MAKE WAR! – Piper sermon jam

tsslogo.jpgOur friends over at 10:31 Sermon Jams are getting ready to launch a new and improved Website next week and with it comes the release of their 4th volume of sermon jams. And they keep getting better! Over the coming days at TSS we’ll be giving you some exclusive access to songs from the new volume.

This first one, War, comes from John Piper’s sermon on Romans 8:10-17 (his ministry will always be equated in my mind with thunder):

“I hear so many Christians murmuring about their imperfections and their failures and their addictions and their short-comings, And I see so little war! ‘Murmur, murmur, murmur… Why am I this way?’ MAKE WAR!”

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Ed Welch: “There is a mean streak to authentic self-control. Self-control is not for the timid. When we want to grow in it, not only do we nurture an exuberance for Jesus Christ, we also demand of ourselves a hatred for sin. The only possible attitude toward out-of-control desire is a declaration of all-out war. There is something about war that sharpens the senses. You hear a twig snap or the rustling of leaves and you are in attack mode. Someone coughs and you are ready to pull the trigger. Even after days of little or no sleep, war keeps us vigilant.”

Lessons from the life of John Chrysostom

Lessons from the life of John Chrysostom

John Chrysostom was nicknamed “Golden Mouth” and stands as one of the most famous Greek preachers in church history. I return to his life frequently to be reminded of some golden lessons.

1. Earnest education in the grammatical-historical interpretation of Scripture. Plaguing the exegesis of the early church preachers (the Patristics) is an allegorical interpretation of Scripture. The move away from allegorical to the johnchrysostom.jpggrammatical-historical was attempted by several but matured primarily under the scholarship of Diodore of Tarsus and it was this man who passed this method of interpretation to Chrysostom in Antioch. Contrary to most schools, the Atiochene school was “built on a method of interpretation rather than a theological tendency” (Old, Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures, 2:169).

Training in the grammatical-historical method shows itself clearly in the fruits of Chrysostom’s preaching, reflecting a high view of the authority of Scripture. “The preaching of the Word of God is authoritative and efficacious because it is God’s Word, not the preacher’s. Here is the foundation of the passion and the power of great preaching. It is for this reason that the great preachers have preached and their congregations have heard them” (Old, 2:185). Only a conviction of Scripture’s authority forces the preacher to interpret carefully. Chrysostom held a high view of Scripture.

2. Secular liberal arts education. Amazingly, Chrysostom was both educated by one of the great Christian exegetes of his era and one of the great secular orators. His widowed (but wealthy) mother sent John to study under Libanius, a pagan professor famed for his rhetorician in Constantinople and Nicomedia. It seems to be an odd decision for a Christian mother but the fruit of this secular learning – a strong imagination, skills in clear communication and a powerful literary talent – are all evident throughout John’s later work (see our excerpt on spiritual warfare from last week). Hughes Oliphant Old writes, “Metaphors and similes seem to come to this preacher all quite naturally and without the least sort of effort” (Old, 2:193).

This blending of the secular/pagan and Christian educations was beneficial. Getting good exegetical and theological training is obvious. But those seeking to preach are encouraged to also seek a secular degree in liberal arts, too. “One of the reasons John Chrysostom achieve such distinction as a preacher was because he mastered both classical oratory as it was so brilliantly taught by Libanius and the principles of biblical interpretation as taught with no less luster by Diodore” (Old, 2:172). The diversity of training provides the preacher excellent skills in critical thinking, communicating in general and specifically in speaking the Gospel to fellow classmates who represent the diverse colors of culture (homosexual worldview, humanism, naturalism, atheism, agnosticism, theological liberalism, feminism, etc.).

3. Preaching against the sins of culture. In our day, when church-going Christians are in the minority, we are told the church should resemble the world in order to get non-Christians in the door. Chrysostom knew better. Christianity in his time was also the minority, lived among a majority of pagans in Antioch. Crowds of pagans would gather to hear good oratory and so Chrysostom’s sermons were well-attended by non-Christians. This did not stop him from taking the cultural sins and idols head-on. And he encouraged his people to live differently than the culture around them, to evangelize their neighbors by their actions before evangelizing with words. Chrysostom encourages us to evangelize our culture by being radically different.

4. Fighting worldliness. Chrysostom wrote on the topic of fasting: “Fasting is, as much as lies in us, an imitation of the angles, a contemning of things present, a school of prayer, a nourishment of the soul, a bridle of the mouth, an abatement of concupiscence: it mollifies rage, it appeases anger, it calms the tempests of nature, it excites reason, it clears the mind, it disburthens the flesh, it chases away night-pollutions, it frees from head-ache. By fasting, a man gets composed behaviour, free utterance of his tongue, right apprehensions of his mind.” Chrysostom understood the benefits of fasting and taught his people to prefer godly sorrow over worldly joy. John challenged his congregation to fast as an offensive against the idol-saturated Antioch. His asceticism and preaching against extravagance infuriated emperor Arcadius and his wife Eudoxia. Despite the mocking of the day, great and earnest preachers perceive the sinfulness of worldliness and warn souls.

5. Preaching plainly. I don’t suggest that John was a plain preacher. He was trained under one of the greatest Pagan orators in Libanius and his sermons bear the watermark of oratorical greatness. Whether a true offer or not, it is said Libanius eyed his prized student Chrysostom as his replacement. Obviously, Chrysostom could have preached with the greatest eloquence of his age. However, he chose rather to open Scripture in a simple manner, accessible to all of his hearers. “His plainness of speech gave great offense to the beautiful and imperious Eudoxia, the worldly consort of Arcadius. This hatred of the empress and the envy and anger of many of the clergy were the causes of Chrysostom’s deposition and banishment” (Dargan, A History of Preaching, 1:90).

Chrysostom preached to sinners in the “real world.” He touched understood the lives of his hearers, he was experientially sensitive and these qualities made a great impact. “The Shakespeare of preachers has not appeared,” John Broadus wrote in 1907. “But why should he not some day appear? One who can touch every chord of human feeling, treat every interest of human life, draw illustration from every object and relation of the known universe, and use all to gain acceptance and obedience for the gospel of salvation. No preacher has ever come nearer this than Chrysostom, perhaps none, on the whole, so near” (Broadus, Lectures on the History of Preaching, p. 78).

6. Late start. Chrysostom, who died at 60, took to the pulpit in Antioch at the age of 39. He had been educated in the Liberal Arts, worked in law and served as a deacon for several years. He had many years of Christian service behind him and a great knowledge of the world when he rose to the primary preacher in Antioch. But he was also a considerably old man when he got his start. This teaches preachers a bit about patience. You may know God has called you to preach His Word but now you are in school or working a secular job or otherwise wondering what God has in store. Chrysostom reminds us that God’s timing may come later than we want but He is sovereignly preparing us for ministry no matter where we are. We are called to commune with God and experience life in the “real world” in preparation for our future tasks. John Broadus writes, “In our impatient age and country, when so many think time spent in preparation is time lost, it is well to remember that the two most celebrated preachers of the early Christian centuries began to preach, Chrysostrom at thirty-nine, and Augustine at thirty-six” (Broadus, p. 76). Nearly 40 years of preparation for 18 years of fruitful ministry (12 years in Antioch and 6 in Constantinople). However in these 18 years, Chrysostom preached daily and only Spurgeon has left more sermons in print. Be patient in the preparation.

7. Sensitive to the cultural events. One of the most powerful experiences of Chrysostom’s ministry in Antioch occurred in 386. The people believing emperor Theodosius was overtaxing them rioted and destroyed imperial statues in the Antioch. Such an act brought swift and harsh response from the emperor including many arrests and killings. Even before the reprisal took place, the people knew they had sinned and were in deep trouble.

Amidst the upheaval in Antioch as the city awaited certain reprisal from the emperor, Chrysostom asked his city who they feared more. Do they fear the wrath of the emperor more than the wrath of God?

Chrysostom immediately began preaching sermons we now know as the “Sermons on the Statues” and initiated a 40 day fast for the city. Of his sermon content we are told, “At one time his object here is to console a people struggling with present distress; at another, to strengthen minds that were sinking under the extremity of danger; and above all, by repeated admonition, to persuade the people of Antioch, on occasion of the threatened calamities, to correct the vices and to wipe away the crimes that had thus provoked God’s wrath; which endeavor on the part of Chrysostom certainly ended in results agreeable to his desire, as he sometimes acknowledges” (Preface to the Benedictine edition).

In one sermon Chrysostom said,

“How then is it any thing but absurd, to submit to the greatest hardships, when an Emperor enjoins it; but when God commands nothing grievous nor difficult, but what is very tolerable and easy, to despise or to deride it, and to advance custom as an excuse? Let us not, I entreat, so far despise our own safety, but let us fear God as we fear man. I know that ye shudder at hearing this, but what deserves to be shuddered at is that ye do not pay even so much respect to God; and that whilst ye diligently observe the Emperor’s decrees, ye trample under foot those which are divine, and which have come down from heaven; and consider diligence concerning these a secondary object. For what apology will there be left for us, and what pardon, if after so much admonition we persist in the same practices.”

Chrysostom, like Jesus, used the climate of the day to point souls towards the holiness and wrath of God and to encourage repentance (Luke 13:1-5)? When preachers today use 9/11, tsunamis and hurricanes to point souls towards God they walk in the pattern set by Christ and followed by Chrysostom. So preachers, take advantage of the times. Be acquainted with the conditions of your culture and put them to use spiritually in calling sinners to repentance.

8. Preaching as a prophet calling God’s people to repentance
. Chrysostom did not hesitate to call professing Christians to repentance. In this sense he was prophetic. “One can hardly avoid the observation that if he was everything a Greek orator was supposed to be, he was also everything a Hebrew prophet was supposed to be. With all the passion of Elijah he confronted God’s people with their sins; with all the eloquence of Isaiah he called his congregation to repentance” (Old, 2:195). This certainly flows from an understanding of the age he preached and the specific temptations of his people. The great preachers seek to pull their congregation out of their sins to humble them and lead them to the Cross. A failure to lead a church out of a particular sin leads to serious corporate troubles (see Rev. 2:1-3:22).

9. Errors. Chrysostom leaves a great legacy to follow but not without errors. While watching the busy city of Antioch, John “sharpened that penetrating knowledge of human nature,” but would later move to a monastery, a decision that would certainly hamper his (and his followers) sensitivity to the surrounding culture (Broadus, p. 73). While not allegorizing, he is known for twisting passages to suit his own needs. His emphasis on celibacy, transubstantiation, monasticism are all quite unfortunate though compared to his contemporaries Chrysostom held a cautious and discerning Mariology.

But most unfortunate, Chrysostom said far more about ethics and works than about Christ and redemption in the Cross. Too frequently readers of his sermons will find only momentary glimpses of the Cross. Were it not for his concluding benediction, Jesus Christ would be altogether absent from many of his sermons.

Conclusion

It does no good making a list of errors if we don’t humbly recognize we have our own. Church history repeats one general theme: Even the greatest preacher will not escape the errors of his day. We take lessons from Chrysostom’s life tempered with the sober reality that the Patristic era of church history contains many grievous errors. It will prove beneficial to pray and ask God this question: What errors of my age – those errors commonly held by my friends and associates – what of these errors have I unknowingly fallen? The errors which seem so obvious centuries later go unseen at the time.

The beauty of history is that we take the good and leave the bad. From the fruit of Chrysostom’s life we can return to our ministries with a basket filled with rich lessons.

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[For more information on the preaching of John Chrysostom see Hughes Oliphant Old, The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church, vol. 2, The Patristic Age (Eerdmans: 1998) pp. 167-222.]

Earnest preaching and worldliness

It is easy, I have found, to fall into a lull in preaching where I forget that souls are eternal and the body is quickly fading. Our country is in need especially of earnest preaching that reminds sinners every week that the temporal life will soon peel back like a stage background to reveal the eternal world (1 Cor. 7:31). Naturally the world and even Christians tend to think more about the temporal world than the eternal. This breads a host of problems and sinful thinking.

So back to John Angell James’ powerful book, An Earnest Ministry. This week we will look at the need of earnestness from the pulpit concerning specific topics of concern. I think it is especially important to note that James is not forgetting the Spirit’s work in all of this. He does not think earnest ministry alone saves and sanctifies. He understands earnest preaching as a type of serious preaching that the Spirit of God answers to and blesses (see pp. 190-191). Here then is the first reason that makes earnest preaching so needful: Worldliness.

“What can be sufficient but an intense devotedness on the part of ministers to make things unseen and eternal bear down the usurping power of things seen and temporal? Who but the man that knows how to deal with invisible realities, and to wield the powers of the world to come, can pluck the worldling from the whirlpool of earthly mindedness, which sucks down so many, or prevent the professing Christian from being drawn into it? If our own minds are not much impressed with the awful glories and terrors of eternity, we cannot speak of these things in such a manner as is likely to rescue our hearers from the ruinous fascinations of Mammon. How we seem to want a Baxter and a Doolittle; an Edwards and a Howe; a Whitefield and a Wesley, to break in with their thunder upon the money-loving, money-grasping spirit of this grossly utilitarian age!”

– John Angell James, An Earnest Ministry: The Want of the Times (Banner of Truth, 1847/1993) pp. 192-193.

“Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you” (Ps. 73:25, ESV).

Book review: Sermons on the Beatitudes by John Calvin, translated by Robert White (0851519342)

Book review:

Sermons on the Beatitudes by John Calvin (translated by Robert White)

John Calvin [1509-1564] was a great theologian. I know this from the Institutes of the Christian Religion. Calvin was a great commentator. That his cherished commentary remains printed and popular is evidence enough. But until recently I was unaware Calvin also excelled as a preacher [frequently Calvin has been criticized in church history for being a poor one].

The book, Sermons on the Beatitudes (translated by Robert White), marks my introduction to Calvin the preacher. This collection of recently translated material by the Banner of Truth is a short book (a little under 100 pages of five sermons and a little over 100 pages with the scriptural index and many helpful footnotes). The volume was assembled well and the translation is very sharp and clear.

Examples

Two examples show the tremendous heart Calvin had as a shepherd. The first expounds upon the words of Jesus that those who weep will be comforted:

“Jesus says blessed are those who weep, for in the end they will rejoice and be comforted. Here he affirms more or less what we have already learnt. For if we are poor in spirit, we cannon avoid weeping; we cannot be other than distressed. We are not, after all, without feelings, like those madmen I mentioned earlier, who expect us to remain as immovable as an anvil or a rock! Such a thing goes against our nature. We have instead to feel our miseries, which are meant to press us to the point where we bend and break: we can no longer hold our heads up, our breath is taken from us, we are, so to speak, dead men.”

“That is why our Lord in this passage [Matt. 5:1-4] associates weeping and poverty in spirit. It is as if he were saying: ‘When I tell you that nothing will take away your blessedness, however oppressed and afflicted you are, I do not mean that you should dumbly resist regardless of feelings, or that you should be like senseless blocks of wood. No! You will weep, you will experience want, dishonor, illness, and other kinds of affliction in this world. These things you will suffer; they will wound you to the very core and make you weep. But nothing will take your blessedness from you’” (p. 28).

These are the words of a man who experienced the weeping here explained. He experienced want, dishonor, much illness and afflictions. He was here preaching as a real man to real people through the real promises of God. Our hearts will be broken – we will feel the pain and the pain will be real. What experiential sensitivity and wonderful tenderness!

Much of the volume addresses the dangers of worldliness. This second example helps us to navigate through this temporary world through prosperity and trials. Notice his experiential understanding of the believer and unbeliever in similar situations.

“We should not cling to happiness or greet its passing with a hollow laugh, for it is fleeting. Nor should we exult when men applaud us, as if we had already attained our reward for a virtuous life on earth. No, we are determined to press on through good report and bad. Such is the measured and moderate path pursued by the believer. We do not get drowsy, still less intoxicated, when times are good. And we are always willing to abandon everything if God requires. This is not how it is with unbelievers. Prosperity goes immediately to their heads, fills them to bursting; they are so befuddled that not once do they spare a thought for God or the spiritual life. In time they grow hard, and when misfortune comes they grind their teeth and blaspheme against God” (pp. 78-79).

Each of these examples highlight Calvin’s heart, something we often miss in his theology and commentary.

Conclusion

As you probably already knew, Calvin was an incredibly gifted figure from the Protestant reformation. But these sermons shed new light on the tenderness and experiential-mindedness of Calvin the shepherd. He was as gifted in preaching as he was in commentating and writing theology. This volume, though very brief, is a gem!


Boards
: clothbound, hardcover (green, gilded)
Pages: 114
Dust jacket: yes
Binding: Smyth sewn
Text: recent translation, perfect type
Topical Index: no
Textual index: yes
Publisher: Banner of Truth Trust
Price USD: $20.00/$15.00 + free ship from BoT store
ISBNs: 0851519342, 9780851519340

More information on this book here.

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Click here to access previous posts in the Humble Calvinism index.

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Confess your sins to one another (part 7)

With men it is confess and have execution,
but with God confess and have mercy.
We should never lay open our sins but for mercy.
So it honors God;
and when he is honored,
he honors the soul with inward peace and tranquility.
We can never have peace in our souls
till we have dealt roundly with our sins,
and favour them not a whit [bit];
till we have ripened our confession to be a thorough confession.
What is the difference between a Christian and another man?
Another person slubbers [is careless] over his sins
and he thinks if he comes to the congregation,
and follows the minister,
it will serve the turn [end].
But a Christian knows that religion is another manner of matter,
another kind of work than so.
He must deal thoroughly and seriously,
and lay open his sin as the chief enemy in the world,
and labor to raise all the hatred he can against it,
and make it the object of his bitter displeasure,
as being that that hath done him more hurt than all the world besides;
and so he confess it
with all the aggravations of hatred
and envy that he can…
That we in our confessions
(in our fastings especially)
ought to rank ourselves among the rest of sinners.
Perhaps we are not guilty of some sins that they have been guilty of.
God has been merciful to us and kept us in obedience in some things.
But, alas!
There is none of us all
but we have had a hand in the sins of the times.

Richard Sibbes, Works 6:188-189

The overwhelming influence of the media and earnest preaching

We don’t live in the Stone Age or Bronze Age, our era is rightly called the Information Age. We are buried alive in books, blogs, emails, websites, magazines, etc. And so are the hearers of our sermons. So why is the message of the Bible more important than the latest war headline from CNN? The listeners to our sermons may not see a big difference between the two, especially as the Middle East is birthing the next world war and gas prices close in on $4 a gallon. And those seem to have more ‘real’ impact today on sinners then dangers of a spiritually loose life now and eternity to come. What is needed (no, required!) in the Information Age is earnest preaching. Long before blogs and websites John Angell James wrote the following:

“Will anyone deny that we want an earnest ministry to break in some degree the spell, and leave the soul at liberty for the affairs of the kingdom which is not of this world? When politics have come upon the minds, hearts, and imaginations of the people, for six days out of the seven, invested with the charms of eloquence, and decked with the colors of party; when the orator and the writer have both thrown the witchery of genius over the soul; how can it be expected that tame, spiritless, vapid common-places from the pulpit, sermons coming neither from the head nor the heart, having neither weight of matter, nor grace of manner; neither genius to compensate for the want of taste, nor taste to compensate for the want of genius; and what is still worse, having no unction of evangelical truth, no impress of eternity, no radiance from heaven, no terror from hell; in short, no adaptation to awaken reflection, to produce conviction, or to save the soul; how can it be expected, I say, that such sermons can be useful to accomplish the purposes for which the gospel is to be preached? What chance have such preachers, amidst the tumult, to be heard or felt, or what hold have they upon public attention, amidst the high excitement of the times in which we live? Their hearers too often feel, that listening to their sermons on the Sabbath, after what they have heard or read during the week, is as if they were turning from brilliant gas-light to the dim and smoking spark of tallow and rush [a candle].”

– John Angell James, An Earnest Ministry: The Want of the Times (Banner of Truth, 1847/1993) pp. 194-195.

“And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:3-5, ESV).