10 Wise Reminders on Preaching From Some Of The Best Preachers Of The Last 200 Years

Here are ten reminders for those who preach and teach the Word of God … as confirmed by some of history’s greatest preachers.

1. Effective ministry consists not of fads or gimicks, but of faithfully preaching the truth.

Charles Spurgeon: Ah, my dear friends, we want nothing in these times for revival in the world but the simple preaching of the gospel. This is the great battering ram that shall dash down the bulwarks of iniquity. This is the great light that shall scatter the darkness. We need not that men should be adopting new schemes and new plans. We are glad of the agencies and assistances which are continually arising; but after all, the true Jerusalem blade, the sword that can cut to the piercing asunder of the joints and marrow, is preaching the Word of God. We must never neglect it, never despise it. The age in which the pulpit it despised, will be an age in which gospel truth will cease to be honored. . . . God forbid that we should begin to depreciate preaching. Let us still honor it; let us look to it as God’s ordained instrumentality, and we shall yet see in the world a repetition of great wonders wrought by the preaching in the name of Jesus Christ.

Source: Charles Spurgeon, “Preaching! Man’s Privilege and God’s Power,” Sermon (Nov. 25, 1860).

2. Preaching is a far more serious task than most preachers realize.

Richard Baxter: And for myself, as I am ashamed of my dull and careless heart, and of my slow and unprofitable course of life, so, the Lord knows, I am ashamed of every sermon I preach; when I think what I have been speaking of, and who sent me, and that men’s salvation or damnation is so much concerned in it, I am ready to tremble lest God should judge me as a slighter of His truths and the souls of men, and lest in the best sermon I should be guilty of their blood. Me thinks we should not speak a word to men in matters of such consequence without tears, or the greatest earnestness that possibly we can; were not we too much guilty of the sin which we reprove, it would be so.

Source: Richard Baxter, “The Need for Personal Revival.” Cited from Historical Collections Relating to Remarkable Periods of the Success of the Gospel, ed. John Gillies (Kelso: John Rutherfurd, 1845), 147.

3. Faithfulness in the pulpit begins with the pursuit of personal holiness.

Robert Murray M’Cheyne: Take heed to thyself. Your own soul is your first and greatest care. You know a sound body alone can work with power; much more a healthy soul. Keep a clear conscience through the blood of the Lamb. Keep up close communion with God. Study likeness to Him in all things. Read the Bible for your own growth first, then for your people. Expound much; it is through the truth that souls are to be sanctified, not through essays upon the truth.

Source: Robert Murray M’Cheyne, letter dated March 22, 1839, to Rev W.C. Burns, who had been named to take M’Cheyne’s pulpit during the latter’s trip to Palestine. Andrew Bonar, ed, Memoir and Remains of Robert Murray M’Cheyne (Banner of Truth, 1966), 273-74.

4. Powerful preaching flows from powerful prayer.

E. M. Bounds: The real sermon is made in the closet. The man – God’s man – is made in the closet. His life and his profoundest convictions were born in his secret communion with God. The burdened and tearful agony of his spirit, his weightiest and sweetest messages were got when alone with God. Prayer makes the man; prayer makes the preacher; prayer makes the pastor. . . . Every preacher who does not make prayer a mighty factor in his own life and ministry is weak as a factor in God’s work and is powerless to project God’s cause in this world.

Source: E.M. Bounds, Power Through Prayer. From chapter 1, “Men of Prayer Needed.”

5. Passionate preaching starts with one’s passion for Christ

Phillip Brooks: Nothing but fire kindles fire. To know in one’s whole nature what it is to live by Christ; to be His, not our own; to be so occupied with gratitude for what He did for us and for what He continually is to us that His will and His glory shall be the sole desires of our life . . . that is the first necessity of the preacher.

Source: Phillips Brooks, Lectures on Preaching, originally published in 1877. Republished in 1989 by Kregel under the title The Joy of Preaching. As cited in “The Priority of Prayer in Preaching” by James Rosscup, The Masters Seminary Journal, Spring 1991.

6. The preacher is a herald, not an innovator.

R. L. Dabney: The preacher is a herald; his work is heralding the King’s message. . . . Now the herald does not invent his message; he merely transmits and explains it. It is not his to criticize its wisdom or fitness; this belongs to his sovereign alone. On the one hand, . . . he is an intelligent medium of communication with the king’s enemies; he has brains as well as a tongue; and he is expected so to deliver and explain his master’s mind, that the other party shall receive not only the mechanical sounds, but the true meaning of the message. On the other hand, it wholly transcends his office to presume to correct the tenor of the propositions he conveys, by either additions or change. . . . The preacher’s business is to take what is given him in the Scriptures, as it is given to him, and to endeavor to imprint it on the souls of men. All else is God’s work.

Source: R.L. Dabney, Evangelical Eloquence: A Course of Lectures on Preaching (Banner of Truth, 1999; originally published as Sacred Rhetoric, 1870), 36-37.

7. The faithful preacher stays focused on what matters.

G. Campbell Morgan: Nothing is more needed among preachers today than that we should have the courage to shake ourselves free from the thousand and one trivialities in which we are asked to waste our time and strength, and resolutely return to the apostolic ideal which made necessary the office of the diaconate. [We must resolve that] “we will continue steadfastly in prayer, and in the ministry of the Word.”

Source: G. Campbell Morgan, This Was His Faith: The Expository Letters of G. Campbell Morgan, edited by Jill Morgan (Fleming Revell, Westwood, NJ), 1952.

8. The preacher’s task is to make the text come alive for his hearers.

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: As preachers we must not forget this. We are not merely imparters of information. We should tell our people to read certain books themselves and get the information there. The business of preaching is to make such knowledge live. The same applies to lecturers in Colleges. The tragedy is that many lecturers simply dictate notes and the wretched students take them down. That is not the business of a lecturer or a professor. The students can read the books for themselves; the business of the professor is to put that on fire, to enthuse, to stimulate, to enliven. And that is the primary business of preaching. Let us take this to heart. … What we need above everything else today is moving, passionate, powerful preaching. It must be ‘warm’ and it must be ‘earnest’.

Source: D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “Jonathan Edwards and the Crucial Importance of Revival.” Lecture delivered at the Puritan and Westminster Conference (1976).

9. The preacher is to be Christ-exalting, not self-promoting.

R. B. Kuiper: The minister must always remember that the dignity of his office adheres not in his person but in his office itself. He is not at all important, but his office is extremely important. Therefore he should take his work most seriously without taking himself seriously. He should preach the Word in season and out of season in forgetfulness of self. He should ever have an eye single to the glory of Christ, whom he preaches, and count himself out. It should be his constant aim that Christ, whom he represents, may increase while he himself decreases. Remembering that minister means nothing but servant, he should humbly, yet passionately, serve the Lord Christ and His church.

Source: R.B. Kuiper, The Glorious Body of Christ (Banner of Truth, 1966), 140-42.

10. Faithful preaching requires great personal discipline and sacrifice.

Arthur W. Pink: The great work of the pulpit is to press the authoritative claims of the Creator and Judge of all the earth—to show how short we have come of meeting God’s just requirements, to announce His imperative demand of repentance. . . . It requires a “workman” and not a lazy man—a student and not a slothful one—who studies to “show himself approved unto God” (2 Tim. 9:15) and not one who seeks the applause and the shekels of men.

Source: A. W. Pink, “Preaching False and True,” Online Source.

These 10 reminders were compiled by Nathan Busenitz on his website June 7, 2012: http://thecripplegate.com/preachers-on-preaching/

David Martyn Lloyd-Jones on Authority in Preaching by Iain H. Murray

During the Second World War a Scot who was in the services and visiting London went to Westminster Chapel but the Chapel was closed, damaged by bombing, but on a piece of paper visitors were directed to a nearby hall. He described a ‘thin man’ wearing a tie calling the people to worship. He thought the man was a church officer, and he appreciated his prayer, but then the man began to preach, beginning quietly enough. “This must be Lloyd-Jones,” he thought. But for the next 40 minutes he was unconscious of anything else in the world, hearing only this man’s words. He had been caught up in the mystery of preaching. That man later became a well-known Church of Scotland minister called Tom Allen.

When he left that service Tom Allen was taken up with the message, not the preacher. DMLJ would have thought little of conferences addresses like this one about himself. He thought messages about contemporary men had done great injury especially during the Victorian period. With man-centeredness being the terrible bane of today’s church there is a danger in drawing attention to personalities. DMLJ would quote the words of God, “My servant Moses is dead so arise and go over to Jordan.” DMLJ prevented several would-be biographers writing anything, and reluctantly consented to Iain Murray’s official biography if only something could be written which would encourage those who were entering the gospel ministry.

DMLJ believed that God was the God of tomorrow who would raise up servants who would enjoy blessings that he himself had not known. Frequently when he prayed it was particularly for a recovery of authority and power in preaching.

One must add another observation, that preaching was not DMLJ’s exclusive concern. He was concerned with the church fellowship, prayer meetings, and the promotion of foreign missionaries, but he was convinced that the spiritual health of the church depended on the state of the pulpit. On behalf of Christ the true preacher speaks and the Lord himself is building his church in his sovereign way. So DMLJ was conscious of what he spoke of as the romance of preaching. The preacher is but an instrument in the Lord’s hands: the preacher is not in control. Preaching is the highest and most glorious calling to which anyone could be called.

So when we come to the subject of authority in preaching there are a number of ways this could be addressed and the New Testament terminology on this theme should be studied, e.g. that ‘Jesus spoke with authority’, the phrase ‘the word came with power’, and the word ‘boldness’ which is surprisingly frequent in the NT. Iain Murray’s approach was to take the characteristics of preaching with power.

(1) It always is attended by a consciousness of the presence of God.

Though a worshipper may be meeting in the midst of a large congregation of people when the preaching is with authority the individual forgets the person he has come with, and the building they are sitting in, and even the one who is preaching. He is conscious that he is being spoken to by the living God. Thus it was in Acts 2. A remarkable illustration of this is the spiritualist woman in Sandfields, drawn to hear DMLJ and conscious that she was surrounded by ‘clean’ power. For the first time she was conscious she was in the presence of God. Thomas Hooker had such a sense of God about him that it was said that he could have put a king in his pocket.

(2) There is no problem of holding the attention of the people.

It is a problem to keep people’s attention. The preacher has his chain of thought, and all the people also may have theirs which are all very different so that they are taking in very little from the preaching. But authoritative preaching gets inside people because it speaks to the heart, conscience and will. Skillful oratory cannot come anywhere near to that preaching. It made a moral and emotional earthquake in those who heard the word at Thessalonica. The well-remembered ship builder who built ships in his mind during Sundays’ sermon could not lay the first plank when he was listening to George Whitefield preach. Conviction of sin and the reality of the living God became far more important to him than his business.

One Friday night in his series of lectures on theology DMLJ was preaching from Revelation on the final judgment on Babylon and listening to that exultant message it would have been impossible to have been occupied with any other subject, the great reality was such that awareness of anything else disappeared. The very date of that occasion was accurately quoted, easily memorable to the speaker because the next day he was getting married, but all thoughts of that were gone as he saw the overthrow of great Babylon.

(3) Even children can understand it.

There is a mistake in thinking that preaching is chiefly to address the intellect, and thus the will. Rather preaching is to address the heart and soul of men and women. Preaching which accomplishes that can arrest a child as easily as a grown-up. Children did listen to DMLJ because of the character of the preaching and the sense of God about it.

(4) It is preaching that results in a change in those who listen.

It may be repentance; it may be restoration, or reconciliation; it may be strength given for those in the midst of trials, but powerful preaching brings that change. Sometimes they went away indignant and some of them were later converted. You cannot be apathetic under true preaching. Felix trembled. There was no certainty of conversions but there was a degree of certainty that there will be power in that preaching. In Mrs Bethan Lloyd-Jones’ book on Sandfields there is a reference to a professor of law at Liverpool who said that there were two men who kept the country from communism – Aneurin Bevan and DMLJ. His preaching affected communities. On November 15 1967 he was preaching in Aberfan a year after the disaster. His text was Romans 8:18 “the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory to be revealed in us.” It had a great impact on the perplexed little religious community in the Taff valley.

What is Necessary for Powerful Preaching? What elements produce it?

(1) Sermons will not be marked by authority and power unless they are marked by truth that the Holy Spirit can honor.

The word of God is to be exegeted and explained. That has to be the heart of the sermon. There is a real danger that we become over concerned about such things as delivery, while the New Testament is insistent on the content: “let him speak as the oracles of God.” The authority of the preaching comes from the text of Scripture. It is God- given power which honours his own word.

Dr Lloyd-Jones grew up in a vague sentimental era with churches fascinated with the personalities and quirks of famous men. DMLJ as a man was absorbed with the glory and the greatness of the truth. A preacher lives in the truth. DMLJ expected the preacher to go through the whole Bible in his personal devotions once each year. He expected him to continue to read theology as long as he lived. The more he read the better. Preaching is theology coming through a man who is on fire.

In the latter part of his ministry there was a change in emphasis. In the first 30 years there was a stress on the importance of the historic faith, and then in the last decades a new emphasis emerged, not now on the recovery of truth but with the accompanying need of power to proclaim it.

(2) The man himself is a part of the message. He can read all the best books and give out a whole rounded exegesis of the text, but somehow the man himself has not become a part of the truth.

The less we say of ourselves in preaching the better, but the Holy Spirit does not work in preaching except through the man, and so, inevitably, not only does the message compel attention but the man himself. The man becomes a part of the message. What does that mean?

The preacher must know the power of the message he is bringing to others.

When DMLJ was 25 and at the cross-roads of his life, he became engaged to Bethan Philips, and she became conscious that her future husband was considering becoming a preacher. She was very concerned because she had never heard him preach. At that point a letter came from a missionary society inviting them to become medical missionaries in India. She was challenged by this invitation but DMLJ had no interest at all. Bethan said to him, “But how do you know that you can preach?” “I know I can preach to myself” he replied. He knew the power of the truth in his own heart.

When he was preaching on Ephesians 2 on fulfilling the lusts of the flesh and the mind he raised the question what they were? He interjected that “as I was preparing this sermon it filled me with a loathing and hatred of myself. I look back and I think of the hours I have wasted in mere talk and argumentation. And it was with one end only, simply to gain my point and to show how clever I was” (“God’s Way of Reconciliation” p.65). So DMLJ was preaching to himself before he spoke to others.

The Holy Spirit must produce the feelings in the preacher’s heart that must be in harmony with what the Spirit has breathed out.

Paul writes, “Knowing the terror of the Lord we persuade men.” Again he speaks of some “with tears” that they are enemies of the cross. One finds phrases like, “I tell you weeping …I am glad and rejoice with you all.” There was something in the way these preachers used by God spoke – “I preached what I smartingly did feel,” said Bunyan. A most important part of preaching is exhortation. In preaching we move people to do what they are listening to, and to this end there has to be a felt consciousness in the preacher of the truth of what he is saying. We have to bring our feelings into harmony with the stupendous nature of what we are saying. The men most used of God in their pulpits are those who know they had fallen far short of the wonder that should characterise the preaching.

The more he becomes part of his message then the more he forgets himself.

What is the main feeling in the preacher? It should be love – to God and to man. It is the very opposite of self-centredness. Love seeks not her own. The needs of the people spoken to take over. We forget ourselves. A baptism of Holy Spirit love gives us a love for people.

Preaching Under the Influence of the Holy Spirit.

There is a total insufficiency in ourselves or in anyone else in the world, so that we cannot preach without the Holy Spirit. 1 Corinthians 2:3 – is the key text, “And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.” God makes us weak and so enables us to become true preachers. Real authority always comes out of felt weakens, and then God uses us. The preacher is the last person to be praised. To be clapped when he had finished would have horrified him.

Bethan Lloyd-Jones once listed to some men speaking about her husband and she interjected, “No one will understand my husband who does not realise that he was first an evangelist and a man of prayer.” DMLJ loved the hymn of Oswald Allen, “Today thy mercy calls us…” especially these final lines:

When all things seem against us,


To drive us to despair,


We know one gate is open,


One ear will hear our prayer

That is what he believed. His public pastoral prayer lifted many burdens long before the preaching began. He rested ultimately on the Holy Spirit being given to them that ask him. The real preacher is a mere voice sounding in the wilderness. DMLJ was criticized for being too dogmatic and authoritarian. If we are preaching from God then that has to be delivered with faith and confidence that we knows what God is saying. You have to believe definite truths in order to be saved. Men have to know that they are condemned before they can be saved. There is the utter certainty of a preacher in what he is preaching. Paul says, “We have the same spirit of faith … we also believe and we speak.” That is the fundamental thing. We are going against all that the natural man believes.

DMLJ’s faith came out in what he preached, that man was under the wrath of God, depraved and lost. He preached this with absolute conviction, and he followed it up with the cross, week by week. That authority was given by the Holy Spirit. It influenced DMLJ’s whole way of looking at things. He was a man who stood alone for most of his life and one reason was that he was conscious that the problem with man was far deeper than people in the church were prepared to acknowledge They were thinking of ‘communication to the modern man’ etc. DMLJ believed that we face not the problem of communication but what was wrong in the church itself. One of the reasons that he did not take part in the big crusades was because there was something wrong in the churches themselves. He quietly stood aside, God having kept him in the way he did, he preached evangelistically each Sunday.

The test of the presence of the Holy Spirit’s work is the presence of Christ himself in the assembly and known by the congregation. A maid worked in a Manse and there was great anticipation for the coming of the powerful preacher, Mr Cook. One maid was not enthusiastic, and she told the butcher she was fed up, “with all this fuss you would think Jesus Christ himself was coming.” Mr Cook duly came and preached and as she heard him something happened in her life. The butcher said to her with a grin on the following Tuesday, “Did Jesus Christ come?” “Yes, he did come,” she said seriously.

William Williams of Pantycelyn said, “Love is the greatest thing in religion, and without it religion is nothing.” DMLJ often quoted those words. Love has to lead the way. He thought the people were not ready to hear extended series of systematic expository sermons for the first 20 years he was in the ministry. The needs of the people were paramount because love is in our hearts.

*Summary of an Address given by Iain H. Murray at the Carey Conference 2001 at Swanwick. Iain Hamish Murray (b. 1931; Lancashire, England) was educated in the Isle of Man and at the University of Durham. He entered the Christian ministry in 1955. He served as assistant to Martyn Lloyd-Jones at Westminster Chapel(1956–59) and subsequently at Grove Chapel, London (1961–69) and St. Giles Presbyterian Church, Sydney, Australia, (1981–84). In 1957 he and Jack Cullum founded the Reformed publishing house, the Banner of Truth Trust, where he has periodically worked full-time and remains the Editorial Director.

*David Martyn Lloyd-Jones (December 20, 1899 – March 1, 1981) was a Welsh Protestant minister, preacher and medical doctor who was influential in the Reformed wing of the British evangelical movement in the 20th century. For almost 30 years, he was the minister of Westminster Chapel in London. Lloyd-Jones was strongly opposed to Liberal Christianity, which had become a part of many Christian denominations; he regarded it as aberrant. He disagreed with the broad church approach and encouraged evangelical Christians (particularly Anglicans) to leave their existing denominations. He believed that true Christian fellowship was possible only amongst those who shared common convictions regarding the nature of the faith. One of his classic works has been republished as a 40th Edition – with many new features –  (reviewed on this blog) and is entitled Preaching and Preachers.