There is a subtle distinction between two types of preaching that are profoundly different in nature. Bear with me in this first attempt to collect these thoughts into words.
I think the words of Christ especially make the distinction I am talking about when He said, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me” (John 5:39). Here, to me, is the distinction – some preachers grow content to preach mere words or a system of theology while others preach people upwards through the Bible towards a Man (Christ) and are never satisfied until their hearers come face-to-face with the Man.
Of course the Bible is central to both, as are hermeneutics, expositional capacities, commentaries, study, etc – and I’ve seen God bless both forms of preaching to His own glory. The difference is that one preaches from what is studied and the other preaches what is seen.
This, I believe, is why Spurgeon stands as the great example of preaching. Last week we looked at how he dwelled on the manifestations of Christ (John 14:22). From a vision of the unseen realities he preached. Far differently than what he merely studied or read, it was an extension of those – he preached what he saw.
Angell recently caught my attention when he said the same thing.
Lukewarmness can excite no ardor, originate no activity, produce no effect: it benumbs whatever it touches. If we enquire what were the sources of the energy, and the springs of the activity, of the most successful ministers of Christ, we shall find that they lay in the ardor of their devotion. They were men of prayer and of faith. They dwelt upon the mount of communion with God, and came down from it like Moses to the people, radiant with the glory on which they had themselves been intently gazing. They stationed themselves where they could look at things unseen and eternal, and came with the stupendous visions fresh in their view, and preached under the impression of what they had just seen and heard.
-John Angell James, An Earnest Ministry: The Want of the Times (Banner of Truth, 1847/1993) p. 64
It is also interesting to note Spurgeon’s interpretation of 1 Corinthians 13:12 (“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known”). To him it was not so much a reference to specific passages of God’s Word giving us dim glimpses of the face of Christ but rather as we study at various times we see distant glimpses of Christ. Like a man standing at a storefront glass and seeing a silhouette in the background – sometimes we see His face in the Bible and others times we don’t. Sometimes even in the same passage one will see a faint glimpse of Christ’s face and another will not (see sermon 61).
This all leads me to another precious quote by Tozer on the subject:
Sound Bible exposition is an imperative must in the Church of the Living God. Without it no church can be a New Testament church in any strict meaning of that term. But exposition may be carried on in such a way as to leave the hearers devoid of any true spiritual nourishment whatsoever. For it is not mere words that nourish the soul, but God Himself, and unless and until the hearers find God in personal experience they are not the better for having heard the truth. The Bible is not an end in itself, but a means to bring men to an intimate and satisfying knowledge of God, that they may enter into Him, that they may delight in His Presence, may taste and know the inner sweetness of the very God Himself in the core and center of their hearts.
-A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God (Christian Publications: 1993) p. 9-10
Almost without exception, the preacher who reads this, nods his head and assumes he is doing this is the very man who can improve much. It is a great reminder for preachers to double-check our messages lest we become preachers of literature, that we not grow content preaching what we read and study but take every opportunity to see through the Bible into the face of Christ.
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image … (2 Cor. 3:18. ESV).