John Piper: On Sermon Preparation
The article below is about a pastor who has been using fitness machines while ‘preaching’ to his congregation. His ‘sermons’ were based on chapters out of his recent book. Yeah, more modern foolishness in church.
The following article concerns a South African preacher who has said that Jesus had HIV. Read about this nonsense at:
I have recently come across an article on the Banner of Truth website that ‘deals’ with expository preaching, or rather, attempts to define the dangers of what goes by ‘expository preaching’ in this day and age. The basic explanation or definition given in the article is pretty good really – that of a preacher confining himself to the text of Scripture and making it plain to others. That in itself is a fairly good explanation of being ‘expository’ I think. I do however think that some other things are probably required to fulfill the definition of what preaching ought to be – such as there being a place for application to the listeners, etc.
My point of disagreement with the article in question, is that of the need to issue a ‘caution’ to what goes by expository preaching today, which according to the article is the method of preaching through a passage or a book of Scripture week by week. I have no issue with saying that this is not the only way of being expository, but to issue a caution about the ‘modern way’ seems somewhat extreme to me.
I wouldn’t say that the ‘modern way’ is the only way to preach, nor would I go so far as to say it is the best way of preaching. I would say that I find it the best way of preaching for me, but I wouldn’t lay it down as a rule for others. I think the method of preaching used by a preacher is best left to that preacher and between himself and the Lord. I don’t think I would even call most of the preaching of Charles Haddon Spurgeon expository, yet you cannot argue that he didn’t preach in a manner used of God. So I think caution needs to be used in laying down ‘rules’ as to what method of preaching is best for a preacher, etc.
I have heard ‘preaching’ that has been systematic in its approach to a book of the Bible and it has left me bored, dry and thinking ‘what was the point of listening to it.’ However, as a person commented on the Banner of Truth article, this has probably got more to do with the validity of the preacher’s call than anything else. Perhaps the preacher is in a not so good place before God at the time of preaching also. Who knows – but a bad experience of someone ‘preaching’ systematically through a book of the Bible or passage doesn’t necessarily mean that that method is therefore proven to be a bad one. There are other variables that come into the picture.
So the Banner of Truth article is probably leading off in the wrong direction in my opinion. Readers of this Blog can make up their own opinion by reading the said article at:
The following articles concern the break from Ministry that John Piper is taking in order to examine his own life before God. Pastor Piper has acknowledged areas of sinfulness in his life that need to be addressed and is taking time out to do so.
This example of John Piper is an amazing thing in Christianity today and I have to say he has certainly risen in my estimation as a result of his decision. He neither needs my approval nor would he wish to know how impressed I am by his example in doing so, but I am thankful to God for his example and leadership in doing so.
I would commend John Piper to our prayers as he seeks to examine his life before God and also that we would do the same.
Religion is alive and well in Australia. Christianity on the other hand is not doing anywhere near as well.
If Christianity is to be measured by the Bible and not by mass opinion in churches (or by some other measure such as professing Christians, etc), the Australian experience of Christianity is not too good at all. In fact, most of what goes by the name of ‘Christian’ is anything but Christian in the Biblical sense.
Automatically I would count out all the usual cults and heretical groups, such as the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. There is of course a possibility that some within the confines of such heretical groups are indeed saved, but it is difficult to believe that any such true believers would willingly stay inside groups of these types.
Roman Catholicism is often viewed as a legitimate part of historical Christianity, but this is far from the case. Indeed, Roman Catholicism is another grouping that belongs within the category of being a cult. Certainly that is my opinion and this is the historical opinion of Evangelical Christianity and Protestantism.
Sadly, it has been my growing experience that many who profess Christianity, see Roman Catholicism as just another stream of true Christianity. Certainly these people cannot agree with some of the teachings of Rome, but none-the-less they view Roman Catholicism as just another legitimate stream of Christianity that is a bit divergent from Protestantism. These people think that unity with Rome wouldn’t be such a bad thing, even if we can’t agree on anything.
It is disappointing to note that a number of people within the Reformed camp also agree with such sentiment regarding Roman Catholicism. I am stunned by how quickly these people forget the past and the truths that the Reformation sought to establish once again as being the true backbone of Christianity.
Leaving the Roman Catholics aside, let me briefly comment on Protestantism in Australia. There is a good section within this grouping (which would include Anglicans, Presbyterians, Baptists, Uniting, etc) that would be equally happy within the Roman Catholic communion and it would be better for Protestantism if they were. These people are merely nominal at best and quite openly hold to Papist ideals and teachings. Let Rome have them if they will not cast off their heretical ideas and take hold of Christ and His teachings.
The majority of Protestants these days are not of the breed of Protestants that brought Protestantism into being. They no longer hold to the Scriptures as being the standard of belief, faith and practice. These days Protestantism is ruled by the leading of sentimentalism, mediocrity and pragmatism, being concerned more for religion and obtaining numbers within the building, rather than Biblical Christianity and salvation of the lost through the proclamation of the Biblical Gospel. This then is the Christianity of today within Australia.
I know of people raised in Christian homes and churches that are openly embracing heresy, believing that they have been misled from their youth. Such expressions of Christianity are being broadcast over social networks, as ever increasing numbers fall victim to every wind of doctrine as a result of poor or even no teaching within churches, having become the victims of chatter from the pulpits that comes nowhere close to being the preaching that the Bible expects to be delivered (if indeed preaching and teaching are regarded as being necessary at all within the church concerned).
In the Reformed churches there are varying issues that are robbing the movement of its potential power to transform the country through the truth that it possesses. There are problems with Lording it over the church and being caught up on matters of lesser importance (if they are indeed important at all), of attempting to match it with the general malaise of religion (but in a more covert manner while trying to maintain the reformed name) and simply imbibing the mediocrity of religion surrounding the churches.
We are in a bad way in Australia and we need God given revival (as opposed to what goes by the name revival in cranked up programs and services throughout the country). We need God given preachers who will preach God given truth with God given power and God given life. We need to go back to Bible basics before religion is nothing more than a man-made shell (if we haven’t already reached that point) and true Christianity is extinct in this country.
The Yale Lectures on Preaching, 1891
These nine lectures on preaching were delivered, on the Lyman Beecher Foundation, to the students of Yale University in the spring of this year. With the kind concurrence of the Senate of Yale, five of them were redelivered, on the Merrick Foundation, to the students of Delaware University, Ohio.
In the Appendix an ordination address is reproduced, which I wrote when I had been only four or five years in the ministry, and which I have been requested to reprint. My friend, the Rev. Dr. Walker, who was present when it was delivered, having published it in The Family Treasury, another friend, noticing it there, had it printed as a pamphlet at his own expense and distributed to all the ministers of the church to which he and I belong. It was a very characteristic act; and I have ventured, as a memorial of it, to dedicate this volume to him. I do so, however, not for this reason only, but also because there has been no one in this generation who has done more than he has done, by the example of his own impressive ministry and by his generous encouragement of younger ministers, to promote the interests of preaching in his native land.
My thanks are due to the Rev. Charles Shaw, who on this as on former occasions has kindly assisted me in correcting the press.
Glasgow, October 1st, 1891.
Lecture 1: Introductory
Gentlemen, it would be impossible to begin this course of lectures without expressing my acknowledgments to the Theological Faculty of this university for the great honour they have done me by inviting me to occupy this position. When I took over the list of my predecessors and observe that it includes such names as Henry Ward Beecher, Dr. John Hall, Dr. W. M. Taylor, Dr. Phillips Brooks and Dr. Dale – to mention only those with which it opens – I cannot help feeling that it is perhaps a greater honour than I was entitled to accept; and I cannot but wish that the preaching of the old country were to be represented on this occasion by some one of the many ministers who would have been abler than i to do it justice. It is with no sense of having attained that I am to speak to you; for I always seem to myself to be only beginning to learn my trade; and the furthest I ever get in the way of confidence is to believe that I shall preach well next time. However, there may be some advantages in hearing one who is not too far away from the difficulties with which you will soon be contending yourselves; and the keenness with which I have felt these difficulties may have made me reflect, more than others to whom the path of excellence has been easier, on the means of overcoming them.
I warmly reciprocate the sentiments which have led the faculty to come across the Atlantic the second time for a lecturer, and the liberality of mind with which they are wont to overstep the boundaries of their own denomination and select their lecturers from all the evangelical churches. It is the first time I have set foot on your continent, but I have long entertained a warm admiration for the American people and a firm faith in their destiny; and I welcome an opportunity which may serve, in any degree, to demonstrate the unity which underlies the variety of our evangelical communions, and to show how great are the things in which we agree in comparison with those on which we differ.
The aim of this lectureship, if I have apprehended it aright, is that men who are out on the sea of practical life, feeling the force and strain of the winds and currents of the time, and who therefore occupy, to some extent, a different point of view from either students or professors, should come and tell you, who are still standing on the terra firma of college life, but will soon also have to launch forth on the same element, how it feels out there on the deep.
Well, there is a considerable difference.
The professional theory of college life is, that the faculties are being exercised and the resources collected with which the battles of life are subsequently to be fought and it victories won. And there is, no doubt, a great deal of truth in this theory. The acquistions of the classroom will al be found useful in the future, and your only regret will be that they have not been more extensive and thorough. The gymnastic of study is supplying faculties which will be indispensable hereafter. Yet there is room amidst your studies, and without the slightest disparagement to them, for a message more directly from life, to hint to you, that more may be needed in the career to which you are looking forward than a college can give, and that the powers on which success in practical life depends may be somewhat different from those which avail most at your present stage.
There are two very marked types of intellect to be observed amongst men, which we may call the receptive and the creative. Receptive intellect has the power of taking fully in what is addressed to it by others. It separates its acquisitions and distributes them among the pigeon-holes of the memory. Out of these again it can reproduce them, as occasion requires, and even make what may be called permutations and combinationsn among its materials with skill and facility. The creative intellect, on the contrary, is sometimes anything but apt to receive that which people attempt to put into it. Instead of being an open, roomy vessel for holding things, it may be awkwardly shaped, and sometimes difficult to open at all. Nor do things pour out of it in a stream, as water does from a pitcher; they rather flash out of it, like sparks from the anvil. Instead of possessing its own knowledge, it is possessed by it; it burns as it emits it, and its fire is contagious.
The former is the serviceable intellect at college, but it is the latter which makes the preacher. There may, indeed, here and there, be miraculous professors who attach more importance, and give higher marks, to the indications of the creative intellect than to the achievements of the receptive intellect. But few can resist the appeal made by the clear, correct and copious reproduction of what they themselves supplied. Indeed, they would not, as a rule, be justified in doing so; for the first indications of originality are often crude and irritating, and they may come to nothing. The creative intellect is frequently slow in maturing; it is like those seeds which take more than one season to blossum. But at a flower show it would not be fair to withhold the prize from the flower which has blossomed already, and reserve it for one which may possibly do so next year.
Of my fellow-students in the class to which I belonged at college, the two who have since been most successful did not then seem destined for first places. They were known to be able men, but they were not excessively laborious, and they kept themselves irritatingly detached from the interests of the college. But the one has since unfolded a remarkable originality, which was, no doubt, even then orgainizing itself in the inner depths; and the other, as soon as he entered the pulpit, turned out to have the power of casting a spell over the minds of men. Both had a spark of natures fire; and this is the possession which outshines all others when college is over and practical life begun (See Note 1 Below).
But, if the viewpoint of practical life is different even from the professorial, it is still more different from that of students; and this may again justify the bringing of a message from the outside world. The difference might be put in many ways; but perhaps it may be best expressed by saying, that, while you are among the critics, we are among the criticized.
In the history of nearly all minds of the better sort there is an epoch of criticism. The young soul, as it begins to observe, discovers that things around it are not all as they ought to be, and that the world is not so perfect a place as might naturally be expected or as it may have been represented to be. The critical faculty awakes and, having once tasted blood, rushes forth to judge all men and things with cruel ability. This is the stage at which we agree with Carlyle in thinking mankind to be mostly fools and pronounce every man over five-and-forty who does not happem to agree with our opinions an old fogey. It is the time when we are confident that we could, if we chose, single-handed and with ease, accomplish tasks which generations of men have struggled with in vain. Only in the meantime we, for our part, are not disposed to commit ourselves to any creed or to champion any cause, because we are engaged in contemplating all.
This period occurs, I say, in the history of all men of the abler sort; but in students, on acount of their peculiar opportunities, the symptons are generally exceptionally pronounced. Students are the chartered libertines of criticism. What a life professors would lead, if they only knew what is said about them every day of their lives! I often think that three-fourths of every faculty in the country would disappear some morning by a simultaneous act of self-effacement. Of course ministers do not escape; ecclesiastics and church courts are quite beyond redemption; and principalities and powers in general are in the same condemnation.
Such is the delightful prerogative of the position in which you now stand. But, gentlemen, the moment you leave these college gates behind, you have to pass from your place among the critics and take your place among the criticized. That is, you will have to quit the well-cushioned benches, where the spectators sit enjoying the spectacle, and take your place among the gladiators in the arena. The binoculars of the community will be turmed upon you, and five hundred or a thousand people will be entitled to say twice or thrice every week what they think of your performances. You will have to put your shoulder under the huge mass of your church’s policy and try to keep step with some thousands whose shoulders are under it too; and the reproaches cast by the public and the press at the awkwardness of the whole squad and the unsteadiness of the ark will fall on you along with the rest.
Seriously, this is a tremendous difference. Criticism, however brilliant, is a comparatively easy thing. It is easier to criticize the greatest things superbly than to do even small things fairly well. A brief experience of practical life gives one a great respect for some men whom one would not at one time have considered very brilliant, and for work which one would have pronounced very imperfect. There is a famous passage in Lucretius, in which he speaks of the joy of the mariner who has escaped to dry land, when he sees his shipwrecked companions still struggling in the waves. This is too heathenish a sentiment; but I confess I have sometimes experienced a touch of it, when I have beheld one who has distinguished himself by his incisiveness while still on the terra firma of criticism, suddenly dropped into the bottomless sea of actual life, and learning, amidst his first struggles in the waves, not without gulps of salt-water, the difference between intention and performance.
But, gentlemen, do not suppose that I am persuading you to give up criticism. On the contrary, this is the natural function of the stage at which you are; and probably those who throw themselves most vigorously into it now may also discharge most successfully the functions of the stages yet to come. The world reaps not a little advantage from criticism. It is a very imperfect world; no generation of its inhabitants does its work as well as it ought to be done, and it is the undoubted right of the next generation to detects its defects; for in this lies the only chance of improvement. There is something awe-inspiring in the first glance cast by the young on the world in which they find themselves. It is so clear and unbiassed; they distinguish so instantaneously between the right and the wrong, the noble and the base; and they blurt out so frankly what they see. As we grow older, we train ourselves unawares not to see straight or, if we see, we hold our peace. The first open look of young eyes on the condition of the world is one of the principal regenerative forces of humanity.
To begin with, therefore, at all events I will rather come to your standpoint than ask you to come mine. Indeed, although I have for some time been among the criticized, and my sympathies are with the practical workers, my sense of how imperfectly the work is done, and of how inadequate our efforts are to the magnitude of the task, grows stronger instead of weaker. And it is from this point of view that I mean to enter into our subject. I will make use of the facts of my own country, with which I am familiar; but I do not suppose that the state of things among you is substantially different; and you will not have much difficulty in correcting the picture, to make it correspond with your circumstances, whist I speak.
In the present century there has certainly been an unparalled multiplication of the instrumentalities for doing the work. The machine of religion, so to speak, has been perfected. The population has been increasing fast; but churches have multiplied at least twice as fast. Even in a great city like Glasgow we have a Protestant church to every two thousand of the population (See Note 2 Below). And, inside the churches, the multiplication of agencies has been even more suprising. Formerly the minister did almost all the work; and it comprehended little more than the two services on Sunday and the visitation of the congregation; the elders helping him to a small extent in financing the congregation and in a few other matters largely secular. But now every congregation is a perfect hive of Christian activity. In a large congregation the workers are counted by hundreds. Every imaginable form of philanthropic and religious appliance is in operation. Buildings for Sabbath Schools and Mission Work are added to the church; and nearly every day of the week has its meeting.
The machine of religion is large and complicated, and it is manned by so many workers that they get in each other’s way; but, with all this bustling activity, is the work done? This is the question which gives us pause. Has the amount of practical Christianity increased in proportion to the multiplication of agencies? Are the prospects of religion as much brighter than they used to be as might have been expected after all this expenditure of labour? Is CHristianity deepening as well as spreading?
In Glasgow, where the proportion of churches to population is so high, they of two hundred thousand non-church-goers, that is, a third of the inhabitants; and, if you go into one of our villages with a population of two or thee thousand, you may find three or four churches, belonging to different denominations; but you will usually find even there a considerable body of non-church-goers. Not long ago I heard a London clergyman state, that if, and Sunday morning, you went through the congregations belonging to the Church of England in the district of a hundred and fifty thousand inhabitants in which he labours, you would not, in all of them put together, find one man present for every thousand of the population. One of the English bishops recently admitted that in South London his church is not in possession; and certainly no other denomination is. Thus, with all our appliances, we have failed even to bring the population within the sound of the Gospel.
Inside the churches, what is to be said? Is the proportion large of those who have received the Gospel in such a way that their hearts have manifestly been changed by it and their lives brought under its sway? We should utterly deceive ourselves if we imagined that real Christianity is co-extensive with the profession of Christianity. Many who bear the Christian name have neither Christian experience nor Christian character, but in their spirit and pursuits are thoroughly worldly. Even where religion has taken hold, is the type very often beautiful and impressive? Who can think without shame of the long delay of the Church even to attempt the work of converting the heathen? And even yet the sacrifices made for this object are ludicrously small in proportion either to the magnitude of the problem or the wealth of the Christian community. The annual expenditure of the United Kingdom on drink is said to be a hundred times as great as that on foreign missions.
Religion does not permeate life. The church is one of the great institutions of the country, and gets its own place. But it is a thing apart from the common life, which goes on beside it. Business, politics, literature, amusements, are only faintly coloured by it. Yet the mission of Christianity is not to occupy a respectable place apart, but to leaven life through and through.
Vice flourishes side by side with religion. We build the school and the church, and then we open beside them the public-house. The Christian community has the power of controlling this traffic; but it allows it to go on with all its unspeakable horrors. Thus its own work is systematically undone, and faster than the victims can be saved new ones are manufactured to occupy their places. Of vices which are stll more degrading I need not speak. Their prevalence is too patent everywhere. If there is any law of Christianity which is obvious and inexorable, it is the law of purity. But go where you will in the Christian countries, and you will learn that by large sections of their manhood this law is treated as if it did not exist. The truth is that, in spite of the nations being baptized in the name of Christ, heathenism has still control of much of their life; and it would hardly be too much to say that the mission of Christianity is still only beginning.
In what direction does hope lie? It seems to me that there can be no more important factor in the solution of the problem than the kind of men who fill the office of the ministry. We must have men of more power, more concentration on the aims of the ministry, more wisdom, but, above all, more willingness to sacrifice their lives to their vocation. We have too tame and conventional a way of thinking about our career. Men are not even ambitious of doing more than settling in a comfortable position and through its duties in a respectable way. We need to have men penetrated with the problem as a whole, and labouring with the new developments which the times require. The prizes of the ministry ought to be its posts of greatest difficulty. When a student or young minister proves to have the genuine gift, his natural goal should not be a highly paid place in a West End church, but a position where he would be in the forefront of the battle with sin and misery. Nowhere else are the great lines of Chapman more applicable than in our calling:-
‘Give me a spirit that on this life’s rough sea
Loves to have his sails filled with a lusty wind,
Even till his sailyards tremble, his masts crack,
And his rapt ship runs on her side so low
That she drinks water and her keel ploughs air.’
I am well aware that men on this stamp cannot be made to order. They must, as I have suggested already, have a spark of nature’s fire, and, besides that, the Spirit of God must descend on them. Yet I have thought that it might be helpful towards this end to go back to the origins of preaching, and to study those in whom its primitive spirit was embodied. Perhaps that which we are desiderating could not be better expressed than by saying that we need a ministry prophetic and apostolic. And I am going to invite you to study the prophets and apostles as our models.
Though we may not believe in apostolic succession in the churchly sense, we are the successors of the apostles in this sense, that the apostles filled the office which we hold, or hope to hold, and illustrated the manner in which its duties should be discharged in such a way as to be an example and an inspiration to all its subsequent occupants. The air they breathed was still charged with the spirit poured into it by Christ; they were made great by the influence of His teaching and companionship; the power of the Holy Ghost, freshly descended, burned on their hearts; and they went forth on their mission with a force of conviction and a mastery of their task which nothing could resist.
One among them embodied in himself, above all others, the spirit of that epoch of creative energy. St. Paul is perhaps, after our Lord Himself, the most complete embodiment of the ministerial life on all its sides which the world has ever seen. And, fortunately, he embodied this spirit not only in deeds, but also in words. Circumstances made him a writer of letters, the most autobiographical form of literature. His friends, such as Timothy and Titus, drew out of him lengthy expressions of the convictions wrought into his mind by the experiences of a lifetime. His enemies, by their accusations, struck out of him still ampler and more heartfelt statements of his feelings and motives, St. Paul has painted his own portrait at full length, and in every line it is the portrait of a minister. There is more in his writings which touches the very quick of our life as ministers than in all other writings in existence. It is my desire to reproduce this straight from the sources. I have no intention of going over the outward life of St. Paul. This you can find in a hundred books. But I desire to exhibit the very soul of the man, as he himself has revealed it to us in his writings.
If we are the successors of the apostles, the apostles were the successors of the prophets, who did for the church of the Old Testament what the apostles did for that of the new. In outward aspect and detail, indeed, the life of the prophets differed much from that of the apostles. In force of manhood and in variety and brilliance of genius they far excelled them. But their aim was the same. It was to make the Kingdom of God come by announcing and enforcing the mind and will of God. And this is our aim too.
The writings of the prophets are very difficult, and their period is less popularly known than any other period of Scripture history, either before or after it. But it is beginning to attract more attention, and in the near future it will do so much more, because it is beginning to be perceived that in it lies the key to the whole Old Testament history and literature (See Note 3 Below). The writings of Isaiah especially have of late attracted attention. Commentary after commentary on them has appeared (See Note 4 Below); till now the reader can see his way pretty clearly through the tangled but enchanting mazes of his writings. With such helps as have been available to me I have endeavoured through the writings to get at the man; and I will take Isaiah as the representative of the prophetic spirit in the same way as St. Paul is to represent for us the apostles. But here again my aim is neither that of the commentator nor that of the biographer. It is the soul of the man I wish to depict and the spirit of his work.
It may be thought that, by taking up the subject in this way, I am missing the opportunity of dealing with the practical work today. But I do not think so. There are, indeed, some details nearly always discussed in lectures on preaching which I do not care to touch. There is, for instance, the question of the delivery of sermons – whether the preacher should read, or speak memoriter, or preach extempore. This can be discussed endlessly, and the discussion is always interesting; but, if it were discussed every year for a century, it would be as far from being settled as ever. Besides, it is my duty to remember what others have handled exhaustively here before me. Indeed, the senate mentioned to me that it was desirable that the subject should be taken up from a new point of view. They have been good enough to express their approbation of the way in which I mean to treat it; but it is not in deference to their instructions that I take it up in this way, but in accordance with the bent of my own mind; and I think I see my way to bring to bear on it all the practical experience which I may be in possession of; for I quite recognise that the value of such a course of lectures largely depends on its being, from beginning to end, what in literature is called a Confession, that is, a record of experiences. Although I am to go the ages of the apostles and the prophets, I do not intend to stay there. My wish is to bring down from thence fire which will kindle your hearts, as you face the world and the tasks of today.
There is another objection, which may have already occured to some of you, and would doubtless occur to many, as I went along, if I did not anticipate it. It may be felt, that both apostles and prophets were so differently situated from us, especially through the possession of the gift of inspiration, that they can be no example for us to follow. To this I will not reply by seeking in any way to minimise their inspiration. It is, indeed, difficult to say exactly how their inspiration differed from that which is accessible and indispensable to us; for we also are entirely dependent for the power and success of our work on the same Spirit as spoke through them. But, however difficult it may be to define it, I am one of those who believe that there is a difference, and that it is a great difference. The mind and will of God expressed themselves through the prophets and apostles with a directness and authority which we cannot claim. But the difference is not such as to remove them beyond our imitation. Although in some, or even may, respects they may be beyond us, this is no reason why we may not in others imitate them with the greatest advantage. It will be seen at a glance how little there is in this objection, if it be considered that our Lord Himself is the great pattern of the ministry. In some respects He is of course much farther away from us than either prophets or apostles; yet He is near us as a model in every detail of our duty. No mode of treating my subject would have been so congenial to me as to set Him forth in this character. But, having attempted to do so elsewhere, I have chosen the method now announced under the conviction, that the nearest approach to the study of how Christ fulfilled the duties of the ministry is to study how prophets and apostles fulfilled them.
There is one thing more which I should like to say before closing this somewhat miscellaneous introductory lecture. I would not have come to lecture to you on this subject if I were not a firm believer in preaching. If in what has been already said I have seemed to depreciate results, this is only because my ideal is so high of what the pulpit ought to do, and might do (See Note 5 Below). I do not, indeed, separate preaching from the other parts of a minister’s life, such as the conducting of the service of the sanctuary, the visitation of the congregation, and taking part in more general public work. As I go on, it will be seen, that, so far from undervaluing these, I hold them to be all required even to produce a healthy pulpit power. Yet preaching is the central thing in our work. I believe in it, because Christ Himself set His stamp on it. Read His sayings, and you will see that this was what He sent forth the servants of His kingdom to do. “Christ,” says St. Paul, “sent me not to baptize, but to preach the Gospel;” not, I think, thereby ignoring baptism, but putting it and all other ceremonies in their proper place of subordination to the preaching of the Word.
It is often charged against the evangelical, and especially the free, churches, at the present day, that they give preaching a position of too great prominence in public worship; and we are counselled to yield the central place to something else. It is put to us, for example, whether our people should not be taught to come to church for the purpose of speaking to God rather than in order to be spoken to by a man. This has a pious sound; but there is a fallacy in it. Preaching is not merely the speaking of a man. If it is, then it is certainly not worth coming to church for. Preaching, if it is of the right kind, is the voice of God. This we venture to say while well aware of its imperfections. In the best of preaching there is a large human element beset with infirmity; yet in all genuine preaching there is conveyed a message from Heaven. And, while it is good for people to go to church that they may speak to God, it is still better to go that He may speak to them. Nor, where God is authentically heard speaking to the heart, will the response of the heart in the other elements of worship be lacking. It is the reception of God’s message of free grace and redeeming love which inspires the true service of praise and prayer; and without this the service of the Church is soulless ceremonial (See Note 6 Below).
From another side disparagement is frequently cast upon preaching in our day. It is said that the printing-press has superseded the preacher, and must more and more supersede him. Formerly, when people could not read, and literature was written only for scholars, the pulpit was a power, because it was the only purveyor of ideas to the multitude; but now the common man has other resources: he has books, magazines, the newspaper: and he can dispense with the preacher. To this it might be answered, that the sermon is not the only thing which brings people to church. Where two or three are met together, there are influences generated of a spiritual and social kind which answer to deep and permanent wants of human nature. But there is an answer more direct and conclusive. The multiplication of the products of the printing-press and the possession by the multitude of the power of reading them are certainly among the most wonderful facts of modern times, and, I will add without hesitation, among the most gratifying. But what do they mean for the great majority? In the days before the age of the press arrived people only knew the gossip of their own town, and this absorbed their thoughts and conversation. Now they hear every morning the gossip of a thousand cities from China to Peru. The world has become for the modern man immensely larger and more interesting than it was to his predecessors; and facts about it are accumulated on his mind in overwhelming quantity and bewildering variety. But does this make preaching less necessary to him? It surely makes it far more necessary. He has more need than his fathers had of those supersensible principles which give order and meaning to sensible facts. The larger and more wonderful the world becomes, the more urgent becomes the question of the cause which has produced it; and, the more the figures multiply which the spectators have to watch on the theatre of history, the more indispensable becomes the knowledge of the argument of the drama. If the pulpit has an authentic message to deliver about Him whose thought is the ground of all existence, and whose will of love is the explanation of the pain and mystery of life, then, the more cultivated and eager the mind of man becomes, the more indispensable will the voice of the pulpit be felt to be; and a real decay of the power of the pulpit can only be due either to preachers themselves, when, losing touch with the mysteries of revelation, they let themselves down to the level of vendors of passing opinion, or to such a shallowing of the general mind as will render it incapable of taking an earnest interest in the profounder problems of existence.
Please Note: I will be posting the remaining lectures in this series on this Blog. The full work is available at my web site:
1. “A set o’ dull, conceited hashes
Confuse their brains in college classes,
They gang in stirks, and come out asses,
Plain truth to speak,
An’ syne they hope to speel Parnassus
By dint o’ Greek.
“ Gi’e me a’e spark o’ nature’s fire,
That’s a’ the learnin’ I desire,
Then, though I trudge through dub an’ mire,
At pleuch or cart,
My muse, though homely in attire,
May touch the heart.” – BURNS.
2. On this side of the water it will be read with interest that “in 1880 there was in the United States one Evangelical Church organization to every 516 of the population. In Boston there is 1 church to every 1,600 of the population; in Chicago 1 to 2,081; in New York 1 to 2,468; in St. Louis 1 to 2,800.” Our Country, by Rev. Josiah Strong, D.D.
3. See Duhm: Die Theologie der Propheten – Preface
4. Cheyne, Smith, Delitzsch, von Orelli, Dillmann, etc
5. “After eleven years of active preaching I have spent five of hardly less active hearing. I have listened carefully to preachers of all degrees and denominations, and some convictions have been burned in upon my mind. Far above all, I have learned to believe in the great importance of preaching – the effect it has on men’s lives and thoughts; their need of it; their pain and loss when it does not help and reach them. I used to think that, if it did men good, they would speak more of it. But they pay no compliments to their daily bread; yet it is the stuffof their life. If ministers knew the silent appreciation of helpful preaching, they would work, if not harder, at least more brightly and hopefully… Preachers should remember that the large silent part of their flock is only reached by preaching, and, therefore, they should give their strength to it, and not to little meetings. Suppose an average instance: Sunday morning attendance, 250. The minister does not preach well; but he works hard during the week, and has, Monday, Literary Society, 15; Tuesday, Young Ladies’ Bible Class, 12; Wednesday, Prayer Meeting, 30; Thursday, Class for Servants, 8; Friday, Class for Children, 15. All told, these do not represent more than 50, leaving 200 reached only by preaching, and more or less dissatisfied.” – Ex sapientis manuscripto penes me.
6. “New Testament preaching dates from the day of Pentecost. Tongues of fire rested on the assemble church; and they began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. The word of God, the testimony of Jesus, the gospel of our salvation, preached in tongues of men of every race, was to be the form of power by which the kingdom of God, in our dispensation, should spread abroad and prevail. But the tongues were tongues of fire. This fire is, first of all, the Holy Spirit, whose quick, pure and living presence it denotes. But then it is intimated that the Holy Spirit was to prove Himself fire in the speech of men. It is intimated that human minds, as they uttered themselves to their fellows, and human speech in that utterance, were to prove capable of taking fire, so as to brighten and burn with the truth and power of God’s Spirit. Such was the kind of preaching that was set a-going at Pentecost, and by it the world was to be won. Other forms of influence were not to be excluded, but this was to have the chief place. The word of power, coming burning-hot out of the living mouth of a believing man, is the leading form in which the Spirit’s presence is evermore to make head in the Church against the world, and is to carry the Church on in her mission in the world. This gives us the fundamental view of our work as preachers; and nothing more is needed in order to illustrate its dignity and glory.” – PRINCIPAL RAINY
Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee. (1 Tim. iv. 16).
The words are a substantial part of the good counsel and direction the apostle gives to Timothy, and through him to all the ministers of the gospel.
In them are two things:
1. A threefold duty laid on gospel-ministers, Take heed unto thyself, and unto thy doctrine; continue in them.
2. A double advantage consequent upon the discharge of this duty: For in doing this, thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.
1. Ministers’ duty is in three things here.
First, Take heed unto thyself. You are set in a high office in a dangerous place; take good and narrow heed, look well to thyself, thy heart and way.
Second, Take heed unto thy doctrine. Though thou be ever so well gifted, and approved both of God and men; though thou be an extraordinary officer (as Timothy was); yet take heed unto thy doctrine. These two we pass at present; because we shall resume them at greater length, when we take their help to the resolving of this question.
Third, Continue in them. This is related to vs.12, and 15. as well as to the preceding part of this verse. I shall dismiss this part of the verse with these comments,
(1.) Continue in thy work. Thou who art a minister, it is a work for thy lifetime; and not to be taken up and laid down again, according as it may best suit a man’s carnal inclinations, and outward conveniences. The apostles that laboured with their hands have, by that example, set the conscience of a minister at liberty to provide for the necessities of this life by other employments when he cannot live of the gospel, yet certainly no man that is called of God to this work can with a safe conscience abandon it wholly. Paul, for example rather than necessity, both preached and wrought as a tent maker. As preaching doth not make working unlawful, so neither should any other business of a minister make preaching to cease.
(2.) Continue in endeavours after greater fitness for thy work. No attainments in fitness and qualifications for this work can free a man of the obligation that lies on him to increase and grow therein more and more. It is not enough that a man study and be careful ere he enter into the ministry, but he must labour still to be more fit for his great work.
(3.) Continue in your vigour, and carefulness, and diligence. Young ministers that are sound and sincere before God are usually warm and diligent in the first years of their ministry; and many do decline afterwards and become more cold and remiss. This exhortation is a check thereunto: Continue in them.
2. The second thing in the word is, the double advantage proposed to encourage ministers to this hard duty.
The first advantage is, Thou shalt save thyself. Thy own salvation shall be promoted thereby.
How becoming is it for a minister to mind his own salvation! and to mind it so heartily, as to be animated from the hopes of it unto the greater diligence in his ministry!
But how doth faithfulness in the ministry of the gospel further the minister’s salvation?
(1.) Thou shalt save thyself from the guilt of other men’s sins and ruin, if thou be faithful in the ministry: Ezek. xxxiii. 9. Thou hast delivered (or saved) thy soul, saith the Lord to the prophet in the case of unsuccessful faithfulness. So Paul, Acts xviii. 6. I am clean, your blood be upon your own heads: and Acts xx. 26-27. I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men: for I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God. Every minister pledgeth his soul to God, that he shall be a faithful servant, whatever his success may be.
(2.) Faithfulness and carefulness in the ministry of the gospel, promotes a man’s own salvation, in so far as the work of Christianity is woven in with the right discharge of the office of the ministry. Many ministers can say that if they had not been ministers they had in all appearance lost their souls. The subject of the minister’s work, is the same with that of a Christian’s; and above all men should he be careful of his heart and intentions that all be pure and spiritual. No man in any work he is called to is under so strict a necessity of dependence on the influence and assistance of the Holy Ghost both for gifts and grace. And are not all these great helps unto our own salvation?
The second advantage is, Thou shalt save them that hear thee. There is little hope of that man’s being useful to save others that minds not his own salvation; and therefore the apostle puts them in this order, thyself, and then, them that hear thee.
This description of the people, them that hear thee, tells us that the principal work of a minister is preaching; and the principal benefit people have by them is to hear the Lord’s word from them; though there be a seeing (i.e. of their holy conversation) that is also useful, Phil. iv. 9. But the apostle knew no such ministers as were only to be seen in worldly pomp and grandeur and seldom or never heard preaching.
Thou shalt save them. The great end of both preaching and hearing, is salvation; and if salvation were more designed by preachers and hearers, it would be more frequently the effect of the action.
Thou shalt save them. Thou shalt, by the Lord’s blessing on thy ministry, be successful in converting sinners, and in building up of saints in holiness and faith unto salvation. Not that ministers are of themselves able by all their endeavours to carry on this great end; they are only God’s tools and instruments, 1 Cor. iii. 6, 7. Concerning this,
(1.) We find that the Lord hath appointed this great ordinance of the gospel-ministry for this end, the saving of men, Eph. iv. 11-13. It is through their word that men believe, John xvii. 20. And divine appointment of the means, declares it to be both useful and the end to be hopeful.
(2.) He hath also given many promises of His presence, blessing, and success, to follow and attend them whom He sends on this great errand. Christ’s first calling of the apostles had this promise in it, I will make you fishers of men; which not only declared what that employment was he called them to, but it assured them of success in it. At his leaving of them, Matt. xxviii. 20, He promised to be with them unto the end of the world. And this promise is as good to us as it was to them.
(3.) He has also revealed much of His mind about ministers’ duty, in order to this end of saving men. This also makes the end more hopeful.
(4.) We find that the Lord does qualify and fit them whom He makes successful. He makes men able ministers of the New Testament, the word of life, 2 Cor. iii. 5-6. And still, according to the success the Lord hath a mind to bless a man with gifts, and qualifications, and assistance, are proportionably given. The apostles that had the greatest harvest to gather in were made the strongest labourers: and, though in a far inferior degree, the same method is observed by the Lord in dealing with and by ordinary ministers. It is true, that not always the most able and learned ministers are most successful; yet, generally, the most skilful labourers are most blessed. Neither are the most learned and able men for parts most fit and skilful in dealing with souls at all times.
Now, having opened the words, we shall return to the question to be resolved,
By what Means may Ministers best win Souls?
Consider what this text speaks about this matter. It looks two ways upon this question. 1. It gives a direct answer to it: and points out duty. 2. It gives an encouraging promise of the good effect and fruit of the discharge of the duty.
I. Take heed unto thyself. Would you be a saved and successful minister? Take heed unto thyself. Such warnings imply always a case of difficulty and danger.
First; Take heed that thou be a sound and sincere believer, The importance of sincere godliness in a minister, is written in the deep wounds that the church of Christ has received by the hands of ungodly ministers. It has been made a question, whether an ungodly man can be a minister? But such men are in a most desperate condition: Mat. vii. 22, 23. Depart from me; not because you ran unsent, or preached error instead of truth, or preached poorly and meanly, (all great sins in themselves); but because you work iniquity; the usual expression of entire ungodliness. What use the Lord may make of the gifts (for, great gifts He gives to the worst of men) of ungodly men, even in the ministry of the gospel, is one of His deep paths. But no man can reasonably imagine, that a walker in the way to hell can be a fit and useful guide to them that mind to go to heaven. If a man would have peace in his conscience and success in his work of the ministry, let him take good heed to this, that he be a sound Christian. There is a special difficulty for a minister to know his grace. Gifts and grace have deceived many with their likeness; although the difference be great, both in itself, and to an enlightened eye.
Second; Take heed to thyself, that thou be a called and sent minister. This is of great importance as to success. He that can say, “Lord, thou hast sent me,” may boldly add, “Lord, go with me, and bless me.” It is good when a man is serious in this inquiry. It is to be feared that many run, and never asked this question; so is it seen in their speed and success. Jer. xxiii. 32. I sent them not, therefore they shall not profit this people at all, is a standing rule to this day.
These things, if found, may serve to satisfy a minister’s conscience, that Jesus Christ hath sent him.
(a.) If the heart be filled with a single desire after the great end of the ministry, the glory of God in the salvation of men. Every work that God calls a man to, He makes the end of it amiable. This desire sometimes attends men’s first conversion. Paul was called to be a saint and an apostle at once, Acts ix; and so have many been called to be saints and ministers together. If it be not so, yet this is found with him that Christ calls, that when he is most spiritual and serious, when his heart is most under the impressions of holiness, and he is nearest to God in communion with Him; then are such desires after the serving of Jesus Christ in the ministry most powerful. And the sincerity of his desire is also to be examined: and when it is found, it adds greatly to a man’s peace: when his heart bears him witness, that it is neither riches, nor honour, nor ease, nor the applause of men, that he seeks after, but singly Christ’s honour in the saving of men.
(b.) It helps to clear a man’s call, that there has been a conscientious diligence in all the means of attaining fitness for this great work. That love to the end that does not direct and determine to the use of the appointed means, may justly be suspected as irregular, and not flowing from the Holy Ghost. Even extraordinary officers seem not to have been above the use of ordinary means, 2 Tim. iv. 13: old, dying Paul sends for his books and papers.
(c.) A competent fitness for the work of the ministry is another proof of a man’s call to it. The Lord calls no man to a work for which He does not qualify. Though a sincere humble man (as all ministers should be) may and should think little of any measure he has, whether compared with the greater measures of others, or considered with regard unto the weight and worth or the work; yet there must be some confidence as to his competency, for clearing a man’s call, 2 Cor. iii. 5, 6. What this competency is, is not easy at all times to determine. But in general there must be, 1. A competent knowledge of gospel-mysteries. 2. A competent ability of utterance to the edifying of others. This is aptness to teach, required of the apostle in I Tim. iii. 2: and Titus i. 9. that a minister be able, by sound doctrine, to exhort and to convince gainsayers.
(d.) The savour of a man’s ministry on the hearts and consciences of others, both ministers and people, helps much to clear a man’s call. So that indeed ordinarily a man can never be so well confirmed in the faith of his being called of God, until he make some essay in this work. Deacons must first be proved, I Tim. iii 10; much more ministers. A single testimony given by ministers and Christians, that the word dispensed by the man is savoury and has effect on the conscience is a great confirmation; especially if sound conversion of some follow his labours. That is indeed a seal of his ministry, 2 Cor. iii. 3, and 1 Cor. ix. 2.
Third; Take heed unto thyself that thou be a lively thriving Christian. See that all your religion run not in the channel of your employment. It is found by experience, that as it fares with a minister in the frame of his heart, and thriving of the work of God in his soul, so doth it fare with his ministry both in its vigour and effects. A carnal frame, a dead heart and a loose walk, makes cold and unprofitable preaching. And how common is it for ministers to neglect their own vineyard? When we read the word we read ill as ministers to know what we should teach rather than what we should learn as Christians. Unless there be great heed taken, it will be found that our ministry and labour therein may eat out the life of our Christianity. Not that there is any discord betwixt them; but rather a friendly harmony, when each has its place and respect. The honest believer meditates that he may excite his grace; and ministers too often meditate only to increase their gifts. When we preach, the sincere hearer drinks in the word; and it may be we seldom mix faith with it, to grow thereby. O how hard is it to be a minister and a Christian in some of these acts! We are still conversant about the things of God; it is our study all the week long. This is our great advantage. But take heed to thyself, lest ordinary meddling with divine things bring on an ordinary and indifferent impression of them; and then their fruit to you, and your benefit by them, is almost gone and hardly recovered.
Fourth; Take heed unto thyself in reference to all the trials and temptations you may meet with. Be on your guard, watch in all things, 2 Tim. iv. 5. No men are shot at more by Satan than ministers, and Christ is liberal in His warnings of dangers, and in His promises of help in them.
2. The second word in the text to this purpose of directing ministers how to be useful to others, is take heed unto thy doctrine. Are you a minister? You must be a preacher. An unpreaching minister is a sort of contradiction. Yet, every sort of preaching is not enough; you must take heed to your doctrine what it is.
Here is a warrant for studying what we are to teach and what we have taught people. But the great matter is to take heed, or study aright. Students commonly need little direction about ordinary study. But concerning the doctrine, I shall entreat to take heed unto it in these things:— First; Take heed unto thy doctrine, that it be a divine truth:—Let a man speak as the oracles of God, 1 Pet. iv. 11. And therefore it is needful that ministers be well acquainted with the holy scriptures. It is a mark against a man that relishes any book more than the word of God. The world is full of books written on pretence and design to explain the scriptures; and men’s studies are full of them. There is also a blessing in them, and good use to be made of them; but also a bad use is made of them. Many ministers have found that they have preached better and to more profit to the people when they got their sermon by meditation on the word and prayer than by turning over many authors. From this neglect of the word also come a great many doctrines that are learned by man and borrowed from philosophy; which though they may have some truth in them, yet since it is divine truth that a minister should bring forth to the people, he should not rest on such low things.
Second; Take heed unto thy doctrine that it be plain and suited to the capacity of the hearers. Learned preaching (as it is called) is a vanity, pleasing principally to such as neither design nor desire edification. True godly learning consists in preaching plainly; and therein is no small difficulty. Two things would help to plain preaching. 1. Clearness of knowledge. The alleged depth of our doctrine often proceeds from our own darkness. 2. Humility and self-denial. We must not seek ourselves, nor the applause of men; but God’s glory, and men’s salvation. It is found that the holiest ministers preach most plainly and the plainest preachers are most successful.
Third; Take heed unto thy doctrine, that it be grave, and solid, and weighty; sound speech that cannot be condemned, Tit. ii. 8. Deep and weighty impressions of the things of God upon a man’s own heart would greatly advance this. A minister’s spirit is known in the gravity or lightness of his doctrine.
II. But now we come to the second thing proposed, to give some answer to this question from other things in the word.
And I shall, 1. Shew some things that must be laid to heart about the end, the saving of souls; and then, 2. Shall give some advice about the means.
1. About the end, the winning of souls. This is to bring them to God. It is not to win them to us, or to engage them into a party, or to the espousal of some opinions and practices, supposing them to be never so right and consonant to the word of God. But the winning of them is to bring them out of nature into a state of grace, that they may be fitted for, and in due time admitted into everlasting glory.
Concerning which great end, these few things should be laid deeply to heart by all that would serve the Lord in being instrumental in reaching it.
First; The exceeding height and excellency of this end is to be laid to heart. It is a wonder of condescension that the Lord will make use of men in promoting it. To be workers together with God in so great a business, is no small honour. The great value of men’s souls, the greatness of the misery they are delivered from, and of the happiness they are advanced to, with the manifold glory of God shining in all, makes the work of saving men great and excellent. Preaching the gospel, and suffering for it, are services that angels are not employed in. Mean and low thoughts of the great end of the ministry, as they are dissonant from truth, are also great hindrances to due endeavours after the attaining the end.
Second; The great difficulty of saving souls must be laid to heart. The difficulty is undoubted. To attempt it is to offer violence to men’s corrupt natures; and a storming of hell itself, whose captives all sinners are. Unless this difficulty be laid to heart ministers will be confident of their own strength and so miscarry and be unfruitful. Whoever prospers in winning souls is first convinced that it is the arm of Jehovah only can do the work.
Third; The duty of winning souls must be laid to heart by ministers. That it is their principle work and they are under many commands to endeavour it. It is a fault to look on fruit only as a reward of endeavours; but it should be so minded as the end we would strive for, Col. i. 28-29; which, when attained, is still to His praise: yet most commonly when it is missing it is to our reproach and danger, when it is (as alas! it is often) through our default.
Fourth; The great advantage there is to the labourer by his success is to be pondered. Great is the gain by one soul. He that winneth souls, is happy as well as wise, Prov. ix. 30. Dan. xii. 3. Won souls are a minister’s crown, and glory, and joy. Phil. iv. 1. 1 Thess. ii. 20. How far is this account above all others that a man can give of his ministry? These things fixed upon the heart, would enliven us in all endeavours to attain this excellent end.
2. For advice about the means, I shall add these few thoughts besides what hath been said.
First; Let ministers, if they would win souls, purchase and retain amongst the people a persuasion of their being sent of God; that they are Christ’s ministers, 1 Cor. iv. 1. It is not the confident asserting of it, nor justifying the lawfulness of our ecclesiastical calling, though there be some use of these things at some times: but it is ability, carefulness, faithfulness, humility, and self-denial, and, in a word, conformity to our Lord Jesus in His ministry, that will constrain people to say and think that we are sent of God. Nicodemus comes with this impression of Christ, John iii. 2. A teacher come from God. It is certain, that these thoughts in people further the reception of the gospel; Gal. iv. 14. Ye received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus.
Second; Let ministers, if they would win souls, purchase and maintain the people’s love to their persons. And this is best done by loving them and dealing lovingly and patiently with them. There should be no striving with them especially about worldly things: yea, meekness to them that oppose themselves, 2 Tim. ii. 24-26. It is of great advantage to have their love. How carefully doth Paul sue for it in several epistles; and condescend to intreat and make apologies when indeed he had not wronged them but they only did imagine he had wronged them! 2 Cor. ix.
Third; It would further the winning of souls, to deal particularly and personally with them; not always nor altogether in public, Col. i. 28. Acts xx. 20-21. Great fruit hath constantly followed the conscientious discharge of this duty. The setting of it up in Geneva did produce incredible fruits of piety, as Calvin reports: when the ministers and some of the elders went from house to house and dealt particularly with the people’s consciences. And we are not without many instances of the fruit of this mean in our own time and in these nations. Blessed be the Lord for the labourers and their success.
Fourth; Ministers must pray much if they would be successful. The apostles spent their time this way, Acts vi. 3. Yea, our Lord Jesus preached all day, and continued all night alone in prayer to God. Ministers should be much in prayer. They used to reckon how many hours they spend in reading and study; it were far better both with ourselves and the church of God if more time were spent in prayer. Luther’s spending three hours daily in secret prayer, Bradford’s studying on his knees, and other instances of men in our time are talked of rather than imitated. Ministers should pray much for themselves; for they have corruptions like other men and have temptations that none but ministers are assaulted with. They should pray for their message. How sweet and easy is it for a minister, (and likely it is to be the more profitable to the people), to bring forth that scripture as food to the souls of his people that he hath got opened to his own heart by the power of the Holy Ghost in the exercise of faith and love in prayer! A minister should pray for a blessing on the word, and he should be much in seeking God particularly for the people. It may be this may be the reason why some ministers of meaner gifts and parts are more successful than some that are far above them in abilities; not because they preach better, but because they pray more. Many good sermons are lost for lack of much prayer in study.
But because the ministry of the word is the main instrument for winning souls, I shall therefore add somewhat more particularly concerning this, and that both as to the matter and manner of preaching.
For the subject-matter of gospel-preaching, it is determined by the apostle expressly to be Christ crucified, 1 Cor. ii. 2. Two things ministers have to do about Him in preaching Him to them that are without. 1. To set Him forth to people, Gal. iii. 1; to paint Him in His love, excellency, and ability to save. 2. To preach Him unto them freely, fully, without any limitation as to sinners, or their sinful state. And then Christ’s laws or will to be published to them that receive Him, and are His, for the rule of their walk; and His promises, for the measure and foundation of all their hopes and expectations; and His grace and fulness, for their supply in every case, till they be brought to heaven. This was the simplicity of the gospel that remained but a little while in the Christian church: for ceremonies amongst the Jews, and sinful mixtures of vain philosophy amongst the Gentiles, Col. ii. did by degrees so corrupt the gospel that the mystery of iniquity ripened in the production of Antichrist. It was a sad observation of the fourth century that it became a matter of learning and ingenuity to be a Christian. The meaning was that too much weight was laid on notions and matters of opinion; and less regard had unto the soundness of the heart and holiness of life. In the beginning of the reformation from Popery, the worthies whom God raised up in several countries did excellently in retrieving the simplicity of the gospel from the Popish mixtures. But that good work is on the decline greatly. How little of Jesus Christ is there in some pulpits! It is seen as to success, that whatever the law doth in alarming sinners, it is still the gospel-voice that is the key that opens the heart to Jesus Christ. Would ministers win souls? Let them have more of Jesus Christ in their dealing with men, and less of other things that never profit them that are exercised therein.
As for the manner of successful preaching, I shall give it in a negative and positive, from these two places: 1 Cor. i. 17, and ii. 1, 4.
First; What this negative condemns, is our inquiry. The words are full: For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. Again, I came not to you with excellency of speech, or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. Again, And my speech, and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom. These are the words of the Holy Ghost concerning a way of preaching that is unprofitable: a way that seems was in use and respect with the Corinthians; and honest Paul was despised by them, for his simple and plain way, different from theirs. I shall only instance in things that this scriptural negative doth check and reprove in the way of preaching.
1. The establishing and advancing of divine truth upon the foundation of human reason; as if there were some weakness and insufficency in those methods and arguments of working on men’s consciences, that the Holy Ghost prescribes. The great foundation of all a minister hath to say, is, Thus saith the Lord; and a grave declaring of the testimony of God in this matter is a minister’s duty, 1 Cor. ii. 1, and will have more authority on men’s consciences than many human reasons. There is a rational preaching (as it is called), wherein men do not satisfy themselves to make use of reason as a tool and instrument (and then its use is excellent), but will establish it as a judge and dictator in all divine matters and truth; and so in effect turn all their preaching into little better things than the lectures of the philosophers of old; save that the poor pagans were more sincere in their morals and serious in delivering their opinions.
Let a minister therefore still think with himself, that a plain scripture-testimony is his main argument; and accordingly let him use it. When he teacheth philosophy, and when he teacheth men the will of God about salvation, he is in distinct provinces, and his management of his work therein should be very different.
2. It is to preach with excellency of speech, and words of man’s wisdom, when men think to reach the gospel end on sinners by force of even spiritual reason and persuasion. This corrupt thought riseth in some, from an imagination that moral suasion is all that is needful for converting a sinner: and in some this thought rises on a better account; the light of the glory of God in the gospel shines so brightly in upon their own hearts, that they fall into this conceit, that no man can stand before that light which they can hold forth: Melancthon’s mistake at first, till experience made him wiser. Hast thou a clear knowledge of gospel-mysteries, and the word of exhortation is with thee also, so that thou art qualified to urge, beseech. and plead warmly with sinners on Christ’s behalf? Take heed of this snare. Lest thou think that thy wisdom and gifts can promote and carry on the gospel-design on men.
3. This also is checked in the apostle’s words, the setting forth the beauty of the gospel by human art. The truth of the gospel shines best in its bare proposal; and its beauty in its simple and naked discovery. We may observe from church history, that as soundness of doctrine and the power of godliness decayed in the church, the vanity of an affected way of speaking and of writing of divine things came in. Quotations from the fathers, Latin, and languages, are pitiful ornaments to preaching if a man design conversion and soul-edification. And yet more despicable are all playing on words, jinglings, and cadences, (which things are in all the rules of true eloquence justly exploded); and yet some men reckon much on them. But would any man think his friend in earnest with him that would accost him in any affair with such sort of language and gesture?
Second; The positive is, in demonstration of the Spirit, and of power, 1 Cor. ii. 5.
1. Paul preached so as gave a demonstration that the Holy Ghost was in him, sanctifying him. This is a plain and blessed thing. Happy is the minister that manageth his work so that if the hearers get not a demonstration of great parts and learning, yet they have a demonstration of the sanctifying Spirit of God in the minister.
2. Paul preached so as gave a demonstration that the Spirit of God was with him, assisting and helping him in his work; even when he was amongst them in much weakness, fear, and trembling, ver. 3. Happy is the minister that can preach this way. He must be a depender upon assistance from the Holy Ghost.
3. Paul preached so as a demonstration of the power of the Holy Ghost was given to the hearts of the hearers. The Spirit of God so wrought on them by His power in and by Paul’s preaching, 2 Cor. iv. 2, commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. This is the principle thing to be aimed at, and it is the proper source of all profitable preaching.
III. To conclude: You that are ministers, suffer a word of exhortation.
Men, brethren, and fathers, you are called to an high and holy calling. Your work is full of danger, full of duty, and full of mercy. You are called to the winning of souls; an employment near akin unto our Lord’s work, the saving of souls; and the nearer your spirits be in conformity to His holy temper and frame, the fitter you are for, and the more fruitful you shall be in your work. None of you are ignorant of the begun departure of our glory, and the daily advance of its departure, and the sad appearances of the Lord’s being about to leave us utterly. Should not these signs of the times rouse up ministers unto greater seriousness? What can be the reason of this sad observation, that when formerly a few lights raised up in the nation, did shine so as to scatter and dispel the darkness of popery in a little time; yet now when there are more and more learned men amongst us, the darkness comes on apace? Is it not because they were men filled with the Holy Ghost, and with power; and many of us are only filled with light and knowledge, and inefficacious notions of God’s truth? Doth not always the spirit of the ministers propagate itself amongst the people? A lively ministry, and lively Christians. Therefore be serious at heart; believe, and so speak; feel, and so speak; and as you teach, so do: and then people will feel what you say, and obey the word of God.
And, lastly, for people: it is not unfit that you should hear of ministers’ work, and duty, and difficulties. You see that all is of your concernment. All things are for your sakes, as the apostle said in another case.
Then only I entreat you,
1. Pity us. We are not angels, but men of like passions with yourselves. Be fuller of charity than of censure. We have all that you have to do about the saving of our own souls; and a great work besides about the saving of yours. We have all your difficulties as Christians; and some that you are not acquainted with, that are only ministers’ temptations and trials.
2. Help us in our work. If you can do anything, help us in the work of winning souls. What can we do, say you? Make haste to heaven, that you and we may meet joyfully before the throne of God and the Lamb.
3. Pray for us. How often and how earnestly doth Paul beg the prayers of the churches! And if he did so, much more should we beg them, and you grant them; for our necessities and weaknesses are greater than his: 2 Thess. iii. 1-2. Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you: and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men: for all men have not faith.
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