Sunday, August 12, 2007
WORDS! WORDS! WORDS!
Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the scriptures to us?
The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.
Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.
My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power.
Our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.
His worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.
(Luke 24:32; John 6:63; Matthew 4:4; 1 Corinthians 2:4; 1 Thessalonians 1:5; John 4:24 -- all NIV)
'Words! Words! Words! I'm so sick of words!' cried Liza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, impatient with reluctant suitors. Liza spoke for modern humanity -- for us the very concept of words has been devalued. Why this indifference to words, if not mistrust of them? There are many reasons: post-Watergate political cynicism; saturation by television advertisements; the breakdown of trustworthy promises in business and marriage, and even the failure of Christians to show their faith by their works. More subtle influences in the decline of words have been linguistic and communication theories. For the church, the most tragic feature is the profusion of verbose, ambiguous and unbiblical kinds of theology that confuse everybody.
Words have power. Think of the positive, sustaining effect of Churchill's speeches, or the negative impact of slander or gossip. On the divine level, the one thing necessary to recover lost ground for the credibility of words is the union of Word and Spirit. This alone will rescue preaching from the deadness of mechanical formality. Instead of being dimmed by repetition and weathered by familiarity, our messages then will regain that vibrant, first-hand authority that sets them apart from the dusty scribe, and makes their words throb with pulsating earnestness.
J.B. Phillips has reported the awesome impression that the translation of the New Testament made upon him: like that of a house whose power mains cannot be turned off while an electrician rewires the whole building. That little-tapped potential must energise our handling of God's Word, or else we will end up with a 'form of godliness, but lacking the power thereof'.
Orthodoxy is essential, but it is not enough. We need the authentication that only the Holy Spirit can give.
D.M. Lloyd-Jones, Letter, 1969
Preaching is theology coming through a person who is on fire... What is the chief end of preaching? I like to think it is this. It is to give men and women a sense of God and his presence.
D.M. Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers
Alice Maynell, the Catholic poet, was once talking with a friend about the mass in the Roman Catholic church. This friend spoke of her inability to understand how Mrs Maynell could accept the doctrine of the Real Presence of God in the sacraments. 'Yes,' said Mrs Maynell, 'it may be difficult, but you Protestants have something worse than the Real Presence -- you have the Real Absence.' It was an acute and penetrating comment on much of our Protestant worship, but it has a wider application. It applies to a minister's own inner life, from which any reality in what he says must find its source. We can never bring the real presence of God to other lives if we have the real absence in ourselves.
H.E. Luccock, Reality in Preaching
John Calvin emphasised this marriage of Word and Spirit, when he defined preaching as that public exposition of scripture 'in which God himself is present in judgment and in grace, as if God himself came in person solemnly to summon us.' T.H.L. Parker, The Oracles of God
It ought not to be so, but it has often happened that the student in college has gathered fuel, but lost the fire which is to kindle it. It will be to our everlasting disgrace if we bury our flame beneath the faggots which are intended to sustain it.
C.H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students
I preached what I did feel, what 1 did smartingly feel.
Spiritual Riches of John Bunyan
What was said was deep and memorable and arresting. But always that kept opening vistas, down which one's own mind could catch glimpses of endless truths that crowded in on one. This preacher was like a diviner, in whose subtle hand the hazel wand twisted and turned and pointed. And parched, desperate people had but to drive their spades into the hot, dry, arid sand, and there was living water in abundance.
Let us see that our knowledge of Christ be not a powerless, barren and impractical knowledge: O that in its passage from our understanding to our life, it might powerfully melt, sweeten and ravish our hearts.
John Flavel, Works
Unction in the preacher puts God in the gospel.
E.M. Bounds, Power through Prayer
The living interest of Christ and of the Holy Spirit is not breadth, but it is depth... A gospel deep enough has all the breadth of the world in its heart. If we are only deep enough the breadth will take care of itself. I would ten times rather have one man who was burning deep, even though he wanted to burn for my modern theology, than I would have a broad, hospitable, and thin theologian who was willing to take me in and a nondescript crowd of others in a sheet let down from heaven, but who had no depth, no fire, no skill to search, and no power to break. For the deep Christianity is that which not only searches us, but breaks us.
P.T. Forsyth, The Work of Christ
When W.E. Sangster of London was on the edge of a serious breakdown, he was asked to attend a certain Christian meeting. Reluctant and exhausted, he went, and found from the second sentence of the preacher that God was ravishing his heart and renewing his mind through the words. He was staggered also that others were not as enriched as he had been. The experience of meeting God then blessed him through subsequent years, and confirmed his commitment to preaching. This is his conviction: 'I often go to speak at meetings with that memory in mind. I find myself, praying that somebody's awful extremity may be met. I whisper to God out of my unworthiness: "Do it again, Father!"'
When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart's delight, for I bear your name, O Lord God Almighty.
Jeremiah 15:16, NIV
This is my comfort in my affliction: for thy word has quickened me.
Psalm 119:50 AV
O Lord, grant me a warm heart!
My heart I give you, Lord, eagerly and entirely.
John Calvin, personal motto
What fire is this that so warms my heart? What light is this that so enlightens my soul? 0 fire! that always burns, and never goes out, kindle me. O light which ever shines, and is never darkened, illuminate me. 0 that I had my heat from you, most holy fire! How sweetly you burn! How secretly you shine! How powerfully do you inflame me!
St Augustine, Soliloquies, chapter 34 free translation
Now may Spirit and Word be forever married in our experience; may the heat of joy and the light of truth burn in our hearts, and may we, who with unveiled faces behold his glory, become increasingly transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. Amen.
Still Waters, Deep Waters ed. By Rowland Croucher pp. 234-237