In his Lectures to My Students, Spurgeon has this little ditty which has always amused me:
It is an ill case when the preacher
“Leaves his hearers perplex’d —
Twixt the two to determine:
‘Watch and pray,’ says the text,
‘Go to sleep,’ says the sermon.
I couldn’t help but think of that as I was re-reading Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ great classic, Preaching & Preachers. He notes that a preacher who appears untouched by the truth he’s preaching is not really a preacher at all. He goes on:
I came across a notable example of what I am condemning recently when I was convalescing after an illness. I was staying in a village in a certain part of England and went to the local church just across the road from where I was staying. I found that the preacher was preaching that evening on the prophet Jeremiah. He told us that he was starting a series of sermons on the prophet. So he was starting with that great text where Jeremiah said he could not refrain any longer, but that the Word of God was like a fire in his bones. That was the text he took. What happened? I left the service feeling that I had witnessed something quite extraordinary, for the one big thing that was entirely missing in that service was ‘fire.’ The good man was talking about fire as if he were sitting on an iceberg. He was actually dealing with the theme of fire in a detached and cold manner; he was a living denial of the very thing that he was saying, or perhaps I should say a dead denial. It was a good sermon from the standpoint of construction and preparation. He had obviously taken considerable care over this, and had obviously written out every word, because he was reading it; but that one thing that was absent was fire. There was no zeal, no enthusiasm, no apparent concern for us as members of the congregation. His whole attitude seemed to be detached and academic and formal. (p.88)
Sad, no? It reminds me of a time I visited a Presbyterian church somewhere. This church had a seminary and their homiletics professor was on the pulpit that Sunday morning. The poor man had just flown in the day before and was dealing with a bad case of jet lag. He yawned his way through the whole sermon. Maybe it was just a bad day for that brother…
I love the Puritans, but not all of them were great communicators. Not all of their writings have travelled well over the centuries. John Owen is often considered one of the most difficult Puritan writers. He’s brilliant, but he demands a lot from his readers. Thankfully, R.J.K. Law made some of Owen’s writings a bit easier for today’s readers. The Glory of Christ is one of several abridged and simplified works of Owen published by the Banner of Truth in its Puritan Paperback series.
This is a fantastic little book — filled not only with solid biblical theology, but also warmhearted applications. One of the key things I took away from Owen has to do with how we will see God in the age to come. God is invisible *and* immutable. So, Owen says, “We see the glory of God only in the person of Christ” (12). Because Christ has a human body, our vision of God in the age to come is connected to our sight of him. In him all the fullness of God dwells (Col. 1:19). Seeing Christ and his glory is how we will see God. This is true in a spiritual sense now already, but it will also be true in a physical sense after the resurrection. I highly recommend this book! If you’ve never read Owen before, this would be a great place to start.
I just want to drop a little note about this great study on preaching from 2017. The Second Helvetic Confession famously said that “the preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God.” Those of us who’ve been preaching for a bit know the popular biblical supports for this statement, passages like 1 Thess. 2:13. Jonathan Griffiths discusses those, but he also goes way further and deeper. Exegeting the relevant passages, he deftly explains what makes preaching a distinct form of word ministry. Along the way, he also implicitly makes a case for why only men can be preachers of the gospel. It’s a book not so much about the “how” of preaching as the “what.”
I’m not giving a full-fledged review, just a little note to encourage my preacher colleagues to check out this book by Julius Kim, Professor of Practical Theology at Westminster Seminary California. Why read this? There’s a lot in this book that you can find in other volumes on preaching. For those new to the task, for those who haven’t yet read many books on preaching, this would be a great primer. For those who’ve been around the block a few times, there’s still the value of review. But there’s also something in this book that you won’t find anywhere else: chapter 8, “The Influence of Neuroscience on the Design and Delivery of the Sermon.” That chapter alone made this book worthwhile for me.