Paul was the apostle of Spirit-inspired repetition. He told the Philippians, “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.” Every pastor needs a regular dose of Jesus Christ. He needs repetitive fillings from God’s Spirit to preach with power.
We need to remember the same old things so that we may revel in the same old gospel every Lord’s Day.
Sometimes what we need is a simple, stirring reminder about proper preaching.
Statements to Stir You for Sunday
I imagine every pastor has a preferred routine for getting his soul ready to preach on Sunday. Some rise extra early to pray and read God’s word. Others will fast from food that they might proclaim Christ with particular hunger. Yet others will listen to chosen music to raise their affections.
I like to do all of that—and read a good old Puritan on preaching. The resource I return to as often as any other is John Flavel.
My favorite sermon from Flavel is titled, “The Character of a Complete Evangelical Pastor Drawn By Christ” (read it free here). The work is full of wisdom that I need to remember every single week. Consider these gems from the heavenly herald:
- “Believe it, brethren, it is easier to declaim, like an orator, against a thousand sins of others, than it is to mortify one sin, like Christians, in ourselves; to be more industrious in our pulpits, than in our closets; to preach twenty sermons to our people, than one to our own hearts.”
- “A crucified style best suits the preachers of a crucified Christ.”
- “A grave and proper style become the lips of Christ’s ambassadors.”
Other stirring words from Flavel to get you ready to ascend to the sacred desk this week would be:
- “We preach and pray, and you hear; but there is no motion Christward until the Spirit of God blows upon them.”
- “The excellency of a sermon lies in the plainest discoveries and liveliest applications of Jesus Christ.”
My brother preacher, remember today the glory of true Christ-centered preaching so that you might preach His glories on Sunday.
In his latest book, Some Pastors and Teachers: Reflecting a Biblical Vision of What Every Minister is Called to Be, Sinclair Ferguson has a wonderful chapter on the Puritans and ministers of God’s word. Near the end, he offers seven implications for preaching from their example.
- A commitment to the hard work of studying, meditating on, and appyling to oneself the truth of Scritpure.
- A concern to speak God’s truth to all of God’s people, however simply they may be. The great Puritans were well-educated and highly intelligent ministers; but they knew that the concealment of art is also an art.
- Preaching the whole counsel of God, for the conversion of men and women, for the glory of God alone in whose presence both great and obscure must be exposed as sinners.
- Manifesting wisdom in teaching and applying the word of God, as well as the grace of God, in the very spiritof the preaching without “passion or bitterness.”
- Doing so with a sense of the gravitas which ought to characterize a servant of God. This influenced the minister’s physical demeanor and even the use of his voice. The preacher is neither joker nor trifler. He is not sent by God to entertain and amuse, for life is more of a tragedy than a comedy. Message and manner must harmonize or the message itself will be trivialized. Emotions and affections in preaching must be consistent with and expressive of the very substance of the text which is being expounded.
- Neither is the minister to be lugubrious and censorious, but rather filled with a loving affection for those to whom he ministers and preaches. Nothing is better calculated to win hearers than their knowledge that their minister has “a hearty desire to do them good.” The Puritans recognized that people will take a great deal from such a man.
- All this is to be backed up by a life which is consistent both in private and public with the message that is preached.
“Study of the Scriptures is thus the first and primary demand upon the preacher: organized, persistent, continual study of the Holy Scriptures, if need be without commentaries, but with a clear view, with a praying heart, with a pious, receptive soul, with a sanctified and purified conscience.” — Herman Bavinck, On Preaching and Preachers, 63.
As my previous church works on migrating to a new website, most links to my old sermons are no longer usable (click here to see a flow IDC’s preaching calendar since 2013). For those who’d like to listen in, we’ve created Dropbox folders for almost every sermon series during my time at IDC. You should be able to stream or download the sermons via the links below.
The folders are essentially in chronological order, with the most recent sermons listed first.
Zondervan wants to help us celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. So, they’ve published the “5 Solas Series,” edited by Michael Barrett. “We need these solas just as much today as the Reformers needed them in the sixteenth century,” Barret argues. He is undoubtedly right.
My favorite entry in the series is Carl Trueman’s Grace Alone: Salvation as a Gift of God. Trueman begins by surveying the Bible’s teaching on grace. He critiques modern conceptions of grace as something like a divine sentiment, showing that God’s word consistently connects grace to Christ. Ever the consummate church historian, Trueman then ably traces the doctrine through the ages before coming to the Reformers central arguments on sola gratia (his primary discussion partners are Augustine, Thomas, Luther, and Calvin).
The whole work is valuable and would be useful for small group discussion. The conclusion itself is well worth your money. There Trueman offers ten “hints as to the identity of a sola-gratia church.” Let me try to whet your literary appetite by giving you those hints with a choice quote or two.
What Marks a Grace-Alone Church?
- A grace-alone church takes sin seriously. “A proper understanding of grace depends on a prior, proper understanding of sin and the human predicament.”
- A grace-alone church takes Christ seriously. “If we speak of grace without speaking in the name of Christ, we are not speaking biblically of grace. In the Bible, grace is so intimately connected with Christ that Christless talk is graceless talk.”
- A grace-alone church takes God’s priority in personal salvation seriously. “A grace-alone church will be one that unashamedly declares God’s sovereign priority over all of creation and his sovereign priority over the church and her people.”
- A grace-alone church takes assurance seriously. “The church which takes grace seriously will constantly point her people to [the truth of God’s sovereign in Christ] with the aim of reassuring them that, whatever comes to pass, God is both sovereign and gracious.”
- A grace-alone church takes the corporate gathering of the visible church seriously. “A church which takes grace alone seriously knows that . . . the primary reason we go to church is to receive God’s grace through the word and sacraments.”
- A grace-alone church takes the Bible seriously. “The Bible is God’s revelation of the history and identity of his people and supremely of his purposes for them as they culminate in Jesus Christ. Given this, we may need to spend time reflecting on how the Bible functions in our churches.”
- A grace-alone church takes preaching seriously. “Preaching was central to the Reformation because of how the Reformers understood grace . . . The word brings grace.”
- A grace-alone church takes baptism seriously. “Baptism is part of God’s gracious economy, to be taken seriously by all Christians . . . As Paul would point people back to the fact that they were baptized as the basis for pressing home their new identity in Christ and the great imperatives of the Christian life, so we should do the same.”
- A grace-alone church takes the Lord’s Supper seriously. “The Lord’s Supper gives us Christ—in a different form from the word, but gives us Christ nonetheless, and a church that believes in grace alone will be a church where the Lord’s Supper is considered to be important.”
- A grace-alone church takes prayer seriously. “A church that takes grace seriously knows that she exists only in complete and total dependence on the Lord who bought her. Such a church will know that it is vitally important to call out to the Lord for all things, that conversions, Christian growth, discipleship, and worship all depend on God himself.”
I cannot begin to adequately describe how Sinclair Ferguson has ministered to me over the years. I find him to be the epitome of a Christ-exalting preacher and winsome churchman, who also happens to be as able a theologian as you’ll find in the pulpit.
Whenever I sense my ministerial soul needs reviving, I do three things: 1) read the pastoral epistles—along with 2 Corinthians, 2) read an old manual on ministry such as Bonar’s Words to Winners of Souls, and 3) listen to Ferguson messages. I think every pastor needs a preacher who uniquely ministers to his heart. He needs someone who can challenge, comfort, and convict. Dr. Ferguson does that for me.
Earlier this week, I came across an old series of lectures Ferguson gave on “the ministry” to a group of pastors in Northern Ireland. What a feast! He covers all the essentials in depth, and he rambles through valuable rabbit trails in each message. If your soul needs encouragement in preparation for this Lord’s Day, download the lectures below and listen away.
7 Messages on Ministry
- “Called to the Ministry“
- “Preaching the Word“
- “The Minister’s Prayer“
- “The Minister’s Unction“
- “The Minister as a Man of God“
- “The Minister as Pastor of the Flock“
- “The Minister as Preacher of the Word“
John Brown of Haddington (1722–1787) is an old giant of Scottish theology that has been mostly lost to history. In the late 1800s, William Blaikie said that Brown “towered above his fellows.” Reformation Heritage is trying to retrieve Brown’s legacy by republishing his Systematic Theology and his Counsel to Gospel Ministers. If you’ve never read Brown before, let me see if I can convince you to take up and read.
To do that, let’s turn to his letters on “Directions with Respect to Preaching the Gospel, and Administering the Sacraments.” Tucked away in Letter 1 of Part 3 are Brown’s rules for gospel preaching. Are these not as relevant today as they were two hundred years ago?
7 Rules for Preachers
- Keep in view that it is the gospel you are preaching, and it is God ordained.
- Found the sermon on the Scripture as your text and proof.
- Insist chiefly on the greater points of revelation concerning Jesus Christ, faith in him, and repentance toward God through him.
- Make application that it may awaken, and “captivate their affections to Christ.”
- Let your language be adapted to that of the hearers, and let it be scriptural. Do not be philosophical.
- Avoid anything which will detract, for example, speaking too quickly, or indistinctly, poor pronunciation, awkward gestures, wandering from the subject, useless quotations, expressions which would promote laughter. Also do not adhere too scrupulously to your notes.
- Never draw attention and focus upon your honors. You are to promote the glory of Christ.
I count it a supreme blessing to study Robert Murray M’Cheyne. Never does a day go by without finding conviction or comfort in his works.
I read his sermon on 2 Corinthians 5:20–21 this morning, where Paul writes, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
In meditating on ministers being ambassadors for Christ, M’Cheyne says,
Learn from this, how we should preach, and how you should hear. We do not come in our own name, but in Christ’s. We are to do as the disciples did when they received the bread from Christ. We are to receive our message from him and give it unto you; so, in one sense, it is immaterial to us whether you receive the truth or not. Observe, we are to speak with authority. Many of you are not pleased at what we say; you say we might have spoken less severely; you quarrel at our words; but ah! if you look into your own heart, you would see, that it is not us you quarrel with, it is with Christ. Observe, still farther, that we are ambassadors; we must speak tenderly. God is love. Christ is love. I am afraid it is here we err, and show that the vessel is earthly. When Christ came into the world, it was a message of love he brought.
On which side might you err? Maybe your zealous proclamations are so loud that no hearer sense your soul is taken in love to Christ. Or perhaps, your graceful preaching is never forceful enough to break through a hardened heart. Oh, let us pray for the fullness of authority and tenderness in preaching!
I’ve spent today wading through the voluminous works by or about Thomas Chalmers, trying to understand his influence on Robert Murray M’Cheyne. As David Yeaworth says, “In Chalmers, more than any other person, M’Cheyne found the mold for his ecclesiastical and religious thought, and a worthy pattern for his own ministerial life.”
If evangelicals know anything today about Chalmers, it’s probably his sermon, “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.” Few may know he was arguably the most famous British preacher at the time, a brilliant mathematician who theorized on everything from astronomy to politics to economics to social reform, and an evangelical who longed to see Christ proclaimed in slums of Scotland and far away nations.
What is remarkable is how he wielded his immense intellect to serve the church. Consider the following encouragement and warning about preaching:
By far the most effective ingredient of good preaching is the personal piety of the preacher himself . . . How little must the presence of God be felt in that place, where the high functions of the pulpit are degraded into a stipulated exchange of entertainment, on the one side, and of admiration, on the other! and surely it were a sight to make angels weep when a weak and vapouring mortal, surrounded by his fellow sinners, and hastening to the grave and the judgment along with them, find it a dearer object to his bosom to regale his hearers by the exhibition of himself, than to do, in plain earnest, the work of his Master.
Put simply: in your preaching, are you exalting yourself or the Savior?
Yesterday, Stuart Olyott gave a useful answer to the question, “What is preaching?” I want to provide one more excerpt from his book Preaching: Pure and Simple. I hope it excites your interest enough to buy the book—it’s sound, simple, and satisfying.
Sermons Need Clear Structure
Plain sermons are the best sermons. And plainness depends, to a large degree, on how easy the sermon is to follow and remember. So, what is one of plain preaching’s best friends? Olyott responds, “Our sermons will be both easy to follow and easy to remember if they always have a clear structure.” He then writes,
Preachers who love their people are fussy about the structure of their sermons. They know that the most ordinary person will never lose their way, as long as the sermon has unity, order and proportion. Unity means that the message holds together; it is not made up of several disconnected sermonettes. Order means that the sermon is made of distinct ideas which follow each other in a logical chain that leads up to a climax. Proportion means that each idea is given its proper place; unimportant things are not magnified, and important things are not played down. The worst preacher on earth will improve immediately if he remembers these three words.
Might your next sermon need some of this good ol’ fussiness?