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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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The Size Of A Minister

 

 

From the desk of John Newton:

“I measure ministers by square measure. I have no idea of the size of a table, if you only tell me how long it is: but if you also say how wide, I can tell its dimensions. So, when you tell me what a man is in the pulpit, you must also tell me what he is out of it, or I shall not know his size.”

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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”)

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”)

Charles Spurgeon On Preaching With Dependence Upon The Holy Spirit

Charles H. Spurgeon

Speaking at a pastor’s conference, Charles Haddon Spurgeon comments on the part played by the Holy Spirit in preparing and preaching a sermon:

The Holy Spirit will help us in our message, if there is an entire dependence upon him. Of course, you all receive this at once; but do you entirely depend upon the Holy Spirit? Can you? Dare you, do that? I would not urge any man to go into the pulpit and talk what first came into his head, under the pretence of depending upon the Holy Spirit; but still, there are methods of preparation which denote the utter absence of any trust in the Holy Spirit’s help in the pulpit. There is no practical difficulty in reconciling our own earnest endeavors with humble dependence upon God; but it is very hard to make this appear logical, when we are merely discussing a theory. It is the old difficulty of reconciling faith and works. . . .

I should not pray God to take care of me, and then leave my front door unfastened and my window open. So I should not pray for the Holy Spirit, and then go into the pulpit without having carefully thought upon my text. Still, if I had prepared thoughts and expressions so minutely that I never varied from my set form, I should think that my faith was, to say the least, encumbered with more works than would allow her much liberty of action. I do not see where the opportunity is given to the Spirit of God to help us in preaching, if every jot and tittle is settled beforehand. Do let your trust in God be free to move hand and foot. While you are preaching, believe that God the Holy Spirit can give you, in the self-same hour, what you shall speak; and can make you say what you had not previously thought of; yes, and make this newly-given utterance to be the very arrow-head of the discourse, which shall strike deeper into the heart than anything you had prepared. Do not reduce your dependence upon the Holy Ghost to a mere phrase; make it more and more a fact. (“The Preacher’s Power and the Conditions of Obtaining it”)

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