What is Biblical Preaching?


Preaching open Bible image

By Phil A. Newton

George Barna, the guru of statistics among evangelicals, seems to be influencing today’s pulpit more than the apostles Peter and Paul. Barna, whose popularity began with his book Marketing the Church, has assumed the position of telling preachers how they are to preach in order to “reach” certain segments of society. His basic thesis of “marketing the church” continues in his profusion of books. While no one can doubt the importance of Barna’s statistical data to the strategies of evangelicals, it seems that he continues to cross the line of offering data to pontificating changes that ignore God’s Word.

In a recent article in Preaching titled “The Pulpit-meis-ter: Preaching to the New Majority,” Barna departs from his role as a sociologist and assumes the role of professor of preaching. He does state that “the core of our message must never be compromised,” but the paradigm he proposes can lead only to compromise. He suggests that “the new majority,” the group of so-called Boomers and Busters (those born from 1946 to 1964 and 1965 to 1983, respectively), have certain characteristics which prevent them from being attentive to typical, traditional preaching (George Barna, “The Pulpit-meister: Preaching to the New Majority,” Preaching [January/February], 11).

I recognize that preachers must develop their individ- ual styles and that preaching in certain parts of the world may vary due to particular cultural influences. But when the preacher must change his use of language to purge it of any hint of the theological or judgmental, he finds himself positioned to be more of an inspirational speaker than a preacher of God’s Word. When he must keep his sermons under twenty minutes, filling them with stories, avoiding “moral absolutes,” and going light on scriptural references, he has no hope to teach and explain the doctrines of the Word. Barna goes so far as to state, “Increasingly we find that the entire approach of ‘talking at the audience’ is an ill fated form of communication.” He suggests that preaching in any kind of series will not work since the audience may change from week to week (The Pulpit-meister, 11-13).

The question Barna’s article raises for me is this, What are we trying to do in preaching? Are we trying to placate the self-centeredness of man? Or proclaim, “Thus saith the Lord”? Preachers must reckon with the biblical basis of preaching rather than the sociological observations of barn. Barna is fallible. God’s Word is not.

In His classic work Preaching and Preachers, Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote, “The most urgent need in the Christian Church today is true preaching; and as it is the greatest and most urgent need in the Church, it is obviously the greatest need in the world also.” (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1971], 9). Assuredly, Lloyd-Jones did not have drama, entertainment, or pulpit chats in mind when he pressed the need for “true preaching.” In his mind, true preaching was nothing less than the exposition of God’s Word in the power of the Holy Spirit. “What is preaching?” Lloyd-Jones queried:

Logic on fire! Eloquent reason! Are these contradictions? Of course not. Reason concerning this Truth ought to be mightily eloquent, as you see in the case of the Apostle Paul and others. It is theology on fire. And a theology which does not take fire, I maintain, is a defective theology; or at least the man’s understanding of it is defective. Preaching is theology coming through a man who is on fire (Preaching and Preachers, 97).

The issue in preaching is proclaiming faithfully, accurately, and clearly the Word of God, so that the truth of the Word penetrates the mind to affect the heart, rather than the cleverness of the preacher impressing the hearers. At the core of all a preacher does is to dig deeply into a given text of Scripture, seeking to understand it grammatically, historically, and doctrinally. He must then apply himself, in the power of the Spirit, to let the text speak through him. J.I. Packer explained what true preaching is when he wrote:

The true idea of preaching is that the preacher should become a mouthpiece for his text, opening it up and applying as a word from God to his hearers, talking only in order that the text may speak itself and be heard, making each point from his text in such a manner “that the hearers may discern how God teacheth if from thence (J.I. Packer, God Has Spoken [Grand Rapids, Michagan: Baker, 1979], 28; Packer quote from Westminster Directory, 1645).

With much grief, I listened recently to a man who filled the pulpit with jokes, clever stories, and talk-show one-liners. But he never proclaimed God’s Word. He read a text and even referred to it, albeit eisegetically. Yet the truths of the Word were never expounded for the congregation to be confronted with the living God and his truth. That is entertainment. it is not preaching in a biblical sense. I fear that such pulpit-abuse (or perhaps I should say, congregation abuse) is all too common.

We must consider what we are attempting to do in the pulpit. It seems that some preachers have a goal to be enjoyed by the hearers rather than to help the hearers understand God’s Word, and, consequently, come to know God in truth. Surely the shallowness in the pew is primarily due to the neglect in the pulpit. I agree with James Montgomery Boice: “The church has to rediscover who God is, come to know him, and fellowship with him. The avenue for that has always been Bible exposition and teaching. There’s no shortcut.”(Quoted by Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines Within the Church [Chicago: Moody, 1996], 59). Yet the popular methods of the day fall short of “Bible exposition and teaching.”

What does the Bible have to say about all this? There’s no more forceful nor clear passage addressing the subject of preaching than that which Paul wrote to Timothy in his last epistle:

I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and kingdom; preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry  (2 Timothy 4:1-5 [Scripture references are from the New American Standard Bible]).

Whatever the preacher is to be doing in the pulpit, at the very minimum he ought to be dictated by the teaching of God’s Word. Anything less than this is a compromise of his ministry and calling. The example and exhortation of the Bible points back to the priority of preaching. Don Whitney expresses it well:

Regardless of how inefficient some may think preaching is in our technological, mass media society, regardless of how much more exciting or entertaining or even successful other methods may appear, the most effective way of communicating the gospel of Jesus Christ is still through the means God was pleased to choose—preaching (Spiritual Disciplines, 64).

With these things in mind, I offer some of the chief issues raised by the apostle Paul in his exhortation to Timothy.


The apostle Paul was nearing the end of his life as he penned these words to Timothy. We can call them “Final Instructions,” for the apostle knew the pressures of the ministry which his young disciple faced. He understood that nothing short of biblical preaching in the power of the Holy Spirit will have the needed effect upon his congregation. So we see him reminding Timothy of the gravity facing him in the discharge of his responsibilities. For Paul, being a preacher was not a matter of fun or popularity. It was a divine calling that must be fulfilled in a God-ordained fashion.

We see that biblical preaching is a solemn responsibility…

Because of the Audience. I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus,” he begins. Paul wanted Timothy to understand that while he had a congregation who listened to his preaching, they were not his chief audience. Instead, God and Christ Jesus were.

This is a shocking thought to consider: The God of heaven listens in on the preaching of the pastor! There is no more important thing for me to remember when standing at the pulpit than the fact that the ears of heaven are attuned to every word I speak. The Greek of the prepositional phrase, “in the presence of,” literally means “in the face of” (Gk. enopion). The solemn charge to preach and the discharging of the duty is given “in the face of” God and the Redeemer.

When I first spoke this truth to my own congregation there were a few people who were repulsed at the thought. They argued against such a proposition that God himself is the primary audience in preaching, while the congregation is secondary. Yet this is exactly what Paul spoke to the church at Corinth: “Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves before you? We are speaking in Christ before God. Everything we do beloved, is for the sake of building you up (2 Corinthians 12:19). The solemnity of preaching demands that the preacher realize that he is speaking “in the sight of God,” yet for the “upbuilding” of the congregation.

Because of the Accountability. The reminder that the Lord Jesus Christ is “to judge the living and the dead” should stem the endless jokes and cute stories that pollute the pulpit as a substitute for preaching. Those seated before the preacher will one day face a Judge who executes his judgement in righteousness. In light of this, can the preacher be trivial in the pulpit? If he truly loves those under his charge, can he neglect to expound the Word of God which addresses the “real need” of sinners rather than offering up sermonic ditties for the “felt needs” of his hearers?

Because of the Appearing. The imminence and gravity of Christ’s return is held before Timothy as he is charged with preaching the Word of God. The preacher of the Word must keep in mind that we do not await clever timetables for Christ to return. He can end this life in a moment. The preacher must so live and so preach as if today is the day of Christ’s appearing. The urgency of the messenger delivering the right message to his hearers is pressed upon us by this charge.

Because of the Authority. The mention of Christ’s kingdom reminds Timothy of the sovereign rule of Jesus Christ over him and the affairs of his King. His duty is to his King. His energies are to be expended for his King. When he stands before a people to deliver the Word of God, he must keep in mind that he stands as a representative of his King. And he is confronting his hearers with the lordship of Christ over their lives as well. His message must not be muddled by a blend of self-help and psychobable. As Paul expressed it: “For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5).


The three key words of our text, “Preach the word,” drive home to us the specific nature of the preaching task. The preacher must expound the Word of God or else he has failed in his calling. He may be a wonderful administrator, a winsome personal worker, an effective leader. But if he fails to expound the Word of God, he is a failure to his calling to “preach the Word.”

Before considering the specific elements involved in biblical preaching, I offer some observations on the trends that seem to be affecting the hearing of the Word in our congregations. These trends have an impact upon preaching and hearing.


First, there has been a popularizing and Americanizing of the Word to make it more palatable and acceptable to the masses. Rather than seeking to understand a text as God gave it, the preacher seems to be more intent on appealing to people. Often the goal is to increase church membership. But if that membership is gained at the expense of a genuine work of God through biblical preaching, can it really be worthwhile?

Neither Jesus nor the apostles sought to make the truth of God more palatable to their hearers. They laid the truth out with force and clarity. Paul assessed that his preaching of the cross was “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:23-24). They preached the truth and depended upon the power of God to drive it home to the hearers’ minds and hearts.

Perhaps one of the problems that has necessitated a watering down of truth in the pulpit is a shallow theology of the Holy Spirit. Rather than believing the Spirit of God can penetrate calloused minds with the Word of God, preachers have sought to use clever devices and techniques to persuade hearers. A failure to understand the biblical doctrine of regeneration has led to untold harm in the name of evangelism, all because preachers do not trust the Holy Spirit to do his work.

When we try to use the latest methods of communication we may have a ready audience, but they pay more attention to our cleverness than to the cross. They are impressed with the speaker, not the Savior (1 Corinthians 1:17). While a seminary student, I had two different professors for preaching. One taught biblical exposition. The other encouraged preachers to offer fifteen-to-twenty-minute dramatic presentations to their congregations. One method communicates divine truth. The other draws attention to the preacher.

Second, the attention given to the “electronic preacher” has shortened the attention spans and changed the appetites of congregations. I am thankful for the many wonderful media broadcasts that faithfully proclaim the Word of God. But I am appalled at the equally large number which claim everything but biblical truth. Some media preachers water down truth in order to be popular and secure good ratings. They know what sells. Marketing has driven them to change their content to appeal to the masses in order to gain a larger following.

Another effect of media preachers is that even those who faithfully preach the Word have their messages edited to fit a twenty-five-minute broadcast format. certainly this is understandable with the cost of airtime. But when you add to this the lack of hunger for the purity of the Word and the typical church member’s shortened attention span, you find complaints about Sunday sermons that last longer than thirty minutes.

I have been preaching since 1970. Since I started preaching exposition ally, about 1974, I have found that I will normally spend forty to forty-five minutes for each sermon. I’ve tried to shorten my outlines and change my notes, but nothing seems to have a real effect on my sermon length. And rightly so! The goal should never be just to get through. It should be to expound the text of God’s Word.

A few years ago I found myself facing some disgruntled people who wanted shorter sermons. They really did not care what I preached as long as it was shorter! But I took time to explain, that in my understanding, I could not adequately deal with a text of Scripture in less than forty to forty-five minutes. I found a kindred mind in this with John MacArthur. He wrote:

If you are going to be a Bible expositor, forget the twenty and thirty-minute sermons. You are looking at forty or fifty minutes. In any less than that, you can’t exposit the Scripture. The purpose is not to get it over, but rather to explain the Word of God. My goal is not accomplished because I am brief. My goal is accomplished when I am clear and I have exposited the Word of God (John MacArthur, Jr., Rediscovering Expository Preaching [Dallas, Texas: Word, 1992], 339-40).

Third, proclamation has been replaced by a “talk-show-host” mentality. Because of a fear of offending or due to an audience’s appetite, the “herald” no longer is concerned with speaking “thus saith the Lord,” but “Whatever you want, I’ve got” and “Listen to me and feel good.”

Don Whitney offers a personal vignette that illustrates this problem:

Your soul will only be fed from the Word of God. Without it, you will be undernourished and suffer spiritual marasmus. That’s what happened to a man I’ll call whom I spoke with not long ago. When I talked with Chris he had been in seminary for a few months and was working for a para-church ministry that specializes in teaching the Bible and theology. Prior to enrolling in seminary, he had for several years been associate pastor in charge of drama and music at a church a couple of miles from me where the pulpit ministry was based on topical preaching aimed at people’s felt needs. The church had grown from very few to hundreds in a short time. 

Chris had plenty of budget money and many talented actors, singers, musicians, and other workers as resources for his ministry. Afterward, however, he said to me, “I didn’t know it when I resigned, but the following Sunday I realized that my soul was as dry and withered and empty as it could be. I had been running on the spiritual fumes of the pressure of preparation for each Sunday’s drama and music. I was so busy that I hadn’t realized I had dried up spiritually. It was because I was not hearing faithful, biblical exposition, but topical sermons aimed at felt needs. Everything was based upon marketing strategy. Only when I got away from all that did I realize that I was all be dead spiritually.” (Spiritual Disciplines, 66-67).

I visited a church in Atlanta during a vacation and listened to a sermon that was really more of a “talk.” It could easily have been given at a Kiwanis Club. My children quickly recognized that we had not heard the Word preached, but only a preacher trying to impress his hearers.

My family and I took a relative with us to another church in a southern metropolitan area. The church has a great reputation and has recently constructed a large facility to accommodate its rapid growth. When the service was over I asked the relative, who rarely attends church, what she thought. Without any kind of prompting from me, she said, “I got the feeling that they were trying to entertain me.” I thought that such a comment spoke volumes, especially coming from one is unfamiliar with “felt-needs” or mega-church thinking. The evangelical pulpit has shrunk into the mire of entertainment, thinking that it has to compete on the same level as the world, while hungry hearts are waiting to hear a word from God.

Fourth, we’ve lost our appetite fro truth, and instead would rather appeal to people’s interests or felt needs in our preaching. Rather than longing for truth to set us free or truth to reprove, rebuke, and exhort, or truth to expose the thoughts and intents of the heart, we want something to make us feel better about ourselves. We want something that does not make radical demands or us, something that does not disturb the way we’re living our lives, something that won’t challenge what we want to think or believe the truth to be. This is precisely what the apostle warned:

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths (2 Timothy 4:3-4).

On one occasion a man came up to me after a service and stated, “I’ve had everything figured out in a neat box, and your preaching challenges it. I don’t like it, but I need it.” The unfortunate thing is that his box kept getting challenged and he ran away from what he admitted that he needed. Biblical preaching will apply the truth of God’s Word so that it judges “the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). Unless the Spirit of God is working in a person he will have difficulty sitting under a steady diet of biblical exposition (Cf. 1 Corinthians 2:6-16 for the biblical basis of this statement).

Too many fail to have interest in the content of sermons. They want only an appealing delivery so they can feel good about themselves. In contrast to this, Don Whitney has written, “And no matter how enthusiastic or passionate the presentation, it is still the content, not the physical force of delivery that determines faithfulness to the message” (Spiritual Disciplines, 65).

John Piper, who is known for books with superb content, wrote in the introduction of his book, Future Grace, one of the best statements on the need for content rather than mere appeal to itching ears. His statement concerns reading, but it is equally true of preaching:

Every book worth reading beckons with the words, “Think over what I say.” I do not believe that what I have written is hard to understand—if a person is willing to think it over. When my sons complain that a good book is hard to read, I say, “Raking is easy, but all you get is leaves; digging is hard, but you might find diamonds.”

I have tried to write as I preach [and I believe he has succeeded] with a view to instructing the mind and moving the heart… [After giving the example of John Owen’s writings being difficult to grasp, yet for 300 years his twenty-three volumes are still in print and still feeding hungry souls] The lesson is that biblical substance feeds the church, not simplicity (John Piper, Future Grace [Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah, 1995], 16-17).

Fifth, we want the truth to be popular with everyone, enjoyed by sinner and saint alike. Yet this is foreign to both Old and New Testament teaching regarding the truth. Just look at the prophets, apostles, and teachers captured in God’s Word. Was Jeremiah’s preaching popular? Did Paul seek to “win friends and influence people” through his preaching? Did the multitudes persevere with our Lord in His declaration of truth? Paul expressed it well, “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).


Perhaps a bit of amplification on precisely what is involved in biblical exposition will be helpful. It begins with understanding the text which the preacher desires to expound. I believe that the best approach on selecting a text begins with preaching consecutively through books of the Bible. That way a preacher is forced to deal with the “whole counsel of God,” and his congregation will be exposed to the breadth of biblical truth. The preacher may also deal with topics or themes, but he should always be expository in his approach; that is, he should be a mouthpiece for the text (Rediscovering Expository Preaching, 255ff.)

The preacher must diligently study the text he selects in its contextual setting. This involves a thorough study of the language and grammar used, the historical purpose of the text, the cultural factors that bear weight upon its meaning, and its connection to the balance of Scripture. Reading and meditating upon the text allows the preacher to consider its implications and truths, as well as feeding his own mind and soul with its life-giving truth. Depending upon the illuminating power of the Spirit in the study is essential. He will find that prayer must accompany his study or else he will be engaging in mere academics. He must seek to rightly explain “the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15), so that he arrives at a proper interpretation. The use of research tools such as word studies, commentaries, theologies, and sermons can be helpful aids to the preacher in grasping the message of the text.

Once he understands the essential message of his text, the preacher will need to organize the message of the text into salient parts for proclamation. The starting point will be development of a theme, which has been called “the essence of the sermon in a sentence,” or “the proposition,” or “the dominating theme.”At this point I have found it helpful to develop an outline, complete with points and subpoints, all of which help to amplify the dominating theme of the text. This gives structure to the sermon so that the preacher is not guilty of offering an incoherent collection of random thoughts on a text. Some preachers have the mistaken notion that if they can have a nice outline, perhaps fully alliterated, then they have done an exposition until the doctrines and principles of the text are expounded (I have been greatly helped in biblical exposition by numerous books and preachers. My thoughts in this section will reflect their influence, though it would be difficult to footnote every detail. I mention a few: Drs. Stephen and David Olford maintain ongoing, short-term preaching institutes through Encounter Ministries Biblical Preaching Institute in Memphis, Tennessee, (800) 843-2241; they have coauthored a book on expository preaching, Anointed Expository Preaching [Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998]. John MacArthur’s book, Rediscovering Expository Preaching, is a superb course in sermon-building and the exercise of preaching. Bryan Chappell’s book, Christ-Centered Preaching [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 1994], offers a thorough self-study approach in preaching).

The preacher’s goal should never be to impress a congregation with his great outlines! He should seek to explain and apply the text to his congregation. He will need to develop supporting thoughts that assist him in the exposition. He should use Scripture that show the relation of the theme and integrating thoughts to the whole of God’s Word. He will need to illustrate certain truths to help with the understanding process, being careful not to allow the illustration to become the sermon (I disagree strongly with my former preaching professor who taught me biblical exposition. He has changed his thinking, even to the point of implying that “illustrations are no longer just the ‘window’ to the sermon, they are becoming the ‘truth’ of the sermon…’They are being used to tell the story…Sermon points are being related to the illustration’” [Facts & Trends, vol. 39, no. 8,4]. While illustrations can be used effectively, preachers will do well to spend more time studying the text instead of trying to find the latest, clever illustration). By all means he will give attention to explaining the doctrines found in the text (Martyn Lloyd-Jones stated in many sermons that unless a preacher deals with doctrines in a text he has not dealt with the text! It is interesting that many Puritans and writers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries typically highlighted the doctrines found in their expositions. The unfortunate lack of doctrinal preaching in our day has given rise to the weakened state of the Christian church throughout the world. We do well to heed the need to deal thoroughly with doctrine. I commend Lloyd-Jones’ Preaching and Preachers and John Piper’s The Supremacy of God in Preaching [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 1990], as two volumes to stimulate your thinking on doctrinal preaching).

The task of proclaiming the truths of the text will demand all of the spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical energies the preacher can give to this work. He must approach the proclamation of the Word prayerfully, pleading for the fulness of the Spirit to endue him with power, recognizing that apart from divine power he will flounder in the waters of his own weakness. Tony Sargent has rightly stated, “The most humbling and wonderful experience for any preacher as he enters the pulpit is to know that God is with him. The most frightening for him is to be in the pulpit and feel he is on his own” (Tony Sargent, The Sacred Anointing: The Preaching of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones [Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 1994] 79.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones exhorts the preacher to seek the power of the Spirit for preaching God’s Word. “Seek this power, expect this power, yearn for this power; and when this power comes, yield to him. Do not resist. Forget all about your sermon if necessary. Let him loose you, let him manifest his power in you and through you” (The Sacred Anointing, 57).

The Greek word for “to preach” (kerussein) referred to the responsibility given to a herald. He may have been in the service of an ancient king, serving as a herald to deliver the king’s word to the people. His chief responsibility was to faithfully proclaim the words of the one who sent him. He heralded the king’s message with authority. To deny the herald’s message was to deny the king who sent him. It is with this background that we see Paul exhorting the preacher to “herald the word” faithfully and authoritatively as one sent by the King. He must do so with clarity and passion for the message he is delivering. He must not take liberties with the King’s message, but deliver it as the King intends. This is the preacher’s job in the act of proclamation (I again commend Lloyd-Jones’ Preaching and Preachers to address this subject. This book will help remind the preacher of the God-given privilege he has and how he is to carry out his role with holy passion).


The apostle gives imperative counsel for the one who preaches the Word. He is to be constant in duty, “be ready in season and out of season.” A preacher cannot let his guard down or neglect his spiritual life. He must live with a constant sense of readiness to deliver the message of God to waiting ears. Many preachers have negated their pulpit ministries by their personal lives. Their love of the world, materialism, flirtatious looks, neglected family life, and laziness have discredited the message they seek to preach. He must exercise discipline of mind and spirit to be constant in his work. Be ready in the pulpit and out of the pulpit!

The preacher must not fear being confrontational in his ministry. He will need to “reprove, rebuke, exhort” as he proclaims God’s Word and as he deals with individuals. An unbelieving woman who had come from a cult background visited our church. She approached me after a sermon on “The Bread of Life” from John 6, with some striking comments. She told me she did not understand why she kept coming back, but she felt compelled. Then she commented, “You don’t give any options.” By that she meant that the preaching has a solitary impact of demand, not a take-it-or-leave-it approach. It confronted her and gave only one option: God’s.

Confrontation is especially needed in a day when people are craving for pre-digested “applications” on the sermon that will make it “relevant” to every day life. What most people mean by “applications” is, “Give me some options so that I can pick and choose what I want to do and not feel bad about what I don’t want to do.” We need not worry about going to extremes on applications. The Holy Spirit is adequate to apply the Word to the hearts of sinners and saints alike!

The preacher has the task of delivering God’s Word “with great patience.” He is to be consistent with his exposition, faithfully delivering God’s Word week-by-week to his people. All will not appreciate the Word, nor will all respond immediately to the challenges applied by the Word proclaimed. Some may even get angry and leave. Yet the preacher is to be patient with his flock, realizing that their spiritual ears must be opened by the Holy Spirit. Some will be dealing with deep-seated sins. Others will feel mired in traditions. Still others will have a poor appetite for spiritual truth, the appetite that must be slowly cultivated. Short pastorates normally do not allow a preacher the time to develop a patient pulpit ministry.

A sermon worth listening to must have content. Content does not mean that the preacher has plenty of stories and interesting quotes. Rather, it means that the sermon deals with doctrine. The word for “instruction” in the NASB translation of 2 Timothy 4:2 is that common New Testament term didache. It is elsewhere translated as “teaching” or “doctrine.” Doctrine must never be confused with impossible-to-understand discussions by intellectuals. Good doctrine is the life of the church; it is the heart of the sermon. It is simply the “teachings” of God’s Word understood in relation to the balance of Scripture. John MacArthur wrote:

A true expository message sets forth the principles or doctrines supported in the passage. True expository preaching is doctrinal preaching (Rediscovering Expository Preaching, 288).

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the great nineteenth-century Baptist preacher in London, wrote in his Lectures to My Students:

Sermons should have real teaching in them, and their doctrine should be solid, substantial, and abundant. We do not enter the pulpit to talk for talk’s sake; we have instructions to convey important to the last degree, and we cannot afford to utter pretty nothings. Our range of subjects is all but boundless, and we cannot, therefore, be excused if our discourses are threadbare and devoid of substance…[T]he true minister of Christ knows that the true value of a sermon must lie, not in its fashion and manner, but in the truth which it contains. Nothing can compensate for the absence of teaching; all rhetoric in the world is but as chaff to the wheat in contrast to the gospel of our salvation. However beautiful the sower’s basket it is a miserable mockery if it be without seed (Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students [Pasadena, Texas: Pilgrim Publications, 1990, reprint of the 1881 Passmore and Alabastor edition), 72.

After giving such clear instruction on preaching Paul warns Timothy that everyone will not want such biblical exposition:

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths (2 Timothy 4:3-4).

When this happens, does the preacher simply give people what they want? This is precisely the error of the current trend of “felt-need” preaching. The unfortunate thing is that many evangelical preachers of good standing have fallen into the trap of delivering cute sermons, warm fuzzes, feel-good messages rather than proclaiming truth. We must be conscientious of the calling of God to herald the truth, so that we do not get pulled into the vortex of congregations wanting to have their “felt-needs” met.

The preacher is not to take an opinion poll on what he should preach. While there are some exceptions, most congregations do not have enough spiritual understanding and discernment to know what they need. They will point to the direction of “felt-needs” every time, simply because they can be comfortable with that kind of preaching instead of having to deal with their own sin and the God-centeredness in true, doctrinal preaching. The problem of which Paul warns is that of falling prey to the “desire” (epithumia) of those who have no desire for enduring sound doctrine.

What is a preacher to do if the congregation cries for “felt-need” preaching? Stand firm. Remember your calling. Remember your Audience. Herald the truth. And seek to patiently instruct people in sound doctrine.


Biblical preaching is demanding work. The preacher will find himself expended int he study as he labors over the biblical texts and all the works which address them. He must recognize the adversary’s subtle temptations to neglect the study, water down the message, and appeal to the desires of unregenerate people. he faces a constant warfare, both in the pulpit and out of the pulpit. He will be stretched, challenged, criticized and attacked, while at the same time loved and appreciated by those who hunger for the truth. He must live in dependence upon the power of the Holy Spirit to enable him to “preach the word” and “to be ready in season and out of season.”

Ron Owens has written a song particularly for preachers. I believe its message and refrain are a fitting conclusion:

We’ve a gospel to preach, we’ve a message to share—

The eternal Truth is what we declare.

It’s the power to save, it’s the Spirit sword,

It’s the heart of God, it’s the Living Word.

We must study to learn and not be ashamed

To proclaim God’s truth in the Savior’s name.

With no compromise, but consistently

We must PREACH THE WORD with integrity.

What is made by man will one day be gone,

But God’s Holy Word marches on and on.

Though the flower will fade and grass will die,

The Eternal Word ever will abide.

We must pay the price, we must take our stand

With a heart on fire and God’s Word in hand.

On the brightest day, in the darkest  hour

We must PREACH THE TRUTH in the Spirit’s power.


Won’t you purpose in your hearts to preach the Word?


Won’t you purpose in your heart to PREACH THE WORD?

It’s our call as His disciples to pass on what we’ve received.

Make up your mind and take the time to PREACH THE WORD!

Author: Dr. Phil A. Newton is the Senior Pastor, South Woods Baptist Church, Memphis, Tennessee. He is the author of Elders in the Life of the Church: Rediscovering the Biblical Model for Church Leadership; Elders in Congregational Life: Rediscovering the Biblical Model for Church Lunch; The Way of Faith; and Conduct Gospel-Centered Funerals: Applying the Gospel at the Unique Challenges of Death.

Source: Adapted from Reformation & Revival: A Quarterly Journal for Church Leadership, Volume 9, Number 1, Winter 2000.

Charles Spurgeon: “Going Home–A Christmas Sermon” on Mark 5:19


The New Park Street Pulpit 1


NO. 109




“Go home to your friends and tell them how great things the Lord has done for you and has had compassion on you.” Mark 5:19.

THE case of the man here referred to is a very extraordinary one—it occupies a place among the memorabilia of Christ’s life, perhaps as high as anything which is recorded by either of the Evangelists! This poor wretch, being possessed with a legion of evil spirits, had been driven to something worse than madness. He fixed his home among the tombs where he dwelt by night and day and was the terror of all those who passed by. The authorities had attempted to curb him. He had been bound with fetters and chains, but in the paroxysms of his madness, he had torn the chains in sunder and broken the fetters in pieces. Attempts had been made to reclaim him, but no man could tame him. He was worse than the wild beasts—for they might be tamed. But his fierce nature would not yield. He was a misery to himself for he would run upon the mountains by night and day—crying and howling fearfully—cutting himself with the sharp flints and tor- turing his poor body in the most frightful manner. Jesus Christ passed by. He said to the devils, “Come out of him.” The man was healed in a moment—he fell down at Jesus’ feet. He became a rational being—an intelligent man. Yes, what is more—a convert to the Savior! Out of gratitude to his Deliverer, he said, “Lord, I will follow You wherever You go. I will be Your constant companion and Your servant, permit me to be so.” “No,” said Christ, “I esteem your motive, it is one of gratitude to Me, but if you would show your gratitude, go home to your friends and tell them how great things the Lord has done for you and has had compassion on you.”

Now this teaches us a very important fact, namely this—that true religion does not break in sunder the bonds of family relationship. True religion seldom encroaches upon that sacred, I had almost said, Divine institution called home. It does not separate men from their families and make them aliens to their flesh and blood. Superstition has done that. An awful superstition, which calls itself, Christianity, has sundered men from their kind. But true religion has never done so! Why, if I might be allowed to do such a thing, I would seek out the hermit in his lonely cavern and I would go to him and say, “Friend, if you are what you profess to be—a true servant of the living God and not a hypocrite, as I guess you are—if you are a true Believer in Christ and would show forth what He has done for you, upset that pitcher, eat the last piece of your bread. Leave this dreary cave, wash your face, untie your hemp belt—and if you would show your grati- tude, go home to your friends and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you! Can you edify the sere leaves of the forest? Can the beasts learn to adore that God whom your gratitude should strive to honor? Do you hope to convert these rocks and wake the echoes into songs? No, go back—dwell with your friends, reclaim your kinship with men and unite, again, with your fellows—for this is Christ’s approved way of showing gratitude.” And I would go to every mon- astery and every nunnery and say to the monks, “Come out Brethren, come out! If you are what you say you are, servants of God, go home to your friends! No more of this absurd discipline. It is not Christ’s rule! You are acting differently from what He would have you do—go home to your friends!” And to the sisters of mercy we would say, “Be sisters of mercy to your own sisters—go home to your friends—take care of your aged parents! Turn your own houses into con- vents—do not sit here nursing your pride by a disobedience to Christ’s rule, which says, “go home to your friends.” “Go home to your friends and tell them how great things the Lord has done for you and has had compassion on you.” The love of a solitary and ascetic life—which is by some considered to be a Divine virtue—is neither more nor less than a disease of the mind! In the ages when there was but little benevolence and, consequently, few hands to build lunatic asy- lums, superstition supplied the lack of charity and silly men and women were allowed the indulgence of their fancies in secluded haunts or in easy laziness! Young has most truly said—

“The first sure symptoms of a mind in health Are rest of heart and pleasure found at home.”

Avoid, my Friends, above all things, those romantic and absurd conceptions of virtue which are the offspring of supersti- tion and the enemies of righteousness! Be not without natural affection, but love those who are knit to you by ties of na- ture.

True religion cannot be inconsistent with nature! It can never demand that I should abstain from weeping when my friend is dead. “Jesus wept.” It cannot deny me the privilege of a smile when Providence looks favorably upon me. For once Jesus rejoiced in spirit and said, “Father, I thank You.” It does not make a man say to his father and mother, “I am no longer your son.” That is not Christianity, but something worse than what beasts would do—which would lead us to be entirely sundered from our fellows—to walk among them as if we had no kinship with them. To all who think a soli- tary life must be a life of piety, I would say, “It is the greatest delusion!” To all who think that those must be good people who break the ties of relationship, let us say, “Those are the best who maintain them.” Christianity makes a husband a better husband! It makes a wife a better wife than she was before! It does not free me from my duties as a son. It makes me a better son and my parents better parents. Instead of weakening my love, it gives me fresh reason for my affection. And he whom I loved before as my father, I now love as my Brother and co-worker in Christ Jesus. And she whom I reverenced as my mother, I now love as my Sister in the Covenant of Grace to be mine forever in the state that is to come. Oh, sup- pose not any of you, that Christianity was ever meant to interfere with households! It is intended to cement them and to make them households which death, itself, shall never sever—for it binds them up in the bundle of life with the Lord, their God, and re-unites the several individuals on the other side of the flood.

Now, I will tell you the reason why I selected my text. I thought within myself there are a large number of young men who always come to hear me preach. They always crowd the aisles of my Chapel and many of them, by His Grace, have been converted to God. Now, here is Christmas Day come round, again, and they are going home to see their friends. When they get home they will want a Christmas Carol in the evening. I think I will suggest one to them—more especially to such of them as have been lately converted—I will give them a theme for their discourse on Christmas evening. It may not be quite so amusing as, “The Wreck of the Golden Mary,” but it will be quite as interesting to Christian people. It shall be this—“Go home and tell your friends what the Lord has done for your souls and how He has had compassion on you.” For my part, I wish there were 20 Christmas days in the year! It is seldom that young men can meet with their friends. It is rarely they can all be united as happy families. And though I have no respect to the religious observance of the day, yet I love it as a family institution! It is one of England’s brightest days—the great Sabbath of the year—when the plow rests in its furrow. When the din of business is hushed—when the mechanic and the working man go out to re- fresh themselves upon the green sward of the glad earth! If any of you are employers, you will pardon me for the digres- sion when I most respectfully beg you to pay your employees the same wages on Christmas Day as if they were at work. I am sure it will make their houses glad if you will do so. It is unfair for you to make them feast or fast, unless you give them wherewithal to feast and make themselves glad on that day of joy!

But now to come to the subject. We are going home to see our friends and here is the story some of us have to tell. “Go home to your friends and tell them how great things the Lord has done for you and has had compassion on you.” First, here is what they are to tell. Then, secondly, why they are to tell it. And then thirdly, how they ought to tell it.

I. First, then, HERE IS WHAT THEY ARE TO TELL. It is to be a story of personal experience. “Go home to your friends and tell them how great things the Lord has done for you and has had compassion on you.” You are not to repair to your houses and forthwith begin to preach. That you are not commanded to do! You are not to begin to take up Doc- trinal subjects and speak at length on them and endeavor to bring persons to your peculiar views and sentiments. You are not to go home with sundry Doctrines you have lately learned and try to teach these. At least you are not commanded to do so. You may, if you please and none shall hinder you. But you are to go home and tell not what you have believed but what you have felt—what you really know to be your own! Not what great things you have read, but what great things the Lord has done for you. Not, alone, what you have seen done in the great congregation and how great sinners have turned to God, but what the Lord has done for you. And mark this—there is never a more interesting story than that which a man tells about himself! The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner derives much of its interest because the man who told it was, himself, the mariner. He sat down, that man whose finger was skinny, like the finger of death and began to tell that dismal story of the ship at sea in the great calm when slimy things did crawl with legs over the shiny sea. The wed- ding guests sat still to listen, for the old man was, himself, a story. There is always a great deal of interest excited by a personal narrative. Virgil, the poet, knew this and, therefore, he wisely makes Aeneas tell his own story and makes him begin it by saying, “In which I also had a great part, myself.” So, if you would interest your friends, tell them what you

felt yourself. Tell them how you were once a lost, abandoned sinner, how the Lord met with you, how you bowed your knees and poured out your soul before God and how, at last, you leaped with joy, for you thought you heard Him say within you, “I, even I, am He that blots out your transgressions for My name’s sake.” Tell your friends a story of your own personal experience!

Note, next, it must be a story of Free Grace. It is not, “Tell your friends how great things you have done yourself,” but, “how great things the Lord has done for you.” The man who always dwells upon free will and the power of the crea- ture, but denies the Doctrines of Grace, invariably mixes up a great deal of what he has done, himself, in telling his expe- rience. But the Believer in Free Grace, who holds the great cardinal Truths of the Gospel, ignores this and declares, “I will tell what the Lord has done for me. It is true I must tell how I was first made to pray. But I will tell it thus—

“Grace taught my soul to pray

Grace made my eyes overflow.” It is true, I must tell in how many troubles and trials God has been with me. But I will tell it thus—

“It was Grace which kept me to this day,

And will not let me go.” He says nothing about his own doings, or willings, or prayers, or seeking—but ascribes it all to the love and Grace of

the great God who looks on sinners in love and makes them His children—heirs of everlasting life! Go home, young man, and tell the poor sinner’s story! Go home, young woman, and open your diary and give your friends stories of Di- vine Grace. Tell them of the mighty works of God’s hand which He has worked in you from His own free, Sovereign, un- deserved Love. Make it a Free Grace story around your family fire!

In the next place, this poor man’s tale was a grateful story. I know it was grateful because the man said, “I will tell you how great things the Lord has done for me.” And (not meaning a pun in the least degree) I may observe that a man who is grateful, is always full of the greatness of the mercy which God has shown him. He always thinks that what God has done for him is immensely good and supremely great. Perhaps when you are telling the story, one of your friends will say, “And what of that?” And your answer will be, “It may not be a great thing to you, but it is to me. You say it is little to repent but I have not found it so. It is a great and precious thing to be brought to know myself to be a sinner and to confess it—do you say it is a little thing to have found a Savior?” Look them in the face and say, “If you had found Him, too, you would not think it little. You think it little I have lost the burden from my back? If you had suffered with it and felt its weight as I have, for many a long year, you would think it no little thing to be emancipated and free through a sight of the Cross.” Tell them it is a great story and if they cannot see its greatness, shed great tears and tell it to them with great earnestness and I hope they may be brought to believe that you, at least, are grateful, if they are not. May God grant that you may tell a grateful story. No story is more worth hearing than a tale of gratitude!

And lastly, upon this point—it must be a tale told by a poor sinner who feels himself not to have deserved what he has received. “How He has had compassion on you.” It was not a mere act of kindness, but an act of free compassion to- wards one who was in misery. Oh, I have heard men tell the story of their conversion and of their spiritual life in such a way that my heart has loathed them and their story, too, for they have told of their sins as if they did boast in the great- ness of their crime! And they have mentioned the love of God not with a tear of gratitude—not with the simple thanks- giving of the really humble heart—but as if they as much exalted themselves as they exalted God. Oh, when we tell the story of our own conversion, I would have it done with deep sorrow—remembering what we used to be—and with great joy and gratitude, remembering how little we deserve these things. I was once preaching upon conversion and salvation and I felt within myself, as preachers often do, that it was but dry work to tell this story and a dull, dull tale it was to me, but all of a sudden the thought crossed my mind, “Why, you are a poor lost ruined sinner, yourself! Tell it, tell it, as you received it! Begin to tell of the Grace of God as you trust you feel it, yourself.” Why, then, my eyes began to be fountains of tears—those hearers who had nodded their heads began to brighten up and they listened because they were hearing something which the man felt, himself, and which they recognized as being true to him—if it were not true to them. Tell your story, my Hearers, as lost sinners! Do not go to your home and walk into your house with a supercilious air, as much as to say, “Here’s a saint come home to the poor sinners to tell them a story.” But go home like a poor sinner! And when you go in, your mother remembers what you used to be—you need not tell her there is a change—she will notice it—if it is only one day you are with her. And perhaps she will say, “John, what is this change that is in you?” And if she is a pious mother, you will begin to tell her the story and I know, man though you are, you will not blush when I say it— she will put her arms round your neck and kiss you as she never did before—for you are her twice-born son! Hers from whom she shall never part, even though death, itself, shall divide you for a brief moment. “Go home, then, and tell your friends what great things the Lord has done for you and how He has had compassion on you.”

II. But now, in the second place—Why SHOULD WE TELL THIS STORY? For I hear many of my congregation say, “Sir, I could relate that story to anyone sooner than I could to my own friends! I could come to your vestry and tell you something of what I have tasted and handled of the Word of God, but I could not tell my father, nor my mother, nor my brothers, nor my sisters.” Come, then. I will try and argue with you to induce you to do so—that I may send you home this Christmas Day to be missionaries in the localities to which you belong and to be real preachers! Dear Friends, do tell this story when you go home.

First, for your Master’s sake. Oh, I know you love Him. I am sure you do—if you have proof that He loves you! You can never think of Gethsemane and of its bloody sweat, of Gabbatha and of the mangled back of Christ, flayed by the whip—you can never think of Calvary and His pierced hands and feet without loving Him! And it is a strong argument when I say to you, for His dear sake, who loved you so much, go home and tell it. What? Do you think we can have so much done for us and yet not tell it? Our children, if anything should be done for them, do not stay many minutes before they are telling all the company, “such an one has given me such a present and bestowed on me such-and-such a favor.” And should the children of God be backward in declaring how they were saved when their feet made haste to Hell and how redeeming mercy snatched them as brands from the burning? You love Jesus, young man! I put it to you, then, will you refuse to tell the tale of His love to you? Shall your lips be dumb when His honor is concerned? Will you not, wherev- er you go, tell of the God who loved you and died for you? This poor man, we are told, “departed and began to publish in Decapolis how great things Jesus had done for him and all men did marvel.” So with you. If Christ has done much for you, you cannot help it—you must tell it! My esteemed friend, Mr. Oneken, a minister in Germany, told us last Monday evening that as soon as he was converted, himself, the first impulse of his new-born soul was to do good to others. And where should he do that good? Well, he thought he would go to Germany! It was his own native land and he thought the command was, “Go home to your friends and tell them.” Well, there was not a single Baptist in all Germany, nor any with whom he could sympathize, for the Lutherans had swerved from the faith of Luther and gone aside from the Truth of God. But he went there and preached—and he has now 70 or 80 churches established on the continent! What made him do it? Nothing but love for his Master who had done so much for him could have forced him to go and tell his kins- men the marvelous tale of Divine Goodness!

But, in the next place, are your friends pious? Then go home and tell them, in order to make their hearts glad. I re- ceived last night a short letter, written with a trembling hand, by one who is past the natural age of man living in the county of Essex. His son, under God, had been converted by hearing of the Word preached and the good man could not help writing to the minister, thanking him and blessing, most of all, his God, that his son had been regenerated. “Sir,” he begins, “an old rebel writes to thank you and, above all, to thank his God, that his dear son has been converted.” I shall treasure up that epistle. It goes on to say, “Go on! And the Lord bless you.” And there was another case I heard some time ago where a young woman went home to her parents and when her mother saw her, she said, “There! If the minister had made me a present of all London, I should not have thought so much of it as I do of this—to think that you have really become a changed character and are living in the fear of God!” Oh, if you want to make your mother’s heart leap within her and to make your father glad—if you would make that sister happy who sent you so many letters which sometimes you read against a lamp-post, with your pipe in your mouth—go home and tell your mother that her wishes are all accomplished! That her prayers are heard, that you will no longer tease her about her Sunday school class and no longer laugh at her because she loves the Lord! Tell her that you will go with her to the House of God, for you love God and you have said, “Your people shall be my people and your God shall be my God, for I have a hope that your Heaven shall be my Heaven forever.” Oh, what a happy thing it would be if some here who had gone astray should thus go home! It was my privilege a little while ago to preach for a noble institution for the reception of women who had led abandoned lives. Before I preached the sermon, I prayed to God to bless it and in the printed sermon you will notice that at the end of it, there is an account of two persons who were blessed by that sermon and restored. Now, let me tell you a story of what once happened to Mr. Vanderkist, a city missionary, who toils all night long to do good in that great work. There had been a drunken broil in the street. He stepped between the men to part them and said something to a woman who stood there, concerning how dreadful a thing it was that men should thus be intemperate. She walked with him a little way and he, with her, and she began to tell him such a tale of woe, and sin, too—how she had been lured away from her parents’ home in Somersetshire and had been brought up here to her soul’s eternal hurt. He took her home with him and taught her the fear and love of Christ. And what was the first thing she did, when she returned to the paths of godliness and found Christ to be the sinner’s Savior? She said, “Now, I must go home to my friends.” Her friends were written to—they came to meet her at the station at Bristol and you can hardly conceive what a happy meeting it was! The father and mother had lost their daughter—they had never heard from her. And there she was, brought back by the agency of this institution [The London Female Dormitory] and restored to the bosom of her family! Ah, is there such an one here? I know not, among such a multitude, if there may be such an one. Woman! Have you strayed from your family? Have you left them long? “Go home to your friends,” I beseech you, before your father totters to his grave and before your moth- er’s gray hairs sleep on the snow-white pillow of her coffin. Go back, I beseech you! Tell her you are penitent. Tell her that God has met with you—that the young minister said, “Go back to your friends.” And if so, I shall not blush to have said these things, though you may think I ought not to have mentioned them. For if I may but win one such soul, I will bless God to all eternity! “Go home to your friends! Go home and tell them how great things the Lord has done for you.”

Can you imagine the scene, when the poor demoniac mentioned in my text went home? He had been a raving mad- man! And when he came and knocked at the door, don’t you think you see his friends calling to one another in affright, “Oh, there he is again,” and the mother running upstairs and locking all the doors because her son had come back who was raving mad? And the little ones crying because they knew what he had been before—how he cut himself with stones because he was possessed with devils. And can you picture their joy when the man said, “Mother! Jesus Christ has healed me! Let me in. By His Grace I am no more a lunatic!” And when the father opened the door, he said, “Father! I am not what I was—all the evil spirits are gone! By God’s Grace I shall live in the tombs no longer. I need to tell you how the glorious Man who worked my deliverance accomplished the miracle—how He said to the devils, ‘Get you hence,’ and they ran down a steep place into the sea. And I am come home healed and saved!” Oh, if such an one, possessed with sin, were here this morning and would go home to his friends to tell them of his release—I think the scene would be some- what similar.

Once more, dear Friends. I hear one of you say. “Ah, Sir, would to God I could go home to pious friends! But when I go home, I go into the worst of places. For my home is among those who never knew God, themselves, and, consequently, never prayed for me and never taught me anything concerning Heaven.” Well, young man, go home to your friends. If they are ever so bad, they are still your friends. I sometimes meet with young men wishing to join the Church who say when I ask them about their father, “Oh, Sir, I am parted from my father.” Then I say, “Young man, you may just go and see your father before I have anything to do with you. If you are at ill-will with your father and mother, I will not receive you into the Church. If they are ever so bad, they are still your parents.” Go home to them and tell them, not to make them glad, for they will very likely be angry with you—but tell them for their soul’s salvation. I hope, when you are tell- ing the story of what God did for you, that they will be led by the Spirit to desire the same mercy, themselves! But I will give you a piece of advice. Do not tell this story to your ungodly friends when they are all together, for they will laugh at you. Take them one by one, when you can get them alone, and begin to tell it to them and they will hear you seriously. There was once a very pious lady who kept a lodging-house for young men. All the young men were very merry and giddy and she wanted to say something to them concerning religion. She introduced the subject and it was passed off immedi- ately with a laugh. She thought within herself, “I have made a mistake.” The next morning, after breakfast, when they were all leaving, she said to one of them, “Sir, I should like to speak with you a moment or two,” and taking him aside into another room she talked with him. The next morning she took another and the next morning another and it pleased God to bless her simple statement—when it was given individually! But without doubt, if she had spoken to them all together, they would have backed each other up in laughing her to scorn. Reprove a man alone! A verse may hit him while a sermon flies right by him. You may be the means of bringing a man to Christ who has often heard the Word and only laughed at it, but who cannot resist a gentle admonition.

In one of the States of America there was an infidel who was a great despiser of God, a hater of the Sabbath and all religious institutions. What to do with him, the ministers did not know. They met together and prayed for him. But among the rest, one Elder resolved to spend a long time in prayer for the man. After that, he got on horseback and rode down to the man’s forge, for he was a blacksmith. He left his horse outside and said, “Neighbor, I am under very great concern about your soul’s salvation. I tell you, I pray day and night for your soul’s salvation.” He left him and rode home on his horse. The man went inside to his house after a minute or two and said to one of his faithful friends, “Here’s a new argument. Here’s Elder Bob been down here. He did not dispute and never said a word to me except this, ‘I say, I am under great concern about your soul. I cannot bear you should be lost.’ Oh, that fellow,” he said, “I cannot answer him.” And the tears began to roll down his cheeks. He went to his wife and said, “I can’t make this out. I never cared about my soul but here’s an Elder that has no connection with me, but I have always laughed at him and he has come five miles this morning, on horseback, just to tell me he is under concern about my salvation.” After a little while he thought it was time he should be under concern about his salvation, too! He went in, shut the door, began to pray and the next day he was at the Elder’s house telling him that he, too, was under concern about his salvation and asking him to tell him what he must do to be saved. Oh, that the everlasting God might make use of some of those now present in the same way—that they might be induced to—

“Tell to others round What a dear Savior they have found! To point to His redeeming blood, And say, Behold the way to God!”

III. I shall not detain you much longer, but there is a third point, upon which we must be very brief. HOW IS THIS STORY TO BE TOLD?

First, tell it truthfully. Do not tell more than you know. Do not tell John Bunyan’s experience, when you ought to tell your own! Do not tell your mother you have felt what only Rutherford felt. Tell her no more than the truth. Tell your experience truthfully, for maybe one single fly in the pot of ointment will spoil it and one statement you may make which is not true may ruin it all. Tell the story truthfully.

In the next place, tell it very humbly. I have said that before. Do not intrude yourselves upon those who are older and know more, but tell your story humbly. Not as a preacher, not ex-cathedra but as a friend and as a son.

Next, tell it very earnestly. Let them see you mean it. Do not talk about religion flippantly. You will do no good if you do. Do not make puns on texts. Do not quote Scripture by way of joke—if you do, you may talk till you are dumb— you will do no good if you in the least degree give them occasion to laugh by laughing at holy things yourself. Tell it very earnestly.

And then, tell it very devoutly. Do not try to tell your tale to man till you have told it, first, to God. When you are at home on Christmas Day let no one see your face till God has seen it. Be up in the morning. Wrestle with God. And if your friends are not converted, wrestle with God for them—and then you will find it easy work to wrestle with them for God. Seek, if you can, to get them one by one and tell them the story. Do not be afraid—only think of the good you may possibly do, by God’s Grace. Remember, he that saves a soul from death has covered a multitude of sins and he shall have stars in his crown forever and ever. Seek to be under God—to be the means of leading your own beloved brothers and sisters to seek and to find the Lord Jesus Christ. And then one day, when you shall meet in Paradise, it will be a joy and blessedness to think that you are there and that your friends are there, too, whom God will have made you the instru- ment of saving. Let your reliance in the Holy Spirit be entire and honest. Trust not yourself, but fear not to trust Him. He can give you words. He can apply those words to their heart and so enable you to “minister Grace to the hearers.”

To close up, by a short and, I think, a pleasant turning of the text, I will suggest another meaning to it. Soon, dear Friends, very soon with some of us, the Master will say, “Go home to your friends.” You know where the Home is. It is up above the stars—

“Where our best friends, our kindred dwell,

Where God our Savior reigns.”

Yonder gray-headed man has buried all his friends. He has said, “I shall go to them but they will not return to me.” Soon his Master will say, “You have had enough tarrying here in this vale of tears—go home to your friends!” Oh, hap- py hour! Oh, blessed moment when that shall be the word—“Go home to your friends!” And when we go home to our friends in Paradise, what shall we do? Why, first we will repair to that blessed seat where Jesus sits, take off our crown and cast it at His feet and crown Him Lord of All! And when we have done that, what shall be our next employ? Why, we will tell the blessed ones in Heaven what the Lord has done for us and how He has had compassion on us. And shall such tales be told in Heaven? Shall that be the Christmas Carol of the angels? Yes it shall be. It has been published there be- fore—blush not to tell it yet again—for Jesus has told it before. “When He comes home, He calls together His friends and neighbors, saying unto them, Rejoice with Me, for I have found My sheep which was lost.” And you, poor Sheep, when you shall be gathered in, will you not tell how your Shepherd sought you and how He found you? Will you not sit in the grassy meads of Heaven and tell the story of your own redemption? Will you not talk with your Brothers and your Sisters and tell them how God loved you and has brought you there? Perhaps, you say, “It will be a very short story.” Ah, it would be if you could write it now. A little book might be the whole of your biography. But up there when your memory shall be enlarged, when your passion shall be purified and your understanding clear—you will find that what was but a tract on earth, will be a huge volume in Heaven! You will tell a long story, there, of God’s sustaining, restrain- ing, constraining Grace. And I think that when you pause to let another tell his tale and then another and then another, you will, at last, when you have been in Heaven a thousand years, break out and exclaim, “O Saints, I have something else to say.” Again they will tell their tales and again you will interrupt them with, “Oh, Beloved, I have thought of another case of God’s delivering mercy.” And so you will go on, giving them themes for songs, finding them the material for the warp and woof of Heavenly sonnets! “Go home,” He will soon say, “go home to your friends and tell them how great things the Lord has done for you and has had compassion on you.” Wait awhile. Tarry His leisure and you shall soon be gathered to the land of the hereafter to the home of the blessed—where endless felicity shall be your portion! God grant a blessing for His name’s sake. Amen.

Adapted from The C. H. Spurgeon Collection, Version 1.0, Ages Software.


By the Grace of God, for all 63 volumes of C. H. Spurgeon sermons in modern English, and more than 400 Spanish translations, visit: http://www.spurgeongems.org

Volume 3

http://www.spurgeongems.org 7

Charles Spurgeon’s 7 Principles of Bible Study

How To Read The Bible by Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Bible opened image


– Do not be content to just read the words of Scripture. Seek to grasp the message they contain.


– Believe what God reveals. Reason must bow to God’s revelation.


– Apply what God says to yourself and obey His will in all things.


– We quickly lose the nourishment and strength of yesterday’s bread. We must feed our souls daily upon the manna God has given us.


– “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable.” I know of know better way to read the Bible than to start at the beginning and read straight through to the end, a portion every day, comparing Scripture with Scripture.


– As a general rule, any passage of Scripture means what it appears to mean. Interpret every passage in this simple manner, in its context.


– The whole Bible is about Him. Look for Him on every page. He is there. If you fail to see Him there, you need to read that page again.

About Charles Haddon Spurgeon:

C. H. Spurgeon was to nineteenth-century England what D. L Moody was to America. Although Spurgeon never attended theological school, by the age of twenty-one he was the most popular preacher in London.He preached to crowds of ten thousand at Exeter Hall and the Surrey Music Hall. Then when the Metropolitan Tabernacle was built, thousands gathered every Sunday for over forty years to hear his lively sermons.In addition to his regular pastoral duties, he founded Sunday schools, churches, an orphanage, and the Pastor’s College. He edited a monthly church magazine and promoted literature distribution.Sincerely and straightforwardly he denounced error both in the Church of England and among his own Baptists. An ardent evangelical, he deplored the trend of the day toward biblical criticism.

Thabiti Anyabwile on Winning Souls With C.H. Spurgeon

At the conclusion of T4G, a dear brother approached me to give me a copy of Spurgeon’s classic, The Soul Winner: Advice on Effective Evangelism.  Perhaps he felt sorry for me because I didn’t have any Spurgeon quotes for my sermon.  But I suspect, having gotten to know him and his wife a little, it was one of those loving gestures that so often occur in the brief exchanges God blesses us with at our churches and at conferences.  Praise the Lord.

I’ve been reading the book slowly, enjoying Spurgeon’s unique gift and praying the Lord would make me a better evangelist.  In God’s grace, I’m feeling fresh stirring and I’m praying the Lord would not stop until He gives me real fire.

From time to time, I’m hoping to reflect a little on The Soul Winner and I hope you’ll join me.  We begin today with chapter 1, “What Is It to Win a Soul?”

That’s a foundational question, isn’t it?  We have to be clear about the “it” before we can do “it.”  And it’s important that we maintain a sense of the priority of evangelism.  Spurgeon writes, “Soul-winning is the chief business of the Christian minister; indeed, it should be the main pursuit of every true believer” (p. 5).  Amen.  But what is soul winning?

What Soul-Winning Is Not

Spurgeon identifies three things soul-winning is not:

(1) “We do not regard it to be soul-sinning to steal members out of churches already established, and train them to utter our peculiar Shibboleth: we aim rather at bringing souls to Christ than at making converts to our synagogue.”  

He continues, “We count it utter meanness to build up our own house with the ruins of our neighbors’ mansions” (p. 5).  How often do we hear boasts of swelling numbers added to the ranks of the converted (or more often baptism and church membership) at the expense of neighboring fellowships?  I agree with Mr. Spurgeon; that’s not soul-winning as much as its plain ol’ competition.  I love Spurgeon’s charge:

There is such a thing as selfishness in our eagerness for the aggrandizement of our own party; and from this evil spirit may grace deliver us!  The increase of the kingdom is more to be desired than the growth of a clan.  We would do a great deal to make a Paedo-baptist brother into a Baptist, for we value our Lord’s ordinances; we should labor earnestly to raise a believer in salvation by free-will into a believer in salvation by grace, for we long to see all religious teaching built upon the solid rock of truth, and not upon the sand of imagination; but, at the same time, our grand object is not the revision of opinions, but the regeneration of our natures.  We would bring men to Christ and not to our own peculiar views of Christianity.  Our first care must be that the sheep should be gathered to the great Shepherd; there will be time enough afterwards to secure them for our various folds.  To make proselytes is a suitable labor for Pharisees: to beget men unto God is the honorable aim of ministers of Christ. (p. 6)

(2) “We do not consider soul-winning to be accomplished by hurriedly inscribing more names upon our church-roll, in order to show a good increase at the end of the year (p. 6).  Here!  Here!

(3) “Nor is it soul-winning, dear friends, merely to create excitement” (p. 9).

What Soul-Winning Is

Having dispelled the imitation acts, Spurgeon then turns to positively defining “soul-winning” as he sees it.  He brings his students’ attention to three positive aspects of evangelism:

(1) ”I take it that one of its main operations consists in instructing a man that he may know the truth of God (p. 10).

To try to win a soul for Christ by keeping that soul in ignorance of any truth, is contrary to the mind of the Spirit; and to endeavor to save men by mere claptrap, or excitement, or oratorical display, is as foolish as to hope to hold an angel with a bird-lime, or lure a star with music.  The best attraction is the gospel in its purity. The weapon with which the Lord conquers men is the truth as it is in Jesus. The gospel will be found equal to every emergency; an arrow, which can pierce the hardest heart, a balm which can heal the deadliest wound.  Preach it, and preach nothing else.  Rely implicitly upon the old, old gospel.  You need no other nets when you fish for men; those your Master has given you are strong enough for the great fishes, and have meshes fine enough to hold the little ones.  Spread these nets and no others, and you need not fear the fulfillment of His Word, “I will make you fishers of men.” (p. 13)

(2) “Secondly, to win a soul, it is necessary, not only to instruct our hearer, and make him know the truth, but to impress him so that he may feel it (p. 13).

A sinner has a heart as well as a head; a sinner has emotions as well as thoughts; and we must appeal to both.  A sinner will never be converted until his emotions are stirred.  Unless he feels sorrow for sin, and unless he has some measure of joy in the reception of the Word, you cannot have much hope of him.  The Word must be like a strong wind sweeping through the whole heart, and swaying the whole man, even as a field of ripening corn waves in the summer breeze.  Religion without emotion is religion without life. (p. 14)

You and I must continue to drive at men’s hearts till they are broken; and then we must keep on preaching Christ crucified till their hearts are bound up; and when this is accomplished, we must continue to proclaim the gospel till their whole nature is brought into subjection to the gospel of Christ.  Even in these preliminaries you will be made to feel the need of the Holy Ghost to work with you, and by you; but this need will be still more evident when we advance a step further, and speak of the new birth itself in which the Holy Spirit works in a style and manner most divine. (p. 16)

(3) “Of all whom we would fain win for Jesus it is true, ‘Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’  The Holy Spirit must work regeneration in the objects of our love, or they never can become possessors of eternal happiness” (p. 16).

According to Spurgeon, regeneration will be shown in:

(1) conviction of sin,

(2) the exhibition of a simple faith in Jesus Christ,

(3) unfeigned repentance of sin,

(4) a real change of life,

(5) true prayer, and

(6) a willingness to obey the Lord in all His commandments.  

It’s funny, but many today would regard anything more than “a simple faith in Jesus Christ” as a telltale sign of legalism.  But Mr. Spurgeon was no legalist.  It’s more likely that our own day has so low a view of conversion–equating it only with “a public profession of faith”–that we’ve grown squeamish and downright afraid of insisting that regeneration must entail newness of life, a radical change, a friendly disposition toward God rather than a stubborn refusal (enmity).  If we have any hesitancy at affirming the bulk of this list, might we be unaware of our slippery grip on the magnificence of the new birth?  Might we be in danger of rushing to affirm “professions” while overlooking the fruit of conversion?

It hardly seems necessary to say that the problems Spurgeon identified are with us today, and were with the church during the apostolic era.  The evidence of false converts–biblical, historical, and contemporary–is plentiful.  And one could become discouraged, judgmental, contentious, or indifferent.  But when the Lord of the harvest commands we pray the Lord of the harvest to send laborers, we’re meant to understand that the Lord of the harvest plans on reaping and there’s no need for fainting!  We should be encouraged because the problem of false converts simply means the unsaved have been brought near!  We should be encouraged that the cotton has grown so high that by God’s grace we may pick without stooping!  Brother, be encouraged to win souls!

So much more could be said, but Mr. Spurgeon should have the final word of exhortation:

You may say to yourself, at the close of a service, “Here is a splendid haul of fish!”  Wait a bit.  Remember our Savior’s words, “The kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind; which, when it was fully, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away.”  Do not number your fishes before they are broiled; not count your converts before you have tested and tried them.  This process may make your work somehow slow; but then, brethren, it will be sure.

Do your work steadily and well, so that those who come after you may not have to say that it was far more trouble to them to clear the church of those who ought never to have been admitted than it was to you to admit them.  If God enables you to build three thousand bricks into His spiritual temple in one day, you may do it; but Peter has been the only bricklayer who has accomplished that feat up to the present.

“Do not go and paint the wooden wall as if it were solid stone; but let all you building be real, substantial, and true, for only this kind of work is worth the doing.  Let all your building for God be like that of the apostle Paul According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:10-15; pp. 27-28).

Preach, Mr. Spurgeon! Preach!

About the Author: Thabiti Anyabwile is the Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman in the Grand Cayman Islands and a Council member with The Gospel Coalition. In his own words, “I love the Lord because He first loved me. I love His people because He has given me a new heart. I have received God’s favor in the form of my wife, Kristie. And together we know His blessing through three children. I was once a Muslim, and by God’s grace I have been saved through faith in Jesus Christ. By God’s unfathomable grace I am a preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in which I hope to serve Him until He returns or calls me home!”

He earned his B. A. and M. S. degrees in psychology from North Carolina State University in Raleigh, NC. Before moving to minister in the Caribbean, he served with Dr. Mark Dever at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. He is married to Kristie and they have three children: Afiya, Eden, and Titus. As a native of Lexington, North Carolina, he has an affinity for Western-NC-BBQ. Thabiti writes regularly at Pure Church as part of The Gospel Coalition blog crew. He has also authored several books, The Gospel for Muslims: An Encouragement to Share Christ with Confidence (Thabiti converted to Christianity from Islam); Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons; Ephesians: God’s Big Plan for Christ’s New People; May We Meet in the Heavenly World: The Piety of Lemuel Haynes; What Is A Healthy Church Member?; The Decline of African American Theology: From Biblical Faith to Cultural Captivity; The Faithful Preacher: Recapturing the Vision of Three Pioneering African American Pastors. He has also contributing chapters to the following books: For the Fame of God’s Name: Essays in Honor of John Piper; Holy, Holy, Holy: Proclaiming the Perfections of God; Proclaiming a Cross-Centered Theology; Glory Road: The Journeys of 10 African-Americans into Reformed Christianity; and John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine & Doxology.

The article above is adapted from http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/thabitianyabwile/2012/05/03/winning-souls-with-charles-spurgeon

%d bloggers like this: