In the following, we hear Thomas Chalmers echoing the sentiment of the inspired apostle, “I am debtor both to the Greek, and to the barbarian, to the wise and to the unwise . . . to preach the Gospel.” This is a timeless reminder to be a minister who is truly all things to all men, and not slavishly ‘relevant’ (beholden?) to a narrow slice of the demographic pie.
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“There is no doubt the vanity of popular applause; but there is also the vanity of an ambitious eloquence, which throws the common people at a distance from our instructions altogether; which, in laying itself out for the admiration of the tasteful and enlightened few, locks up the bread of life from the multitude; which destroys this essential attribute of the gospel, that it is a message of glad tidings to the poor; and wretchedly atones by the wisdom of words, for the want of those plain and intelligible realities which all may apprehend and by which all may be edified. Now the great aim of our ministry is to win souls; and the soul of a poor man consists of precisely the same elements with the soul of a rich. They both labour under the same disease, and they both stand in need of the same treatment. The physician who administers to their bodies brings forward the same application to the same malady; and the physician who is singly intent on the cure of their souls will hold up to both the same peace-speaking blood, and the same sanctifying Spirit, and will preach to both in the same name, because the only name given under heaven whereby men can be saved. . . . We hear of the orator of fashion, the orator of the learned, the orator of the mob. A minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ should be none of these; and, if an orator at all, it should be his distinction that he is an orator of the species. He should look beyond the accidental and temporary varieties of our condition; and recognise in every one who comes within his reach, the same affecting spectacle of a soul forfeited by sin, and that can only be restored by one Lord, one faith, one baptism.”
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J. W. Alexander (1804-1859) gives the following powerful observation in Thoughts on Preaching. If we would learn how to preach, we must not start with Homiletics. We must return ever and again “to the one thing needful.” He writes,
The great reason why we have so little good preaching is that we have so little piety. To be eloquent one must be in earnest; he must not only act as if he were in earnest, or try to be in earnest, but be in earnest, or he cannot be effective.
We have loud and vehement, we have smooth and graceful, we have splendid and elaborate preaching, but very little that is earnest. One man who so feels for the souls of his hearers as to be ready to weep over them—will assuredly make himself
felt. . . We must aim therefore at high degrees of warmth in our religious exercises, if we would produce an impression upon the public mind. . .
Without any increase of our numbers, the very men we now have, if actuated with burning zeal for God, might work a mighty reformation in our country.
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Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847) records the following about an invitation he had accepted to preach. In the passage, he relates his growing revulsion as he learned of the details planned for the event. It’s amusing, yet sobering – especially since it’s so contemporary!
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“They have got the sermon into the newspaper, and on reading the advertisement I was well-nigh overset by the style of it. They are going to have a grand musical concert along with the sermon, to which the best amateurs and performers of the neighborhood are to lend their services. This is all put down in their gaudy manifesto, and to me it is most ineffably disgusting. You know that I am to be very guarded; but I could not perfectly disguise my antipathies to this part of the arrangement. I asked Mr. Grant if I might take the paper with me for the amusement of my Scottish friends. He asked if I disliked music. I said that I liked music, but disliked all charlatanry. Thus far I went; and it was perhaps too far, but this is really making it a theatrical performance, and me one of the performers. But let me be patient; I am jaded and overdone, and reserve my further writing till Monday. . .
When I went to the great preaching hall, I found that there was just this practicing before an immense assemblage, on which I called out, in the distinct hearing of those about me, that there was an air of charlatanry about the whole affair, and that I did not like it at all. I would stay no longer in that place, and went along with them to the committee-room, where there were about twenty managers and others. I said that I had come from a great distance on their account, and had therefore purchased the privilege of telling them plain things; that they should have consulted me ere they had made their arrangements—that I was quite revolted by the quackery of their advertisement—that they had made me feel myself to be one of the performers in a theatrical exhibition—that what they had done stood in the same relation to what they ought to have done, that an advertisement of Dr. Solomon’s did to the respectable doings of the regular faculty, &c., &c. I was firm and mild withal—they confused, and awkward, and in difficulties. I said, that still I would preach, but that I thought it right to state what I felt” (Memoirs 2:41).
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