I just listened to Max McLean’s performance of Jonathan Edwards’ sermon – “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” It is considered the most famous sermon ever preached in US history. The sermon is available as a free download here. Actually it has been edited down to about 20 minutes of actual sermon (rather than 43), with extra comments before and after – think radio show. Nonetheless, it’s free and worth hearing.
It is worth hearing both as a listener to be ministered to, and as a preacher to notice a few things. First and foremost, listen as a listener. Get a sense of why people trembled and cried out for mercy. Listen, not for rhetorical power (although I’ll come to that), but for the strong truth of the gospel itself – that’s where “power” is. Listen to stir your appreciation for God’s favor. Listen to stir a passion for the lost, to light afresh a flame for evangelism.
And you can listen as a preacher too. Even this shortened version allows us to hear a classic example of the power of a controlling idea. You will appreciate powerful and vivid sensory imagery conveyed in well-chosen words. Surely, this will stir prayer for your own preaching and those that will hear it.
Monday is a good day to take stock, take a deep breath and recommit ourselves to God’s work. That doesn’t just mean being willing to ever preach again, although for some that might be a good step on a Monday morning! It means recommitting to really do the work of biblical preaching, rather than just going through the motions. A couple of quotes from Philip Ryken’s chapter “Preaching that Reforms” in Preach the Word:
If we are living in an age of relativism and narcissism, what are the implications for preaching? Obviously, Bible teaching will be out of favor. As sinners, we generally do not like to have our selfishness exposed; but this is one of the primary purposes of preaching the Bible. In a post-Christian culture, the last thing people want to hear is the truth about their self-centeredness. What preaching there is, therefore, tends to be therapeutic rather than prophetic. It aims to make people feel better about who they are rather than to challenge them to become, by God’s grace, what they are not. (p192)
How tempting it is to preach messages that are therapeutic, rather than prophetic. It’s hard to choose to preach the Word when its message is uncomfortable, unpopular, “unsophisticated” or somehow might offend somebody. Later in the chapter, Ryken addresses the issue of evangelism:
This kind of proclamation requires boldness, a virtue that is sadly lacking in the contemporary church. One of the reasons evangelicalism is in decline is because Christians have lost their nerve. In these post-Christian times, we tend to be a subculture rather than a counterculture. (p198 )
I am not encouraging insensitive brash proclamation, or unnecessarily offensive preaching. I am just taking stock of my own ministry again this morning and renewing my vision to preach the Word. It’s the greatest privilege, but it demands an appropriate level of boldness too. Let’s set our sights on our Lord afresh in order to renew our vision of Him, His Word, His building of His church, His mission to the world … and our privilege of participation in that.
Today is a great day in America. I’m not referring to the election (every other blog on earth is writing about that, but I’ll keep my views in my prayers). I’m referring to the 90th birthday of Billy Graham. What a man of God he is!
I heard him live on two occasions in England when I was just eight. Five years later they had the follow-up “crusade” with live satellite links around the country. I remember sitting there as a whole family in our church party responded to the call and went forward. In my short life I’ve seen leaders fall into disrepute, but not Billy Graham. I have heard the criticisms coming from some quarters, but I have also enjoyed the benefit of being influenced by people saved under Billy Graham’s preaching.
His eyesight is failing, his hearing too, his body is growing weak, but he claims that although the body grows weaker, the spirit doesn’t have to as well. He is writing another book. He is still a man of prayer. Perhaps in Billy Graham we see a great example of a man of God who has lived out an Acts 6:4 life – prioritizing prayer and the Word. As his spokesman Larry Ross said, “The lion still has a roar!”
Let’s praise God for the privilege we have of seeing Billy Graham press on to the finish line. Let’s pray that we will each be as faithful, as humble, and as prayerful as Billy Graham. We may not preach the gospel live to 215million people, but let us give everything we can in the ministry God gives to us and try to finish as well as Billy Graham.