Home » Preaching
Category Archives: Preaching
“For a minister to preach the word without constant prayer for its success is a likely means to cherish and strengthen secret atheism in his own heart, and very unlikely to work holiness in the lives of others.”
– John Owen, The Works of John Owen (ed. William H. Goold; vol. 7; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, n.d.), 190.
“Gospel truth is the only root whereon gospel holiness will grow.”
– John Owen, The Works of John Owen (ed. William H. Goold; vol. 7; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, n.d.), 188.
“Personal application has been called the ‘soul’ of preaching. A sermon without application is like a letter posted without a direction: it may be well written, rightly dated, and duly signed; but it is useless, because it never reaches its destination.”
– J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Matthew. 1856 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2012), 126.
On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I shall complete a three month series in 1 Thessalonians. Like many other preachers, my favorite book of the Bible is the one I am preaching. This letter of Paul is no exception. Calvin, Simeon, and Stott were particularly helpful advisors as I worked through the text, and I put their books back on my shelves with thanksgiving for each man’s piety, skill, and wisdom.
When in 1 Thessalonians 5:23, the apostle writes: “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,” we obtain insight into how Paul the pastor prayed for his congregation. He sought from God their sanctification, protection, and perseverance.
On sanctification Calvin comments: Paul “knowing that all doctrine is useless until God engraves it, as it were, with his own finger upon our hearts, beseeches God that he would sanctify the Thessalonians.” And sanctification will only be “pure and entire when [a man] thinks nothing in his mind, desires nothing in heart, and does nothing with his body, except what is approved by God.”
We pray without ceasing for God’s sanctifying grace.
Tomorrow evening at First Presbyterian Church Yazoo City I begin a series of sermons on the Psalms. One of the highlights of preparing to preach Psalm 1 is returning to an old and trusted friend, William S. Plumer’s Psalms: A Critical and Expository Commentary with Doctrinal and Practical Remarks. His exposition is faithful to the text, and his doctrinal and practical remarks are full of the pastoral wisdom that makes for solid sermon applications.
Since I purchased this book in the early 1990s, it has been my “go to” commentary on Psalms.
Nuggets from this week’s reading:
“The sum of [Psalm 1] is that the just and he alone is blessed.”
“However tried and afflicted, every servant of God has vast treasures of good things in possession and in prospect.”
“A man’s walk is the course of his life. When the tenor of one’s ways is like that of the wicked, he is wicked.”
“A good man loves the decalogue, because it is the transcript of God’s moral character.”
“It has ever been and will ever be true that if men would be saved, they must forsake bad company.”
“It is not wonder that the truly pious grow in purity. Their thoughts dwell on the most ennobling themes.”
“. . . the righteous man is on the side of duty. He honestly intends and endeavors to do what is right, because it is right and obligatory.”
“Seldom do men forsake a wicked life, until they are convinced of its misery.”
“Of all the follies of men none can be worse than that of hiding from themselves their true condition and character.”
One of the most satisfying aspects of ministry is sermon preparation, for with it comes the opportunity in study to receive the counsel of old friends. I enthusiastically recommend William S. Plumer’s commentary to my RTS students.
– William S. Plumer, Psalms: A Critical and Expository Commentary with Doctrinal and Practical Remarks. 1867. Carlise, PA: Banner of Truth, 1990.
1843 was a momentous year in Presbyterian history. The founders of the Free Church of Scotland abandoned homes, incomes, and church buildings to uphold the spiritual independence of Christ’s church. Their courage captured the attention of the evangelical world, and bequeathed stirring testimonies of faith and fortitude to subsequent generations of Bible-believing Presbyterians.
Author Sandy Finlayson skillfully sketches the lives of ten of these leaders in Unity & Diversity: The Founders of the Free Church of Scotland. Bound together by love of the gospel, a high view of the authority of God’s word, confessional fidelity, and missionary outreach, these men nevertheless held a variety of opinions on controversial issues of the day: church union with other Presbyterian denominations, Roman Catholic emancipation, the evangelistic campaigns of Dwight L. Moody, and educational and social reforms in Scotland.
Conservative American Presbyterians should note the vigor with which several leader tackled widespread poverty, lack of educational opportunity, alcoholism, and other salient social ills. Their lives were spent among the people and for the people.
The author also recounts the personal foibles, bouts of pride, conflicts, and strained friendships – all helpful in reminding readers that there are no golden ages in church history when men were untouched by the frailties common to all. Until our Lord returns, learning to get along will prove hard work.
I enthusiastically recommend Unity and Diversity.
A friend reminds me that homiletics is a physician-heal-thyself enterprise, so my critiques of student sermons are restrained. But not as restrained as those offered by
“a sexton at whose church theological students frequently did the preaching. He always had three stock answers when they asked with anxious curiosity how they had done. If they had done well he would reply, ‘The Lord has been gracious’; if moderately well, ‘The text is difficult; and if badly, ‘The hymns were well chosen.'” 
My criticisms are more direct, but not so much as those offered by Professor James Benjamin Green, who began teaching at Columbia Seminary in 1921. After one student’s sermon, he offered this analysis: “There were three problems with this sermon: first, it was read; second, it was read poorly; third, it wasn’t worth reading.”
Another student preached a sermon titled “The Double-Barreled Gospel” and received this feedback: “What a subject! ‘The double-barreled gospel.’ Unfortunately, neither barrel was loaded.”
 Helmut Thielicke in Gilbert Meilaender, Bioethics: A Primer for Christians, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 74.
 David B. Calhoun, Our Southern Zion: Old Columbia Seminary, 1828-1927 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2012), 356-357.