Lacking motivation for anything productive (post-preaching experience, anyone?), I decided to dip into Thielicke’s Encounter with Spurgeon again. Guess how many paragraphs I had to read before being ready to offer another post (and that largely by quotation)? One. Check this out:
“Among the important elements in the promotion of conversion are your own tone, temper, and spirit in preaching. If you preach the truth in a dull, monotonous style, God may bless it, but in all probability he will not; at any rate the tendency of such a style is not to promote attention, but to hinder it. It is not often that sinners are awakened by ministers who are themselves asleep. A hard, unfeeling mode of speech is also to be avoided; want of tenderness is a sad lack, and repels rather than attracts. The spirit of Elijah may startle, and where it is exceedingly intense it may go far to prepare for the reception of the gospel; but for actual conversion more of John is needed – love is the winning force. We must love men to Jesus. Great hearts are the main qualifications for great preachers, and we must cultivate our affections to that end. At the same time our manner must not degenerate into the soft and saccharine cant which some men affect who are forever “dearing” everybody, and fawning upon people as if they hoped to soft-sawder them into godliness. Manly persons are disgusted, and suspect hypocrisy when they hear a preacher talking molasses. Let us be bold and outspoken, and never address our hearers as if we were asking a favor of them, or as if they would oblige the Redeemer by allowing him to save them. We are bound to be lowly, but our office as ambassadors should prevent our servile . . .”
Back to me again. Rather than repeating some of the gems in that paragraph, I have to ask why so many today are so quick to think only in black and white terms, to fail to differentiate within categories. If you speak of the importance of love, then you are tarred with the same brush as the “dearing” crowd mentioned above. If you mention the importance of tone, then you are sometimes considered a performance focused homiletician who doesn’t care about content. Let’s be bold and outspoken, proclaiming the gospel with great hearts for God, never talking the molasses that disgusts the manly, but loving people to Jesus.
I am sure I will come back to both Thielicke and Spurgeon in the days to come, but let’s end this Thielicke on Spurgeon week with another hefty paragraph. In a sense it brings us full circle, back to where we started – the need to seek to improve our preaching. Let’s drink deep of the water in this paragraphian well:
Have we not taken the perfectly proper recognition that it is not we but the Word itself that creates a hearing for itself and made of that recognition a “pretext for evil,” an excuse for slovenly neglect of rhetoric? Is it not a misconception of the doctrine of justification when we allow “by faith alone” to become an abstention from works, including the work of rhetoric? When a man preaches the pure Word of God and the pews are empty or those attending go to sleep in church, we are all too ready to make a virtue of our lack of sues and talk about the offense that must necessarily accompany the preaching of the gospel. We have a great talent for persuading ourselves that it is not only the stones which can cry out but that the empty pews will testify for us. And yet it may have been due only to the miserable structure of our sermons that people who value intellectual order were unable to follow them without torturously abusing their minds, and finally giving it up. Perhaps it was also our poorly used voice that caused people to indulge in church rather than at home their desire for sleep. Or we stood like stock-fish in the pulpit, or we revolved our arms like paddle wheels, or we kept threatening with our fists, or rattling our dentures – in short, we did not pay enough attention to, we did not cultivate, the instrumental factor. We did not grieve over the poorly fired, porous “earthen vessels” of our disorderly sermon outlines and our miserable rhetoric. On the contrary – what a strange perversion! – we were pleased with them because, after all, the wretchedness of the vessel seemed only to enhance the treasure it contained. (p.17)