a puritan's blog

O God, stamp eternity on my eyeballs…

Monthly Archives: March 2009

An Open letter to all preachers

Abstract from an Address before the Nettleton Rhetorical Society in the Theological Seminary at East Windsor, by the Rev. George Shephard, Professor of Sacred Rhetoric in the Theological Seminary in Bangor, circa 1850-51.

(An open letter to all who claim to be Pastors or will stand before a group of people, of any size and address them in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; a call to reclaim true preaching.)

It seems to be generally admitted, that the pulpit has not the power it once had. And it is evidently the duty of ministers and the churches to inquire into the causes of this falling off in the efficiency of the pulpit, and to endeavor seasonably to check and arrest the evil.
The cause of this falling off cannot lie in this, that Christian truth has grown decrepid and passed into its dotage. No; Christian truth is in its freshness. Its vigor now is all that it was. If there is a seeming oldness arising from repetition, yet it will again become spirit and life.
The adversary is putting in requisition all the power of his vast genius, contriving new schemes and systems, multiplying his lying gospels, and drawing multitudes of gaping disciples to every monstrous thing he chooses to start. The preacher now stands in a contested position. He speaks to minds preoccupied; to ears all the time assailed with counter voices. Again: There is a growing incompetency to receive and digest the solid meat of veritable argument. There is here, indeed, some degeneracy in the times. There is not so much patient, productive thought, as once, –an evil fostered by the kind of reading now in vogue, a great proportion of which is light and trashy, under the influence of which the mind pines away, and becomes incompetent to think. Hence many are ready to cry, Give us something brilliant, beautiful, entertaining.
There are tendencies in the pulpit which account, in part at least, for the diminished effectiveness so generally admitted. Both in deep piety and in sound practical talent, which are vastly important qualities in the preacher, there seems to be a falling off, –owing, in part, to the present mode of training ministers in public seminaries, which tends to foster too much confidence in the intellect, and a disposition to aim at distinction in scholarship, while simple godliness is too much neglected. It does not by any means follow that seminaries are to be undervalued; but we should watchfully guard against this tendency.
Another unfavorable circumstance is an abatement in the fulness and strength of doctrine. Doctrine, clearly stated and thoroughly discussed, is indispensable to the authority and cogency of preaching. It is the leading element of power. There cannot be too much vigilance and earnestness in preserving the element of clear, definite, and solid Christian doctrine.
All attempted improvements of doctrine come into the series of enfeebling tendencies. Truth must not be marred. In stating the truth, we must use the very instrument furnished in the Bible. The truth must be presented in God’s own type.
Another enfeebling device is to mix the truth with something else. The object of this is to make the truth more palatable. The intellect insists upon showing itself in some curious feats. There must be a display. There is an effort to make literary sermons, intellectual sermons, great sermons. There is a tendency of this sort in the evangelical pulpit of the present day. The hearers feel it. The most pious and discerning mourn over it.
Some preachers give out a mutilated, diluted gospel, rather than the gospel in its purity and strength. This artificial cast, so injurious to pulpit efficiency, is developed by certain peculiarities of style and language. There is something ambitious, something away from the ordinary track, something splendid and high-wrought. In this, there is a sad missing of the great object of preaching, namely, to meet men’s souls with God’s truth.
A quality of preaching which is very important in our times, and which would do much to retrieve the good influence of the pulpit, and preserve it wholesome and effective, is the grace of humility in the preacher, –a disposition to put himself out of sight, and to lay off the laurels of genius, originality, and ornamental literature. The chief potency of preaching, lies not in curious novelties, but in the vivid utterance of the truth.
The Bible in sermons, will prove an element of great power. Ministers should be more men of one book, and that the Bible. This biblical element of sermons brings God before the hearers. It was this which gave the early New England pulpit such power. And where, out of the Bible, shall we find such potent theology, and such admirable models for the preaching of it, as among the old theological giants of New England, whose writings have those peculiar qualities which ought to characterize gospel sermons. They are everywhere full of God; so instinct with living doctrine (instinct with life), facts, and descriptions, that the attention cannot escape, nor the conscience or heart slumber. And for the finish and clenching of the whole, there comes down the weight of God’s mighty sanctions, giving to all the force of positiveness and authority. This downright, authoritative quality we are in danger of dropping quite too far, not preaching, in this respect, as those mightier men did. We shall retrieve our proper standing only as we come back again; and those venerable men will bring us back, if we have swerved, –will bring us back where they stood, in the position which God assigns us, ready for positive and wholesome utterances, and, being admitted to speak in the name of God, to do it with authority, and not as the scribes.

Woods, Leonard, D.D., Theology of the Puritans, (Boston: Woodbridge, Moore & Co.), 44-45, as found in http://books.google.com/books?id=4MsTAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&lr=#PPP5,M1

Parentheses are my own comments.

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The Justice and Sovereignty of GOD

Isaiah 24 (New American Standard Bible)

1Behold, the LORD lays the earth waste, devastates it, distorts its surface and scatters its inhabitants.
2And the people will be like the priest, the servant like his master, the maid like her mistress, the buyer like the seller, the lender like the borrower, the creditor like the debtor.
3The earth will be completely laid waste and completely despoiled, for the LORD has spoken this word.
4The earth mourns and withers, the world fades and withers, the exalted of the people of the earth fade away.
5The earth is also polluted by its inhabitants, for they transgressed laws, violated statutes, broke the everlasting covenant.
6Therefore, a curse devours the earth, and those who live in it are held guilty Therefore, the inhabitants of the earth are burned, and few men are left.
7The new wine mourns, The vine decays, All the merry-hearted sigh.
8The gaiety of tambourines ceases, The noise of revelers stops, The gaiety of the harp ceases. 9They do not drink wine with song; Strong drink is bitter to those who drink it.
10The city of chaos is broken down; Every house is shut up so that none may enter.
11There is an outcry in the streets concerning the wine; All joy turns to gloom. The gaiety of the earth is banished.
12Desolation is left in the city and the gate is battered to ruins.
13For thus it will be in the midst of the earth among the peoples, As the shaking of an olive tree, As the gleanings when the grape harvest is over.
14They raise their voices, they shout for joy; They cry out from the west concerning the majesty of the LORD.
15Therefore glorify the LORD in the east, The name of the LORD, the God of Israel, In the coastlands of the sea.
16From the ends of the earth we hear songs, “Glory to the Righteous One,”But I say, “Woe to me! Woe to me! Alas for me! The treacherous deal treacherously, and the treacherous deal very treacherously.”
17Terror and pit and snare Confront you, O inhabitant of the earth.
18Then it will be that he who flees the report of disaster will fall into the pit, and he who climbs out of the pit will be caught in the snare; For the windows above are opened, and the foundations of the earth shake.
19The earth is broken asunder, The earth is split through, The earth is shaken violently.
20The earth reels to and fro like a drunkard and it totters like a shack, For its transgression is heavy upon it, And it will fall, never to rise again.
21So it will happen in that day, That the LORD will punish the host of heaven on high, And the kings of the earth on earth.
22They will be gathered together like prisoners in the dungeon, and will be confined in prison; and after many days they will be punished.
23Then the moon will be abashed and the sun ashamed, For the LORD of hosts will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, And His glory will be before His elders.

Matthew Henry’s Commentary

The desolation of the land
Verse 1-12 – All whose treasures and happiness are laid up on earth, will soon be brought to want and misery. It is good to apply to ourselves what the Scripture says of the vanity and vexation of spirit which attend all things here below. Sin has turned the earth upside down; the earth is become quite different to man, from what it was when God first made it to be his habitation. It is, at the best, like a flower, which withers in the hands of those that please themselves with it, and lay it in their bosoms. The world we live in is a world of disappointment, a vale of tears; the children of men in it are but of few days, and full of trouble, See the power of God’s curse, how it makes all empty, and lays waste all ranks and conditions. Sin brings these calamities upon the earth; it is polluted by the sins of men, therefore it is made desolate by God’s judgments. Carnal joy will soon be at end, and the end of it is heaviness. God has many ways to imbitter wine and strong drink to those who love them; distemper of body, anguish of mind, and the ruin of the estate, will make strong drink bitter, and the delights of sense tasteless. Let men learn to mourn for sin, and rejoice in God; then no man, no event, can take their joy from them.

A few shall be preserved
Verse 13-15 – There shall be a remnant preserved from the general ruin, and it shall be a devout and pious remnant. These few are dispersed; like the gleanings of the olive tree, hid under the leaves. The Lord knows those that are his; the world does not. When the mirth of carnal worldlings ceases, the joy of the saints is as lively as ever, because the covenant of grace, the fountain of their comforts, and the foundation of their hopes, never fails. Those who rejoice in the Lord can rejoice in tribulation, and by faith may triumph when all about them are in tears. They encourage their fellow-sufferers to do likewise, even those who are in the furnace of affliction. Or, in the valleys, low, dark, miry places. In every fire, even the hottest, in every place, even the remotest, let us keep up our good thoughts of God. If none of these trials move us, then we glorify the Lord in the fires.

God’s kingdom advanced by his judgments
Verse 16-23 – Believers may be driven into the uttermost parts of the earth; but they are singing, not sighing. Here is terror to sinners; the prophet laments the miseries he saw breaking in like a torrent; and the small number of believers. He foresees that sin would abound. The meaning is plain, that evil pursues sinners. Unsteady, uncertain are all these things. Worldly men think to dwell in the earth as in a palace, as in a castle; but it shall be removed like a cottage, like a lodge put up for the night. It shall fall and not rise again; but there shall be new heavens and a new earth, in which shall dwell nothing but righteousness. Sin is a burden to the whole creation; it is a heavy burden, under which it groans now, and will sink at last. The high ones, that are puffed up with their grandeur, that think themselves out of the reach of danger, God will visit for their pride and cruelty. Let us judge nothing before the time, though some shall be visited. None in this world should be secure, though their condition be ever so prosperous; nor need any despair, though their condition be ever so deplorable. God will be glorified in all this. But the mystery of Providence is not yet finished. The ruin of the Redeemer’s enemies must make way for his kingdom, and then the Sun of Righteousness will appear in full glory. Happy are those who take warning by the sentence against others; every impenitent sinner will sink under his transgression, and rise no more, while believers enjoy everlasting bliss.

Life with CHRIST

In Oswald Chambers devotional today he mentions the fact that “many to-day are spending and being spent in work for Jesus Christ, but they do not walk with Him.”

This is a fearful thing for me and should be all for all Workers of Christ. This statement suggests that prayer, devotion, singing, evangelism et al can be done in the name of but not with Christ. Are you hearing the same thing here, or am I off the rocker?

Oswald goes further by saying, “If God gives a clear and emphatic revelation to your soul of what He wants, do not try to keep yourself in that relationship by any particular method, but live a natural life of absolute dependence on Jesus Christ.”
This itself implies that this kind of revelation has come to a particular soul. If it hasn’t we are merely pretending in ministry. From beginning to end, Salvation is entirely from GOD. His regeneration by the Holy Spirit, His Justification, His Sanctification and His Glorification; they are all from Him and to Him and through Him.

May many souls be found out in these last days for their pretension, may GOD have mercy and grant their souls pardon and true abiding in Christ.
May I fall onto the dust and beg for mercy if I have been one of these pretentious fools and have made a ministry out of something I have built, dreamed up and facilitated. All that have done so will be like the man who built a house on the sand and will be found out, especially in these last days that will be more despicable, more horrendous than any before, Mark 13:19.

To all: Be on your guard!

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