Archive for the ‘Nature of True Preaching’ Category

Nature of True Preaching 7

September 21, 2016

I would have you notice, moreover, that theology itself, in certain of its aspects, has shared in the pessimistic reaction. There are those, for example, whose reflections on the contemporary scent have landed them in hopeless dualism. The world, as they see it, is the battleground where dark demonic forces wage war unceasingly with the hosts of heaven. By this conflict God Himself is limited, thwarted in His purposes, constrained to strive and struggle indecisively for the realization of His holy will. It is quite oblivious of the repeated trumpet note of the New Testament—that at the cross once for all Christ raided the dark empire and vanquished the demons, and led captivity captive.          (James Stewart, Heralds of God)

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.

Colossians 1:16 For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities– all things have been created through Him and for Him. 17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.

I visited a local congregation in another city this past Lord’s Day. One of the reasons I attended this particular place is that it advertises (found this by Google) itself as Reformed. There is no real need to go into details about what it means to be Reformed, but after tasting this for one Sunday I did not find any flavor of Reformed in it. There was also little (at best) to nothing of Christ and His cross and His Gospel in it either. There was nothing of the note of the New Testament (as Stewart says above) that at the cross Christ has won the battle and the war. There was nothing of the cross and there was nothing of grace. It was all about how men were to be faithful.

Are men to be faithful? Well, of course they are. But can they be faithful simply by listening to stories of how the pastor was faithful? Can they learn about how they cannot be faithful apart from grace simply by listening to the pastor tell them that they need to make a decision to be faithful? While the preacher was not an example of true preaching, he did serve as an example of the great need for there to be true preaching and the importance of why there needs to be true preaching.

For there to be true preaching the glory of God in Christ needs to be the focus and not the preacher. I learned more about the preacher this past Sunday than I did anything else. In fact, I heard more about the preacher than anything else this past Sunday. He spent the majority of His time speaking of how he was faithful rather than the faithfulness of Christ. He spent his time talking about his experiences (as interpreted by him) rather than the Scriptures and of the glories of God in the face of Christ. The preacher cannot be the focus of the sermon in any way or it is not true preaching. Jesus Christ is the light of men and not the preacher.

I went to this congregation with the longing of hearing about the true glories of God and how they are demonstrated in and by Christ. The whole world was created through Christ and for Christ, so one would think that going with a desire to hear of Christ would be appropriate and biblical. I guess it should suffice to set out a series of points regarding preaching in light of the fact that Christ has vanquished the enemy at the cross.

1. Preaching should focus on Christ and His glory and not the preacher himself.
2. Preaching should set forth the victory of Christ and not the victories of the preacher.
3. Preaching should be God-centered and not centered on the preacher.
4. Preaching should always have Christ and His cross in view as that is all we have to boast in.
5. Preaching should deal with the Scriptures as interpreted by the truth of Christ, not the experiences of the preacher.
6. Preaching should glory in the Gospel and how it shows Christ as our hope rather than our hope being faithfulness or any other fruit that comes by grace alone.
7. Preaching should look to the faithfulness of Christ as our hope of faithfulness.
8. Preaching should empty sinners of hope in themselves and not put obedience on them apart from grace to do it.

Nature of True Preaching 6

May 6, 2016

I would have you notice, moreover, that theology itself, in certain of its aspects, has shared in the pessimistic reaction. There are those, for example, whose reflections on the contemporary scent have landed them in hopeless dualism. The world, as they see it, is the battleground where dark demonic forces wage war unceasingly with the hosts of heaven. By this conflict God Himself is limited, thwarted in His purposes, constrained to strive and struggle indecisively for the realization of His holy will. It is quite oblivious of the repeated trumpet note of the New Testament—that at the cross once for all Christ raided the dark empire and vanquished the demons, and led captivity captive. (James Stewart, Heralds of God)

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.

Colossians 1:16 For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities– all things have been created through Him and for Him. 17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.

Men and women (and children too) live in a world where the system is set up and running quite apart from the need (it thinks) for God. People are living and the world is operating where God is not needed, wanted, or mentioned. This is the atmosphere that the people preachers are preaching to breathe in and out every minute of every day. The people are bombarded with news of murder, war, rape, and all sorts of horrible crimes. There are mass shootings and countless numbers of other crimes. We see wickedness of all sorts as nations are fighting other nations and numbers of people are being slaughtered. There are atrocities by terrorists who brutally down and behead the infidels as they call them.

As the people file into the church buildings, they have been attacked by the thoughts of the world and by the darkness of the world. The little god that is preached (if even a little god) is not match for what the people hear day after day. The people hear of a sentimental god and of basic morality, though at times the “preacher” may give some strong statements on morality. But where is the living God of creation, Scripture, and of all reality? Where is the sovereign God who works all things after the council of His own will? Where is the God who is not out of control but punishes sin by hardening hearts and turning people over to more sin? Where is the God who is sovereign over every detail in life? This great and glorious God is not frustrated and is not unhappy in the slightest, but instead He delights to behold the Christ who dwells in His people in what they feel is great weakness.

Indeed the rulers of the earth are wicked and vile men who strive after their goals with ruthless abandonment, but let us remember that the living God reigns. There is not one ruler whose heart He cannot turn as He pleases and the moment He pleases. There is not one ruler who himself or herself is not ruled over absolutely by the living God. All of those evil people who are carrying out their evil deeds cannot lift one finger apart from the living God who holds their every breath in His hands. God is working all of their evil for a greater good that they cannot see or understand, but neither do they want or intend any greater good than the satisfaction of their own evil desires. God is not working the evil in them and is not working to give them evil desires, but He sovereignly works so that they carry out their evil desires in such a way that it always works for His glory.

Preaching involves the heralding of the truth of God in the world today. Preaching heralds forth the glory of God in His pure and perfect sovereignty so that the eyes of the people of God are taken off of the world as if it is all-powerful and those eyes are fixed on the living God and His glory. The world, even though it is appears to be given completely over to evil, is set up in a way where it works to the greatest good of the true sovereign of the universe. Lift up your eyes and behold the glory of God in calling out all the billions and billions of stars by name and upholding them in existence at His mere pleasure. Behold the living God who is upholding each human soul in existence by His mere pleasure and know that nothing can happen which He has not ordained from all eternity. That is the God that the people of God need to hear about and be reminded of week after week. That is the true God who has already won the ultimate victory at the cross. Heralds of God must preach the cross so that the glory and sovereignty of God and His glorious victory over evil will be set out.

Nature of True Preaching 4

April 4, 2016

Christianity sounded in men’s ears as good advice, rather than good news; an exhortation to be up and doing, to fight the good fight and follow the gleam, not the announcement of something which God had already done, decisively and for ever. There was accordingly an inclination to regard the preacher as the purveyor of religious homilies and ethical uplift, not the herald of the mighty acts of God, So far did the prevailing mood push the tendency to “change the glory of the uncorruptible God into the image of corruptible man” that there appeared a plagiarizing hymn, “Nearer, Mankind, to thee, Nearer to thee.” (James Stewart, Heralds of God)

While Stewart thought of those things as perhaps history, they were not and are not. These attitudes are still around and have never really left, though they seem to take on new dresses or appearances in each generation. The Gospel (good news) is not advice; it is the one thing that sinners must hear. The good news is about Christ and apart from Christ there is no salvation at all. The Gospel is not just exhorting people to do things, it is the good news of the glory of God in Christ. True preaching focuses on the essentials regardless of what else it is doing. The Gospel is good news to all kinds of sinners and saved sinners need to hear it and grow in the knowledge of it.

In the Bible the Gospel of the glory of God in the face of Christ is the central message and the essential message. When preachers (so-called) treat it as optional and as simply good advice, they are not true preachers. Men are only preachers when they are heralding the wonders and glories of God in a way where men are confronted with the truth of God and brought face to face with Christ. When a person is in some way in the presence of God, it is silly to tell the person little stories and humorous anecdotes. True preaching is about God and His glory and the zenith point of that is in Christ and the cross of Christ.

It is true that the simple reading of religious homilies and uplifting talks or moral encouragements are what people used to talk about and it is the same thing today as well. It is also true that some people like preachers who yell and scream and basically throw what appears to be fits as they yell about certain things in the Bible. But what is needed for true preaching are men who have been in the presence of God who come forth speaking the wonders and glories of God with reverence and awe. These are men who come from the presence of God and desire men and women to come into the presence of God with them. These are men with fire in their souls and deep convictions about the eternal truths of God and His eternal Gospel. They don’t have time to deal with the silliness of the day or mess around with little homilies and moral platitudes. They are going to deal with God and seek to have others deal with God as well.

The methods of church growth and church starting and all things of that type are focused on man-centered things. In those things the self-love of man is what is thought of the most and planned for rather than showing man how that self-love is sin. How full we can get buildings when we play the right music and speak little of sin and make man the center of it all. How happy people are to hear how God wants them healthy and rich. Oh how conservative ministers tend to do the same thing in order to keep their jobs, but of course they will not admit to that. The Gospel cannot be watered down or it becomes another gospel, yet we do this in order to keep from being called names. We dare not confront men with the glory of the sovereign God over all things. We dare not declare that God must bring men to Himself or men will not come. We dare not stand against free-will and declare that God is sovereign over those things as well. We dare not preach that the Bible tells us that all the nations are as less than nothing before Him and meaningless.

True preaching is in one sense to take the side of God against man and all the things of man. Part of the Gospel of free-grace is that God grants some people repentance and gives them faith. As long as men think that it is up to them and their choice, they will put things off. We must go after this man-centeredness and strive to speak to men with the hope that God will use our words to strip them of their pride and their self-righteousness. We must know that man must lose all hope in themselves if they are going to look to Christ alone. We must know that if men are going to rest in the Gospel of free-grace alone they must not rest in their own righteousness at all. Preaching is not just a nice guy saying nice things, but it is a man who is gripped with eternal realities and he is there to tell people the real nature of their hearts and the real nature of the sovereign God. We can be winsome and nice and people may become orthodox and moral and on their way to hell past our moral and orthodox pulpits. We need preaching that will thunder the greatness and the glory of God and beauty of the Gospel of free-grace. Nice preaching is no preaching at all as it tickles ears rather than the man being a herald sent from God.

Nature of True Preaching 3

April 3, 2016

It was an intoxicating prospect. Would not social effort, reinforced by all the resources of technology, speedily bring the New Jerusalem down to earth from heaven? Surely the wilderness wanderings of the children of men were over, and the path of progress must now lead straight and unbroken to the shining Utopia of their dreams. The Renaissance humanists and the ancient sophists had been perfectly right; man was indeed the measure of all things. His will was the architect of destiny. His intelligence, storming the secrets of the universe, had occupied the throne of God. “Thou art smitten, thou God,” shouted Swinburne vociferously, “thou are smitten; thy death is upon thee, O Lord. And the love-song of earth as thou divest resounds through the wind of her wings—Glory to Man in the highest! For Man is the master of things.” (James Stewart, Heralds of God)

The following was written several years ago when there was a more stated hope in what man could accomplish. However, this is still at the heart (though subdued some) of many if not most of people. If they do not share the optimism of humanists and how we are going to make great progress and usher in new eras, they do share in the thought of what man is. This is precisely what drives most of modern ways of thinking. The Bible teaches us clearly that man is at enmity with God and that man hates God and longs for God to be anything other than the sovereign ruler of all things. Man, in his enormous pride and love of self, strives after self and after ways of bringing God down to the level of man.

Preachers must know that they are to speak for the true God and go after the thoughts of man that rise against the living God whether by man’s own heart or the deception of the evil one. Man is constantly at war with the will of God by asserting his own will moment by moment. Man, since the fall, wants to determine his own way by his own wisdom and his own knowledge. Man wants to determine his daily life as well as his eternal destiny. True preaching must attack those by speaking the truth of who God is and the truth of who man is. Men are always at war with God regarding who God is and who they are, so true preaching must always exalt God and seek to humble man.

When we view churches in our day and the so-called preaching that comes from the pulpits (or stands or lecterns or…) we are assaulted with the diminishing of God and the exaltation of man. It is true that these are ways that will increase attendance and the offerings, but those are pitiful substitutes for the presence of the living God. How men are exalted at the expense of the glory of God in sermon after sermon and program after program, but God is really and truly sovereign. If we refuse to preach the absolute sovereignty of God, we are allowing for the modern way of thinking to hold sway over the people. We deal with people in the churches today who worship and unknown God. The living and true God is the One that we must sing and preach “Glory to God in the highest” and may man be humbled in the dust that they may behold His glory.

It seems as if modern preachers can only give intellectual sermons or non-intellectual ones as they either appeal to the intellect of people or they appeal to those driven by feelings. Knowledge puffs up and as such sermons that appeal to the intellect only will produce proud hearers. Sermons that appeal to the feelings of people try to move them with sob stories and motives of impending doom if they do not do what the preacher says. True preaching exalts God to the mind and to the heart. True preaching will not want men to get fired up at the expense of truth as that leads to false conversions. Either way, however, whether the preaching is intellectual only or feelings only, the real issue is that man is being treated as the measure of all things.

Arminian evangelistic preaching, for example, will play on the feelings of people and get them to pray a prayer or come down an aisle. What the Arminian evangelist is doing is to place men at the center of it all and treat them as if they determine their own destiny and that they are their own master. This could not be much farther from the truth. God is sovereign and on His throne. He must save sinners and all things are focused on Him. He intends all things for His own glory and true preaching will take that into account and preach that way. God is absolutely sovereign and does all things according to the counsel of His own will, which is to say that man is not in charge and man is not the architect of his own destiny in this life or in eternity. True preaching must always seek to exalt God and put man in his place. If not, humanism will reign in the absence of true preaching.

Nature of True Preaching 2

April 3, 2016

For you the issue has been settled. To bring men face to face with Christ has seemed to you a matter of such immense and overruling urgency that you propose to devote your whole life to doing nothing else. You are determined, God helping you, to go down to the world of men, and show them what you have learnt—what indeed you shall go on learning more clearly every day you live—about the eternity of redeeming love and the beauty of the Lord. (James Stewart, Heralds of God)

There are several points in the paragraph just above that point to true preaching. There is nothing in the paragraph that points to the ability to tell jokes and entertaining stories, nor does it speak of a charismatic personality. What it says is that the goal is to bring men face to face with Christ and that this is an immense and overruling agency that should bring a person to devote his whole life to. The desire to bring men face to face with Christ is a far different thing than simply teaching biblical passages and even truths from a pulpit. It is not just proclaiming things that are true, but it is the desire for those with eternal souls to come face to face with the living God in the Person of Christ.

We can think of some of the Old Testament prophets and how they would weep over the people. We think of Paul who while in Athens was provoked by the idolatry of the people. We can think of Paul again who said that he was willing to perish if only he could save some of his people. Above all, however, we should think of the Lord Jesus who was willing to divest Himself of heavenly garb for the lowly flesh of a servant and come to earth and suffer in the place of His enemies. In other words, preaching is not for those who simply want to give cold, intellectual lectures. Preaching requires a heart in the preacher and in order to truly preach the Gospel of a suffering Savior we must preach from hearts that have learned these things in the heart and we must have been taught of Christ Himself. A man who knows only the intellectual parts of Christianity is not fit to be a preacher. Preaching requires the heart of the living Christ to be worked in and shared with the preacher that the preacher may speak forth the words of Christ with the heart of Christ.

The preacher, at least in a sense, goes down to the people. This pictures at least two things. First, the true preacher is sent by God and as such comes from the presence of God to herald forth the things of God and the might works of God. The second thing is that the preacher has a specific purpose in going from God to men. He is not there to entertain them and amuse them, but he is there to show these men by his preaching what God Himself has shown the preacher. The preacher may use books, but it is the living God who teaches men spiritual things and gives men a sense of reverence and awe in His presence. The preacher must be taught of God in his heart or he will be taught of man. The preacher who does nothing but give a commentary (so to speak) of a text has not been taught of God the deep things of God.

The preacher that has been taught of God has no time to waste on silly things, but instead the Lord has put the things in his heart and he is a man on a mission and has a message from heaven for the people. This type of man has an earnestness that the one who has only book learning will never have. The man who has learned from God will want to learn more from God and so is always learning and always bringing forth new aspects of old truths. The Word of God will never run dry as long as ministers look for the mighty works and the wonderful attributes of God as displayed and manifested in Christ.

Note the things that Stewart mentions that the preacher learns more of all the time. These men learn more of the love and beauty of God. These things can be studied in an academic sense, but they can only be truly and spiritually learned when the living God teaches them. Here the humbled and broken heart of the preacher prays and seeks the Lord for more of a sight of them and a taste of them. Here the true preacher has a compulsion to know these things in the depths of his soul and by spiritual taste rather than by definitions and descriptions only. It is perhaps at this point that is the greatest difference between those who lean on book learning and the intellectual approach and those who seek the Lord to teach them. The one leaning on book learning can only preach/lecture what he has studied and learned, which means that he is limited to the wisdom of men. The one who is taught of the Lord has the Lord in heart and the Lord is sharing Himself with that man. This is the kind of preaching that men need to hear. This is the kind of preaching that God uses to awaken sinners and to feed His people.

Nature of True Preaching 1

April 1, 2016

I have chosen to stress one fundamental fact, namely, that preaching exists, not for the propagating of views, opinions and ideals, but for the proclamation of the mighty acts of God. This is demonstrably the New Testament conception of the preacher’s task; and it is this that will always give preaching a basic and essential place at the very heart of Christian worship. (James Stewart, Heralds of God)

At the very heart of preaching is indeed Christ and Him crucified, but in preaching Christ in accordance with Scripture we must understand that He is the shining forth of the glory of God. There is no preaching of the true God apart from preaching Christ and Him crucified, but also there is no preaching of the true Christ apart from preaching the glories of the true God that He came to manifest and set forth. True preaching is not a simply matter of standing up front and explaining a text of the Bible, it is to proclaim (be a herald of) the mighty acts of God. Not only that, but it is to proclaim the mighty acts of God in a way where God Himself is set forth.

Preaching has become something of a form of teaching and instructing rather than a man sent by God who stands and declares the wonders and glories of God. Worse than thinking that preaching is simply setting forth some propositions of truth to people from the Bible, it seems that preaching has become man-centered and as such men think they are preaching when they are telling jokes and stories. It is utterly an abuse of preaching to do anything but set forth the wonders and glories of God. Yes, it is true, man has obligations to God, but if we are not careful we fall into legalism and leave men with nothing more than duties to perform. The obligations that men are to carry out are to be carried out in the strength of grace or they will be done by religious men thinking they are carrying out deeds of righteousness. The primary obligation that man has to God is to love God with all of his being first and foremost and that starts with adoration and worship. The obligations of man start with worship and adoration and move from there.

Preaching, according to Martin Lloyd-Jones, was logic on fire. That is one way of getting at one point, but another way of thinking of preaching is to think of it as a man sent from God who is heralding the truth of who God is and of what He has done. Preaching is not just telling people abstract truths about the Bible, it is to bring people into the presence of the living God or perhaps it is to preach in such a way that God comes down and visits His people. No, this is not in the power of the preacher to bring this about, but the preacher is to seek the Lord Himself and to come to the task of preaching with love for God and the power of God in his soul that he may herald forth the truths of God and seek the face of God.

When preachers do nothing but set out doctrines and ideas, they have fallen from heralding the truths to simply giving reasons for them. A man does not preach when he is simply giving reasons for certain ideas, though indeed those reasons may be good and the ideas may be true, but a man is not preaching until his soul loves God and he longs for the people to know this God and love this God. It is not enough for men to inform; they must long for and aim to set forth the glories of God in a way that people begin to cry out in their hearts to know this God. Preaching is when men are filled with the wonders of God and long for people to know this God in their hearts and to be drawn to Him and be filled with Him.

We tend to think of worship as the time where there is singing, but preaching is the central part of the worship service. It is true that the modern day has lost this concept, but it should not be a matter of singing and then being instructed in the Bible. All that is done is to be worship of the living God. Preaching, then, must be an act of worship on the part of the preacher and it should be aimed at proclaiming the living God in such a way that people are drawn to adore and worship in the preaching. The fact that one who claims to be a preacher and stands up and does what is thought of as preaching does not mean that true preaching is done. I would argue that epitome of true preaching is when the preacher worships while he is preaching and the congregation is drawn to the living God in true worship. When that happens, God has come down and is dwelling in His people in a “sensible” way.