Archive for June, 2007

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A Sane Approach to Biblical Commentaries

June 30, 2007

Our Featured Toolbox this Saturday is one of the sanest short articles I’ve read on the use of commentaries in sermon prep. Steven Mathewson’s post on the PreachingToday blog, offers five dangers in relation to commentaries:

1) Using commentaries exclusively, or too quickly in the process;
2) Using too many commentaries
3) Using substandard commentaries
4) Using Commentaries to the neglect of prayer and meditation and
5) Not using commentaries at all.

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I love his honest comment that while many speak of the dangers of commentaries being overused, “I know few, if any, pastors who spend too much time in commentaries.” Read the whole post here.

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Other Toolbox This Week
* Packer on Lloyd Jones
* 7 Steps to Sermon Prep
* Gospel Coalition Website Launched
* Learning from Cancer – Begg Audio
* Paul’s Imperatives to Pastors
* Church – What about Me Songs?
* Review: The Complete Gathered Gold – John Blanchard
* New Nine Marks Newsletter: The Gospel
* A New Bible Translation (Unfortunately)
* Music When You Study?
* Review: Everlasting Dominion – a Theology of the OT
* Evangelical Faithfulness in Academia
* Nazarenes Rethink Entire Sanctification
* Teaching Laymen to Preach Expositionally
* Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing

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Three Times Blessed

June 28, 2007

I am three-times blessed! Following on from Glen (almost 4) and Rebekah (2), today my wife safely gave birth to our third child. Praise the Lord. Grace Sarah Margaret Adams weighed in at a healthy 10 pounds 3 ounces. On days like today, whilst I realize that preaching is vitally important, I also know that it isn’t ALL important.

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Ten Questions For Expositors – Mbewe

June 27, 2007

By popular demand, Ten Questions for Expositors is back. This time we have the great pleasure of interviewing Conrad Mbewe, pastor-teacher Katwaba Baptist Church, Zambia. If you haven’t yet heard this brother preach, do take the opportunity. Then be amazed that he takes two to three hours to prepare his sermons!

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1. Where do you place the importance of preaching in the grand scheme of church life?
As far as I can see from the Word of God, preaching must be central to the life of the church. This can be seen from the way the church started in the New Testament. As soon as the first church was gathered together in Acts 2, the Bible records that “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). Clearly, then, the preaching of the apostles took the first place. We notice the same thing when Paul writes to Timothy, a young pastor leading the church in Ephesus. He says to him, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13). And even as he comes to the end of his life, Paul gives this young pastor the following charge: “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Timothy 4:1-2). Surely, when you compare this to the emphasis today on singing, as opposed to hearing the Word of God being preached, we have certainly left the biblical emphasis and we need to get back to it – for the sake of the health of our churches.

2. In a paragraph, how did you discover your gifts in preaching?
Initially, soon after I became a Christian in 1979, I just had a burden to share Christ in personal witnessing contexts with individuals. I did not realise that this burden would one day find expression in preaching to entire crowds. At that time I was a student at a local university in Zambia. From time to time, I would be asked to prepare the Bible study lesson and teach our Growth Group in our hall of residence. These were small groups of Christian students who got together once a week to study the Bible. I found that I could handle the text and draw out appropriate lessons. In due season, around 1982, one of the elders at church asked me to join him in leading the Bible study group that comprised the young adults in the church, especially those who were in college and university. In this period, I sharpened my skills further. Before I graduated in 1984, however, I was chosen as chairman of the university Christian fellowship, and that meant preaching at least once a semester. This was for the last two years of my undergraduate days. I found great fulfilment not only in teaching the Word of God but also preaching it. It was clear from the feedback that I was getting, that God had gifted me in this way. This was quite apart from a sense of call that I experienced in a very definite way at a very subjective level sometime in 1980. So, by the time I graduated from the university, my gifts in preaching were confirmed, and I was just waiting for the Lord to open a door into full time pastoral studies or full time pastoral work. In 1987, the Lord opened the latter door and I became a church pastor.

3. How long (on average) does it take you to prepare a sermon?
It takes anything between two to three hours, depending on how familiar I am with the subject or the text. Because I usually preach in a consecutive expository fashion in my own pulpit, most of the initial spade work would have been done much earlier. Hence, that is not included in this time. Also, I rarely ever write out my sermons in full. My final sermon outline is hardly ever more than one page long. So, again, you have to cut out the average writing time that most pastors go through. That is why I do not spend as much time in sermon preparation as most of my fellow preachers.

4. Is it important to you that a sermon contain one major theme or idea? If so, how do you crystallise it?
It is very important. I go before God’s people with “a word from the Lord” and it is important to me that they go home after listening to my preaching with that word – or theme or idea. I ensure that my introduction waters their appetite for that one “word” and that my conclusion nails it in with some immediate application. They have not come to simply be informed about some points of doctrine. They have come to be told (or I have come to tell them) what God wants them to do in the light of his message to them. How do I arrive at that dominant thought, when mine is a textual sermon? The answer lies in a lot of meditation. I meditate and meditate and meditate. On a more technical level, I look at the text in its context. I also look at the key word(s) in the text. As I pray about all this, it soon becomes clear to me what the dominant thought in the text is. Also, depending on the composition of my congregation, I may opt to deal with the dominant thought differently. I do not change the theme; I just change its emphasis so that it suits my hearers. The rest of my work is to show how the rest of the passage brings out the dominant thought. It is in following the natural contours of the Scriptures that I seek to crystallise the theme in the minds of my hearers.

5. What is the most important aspect of a preacher’s style and what should he avoid?
I would say, of prime importance, that a preacher must be himself. This is what makes for a preacher’s style. You notice it from the writings of the apostles. You cannot miss when it is Paul writing – or Peter or James or John. They all have their own specific style. Avoid imitation like a plague. You end up being a David trying to fight in Saul’s armour. You will fail. That is not to say that you cannot learn from other preachers. We all must seek to improve our preaching by listening to those preachers who have the greatest impact on their hearers. We must ask the question, “How do they manage to attain and maintain the attention of their hearers to the very end of their sermons?” Take the principle that you see from that and then apply it to your style so that in the end you are still yourself.

6. What notes, if any, do you use?
I have already touched on this. I normally carry with me one side of an A4 sized paper when I enter the pulpit to preach. On this matter, I think that everyone must use what they are most comfortable with. It is difficult to draw from the Scriptures any rule as to the amount of notes you should carry into the pulpit. I think that whatever the quantity of notes, a preacher must maintain a maximum level of eye-contact with his hearers. My notes are simply “sign posts” along the way. Sometimes I read them. Sometimes I do not even look at them because the road is very familiar. Sometimes I just peep there to make sure that I have taken the right turns thus far. I find that when I am very dependent on my notes, then the message is not flowing thematically, logically or chronologically. So, I work on it further until I can sense that once I have opened up a point, the sub-points naturally flow one after the other. Hence my dependence on my notes is minimal.

7. What are the greatest perils that preacher must avoid?
Familiarity and prayerlessness. I have preached for (only) twenty years and I sense the temptation to handle the work of preaching as “just one of those things”. Yet I am aware that these two vices will cost me the presence of God in preaching and I will soon become a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. May I add the temptation to use the Bible to say what you already started out wanting to say? This is especially the case when you have a personal agenda to fulfil in the lives of a few troublesome church members. Once your hearers begin to think that you can make the Bible say whatever you want it to say, you are robbing them of the respect they ought to have for God’s Word. So, for the sake of posterity, be faithful to the text!

8. How do you fight to balance preparation for preaching with other important responsibilities (eg. pastoral care, leadership responsibilities)
At one time the elders in my church noticed that the quality of my preaching was becoming unpredictable – one time it was good, and the next time it was bad. They asked me what the problem was and I told them that I needed an office assistant to take care of most of the administrative needs in the life of the church. I was given someone to handle this, and since then we have never looked back. Every week, we meet with my office assistant to look at what needs to be done that week and then we share the load. I only take on that which I know I really must handle. Another thing is that I make the early hours of the morning, before the family wakes up and the phone starts ringing, as the time for study and devotions. Thus by the time the house is bustling with humans and those disturbing phone calls start, I am simply musing over what I have learnt and prepared. I also function within an eldership that is involved in pastoral care. Hence, although our church has over 300 members, I do not feel the strain of that number. The elders share in the work of pastoral care.

9. What books on preaching, or exemplars of it, have you found most influential in your own preaching?
The sermons of Charles Haddon Spurgeon come immediately to mind. In the early years of my Christian life, I used to preach some of them out to an empty church building. Well, it was not completely empty because I had a few of my friends sitting in the pews, but it was not a worship service either. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ Evangelistic Sermons and his Old Testament Evangelistic Sermons (both published by the Banner of Truth Trust) are great examples of evangelistic preaching. One can add to this his expositions in Romans and Ephesians. Those sermons are worth their weight in gold! You will notice, therefore, that I have learnt more from books that contain sermons rather than books that teach how to preach.

10. What steps do you take to nurture or encourage developing or future preachers?
The first is to be the best example I can be to them so that they can model their preaching after a worthy example. I do not want them to become little “Conrads” but I sincerely hope that they will take what they see in me and build on it according to their own styles and giftedness. The second is to give any men in the church who exhibit the rudiments of the preaching or teaching gifts opportunities to minister in the context of the church’s full life. This may mean they can prepare for and lead Bible studies, or they may preach in one of the many auxiliary meetings of the church, or they may preach in one of the church-planting situations that we have on our hands. I then listen to their sermons and give them the necessary feedback so that they deal with their areas of weakness. Those that are able are also encouraged to join our part-time preachers’ college. In that context, we give them a full-orbed introduction to what it takes to be a preacher of the gospel as a full-time vocation. Even those who are not able to join the college are encouraged to read books on preaching as soon as they share with me that they are sensing a call to the preaching ministry.

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Previously on 10 Questions
* Tim Keller
* Philip Ryken
* Voddie Baucham
* Liam Goligher
* Vaughan Roberts
* Thabiti Anyabwile
* Colin Adams

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Preaching that Kills

June 26, 2007

Today’s quote is extracted from EM Bounds’ wonderful little book “The Power of Prayer.” Warning – this may be challenging!

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THE preaching that kills may be, and often is, orthodox — dogmatically, inviolably orthodox. We love orthodoxy. It is good. It is the best. It is the clean, clear-cut teaching of God’s Word, the trophies won by truth in its conflict with error, the levees which faith has raised against the desolating floods of honest or reckless misbelief or unbelief; but orthodoxy, clear and hard as crystal, suspicious and militant, may be but the letter well-shaped, well-named, and well-learned, the letter which kills. Nothing is so dead as a dead orthodoxy, too dead to speculate, too dead to think, to study, or to pray.

The preaching that kills may have insight and grasp of principles, may be scholarly and critical in taste, may have every minutia of the derivation and grammar of the letter, may be able to trim the letter into its perfect pattern, and illume it as Plato and Cicero may be illumined, may study it as a lawyer studies his text-books to form his brief or to defend his case, and yet be like a frost, a killing frost. Letter-preaching may be eloquent, enameled with poetry and rhetoric, sprinkled with prayer spiced with sensation, illumined by genius and yet these be but the massive or chaste, costly mountings, the rare and beautiful flowers which coffin the corpse. The preaching which kills may be without scholarship, unmarked by any freshness of thought or feeling, clothed in tasteless generalities or vapid specialties, with style irregular, slovenly, savoring neither of closet nor of study, graced neither by thought, expression, or prayer. Under such preaching how wide and utter the desolation! how profound the spiritual death!

This letter-preaching deals with the surface and shadow of things, and not the things themselves. It does not penetrate the inner part. It has no deep insight into, no strong grasp of, the hidden life of God’s Word. It is true to the outside, but the outside is the hull which must be broken and penetrated for the kernel. The letter may be dressed so as to attract and be fashionable, but the attraction is not toward God nor is the fashion for heaven. The failure is in the preacher. God has not made him. He has never been in the hands of God like clay in the hands of the potter. He has been busy about the sermon, its thought and finish, its drawing and impressive forces; but the deep things of God have never been sought, studied, fathomed, experienced by him. He has never stood before “the throne high and lifted up,” never heard the seraphim song, never seen the vision nor felt the rush of that awful holiness, and cried out in utter abandon and despair under the sense of weakness and guilt, and had his life renewed, his heart touched, purged, inflamed by the live coal from God’s altar. His ministry may draw people to him, to the Church, to the form and ceremony; but no true drawings to God, no sweet, holy, divine communion induced. The Church has been frescoed but not edified, pleased but not sanctified. Life is suppressed; a chill is on the summer air; the soil is baked. The city of our God becomes the city of the dead; the Church a graveyard, not an embattled army. Praise and prayer are stifled; worship is dead. The preacher and the preaching have helped sin, not holiness; peopled hell, not heaven.

Preaching which kills is prayerless preaching. Without prayer the preacher creates death, and not life. The preacher who is feeble in prayer is feeble in life-giving forces. The preacher who has retired prayer as a conspicuous and largely prevailing element in his own character has shorn his preaching of its distinctive life-giving power. Professional praying there is and will be, but professional praying helps the preaching to its deadly work. Professional praying chills and kills both preaching and praying. Much of the lax devotion and lazy, irreverent attitudes in congregational praying are attributable to professional praying in the pulpit. Long, discursive, dry, and inane are the prayers in many pulpits. Without unction or heart, they fall like a killing frost on all the graces of worship. Death-dealing prayers they are. Every vestige of devotion has perished under their breath. The deader they are the longer they grow. A plea for short praying, live praying, real heart praying, praying by the Holy Spirit — direct, specific, ardent, simple, unctuous in the pulpit — is in order. A school to teach preachers how to pray, as God counts praying, would be more beneficial to true piety, true worship, and true preaching than all theological schools.

Stop! Pause! Consider! Where are we? What are we doing? Preaching to kill? Praying to kill? Praying to God! the great God, the Maker of all worlds, the Judge of all men! What reverence! what simplicity! what sincerity! what truth in the inward parts is demanded! How real we must be! How hearty! Prayer to God the noblest exercise, the loftiest effort of man, the most real thing! Shall we not discard forever accursed preaching that kills and prayer that kills, and do the real thing, the mightiest thing — prayerful praying, life-creating preaching, bring the mightiest force to bear on heaven and earth and draw on God’s exhaustless and open treasure for the need and beggary of man?

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Simple, Hard, Hard Questions

June 25, 2007

Several weeks ago I was enjoying listening to the concluding talk of a short series of historical profiles. Christopher H Ross (of Conventicle fame) was drawing our attention to four common threads in the otherwise varied lives of Athanasius, Martin Luther, William Carey and Amy Carmichael. The common denominators were: immersion in Scripture, thriving prayer life, pattern of obedience and pre-occupation with Jesus Christ.

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All was going well until Chris made things practical [don't you hate it when history gets practical!] How were we getting on in these areas? To make things worse, Chris then challenged us to ask some simple but hard questions:

Do I have a love for God’s Word?
Am I willing to make the study of it, and the application of it, my life’s pursuit?
Will I cultivate intimacy with God through prayer?
Am I willing to part with all sins for His sake?
Will I obey his voice, no matter what he asks?
Do I know the Lord Jesus well?
How much of my Christian life is really centered on him?

Speak to you tomorrow once I’ve wrestled with some of these.

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Christ’s Servant Among Sheep & Wolves

June 23, 2007

This Saturday’s Featured Toolbox is a link to an excellent interview conducted over at the “Against Heresies” blog. Joel Beeke, who pastors Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation and is president of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, speaks to the vital issue of identifying heresy in the church today. Here are the three segments of the interview.

* Christ’s Servant Among Sheep and Wolves (part one)
* Christ’s Servant Among Sheep and Wolves (part two)
* Christ’s Servant Among Sheep and Wolves (part three)

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Personally, I especially appreciated Beeke’s three suggestions for younger ministers in dealing with error:

1. Become and stay well versed in the Scriptures, in confessional Reformed theology, and in the great classics of Reformed, experiential theology.

2. Summarize the errors of various movements succinctly from the pulpit when the scriptural text you are expounding pertains to them. Enlarge upon your exposure of error, perhaps, in catechism classes (because young people are the church’s future) or weekday classes (because those who attend have, in general, greater appreciation for apologetics than does your average Sabbath attendee and because your teaching situation is less formal).

3. Remember that you cannot study every false movement in depth, nor should you. Study in depth for yourself those that directly affect your congregation. Otherwise, read the best book from an evangelical perspective that refutes a particular error. In some cases, reading one good article may suffice.

Younger ministers should beware of being so caught up with the trends, debates, and crises of the present that they neglect to reinforce their knowledge of Christian history and Christian doctrine.

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Other Toolbox This Week
* Lay Level Systematic Theology Class: Bruce Ware
* Video: What is the Gospel – Don Carson
* The Mereness of the Church: Preaching (Thabiti Anyabwile)
* Using Illustrations to Preach With Power
* Ever Wanted to Do This to Your Computer?
* New – Nine Marks Blog
* Differences Between Justification and Sanctification
* 25 Things I’ve Learned About Sin – Team Pyro
* Ten Reasons Why I Believe the Bible To Be the Word of God: RA Torrey
* Steve Lawson: Five Talks on Augustine of Hippo
* Interesting Site: American Rhetoric
* Don’t Short Change the Conclusion
* Style or Substance: What’s the Biggest Problem With Contemporary Church Music?
* Tips for Preaching Multiple Times a Week
* Sermon Titles: Tricky Little Things
* Mwebe’s Favourite Books for Preachers
* Six Lessons We Learn From Luther: JI Packer

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Children’s Pastor

June 22, 2007

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I also have a little advert today. Charlotte Baptist Chapel in Edinburgh, Scotland (my church fellowship) is looking for a Pastor with responsibilities for Children and Youth. We are looking high and low for an experienced invididual with a passion for children’s ministry; someone with an ability to provide shape and direction to our whole ministry. The role will involve some ministry with the children directly but even more so it will be working alongside a large number of dedicated children’s leaders, equipping them for their work of service. Our city-centre location provides a great opportunity and we have several hundred children who come in and around our church on Friday evenings (uniformed organisations) and Sundays.

So, if you know of anyone who might possibly fit the bill, or if this might be for you, please do contact me and I can send you further information. It may be that someone on the other side of the pond would be eminently suitable (in the UK, we are light years behind in terms of children’s work development).

Rev. Colin Adams
Associate Pastor
Charlotte Baptist Chapel
colin@charlottechapel.org
(UK) 0131 225 4812

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Emotion in the Pulpit and Pew

June 22, 2007

Not very long ago, someone recounted to me the first time the current Senior Pastor in my church shed tears in the pulpit. Fifteen years ago now, this was apparently quite an event in Charlotte Chapel. Congregants were not so used to ministers expressing such emotion in the pulpit. But, the person added: “There was a hush around the whole congregation. I think people were very moved.”

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Peter is not the only one who gets emotional. On ocassion, I find that emotion ambushes me. At these times, I come back to a familiar and difficult question: what place should emotion have in the pulpit? How should we handle both the sobs and the smiles (as John Piper so amply demonstrates!)? Here are five exhortations I’ve developed for myself.

1) Remember that preaching with strong emotion has biblical precedent. Think about Jeremiah in the Old Testament. Just read through his prophecy, taking note of the emotion he displayed. As you read of his frequent tears and heart-rending pathos, you will discover that he is aptly named the “weeping” prophet (cf. Jer 31:16). Or consider the apostle Paul in the New Testament who preached the Word with “trembling” (1 Cor 2:3)? And was it not this great apostle who commanded the Ephesians elders to “Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day even with tears“? (Acts 20:31)

2) Realise that people appreciate emotion today. One upside of the long discussed postmodern shift has been a growing recognition of emotion’s significance. Though heart should never bypass the head – nor take the ‘lead’ in the marriage – historically there has sometimes been a tendency to diminish the place of “religious affections.” But now cultural changes have rightly re-emphasised the importance of a head and heart Christianity. The corrolary is that today we must have “Head-and-Heart-Preachers.” After one service last year when a preacher had expressed emotion in his sermon, a non-Christian student sitting beside me was evidently challenged. “I didn’t realise before that the pastor really believes what he’s talking about”, they remarked. “Of course he does!”, I replied. Nevertheless, the preacher’s emotion had conveyed that reality.

3) Beware of emotionalism. “Turning on the waterworks” or “feigning joy” is always bad form. Sadly there remains a danger that we preachers tug the heart strings of our congregation by intentionally using our emotions as the instrument. Of course, it is a legitimate aim to touch the congregations emotions through “the word of truth.” And the fact is, people will be moved whenever we show emotion. But we must be careful that we don’t seek to do the Holy Spirit’s work for Him. Its a fine line, for sure. But I think we know the difference between emotion that is pre-meditated and that which is not.

4) Understand that fear of expressing emotion is often rooted in our pride. Sometimes when coming back from church in the car, a conversation with my wife has gone something like this: “I nearly lost it today; I could feel myself getting emotional, but I held it back.” Invariably my wife responds, “Why? Why are you so afraid of showing emotion?” Having thought about it at length, my conclusion is simply ‘pride.’ Especially for men, we hate to express emotion in public for the fear of looking weak, foolish, or just a little too passionate. However this ungrounded fear (rooted in unhelpful influences in our culture about masculinity) needs to be tackled head on, and our pride needs to be reduced. Was the Paul who endured beatings and shipwrecks and riots any less of a “man” because he “came in fear and trembling” and “tears”?

5) Realise that excessive emotion can be unhelpful. Now I need to tread carefully here: it is almost impossible to be excessive with our joy! And I don’t want to negate the last point that some of us need to be less prideful and be willing to show some emotion, some of the time. Nevertheless there can at times be such a flood of emotion that the audience begins to shift their focus off the message to the messenger. To be honest, some preachers are manic. It is one thing to preach with solemn earnest and warning, its another for people to leave the church only remembering how you kept banging the table! Similarly I recall an ocassion in my previous congregation when I was so overwhelmed by emotion that I could hardly speak a complete sentence for several minutes. Though the tears probably conveyed how much I meant what I was saying, it was probably not helpful for the message or congregation that I got so carried away.

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Two Tremendous Spurgeon Tales (part two)

June 21, 2007

The second part of today’s Workman Watch could only come from the experience of Charles Spurgeon! Can’t say I’ve ever been involved in tag team preaching? Yet.

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I had quite a different experience on the occasion when I went to preach at Haverhill, in Suffolk. The congregation that day had the somewhat unusual privilege, or affliction, of listening to two preachers discoursing by turns upon the same text! The passage was that grand declaration of the apostle Paul, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” (Ephesians ii. 8). It does not often happen to me to be late for service, for I feel that punctuality is one of those little virtues which may prevent great sins. But we have no control over railways and breakdowns, and so it happened that I reached the appointed place considerably behind time.

Like sensible people, they had begun their worship, and had proceeded as far as the sermon. As I neared the chapel, I perceived that someone was in the pulpit preaching, and who should the preacher be but my dear and venerable grandfather! He saw me as I came in at the front door, and made my way up the aisle, and at once he said, “Here comes my grandson! He may preach the gospel better than I can, but he cannot preach a better gospel; can you, Charles?” As I pressed through the throng, I answered, “You can preach better than I can. Pray go on.”

But he would not agree to that. I must take the sermon, and so I did, going on with the subject there and then, just where he left off. “There,” said he, “I was preaching on ‘For by grace are ye saved’. I have been setting forth the source and fountain-head of salvation, and I am now showing them the channel of it, ‘through faith.’ Now, you take it up, and go on.”

I am so much at home with these glorious truths, that I could not feel any difficulty in taking from my grandfather the thread of his discourse, and joining my thread to it, so as to continue without a break. Our agreement in the things of God made it easy for us to be joint-preachers of the same discourse. I went on with “through faith”, and then I proceeded to the next point, “and that not of yourselves”. Upon this, I was explaining the weakness and inability of human nature, and the certainty that salvation could not be of ourselves, when I had my coat-tail pulled, and my well-beloved grandsire took his turn again. When I spoke of our depraved human nature, the good old man said, “I know most about that, dear friends;” so he took up the parable, and for the next five minutes set forth a solemn and humbling description of our lost estate, the depravity of our nature, and the spiritual death under which we were found. When he had said his say in a very gracious manner, his grandson was allowed to go on again, to the dear old man’s great delight, for now and then he would say, in a gentle tone, “Good! Good!” Once he said, “Tell them that again, Charles,” and of course I did tell them that again.

It was a happy exercise to me to take my share in bearing witness to truths of such vital importance, which are so deeply impressed upon my heart. Whenever I read this text, I seem to hear that dear voice, which has been so long lost to earth, saying to me, “TELL THEM THAT AGAIN.” I am not contradicting the testimony of forefathers who are now with God. If my grandfather could return to earth, he would find me where he left me, steadfast in the faith, and true to that form of doctrine which was once for all delivered to the saints. I preach the doctrines of grace because I believe them to be true; because I see them in the Scriptures; because my experience endears them to me; and because I see the holy result of them in the lives of believers. I confess they are none the less dear to me because the advanced school despises them: their censures are to me a commendation.

I confess also that I should never think the better of a doctrine because it was said to be “new”. Those truths which have enlightened so many ages appear to me to be ordained to remain throughout eternity. The doctrine which I preach is that of the Puritans: it is the doctrine of Calvin, the doctrine of Augustine, the doctrine of Paul, the doctrine of the Holy Ghost. The Author and Finisher of our faith Himself taught most blessed truth which well agreed with Paul’s declaration, “By grace are ye saved.” The doctrine of grace is the substance of the testimony of Jesus. [pp. 363-364, Autobiography, V1: The Early Years]

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Two Tremendous Spurgeon Tales (part one)

June 21, 2007

Today’s Workman Watch is not so much an examination of a sermon, as a recounting of two preaching experiences. In some ways, these accounts from Charles H Spurgeon fit well with what we’ve been thinking about on Friday (“Expect the Unexpected”). However I leave these twin tales with you- a typically good Spurgeon read – for your perusal. Thanks to the dear friend who sent me these excerpts.

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I once had a very singular experience while preaching at New Park Street Chapel. I had passed happily through all the early parts of Divine service on the Sabbath evening, and was giving out the hymn before the sermon. I opened the Bible to find the text, which I had carefully studied as the topic of discourse, when, on the opposite page, another passage of Scripture sprang upon me, like a lion from a thicket, with vastly more power than I had felt when considering the text which I had chosen.

The people were singing, and I was sighing. I was in a strait betwixt two, and my mind hung as in the balances. I was naturally desirous to run in the track which I had carefully planned, but the other text would take no refusal, and seemed to tug at my skirts, crying, “No, no, you must preach from me! God would have you follow me.” I deliberated within myself as to my duty, for I would neither be fanatical nor unbelieving, and at last I thought within myself, “Well, I should like to preach the sermon which I have prepared, and it is a great risk to run to strike out a new line of thought, but, still, as this text constrains me, it may be of the Lord, and therefore I will venture upon it, come what may.”

I almost always announce my divisions very soon after the exordium, but, on this occasion, contrary to my usual custom, I did not do so, for a very good reason. I passed through the first head with considerable liberty, speaking perfectly extemporaneously both as to thought and word.

The second point was dwelt upon with a consciousness of unusual quiet efficient power, but I had no idea what the third would or could be, for the text yielded no more matter just then; nor can I tell even now what I could have done had not an event occurred upon which I had never calculated. I had brought myself into great difficulty by obeying what I thought to be a Divine impulse, and I felt compara-tively easy about it, believing that God would help me, and knowing that I could at least close the service should there be nothing more to be said. I had no need to deliberate, for in one moment we were in total darkness—the gas had gone out; and, as the aisles were choked with people, and the place was crowded everywhere, it was a great peril, but a great blessing. What was I to do then?

The people were a little frightened, but I quieted them instantly by telling them not to be at all alarmed, though the gas was out, for it would soon be re-lighted; and as for myself, having no manuscript, I could speak just as well in the dark as in the light, if they would be so good as to sit or stand still, and listen. Had my discourse been ever so elaborate, it would have been absurd to have continued it, and, as my plight was, I was all the less embarrassed.

I turned at once mentally to the well-known text which speaks of the child of light walking in darkness, and of the child of darkness walking in the light, and found appropriate remarks and illustrations pouring in upon me; and when the lamps were again lit, I saw before me an audience as rapt and subdued as ever a man beheld in his life.

The odd thing of all was that, some few church-meetings afterwards, two persons came forward to make confession of their faith, who professed to have been converted that evening; the first owed her conversion to the former part of the discourse, which was on the new text that came to me, and the other traced his awakening to the latter part, which was occasioned by the sudden darkness. Thus, Providence befriended me. I cast myself upon God, and His arrangements quenched the light at the proper time for me. Some may ridicule, but I adore; others may even censure, but I rejoice. [pp. 268-269, Autobiography, V1: The Early Years]

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Ephesians – What is the Main Theme?

June 20, 2007

One of my most exciting ministry responsibilities is helping our church student team prepare for Sunday lunch bible studies. We’re already planning ahead for next Autumn when we intend to study the letter of Ephesians with eager students (God willing!). You might be interested in part of what I wrote to the team recently about the challenge of identifying Ephesians’ main theme. Maybe you have some thoughts on the central idea/ideas in Ephesians.

Compared with Paul’s other letters, Ephesians is harder than most to pin down in terms of a central theme. Two simple reasons for this are:

a) There is no agreement about who this letter was originally intended for. Many reliable early manuscripts don’t have the words “in Ephesus” (verse 1). Furthermore, the letter lacks Paul’s usual intimate warmth when writing to a church he knows well. One possible explanation is that Ephesians was a circular letter which eventually came to reside in Ephesus.

b) There is no obvious “ocassion” for the letter (i.e. a problem Paul was sorting out). Though some have ventured that the apostle was sorting out problems between Jewish and Gentile Christians, or that he was instructing new Gentile Converts, we really can’t be sure. Moreover, there is no purpose statement such as we have in 1 John 5, John 20, which pinpoints the aim of Paul’s argument.

These problems aside, there are a number of obvious emphases in Ephesians. I’ll mention five and protide an additional comment from Carson, Morris and Moo’s Introduction to the New Testament.

1) Grace – “The letter begins with a section putting a strong emphasis on the divine action in bringing salvation…This massive emphasis on the place of the divine is expanded with continuing references to grace.” ['Grace' occurs twelve times in Ephesians, only less than Romans, Acts and Corinthians; books which are much longer. No wonder Mark Dever simply entitles his Ephesians overview: "Grace"]

2) Christ -”Christ’s saving work is stressed in the opening….This emphasis persists throughout the letter: it is plain everywhere that who Christ is and what he does is at the heart of the Christian way.”

3) Christian Growth in Knowledge – “…this letter emphasizes divine disclosure. “I pray also tha the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know…’ (1:18), which is seen against the background of hte darkness of the Gentiles (4:18). The readers are ‘light in the Lord’ and they are to live as ‘children of light’ and ‘find out what pleases the Lord’ (5:8-10); they are to ‘understand what God’s will is’ (5:17). No one who has grappled with the thought of this letter can doubt the importance of growing in knowledge.” [See also the emphasis on 'mystery' 1:9, 3:3, 6:19]

4) Living Life in Conformity with God’s Salvation – “The kind of life the Gentiles live is contrasted with the new life believers live (4:17-5:21)…. This has important entailments for specific groups – wives and husbands, children and parents, slaves and masters (5:22-6:9)

5) The Church – “The letter’s emphasis on the church is unmistakable; Ephesus clearly tells us about the church universal than do other writings in the Pauline corpus.”

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Further Ephesians Resources

Audio material
Mark Dever Ephesians overview (1 sermon)
James Montgomery Boyce Ephesians overview (4 sermons!)
All Souls Ephesians series (12 sermons) – need to register by giving email address
R Kent Hughes Ephesians series (31 sermons)
John Piper Ephesians sermons (45 sermons)

Written material
Founder’s notes on Ephesians
Geoff Thomas Ephesians series
John MacArthur Ephesians series

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“Preaching With Downright Solemn Earnest” – Charles Spurgeon

June 19, 2007

There is nothing more profound than waking on a Sunday morning with the heartbeat of a sermon pounding loudly within you. There is nothing worse than feeling a ‘lightness’ about the task you’re about to perform. For today’s Classic Materials, Charles H Spurgeon speaks about the need for a “downright solemn earnestness” as preachers not only approach the pulpit, but plead with the congregation. The quote is taken from his dynamite work “The Soul Winner.”

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“So, my brethren, when it is not so much that you have got hold of your subject, but that it has got a hold of you, and you feel its grip with a terrible reality yourself, that is the kind of sermon that is most likely to impress others with it; so mind that your sermons always have something in them which shall really impress both yourself and the hearers whom you are addressing.

I think also that there should be an impressive delivery of our discourses.The delivery of some preachers is very bad; if yours is so, try to improve it in all possible ways. One young man wanted to learn singing, but he was told by the teacher ‘ You have only one tone to your voice, and that is outside the scale.’ So, there are ministers’ voices that have only the one tone, and there is no music in that one.

Do try, as far as you can, to make the very way in which you speak minister to the great end you have in view. Preach, for instance, as you would plead if you were standing before a judge, and begging for the life of a friend, or as if you were appealing to the Queen herself on behalf of someone very dear to you. Use such a tone in pleading with sinners as you would use if a gibbet were erected in this room, and you were to be hanged on it unless you could persuade the person in authority to release you. That is the sort of earnestness you need in pleading with men as ambassadors for God.

Try and make every sermon such that the most flippant shall see without any doubt that, if it be an amusement for them to hear you, it is no amusement for you to speak to them, but that you are pleading with them in downright solemn earnest about eternal matters.”

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