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When we come to hear the sermon or take up Holy Scripture to read it, let us not have this foolish presumption of thinking that we shall easily understand by our own wit everything that is said to us and we read; but let us come with reverence waiting entirely on God, well aware that we have need to be taught by his Holy Spirit, and that without that we can in no way understand what is shown us in his Word.
-John Calvin, Commenting on 1 Timothy 3:9. Quoted in Peter Adam, Speaking God’s Words: A Practical Theology of Preaching (Vancouver, BC: Regent College Publishing, 1996), 144.
Many Preachers have thought they were preaching Christ when, like Charles Sheldon, they pointed to him as a stellar example to be followed. It is possible to preach about Jesus, and even mention grace in the process, and yet be preaching law, calling people to reform themselves with a little help from their heavenly Friend. Such a message breeds either self-deluded complacency or self-contemptuous despair
Preaching Christ as Paul preached Christ, however, is preaching grace as the sole source and rationale of salvation and transformation from start to finish: grace that imparts life to the spiritually dead, grace that imputes Christ’s righteousness to the guilty, grace that instills the Spirit’s power in those otherwise impotent to want or to do good, grace that holds fast the feeble and fainting, securing pilgrims’ arrival at their destination in glory. Grace points hearers to the sovereign, saving initiative and intervention of God to do for guilty and paralyzed sinners what we could never do for ourselves, not even with heavenly help.
-Dennis E Johnson, His We Proclaim: Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 2007), 81.
Lord, how can man preach thy eternal word?
He is a brittle crazy glass:
Yet in thy temple thou dost him afford
This glorious and transcendent place,
To be a window, through thy grace.
But when thou dost anneal in glass thy story,
Making thy life to shine within
The holy Preacher’s; then the light and glory
More rev’rend grows, and more doth win:
Which else shows watrish, bleak, and thin.
Doctrine and life, colours and lights, in one
When they combine and mingle, bring
A strong regard and awe: but speech alone
Doth vanish like a flaring thing,
And in the ear, not conscience ring.
~ George Herbert, The Complete English Works, 64-65
From Justin Taylor’s blog, posted by Tony Reinke,
The very idea of a “Christless sermon” appalled Charles Spurgeon. It was a plague he confronted repeatedly (and vividly) in his own sermons. Although sometimes overstated to make his point, his words are a healthy challenge today over 100 years after his death. Here’s a small collection of colorful quips:
“The motto of all true servants of God must be, ‘We preach Christ; and him crucified.’ A sermon without Christ in it is like a loaf of bread without any flour in it. No Christ in your sermon, sir? Then go home, and never preach again until you have something worth preaching.” [7/9/1876; sermon #2899]
“Leave Christ out? O my brethren, better leave the pulpit out altogether. If a man can preach one sermon without mentioning Christ’s name in it, it ought to be his last, certainly the last that any Christian ought to go to hear him preach.” [undated; sermon #768]
“Leave Christ out of the preaching and you shall do nothing. Only advertise it all over London, Mr. Baker, that you are making bread without flour; put it in every paper, ‘Bread without flour’ and you may soon shut up your shop, for your customers will hurry off to other tradesmen. … A sermon without Christ as its beginning, middle, and end is a mistake in conception and a crime in execution. However grand the language it will be merely much-ado-about-nothing if Christ be not there. And I mean by Christ not merely his example and the ethical precepts of his teaching, but his atoning blood, his wondrous satisfaction made for human sin, and the grand doctrine of ‘believe and live.’”[10/23/1881; sermon #1625]
“I know one who said I was always on the old string, and he would come and hear me no more; but if I preached a sermon without Christ in it, he would come. Ah, he will never come while this tongue moves, for a sermon without Christ in it—a Christless sermon! A brook without water; a cloud without rain; a well which mocks the traveler; a tree twice dead, plucked up by the root; a sky without a sun; a night without a star. It were a realm of death—a place of mourning for angels and laughter for devils. O Christian, we must have Christ! Do see to it that every day when you wake you give a fresh savor of Christ upon you by contemplating his person. Live all the day, trying as much as lieth in you, to season your hearts with him, and then at night, lie down with him upon your tongue.” [3/6/1864; sermon #558]
“Sooner by far would I go to a bare table, and eat from a wooden porringer something that would appease my appetite, than I would go to a well-spread table on which there was nothing to eat. Yes, it is Christ, Christ, Christ whom we have to preach; and if we leave him out, we leave out the very soul of the gospel. Christless sermons make merriment for hell. Christless preachers, Christless Sunday school teachers, Christless class leaders, Christless tract distributors—what are all these doing? They are simply setting the mill to grind without putting any grist into the hopper. All their labor is in vain. If you leave Jesus Christ out, you are simply beating the air, or going to war without any weapon with which you can smite the foe.” [2/11/1866; sermon #3288]
“The Spirit of God bears no witness to Christless sermons. Leave Jesus out of your preaching, and the Holy Spirit will never come upon you. Why should he? Has he not come on purpose that he may testify of Christ? Did not Jesus say, ‘He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you’? Yes, the subject was Christ, and nothing but Christ, and such is the teaching which the Spirit of God will own. Be it ours never to wander from this central point: may we determine to know nothing among men but Christ and his cross.” [5/30/1880; sermon #1540]
“Where there is nothing of Christ, brethren, there is nothing of unction, nothing of savor, and a man is quite right not to attend such a ministry as that. Leave Christ out of your preaching, and you have taken the milk from the children, you have taken the strong meat from the men; but if your object as a teacher or preacher is to glorify Christ, and to lead men to love him and trust him, why, that is the very work upon which the heart of God himself is set. The Lord and you are pulling together.”[4/17/1887; sermon #2409]
“Christ not only supplies the necessities of his people, but he gives them abundant and superabundant joy in the luxuries of his grace. You do not really preach the gospel if you leave Christ out; if he be omitted, it is not the gospel. You may invite men to listen to your message, but you are only inviting them to gaze upon an empty table unless Christ is the very center and substance of all that you set before them.” [6/16/1878; sermon #2787]
I have greatly enjoyed the round table discussion hosted by the Gospel Coalition. It is so profitable to sit in on the discussions and here the the ideas and views of these wonderful pastors.
Why Expository Preaching?
Now false teaching may be guilty of stating less than [the apostolic message], of leaving out certain things. This is something which misleads so many Christians today. If a man says something flagrantly wrong they can see at once that he is wrong, but they are not so quick to see that a teaching may be wrong because it is less than the apostolic message, because it does not say certain things.
-D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression: It Causes and Cure, p. 183-184
Are we discerning on both ends? Sure there is the guy running around who says that Jesus was not divine and that we need to accept how each person choses to live their own “lifestyle”. Those teachers are not hard to spot by those who know their Bibles pretty well.
But then there are the slick guys that have a method of speaking which is extremely engaging. And they want to talk about a God of love, a Jesus that was divine, and how we need to be real about our faith. What is wrong with that? It looks and sounds so right and good.
But what is this love of God? Is it the love that pours from Himself onto undeserving people that have faith in the work of Jesus on the cross? Or is love really the demand that God accepts everybody regardless of what they do with Jesus?
Sure, Jesus is divine. But is Jesus the one who comes, pouring forth with love and grace upon the undeserving? Not accepting anything else but total trust and reliance upon Him? Then making disciples that follow His pattern no matter what the cost? Or his he either a faceless rule giver, or a image of one’s own political agenda? Does this Jesus want us to do all for the glory of the Father, as he did? Or is this Jesus a really spiritualized means of attaining our own selfish ends?
Is real faith living in light of the gospel of God and therefore charging the gates of sin because our justification is secure? Or is it a moral code which we have to abide by or else we fall from good standings from God? Is the law of God a blessing to us as we live every command of our Lord? Or is it our own determined law by which we just chose which things we want to abide by?
These are just a few examples of the questions to ask. We must be willing to ask the hard questions about what someone is teaching. Half of the needed medicine will not heal. So to, half of the truth will not heal. And not giving half of the needed medicine will do nothing to stop the disease. So to, only being told half the truth will not give you enough to be right with God and walk according to his statues.
Thus, we must being willing to ask, in a loving non-deriding way,” is this person giving me all that I need?” And if they are not, then we must discard them as unreliable teachers at best and heretical teachers at worst.
Faith grounded in human wisdom can be dislodged by the next smooth-talking spiritual salesperson who comes along. Faith rooted in God’s power, exerted improbably through unpolished herlds, will stand fast. The basis of the preacher’s confidence lies not in his intelligence or eloquence but in the sovereign God who makes him sufficient for the task as a gift of sheer grace. 2 Cor 3:4-6.
–Dennis Johnson, Him We Proclaim, 91
I counsel you, my dear friends, when you have a choice of the ministry you shall attend, do not select a man merely for his learning, nor according to his standing in society, nor according to the excellence of his speech. Remember, all these may be but as sounding brass, and as a tinkling cymbal; they may just mean nothing, and less than nothing.
But, on the other hand, should the preacher be illiterate, if God’s Spirit evidently rests upon the man, and he speaks from his heart to your heart, and God has blessed his message to you, it will be better for you to frequent the humblest shed where God is present, than to worship in the most respectable edifice where you will have nothing but the words of man, without the living power of the living God.
Oh, the power, the melting, conquering, transforming power of that dear cross of Christ! My brethren, we have but to abide by the preaching of it, we have but constantly to tell abroad the matchless story, and we may expect to see the most remarkable spiritual results
~Charles Spurgeon. HT:The Daily Spurgeon
“Him we proclaim.” Colossians 1:28
Him. Paul summarized his ministry in one word: “Him.” Not “Christ + _________” but Christ as the only focus. All other topics of interest had to fit in around Him and promote Him and make Him clearer. If they didn’t serve that purpose, Paul got bored quickly.
We. Whatever others may do, this is what we do. Whatever message others may shout out, we’ll shout louder about Jesus Christ. We are responsible to Him and will give an account to Him only and finally.
Proclaim. Not beg, as if He were poor. Not suggest, as if He were doubtful. Not propose, as if He were the premise of something larger. But proclaim as the only life that is truly life, accessible to everyone on terms of grace, received with the empty hands of faith, giving all, demanding all.
HT: Ray Ortlund