Tag Archives: preaching

Lectio Continua Preaching Going to Press

Posted on 14. Jun, 2011 by .


If you love lectio continua preaching [preaching that treats books of Scripture chapter-by-chapter, verse-by-verse], then you’ll love this forthcoming series, edited by Jon D. Payne.

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Exposition Must Have Application

Posted on 21. Feb, 2011 by .


My beloved college professor, Rev. Ronald Wright, was the man who led me into the Reformed Christian Faith. Those readers who know my story know that Prof. Wright was an ordained Assemblies of God minister. What an amazing providence! One of Prof. Wright’s favorite sayings in class that has never left me was, “Theology that does not become biography is wishful thinking.” Over my pastoral ministry (ordained 7/00) I have come to appreciate that slogan more and more, and even recently, have sought to “get back to my roots” so to speak and begin preaching more practically, simply, and pointedly. Back in my college days of trying to convert everyone to Calvinism, especially the high school students I youth pastored, I was an avid reader of A. W. Tozer. One of his pointed writings was “Exposition Must Have Application,” which is chapter 7 from Of God and Men (Harrisburg, Penn: Christian Publications, 1960). Enjoy!


THERE IS scarcely anything so dull and meaningless as Bible doctrine taught for its own sake. Truth divorced from life is not truth in its Biblical sense, but something else and something less. Theology is a set of facts concerning God, man and the world. These facts may be, and often are, set forth as values in themselves; and there lies the snare both for the teacher and for the hearer.

The Bible is among other things a book of revealed truth. That is, certain facts are revealed that could not be discovered by the most brilliant mind. These facts are of such a nature as to be past finding out. They were hidden behind a veil, and until certain men who spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost took away that veil, no mortal man could know them. This lifting of the veil of unknowing from undiscoverable things we call divine revelation.

The Bible, however, is more than a volume of hitherto unknown facts about God, man and the universe. It is a book of exhortation based upon those facts. By far the greater portion of the book is devoted to an urgent effort to persuade people to alter their ways and bring their lives into harmony with the will of God as set forth in its pages.

No man is better for knowing that God in the beginning created the heavens and the earth. The devil knows that, and so did Ahab and Judas Iscariot. No man is better for knowing that God so loved the world of men that he gave his only begotten Son to die for their redemption. In hell there are millions that know that. Theological truth is useless until it is obeyed. The purpose behind all doctrine is to secure moral action.

What is generally overlooked is that truth as set forth in the Christian Scriptures is a moral thing; it is not addressed to the intellect only, but to the will also. It addresses itself to the total man, and its obligations cannot be discharged by grasping it mentally. Truth engages the citadel of the human heart and is not satisfied until it has conquered everything there. The will must come forth and surrender its sword. It must stand at attention to receive orders, and those orders it must joyfully obey. Short of this any knowledge of Christian truth is inadequate and unavailing.

Bible exposition without moral application raises no opposition. It is only when the hearer is made to understand that truth is in conflict with his heart that resistance sets in. As long as people can hear orthodox truth divorced from life they will attend and support churches and institutions without objection. The truth is a lovely song, become sweet by long and tender association; and since it asks nothing but a few dollars, and offers good music, pleasant friendships and a comfortable sense of well-being, it meets with no resistance from the faithful. Much that passes for New Testament Christianity is little more than objective truth sweetened with song and made palatable by religious entertainment.

Probably no other portion of the Scriptures can compare with the Pauline Epistles when it comes to making artificial saints. Peter warned that the unlearned and unstable would wrest Paul’s writings to their own destruction, and we have only to visit the average Bible Conference and listen to a few lectures to know what he meant. The ominous thing is that the Pauline doctrines may be taught with complete faithfulness to the letter of the text without making the hearers one whit better. The teacher may, and often does, so teach the truth as to leave the hearers without a sense of moral obligation.

One reason for the divorce between truth and life maybe the lack of the Spirit’s illumination. Another surely is the teacher’s unwillingness to get himself into trouble. Any man with fair pulpit gifts can get on with the average congregation if he just “feeds” them and lets them alone. Give them plenty of objective truth and never hint that they are wrong and should be set right, and they will be content.

On the other hand, the man who preaches truth and applies it to the lives of his hearers will feel the nails and the thorns. He will lead a hard life, but a glorious one. May God raise up many such prophets. The church needs them badly.

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Hearing the Voice of the Lord in Your Pastor’s Sermon

Posted on 16. Nov, 2010 by .


“And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers” (1 Thes. 2:13).

Reformed churches believe God still speaks. While we do not believe he speaks via the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we believe that via preaching God’s voice is as real and vital to us as it was through the mouths and pens of prophets and apostles. How can we say this? Here’s the doctrine formulated as simply as possible: when a lawfully called and ordained minister (Rom. 10) preaches the Word of God and not his own words (2 Tim. 2:15) and does so in sincerity to honor God and not himself (1 Thes. 2:3–6), God speaks. His words are “not . . . the word of men but . . . the word of God.” In the words of Heinrich Bullinger (1504–1575): “Wherefore when this Word of God is now preached in the church by preachers lawfully called [per prædicatores legitime vocatos], we believe that the very Word of God [ipsum Dei verbum] is preached, and received of the faithful” (Second Helvetic Confession, 1.4).

So how do you hear the voice of the Lord in your pastor’s sermon? Obviously I’m assuming the above is true of him. Here’s how:

1. Expectantly—“Lord, I expect you to speak”

Since we gather together on the Lord’s Day to hear what Paul says is “not . . . the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God,” we need to come expectantly, crying out to God, “Lord, I expect you to speak.” This means that we need to prepare all week to hear him speak through the preaching of his Word on the Lord’s Day. We need to be preparing our hearts all week long with a spirit of anticipation. The prophet Isaiah spoke of our day, saying, the Lord’s mountain would be exalted and the nations would flow to his house: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths” (Isa. 2:3). Because of this we need to be saying to ourselves, “God’s going to speak. What’s he going to say? I can’t wait.”

2. Hungrily—“Lord, I need you to speak”

When Sunday morning rolls around, we need to hear the Word hungrily, crying out, “Lord, I need you to speak.” Why? Why do we need him to speak through the words of men, which are in reality the Word of God? Because his Word is the food of our souls. In our age of instant gratification and having the world at our fingertips on our iPhones and Blackberries, we are ever-connected to each other and to information. But that feeling is passing. It does not last not does it satisfy our souls. Like our forefathers in the wilderness, our hungry souls need the Word. “Man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deut. 8:3). Like the prophets of old who ate their scrolls to signify the people’s need to have the Word within them to nourish them, so too we need to partake of the Word to satisfy our spiritual hunger.

What kind of an appetite do you have? Do you want the empty calories, the quick sugar high of the devil’s words, the world’s words, your own words, and sadly, the words of so many professing Christian preachers today? What kind of appetite do you have? Do you want your ears tickled with promises of a better life now, health, wealth, and happiness? Instead, we are called to have an appetite for the Word like a nursing child has an appetite for milk. As Peter says, “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation” (1 Peter 2:2). Milk is nourishing. Milk is healthy. Milk is satisfying.

3. Attentively—“Lord, I will listen to you speak”

To make best use of that nourishment we need to hear the Word attentively. During the sermon, we need to be praying, “Lord, I will listen to you speak.” This means every week and even every moment of the sermon, we need to be saying to ourselves, “These are not the words of Pastor ____, but what they are in truth, the words of God.” As we recognize that God is in our midst and that he is speaking, we will be able to give our attentive listening to the Word. This is why the Westminster Confession calls the “conscionable hearing” of the Word an act of worship. We are hearing God, and hearing him, giving our minds and hearts’ full attention to every last word.

One example of hearing the Word attentively is in Deuteronomy 32:47. At the end of one of Moses’ last sermons, he exhorted the people to recognize the profundity of what was happening in that sermon: “For it is no empty word for you, but your very life.” Here is a challenge for pastors as well as for parishioners. Can you say of the preaching of the Word in your church that it is not empty? Can you say of the preaching of the Word that it is your very life? Let me challenge you with all that is in me to think of preaching totally different after this sermon. Let me challenge you to fight fatigue, to fight distracting thoughts, and to fight what the devil wants you to think about all this, that it’s boring. Worship is the place and the time where God speaks!

4. Faithfully—“Lord, I believe you when you speak”

You need to leave worship saying to God, “Lord, I believe you when you speak.” I know this is difficult to believe that in preaching it is not the words of men but the words of God. I know it must be hard to believe that your pastor’s words are not merely his words but God’s words, given that you know that he is a mere man, a sinful man at that. Because of this receive the preaching of the Word by faith as God’s word to you.

Because preaching must be received by faith, that faith is inevitably going to be an object of the devil’s temptation. We too easily give into the devil’s subtle designs on this point. How? He wants us to judge the minister with our eyes—his appearance, his fashion or lack thereof, or even the fact that he may wear a robe to signify his office but that turns you off to the content of what he preaches. The devil wants us to judge the minister with our hearts. Don’t ever tell him your gripes, but hold grudges, hold spite, and hold adverse opinions about him that you are saving as weapons for a later time. He wants us to judge the minister with our minds. How easy it is to fall into the trap that one of my college professors said parishioners fall into when he said, “Some people know just enough Hebrew and Greek to be dangerous.” We puff ourselves up in our minds so that we can do mental battle with the preacher. All this is so that we do not listen to him.

5. Obediently—“Lord, I will obey you when you speak”

Instead, God wants us to hear the Word obediently. He wants us to leave, saying to him, “Lord, I will obey you when you speak.” The Thessalonians heard the Word, they received the Word, and they accepted the Word. And it was that Word that was “at work” in them. The Word is never fruitless, but is always fruitful. As the prophet Isaiah said, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
 and do not return there but water the earth,
 making it bring forth and sprout,
 giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
 it shall not return to me empty, 
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
 and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isa. 55:10–11). Are you a doer of the Word and not merely a hearer?

We need to learn how to fine-tune our spiritual senses that we are able to hear the Lord in a world of noise. We can do that as we listen expectantly, as we listen hungrily, as we listen attentively, as we listen faithfully, and as we listen obediently. Let me challenge you to do so that your life will be saturated with the Word in every part and guided by the Word at every turn of your life. Let me close with a wonderful quote that summarizes it all. The Puritan Joseph Alleine once said—and I pray this is true for us all: “Come from your knees to the sermon, and come from the sermon to your knees.” Amen.

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Word & Sacraments or the Holy Spirit?

Posted on 01. Apr, 2010 by .


I’m having another late night tonight, winding down my ThM thesis on John Owen’s liturgical theology. It’s interesting as I read his sermons on issues related to worship how often Owen repeats himself (I think Mark made this point once with Goodwin and “cutting and pasting”). His sermon on 1 Corinthians 12:11 (Works 9, 441–452) does this, but there is one section where he breaks some new ground in my reading of him that has opened my mind this evening. In speaking of Christ’s presence with his church, he distinguished between his presence “essentially . . . by the immensity of his divine nature” his presence “in his human nature” and his presence “by his Spirit” (Works 9, 443–444). It is this final mode that is principal and fundamental. After proving this from John 14–16 and the account of the giving of the Spirit in Acts, Owen gives a very memorable and striking line that will surely stick with me: And Christ hath no vicar, but the Spirit” (Works 9, 444). What a great line.

It’s what he goes on to say, though, that is really the substantive material. If the Spirit is Christ’s vicar in this age, what does that mean for us? Let me let Owen speak for himself:

Some begin to say in our days, that Christ is no otherwise present than by the outward ordinances of it [the church],—his word and sacraments. I grant he is present with them, as pledges of his presence, and instruments wherewith, by his Spirit, he doth effectually work; but to make them the whole presence of Christ with us, I do not know what better church-state we have than the Jews, when they had the law of old (Works 9, 444).

Is Christ with us today by the word and sacraments or by the Holy Spirit? Too often we who have come to the Reformed church from all forms and manifestations of evangelicalism have replaced the Holy Spirit with the word and sacraments. I have been guilty of this. Of course Owen shows that this is a false dichotomy, but the emphasis needs to be on the Holy Spirit, and not the instruments of his presence. I once heard Hywel Jones give a lecture at Westminster Seminary California on this very point as he said his coming to the States was a shock to him. He said he heard so much emphasis on the sacraments, on law-gospel preaching, on biblical theological preaching, on Christ-centered preaching, but almost no talk of what makes those methods effectual: the Holy Spirit. May God give us the sensitivity to the need of the work of the Spirit in our churches today with and through the word and sacraments.

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Mondays with Manton (4)

Posted on 08. Mar, 2010 by .


MantonI recently preached a sermon on the prophetic office of Jesus Christ and found one of Thomas Manton’s sermons on Matthew 17:5 to be of immense help and blessing.The sermon is sixth of seven in his collection, Christ’s Temptation and Transfiguration Practically Explained and Improved in Several Sermons (Works 1, 258–411).

The sermon picks up Matthew 17:5, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased; hear ye him.” He begins this sermon by setting out the scopus of the text as being “to set forth the Lord Jesus as the great mediator” (Works 1, 392) and further narrowing that down to the prophetical office. Manton then stated the doctrinal theme of the text: “That Christ is appointed by God the Father to be the great prophet and teacher, whose voice alone must be heard in the Church” (Works 1, 393).

What I found so helpful was his discussion of what it means to “hear” Christ. He distinguished three types of hearing: first, the receiving of sounds, which animals can do; second, the understanding of the sense and meaning of these sounds, which all humanity (ordinarily) can do; and third, assenting and consenting with the mind, which disciples alone can do (Works 1, 395). And this hearing that disciples engage in was to lead to obedience.

He then asked the great pastoral question his hearers must have been thinking: “How can we now hear Christ, since he is removed into the heaven of heavens, and doth not speak to us in person?” (Works 1, 396) Manton’s answer? He cited passages such as Hebrews 2:3–4 and 2 Corinthians 5:20 to show that Christians are to hear Christ through the writings of the apostles—the Scriptures.

It so so wonderful to know that the Scriptures are the viva vox Christi and that we are enabled to hear his voice in the reading and especially preaching of the Word by the power of the Holy Spirit. Hear him!

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William Ames’ Exhortation to Students of Theology

Posted on 26. Oct, 2009 by .


William AmesSince the good Doctor, Mark Jones, posted recently about John Owens’ advice to theological students, I thought it would be a fun exercise to write a post on “the learned Doctor” William Ames’ advice to theological students. William Ames (1576–1633) was an Englishman who was “exiled” to the Netherlands for the end of his life and ministry. If any of you know much about the Dutch, you’ll understand the great blessing Ames had in teaching at the University of Franeker in the province of Friesland (laugh if you get the tongue-in-cheek joke). On May 23, 1622, the independent-minded, some would say stubborn, Frieslanders’ installed Ames at their small but “gracious academy of Friesland.” A little over  year later he gave a lecture entitled, Parenesis ad studios theologiae, habita Franekerae, Aug. 22, anno 1623, “An Exhortation to the Students of Theology, Dwelling in Franeker, August 22, the Year 1623.” This lecture was translated in 1958 by Douglas Horton and is available through Inter-Library Loan or through sending me a few guilders (alright, just e-mail me for the .pdf).

Ames begins by defining the nature of theology as he did in his Medulla theologica, also published in 1623, in which Ames said so famously, “Theology is the doctrine or teaching of living to God.” In his exhortation, Ames said it was necessary for the University to “call theology away from questions and controversies, obscure, confused, and not very essential, and introduce it to life and practice so that students would begin to think seriously of conscience and its concerns.” No doubt Ames’ definition and populist concern reflects his relationship towards Johannes Maccovius, whom he considered too speculative.

First among Ames’ concerns was to counter what he perceived as a lack of understanding by students of “the proper end of theology.” He discussed this using 1 Timothy 4:16 as his text, which says the minister must be aware of his teaching since it saves himself and his hearers. This meant that students need to know that they were to be devoted to the glory of God and the edification of the church. Contrary to this concern for the proper end of theology were those who entered the ministry for financial gain or just like they would enter a business. God help us from this attitude in ourselves and for us so privileged, in purging this attitude from those we are shepherding towards the ministry as seminary students.  While these were “useless weights to the church,” Ames said “the greater marvel is the grace and providence of God, by which it has come about that up till now the church has lived on, although burdened to an unhappy degree by men of this hireling kind.” Amen! Ames also linked his concern for the proper end of theology with the conscience, saying, “The mirror in which the image of eternal truth is reflected must be pure and clean. As far as possible there ought to be no stains of vice or flaws of selfishness in that heart in which the divine wisdom is to tabernacle.” How important a godly character is to the preparation for the ministry! Cleanse your mind, seminary students, of greed, pride, arrogance, anger, envy, and contentiousness, to name a few areas. I remember those seminary days well.

Ames’ second concern was to impress upon his students the high calling of the ministry: “What can be thought more important or useful than the profession of the ministry? Here one does not treat of lands and estates and similar earthly matters, as in civil law, but of the supremest good and the highest heaven, not of temporal bodily health, as in medicine, but of salvation and eternal life. Not here, as elsewhere, do they enquire into the sentiments, orders, decisions, and rulings of men, but into the eternal wisdom of God and His perfect will.” I don’t know if I’ve ever read it better than this.

Ames’ third concern was to show that the ministry concerned not only doctrine, but method and practice, using the illustration of physicians of old who divided their discipline into these three areas. This was important, because, as Ames said, “Our ministers, however, think themselves to be quite prepared for all the parts of their office if they know only the doctrines—and would they knew them!” It is for this reason that the Scriptures were to be studied for doctrine and for the practice of godliness. What does this mean for us? It means that just because you like to read, just because you like theology, and just because you are able to cite a few passages of Scripture, from Calvin, or from the Confessions to make a point does not mean you are being called into the ministry.

In conclusion, like a good Ramist, Ames ended his exhortation with the use of his word concerning the end of theology, the high calling of the ministry, and the need to study for purposes of doctrine and godliness. Here Ames spoke to his students about “theological exercises,” which were the ways the things they learned were sharpened and put into practice. Ames’ exhortation to his students was that they participated in disputations, that is, formal theological debate. They needed to engage in rehearsing their sermons so that they would benefit their hearers; they need to pray; they needed to engage in holy meditation; and as fellow students, they needed to exhort, admonish, and console each other as brothers in the Lord. May God help us to do so.

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A Meditation Upon Preaching

Posted on 17. Sep, 2009 by .


If you have never heard a sermon from Edward Donnelly you are missing out. Rev. Donnelly is the pastor of  Trinity Reformed Presbyterian Church, Newtownabbey, Northern Ireland, as well as Professor at Reformed Theological College in Belfast. In the latest issue of The Banner of Truth, Rev. Donnelly has an article entitled, “A Master Preacher” (The Banner of Truth 553 [October 2009]: 14–15), in which he says the following:

Many speak from pulpits—but they do not preach the gospel. They suggest that their hearers try to be good. They recommend self-fulfilment and getting rid of inhibitions. They may offer whimsical comments on current events or new-age spirituality with a Christian veneer. Some choose to ridicule the supernatural or attack the absolutes of God’s law. But there is no declaration of what God has done in Christ for the salvation of the lost. There is not a word of grace or of real hope. Their poor people listen in ignorance and die in their sins.

Some do preach the gospel—but not powerfully. These are good men, eager to be faithful. They have trusted Christ for themselves and know that they are commissioned to proclaim him as Saviour to others. But most of their regular listeners are professing Christians and there seems little point in telling them again what they already know. So the gospel tends to be tacked on to sermons which are designed primarily for believers. It becomes the predictable formula with which every message closes. The idea is that, if a casual visitor attends the service, enough information will be provided about salvation to enable him or her to come to faith. But no-one really expects this to happen. Many ministers will admit that they feel more comfortable in teaching Christians than when they are preaching evangelistically. This awkwardness is reflected in their sermons and they communicate the gospel in a hesitant and ineffective way.

Rev. Donnelly’s words have humbled me today. I pray the Holy Spirit works in me and that I fan into flame my gift to preach the gospel and to do so with power. This article has also done what a good article should do: lead me back to Scripture. As I prepared to prepare a sermon today, I meditated upon the words of 1 Corinthians 1:18–2:5 for the umpteenth time. What have I learned again?

I have learned just how amazing our God is! Pause and reflect with me upon the depths of his wisdom. He has chosen a message—the work of our Lord Jesus Christ—he has chosen a method—audible preaching—he has chosen messengers—men like Paul, men like you, men like me, whom Paul calls “fools for Christ” in 4:10—and he has chosen masses—those who are saved through the above—and all of these are admittedly weak, lowly, despised, and powerless as far as human opinion goes.

Because of this I have learned that I need to trust God’s promise to work through me, his messenger here at the Oceanside United Reformed Church, and to be obedient to his calling upon my life to utilize his method and to preach his message. Period. End of story! I need to get out of the way and let God do his work. I need to decrease so that he can increase. I need to become a fool that his wisdom may shine. I need to be humbled that he may be exalted.

I have also learned how to preach and to do so in power. As Paul says in these verses—and as Hywel Jones once preached at the Chapel of Westminster Seminary—the keys are two: close living and plain speaking. We as pastors need to live “among” our people as Paul did, as a shepherd does with his sheep, as our Lord has done with us. We need to be among our people in “weakness and fear,” being humble yet reverent, accessible yet serious. We need to preach Christ in plainness of speech that there is no doubt that what people have heard is not only words about Christ but the word of Christ.

Will you fall down with me in adoring this amazing God? Will you believe with me that our God can and will do amazing things through us when we get out of his way? Will you dedicate yourself alongside of me that we will live among and love our people and that we will preach Christ and the riches of our life in him?

May God grant his Spirit to me, to you, and to a generation of pastors to do so. Amen.

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Canticles: Communion with Christ?

Posted on 07. Sep, 2009 by .


Interpretation of Canticles or “The Song of Songs” in the last fifty years has predominately favored the view that the book reflects the love between a man and his wife, and not, in the first instance, the intimate relationship a believer has with Christ.  Many in the (Reformed) church today seem to talk so little about the enjoyment of sweet communion with the risen Savior who “dwells in our hearts by faith”.  They can speak about the ordo-historia issue all night long, but they are decidedly silent on Christian experience; indeed, they may even be embarrased to speak of their relationship with Christ in the manner we read of in the Song of Songs. [...]

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