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Archive for the ‘Preaching’ Category

The following passage comes from the Memoirs of James Fraser of Brea (1639-1698). In it, we hear the heartbeat of a true fisher of men, a pastor-evangelist that all pastors should strive to be. Also, note that he urged the duty of the minister going beyond the four walls of the church into the “highways and hedges” to speak to the lost.  This is the good old parish way – ministerial house to house evangelistic labor in a fixed, geographical district. Would to God it may be recovered! (Italics in quote below mine.)

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God did not fend me to baptise, but to preach. But that which I was called to was, to testify for God, to hold forth his name and ways to the dark world, and to deliver poor captives of Satan, and bring them to the glorious liberty of the sons of God: this was I to make: my only employment, to give myself to, and therein to be diligent, taking all occasions ; and to be plain, full and free in this charge. I was called to enter in hot war with the world and sinners, to fight by my testimony against them for God ….

He is [in addition to public preaching] to execute his commission by exhortation, private and occasional instruction, whether for reproof, comfort, or in formation and direction. And this is it which I suppose I was moſt called unto, viz. to take all occasions with all persons in private discourse, to make the name of Christ known, and to do them good, and to do this as my only work; and to do it boldly, and faithfully and fully: and this to do is very hard in a right and effectual manner; to do this is harder than to preach publickly; and, to be strengthened, directed and encouraged in this, is that for which I ought to live near in a dependence on Christ, without whom we can do nothing, and of whom is all our sufficiency. In preaching there are a great many whom we can not reach, and there are many to whom we have no occasion to preach publickly; we may thus preach always, and speak more succesfully than in publick, where the greatest part of hearers do not understand the minister tho’ he speak never so plainly. This likewise we are called unto this day, seeing we are by force incapacitate: but oh how is this neglected! were ministers faithful in this, we should quickly fee a change in affairs; but, alas, with grief of heart I speak it, it is in this thing that I challenge myself most of any, it is in this that I have most come ſhort, and I suppose it may be so with others too. The Apostles went from house to house.

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One of my personal heroes is Scottish Presbyterian minster, Aeneas Sage (1694-1774). I’m not quite sure if everything written about him is totally accurate; I get a whiff of the hagiographic if not the legendary in some of the stories.  Yet, something in my gut tells me it is too good and so must be true!  (Like a historian friend of mine quipped, ‘If it ain’t true, it should be!’)  Whatever the case, Aeneas Sage captivates me, for as a pastor he knew how to captivate an audience – in more ways that one.

I’ve retold the following story countless times, from John Kennedy’s The Days of the Fathers in Ross-Shire.  I still remember first hearing it by an idiosyncratic minister having his wispy locks trimmed by his wife in his living room.  How his eyes sparkled as he struggled to repress laughter!  As I remember it again, it also gives me some tantalizing ideas in drawing a crowd for open air preaching, and of course, to win hearts for King Jesus in an increasingly secular age.  I already know one friend whose church has had good success gaining a crowd by basketball.  Then they preach a solid, Reformed sermon for 45 minutes – to public schoolers.  Maybe they took a chapter out of Aeneas Sage’s playbook.

If  you like the following, you’ll no doubt appreciate this piece about him too.  Now, without further audieu …

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Mr. Munro was preceded by the famous Mr. Aenas Sage —”a man of an undaunted spirit, who did not know what the fear of man was. He had, however, the fear of God, and great zeal for the good cause in its highest perfection. He was the determined enemy of vice, and a true friend of the gospel.” Such, according to Mr. Lachlan, was the character of Mr. Sage, the first minister who is known to have preached the Gospel in purity and with success in Lochcarron. At the time of his induction, the state of the parish was very much the same as it was found by the Presbytery to be in 1649, when after visiting it, they reported that “there were no elders in it, by reason of malignancy; swearing, drunkenness, cursing, Sabbath profanation, and uncleanness prevailed.” As to the church, there was found in it “ane formal stool of repentance, but no pulpit nor desks.” The stool, if the only, was truly the suitable seat for all the people of Lochcarron in these days; but the more it was required, the less power there was to make it aught else than “ane formal” thing, as the solitary occupant of the church.

Matters continued in this state till the induction of Mr. Sage, nearly eighty years after. He was just the man for the work of breaking up the fallow ground of a field so wild, and a rich blessing rested on his labours. On the night of his first arrival at Lochcarron an attempt was made to burn the house in which he lodged, and for some time after his induction his life was in constant danger. But the esteem he could not win as a minister, he soon acquired for great physical strength. The first man in Lochcarron in those days was the champion at the athletic games. Conscious of his strength, and knowing that he would make himself respected by all if he could only lay big Rory on his back, who was acknowledged to be the strongest man in the district, the minister joined the people on the earliest opportunity at their games. Challenging the whole field, he competed for the prize in putting the stone, tossing the caber, and wrestling, and won an easy victory. His fame, was established at once. The minister was now the champion of the district, and none was more ready to defer to him than he whom he had deprived of the laurel. Taking Rory aside to a confidential crack, he said to him, “Now, Rory, I am the minister, and you must be my elder, and we both must see to it that all the people attend church, observe the Sabbath, and conduct themselves properly.” Rory fell in with the proposal at once. On Sabbath, when the people would gather at their games in the forenoon, the minister and his elder would join them, and each taking a couple by the hand, they would drag them to the church, lock them in, and then return to catch some more. This was repeated till none were left on the field. Then, stationing the elder with his cudgel at the door, the minister would mount the pulpit and conduct the service. One of his earliest sermons was blessed to the conversion of his assistant, and a truly valuable coadjutor he found in big Rory thereafter. Mr. Lachlan thus describes the result of his ministry: —”Mr. Sage made the people very orthodox.” They “seem to have a strong attachment to religion.” “There is a great appearance of religion in Lochcarron; and as the fire of God’s Word is hereafter to try every man’s work, there is cause to hope that some of it will bear the trial.’

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Die Predigt Johannes des Täufers (Bruegel)The following comes from a report of the Committee of Local Evangelism in the OPC in which Professor John Murray played a major role prior to World War II. It was drawn from this source.

There is an acute problem that confronts the open-air preacher in our day and age. The great problem is to get and hold a sizeable audience. In Whitefield’s day the masses thronged to hear his message. This is not true today; the multitudes pass us by. What is the cause? What can be done to assist in the solution of the problem?

Various factors may be said to contribute to the listlessness of those whom we seek to reach with the gospel. There are the many attractive forms of pleasure. No age of ministers has had to compete with as many enticing modes of pleasure as has the minister of the twentieth century. It is reported of Moody that he looked with apprehension on the popularity of the bicycle, fearing its effect upon evangelistic meetings in America. The automobile, the radio, the moving picture, and television have done much to make the average open-air meeting appear unattractive. Another factor that has engendered a spirit of indifference to the open-air preacher is the attitude of the average educated person. He considers such a method as beneath his intellectual level and personal dignity. Even Wesley at first recoiled before the thought of open-air preaching for this reason. He knew that immediately he would be branded by many as an “ignorant and unlearned” man. But perhaps the most basic reason for the average American’s antipathy toward open-air preaching is that he has been educated, however unwittingly, into a prejudice against the Christian gospel. America’s antitheistic public school system and the deadening influence of modernism within the visible church have had their deadly effect upon the souls of men.

These difficulties, however, are not to be taken as valid reasons for not engaging in open-air preaching. God is sovereign, and has enabled His servants to devise methods whereby the problem of drawing a crowd has to a degree at least been overcome. We present at this point the recommendations that have come to us from ministers who have had some degree of success in obtaining a good hearing in open-air preaching. They are as follows:

Go where the people are, not where we hope they will come. In most places where we have churches, the spring and summer are the only times that weather will permit the holding of outdoor services. During these seasons the people will be found in public parks and squares, at seashore and mountain resorts, by places of public amusement, and outside factories during lunch hours. Recently provision has been made in England to have chaplains for defense industries. In at least one large industrial plant in America permission has been granted for the preaching of the gospel to the men during their lunch hour. These examples may be straws in the wind indicating a tendency to recognize the need and the worth of bringing the Word of God to the working men of our nation. Here may be an opportunity to reach the heads of families whose very souls are being crushed out of them by long hours and Sunday work. In every city and town there are areas where large numbers of under-privileged and spiritually neglected people can be found. These areas should be sought out and surveyed with a view to securing a commodious meeting place. Most important of all, pray for an open door.

Go in absolute confidence in the truth and power of the gospel and in complete reliance upon the Holy Spirit to bless. Only as the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit can we proclaim boldly, convincingly, and winsomely the everlasting gospel. To this end, we need to pray that we might be filled with the Spirit. Nothing can draw and hold so well and so surely in an open-air service as the preaching of the Word in the power of the Spirit.

There are successful ways of gathering a good audience. One way is to have a nucleus of Christians to go with the minister. A crowd draws a crowd. When the passers-by observe that a goodly number are listening they will stop to satisfy at least their curiosity. From that point on you may depend upon the Word to elicit and maintain their interest. A method that has been used by some Roman Catholics with real success in drawing a crowd is the question and answer method. The minister seeks out a passer-by and requests him to ask questions from a specified distance. The minister then proceeds to answer the man’s questions. As others gather they, too, are requested to ask questions. When a sizeable group has been attracted by this method the minister may discourse on a subject of his choice.

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downloadRecently, I’ve been curious about the historic place of “preaching stations” and their relevance for modern missions. It could just be me, but there seems to be little discussion or usage of the construct in “church planting” efforts.  Not sure of the reason for this. Maybe it’s because of the subdued place of preaching as the prime vehicle for conversion – at least within broader evangelicalism.  I fear that within Reformed circles, it may reflect church planting that engages more in picking up Calvinist proselytes (at best) or bald sheep-stealing (at worst).  That is, church growth that aims not so much at the lost community as an ever-recycling Christian one.  Within my own more conservative orbit, I think it’s employed as a downgrade for a weakening or dying congregation.

Whatever the case may be, historically and in the contemporary situation, I’m liking what I read from Chalmers on the topic:

“I should not hold it wise to rush precipitately on the formation of a parish church, till a preaching station, upheld by household assiduities, had been tried and found to be successful. Such a preaching station is the germ of the future church, as the missionary is of the future clergyman; but not till the germ had so far germinated, would we venture on a full parochial apparatus for any locality whatever.”

First, preaching stations are forward-moving Gospel efforts, in the direction of full-fledged congregations.  They are missionary endeavors.  Second, they operate in the right order with respect to sacraments.  Word first; then assuming reception, baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  Throw the Gospel net far and wide, but keep the sacraments out of the equation until there are “fruits worthy of repentance.”  Third, aggressive, territorial household visitation as an indispensable adjunct to the preaching station.

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220px-Richard_Baxter_ColourMany have warned others that they come not to that place of torment, while yet they hastened to it themselves: many a preacher is now in hell, who hath a hundred times called upon his hearers to use the utmost care and diligence to escape it. Can any reasonable man imagine that God should save men for offering salvation to others, while they refuse it themselves; and for telling others those truths which they themselves neglect and abuse? Many a tailor goes in rags, that maketh costly clothes for others; and many a cook scarcely licks his fingers, when he hath dressed for others the most costly dishes. Believe it, brethren, God never saved any man for being a preacher, nor because he was an able preacher; but because he was a justified, sanctified man, and consequently faithful in his Master’s work. Take heed, therefore, to ourselves first, that you be that which you persuade your hearers to be, and believe that which you persuade them to believe, and heartily entertain that Savior whom you offer to them. He that bade you love your neighbors as yourselves, did imply that you should love yourselves, and not hate and destroy yourselves and them.

-Richard Baxter (1615-1691)

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Is the Gospel preacher practical?  The man who gives himself to prayer and the ministry of the Word, who delegates to others the lesser ministry of waiting on tables – is such a man a blessing or a bane to the  Church and society?  Perhaps in the short-term, it may seem that way.  But when we take a step back and view aright the man of God who sacredly devotes the lion share of his time to the ‘closet’ labors of his study, we will see him not only as highly practical.  He will emerge as the best doer of good to His fellow men.

The following extracts from Alexander’s Thoughts on Preaching explore this mystery with profound insight.

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§ 74. To do gimagesood to men, is the great work of life; to make them true Christians is the greatest good we can do them. Every investigation brings us round to this point. Begin here, and you are like one who strikes water from a rock on the summits of the mountains; it flows down over all the intervening tracts to the very base. If we could make each man love his neighbour, we should make a happy world. The true method is to begin with ourselves, and so to extend the circle to all around us. It should be perpetually in our minds.

§ 75. Beneficence.—There are two great classes of philanthropists, namely, those who devise plans of beneficence, and those who execute them. If we cannot be among the latter, perhaps we may be among the former. Invention is more creative than execution. Watt has done more for mechanics than a thousand steam-engine makers. The devisers of good may again be divided into those who devise particular plans, such as this or that association or mode of operation, and those who discover and make known great principles. The latter are the rarer and the most important. Hence a man who never stirs out of his study may be a great philanthropist, if he employs himself in discovering from the study of the Scriptures and the study of human nature, those laws which originate and condition all effectual endeavours for human good.

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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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