the answer came not. So I prayed until at length I saw a faint gray shoot up in the east. Presently it became silver, and I watched and prayed until the silver became purple and gold, and on all the mountain crests blazed the altar fires of the new day; and then the sermon came, and the power came.

“I lay down and slept, and arose and preached, and scores fell down before the fire of God. That is where I got that sermon.” (“Preaching With Passion”)

Fire in the Preacher’s Heart

George Whitefield once wrote, “The reason why congregations have been so dead is because they have dead men preaching to them. How can dead men beget living children?” G. Campbell Morgan writes:

In the true sermon there must always be passion. Our Lord’s testimony concerning John, His forerunner, was this: “He was a burning and a shining light” (John 5:35). It is one thing to shine; it is quite another to burn as well.

Half the sermons today – may I be forgiven if I am cruel – are failing because they lack the note of passion.

There is a tale told of that great English actor, Macready. An eminent preacher once said to him: “I wish you would explain something to me.”

“What is it? I don’t know if I can explain anything to a preacher.”

“What is the reason for the difference between you and me? You are appearing before crowds night after night with fiction, and the crowds come wherever you go. I am preaching the essential and unchangeable truth, and I am not getting any crowd at all.”

Macready’s answer was this: “That is quite simple. I can tell you the difference between us. I present the fiction as though it were fact; you present the fact as though it were fiction.”

I leave that story right at this point. Of course the question comes, whether a man can preach these things without passion if they are truth to him. I don’t know; I must not sit in judgment on other men. But our theme as preachers of the Word has to do with the glory of life – with the tragedy of sin, and its remedy; I cannot see how anyone can really handle these things until he is handled by them.

A man was formerly said to “handle his text.” If he handles his text he cannot preach at all. But when his text handles him, when it grips and masters and possesses him, and in experience he is responsive to the thing he is declaring, having conviction of the supremacy of truth and experience of the power of truth, I think that must create passion.

I am not arguing for mere excitement. Painted fire never burns, and an imitated enthusiasm is the most empty thing that can possibly exist in a preacher. Given the preacher with a message from the whole Bible, seeing its bearing on life at any point, I cannot personally understand that man not being swept sometimes right out of himself by the fire and the force and the fervor of his work. (“Preaching With Passion”)

Preaching

From the works of John Owen:

A man preaches that sermon only well unto others which preaches itself in his own soul . . . And he that doth not feed on and thrive in the digestion of the food which he provides for others will scarce make it savory unto them; yea, he knows not but that the food he hath provided may be poison unless he have really tasted of it himself. (Owen, Works, XVI: 76)

Charles Spurgeon: What If Our Preaching Never Saves?

Charles H. Spurgeon

Most of us know some able ministers who are wonderful expositors of the Word. You recognize this because you always bring something away of the Gospel when you hear them. There are souls to be saved, and these saved souls must be fed from the deep things of God. Charles Spurgeon writes about this necessity below:

We have all great need of much hard study if our ministry is to be good for anything. We have heard of the French peasants who sent to the Pope for a cure: “[One] who had finished his education.” They complained that their pastor was always studying, and they wanted a man who knew all that was necessary, and consequently needed no time for books and thoughts. What fools they must be in that part of France! We need exactly the kind of preacher whom they despised. He who has ceased to learn has ceased to teach. He who no longer sows in the study will no more reap in the pulpit. . . .

I hope it will never get to be your notion that only a certain class of preachers can be soul-winners. Every preacher should labor to be the means of saving his hearers. The truest reward of our life work is to bring dead souls to life. I long to see souls brought to Jesus every time I preach. I should break my heart if I did not see it to be so. Men are passing into eternity so rapidly that we must have them saved at once. We indulge no secret hope which can make it easy to lose present opportunities. From all our congregations a bitter cry should go up unto God, unless conversions are continually seen. If our preaching never saves a soul, and is not likely to do so, should we not better glorify God as peasants, or as tradesmen? What honor can the Lord receive from useless ministers? The Holy Ghost is not with us, we are not used of God for His gracious purposes, unless souls are quickened into heavenly life. Brethren, can we bear to be useless? Can we be barren, and yet content?

Remember that, if we would win souls, we must act accordingly, and lay ourselves out to that end. Men do not catch fish without intending it, nor save sinners unless they aim at it. The prayer of a certain minister before his sermon was, that God would bless souls by his discourse. After hearing that discourse, I wondered at the prayer. How could the man ask for that which he seemed never afterwards to have thought of? His discourse unprayed his prayer. He might as well have poured water on a fire, and have prayed God to make the fire burn thereby. Unless the Lord had caused the people to misunderstand what the preacher said, they could not have been converted by his utterances. God works by means,—by means adapted to His ends; and this being so, how can He bless some sermons? How, in the name of reason, can souls be converted by sermons that hill people to sleep; by sermons containing mere frivolities; by sermons which say plainly, “See how cleverly I put it;” by sermons which insinuate doubt, and cast suspicion upon every revealed truth? To ask for the Divine blessing on that which even good men cannot commend, is poor work. That which does; not come from our inmost soul, and is not to us a message from the Lord’s own Spirit, is not likely to touch other men’s souls, and be the voice of the Lord to them. (“What We Would Be”)

The Duty Of The Preacher

R. L. Dabney

Quoting R. L. Dabney (1820-1898):

The preacher is a herald; his work is heralding the King’s message. . . . Now the herald does not invent his message; he merely transmits and explains it. It is not his to criticize its wisdom or fitness; this belongs to his sovereign alone. On the one hand, . . . he is an intelligent medium of communication with the king’s enemies; he has brains as well as a tongue; and he is expected so to deliver and explain his master’s mind, that the other party shall receive not only the mechanical sounds, but the true meaning of the message. On the other hand, it wholly transcends his office to presume to correct the tenor of the propositions he conveys, by either additions or change. These are the words of God’s commission to an ancient preacher: “Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee.”

The preacher’s task may be correctly explained as that of (instrumentally) forming the image of Christ upon the souls of men. The plastic substance is the human heart. The die which is provided for the workman is the revealed Word; and the impression to be formed is the divine image of knowledge and true holiness. God, who made the soul, and therefore knows it, made the die. He obviously knew best how to shape it, in order to produce the imprint he desired. Now the workman’s business is not to criticize, recarve, or erase anything in the die which was committed to him; but simply to press it down faithfully upon the substance to be impressed, observing the conditions of the work assigned him in his instructions. In this view, how plain is it, that preaching should be simply representative of Bible truths, and in Bible proportions! The preacher’s business is to take what is given him in the Scriptures, as it is given to him, and to endeavor to imprint it on the souls of men. All else is God’s work. The die is just such, so large, so sharp, so hard, and has just such an “image and superscription” on it, as God would have. Thus He judged, in giving it to us. With this, “the man of God is perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” (2 Tim 3:17) This is enough for us. (Evangelical Eloquence: A Course of Lectures on Preaching, Banner of Truth, 1999; p. 36-37)

Trivial Pursuits

G. Campbell Morgan

Quoting G. Campbell Morgan:

Nothing is more needed among preachers today than that we should have the courage to shake ourselves free from the thousand and one trivialities in which we are asked to waste our time and strength, and resolutely return to the apostolic ideal which made necessary the office of the diaconate. [We must resolve that] “we will continue steadfastly (sic) in prayer, and in the ministry of the Word.” (Letter written in 1900 to a fellow preacher)

The Current Decline In Preaching

 

James Montgomery Boice

James Montgomery Boice was truly one of the great preachers of our time. In the following excerpt, Boice addresses the decline of sound preaching in our modern times. Is it possible for someone to attend a church most of their lives and not hear Biblical preaching? Tragically, I believe this is so. How is it that we now find much preaching in such poor condition? Boice shares his conclusions with us:

[T]he current decline in preaching is due, not to external causes, but to a prior decline in a belief in the Bible as the authoritative and inerrant Word of God on the part of the church’s theologians, seminary professors, and those ministers who are trained by them. Quite simply, it is a loss of confidence in the existence of a sure Word from God. Here the matter of inerrancy and authority go together. For it is not that those who abandon inerrancy as a premise on which to approach the Scriptures necessarily abandon a belief in their authority. On the contrary, they often speak of the authority of the Bible most loudly precisely when they are abandoning the inerrancy position. It is rather that, lacking the conviction that the Bible is without error in the whole and in its parts, these scholars and preachers inevitably approach the Bible differently from inerrantists, whatever may be said verbally. In their work the Bible is searched (to the degree that it is searched) for whatever light it may shed on the world and life as the minister sees them and not as that binding and overpowering revelation that tells us what to think about the world and life and even formulates the questions we should be asking about them.

Nothing is sadder than the loss of this true authority, particularly when the preacher does not even know it. The problem is seen in a report of a panel discussion involving a rabbi, a priest, and a Protestant minister. The rabbi stood up and said, “I speak according to the law of Moses.” The priest said, “I speak according to the tradition of the Church.” But the minister said, “It seems to me…” (The Foundation of Biblical Authority, London & Glasgow: Pickering & Inglis, 1979, pp.123-143)

Martyn Lloyd-Jones On The Altar Call

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones by Ron Adair

Quoting D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones:

1. It is wrong to put direct pressure on the will. The will should always be approached primarily through the mind, the intellect, and then through the affections. The action of the will should be determined by those influences.

2. In the end it may produce a condition in which what has determined the response of the man who ‘comes forward’ is not so much the Truth itself as, perhaps, the personality of the evangelist, or some vague general fear, or some other kind of influence.

3. The preaching of the Word and the call for decision should not be separated in our thinking

4. This method surely carries in it the implication that sinners have an inherent power of decision and of self-conversion.

5. There is an implication here that the evangelist somehow is in a position to manipulate the Holy Spirit and His work. Some organizers today even predict the results.

6. This method tends to produce a superficial conviction of sin, if any at all. People often respond because they have the impression that by doing so they will receive certain benefits.

7. You are encouraging people to think that their act of going forward somehow saves them.

8. It raises the whole question of the doctrine of regeneration. This is the most serious thing of all. This work is the work of the Holy Spirit, and His work alone, no one else can do it. And as it is His work it is always a thorough work; and it is always a work that will show itself.

9. No sinner ever really decides for Christ.

(Preachers and Preaching, Zondervan, 1971, p. 269-279)

The Preacher And The Pulpit

 

J. Wilbur Chapman

J. Wilbur Chapman (1859-1917) delivered a message to preachers at the beginning of the 20th century. He was concerned by the critics of preaching as well as the lack of authority and power that was flowing from pulpit messages. The following excerpt from Chapman’s message is as relevant today as it was then:

[W]e must have a message to preach, not for the sake of preaching, but for the sake of convincing men of their sins, as the Spirit of God may lead us. When asked one day his opinion regarding sermons of ministers, Hon. William J. Bryan said:

“I desire my minister to preach every Sabbath the simple gospel. The old, old story never wearies the average congregation, if it comes from a devout mind with preparation in the message. My ideal sermon is one which has an appeal to the unconverted and a spiritual uplift for the Christian. I want my minister to be abreast of the times on all new theological questions and research, but I do not want him to bring them into the pulpit. I have formed certain fixed views of Christ, His gospel, and the inspiration of the Bible from a careful reading of that Book of books and of the Shorter Catechism, and it will not make me a better Christian or profit my spiritual life to unsettle these views by a discussion in the pulpit of new theories of Christ and the Holy Scriptures. Finally, I want my minister to act on the belief that Christ’s gospel is the surest cure of all social and political evils, and that his best method of promoting temperance, social morality, and good citizenship, is to bring men into the Church. In a word, I want my minister to emphasize in the lifework the declaration of the most successful preacher, Paul: “It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.”

[W]e must have an unwavering conviction that the Bible is the authoritative Word of God. If we give any evidence of uncertainty at this point, the message we deliver will scarcely be received with enthusiasm, and it is inconceivable that it could be delivered with very much power. . . .

When one is filled with the Word of God, when he loves it, when it profoundly moves him, every one with whom he comes in contact will take knowledge of him that he has been with Jesus, and whether he is in the pulpit or out of it, he will have power. . . .

It is a sad thing that it should ever be said of the minister that in his preaching, Christ is not presented. I am persuaded that those in the pulpit who forget Him are few in number as compared with the great army of preachers who sincerely love Jesus Christ with all their hearts. Then it should not be forgotten that the way must not be made too easy. General Booth says the chief dangers in the twentieth century are: “Religion without the Holy Spirit; Christianity without Christ; Forgiveness without Repentance; Salvation without Regeneration; Politics without God, and Heaven without Hell.” (“The Waning Pulpit”)

Do You Really Understand The Bible?

John Piper preaches (excerpt) on a classic issue of our times:

The Preacher Under Fire!

John Wilbur Chapman

Criticism of your life’s work is not often easy to listen to. The Minister of the Gospel is no different in this than any other man. Yet, there are judgments made which we all would do well to pause and consider. The following is an excerpt from a message by J. Wilbur Chapman (1859-1917) delivered to preachers at the beginning of the 20th century:

This is a day when the minister is under sharpest fire. By some his motives are questioned, his spirit is censured, and his failure to secure such results as came in days gone by, when the gospel was preached, is used as an argument against him. However, in the midst of such criticism it should not be forgotten that it is, by no means, as easy to preach today as in the olden times. The minister formerly was recognized as a man under authority; his words were generally received as the truth; now the genuineness of his message is sharply questioned, and even his authority is subject to criticism. . . . [O]ne must not only preach his sermon, but he must prove his authority and be ready to substantiate the integrity and genuineness of the Book on the basis of which his message is delivered. But a brighter day will come for the minister, and it is only necessary that he should be watchful in these troublesome times, have the approval of his own conscience in the matter of preaching, and also be sure that he has His approval in whose name he speaks and from whom he has received his call to preach.

As an illustration of the sharpness of the criticism it may be well to note the words spoken by a professor of law, in an Eastern university, in an address before a ministers’ conference:

“The waning power of the pulpit is one of the most lamentable signs of the times. The intellectual pre-eminence of the preacher has passed and gone. The pulpit no longer attracts the brightest minds, and theological seminaries swarm with intellectual weaklings. Pulpit deliverances of our day often lack every element of real oratory; they are largely dreary monologues and complacent soliloquy. The speaker’s wits, instead of being sharpened by adversity and defeat, are blunted by his unvaried weekly duel with an imaginary foe. Our present-day divines are not deficient in the arts of finished elocution, but they have dropped the old theme of salvation from an inherited curse of sin. But when the pulpit has moral earnestness, it rises to the loftiest elevation of eloquent expression. It was homely language of a country deacon speaking to a person who had prayed long and loudly for power…”

This opinion may or may not be correct; the one who gave it evidently thinks it is, and unquestionably he represents a certain element in the Church. Whether true or not, it is the sort of criticism facing the preacher today. It is claimed that we have failed to give sufficient emphasis to the importance of prayer, and we read that this was the secret of true greatness in the pulpit of other days. It is said we have lost our power because we have not given sufficient attention to Bible study; not Bible study in the preparation of sermons, but Bible study in the development of our own spiritual life. Unquestionably the secret of Spurgeon’s power was found just here. During the days of the week we must become saturated with the Scriptures so that on Sunday the message comes flowing forth like the current of a mighty river. Men tell us we have lost this, that we preach about God’s Word, but not the Word itself. (“The Waning Pulpit”)

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