A Spurgeon Preaching Thought: Bible

“Love your Bibles. Keep close to your Bibles.” 

Perhaps one of the greatest privileges of the preacher is also one of the greatest dangers: time with the Bible.  We have to go above and beyond a casual reading of Scripture in order to speak it out to others.  The risk is that it become a professional tool, rather than a life-giving gift from God himself.

One area where this can show is in that of our confidence in Scripture.  We need to be confident in the Bible, but where does that confidence come from?  It is easy to settle for an academic confidence, birthed out of knowing the facts that build a presentation on the authenticity and authority of the Bible.  But as John Piper has helpfully challenged us in recent years, our confidence should not be built on something that is external to Scripture itself.  Here’s Spurgeon on this matter:

We accept it as the very word of the living God, every jot and tittle of it, not so much because there are any external evidences which go to show its authenticity, — a great many of us do not know anything about those evidences, and probably never shall,– but because we discern an inward evidence in the words themselves. They have come to us with a power that no other words ever had in them, and we cannot be argued out of our conviction of their superlative excellence and divine authority. (Quoted p41 of Reeves.)

Rather than gradually learning a convincing argument for the Bible’s reliability, we need to be meeting Christ there so that our confidence is birthed by the Spirit himself at work in us.  What would Piper say, quoting Edwards, that we “ascend to the truth of the gospel in a single step, which is its divine glory…” there is more to chase there, but for now, let’s finish with a paragraph that we could well pray with Spurgeon:

O living Christ, make this a living word to me. Thy word is life, but not without the Holy Spirit. I may know this book from beginning to end, and repeat it all from Genesis to Revelation, and yet it may be a dead book, and I may be a dead soul. But, Lord, be present here; then will I look up from the book to the Lord; from the precept to him who fulfilled it; from the law to him who honoured it; from the threatening to his who has borne it for me, and from the promise to him in whom it is “Yea and amen.” (quoted on p48 in Reeves.)

[Be sure to get a copy of Mike Reeves’ excellent book on Spurgeon.]

Resolved: No Resolutions

resolved2To finish this week of posts I want to re-visit one I wrote two years ago and develop it slightly.

Resolved: To make no New Year’s Resolutions for me to do, but to cling to the One who is at work in and through me according to His perfect plans for 2015.

A while back I really enjoyed reading the masterful biography of Jonathan Edwards by George Marsden.  It is fascinating to see the early resolutions of Edwards give way to a mature spirituality that was delighted in and by Christ later in his life.

Let’s face it, there are so many good resolutions that we could make as we head into another New Year.  Bible reading commitments, wider reading plans, personal prayer schedules, pursuit of ministry training ideas, grow theologically intentions, find a mentor strategies, evaluation and feedback gathering plans, sermonic self-improvement schemes, pastoral ministry visitation goals, personal fitness/diet/exercise/rest regimes, family scheduling tactics, and on the list goes.

All of these would be good ideas.  But making these determined and resolute teeth-clenched-and-muscles-flexed kind of personal commitments may well not be the best way to go.  That is, if we aren’t the autonomous self-made individualists that our culture and our fallen world like to convince us that we are.

Our life and ministry is much more about response to God’s Spirit at work in our lives than it is about our responsibility to act like the god of our own lives.  We are not the captain of our own destiny.  We are not sheriff of Me-ville.  We are lovers defined by who and what we love.  And as those who know and love the Triune God, we are in the best possible place to face a new year of uncertainties, trials, complexities and challenges.

My loving response to God’s love for me will result in some determined lifestyle choices and evidences of personal discipline.  This will also be true in my married life too – my loving response to my wife will look disciplined and diligent.  But I won’t talk about it in those terms.  At one level there is no real sacrifice involved in responding to the God we have.  Yes, it may look costly at times, but from the perspective of a captured heart?

As we head into 2015, let’s hold all our resolutions with a very loose grip, but squeeze tightly on the hand of Him who holds us, our families, our ministries and our year ahead in the palm of His hand.

Can we even begin to imagine what our Lord might do in us and through us in 2015?  Exceedingly, abundantly beyond all that we ask or even imagine . . . and certainly more than we can achieve by our own self-determined productivity and improvement plans!


Wilberforce on Apathy

Yesterday I quoted from Peter Sanlon’s article in Anvil, focusing on Jonathan Edwards.  After looking at Augustine, Richard Sibbes and Edwards, Sanlon finally turns to William Wilberforce.  I have to admit this wouldn’t have been the next figure in church history I would have expected in this tracing of engaging the emotions in ministry.  Nevertheless, it is very helpful indeed.

He notes Wilberforce’s book title, “A Practical View of the prevailing religious system of professed Christians in the higher and middle classes in this country contrasted with real Christianity.”  Let me quote from the article, including a quotation from Wilberforce.


“Wilberforce saw that the main reason for his difficulty in abolishing slavery lay in the apathy of people to others’ suffering.  He perceived that the only solution lay in genuine Christianity which engaged the emotions in their God-designed role of making a person feel as he or she ought to feel.  Only if approached in this way could people be moved to action.

“Wilberforce’s critique of unemotional and apathetic Christianity remains penetrating.  He noted that a ‘hot zeal for orthodoxy’ was not the same thing as genuine internalised acceptance of the gospel.  He warned that what people paraded externally as ‘charity’ could often be ‘nothing other than indifference.’ Wilberforce suggested that in the case of many who had been ‘converted’:

Their hearts are no more than before supremely set on the great work of their salvation, but are chiefly bent upon increasing their fortunes, or raising their families.  Meanwhile they content themselves on having amended from vices, which they are no longer strongly tempted to commit.

“In all of this searching critique, Wilberforce laid the majority of the blame at the door of ministers who failed to engage with people at the level of their emotions, claiming that most Christian preaching spoke of ‘general Christianity’ rather than bringing to the surface ‘the workings of the heart.’

. . . “Much of the preaching which Wilberforce heard and rejected as less than full-orbed evangelical proclamation could be summed up in the phrase, ‘accurate, but apathetic.'”


I suspect that Sanlon’s comments, built on Wilberforce’s significant ministry (not as a minister of the gospel, but as a politician), might be highly relevant to us today.  How much do we see a zealous orthodoxy shot through with a reprehensible apathy today?  Let’s examine our own hearts on this, and then preach to the hearts of others.

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From Peter Sanlon’s article, “Bringing Emotions to the Surface in Ministry,” in Anvil, vol.26, nos. 3&4, 2009, p239-240.

Edwards on Evangelism

I very much enjoyed an article in the Anvil journal by Peter Sanlon.  Let me quote three paragraphs, where the middle one is a quote from Jonathan Edwards –

The primacy of the affections has implications for our ministries.  We should see that prayer, sacraments, singing and preaching are all given by God ‘to excite and express religious affections.’ Perhaps one of the areas of ministry where we understandably, but erroneously, fail to appreciate the primacy of the affections, is evangelism.  It makes sense intellectually that an unbeliever needs to understand that of which they were previously ignorant.  This is indeed necessary (Rom.10:14) but Edwards would affirm that the main point of spiritual work in conversion is in the affections.  To engage in mission which takes seriously the primacy of the affections would involve a radical overhaul of our present day reliance on programmes, courses and rational explanations:

There is a difference between having an opinion that God is holy and gracious, and having a sense of that holiness and grace.  There is a difference between have a rational judgment that honey is sweet, and having a sense of its sweetness.  A man may have the former, that knows not how honey tastes.

A compelling case could be made that much evangelical ministry today is geared at giving people an opinion and rational judgment about God which falls far short of the sense of sweetness Edwards encouraged people to taste.  In a time when people are starving for lack of the pleasure of tasting the sweetness of God, we should not denigrate emotions but rather seek to stir up any emotion which tends towards inculcating the emotional heart-felt plea, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us’ (Luke 17:13). We must do this in evangelism, because, ‘the way to draw men and women into Christ’s kingdom, Edwards believed, was through his listeners’ affections.’

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From Peter Sanlon’s article, “Bringing Emotions to the Surface in Ministry,” in Anvil, vol.26, nos. 3&4, 2009, p238.

Listen to Jonathan Edwards

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.