Some of the Bible’s teachings are hard to accept. In fact, some people find many of the Bible’s teachings to be unpalatable and even offensive. In our historical ignorance, we often beleive that these criticisms of God’s word are new. In fact, many who would seek to alter God’s word do so with the false belief that they are more enlightened than previous generations and as a result are better able to determin what is appropriate to be practiced and what should be jettisoned.
Writing nearly one hundered fifter years ago, Charles Spurgeon dealt with similar issues in nineteenth century London. He lamented hearing ministers “with prudish and mock-modesty, who would like to alter the Bible” because they were afraid of it. They feared either the offense of the gospel or the response of their people. Or perhaps they didn’t fear at all, they simply thought themselves cultured enough to alter the words of the Bible to suit them better.
Of course Christians today are just as inclined as they were in previous centuries to change God’s word to fit their situation. We would all do well today to heed Spurgeon’s words,
Pity that they were not born when God lived far–far back that they might have taught God how to write. Oh, impudence beond all bounds! Oh full-blown self-conceit! To attempt to dictate to the All wise–to teach the Omniscient and instruct the Eternal. Strange that there should be men so vile as to use the penknife of Jehoiakim to cut out passages of the word, because they are unpalatable. O ye who dislike certain portions of Holy writ, rest assured that your taste is corrupt, and nthat God will not stay for your little opinion.
I tend to identify … Continue reading
My favorite T-Shirt has a picture of Charles Spurgeon on the back with this quote:
I am never ashamed to avow my self a Calvinist; do not hesitate to take the name of Baptist; but if I am asked what is my creed, I reply, ‘It is Jesus Christ.’
Somewhere along the way, it seems that Christ has ceased to be creed enough for us Baptists. It is sad that today, a claim to be neither Arminian or Calvinistic, but biblical, is seen as prideful rather than as an honest attempt to be faithful. I fear that J. C. Ryle may have been correct when he wrote,
I have long come to the conclusion that men may be more systematic in their statements than the Bible, and may be led into grave error by idolatrous veneration of a system.
Ryle, expounding on John 3:16, goes on to argue that the Bible is filled with many holy tensions that we must accept as consistent with the character and nature of a holy God rather than seek to explain them all away. God both loves the whole world and hates sin and sinners. The presence of Christ is good for the whole world and not just for the elect. The Bible affirms both God’s sovereign, divine election and man’s responsibility to repent and believe. If regeneration is seen to be the work of God in the life of an unbeliever, conversion is the work of the unbeliever in response to a holy God.
We have for too long hung our hats on theological systems that divide rather than unite. To a large degree, we will not be able to avoid the distinctions that exist within our theological traditions. Some people are more or less reformed than others. This is a fact of … Continue reading
Some feel that application of the sermon should be the sole responsibility of the Holy Spirit and not of the preacher. For those with such concerns, it is worthwhile to consider statements on application from some leading advocates of preaching. Spurgeon realized that the greatest function of any sermon was the application of the gospel to the life of the unconverted and so urged pastors to plead for conversion at the close of every sermon;
Do not close a single sermon without addressing the ungodly, but at the same time set yourself seasons for a determined and continuous assault upon them, and proceed with all our soul to the conflict.
He further encouraged his students,
There is a such thing as having too much to say and sating it till hearers are sent home loathing rather than longing…You should make your sermons like a loaf of bread, fit for eating and in convenient form…One thought fixed on the mind will be better than fifty thoughts made to flit across the ear. One tenpenny nail driven home and clenched will be more useful than a score of tin-tacks loosely fixed, to be pulled out again in an hour.
Concerning sermon conclusions, John Stott writes,
A true conclusion, however, goes beyond recapitulation to personal application. Not that all application should be left to the end, for our text needs to be applied as we go along. Nevertheless, it is a mistake to disclose too soon the conclusion to which we are going to come. If we do, we lose people’s sense of expectation. It is better to keep something up our sleeve. Then we can leave it to the … Continue reading
The Bible and only the Bible is the ultimate and infallible spiritual authority in the lives of believers. We have fought a series of skirmishes over the infallibility of Scripture.
But, who today believes as Calvin did? Who today treats the Bible as Calvin did? Who today thinks that the Bible opened in the pulpit is a lit stick of dynamite, one that mere mortals are ordained to just throw out into the world? How many preachers have sermons on file that they would not dare to preach without purchasing some extra life insurance first?
More preachers ought to ascend into the pulpit with the look that Wylie Coyote had on his face when he was just handed the anvil.
Spurgeon used to walk up the stairs to his pulpit, and every step he would say “I believe in the Holy Spirit”, “I believe in the Holy Spirit”…Now why was this? Is this because Spurgeon had butterflies? Why is Saint Paul after many years in ministry asking believers of his day to pray for boldness so that he could preach the Word? Why his he praying for boldness? It is not because Paul struggled with stage fright. That’s not why. He knew what happened when he preached the Word.
There was an Anglican cleric who said famously, “you know wherever the Apostle Paul went, there was either a revival or a riot. Everywhere I go they serve tea.”
–Douglas Wilson, From his talk, The Sacred Script in the Theater of God, given at the 2009 Desiring God National Conference.
With so much talk about who Southern Baptists really are historically and what theological stream we fall into (or are birthed from), I am inclined to remind us all that we are neither Calvinist nor Arminian nor even are we all somewhere in between. Emir Caner’s recent essay that can be found in the Christian Index on Daniel Marshall and Kiokee Baptist Church (which I have visited) traces the Sandy Creek tradition from North Carolina into Georgia and essentially makes the argument that from the beginning, Southern Baptists have been descendants of Anabaptists and have been a theological hybrid who’s only ardent theological perspective was the perseverance of the believer.
Though well written and done so specifically for the Georgia Baptist Convention, all (including Caner I have no doubt) know and agree that Southern Baptists are and have been formed not only from the Sandy Creek tradition, but from the Charleston tradition as well. The fact remains that we as Southern Baptists are an eclectic blend of staunchly reformed stiffs and free wheeling almost Arminians. We cannot be packaged into a neat theological box, but we must find the things upon which we can agree, and that must be evangelical faith.
To be Southern Baptist is to be more than our Theological perspectives, but it must never be less. Certainly, there is room in our tradition for varying theological convictions, but must there continue to be room for theological wars. There is room for Baptist churches who extend an alter call and there are multitudes of people who have been saved in this kind of tradition, but there is also room for churches who have no alter call. After all, tons of people have come to know Christ without … Continue reading
Many hearers lose much blessing through criticizing too much, and meditating too little; and many more incur great sin by calumniating those who live for the good of others. True pastors have enough of care and travail without being burdened by undeserved and useless fault-finding. We have something better to do than to be for ever answering every malignant or frivolous slander which is set afloat to injure us…there are tender, loving spirits who feel the trial very keenly, and are sadly hindered in brave service by cruel assaults. The rougher and stronger among us laugh at those who ridicule us, but upon others the effect is very sorrowful…
As ministers we are very far from being perfect, but many of us are doing our best, and we are grieved that the minds of our people should be more directed to our personal imperfections than to our divine message…
Filled with the same spirit of contrariety, the men of this world still depreciate the ministers whom God sends them and profess that they would gladly listen if different preachers could be found. Nothing can please them, their cavils are dealt out with heedless universality. Cephas is too blunt, Apollos is too flowery, Paul is too argumentative, Timothy is too young, James is too severe, John is too gentle…
Well then, let each servant of God tell his message in his own way. To his own Master he shall stand or fall…Judge the preacher if you like, but do remember that there is something better to be done than that, namely, to get all the good you can out of him, and pray his Master put more good into him.
-C.H. Spurgeon, quoted in Mark Driscoll, Religion Saves.
I’d like to think that reading is truly a spiritual discipline. We certainly know that’s the truth when we think of the Bible. As preachers and teachers of God’s Word, we should constantly be reading, studying, and applying the Bible to our lives and within our ministries. But, we don’t just read the Bible, do we? Today’s generation has more books, articles, blogs , tweets, reviews (such as this one), updates, etc. than any other previous generation. Unfortunately, I think that this plethora of information keeps us continually focused on reading new books, looking for new ideas, and listening to new people. Sometimes we may just need to reread and apply a book we’ve read before. That’s the experience I recently had with Spiritual Leadership, from J. Oswald Sanders. This book is among John Maxwell’s favorites, so it can’t be a miss. I had a chance to read it seven or eight years ago and decided recently to reread it. I’m glad I did. The leadership principles and truths have been intensely relevant and convicting to my understanding and practice of leadership . Let me share a few with you.
- “Example is much more potent than precept” (page 41).
- “True leadership is always from the top down, never from the bottom up. It was leadership from the rear that led Israel back into the wilderness” (page 113).
- “Wesley told the younger ministers of the Methodist societies to read or get out of the ministry” (page 102). “’One reason why people are unable to understand great Christian classics is that they are trying to understand without any intention of obeying them’” (from A.W. Tozer page … Continue reading
Even in little things the minister should take care that his life is consistent with his ministry. He should be especially careful never to fall short of his word. This should be pushed even to scrupulosity; we cannot be too careful; truth must not only be in us, but shine from us.
-C.H. Spurgeon, Lectures To My Students (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1954), 20.
I recently finished Preaching Christ, by Charles P. McIlvaine, who was a pastor and eventually the chaplain at West Point, in addition to a variety of other accomplishments. This book was filled with quotable quotes from McIlvaine, who authored this initially as a charge delivered to the clergy of the Diocese of Ohio in June 1863.
Though many nuggets of wisdom and truth abound in this small volume (just Search McIlvaine on this site and you will discover many quotes), I found it a dreadfully slow read and at times difficult to follow. However, it was not all bad. Take for instance the jewels that are the quotes below:
It is very possible to preach a great deal of important religious truth, and so that there shall be no admixture of imporant error in doctrine or precept–yea, truth having an important relation to Christ and his office–and yet not to preach Christ…Religious truths are not the gospel, except as, like John the Baptist, they point to the Lamb of God.
The best chapter in the book was actually not written by McIlvaine, but was the first sermon preached by C.H. Spurgeon at the Metropolitan Tabernacle included in this volume by the good people at Banner of Truth. As one considers the subject of Preaching Christ, there may not be a better teacher outside of Holy writ than Spurgeon himself, and in his first sermon at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, he lays a foundation and vision for the ministry of the building that will revolve solely in, on, and around the person of Jesus Christ. Spurgeon warns against doctrinal preaching that is neither experimental (experiential in our own day would probably be a better word) nor practical:
Must I not, if I preach … Continue reading
Charles Spurgeon is one of the best preachers in the history of the church and is arguably the best preacher of the last two centuries. However, his expositional legacy is not the only thing that Spurgeon taught and left behind. Larry J. Michael shows in Spurgeon on Leadership, that many of the leadership principles practiced by Spurgeon in growing a monumental ministry can and should be replicated and practiced today.
Spurgeon had an incredible work ethic and an uncanny ability to multi-task. In addition to leading his family well (they had family devotions nightly), Spurgeon was the “father” to hundreds of children who came through the orphanage he founded, he was regularly involved in the pastors college, he preached constantly, and was known to write as many as 500 letters per week (hand-written with a quill). Spurgeon was also a visionary pastor who’s vision revolved around the purposes of God:
If we do not see souls saved today or tomorrow, we will still work on…We are laboring for eternity, and we count not our work by each day’s advance, as men measure theirs; it is God’s work, and must be measured by His standard. Be ye well assured that, when time, and things created, and all that oppose themselves to the Lord’s truth, shall be gone, every earnest sermon preached, and every importunate prayer offered, and every form of Christian service honestly rendered, shall remain embedded in the might structure which God from all eternity has resolved to raise to His own honor.
A great leader and organizer was Spurgeon without a doubt, but his ultimate goal in all of his endeavors was not to lead well, but to see sinners saved and God glorified. I am concerned that … Continue reading