Preach boldly, compassionately

From a sermon preached on Sept. 22, 1661 (Preaching of Christ) …

“Shall any man be so bold as to do what God forbids? And shall a minister be so timorous [timid] as not to speak what God commands? Shall I be afraid to offend him by doing my duty, who is not afraid to offend God by neglecting his? Shall I be afraid to save him who is not afraid to destroy himself? Or shall I be dismayed at the face and frown of a man, and neglect the wrath of God who can tear me in pieces? ‘Be not dismayed at their face,’ saith the Lord, ‘lest I confound thee before them’ (Jer. 1:17). Yet this boldness must be in a way of conviction and persuasion, without indiscretion and exasperation; that when we show our zeal against men’s sins, we may withal manifest our love to their persons, and that honor and reverend esteem which we owe to their dignities and conditions.”

Edward Reynolds (Soli Deo Gloria, 1826/2000), Works 5:349

Spurgeon on earnestness

This week I am hoping to complete the wonderful book on earnestness by John Angell James. Spurgeon also has much to say on this topic in Lectures to My Students. Here is just one example …

If I were asked – What in a Christian minister is the most essential quality for securing success in winning souls for Christ? I should reply, “earnestness”: and if I were asked a second or a third time, I should not vary the answer, for personal observation drives me to the conclusion that, as a rule, real success is proportionate to the preacher’s earnestness. Both great men and little men succeed if they are thoroughly alive unto God, and fail if they are not so. We know men of eminence who have gained a high reputation, who attract large audiences, and obtain much admiration, who nevertheless are very low in the scale as soul-winners: for all they do in that direction they might as well have been lecturers on anatomy, or political orators. At the same time we have seen their compeers in ability so useful in the business of conversion that evidently their acquirements and gifts have been no hindrance to them, lint the reverse; for by the intense and devout use of their powers, and by the; anointing of the Holy Spirit, they have turned many to righteousness. We have seen brethren of very scanty abilities who have been terrible drags upon a church, and have proved as inefficient in their spheres as blind men in an observatory; but, on the other hand, men of equally small attainments are well known, to us as mighty hunters before the Lord, by whose holy energy many hearts have been captured for the Savior. I delight in M’Cheyne’s remark, “It is not so much great talents that God blesses, as great likeness to Christ.” In many instances ministerial success is traceable almost entirely to an intense zeal, a consuming passion for souls, and an eager enthusiasm in the cause of God, and we believe that in every case, other things being equal, men prosper in the divine service in proportion as their hearts are blazing with holy love.

C.H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students (Passmore and Alabaster: London), 1881. 2:145.

Spurgeon’s example of earnestness

This weekend I have the great honor to preach on the topic of Psalm 73. And in my study I was given a great example of the pulpit earnestness that we have been talking so much about over the past several weeks. It’s from the pulpit of C.H. Spurgeon:

“Please remember we are not speaking now of people in the street, of drunkards, and harlots, and profane swearers, and such like — we know that their damnation is sure and just — but, alas, I need not look far. If I glance along these seats and look into faces upon which my eye rests every Sabbath day, there are some of you, some of you who are unconverted still. You are not immoral but you are unregenerated; you are not unamiable but you are ungracious, you are not far from the kingdom, but you are not in the kingdom. It is your end I speak of now, yours ye sons of godly mothers, yours ye daughters of holy parents — your end, unless God give you repentance. I want you to see where you are standing today. “Surely thou didst set them in slippery places.”

Spurgeon sermon #486, 12/28/1862

Preaching with freshness

“My soul – never be satisfied within a shadowy Christ. … I cannot know Christ through another person’s brains. I cannot love him with another man’s heart, and I cannot see him with another man’s eyes. … I am so afraid of living in a second-hand religion. God forbid that I should get a biographical experience. Lord save us from having borrowed communion. No, I must know him myself. O God, let me not be deceived in this. I must know him without fancy or proxy; I must know him on my own account.”

This quote from Charles Spurgeon is a reminder that we must know and press close to Christ ourselves. Some of the darkest periods of church history, where the shroud of monotony covered the pulpit came at a time when preachers lived off a second-hand, borrowed communion.

Anyways, during the Middle Ages, the deadness of the churches can certainly be tied to a failed pulpit. Most noticeable was a failure of preachers to stand for God’s Word with conviction and freshness enforced with genuine godliness of character. We are reminded of the impotence of the church when God’s preachers do not preach from the freshness of personal communion with Himself but rather simply copy and regurgitate what was given by others. The result is borrowed communion and dead preaching:

“We have already had occasion to speak of the low character of the clergy during this epoch [the medieval period leading up to the Reformation]. Much ignorance, immorality, luxury and ambition [or a desire for rank], laziness, avarice, and other evil things have to be charged to their account. And this of course was at once both the cause and evidence of decay in the pulpit. For in all times the character of the preacher either enforces or enfeebles his preaching. And where the average of character is bad, no matter how noble the exceptions may be, the average of preaching will necessarily be low. Where there is a lack of true piety and conviction in the preacher the pulpit work tends to become empty, formal, frigid and without moving effect. And this is the character of much of the preaching of that age.”

“Always one of the signs of degenerate preaching – as of any literary production – is a slavish dependence upon others, past or present, a want of independence, originality, freshness. Copyists and imitators are found in every age, it is true, but when the masters belong chiefly to a former generation and the small followers mostly abound, the fall is great.”

– Edwin Charles Dargan, A History of Preaching (Solid Ground: 1905/2003), 1:308.

The preaching of Jonathan Edwards

I purchased my copy of Marsden’s biography Jonathan Edwards: A Life at CLC this Spring (two days after visiting Edwards’ grave in Princeton). It has become one of my favorite biographies just behind Dallimore’s George Whitefield. Edwards had a powerful preaching style stemming from his intellectual gifts and seriousness with divine things.

“Although Edwards had none of the dramatic gestures of a Whitefield or a Tennent and was said to preach as though he were staring at the bell-rope in the back of the meetinghouse, he could be remarkably compelling. An admirer described his delivery as ‘easy, natural and very solemn. He had not a strong, loud voice; but appeared with such gravity and solemnity, and spake with such distinctness, clearness and precision; his words were so full of ideas, set in such a plain and striking light, that few speakers have been so able to demand the attention of an audience as he.’ Through sheer intensity he generated emotion. ‘His words often discovered a great degree of inward fervor, without much noise or external emotion, and fell with great weight on the minds of his hearers. He made but little motion of his head or hands in his desk, but spake so as to discover the motion of his own heart, which tended in the most natural and effectual manner to move and affect others.’ The combination of controlled but transparent emotion, heartfelt sincerity both in admonition and compassion, inexorable logic, and biblical themes could draw people into sensing the reality of ideas long familiar.”

– George M. Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (Yale: 2003) p. 220

Prideful hesitation or humble orthodoxy?

Every time I go to the Together for the Gospel blog I am reminded of the wonderful time in Louisville, KY at T4G 2006 and my time meeting so many of you and getting some great time with my fellow shepherd-in-training, Charlie Jackson. The following quote from the blog was recently mentioned by Joshua Harris at New Attitude 2006. It is a great reminder of the preachers relationship to the Word of God.

"What we need is humble theology — theology which submits itself to the truth of God's Word. 'Liberal' theology — theology which does not view Scripture as finally trustworthy and authoritative — is not humble before the Word. Churches which are tentative and decry dogmatism may sound humble, but it is not truly humble to do anything other than to submit to God's Word. Christian humility is to simply accept whatever God has revealed in His Word. Humility is following God's Word wherever it goes, as far as it goes, not either going beyond it or stopping short of it."

"Bertrand Russell, the late, well-known, British philosopher wrote in 1950 that 'The essence of the liberal outlook lies not in what opinions are held, but in how they are held: instead of being held dogmatically, they are held tentatively, and with a consciousness that new evidence may at any moment lead to their abandonment. This is the way opinions are held in science, as opposed to the way in which they are held in theology.' These days, I guess many are holding theological conclusions in such a 'scientific' manner. But such hestitancy is not humility. The humility we want in our churches is to read the Bible and believe it — everything God has said, dogmatically, and humbly! It is not humble to be hesitant where God has been clear and plain."

– Mark Dever, Together for the Gospel blog (2/8/06)