Isaiah and cultivating imagination

“The most eloquent of all the prophets, the one from whom most can be learned as to preaching, is obviously Isaiah. Isaiah was the very opposite of Amos, the shepherd and gardener. He lived at court during several reigns, and in that of Hezekiah was high in influence. He was a highly educated man, a man of refined taste, and singular literary power and skill. He enjoyed in the best sense of that now often misused term, the advantage of Culture, with all its light and its sweetness. His writings, like all the other inspired books, take their literary character from the natural endowments, educational advantages, and social condition, of the man. They exhibit an imperial imagination, controlled by a disciplined intellect and by good taste. This imagination shows itself in vivid and rapid description, as well as in imagery. The careful and loving study of Isaiah has educated many a preacher’s imagination to an extent of which he was by no means conscious, and few things are so important to an orator as the real cultivation of imagination. True, the book of Isaiah presents the poetic more often than then strictly oratorical use of this faculty. But the two shade into each other; and we also, when we become greatly excited, and our hearers with us, do naturally use in speaking such imaginative conceptions and expressions as generally belonging only to poetry.”

“In part 1 of the book of Isaiah the oratorical element very distinctly predominates – it is direct address, aiming at practical results in those who hear. Sometimes the style even sinks into quiet narrative, but more often it rises into passionate appeal. And in part 2 (from the 40th chapter on), the orator is lost in the poet. The prophet’s soul is completely carried away by imagination and passion, till we have no longer an inspired orator directly addressing us, but a rapt seer, bursting into song, pouring fourth in rhythmical strains his inspired and impassioned predictions. He is like the angel that appeared to the shepherds, whose message soon passed into song. Besides the yet higher blessings which have come to the world from the devotional and practical, the predictive and theological contents of this grand prophet’s writings, who can estimate how much he has done in training servants of God for the highest and truest forms of all religious eloquence!”

– John Broadus, Lectures on the History of Preaching (Solid Ground: 1907/2004) pp. 14-16

Low views of God destroy the Gospel

“Always the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God, just as her most significant message is what she says about Him or leaves unsaid, for her silence is often more eloquent than her speech … Compared with our actual thoughts about Him, our creedal statements are of little consequence. Our real idea of God may lie buried under the rubbish of conventional religious notions and may require an intelligent and vigorous search before it is finally unearthed and exposed for what it is. Only after an ordeal of painful self-probing are we likely to discover what we actually believe about God … Low views of God destroy the gospel for all who hold them.”

– A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, (HarperCollins, 1961) pp. 1-3

Preaching with earnestness and simplicity

Speaking of faithful preachers, George Whitefield (1714-1770) stands out in my mind as one of the greatest examples. Besides being graciously blessed with hundreds of conversions under his ministry, what makes Whitefield impressive was his simplicity and earnestness wrapped together:

“Much of the wondrous power of that extraordinary man lay in his voice and action … [Think of the text of his sermons] delivered with an utterance appropriate to their nature; with an eye melting into tears; a voice tremulous with emotion, shrill yet full, now swelling into thunder, and then dying away in soft whispers; one moment apostrophizing God, and the next piercing the sinner’s conscience with an appeal that was as sharp arrows of the Almighty; at one time pouring out a stream of impassioned pity for the sinner, and the next moment a torrent of burning indignation against his sin; his very hands, and every gesture all the while seconding his matchless elocution and seeming to help his laboring soul; all this being not the trickery of an artificial rhetoric to catch applause, but only the expression of his burning desire to produce conviction in his hearers; not the acting of a man striving after popularity, but the spontaneous gushing forth of a heart agonizing for the salvation of immortal souls! What oratory must that have been which extorted from the skeptical and fastidious Hume the confession that it was worth going twenty miles to hear, which interested the infidel Bolingbroke, and warmed even the cold and cautious Franklin into enthusiasm? In those discourses which roused a slumbering nation from the torpor of lukewarmness, and breathed new life into its dying piety, you will find no profound speculation, no subtle reasoning, no metaphysical disquisition; for these never formed, and never can form, the staple of pulpit eloquence: but you will find ‘thoughts that breathe, and words that burn;’ and that when delivered with the magic of his wondrous voice, spoke, by the blessing of God, life into thousands dead in trespasses and sins.”

– John Angell James, An Earnest Ministry: The Want of the Times (Banner of Truth, 1847/1993) pp. 123-124.

Princeton Cemetery

This past March my wife, son, daughter and I traveled to the East coast to meet with old friends and meet new friends. One of the highlights for me was a trip to Princeton Cemetery where men like Jonathan Edwards, B.B. Warfield, Archibald Alexander and Charles Hodge are buried. I put together a little website of the photographs I took while there and you can find it here. It is a good reminder of the legacy we can leave as preachers and pastors if we remain faithful to the Gospel!