Preach Christ or Stop Preaching

spurgeonSteam shot from Charles Spurgeon’s ears at the mention of a preacher who neglected Christ. Christless sermons aggravated the Prince of Preachers as much as anything, and on this topic he produced some choice quotes for the ages.

Here are six of my favorites.

The motto of all true servants of God must be, “We preach Christ; and him crucified.” A sermon without Christ in it is like a loaf of bread without any flour in it. No Christ in your sermon, sir? Then go home, and never preach again until you have something worth preaching. [Exposition of Acts 13:13-49 (1904)]

Leave Christ out? O my brethren, better leave the pulpit out altogether. If a man can preach one sermon without mentioning Christ’s name in it, it ought to be his last, certainly the last that any Christian ought to go to hear him preach. [Sermon, “A Prayer for the Church” (1867)]

Leave Christ out of the preaching and you shall do nothing. Only advertize it all over London, Mr. Baker, that you are making bread without flour; put it in every paper, “Bread without flour” and you may soon shut up your shop, for your customers will hurry off to other tradesmen. … A sermon without Christ as its beginning, middle, and end is a mistake in conception and a crime in execution. However grand the language it will be merely much-ado-about-nothing if Christ be not there. And I mean by Christ not merely his example and the ethical precepts of his teaching, but his atoning blood, his wondrous satisfaction made for human sin, and the grand doctrine of “believe and live.” [Sermon, “Christ the Glory of His People” (1868)]

Sooner by far would I go to a bare table, and eat from a wooden porringer something that would appease my appetite, than I would go to a well-spread table on which there was nothing to eat. Yes, it is Christ, Christ, Christ whom we have to preach; and if we leave him out, we leave out the very soul of the gospel. Christless sermons make merriment for hell. Christless preachers, Christless Sunday school teachers, Christless class leaders, Christless tract distributors—what are all these doing? They are simply setting the mill to grind without putting any grist into the hopper, all their labor is in vain. If you leave Jesus Christ out, you are simply beating the air, or going to war without any weapon with which you can smite the foe. [Sermon, “Why the Gospel is Hidden” (1866)]

I know one who said I was always on the old string, and he would come and hear me no more; but if I preached a sermon without Christ in it, he would come. Ah, he will never come while this tongue moves, for a sermon without Christ in it—a Christless sermon! A brook without water; a cloud without rain; a well which mocks the traveler; a tree twice dead, plucked up by the root; a sky without a sun; a night without a star. It were a realm of death—a place of mourning for angels and laughter for devils. O Christian, we must have Christ! Do see to it that every day when you wake you give a fresh savor of Christ upon you by contemplating his person. Live all the day, trying as much as lieth in you, to season your hearts with him, and then at night, lie down with him upon your tongue. [Sermon, “A Bundle of Myrrh” (1864)]

What was the subject? What was Peter preaching upon? He was preaching Christ and him crucified. No other subject ever does produce such effects as this. The Spirit of God bears no witness to Christless sermons. Leave Jesus out of your preaching, and the Holy Spirit will never come upon you. Why should he? Has he not come on purpose that he may testify of Christ? Did not Jesus say, “He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you”? Yes, the subject was Christ, and nothing but Christ, and such is the teaching which the Spirit of God will own. Be it ours never to wander from this central point: may we determine to know nothing among men but Christ and his cross. [Sermon, “The Mediator, Judge, and Savior” (1880)]

Sweet Monotony

When it was finally determined that I would write a synthesis of the pastoral theology of John Newton, it became clear to me that to hold true to Newton’s approach, my book would need to find its focal point in one direction. For Newton, Christ is the conscious center of the Christian life. And not a theoretical Christ-centered life that acknowledges the doctrines of the gospel on occasion, but a life truly centered entirely — and daily — on the magnificent person of Jesus Christ, as seen with the eyes of faith.

I was certainly up the challenge, and put pen to paper.

But in the early weeks of writing I felt occasional jolts of caution. Sometimes I would stop writing to ponder whether or not the market would sustain a book like the one I was writing. Will readers get antsy for the practical how-tos for life success? Of course the book would have to get very practical, because street-smart Newton was never content with tossing out untried theories. But the book could never lose sight of Calvary.

But back in those early days of writing the book, wrestling with this one nagging question, one evening I decided to pull down a collection of Charles Spurgeon sermons and read something he preached as a 21-year-old titled “A visit to Calvary,” published here on pages 187–188.

Here’s what caught my attention:

We never hear a sermon concerning Christ crucified of which we disapprove, however inelegant its diction, if it be sound in doctrine. We never complain of our minister that he preaches too much concerning Jesus Christ. No; there can be no tautology where his name is mentioned; though a sermon should be little beyond the mere repetition of his Name, we would rejoice to hear it. . . .

Oh, how dissatisfied are our souls when we listen to a sermon that is destitute of Christ! There are some preachers who can manage to deliver a discourse and to leave Christ’s name out of it altogether. Surely, the true believer, who is present on such an occasion, will say, with Mary Magdalene, ‘They have taken away the Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.’

Take away Christ from the sermon, and you have taken away its essence. The marrow of theology is Christ; the very bone and sinew of the gospel is preaching Christ. A Christless sermon is the merriment of hell; it is also a fearful waste of time, and it dyes with the blood of souls the skirts of the man who dares to preach it.

But too much of Christ we cannot have. Give us Christ always, Christ ever. The monotony of Christ is sweet variety, and even the unity of Christ hath in it all the elements of harmony. Christ on his cross and on his throne, in the manger and in the tomb — Christ everywhere is sweet to us. We love his name, we adore his Person, we delight to hear of his works and his words. Come, then, to Calvary awhile with me, that I may say to you, as Pilate said to the Jews outside his judgment hall, ‘Behold the man!’

Such a simple point, such a profound truth, wrapped in such a strong rhetorical punch was enough to encourage me forward writing the book, confident that Newton himself would echo Spurgeon’s answer to the question. Will Christian readers yawn at books too full of Christ’s glory? May it never be!

Holy Joy

Charles Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons (London: 1877), 23:642:

The more happy we can be in our God the more thoroughly will the will of Christ be fulfilled in us, for he desired that our joy might be full. The more you rejoice in God the more you will recommend true religion. The more full of delight you are, especially in trying times, the more you will glorify God. Few things are at the same time both pleasant and profitable, but holy joy and peace possess that double excellence. Fullness of spiritual joy is both the index and the means of spiritual strength.