Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Expect the Fire

Bob Rakestraw
April 3, 2012

“The Benediction Project”

12. Preaching and Preachers, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (Zondervan, 1971), pp. 325.

Most people enjoy a public speaker who has something substantial to say and says it with clarity, creativity, and enthusiasm. Even if we are walking by a political rally and don’t care to hear about the cause being promoted, we may stop and listen a while just because of the speaker’s intriguing ideas and dynamic style of communicating. One famous preacher said, “When you preach, be on fire; at least people will come to see you burn.”

In Preachers and Preaching Martyn Lloyd-Jones focuses on the preparation and delivery of sermons. Everything in this book builds on the conviction that during the preparing and preaching of the message there must be the presence and power of the Holy Spirit at work. This should be true of every sermon preached from every pulpit every time.

The most powerful way this book has influenced my life and ministry (teaching as well as preaching) has been through this persistent and consistent emphasis on the Spirit. Lloyd-Jones is both convinced and convincing concerning his thesis because it is based solidly on scripture and experience.

This is not a formal textbook on homiletics—the art and science of preaching. It is, rather, almost completely a transcript of a series of lectures the author presented at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia during six weeks in the spring of 1969. He was speaking, as he says, in a “conversational and intimate style” about “the various detailed problems and questions that [ministerial students] have often put to me privately, and which have also often been discussed in ministers meetings.”

Even though Lloyd-Jones writes, “I can say quite honestly that I would not cross the road to listen to myself preaching,” many thousands of people did just that, and most of them traveled much farther than across the road. During his most active ministerial years the author—a former heart doctor—was the pastor of two churches: eleven and a half years in South Wales and thirty years (1938-1968) at Westminster Chapel, London.

He was the most outstanding preacher of his day, and was especially known for his expository preaching—working from one specific text of the Bible and allowing the Spirit to “expose” the truth in it by a sustained and rigorous examination of the content and its implications. He also taught expositorily. I remember reading that he taught a weekly Bible study attended by 1200 people—on Friday nights in London! He spent years just teaching through the book of Romans in these sessions.

I wish I had discovered this remarkable book much earlier in my life, instead of serving for 17 years of ordained ministry before reading it. When I obtained the book, however, in 1984, I devoured it. While my years serving as a senior pastor were then behind me, I continued doing guest preaching and interim pastoral ministry until my poor health necessitated the end of my preaching. In the later part of my preaching career, after I read and thought deeply about this God-inspired book, I experienced a distinctly heightened awareness of spiritual power and authority in my preparation and preaching. This was no small thing to me. Actually, it was glorious!

After I had preached several sermons led by this growing and gripping power of the Spirit, a man came to me with great seriousness in his face and voice, and said that my past few sermons had been definitely more powerful and convicting (my paraphrase) than my previous sermons. He had sat under my weekly preaching for years before this, so while I rejoiced in his comment I also regretted that I did not fully grasp the liberating and quickening ministry of the Spirit previously.

In the last chapter—the most stirring—Lloyd-Jones quotes Paul’s words to the Corinthian church: “The kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.” He then adds: “There is no text, perhaps, of which we need to be reminded so much at the present time as just that.” He also revels in the truth of First Thessalonians: “For our gospel came not to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance.”

Lloyd-Jones concludes the book with a strong plea. “What then are we to do about this? There is only one obvious conclusion. Seek Him! Seek Him! ... But go beyond seeking him; expect him. Do you expect anything to happen when you get up to preach in a pulpit? … Seek this power, expect this power, yearn for this power; and when the 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. … Nothing but a return of this power of the Spirit on our preaching is going to avail us anything. … It is the greatest need of all today.”

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