Archive for the ‘Classic Materials’ Category

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Commited to Verse By Verse Exposition?

July 1, 2008

“A famous example of verse by verse exposition is seen in his (Calvin’s) return to Geneva after his banishment three years earlier. In September 1541, Calvin re-entered his Geneva pulpit and resumed his exposition exactly where he had stopped three years earlier – on the next verse. Similarly, Calvin became seriously ill in the first week of October 1658 and did not return to the pulpit until Monday, June 12 1559 – when he resumed at the very next verse in the book of Isaiah.”

(Steve Lawson, The Expository Genius of John Calvin, page 33)

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Strive to be a Kind of Person, Not Preacher

June 4, 2008


(Photo by Vermin87 ; Creative Commons License)

“First, strive for practical, earnest, glad-hearted holiness in every area of your life. One of the reasons is that you can’t be something in the pulpit that you aren’t during the week – at least not for long. You can’t be blood earnest in the pulpit and habitually flippant at the deacon’s meeting and the church dinner. Nor can you display the glory of God in the gladness of your preaching if you are surly and dismal and unfriendly during the week. Don’t strive to be a kind of preacher. Strive to be a kind of person!” (John Piper, the Supremacy of God in Preaching, p 60)

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The Preacher’s Private Prayer

February 13, 2008

Another great quote on prayer comes from the powerful English preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon. I think it was R Kent Hughes who once expressed his surprise that few books on preaching contain a section on prayer. Spurgeon’s Lectures to my Students cannot face that criticism. Read below a most challenging portion from his chapter “The Preacher’s Private Prayer.”

“Your prayers will be your ablest assistants while your discourses are yet upon the anvil. While other men, like Esau, are hunting for their portion, you, by the aid, of prayer, will find the savoury meat near at home, and may say in truth what Jacob said so falsely, “The Lord brought it to me.” If you can dip your pens into your hearts, appealing in earnestness to the Lord, you will write well; and if you can gather your matter on your knees at the gate of heaven, you will not fail to speak well.

Prayer, as a mental exercise, will bring many subjects before the mind, and so help in the selection of a topic, while as a high spiritual engagement it will cleanse your inner eye that you may see truth in the light of God. Texts will often refuse to reveal their treasures till you open them with the key of prayer. How wonderfully were the books opened to Daniel when he was in supplication! How much Peter learned upon the housetop!

The closet is the best study. The commentators are good instructors, but the Author Himself is far better, and prayer makes a direct appeal to Him and enlists Him in our cause. It is a great thing to pray one’s self into the spirit and marrow of a text, working into it by sacred feeding thereon, even as the worm bores its way into the kernel of the nut.

Prayer supplies a leverage for the uplifting of ponderous truths. One marvels how the stones of Stonehenge could have been set in their places; it is even more to be enquired after whence some men obtained such admirable knowledge of mysterious doctrines: was not prayer the potent machinery which wrought the wonder? Waiting upon God often turns darkness into light. Persevering enquiry at the sacred oracle uplifts the veil and gives grace to look into the deep things of God.

A certain Puritan divine at a debate was observed frequently to write upon the paper before him; upon others curiously seeking to read his notes, they found nothing upon the page but the words, “More light, Lord,” “More light, Lord,” repeated scores of times: a most suitable prayer for the student of the Word when preparing his discourse.

You will frequently find fresh streams of thought leaping up from the passage before you, as if the rock had been struck by Moses’ rod; new veins of precious ore will be revealed to your astonished gaze as you quarry God’s Word and use diligently the hammer of prayer. You will sometimes feel as if you were entirely shut up, and then suddenly a new road will open before you.

He who hath the key of David openeth, and no man shutteth. If you have ever sailed down the Rhine, the water scenery of that majestic river will have struck you as being very like in effect to a series of lakes. Before and behind the vessel appears to be enclosed in massive walls of rock, or circles of vine-clad terraces, till on a sudden you turn a corner, and before you the rejoicing and abounding river flows onward in its strength.

So the laborious student often finds it with a text; it appears to be fast closed against you, but prayer propels your vessel, and turns its prow into fresh waters, and you behold the broad and deep stream of sacred truth flowing in its fulness, and bearing you with it. Is not this a convincing reason for abiding in supplication? Use prayer as a boring rod, and wells of living water will leap up from the bowels of the Word. Who will be content to thirst when living waters are so readily to be obtained!

The best and holiest men have ever made prayer the most important part of pulpit preparation. It is said of M’Cheyne, “Anxious to give his people on the Sabbath what had cost him somewhat, he never, without an urgent reason, went before them without much previous meditation and prayer. His principle on this subject was embodied in a remark he made to some of us who were conversing on the matter. Being asked his view of diligent preparation for the pulpit, he reminded us of Exodus xxvii. 20. ‘Beaten oil-beaten oil for the lamps of the sanctuary.’

And yet his prayerfulness was greater still. Indeed, he could not neglect fellowship with God before entering the congregation. He needed to be bathed in the love of God. His ministry was so ‘much a bringing out of views that had first sanctified his own soul, that the healthiness of his soul was absolutely needful to the vigour and power of his ministrations.” “With him the commencement of all labour invariably consisted in the preparation of his own soul. The walls of his chamber were witnesses of his prayerfulness and of his tears, as well as of his cries.”

Prayer will singularly assist you in the delivery of your sermon; in fact, nothing can so gloriously fit you to preach as descending fresh from the mount of communion with God to speak with men. None are so able to plead with men as those who have been wrestling with God on their behalf.

It is said of Alleine, “He poured out his very heart in prayer and preaching. His supplications and his exhortations were so affectionate, so full of holy zeal, life and vigour, that they quite overcame his hearers; he melted over them, so that he thawed and.mollified, and sometimes dissolved the hardest hearts.” There could have been none of this sacred dissolving of heart if his mind had not been previously exposed to the tropical rays of the Sun of Righteousness by private fellowship with the risen Lord.

A truly pathetic delivery, in which there is no affectation, but much affection, can only be the offspring of prayer. There is no rhetoric like that of the heart, and no school for learning it but the foot of the cross. It were better that you never learned a rule of human oratory, but were full of the power of heavenborn love, than that you should master Quintilian, Cicero, and Aristotle, and remain without the apostolic anointing.

Prayer may not make you eloquent after the human mode, but it will make you truly so, for you will speak out of the heart; and is not that the meaning of the word eloquence? It will bring fire from heaven upon your sacrifice, and thus prove it to be accepted of the Lord.

As fresh springs of thought will frequently break up during prepara-tion in answer to prayer, so will it be in the delivery of the sermon. Most preachers who depend upon God’s Spirit will tell you that their freshest and best thoughts are not those which were premeditated, but ideas which come to them, flying as on the wings of angels; unexpected treasures brought on a sudden by celestial hands, seeds of the flowers of paradise, wafted from the mountains of myrrh.

Often and often when I have felt hampered, both in thought and expression, my secret groaning of heart has brought me relief, and I have enjoyed more than usual liberty. But how dare we pray in the battle if we have never cried to the Lord while buckling on the harness! The remembrance of his wrestlings at home comforts the fettered preacher when in the pulpit: God will not desert us unless we have deserted him. You, brethren, will find that prayer will ensure you strength equal to your day.

As the tongues of fire came upon the apostles, when they sat watching and praying, even so will they come upon you. You will find yourselves, when you might perhaps have flagged, suddenly upborne, as by a seraph’s power. Wtieels of fire will be fastened to your chariot, which had begun to drag right heavily, and steeds angelic will be, in a moment harnessed to your fiery car, till you climb the heavens like Elijah, in a rapture of flaming inspiration.”

(Note: this is a re-post from Jan 07).

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Called to Preach #2 – The Church and the Call

February 5, 2008

The following quote from Richard Bewes – previously Rector of All Souls, London – valuably contributes to our considerations on a ‘call to preaching’:

“It is right, of course that a flame is lit directly within the convictions of God’s messenger. The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah was aware of an uncontainable fire burning inside himself (Jer. 20:9). In the New Testament days the apostles Peter and John, faced by an official ban on their public speaking replied, ‘We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.’ (Acts 4:20). Martyrs down the centuries, evangelists great and small, street preachers, Sunday School teachers and missionaries have all sensed a similar urge.

Acknowledging all of this, we must recognise that it is to the church at large – and to no other group on earth – that the responsibility of declaring the message of God has been entrusted. There must come a point, then, when every Christian who senses an inward urge to speak must come to terms with the church of Jesus Christ. Do the believers, who make up the church, recognise that this speaker has a call? If so, let them issue the invitation to speak, and provide a suitable format and platform.

Await your moment….Let God, through his people, push you into the arena, rather than push yourself forward. Let the church recognise your speaking, when it is ready to do so.”

(Richard Bewes, Speaking in Public Effectively, pg 19,20)

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Called to Preach #1 – Ash On the Four Criteria

February 5, 2008

With The Preaching Course commencing this Thursday, Unashamed Workman will be varying in format. For the next week or so I hope to point to a number of articles relating to the theme of being “called to preach.”

First up is Christopher Ash with How Do I Know If Preaching Is For Me?. In this eight page article, Ash suggests four criteria to help discern a possible preaching calling. They are: 1) godly character, 2) a clear gospel, 3) ability to teach, and 4) a love for people.

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A Brain-Orientated Preacher?

January 29, 2008

Today’s Classic Materials is a quote from Geoff Thomas, pastor of Alfred Place Baptist Church in Aberystwyth, Wales

“One of the great perils that face preachers . . .is the constant danger of lapsing into a purely cerebral form of proclamation, which falls exclusively upon the intellect. Men become obsessed with doctrine and end up as brain-oriented preachers. There is consequently a fearful impoverishment in their hearers emotionally, devotionally, and practically. Such pastors are men of books and not men of people; they know the doctrines, but they know nothing of the emotional side of religion. They set little store upon experience or upon constant fellowship and interaction with almighty God. It is one thing to explain the truth of Christianity to men and women; it is another thing to feel the overwhelming power of the sheer loveliness and enthrallment of Jesus Christ and communicate that dynamically to the whole person who listens so that there is a change of such dimensions that he loves Him with all his heart and soul and mind and strength.”

Geoffrey Thomas, “Powerful Preaching,” chapter 14 in The Preacher and Preaching, edited by Samuel T. Logan. Presbyterian and Reformed, 1986, p. 369 (HT: Expositors Quote for the Week)

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‘The Legate of The Skies’

January 22, 2008

Taking a break from some pulpit-prep this evening, I came across Ray Ortlund’s quote today on “The Pulpit.” Thanks Ray (and William Cowper!) for some inspiration just when I need it:

“The pulpit therefore — and I name it, filled
With solemn awe, that bids me well beware
With what intent I touch that holy thing —
The pulpit, when the satirist has at last,
Strutting and vapouring in an empty school,
Spent all his force, and made no proselyte —
I say the pulpit, in the sober use
Of its legitimate, peculiar powers,
Must stand acknowledged, while the world shall stand,
The most important and effectual guard,
Support, and ornament of virtue’s cause.
There stands the messenger of truth; there stands
The legate of the skies; his theme divine,
His office sacred, his credentials clear.
By him, the violated Law speaks out
Its thunders, and by him, in strains as sweet
As angels use, the Gospel whispers peace.
He ‘stablishes the strong, restores the weak,
Reclaims the wanderer, binds the broken heart,
And, armed himself in panoply complete
Of heavenly temper, furnishes with arms
Bright as his own and trains, by every rule
Of holy discipline, to glorious war,
The sacramental host of God’s elect.”

(William Cowper, “The Task”)

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John Piper – ‘Who but Preachers’?

January 15, 2008

“Christian preachers, more than all others, should know that people are starving for God. If anyone in all the world should be able to say, ‘I have looked upon thee in the sanctuary, beholding thy power and glory,’ it is the herald of God.

Who but preachers will look out over the wasteland of secular culture and say, ‘Behold your God!’?

Who will tell the people that God is great and greatly to be praised?

Who will paint for them the landscape of God’s grandeur?

Who will remind them with tales of wonder that God has triumphed over every foe?

Who will cry out above every crisis, ‘Your God reigns!’?

Who will labour to find words that can carry the ‘gospel of the glory of the blessed God’?”

(John Piper, The Supremacy of God in Preaching, p 108-109)

NOTE: Tomorrow, Derek Thomas will be answering 10 Questions for Expositors.

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The Greatest Danger in Sermon Preparation

December 18, 2007

“The greatest danger you will face is that you will focus too narrowly or too quickly on certain features of the text and, by neglecting the surrounding details, will misinterpret the whole. I confess that at times I have discovered, only moments before preaching a sermon, an aspect of a text that eluded my attention (and undercut my conclusions) because I had focused too exclusively on the part of the text that interested me.”

(Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching, page 107)

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Not Working Hard Enough?

December 5, 2007

Next year I’m facilitating a preaching course for some men in our church. Amongst the many challenging quotes I’ve noted down in preparation is a frank but factual comment from Jay Adams. Not only do I agree with the sentiment, I repent. Too often I feel that ‘lure of laziness’ when another sermon passage confronts me. Though I will never fail to work on a given passage, it is certainly possible not to work hard.

Oh that we preachers might be that ‘hardworking farmer’ (2 Tim 2:6) and ‘unashamed workman‘ (2 Tim 2:15) in our efforts to sow God’s word!

“I have had the opportunity to hear much preaching over the last few years, some very good, some mediocre, most very bad. What is the problem with preaching? There is no one problem of course…But if there is one thing that stands out most, perhaps it is the problem I mention today. What I am about to say may not strike you as being as specific as other things I have written, yet I believe it is at the bottom of a number of other difficulties. My point is that good preaching demands hard work. From listening to sermons and from talking to hundreds of preachers about preaching, I am convinced that the basic reason for poor preaching is the failure to spend adequate time and energy in preparation. Many preachers – perhaps most – simply don’t work long enough on their sermons.”

(Jay Adams, “Editorial: Good Preaching is Hard Work”, the Journey of Pastoral practice 4, no 2, 1980: 1)

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Review – Literary Study Bible

December 4, 2007

Today I review the ESV Literary Study Bible (ed. Leyland and Philip Ryken) over at the Discerning Reader.

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The punchline?

“In conclusion, I really have very little to say in critique of The ESV Literary Study Bible. Though it won’t be all that one requires for in-depth study of biblical books, it is ideal for ordinary daily readings. One minor gripe I have is that the pages (at least in my edition) are a little on the flimsy side and I do fear they may not withstand the rough handling my Bibles sometimes endure. I also find the print a little on the small side, though the font style is very readable.These nickpicking points aside, its hard to find fault with this volume. The strongest contribution of this edition is how it encourages us to read the bible as a whole, each book as a part of that whole, and each paragraph, sentence and word as part of the book and bible within which it falls. Not a bad contribution, considering that the bible is a piece of literature with a single Divine Author.”

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Preach the Gospel More Than Ever

November 27, 2007

Preachers, today’s Classic Materials is one to print out and stick to the side of your computer screen. Charles Spurgeon, ‘the prince of preachers’, on why we should preach the gospel more than ever.

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“Today there is not very much gospel about; the church has given it up; a great many preachers preach everything but living truth. This is sad; but it is a strong reason why you and I should teach more gospel than ever. I have often thought to myself – other men teach Socialism, deliver lectures, or collect a band of fiddlers, that they may gather a congregation; but I will preach the gospel. I will preach more gospel than ever if I can; I will stick more to the cardinal point.

The other brethren can attend to the odds and ends, but I will keep to Christ crucified. To the men of vast ability, who are looking to the events of the day, I would say, ‘Allow one poor fool to keep to preaching the gospel.’ Beloved teachers, be fools for Christ, and keep to the gospel. Don’t be afraid: it has life in it, and it will grow: only you bring it out, and let it grow.”

(Charles Spurgeon, quoted in Ryken and Wilson, Preach the Word, p205)