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…
The first congregation of Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was in a Welsh town called Sandfields. In his biography of Lloyd-Jones, Iain Murray relates how the pastor made efforts to get his congregation into the Word of God on a daily basis. It was his conviction that every pastor should go through the complete Bible in one year — “That should be the very minimum of the preacher’s Bible reading.” But he also believed that such a discipline of Bible reading would be beneficial for all church members. Initially, the Doctor developed his own Bible-reading plan which would take the congregation through the entire Bible in one year. However, eventually he discovered the reading plan developed by Robert Murray M’Cheyne and, for the rest of his life, this was the plan he used personally and that he recommended to parishioners.
Thanks to one of my elders, I have become convinced that every Christian should have a plan for disciplined regular reading of the Scriptures. I have been practicing it now for three years and the blessings have been enormous. For 2015, I plan to continue this practice using the reading plan recommended by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and used with great profit by many. You can find Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s original plan online here. (Over here is a better format for printing). The original plan includes some helpful notes from M’Cheyne about the practice of daily Bible reading, including the dangers and advantages. M’Cheyne’s plan knits together family Bible reading and individual Bible reading and you could do it that way. I’m going to be taking a different approach — I’ll be using the family Bible reading in the morning and the individual Bible reading in the evening. With M’Cheyne’s plan, in the span of a year you go through the entire Old Testament once and the New Testament and Psalms twice.
Every year this topic gets raised on blogs and social media. Every year the objections get trotted out. My answer: why not just try it? It doesn’t have to be M’Cheyne’s plan, it could be any one of a variety of plans (see here for some links). It could be a one-year, a two-year, or even a three-year plan. But if the Word of God is precious to us, and if we believe that reading it will enrich our faith, then shouldn’t we have some type of plan in place to help us stay on track? And what if you do fall behind? Sometimes events conspire against the best made plans for Bible reading. If you haven’t fallen too far behind, do some catch up on the Lord’s Day — that’s a great time for some extra Bible reading. If you’ve fallen really far behind, just carry on with the plan and don’t stress about it.
If you don’t already, let me encourage you to take up this practice as of January 1, 2015 — it will not always be easy, but ultimately you will not regret it!
I’ve just finished Iain Murray’s excellent biography of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Lloyd-Jones faced an enormous struggle with doctrinal compromise in the United Kingdom starting in the post-war period. There was a wide-spread allergy to doctrine and, more significantly, to doctrinal firmness. Instead of a muscular and confident Christianity, many were endeavouring to create a more gelatinous and open-minded faith. The authority and certainty of Scripture was widely discounted. Murray relates how Lloyd-Jones spoke to an annual meeting of the Inter-Varsity Fellowship in 1954. He explored the question of why the churches were empty on Sundays in Great Britain. His answer: apostasy. Turning away from the authoritative truth of Scripture robbed the gospel message of certainty. Who would keep going to church to hear an uncertain message?
Then Lloyd-Jones spoke these words and they remain relevant for our current day:
In Jude 3, we read, ‘Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.’ Here we are given a stirring call to the defence of the Faith. Such a call is not popular today. It is not popular today even in some evangelical circles. People will tell you that it is all ‘too negative.’ They continually urge that we must keep on giving positive truth. They will tell us that we must not argue and we must never condemn. But we must ask, ‘How can you fight if you are ever afraid of wounding an enemy?’ ‘How can you rouse sleeping fellow-warriors with smooth words?’ God forbid that we find ourselves at the bar of judgment and face the charge that we contracted out from love of ease, or for fear of man, or that we failed to do our duty in the great fight of the Faith. We must — we must fight for the faith in these momentous times. (as quoted by Iain Murray, The Life of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, 332).
The reference to Jude 3 is quite appropriate. As I have argued here, this passage speaks directly to the church as it faces attacks from within.