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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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LISTENING TO A SERMON

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17 ESV)

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, (2 Timothy 3:16 ESV)

Do you enjoy a good sermon or do you just want it to be short enough to make it to your favorite restaurant before the Sunday crowd? Do you want sermons to always move you emotionally or do you consider the accuracy of the Word preached to be the most important thing? Do you believe that music and singing should take up most of the service? Do you listen to preaching to be entertained or to learn more about Jesus?

People have many reasons for attending a particular church and often the sermon is not the highest priority. This is why you hear complaints: “The sermons are too long”; “The pastor doesn’t include enough funny illustrations”; “He talks about holy living and sanctification too much”. Such criticisms reflect the attitude that growing in Christ is not the highest priority. So many people in our churches today seem to want just a little bit of Jesus and no more.

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John Piper on Earnestness in Preaching

John PiperJohn Piper:

Here is a key to great earnestness in preaching. If you really believe that “those who endure to the end will be saved” (Mark 13:13), and that not only the first act of faith but all subsequent acts of persevering faith are sustained by the Spirit through the Word of God, then virtually every sermon is a “salvation sermon” and the souls of the saints are being saved every Sunday. There is not an earnest sermon for evangelism when the souls of the lost are at stake, and then a less serious and less critical message for the saints to simply add a few stars in their crown. Rather every sermon is crucial and critical in sustaining the faith of the saints and so bringing them safely to glory. (“Thoughts on Earnestness in Preaching,” unpublished teaching notes, 3/15/99)

 

Charles H. Spurgeon on Preaching

Charles SpurgeonCharles H. Spurgeon:

“Our ministry must be emphatic, or it will never affect these thoughtless times; and to this end our hearts must be habitually fervent, and our whole nature must be fired with an all-consuming passion for the glory of God and the good of men.”

“Preach not calmly and quietly as though you were asleep, but preach with fire and pathos and passion.”

“The great reason why we have so little good preaching is that we have so little piety. To be eloquent one must be in earnest; he must not only act as if he were in earnest, or try to be in earnest, but be in earnest.”

“Unless we have the spirit of the prophets resting upon us, the mantle which we wear is nothing but a rough garment to deceive. We ought to be driven forth with abhorrence from the society of honest men for daring to speak in the name of the Lord if the Spirit of God rests not upon us.”

Flogging the Devil

Charles H. Spurgeon by Ron AdairCharles Spurgeon:

“The preaching of Christ is the whip that flogs the devil. The preaching of Christ is the thunderbolt, the sound of which makes all hell shake.”

Spurgeon on Preaching

Charles H. SpurgeonCharles H. Spurgeon:

You cannot preach conviction of sin unless you have suffered it. You cannot preach repentance unless you have practiced it. You cannot preach faith unless you have exercised it. True preaching is artesian; it wells up from the great depths of the soul. If Christ has not made a well within us, there will be no outflow from us.

Vain Preaching

John Calvin understood that men will often run after great orators who only seek to tickle the ears of their audience. He also understood that articulate preachers might arise that seek a large audience rather than the salvation of men. Calvin writes:

But shun profane and vain babblings; for they will increase unto more ungodliness. And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymeneus and Philetus; Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some. (2 Timothy 2:16-18)

The doctrine which is set forth to us in God’s name, to be the food of our souls, will be corrupted by the devil, if in his power; when he cannot destroy it, he blends things with it, in order to bring it into contempt, and destroy our knowledge of the will of God. There are many in this day who put themselves forward to teach; and what is the cause of it? Ambition carries them away; they disguise the Word of God, and thus Satan goes about to deprive us of the spiritual life.

But this he is not able to accomplish, unless by some means the doctrine of God be corrupted. St. Paul repeats the exhortation: that we must shun all unprofitable babbling, and stay ourselves upon plain teaching – which is forcible. He not only condemns manifest errors, superstition, and lies, but he condemns the disguising of the Word of God: as when men invent subtleties, to cloy men’s ears; bringing no true nourishment to the soul, nor edification in faith, and the fear of God, to the hearers.

When St. Paul speaks of vain babbling, he means that which contents curious men; as we see many that take great pleasure in vain questions, wherewith they seem to be ravished. They do not openly speak against the truth, but they despise it as a thing too common and base; as a thing for children and fools; as for them, they will know some higher and more profound matter. Thus they are at variance with that which would be profitable for them. Therefore, let us weigh well the words of St. Paul: vain babbling; as though he said, if there be nothing but fine rhetoric and exquisite words to gain him credit that speaks, and to show that he is well learned, [but not Bible truth and sound doctrine] none of this should be received into the church; all must be banished. (“Pure Preaching of the Word”)

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”)

Back Door Christians

From the sermons of Charles H. Spurgeon:

Many come to God’s house disguised in manner and appearance. How good you all look!

When we sing and you take your books, how heavenly-minded! And when we pray, how reverent you are! How your heads are all bowed – your eyes covered with your hands! I do not know how much praying there is when you sit in a devout posture; though you assume the attitude and compose your countenance as those who draw near to supplicate the Lord. I am afraid there are many of you who do not pray a word or present a petition, though you assume the posture of suppliants. When the singing is going on there are many who never sing a word with the spirit and the understanding.

In the house of God I am afraid there are many who wear a mask, stand as God’s people stand, sit as they sit, pray as they pray, and sing as they sing- and all the while what are you doing? Some of you have been attending to your children while we have been singing tonight. Some of you have been casting up your ledger, attending to your farms, scheming about your carpentering and bricklaying; yet all the while if we had looked into your faces we might have thought you were reverently worshiping God.

Oh! Those solemn faces, and those reverent looks, they do not deceive the Most High God! He knows who and what you are! He sees you as clearly as men see through glass. As for hiding from the Almighty, how can you hide yourself from him? As well attempt to hide in a glass case, for all the world is a glass case before God. . . The eyes of God are on you continually; no veil of hypocrisy can screen you from him.

It is a melancholy and a most solemn reflection that there are many who profess to be Christians who are not Christians. . . .

I have tried, the Lord knows, to preach as plainly and as much home to the mark as I could, to sift and try you; but for all that the hypocrite will come in. After the most searching ministry, there are still some who will wrap themselves about with a ‘mantle of deception’. Though we cry aloud and spare not, and bid you lay hold on eternal life, yet, alas! How many are content with a mere name to live and are dead.

Many come here and even hold office in the Church, yes, the minister himself may even preach the Word, and after all be hollow and empty. How many who dress and look fair outside, are only fit to be tinder for the devil’s tinder box, for they are all dry and empty within! God save as from a profession if it is not real!

I pray that we may know the worst of our case. If I must be damned, I would sooner go to hell unholy, than as a hypocrite – that back-door to the pit is the thing I dread most of all. Oh! To sit at the Lord’s Table, and to drink of the cup of devils! To be recognized among God’s own here, and then to find one’s own name left out when God reads the muster-roll of his servants!

Oh! What a portion for eternity! I bid you tear off this mask, and if the grace of God is not in you, I beg you to go into the world which is your fit place, and abstain from joining the Church, if you are not really a member of the body of Christ.

“You, God, see me!” Write that on the palm of your hand, and look at it; wake up in the morning with it; sleep with it before you on your curtains. “You, God, see me!” (“A Hearer in Disguise” No. 584)

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”)

Do You Really Have Christ In Your Heart?

From the pen of George Whitefield:

“If a person is what the world calls an honest moral man, if he does justly, and, what the world calls, love a little mercy, is not and then good-natured, reacheth out his hand to the poor, receives the sacrament once or twice a year, and is outwardly sober and honest; the world looks upon such an one as a Christian indeed, and doubtless we are to judge charitably of every such person. There are many likewise, who go on in a round of duties, a model of performances, that think they shall go to heaven; but if you examine them, though they have a Christ in their heads, they have no Christ in their hearts.”

Walking With Christ

On February 24th, 1856, Charles H. Spurgeon preached a sermon titled “A Solemn Warning for All Churches”. What follows here are excerpts from that sermon:

Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. (Revelation 3:4 ESV)

“They shall walk in white, for they are worthy.” The attentive reader will observe that in quoting the passage just now, I left out two of the sweetest words in the passage. It reads: “They shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy.” That is the very pith of the honor; if the rest of it be gold this is the jewel. “They shall walk with me in white.” That is to say, communion with Christ on earth shall be the special reward of those who have not defiled their garments. Now, I must say a very hard thing again, but it is a true one. Go into what company you please, do you meet with many men who hold communion with Christ? Though they may be godly men, upright men, ask them if they hold communion with Christ, and will they understand you? If you give them some of those sweetly spiritual books, that those who hold fellowship love to read, they will say they are mystical, and they do not love them. Ask them whether they can spend an hour in meditation upon Christ, whether they ever rise to heaven and lay their head on the breast of the Savior, whether they ever know what it is to enter into rest and get into Canaan; whether they understand how he has raised us up together and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus; whether they can often say,

Abundant sweetness while I sing

Thy love, my ravished heart overflows;

Secure in thee my God and King

Of glory that no period knows.”

Ask them that, and they will say, “We don’t comprehend you.” Now, the reason of it is in the first part of my sermon—they have defiled their garments, and therefore Christ will not walk with them. He says, “Those that have not defiled their garments shall walk with me.” Those who hold fast the truth, who take care to be free from the prevailing sins of the times, “These,” he says, “shall walk with me; they shall be in constant fellowship with me; I will let them see that I am bone of their bone, and flesh of their flesh: I will bring them into the banqueting-house; my banner over them shall be love; they shall drink wine on the lees well refined; they shall have the secrets of the Lord revealed unto them, because they are the people who truly fear me: they shall walk with me in white.” Oh, Christian! If thou wouldst have communion with Christ, the special way to win it is by not defiling thy garments, as the church has done. (“A Solemn Warning for All Churches”)

The Waning Pulpit

Quoting J. Wilbur Chapman (1859-1917):

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.

It has been said that we have given up personal work, and depend too much upon our pulpit efforts to turn men to God. “How do you like your minister?” said one of my friends to a plain woman in the mountains of Kentucky. She hesitated a moment and replied: “We don’t like him so very well. He preaches well enough, but he has the college habit, and studies so much that we do not see him except on Sundays,” “and,” she said, “you know a minister must speak to you out of the pulpit as well as in it if he is to influence you. . . .”

[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.”

The Importance Of Zeal For Christ

The great sins of our age are impure doctrine, and sloppiness of faith. You know that on Sunday mornings there are many churches who teach that, practically speaking, it does not matter what you believe as long as you act the part and say religious words. Such places actually believe in salvation by death, because the understated theme of many pastors’ sermons are that the gates of heaven are wide enough to receive all men, all religions, sects, denominations, and doctrines. They believe that doctrines are unimportant. C. H. SPURGEON responded to the ministers and laity of his time in the message below:

My zeal consumes me, because my foes forget your words. (Psalm 119:139 ESV)

We have an abundance of cold, calculating Christians, multitudes of professors; but where are the zealous ones? Where are the leaders of the children of God? Where are your heroes who stand in the day of battle? Where are your men who “count not their lives dear unto them,” that they might win Christ, and be found in him? Where are those who have an impassioned love for souls? How many of our pulpits are filled by earnest, enthusiastic preachers? Alas! Look, at the church. She has built herself fine palaces, imitating popery; she hath girded herself with vestments; she has gone astray from her simplicity; but she has lost the fire and the life which she once had. We go into our chapels now, and we see everything in good taste: we hear the organ play; the psalmody is in keeping with the most correct ear; the gown and the noble vestments are there, and everything is grand and goodly, and we think that God is honored. Oh for the days when Whitfields would preach on tubs once more, when their pulpits should be on Kennington Common and their roofs the ceiling of God’s sky. Oh for the time when we might preach in barns again, or in catacombs either, if we might but have the life of God that once they had in such places. What is the use of garnishing the shell when you have lost the kernel? Go and whitewash, for the life is gone. Garnish the outside of your cups and platters; but ye have lost the pure word of God. Ye have it not for a piece of bread; they flinch to speak the whole truth, or if they seem to speak it, it is with cold, meaningless, passionless words, as if it were nothing whether souls were damned or saved, whether heaven were filled or heaven depopulated, or whether Christ should see of the travail of his would and be satisfied. Do I speak fierce things? I can say as Irving once did, I might deserve to be broken on the wheel if I did not believe what I say to be the truth; for the utterance of such things I might deserve the stake; but God is my witness, I have endeavored to judge and to speak impartially. With all that universal cant of charity now so prevalent I am at arm’s length; I care not for it. Let us speak of things as we find them. WE do believe that the church has lost her zeal and her energy. But what do men say of us? “Oh! you are too excited.” Good God! Excited! When men are being damned; Excited! When we have the mission of heaven to preach to dying souls. EXCITED! Preaching too much when souls are lost? Why should it come to pass that one man should be perpetually laboring all the week, while others are lolling upon their couches, and preach only upon the Sabbath-day? Can I bear to see the laziness, the slothfulness, the indifference of ministers, and of churches, without speaking? No! There must be a protest entered, and we enter it now. Oh! Church of God, thou has a name to live, and art dead; thou art not watchful. Awake! awake! arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light. (“A Solemn Warning for All Churches”, February 24, 1856)

Do You Love The Word Of God?

Do you sit under a ministry that works upon your conscience? Are you grateful and humble when the Word of God strikes at the sin in your life? In the excerpt below, Thomas Watson continues this line of questioning:

Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts. (Jeremiah 15:16 ESV)

Do we love the Word preached? Do we prize it in our judgments? Do we receive it into our hearts? Do we fear the loss of the Word preached more than the loss of peace and trade? Is it the removal of the ark that troubles us?

Again, do we attend to the Word with reverential devotion? When the judge is giving his charge from the bench, all attend. When the Word is preached, the great God is giving us his charge. Do we listen to it as to a matter of life and death? This is a good sign that we love the Word.

Again, do we love the holiness of the Word (Psa. 119:140)? The Word is preached to beat down sin and advance holiness. Do we love it for its spirituality and purity? Many love the Word preached only for its eloquence and notion. They come to a sermon as to a performance (Ezek. 33:31,32) or as to a garden to pick flowers, but not to have their lusts subdued or their hearts bettered. These are like a foolish woman who paints her face but neglects her health.

Again, do we love the convictions of the Word? Do we love the Word when it comes home to our conscience and shoots its arrows of reproof at our sins? It is the minister’s duty sometimes to reprove. He who can speak smooth words in the pulpit, but does not know how to reprove, is like a sword with a fine hilt but without an edge. ‘Rebuke them sharply’ (Titus 2:15). Dip the nail in oil, reprove in love, but strike the nail home. Now Christian, when the Word touches on your sin and says, ‘You are the man’, do you love the reproof? Can you bless God that ‘the sword of the Spirit’ has divided between you and your lusts? This is indeed a sign of grace and shows that you are a lover of the Word. (“A Godly Man is a Lover of the Word!”)

Doctrinal Preaching

Quoting J. I. Packer:

Doctrinal preaching certainly bores the hypocrites; but it is only doctrinal preaching that will save Christ’s sheep. The preacher’s job is to proclaim the faith, not to provide entertainment for unbelievers–in other words, to feed the sheep rather than amuse the goats. (Packer, A Quest For Godliness, 285)

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