Baptist – What does it mean and why is it important?

It was my privilege to preach at a small country Baptist church this past Sunday. My sermon for that eveningBaptists-logo  was to help them better understand why being a Baptist church matters. The outline for the sermon is this:

Baptists – where did the name come from?
Four Distinctives:
1) Baptism: Mode, Candidates, Significance
2) Nature of the local church: Local autonomy, Offices, Membership, Relation to civil governments
3) Liberty of Conscience
4) Authority of Scripture: Individual responsibility to know the Word of God and live in light of eternity.

The Defect of Preachers Reproved

 

“The Defects of Preachers Reproved”images
by Solomon Stoddard

“The Scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat.  All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do.”
Matthew 23:2–3

In these words is a direction given by Christ unto the people, where we have:

First, the foundation of the rule: “the Scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat.” Some take this as spoken of the Sanhedrim, who were the successors of Moses and the seventy elders of Israel. Possibly that may be a mistake, for several of the Sanhedrim were not Pharisees (Acts 23:3). For the chief priests belonged to that society (Acts 4:6), and they are said to be Sadducees; but by Scribes and Pharisees I understand the principal teachers among the Jews. The priests and Levites were more especially devoted to the study of the law. Deuteronomy 33:10: “They shall teach Jacob Thy judgments, and Israel Thy law.” Yet others who were learned in the law were made use of to instruct the people, and were chosen to be rulers of the Synagogues. The Pharisees were of any tribe. Paul, who was of the tribe of Benjamin, was a Pharisee by education, as he tells in Acts 23:6: “I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee.”

Second, here is the rule given: “what they bid you observe, that observe and do.” This must be understood with the limitation: when they teach according to the mind of God. Sometimes they taught for doctrines the commandments of men and then it was sinful and dangerous to observe their directions. “If the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch” (Matthew 15:14).


DOCTRINE: There may be a great deal of good preaching in a country, and yet a great want of good preaching.

It is a felicity to a people when there is good preaching in the land, yet there may in the same land be great want of good teaching. Some things that are very useful may be plainly and fully taught, and other things that might be as useful may be neglected. Many sound principles in religion may be taught, and other things that are of great concern unto souls may be omitted. Ministers don’t sufficiently do their duty if they preach many sound truths, and do it convincingly and with good affection, if they do it with great clearness and evidence, provided they neglect other things that are needful to salvation. And so it falls out sometimes that men who make many good sermons are very defective in preaching some other things that they ought to preach.

I shall clear this in three instances.

1. The Scribes and Pharisees in Israel taught the people that there was only one God, the Maker of all things, and were great enemies to the idolatry that their fathers were guilty of before the Babylonian captivity. As the Scribe said to Christ in Mark 12:32, “Well, Master, Thou hast said the truth: for there is one God, and there is none other but He.” They taught many moral duties: that men must love God and believe His Word, that they must be just and chaste and men of truth, and were very strict in the observation of the sabbath. They limited men how far they might go on the sabbath (Acts 1:12). We read of “a sabbath day’s journey.” They taught truly the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead (Acts 23:7–8). The Pharisees dissented from the Sadducees. The Sadducees say there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit, but the Pharisees confessed both. They taught that the Messiah was to come; the Samaritans themselves received that doctrine (Job 4:25). They were very punctual in teaching circumcision and the ceremonies of the Law of Moses, about sacrifices, tithes, and legal uncleanness. But they were very faulty in preaching in other particulars. They were ignorant of the doctrine of regeneration, so Nicodemus (John 3:4) says, “How can a man be born when he is old?” They taught that the first motions of lust, if the will did not consent, were not sins. As we may gather from Romans 7:7, Paul says, “I had not known lust, except the law had said, ‘Thou shall not covet.’ ” And from Matthew 5:27–28, “It was said by them of old time, ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery.’ But I say whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery in his heart.”


They taught also that dangerous doctrine of justification by works (Romans 10:3). They went about to establish their own righteousness (Romans 9:2–3), They sought it, as it were, by the works of the law. They taught the people that in case they devoted their estates to the temple, they need not relieve their fathers or mothers (Matthew 15:4–6). And above all they taught that Jesus of Nazareth was not the Messiah and brought many objections against Him. They said that He came out of Galilee, was a gluttonous man and a winebibber (Matthew 11:19), a friend of publicans and sinners. They reproached Him that by the devil He cast out devils, and they were very dull in their preaching (Matthew 7:29).


2. The papists they teach the doctrine of the trinity truly, and the attributes of God, so also the doctrine of the Incarnation of Christ, and that He died for our redemption and is at the right hand of God. They teach the doctrine of the day of Judgment, of heaven and of hell, and many moral rules. But they preach a multitude of false doctrines with these doctrines that are pernicious to the souls of men. They teach men to seek the pardon of their sin by afflicting their bodies, by pilgrimage and paying a sum of money. They teach many horrible things with respect to their Pope, that he has power to forgive sin, to dispense with incestuous marriages; that he has power over all the churches and may dispense with the laws of God; that he is infallible. They teach the doctrine of image worship, abolishing the second commandment. They teach prayer to saints departed, the unlawfulness of priests’ marriages, the doctrine of purgatory, justification by works, a conditional election, the power of free will, falling from grace, and hundreds of other erroneous doctrines. They indeed subvert the faith of Christ.

3. Many Arminians preach very profitably about God and the person of Christ, about justification by faith and universal obedience, about the day of judgment and of eternal rewards and punishments. But there is a great deal of want of good preaching among them. They decry all absolute decrees of election and reprobation, making the decrees of God to depend on the foresight of repentance or impenitence. They assert universal redemption, as if Christ died to make all man saveable. They deny the propagation of sin, saying men become sinners by imitation. They hold a power in man to withstand the grace of God; that after God has done His work it is in the power of man to refuse to be converted. They don’t acknowledge the servitude of man to sin, but have power with that assistance that God affords to convert himself. They deny the doctrine of perseverance. These things draw a great train of errors after them.

The reason of the doctrine is because some preachers are men of learning and moral men, and they have drunk in some errors and lack experience. Learning and morality will qualify men to make many good and profitable sermons, much for the edification of the hearers. Learning qualifies men to clear up many principles of religion, and a moral disposition may fit men zealously to reprove vicious practices. But men may be learned men, yet drink in very corrupt doctrines.

Learning is no security against erroneous principles. The Pharisees and Sadducees were men of liberal education, yet leavened with many false principles. Matthew 16:6: “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” And verse 12: “Then understood they that He bid them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.” Learning will not cure those distempers of the heart that expose men to false opinions. Learning will not cure the pride and conceitedness of men’s hearts. Men of learning may lean too much to their own understanding. Men of learning may be led aside by reading erroneous books. A learned education will not deliver men from carnal reason. Men of corrupt affections are very inclined to imbibe bad principles. Men of learning may be blind men. Christ says of the Pharisees, “They be blind, leaders of the blind” (Matthew 15:14).

Most of the errors in the world in matters of religion have been hatched by men of learning. Arius, Socinus, Arminius, and Pelagius were learned men. Errors in religion have been generally the offspring of great scholars, and have been propagated by them. And men may be moral men who have no experience of the work of God upon their hearts. Men may be zealous men against drunkenness and whoredom who have no saving knowledge of Christ. Many moral men have no communion with God, no experience of a saving change in their own souls. Men may be very moral and have no experience of a work of humiliation or being brought off from their own righteousness, or a work of faith; of the difference that is between the common and special work of the Spirit; of the difference between saving and common illumination; of the working of the heart under temptation; of the way wherein godly men are wont to find relief.

Every learned and moral man is not a sincere convert, and so not able to speak exactly and experimentally to such things as souls want to be instructed in. It is as with a man who has seen a map of a country, or has read a great deal about it: he can’t tell the way between town and town, and hundreds of particular circumstances, as a man who has traveled or lived there is able to do. Experience fits men to teach others. A man who has himself had only a common work of the Spirit, and judges it saving, is very unfit to judge the state of other men. Men would not put their lives into the hands of an unskillful physician, or trust their ship with an unskillful pilot, or an intricate case depending on the law with an unskillful lawyer.

USE 1. Of examination whether it is not thus in this country.

It is notoriously known by those who are acquainted with the state of the Christian world that though there are many eminent truths taught, yet there is a great want of good preaching. Whence it comes to pass that among professors a spirit of piety runs exceedingly low. But it is proper for us to take notice how it is among ourselves; and though it is very evident that there is a great deal of good preaching in the land, that the way of salvation is preached with a great deal of plainness and power, and many men are very faithful to declare all the counsel of God, yet there may be cause of lamentation that there is a great deal wanting in some places. Some may be very much to blame in preaching as they ought to do.

If any are taught that frequently men are ignorant of the time of their conversion, that is not good preaching. Some are of that opinion, and it is likely they may drink it in from their ministers. This is a delusion, and it may do them a great deal of hurt; it hardens men in their natural condition. Paul knew the time of his conversion: “At midday, O King, I saw a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun” (Acts 26:13).

Men are frequently at a loss whether their conversion was true or not; but surely men who are converted must take some notice of the time when God made a change in them. Conversion is a great change, from darkness to light, from death to life, from the borders of despair to a spirit of faith in Christ. As for the outward conversation, there is sometimes little difference. Men might carry very well before, but, as to the frame of men’s hearts, there is a very great difference. Formerly they were under the reigning power of objections against the gospel; when converted they receive it as a divine truth. Before they were converted they were under a sentence of condemnation; now they have peace with God through Jesus Christ. Men are generally a long time seeking conversion, laboring to get an interest in Christ; and it would be much if when God reveals Christ to them they should not take notice of it when the change is made. Ten to one but conscience will take notice of it.

When a seaman comes into the harbor, when a prisoner is pardoned, when a victory is obtained, when a disease is broken, it would be much if men should take no notice of them. Conversion is the greatest change that men undergo in this world; surely it falls under observation! The prodigal knew well enough the time of his return to his father’s house. The children of Israel knew the time of their passing over Jordan.

If any are taught that humiliation is not necessary before faith, that is not good preaching. Such doctrine has been taught privately and publicly, and is a means to make some men mistake their condition and think themselves happy when they are miserable. For men must be brought off from their own righteousness before they are brought to Christ. Men who think they have anything to appease the wrath of God and ingratiate themselves will not accept the calls of the gospel in sincerity. While people have a foundation to build upon, they will not build upon Christ. A self-righteous spirit is quite contrary to the gospel. If men are self-righteous men, they will not judge it fair for God to cast them off. Men who depend upon the justice of God will not depend upon the mere mercy of God. Men who lay claim to heaven from their own works will not depend on the plea that Christ has given His life a ransom for many, and has redeemed us from the curse, being made a curse for us.

Multitudes of men are ruined by building upon a sandy foundation. Men must see their malady before they see their remedy. Men must be led into understanding of the badness of their hearts and the strictness of the law before they will be convinced of the preciousness of Christ. Men who can heal their own consciences will not come to Christ for healing. Men must be driven by necessity indeed before they come to Christ. Though men feel great terrors and live a tormented life, yet they will not come to Christ until driven out of themselves. Men must feel themselves dead in sin in order to their believing. Romans 7:9: “Sin revived, and I died.” Men must see themselves poor and miserable, wretched and blind and naked, before they receive that counsel of buying of Christ gold tried in the fire, and white raiment (Revelation 3:17).

When men don’t preach much about the danger of damnation, there is a want of good preaching. Some ministers preach much about moral duties and the blessed estate of godly men, but don’t seek to awaken sinners and make them sensible of their danger; they cry for reformation. These things are very needful in their places to be spoken unto, but if sinners don’t hear often of judgment and damnation, few will be converted. Many men are in a deep sleep and flatter themselves as if there was no hell, or at least that God will not deal so harshly with them as to damn them. Psalm 36:2: “He flattereth himself in his own eyes, until his iniquity be found to be hateful.”

Men need to be told of the terrors of the Lord so that they may flee from wrath to come. A little matter will not scare men. Their hearts are as hard as a stone, as hard as a piece of nether millstone, and they will be ready to laugh at the shaking of the spear. Ministers must give them no rest in such a condition. They must pull themselves as brands out of the burnings. It is well if thunder and lightning will awaken them. They need to fear that they may work out their salvation with fear and trembling. Ministers are faulty when they speak to them with gentleness, as Eli rebuked his sons. Christ Jesus often warned them of the danger of damnation. Matthew 5:29–30: “It is better that one of thy members should perish, and not that the whole body should be cast into hell.” Matthew 7:13: “Broad is the gate and wide is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be that go in thereat.” Matthew 13:42: “The angels shall cast them into a furnace of fire, there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” (See also Matthew 22:13 and 25:41, 46) This is for our imitation.

Christ knew how to deal with souls, and Paul followed His example. Men need to be terrified and have the arrows of the Almighty in them that they may be converted. Ministers should be sons of thunder. Men need to have storms in their hearts before they will betake themselves to Christ for refuge. When they are pricked at the heart, then they will say, “What must we do to be saved?” Men must be fired out of their worldliness and sloth. Men must be driven as Lot was out of Sodom. Reason will govern men in other things, but it is fear that must make them diligently seek salvation. If they are but thoroughly convinced of their danger, that will make them go to God and take pains.

If they give a wrong account of the nature of justifying faith, that is not good preaching. Justifying faith is set forth in the Scripture by many figurative expressions: coming to Christ, opening to Him, fitting under His shadow, flying to Him for refuge, building on Him as on a foundation, feeding on Him. These expressions imply not only an act of the understanding, but also and act of the will, accepting Him, depending on Him. This doctrine is despised by some, and faith in Christ is said to be only a persuasion of the truth of the Christian religion. This is the way to make multitudes of carnal men secure, and to flatter themselves as if they were in a good condition. They say they are not heathens, Turks, Papists, or Jews. Since they believe that Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God, they hope they are believers; but multitudes of people have such a faith that will fall short of eternal life. John 2:23–24: “Many believed in His name, when they saw the miracles that He did; but Jesus did not commit Himself unto them.” John 14:42–43: “Among the chief rulers many believed on Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him.”

The faith of some men is only a persuasion from their education. As heathens receive the religion of their forefathers by tradition, so these receive the Christian religion from hearsay. But justifying faith is wrought in men by the mighty power of God.


2 Thessalonians 1:11: “That He would work in you the work of faith with power.” Ephesians 1:19–20: “And what is the exceeding greatness of His power to usward who believe, according to the working of His mighty power; which He wrought in Christ when He raised Him from the dead.” By justifying faith, men answer the calls of God, relinquishing their own righteousness; they place their dependence only on the mediation of Christ (Hebrews 6:18). They flee for refuge, to lay hold on the hope that is set before them. Justifying faith is a living principle that sanctifies men. Acts 15:9: “Purifying their hearts by faith.” Many men have a common persuasion of the truth of the gospel who are utterly destitute of holiness. But true justifying faith is always accompanied with a holy life. Where there is faith, there is every other grace. Acts 26:18: “Sanctified by faith that is in me.”

If any give false signs of godliness, that is not good preaching. Signs of grace are of two sorts. Some are probable, and they must be spoken of only as probable; a score of them may make the thing more probable, but don’t make it certain. Probabilities make no demonstration. Probable signs are not conclusive. There are two errors in laying down signs. One is when those things that may flow from common principles—such as natural temper, natural conscience, fear of hell, or false imaginations—are given as sure signs of grace. But those things that may flow from common principles don’t truly distinguish between saints and hypocrites, things such as a good conversation savory discourse, zeal against sin, strong religious affections, sorrow for sin, quietness under afflictions, delight in ordinances, or suffering for religion. From such loose signs people are in danger of taking up a false persuasion of their godliness.

Such signs are full of delusion, and many men bless themselves who are in a miserable condition. Such probable signs may be where there are certain signs of the contrary. Men are apt to flatter themselves, and when they hear such signs they are strengthened in their carnal confidence. There is no infallible sign of grace but grace. Grace is known only by intuition; all the external effects of grace may flow from other causes. Another error is when men are too strict in their signs, as when they give that as a sign that there is a constant care to glorify God, a continual living upon Jesus Christ, and a constant watchfulness against the workings of corruption. There is no godly man but has at times ill frames of spirit. David and Jonah and Peter had such. When David committed adultery, he had not a due care to glorify God; nor Jonah when he was in a fret, nor the Psalmist when he was as a beast before God, nor Paul when he was led into captivity by the law of sin that was in his members. There is no godly man who can comfort himself with such signs as these. It is well if godly men see now and then the workings of a spirit of grace. Grace is many times under hatches and is invisible.

If any teach men to build their faith about the divine authority of the Scripture upon probable signs, that is not good preaching. There are many probable arguments for the authority of the sacred scriptures: the eminency of the penmen, and they have had a mighty efficacy to make a change in the hearts of men. It is said there were many miracles wrought for the confirmation of the doctrine of them; there has been an accomplishment of many of the predictions in them. These arguments are preponderating and outweigh all objections that are brought against the authority of them. These considerations may well strengthen the faith of the people of God, but these things cannot be the foundation of our faith. It is only the certain knowledge of their authority that can be the foundation of faith or any other grace. Men cannot believe them to be infallibly true upon probable arguments. Probable arguments must be looked on but as probable and not convincing. Men must have infallible arguments for loving God and believing His Word. The foundation of believing the divine authority of the Scripture is the manifestation of the divine glory in them. There is a self evidencing light in the works of God. The creation of the world shows God’s power and the Godhead (Romans 1:20). It is impossible that the world should be made by any but an infinite God. So there is a self-evidencing light in the word of God; there are such things revealed there as can be made known by none but God. 1 Corinthians 2:9: “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive what God hath prepared for them that love Him.” Those eternal rewards that are spoken of in the Scripture , those perfect rules that are laid down there, those accounts that are given of the mercy of God and the justice of God, manifested in the way of our salvation, would never have entered into the heart of man to conceive if it had not been revealed by God. Men would never have thought of such a way of salvation if it had not been declared by God.

If men preach for such liberties as God does not allow, that is not good preaching. There are many licentious liberties that are taken by men in their apparel, in their drinking, in their dancing and other recreations, in their discourses upon the sabbath, and in their dealings with one another. And if ministers either vindicate or connive at them, they don’t preach as they ought to do. Some men are lax casuists, and they take too great a liberty themselves, as do their wives and children, and they are afraid to anger men by reproving some particular evils that men are addicted to who prevail in the land. The Pharisees were such casuists. Matthew 5:43: “Ye have heard it hath been said of old, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy.’ ” Men should be solemnly warned against all evil carriages; and if this is omitted it gives great increase to sin in the land. God complains of ill against teachers for not reproving sinners. Isaiah 56:10: “They are ignorant and blind, dumb dogs that cannot bark.” If men were duly reproved for their extravagancies, that would be a means to reclaim them. Jeremiah 23:22: “If they had stood in My counsel and had caused My people to hear My words; then they should have turned them from their evil way and from the evil of their doings.”

Faithful preaching would be beneficial two ways: one way is it would cut off occasions of anger and prevent those sins that bring down the wrath of God on the land; we should then enjoy much more public prosperity. The other is, that it would deliver men from those vicious practices that are a great hindrance to conversion. As long as men live in ways of intemperance, injustice, and unsuitable carriages on the sabbath, it will be a great impediment to a thorough work of conversion. There may be conversion though men are not broken off from sins of ignorance, but as long as they tolerate themselves in immoralities that will be a mighty bar in the way of their conversion.

If men preach for such ceremonies in worship as God does not allow, that is not good preaching. There are those who plead for human inventions in worship, who would if they could defend the ceremonies of the church of England, who would retain some Jewish ceremonies that are abolished, and practice other human appointments. Jeroboam was condemned not only for worshipping the calves of Dan and Bethel, but for appointing a time of worship in his own heart (1 Kings 12:32–33). So it is noted as an imperfection in the reformation of Asa, Jehoshaphat and Manasseh that the high places were not taken away. This is spoken of as a great sign of hypocrisy. Isaiah 29:13: “This people draw near Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips; but have removed their heart far from Me: and their fear towards Me is taught by the precept of men.” When men impose such ceremonies, they usurp a power that God has not given them. It is God’s prerogative to appoint in what ways we shall worship Him; and men therein go quite beyond the bounds of their authority. Men therein impute imperfection and defect to the ordinances of God, as if they could teach him how it is fit that He should be worshipped, and they presume on a blessing without a promise. Matthew 15:9: “In vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” This is a way to make men formal in their worship; the multiplying of ceremonies eats out the heart of religion and makes a people degenerate. Men who multiply ceremonies are apt to content themselves with the form without the life.

QUESTION. Is the late practice of some ministers in reading their sermons commendable?

ANSWER. There are some cases wherein it may be tolerable. Persons through age may loose the strength of their memories, and be under a necessity to make use of their notes—but ordinarily it is not to be allowed.

Consideration 1. It was not the manner of the prophets or apostles. Baruch read the roll that was written from the mouth of Jeremiah; but Jeremiah was not wont to read his prophesies. It was the manner of the Jews to read the scriptures in the synagogues; but after that it was their way to instruct and exhort men, not from any written copy. Acts 13:15: “After the reading of the law and the prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent to them, saying, ‘Men and brethren, if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on.’ ” This was according to the example of Christ (Luke 4:17, 20). It was ordered in England in the days of King Edward the Sixth that ministers should read printed homilies in public. And there was great necessity of it, for there was not one in ten who were able to make sermons. But it has been the manner of worthy men both here and in other places to deliver their sermons without their notes.

Consideration 2. The reading of sermons is a dull way of preaching. Sermons when read are not delivered with authority and in an affecting way. It is prophesied of Christ (Micah 5:4): “He shall stand and feed in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.” When sermons are delivered without notes, the looks and gesture of the minister is a great means to command attention and stir up affection. Men are apt to be drowsy in hearing the Word, and the liveliness of the preacher is a means to stir up the attention of the hearers and beget suitable affection in them. Sermons that are read are not delivered with authority; they favor the sermons of the scribes, (Matthew 7:29). Experience shows that sermons read are not so profitable as others. It may be argued that it is harder to remember rhetorical sermons than mere rational discourses; but it may be answered that it is far more profitable to preach in the demonstrations of the Spirit than with the enticing words of man’s wisdom.

USE 2. See the reason why there is so little effect of preaching. There is much good preaching, and yet there is want of good preaching. There is very good preaching in old England, yet there is great want of good preaching, especially among the conformists. And there is very good preaching in New England, and yet there is some want of good preaching, especially in some places: and this is one reason that there is no more good done. There is a great fault in hearers: they are not studious of the mind of God; they are enemies to the gospel. And when Christ Himself preached among them many did not profit by it. Yet some preachers are much to blame, and though they preach profitably many times, yet they have great cause to be humbled for their defects.

For hence it is that there is so little conversion. There is great complaint in one country and in another that there are few converted. It is apparent by men’s unsanctified lives and their unsavory discourses. This is one reason, there is a great deal of preaching that does not much promote it, but is a hindrance to it. To tell men that they may be converted though they don’t know the time; to teach that there is no need of a work of humiliation to prepare them for Christ; and that faith is nothing else but a persuasion that the gospel is true, is the very way to make many carnal men hope that they are converted. It makes other preaching very ineffectual; it makes them think that it is needless to strive for conversion. Such preaching hardens men in their sins. The want of dealing plainly with men is the reason why there is seldom a noise among the dry bones.

In some towns there is no such thing to be observed for twenty years together. And men continue in a senseless condition, come to meetings and hear preaching, but are never the better for it. In some towns godly men are very thinly sown. Most of the people are in as bad a condition as if they had never heard the gospel. They go on in a still way, following their worldly designs, carry on somewhat of the form of godliness, but mind little but the world and the pleasures of this life. The scribes did not preach with authority. Matthew 7:29: “And they entered not into the kingdom of God themselves, and they that were entering in they hindered.” Such preaching is not mighty to the pulling down of strongholds. Conversion work will fail very much where there is not sound preaching.

Hence many men who make a high profession lead unsanctified lives. They are not dealt plainly with; and so, though they profess high, they live very low. They are not dealt roundly with, and they believe they are in a good estate, and conscience suffers them to live after a corrupt manner. Some of them live a proud and voluptuous life, and they are not searched as they should be. If they were told their own, that would keep them from saying that they were rich and increased in goods, and had need of nothing. If they were rebuked sharply, that might be a means to make them sound in the faith (Titus 1:13). It might make them not only to reform, but lay a better foundation for eternal life than ever yet was laid. Paul was very thorough in his work, and wherever he came he had the fullness of the blessing of the Gospel of Christ, (Romans 15:29).me preachers are much to blame, and though they preach profitably many times, yet they have great cause to be humbled for their defects.

For hence it is that there is so little conversion. There is great complaint in one country and in another that there are few converted. It is apparent by men’s unsanctified lives and their unsavory discourses. This is one reason, there is a great deal of preaching that does not much promote it, but is a hindrance to it. To tell men that they may be converted though they don’t know the time; to teach that there is no need of a work of humiliation to prepare them for Christ; and that faith is nothing else but a persuasion that the gospel is true, is the very way to make many carnal men hope that they are converted. It makes other preaching very ineffectual; it makes them think that it is needless to strive for conversion. Such preaching hardens men in their sins. The want of dealing plainly with men is the reason why there is seldom a noise among the dry bones.

In some towns there is no such thing to be observed for twenty years together. And men continue in a senseless condition, come to meetings and hear preaching, but are never the better for it. In some towns godly men are very thinly sown. Most of the people are in as bad a condition as if they had never heard the gospel. They go on in a still way, following their worldly designs, carry on somewhat of the form of godliness, but mind little but the world and the pleasures of this life. The scribes did not preach with authority. Matthew 7:29: “And they entered not into the kingdom of God themselves, and they that were entering in they hindered.” Such preaching is not mighty to the pulling down of strongholds. Conversion work will fail very much where there is not sound preaching.

Hence many men who make a high profession lead unsanctified lives. They are not dealt plainly with; and so, though they profess high, they live very low. They are not dealt roundly with, and they believe they are in a good estate, and conscience suffers them to live after a corrupt manner. Some of them live a proud and voluptuous life, and they are not searched as they should be. If they were told their own, that would keep them from saying that they were rich and increased in goods, and had need of nothing. If they were rebuked sharply, that might be a means to make them sound in the faith (Titus 1:13). It might make them not only to reform, but lay a better foundation for eternal life than ever yet was laid. Paul was very thorough in his work, and wherever he came he had the fullness of the blessing of the Gospel of Christ, (Romans 15:29).

 

 

Who is This Man Who says he is God?

Luke 4:31-44  the-gospel-of-luke

And he went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. And he was teaching them on the Sabbath, and they were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority. And in the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, “Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent and come out of him!” And when the demon had thrown him down in their midst, he came out of him, having done him no harm. And they were all amazed and said to one another, “What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!” And reports about him went out into every place in the surrounding region. And he arose and left the synagogue and entered Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was ill with a high fever, and they appealed to him on her behalf. And he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her, and immediately she rose and began to serve them. Now when the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to him, and he laid his hands on every one of them and healed them. And demons also came out of many, crying, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ. And when it was day, he departed and went into a desolate place. And the people sought him and came to him, and would have kept him from leaving them, but he said to them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” And he was preaching in the synagogues of Judea.

Click here for a sermon from the 4th chapter, examining the question – Who is this Man Who says He is God?

The Judgement Seat of Christ

Oh that God would break our hearts for the reality that eternity is closer than we wish to imagine! Our churches are being crushed under the weight of worldliness and a desire to please man instead of Jesus Christ. Too many are not just guilty of watching the Bride of Christ being assaulted, but are guilty of being involved with the assault and then want to still claim to be a “Christian.” May God have mercy on us for such arrogant thinking that is only taking people to hell!

LOST – The Holiness of God in Churches

Preaching about the love of God as if He is like the friendly grandfather is a false gospel. God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life is a false gospel. The true gospel is one that exalts the holiness of God, the supremacy of Jesus Christ, and the total depravity of every person who has ever lived.

No Interview Like It!

This blog and video was posted at The Gospel Coalition by Thabiti Anyabwile. It is an amazing interview that would definitely not even be permitted in England and probably not even in America in many places.

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Thabiti Anyabwile is Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman in the Grand Cayman Islands and a Council member with The Gospel Coalition.

Will We Ever See Another Interview Like It?

Perhaps you’ve already seen the 1970 interview of Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones by Dame Joan Bakewell on the nature of man. If not, you owe it to yourself to check out this 19-minute conversation recently released by the Martyn Lloyd-Jones Trust.

The interview is striking for a number of reasons.

First, it’s conducted in the U.K., where most observers would guess such a fair and engaging interview would be all but impossible today.

Second, the interviewer’s familiarity with basic doctrinal Christianity and the contentions of the broader culture set her apart from the talking heads today.

Third, it seems there may be very few evangelicals today of the stature of Lloyd-Jones who could command any interest from secular television.

Fourth, most sadly, are there any evangelical pastors who would be so thoroughly convinced and unashamed of the Bible’s teaching about man, sin and salvation in Jesus Christ alone?

So, I guess you should view the interview because we’re not likely to see its like in our lifetimes.

HT: The Gospel Coalition

Baptist Covenant Theology

Reformed theology is often referred to as covenant theology – based on the covenants between God and Baptist Covenant Viewman revealed in Scripture and the view that God deals with us primarily through covenants. One of our old Baptist brothers, C. H. Spurgeon, had this to say about the importance of understanding the covenants of Scripture: “The doctrine of the covenant lies at the root of all true theology. … I am persuaded that most of the mistakes which men make concerning the doctrines of Scripture are based upon fundamental errors with regard to the covenants of law and grace.” He went on to say: “The covenant of works was, “Do this and live, O man!” but the covenant of grace is, “Do this, O Christ, and thou shalt live, O man!”” As we will see, the differences we have with our Presbyterian brothers has to do with these two covenants. Pascal Denault, in The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology describes them thusly: The Covenant of Works is revealed by the light of nature; nature’s light teaches self-righteousness (Rom 2:15). The Covenant of Grace is revealed by the Spirit of God; He reveals Christ’s righteousness.

The entire message with all the slides mentioned can be downloaded or listened to here.

ABSOLUTE Predestination

ABSOLUTE Predestination

I just finished reading Jerome Zanchius’ book that a dear brother was so kind to give me. Wow! I Clipboard01wept and rejoiced and thanked the Lord for faithful men who have gone before. Thanks be unto God for the dear brother who worked to bring this book back to life. Absolute Predestination is an awesome work explaining systematically and biblically why this doctrine is true, what it means, and why it must be preached. I will treasure this book until the Lord deems my days are done. What follows is a short review and exhortation for my brothers and sisters to take this book and read. You can buy it here: http://www.heritagebooks.org/absolute-predestination-introduction-by-joel-beeke/

This current publication is from Free Grace Press and includes a very informative introduction by Joel Beeke. Zanchius was an Italian who lived in the early to mid 16th century, grew up as a Roman Catholic and served as a monk. It was during this time he read some Martin Luther, Martin Bucer, and John Calvin and was soon converted into a Christian. He lived the balance of his life studying, teaching, and writing and was widely considered a highly valued author of Reformed theological studies – all of which were in Latin. Nearly 200 years later, an Englishman ran across his Latin writings on predestination. Augustus Toplady was converted in his teen years and held to the free will teachings of his contemporary, John Wesley; until “an old man challenged him to stop arguing long enough to ask himself: Did he have any part in obtaining God’s grace? Wouldn’t he have resisted God’s grace if the Spirit left him to his own will? These questions from a Wesleyan brother stabbed him to the quick.” And so Toplady began a study on the sovereign grace of God, learned Hebrew and Greek, and embraced the sweet doctrines of grace commonly called Calvinism.

Toplady served in many churches as pastor, but initially held back from preaching on sovereign grace – focusing his sermons on justification by faith and holiness of life, as was taught by Wesley. “People liked his preaching, but few were converted. When he began preaching predestination as the eternal source of our salvation in Christ, many were angry with him, but many other were truly converted to Christ.” Amen! This is how the true gospel works – it was how the Apostle Paul experienced it. The true gospel (for there is no other gospel) is preached. Some will hate you for it, others will rejoice and beg to hear more. Those who have been given ears to hear will hear! Praise God!

As time went by, Toplady conversed with Wesley and denounced his old teacher. As A.W. Pink turned a bit sharp in his criticism of dispensationalism once he left that theological train wreck, so did Augustus Toplady in his critique of the spiritual ship wreck of Arminianism.

Toplady translated Zanchius’ book into English and, by his own admission, heavily edited it in places to as to provide a more complete treatise on the topic. It is hard to tell where one writer hands off to the other, as the reader works his way through this book. With that, here’s a brief review of this most excellent little book. Zanchius lays out each chapter as a progressive argument, moving through myriad positions as he documents six key areas that help us comprehend the sovereignty of God and our need of Him.

The Preface is written by Toplady and titled Observations on the Divine Attributes. We are quickly introduced to this author and this work by two stark statements. “I cannot help standing astonished at the pride of impotent, degenerate man. … The Scripture doctrine of predetermination lays the axe to the very root of this potent delusion.” Having personally left Wesley’s doctrine behind, Toplady declares that this book is needed because “Arminianism is the grand religious evil of this age and country.” We can only imagine what he might have said in response to Charles Finney! In bringing his preface to a close, Toplady reminds us that words have meaning, or else they are worthless, and then defines predestination as “God’s determinate plan of action.” And then he reservedly reveals his opinion on the theological construct he had left behind – “He that made all things either directs all things he has made, or has consigned them over to chance. But what is chance, but a name for nothing. Arminianism, therefore, is Atheism.”

Zanchius’ first chapter has the same name as Toplady’s Preface – they are not the same! In this opening chapter, our servant of God desires us to know more about the Lord, acknowledging He is beyond our comprehension, but not entirely; and that He wants us to know Him as He has revealed Himself in Scripture. Zanchius’ pen will help us better understand: (1) God’s eternal wisdom and foreknowledge; (2) The absolute freedom and liberty of His will; (3) The perpetuity and unchangeableness both of Himself and His decrees; (4) His omnipotence; (5) His justice; and (6) His mercy. Without these attributes explained, Zanchius claims the doctrine of predestination cannot be properly grasped. While every argument in this chapter is worth careful reading, the series of statements and expositions under (2) cannot go without special mention. Here is the summary paragraph from the end of that section:

“From the whole of what has been delivered under this section head, I would observe that the genuine tendency of these truths are not to make men more indolent and careless, or lull them to sleep on the lap of presumption and carnal security, but (1) to fortify the people of Christ against the attacks of unbelief and the insults of their spiritual enemies. And what it so fit, to guard them against these, as the comfortable persuasion of God’s unalterable will to save them, and of their unalienable interest in the sure mercies of David? (2) To withdraw them entirely from all dependence whether on themselves or to any creature whatever; to make them renounce their own righteousness, no less than their sins, in point of reliance,and to acquiesce sweetly and safely in the certain perpetuity of His rich favor. (3) To excite them, from a trust of His goodwill toward them, to love God who has given such great and numberless proofs of His love to men, and, in all their thoughts, words, and works, to aim, as much as possible, at His honour and glory.”

Is this not the goal of Christian exhortation and life? What Christian would be opposed to this?

In chapter 2, titled Defining Terms, we are given biblically based expositions on The Love of God, The Hatred of God, Election, Reprobation, The Purpose of God, Foreknowledge, and Predestination. This last is presented with a four-fold definition. (1) God did from before time determine and ordain to create and dispose of all creation with the over-arching reason to bring glory to Himself. (2) As relates to mankind, God created Adam in His image and allowed him to fall and take all humanity (and creation) with him as the federal head. (3) As relates to the elect, God chose before time to redeem some in time by faith in Christ. Such are justified, adopted, sanctified, and preserved safely to the end of this age. (4) As regards the reprobate, it is God’s eternal sovereign and immutable will whereby He has determined to leave some men in their sin to be justly punished.

Chapters 3, 4, and 5 discuss predestination as it relates to All Men, to the Saints, and the Ungodly. It is most useful to see this doctrine discussed in detail in these three distinct applications, as much confusion reigns among men when important terms are not defined and applied properly. In the 3rd chapter, Zanchius shows from Scripture that God has predestined the ends of men, that He decreed The Fall, that the elect will be saved, the reprobate damned. Each of these is explored in detail after a brief introduction. The chapter closes with a wonderful quote from Augustine: “Brethren, let us not imagine that God puts down any man in His book and then erases him, for if Pilate could say, ‘What I have written, I have written,’ how can it be thought that the great God would write a person’s name in the book of life and then blot it out again?”

Predestination of the Saints, chapter 4, ought to give everyone born of the Spirit joy and supreme assurance of being safe in the refuge of Christ – it is full of Scriptural support for the monergistic saving act of God in the life of every saint. Zanchius includes two excellent bits of counsel as he wraps us this most important chapter – Christians ought to believe the redeemed standing of other Christians (based on sober reflection of evidences that bear witness to same). For how, he asks, can we love one another rightly if we do not believe they, also, are loved with same everlasting love as we? Then he remands us to never judge any man to be a reprobate. He says that we may infer the election of some by the marks and appearances of grace in their lives, but we cannot know sure enough to claim that any person is damned while he yet breathes – because a man who is a reprobate today may have been chosen before time and decreed to repent and believe upon Christ tomorrow! Presumption is sinful and we ought not walk in it; we are, rather, to walk in humility and love – proclaiming the saving gospel to dead men everywhere.

Chapter 5 presents Predestination as it relates to the Ungodly – something I dare say most of us have not thought of. But just as there will be those on the Lord’s right hand on that great day of judgment, there will also be those on His left hand (Matt 7). In explaining predestination to the Romans, Paul reminds us what God had said – “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated”. So in Matt 7, when Jesus is telling those on His left hand that He never knew them, He is saying, “I have always hated you.” How differently we tend to discuss the enemies of God in our day! Our mantra is, “God loves everybody” or “God is love”, as if He had but one dimension. There can be no true, biblical love from God if He is compelled to love everyone. He cannot be holy if He accepts those who are not justified. God does not “hate the sin but loves the sinner.” He is angry with sinners all day long! While some will hate this talk, it is the revelation from God Himself – and redeemed saints ought not to shy away from uncomfortable truths.

The last chapter is Predestination as it Relates to the Preacher. In this surprising (to me) chapter, the author makes the case that preaching this doctrine is necessary for the spiritual health of God’s people that He has gathered in each local church. He warns, “Let it, however, be preached with judgment and discretion, i.e., delivered by the preacher as it is delivered in Scripture, and no otherwise.” This doctrine is such that men twist it and deny it – meaning that the wisdom of man is totally insufficient to explain or defend it. So Scripture alone is the rule. Further, since “Election is the golden thread that runs through the whole Christian system,” any gospel preached without it is not the gospel!

Zancius invites us ponder Matt 11:25 & 26, in which he declares that “Christ thanks the Father for doing that very thing which Arminians exclaim against us is unjust, and censure us as partial.” And in Matt 24:22 – 24 the Lord “teaches (1) that there is a certain number of persons who are elected to grace and glory, and (2) that it is absolutely impossible for these to be deceived into total or final apostasy.” Preachers must preach predestination and the sovereignty of God because “Whilst a man is persuaded that he has it in his power to contribute anything, be it ever so little, to his own salvation, he remains in carnal confidence.” This may be the biggest concern in churches in our day – so many men convinced they are “OK with God” because they chose Him! They think God did His share and they must do theirs – not realizing that this system leaves them on the wrong side of the Tiber river. Predestination gives sinners a more accurate picture of both God and man, showing the grace of God – which stands against human worthiness. A footnote shows from Scripture why this doctrine must be preached, for the good of the saints – “do not my words do good to him that walks uprightly?” (Mic 2:7)

There truly is too much good and godly counsel in this book for me to comment on it all. But let this review close out with this glorious exhortation from this dear brother from another century.

“How sweet must the following considerations be to a distressed believer! (1) There most certainly exists an almighty, all-wise and infinitely gracious God. (2) He has given me in times past, and is giving me at present (if I had but eyes to see it), many and signal intimations of His love to me, both in a way of providence and grace. (3) This love of His is immutable; He never repents of it nor withdraws it. (4) Whatever comes to pass in time is the result of His will from everlasting, consequently (5) my afflictions were a part of His original plan, and are all ordered in number, weight and measure, (6) The very hairs of my head are (every one) counted by Him, nor can a single hair fall to the ground but in consequence of His determination. Hence (7) my distresses are not the result of chance, accident or a fortuitous combination of circumstances, nor of Satan getting ahead of God, but (8) the providential accomplishment of God’s purpose, and (9) designed to answer some wise and gracious ends, nor (10) shall my affliction continue a moment longer than God sees meet. (11) He who brought me to it has promised to support me under it and to carry me through it. (12) All shall, most assuredly, work together for His glory and my good, therefore (13) “The cup which my heavenly Father hath given me to drink, shall I not drink it?” Yes, I will, in the strength He imparts, even rejoice in tribulation; and using the means of possible redress, which He has or may hereafter put into my hands, I will commit myself and the event to Him, whose purpose cannot be overthrown, whose plan cannot be disconcerted, and who, whether I am resigned or not, will still go on to work all things after the counsel of His own will.”

At the end of this book, I was left undone by the glorious mercies of God, in choosing to save His enemies – and me being counted among the redeemed. If that last paragraph does not cause your soul to rejoice in wonder and praise and adoration – you need to examine yourself to see if you be in the faith. Christ is all glorious, all powerful, and victorious. By His blood he has purchased a people to be trophies of grace that He will present to our Father on that great and terrible day when all the deeds of men will be judged. The earth and sky will try to flee from the face of God and the wrath of the Lamb, but there will be no place to hide. But ALL whose names were written in the Lamb’s book of Life before the foundation of the world shall be welcomed to the wedding feast when the Lord consummates His eternal plan of redemption! Christ is our refuge and strong tower – He is sufficient! We need no other plea. Run to Christ, cry out for mercy. Seek Him while it is yet today.

The Pastor and Counseling

Here is the ninth video in a series on Pastoral Theology from Reformed Baptist Seminary. This session is from Pastor Donny Martin on The Pastor and Counseling.

In this seminary lecture he covers three areas – 1) the historical background of biblical counseling, 2) the theological foundation of biblical counseling, and 3) the practical process of biblical counseling.

Our prayer is that it will be both an encouragement to pastors or future pastors and even to those who serve in other aspects of ministry but not necessarily leadership roles.

Technology Giveth & Taketh Away

Here is the seventh and eighth video in a series on Pastoral Theology from Reformed Baptist Seminary. These two sessions are from Dr. Mark Ward on the use of technology in ministry.

Our prayer is that it will be both an encouragement to pastors or future pastors and even to those who serve in other aspects of ministry but not necessarily leadership roles.

Pastoral Evangelism and Equipping – Bob Selph

Here is the sixth in a series on Pastoral Theology from Reformed Baptist Seminary. This is the fourth message from Bob Selph. In this session, he speaks of the need to evangelize within our neighborhoods and also how to teach our people how to evangelize. I appreciate the simple approaches that Bob challenges the listener to use in reaching the lost. The basic message for the lost is summed up in three words – GOD SAVES SINNERS!

Our prayer is that it will be both an encouragement to pastors or future pastors and even to those who serve in other aspects of ministry but not necessarily leadership roles.

Shepherding the Flock – Bob Selph Video

Here is the fifth in a series on Pastoral Theology from Reformed Baptist Seminary. This is the third message from Bob Selph and deals with shepherding the flock and starts with 2 Timothy 4. This is an epistle that was written to be an encouragement from Paul to Timothy, and serves to encourage elders and leaders within the church today.

1 Peter 5 reminds us, “The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over [God's] heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.”

Our prayer is that it will be both an encouragement to pastors or future pastors and even to those who serve in other aspects of ministry but not necessarily leadership roles.

The Pastor and Church Discipline

Here is the fourth in a series on Pastoral Theology from Reformed Baptist Seminary. This is the second message from Donny Martin. Church discipline is never easy and while necessary for the purity of the local church, it should be approached with much grace and humility. Far too often, church discipline devolves into a verbal slugfest rather than a means whereby the local church seeks to bring full restoration to a fallen brother or sister in Christ.

“Church discipline is the church’s Christ-given kingdom responsibility to teach, mature, reform, correct, and restore its membership through the means of instruction, mutual body life ministry, correction and censures that range from preaching and teaching, through suspension from the Lord’s Supper, to expulsion from the fellowship of Christ’s visible church.”

Our prayer is that it will be both an encouragement to pastors or future pastors and even to those who serve in other aspects of ministry but not necessarily leadership roles.

The Pastor and Conflict Resolution

Here is the third in a series on Pastoral Theology from Reformed Baptist Seminary. This message is from Donny Martin. Who of us, especially in church leadership, has not had to deal with conflicts in a local church setting? In this video, Pastor Martin approaches this teaching session from the aspect of dealing with conflict resolution by and because of the gospel. As he states right from the beginning, “The gospel brings the greatest conflict resolution vertically and horizontally in our lives. The reality is that there is the common and painful reality of life in a fallen world.”

Our prayer is that it will be both an encouragement to pastors or future pastors and even to those who serve in other aspects of ministry but not necessarily leadership roles.

The Pastor as a Man and His Relations

Here is the second in a series on Pastoral Theology from Reformed Baptist Seminary. This second message is from Bob Selph and is just as excellent as the first video posted yesterday. Our prayer is that it will be both an encouragement to pastors or future pastors and even to those who serve in other aspects of ministry but not necessarily leadership roles.

The Pastoral Office

I would like to put up an excellent series from the Reformed Baptist Seminary. This first video lecture comes from Bob Selph. I believe that every person who aspires to the ministry should listen to this series. Please enjoy and may the Lord be glorified in each of our ministries.

The Primacy of the Abrahamic Covenant

Why does it matter how one views the covenant with Abraham? Are there actually different views Covenant Viewon it? My experience leads me to believe that most folks don’t really think too much about such things. Yet this singular item is, in fact, the biggest wedge between Reformed Baptists and our Presbyterian brothers.

As pointed out in this book review, the matter of covenants in the Bible and how one looks at and considers them makes a huge difference in myriad other doctrines that sprout forth. To help understand this issue further, I commend this sermon by Jeffrey Johnson, on the topic of the Abrahamic Covenant.

In addition to Johnson’s wonderful book, I recommend this new addition to anyone’s library.

Responsibility of Elders

My church held a conference on church membership last fall. We had several well known speakers, Captureincluding Michael Horton, our own Voddie Baucham, Ken Jones, and Thabiti Anyabwile from Grand Cayman.

Here is Thabiti’s most excellent message on the responsibilities of those who serve the local church as elders: Responsiblity of elders

THE POWER OF THE CHURCH

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. (Hebrews 1:30000023

The true power of the church lies in Christ personally. You may have all the stars that ever made bright the Milky Way with their combined sheen, but there is no power in them to kill evil or conquer sin

The stars of the church shine because God makes them shine. Their shining is not their own: it is a borrowed light with which they are radiant. But the power that overcomes evil, wounds the heart, pierces the conscience, and kills reigning sin is of the Lord alone.

“Out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword” (Revelation 1:16). Glory not, therefore, in men; for power belongs unto God. The power lies in Christ’s Word. “Out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword.”

“He that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully…saith the LORD” (Jeremiah 23:28). People are disturbed and troubled by the real gospel: under the false gospel they can sleep unto destruction. Bring out the sword: it is made to wound; let it exercise its salutary sharpness.

The gospel has two edges so that none may play with it. When they think to run their fingers along the back of it, they will find themselves cut to the bone. Whether we regard its threats or its promises, it cuts at sin.

Let us therefore know that the power of the church does not lie anywhere but in the Word as Jesus himself speaks it. Let us keep to his own pure, unadulterated, unblunted Word, and let us pray him to send it forth with power out of his own mouth into the hearts and consciences of men.1

Charles Spurgeon

[1] Charles Spurgeon, At the Master’s Feet [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005], January 27.

Hat tip to http://apprising.org/

Made Sufficient: A Theology of Preaching

preachMade Sufficient: A Theology of Preaching

INTRODUCTION

Life in our culture today has one very common personal philosophy that will be heard anywhere you go: “You can be anything you set your mind to.” Our school systems, parental urgings, and media culture all cheer us on with shouts of “be all we can be, “just do it,” and “you can make friends and influence people!” We live in a world of driven and purposeful self-sufficiency. If you are a doctor and you find a new condition you are not familiar with, you study, research, prepare, and build the knowledge base and skill set within yourself to accomplish the task. You work hard to achieve the skills required for the task. If an engineer is faced with a new complicated project, they also turn to the books and the training. Study, prepare, practice, test, do all things to develop the personal skills to become competent and capable.

Coming to scripture with this worldview is dangerous enough for the average Christian, but it’s a death wish for those aspiring to the pulpit. In so many ways, our career success cultural handicap has created “you can achieve anything you set your mind to” preaching. Young men feeling the call to preaching start with the philosophy that hard work and personal development of precise skills is all that is needed to assume the pulpit and to receive the celebration and cheers of men. This is why Paul’s words to the Corinthians regarding the ministry of the New Covenant is so shocking.[1] You can just about hear the needle scratching across the record as our culture engages with Paul’s words from 2 Corinthians 2:16b-17,

…who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ[2]

and 2 Corinthians 3:5-6,

Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit.

The World’s response to Paul is: “Who is sufficient for these things? I am of course! I can do anything I set my mind to. I will work hard and become sufficient to preach.” This response, whether voiced or felt secretly deep in our heart is the issue at hand. The biblical act of preaching is not a calling that can be professionalized. Preaching is not something that can be undertaken or mastered by sheer personal will. Preaching is an act like no other. Preaching is not a career choice. Preaching is a supernatural calling to proclaim God’s Word as a reconciled ambassador for Christ. It is only through God that we are made sufficient to speak on His behalf.

MADE SUFFICIENT

Preaching the Word of God is every bit as challenging as walking a tightrope hundreds of feet above the ground. Lean too far in one direction and you fall to a certain death. Overcorrect and lean too far the other direction and you experience the same results. One missed step and you are in great danger. Preaching is similar, not in physical balance and concentration, but in spiritual balance and humility. On one side we can fall into the certain dangers of self-sufficiency and on the other, the certain peril of lazy unpreparedness. The rope itself, on which we safely traverse to the other side, is humility grounded in the knowledge that we are not sufficient to accomplish this task in our own strength and skills, but we are made sufficient by the power of the one of whom we speak. To make the point of how God accommodates our weakness by providing preachers to speak on His behalf, Peter Adam[3], in his little book, Speaking God’s Words, quotes John Calvin, from his Institutes, on the power of God in preaching through the man, rather than the power coming from the man himself:[4]

it forms a most excellent and useful training to humility, when he accustoms us to obey his word though preached by men like ourselves, or, it may be, our inferiors in worth. Did he himself speak from heaven, it were no wonder if his sacred oracles were received by all ears and minds reverently and without delay. For who would not dread his present power? Who would not fall prostrate at the first view of his great majesty? Who would not be overpowered by that immeasurable splendour? But when a feeble man, sprung from the dust, speaks in the name of God, we give the best proof of our piety and obedience, by listening with docility to his servant, though not in any respect our superior. [5]

All men would fall on their faces in reverence if God came down from Heaven and preached to us. However, God chose to use feeble broken men sprung up from the dust to deliver His message to the World (Ex 4:10-12, 1 Cor 1:17-21,1 Thes 2:1-4, 1 Tim 1:12-15). To understand how this feeble, unremarkable, inferior  man can faithfully represent the infinite, holy, omnipresent God of the universe, we must understand the theology of preaching.

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