Non-Comformist Preaching

by Geoff Thomas

There is a tradition of Anglican preaching which any nonconformist would envy. Esteemed men of God, vitally expounding Scripture, have been addressing England from Anglican pulpits since the Reformation; Perkins in the 16th century, Gurnall in the 17th century, Whitefield in the 18th century, while in the 19th there was the incomparable Ryle. In the 20th century Alec Motyer has been one of those Anglicans who has never failed to help us each time we have heard him preach. Such men are simply the representatives of gospel preachers who have brought the Word of God to bear upon the Church of England since the Reformation. Our unity with all the elect of God who cleave to the historic faith has been experienced as we have listened to these Anglican brethren preaching from the Bible and applying its truth to us. Some of the Anglican choice of music is as deplorable as ever - they have travelled from choir boys to rock bands and haven’t stopped yet. One waits for the drummer to lay down his sticks and then the sermon can begin. To our delight we are shown Jesus Christ’s glory, sin is made shameful, and grace magnified as more abundant than all our guilt. At such times we have forgotten the less important convictions that divide Anglicanism and nonconformity. It is in biblical preaching that we are of most assistance and encouragement to one another, free churchmen and established churchmen who have been saved by the precious blood of Christ who love to proclaim the Bible.

The Church of England gives its incumbents a protection and an almost unchallenged authority within its pulpits (at which our nonconformist preachers spectate and marvel), but accepting the Establishment status can also discourage the preaching of the whole counsel of God except amongst its most courageous clergy. To keep one’s conscience clear and remain an evangelical vicar means a life of constant vigilance and Christian warfare. One may not view every fellow clergyman who has been the recipient of episcopal ordination as one’s brother if one’s supreme loyalty is to Jesus Christ. The recent 180-page report Fragmented Faith? coming jointly from the practical theology department of Bangor University and the Church Times indicates how much humanism has infringed upon the Christian faith in the Anglican denomination. One in 33 clerics doubts the existence of God. If reflected throughout the Church’s 9,000 clergy the finding would mean that nearly 300 Church of England clergy are uncertain that God exists. 40 per cent of clergy do not believe in the virgin birth of Christ; a third of clergy are in favour of the ordination of practising homosexuals and homosexual bishops. Over half the clergy don’t think it is wrong for people of the same gender to have sex together. We may not ignore the warnings of Jesus concerning false prophets. Our consciences may not be bought by the smiling greetings in “ministers’ mingles” and clergy conferences of those who preach another gospel. Fearlessness and vigilance is the price to pay for being a gospel-preaching vicar in the 21st century, as it always has been.

That vigilance is often absent. Evangelicalism in the Church of England is overwhelmingly Arminian and charismatic, and its preaching reflects those inadequate theological systems. The appeal of those sermons is directed to the congregation’s will in order, firstly, to get men to make a decision for God, and, secondly, to decide to speak or sing in tongues. Feelings and physical manifestations are judged to be of considerable importance whilst the fact is that they are the easiest manifestations for the devil to counterfeit. Its music rather than the preached word creates the tone of that worship, and the emotional responses of the congregation are interpreted authoritatively by its leaders in personal pastoring as indicating the presence of saving faith in favoured people and also as evidence of possessing the fullness of the Holy Spirit. Thus assurance is bestowed by clerical pontification. Anglican’s best representatives are unhappy with this approach. They take Scripture more seriously, though they are generally Amyraldian and there is always one’s uncertainty concerning their belief in Jesus’ teaching of the eternal punishment of the unrepentant. Their message focuses upon the importance of exegetical preaching, especially as viewed through the insights of the history of redemption school. Compared to what is heard in many pulpits today this is an important emphasis, but there tends to be a lack of application; there is also the denigration of systematic theology and a coolness towards creationism. The goal of the sermon is considered to be explaining what a passage means. Some hearers feel that if this so they could gain as much benefit from staying at home and reading a commentary on that passage. The absence of deep feeling while hearing the truth of the word preached is compensated for by a cultivated spirit of friendly informality and modest approachability. This is one consequence of the absence of the Calvinistic vision of God-centredness in creation, judgment, redemption and regeneration. However, all the above characteristics are also found in abundance in nonconformist circles.

We Free Churchmen understand our principal calling is to be preaching and pastoring. Hence our status is the preacher or the pastor; we know nothing of such titles as archbishops, diocesan bishops, deans and rural deans, prebendaries, canons and minor canons, priests and fathers, vicar generals and clerks in holy orders. These are to us the baggage of a partially reformed church, offices which Christ never appointed and of which there is nothing at all in the New Testament. How much better would the professing church be without such clutter. We pastor and so we are pastors. We preach and so we are preachers.

Again nonconformist preachers are appointed by the call of a particular church. Thus a congregation may maintain its own Biblical convictions. New Park Street Church had done so from Gill to Spurgeon. The congregation called Calvinistic preacher-pastors for a couple of centuries. Gospel congregations have wisdom enough to evaluate a man who claims he is called of God. It will ask questions about Christian doctrine and morality. Does he have a strong call that he must preach the word of God? Does he feel that he is more than an elder who teaches the word? Who are the role models of this man? What books has he read which have impacted him? What does he think of Luther, Spurgeon, Lloyd- Jones and their sermons? Does he make an altar call? Does he believe in expository preaching? What is his view of music in worship? It will seek by such friendly questioning to discover if there is an agenda of which none of the references they have sought after have even hinted, a package that a man might bring like a Trojan horse into a congregation.

When they have called a man a relationship develops as the years pass. An affection builds up between a congregation and its pastor. The church speaks with warmth of the one who brings them the Word of God each week and visits them in their need. He might be referred to as ‘the Doctor’ or some such familiar name of respectful endearment. That affection is contagious and other people know that the bonds that unite that pulpit and those pews are not only the bonds of truth but love also.

Nonconformist churches are characterised by their emphasis on the Word of God rather than on the sacraments. Even the design of their buildings indicates this. The pulpit is central; let everyone see and hear the Bible being read and preached. In some churches the sacrament would be held twice a year, or four times a year and at the most twelve times a year. The congregation are utterly satisfied with the grace of God that comes to them morning and evening through the public means of grace. The summit of nonconformist worship is the preacher doing what the Lord Jesus Christ did in the synagogue in Galilee . He opened the book and found the place. We have spoken to God in prayer, we have sung his praises, and then the climactic aspect of worship is when God speaks to us through his word. What then is good nonconformist preaching?


Firstly it is true proclamation. It is not a string of stories or a stodgy lecture but from first to last the sermon is directed to every hearer. We are all involved from the outset in the herald bringing his king’s message to us. The truth of a passage of the Bible is presented not simply as words that once came to members of a church long ago and far away in Biblical times but God becoming significant to us now, saving, ruling, directing, comforting, rebuking, caring, living for us in and by his own word. In the eighteenth century John Nelson records his first encounter with a sermon that was a true proclamation. He heard John Wesley preaching for the first time at Moorfields in London : “O that was a blessed morning to my soul! As soon as he got upon the stand he stroked back his hair and turned his gaze towards where I stood, and I thought fixed his eyes upon me. His countenance struck such an awful dread upon me before I heard him speak that it made my heart beat like the pendulum of a clock. When he did speak, I thought his whole discourse was aimed at me.”

For a while Nelson fought against those convictions until he heard a soldier testifying to some women how he had become a Christian hearing Wesley: “When he began to speak his words made me tremble. I thought he spoke to no one but me, and I durst not look up, for I imagined all the people were looking at me.” Nelson sought out Wesley and heard him preach again finally saying, “I found power to believe that Jesus Christ had shed his blood for me, and that God, for his sake, had forgiven my offences. Then was my heart filled with love to God and man.” Soon Nelson became one of Wesley’s first assistant ministers, accompanying him to preach in Cornwall and elsewhere. He too became a mighty proclaimer of the divine message of the gospel.


Secondly, good nonconformist preaching is Biblical preaching. What is preached is not an essay on some truth or the actions of politicians or media personalities or philosophers or theologians or our own opinions on current affairs, but what God has said in one of the letters of Paul, or in one of the books of Moses, or by one of the writing prophets, or in the words of Jesus Christ his only begotten Son. Not only are we told what the portion preached on means but we are also shown that every point that is made comes from the passage before us. Because this is done we can evaluate for ourselves whether the preacher’s conclusions and applications are accurate and thus faithful to the word. Has he done his homework? The preacher has to satisfy his hearers that he has taught just what that particular passage is saying. We have returned home understanding the passage, how everything in the sermon flowed from those words that were announced at the beginning. Then we listen to his exhortations about our lives carefully not as to the opinions of one eloquent man but as to the Word of God to us. God’s servant preached and his preaching was received with an authority appropriate for that message and we left knowing we had heard a proclamation from God to us. Having told us what the passage was, it made sense to us and others in the congregation. Thus we are all drawn into the speaking God himself. We become a divinely involved people. The Bible becomes the principal means of grace whereby God changes people who receive his word.

Let me apply some famous words of John Jewel: are you a member of the Royal family? Go and hear the Scriptures preached. Are you sleeping in cardboard city? Go and hear the Scriptures preached. Are you a minister, first hear for yourself the Scriptures being preached. Are you a parent concerned for your children? Then hear Scriptures preached. Are you a child and concerned about your one lifetime stretching out before you? Then go and hear the Scriptures preached. Are you a rock musician? Then hear the Scriptures preached. Are you a professional footballer? You must make it your goal to go and hear the Scriptures preached. Are you a Muslim? Go and hear the Christian Scriptures preached. Are you planning to become a suicide bomber? First hear the Scriptures being preached. Are you a millionaire? Go and hear Scripture preached. Are you a homosexual? Go and hear the Scriptures preached. Are you a drug addict? Go and hear the Scriptures preached. Are you totally ignorant as to why you are here in the world? Go and hear Scripture preached. Are you dying of cancer? Then send for cassettes of Scripture being preached. Are you proud? Hear the Scriptures preached. Are you in deep trouble? Hear the Scriptures preached. Are you a sinner? Have you offended God? Find a preacher who will preach the Scriptures to you. Are you in despair of the mercy of God Then hear the Scriptures preached.

Legitimacy for what we believe, the clearest window through which God may be seen, a view of the living Christ, knowledge of how we must live is to be found by Scripture and Scripture alone. So all true sermons are biblical sermons


Thirdly, nonconformist preaching is interesting preaching. The juice has not been cooked out of the passage so that it is hard, dry, burnt over, abstract teaching, nor is it raw and bloody, an uncooked chunk of meat. The passage is cooked and garnished and accented so that the many flavours of the Word of God are served by the minister, seasoned by illustrations that he has brought. Thus as the sermon is delivered it sizzles. In the late fifties our family moved to Barry. My father had become the Station Master at Barry Dock and there I discovered an annual Keswick in Wales convention that had been taken over by Omri Jenkins and Paul Tucker. They would preach in the Welsh Congregationalist chapel on the square opposite the town library every year in a week of meetings and both of them would preach each evening. We would sing a hymn; there would be a reading and prayer, another hymn then either Omri would preach first or Paul Tucker. Then we would sing a hymn and there would the second sermon afterwards. I do not know whether services with such two sermons exist any longer. Those men were such interesting preachers, fascinating in their personalities and quite gripping in their preaching. Very different kinds of men, it was a privilege to hear them preach. You can’t protest, “But I have been to the commentaries and I have read the Bible dictionaries, surely you can’t ask for anything more?” Yes, we must ask for more. I am asking shouldn’t a family who gather around a Thanksgiving Meal in the USA get excited as they see the table spread so lovingly? Shouldn’t the odour of the prepared food get the saliva ducts working in anticipation of eating such delights, the bowls of steaming peas, the tender turkey, the cranberry sauce, the roast potatoes, the carrots, the jugs of steaming gravy? If a wife returned home with shopping bags loaded with the best food that Sainsbury’s provides wouldn’t the family rightly complain if she claimed food selection to be everything? “Don’t ask me to prepare and cook and serve it too. You should appreciate the food because it is good, you need it; it constitutes a well-balanced meal.” How would you like it if you returned home for supper tonight and your wife put a Tesco bag on the table and told you, “Well, you have a go for a change,” and there was a cauliflower in cling film, and a bag of uncooked rice, and a couple of cuts of raw Welsh lamb, and some coffee beans in a plastic bag, and a box of do it yourself chocolate cake. Would you be turned on by that? Could you be strengthened by those bags and packages, even if it were wonderfully nutritious and well-balanced in assortment?

The analogy is not that inappropriate. There are pastors who spend little or no time beyond exegesis in preparing to make the truth of a passage edible, and so God’s people go away unfed. The pastor wonders why the people don’t grow, the food was there, the combination was fine, but why didn’t people eat it? It is not enough to protest, “If they are hungry, they’ll find a way of eating it.” What are they going to do with the uncooked rice and those coffee beans? No matter how nutritious the ingredients of a meal may be, little actual eating will take place with food that isn’t properly prepared. The preacher is the naked chef. He stands terribly exposed and vulnerable before God bringing his word of life to a hundred hungry people. Serve God’s truth in a savoury and appetising way.

It sounds very pious to say you are spending all of your time on exegesis, the history of redemption and hermeneutics, but it is very clear that form and content are really inseparable. Just as the true flavours of meats and vegetables cannot really be appreciated until they are properly cooked so too there can be no adequate understanding or appreciation of many Biblical truths until they are put in a form that is compelling to the hearer. You remember there is bound to be some structure of one kind or another; a sermon begins and a sermon finally ends. So whenever God’s word is preached, form is unavoidable. But wrapped cauliflower on a plate, and ten coffee beans at the bottom of a mug are the worst form for eating. Such form actually distorts. Coffee is to be drunk not chewed. Our task is to bring out the flavours of each passage and serve the ends which the Holy Spirit who inspired the passage had in his heart in inspiring those particular words, in that unique combination. Those specific words will give the specific message that comes out of it its own structure. The key to the ensuing form may be just one word.

I remember once at Westminster Chapel Dr. Lloyd-Jones was preaching through the Acts of the Apostles and unconsciously he taught me to look for the contents of the verse before me. That night he had come to Peter’s words on the times of refreshing that come from the presence of the Lord (Acts 3:19 ), and there, leaping out of that verse, was that one word ‘refreshing.’ So Dr. Lloyd-Jones used it as God’s highway into that verse. He said,

“What, then, is the gospel message? ‘Repent ye therefore,’ said Peter, ‘and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.’ This is Christianity. It is not a kind of conference to decide whether we have enough energy left to make a hole in the wall so that we can let in some air. No, no, it is not that. It is a message that comes from the outside — from the presence of the Lord, the one Peter had been preaching about. It is the coming of the Son of God into this world that changes everything. This is the message of salvation. He can do it, and he alone can do it. “Do you know what civilization is? Have you ever been in the conditions that I am describing to you? Have you ever been in some of those cities in America where there is terrible humidity? In America they not only measure the heat, they measure the humidity, and they are quite right. Have you ever been in the city of Boston , say, on a hot August Sunday afternoon when it is not only very hot, but very humid as well? No sun to be seen, but it is there above the clouds. “The whole universe seems to be pressing down upon you, hot and humid. And you are tired, and you sit in a room and what can be done? Before they had air conditioning, people used to put on electric fans. The electric fan causes the air to circulate and while you are sitting somewhere near this fan you feel a little cooler. You are quite convinced that the fan is cooling the atmosphere. But you are wrong. It is actually increasing the temperature because the energy of the electricity is adding to the temperature. You have the impression that it is cooling the air, because there is a movement, but the fan does not bring in any fresh air at all. It makes the same air go round and round. You merely get the illusion that the position is being dealt with. “That is all civilization does. It does not touch the problem. It does not make any difference to the real condition of men and women. We change this and improve that, and there is a sort of movement, but nothing new is brought in. Let me use a medical illustration. You cure one disease and you say, ‘Now we shall be all right.’ Then you suddenly hear that another disease has come. Penicillin cures some of the most terrible diseases, yes, but that, in turn, produces certain germs that are resistant to penicillin and they are the real killers.” (D.M.Lloyd-Jones, Authentic Christianity: Sermons on the Acts of the Apostles, Volume 1, Acts 1-3 , Banner of Truth, Edinburgh, 1999, pp. 306 & 307). Isn’t that graphic? Here is mere ‘man’, Lloyd-Jones’ constant theme, man in rebellion against God, doing everything to cool and perfume the stench of modern life without God, and all he does meets with little success. Then there is the refreshing that comes from God when Jesus Christ comes into a life, into a congregation, into a home, into a community.

Bad form can ruin good content. How do you make a sermon more interesting? You do the familiar basics like cultivating a conversational rather than a literary style. You explain any history, the people the Bible mentions, theological words, any cultural practises. You look at it from this angle and another, and make it all simply fascinating to the people. You tell the story that is in the Biblical narrative, you look for any vivid words as I have just described. You ask, what is the big story behind this little story. You try to flee from clichés and employ phrases that are memorable. One phrase that was given to me over 20 years ago, was Harvey Cox’s ‘creative disaffiliation’ and it provided a helpful angle on my relationship with our Anglican friends.

We also use illustrations. There is a fine chapter in Stuart Olyott’s Preaching, Pure and Simple, entitled “Vivid Illustration” (Bryntirion Press, 2005, pp. 92-111), which will help every minister. Study it. I have a favourite memory that has done me much good and has brought to the affections of a congregation the demands of godly living. I was preaching in Louisville , Mississippi , and on the Monday morning when preaching was over, I went to visit a friend of mine, a Baptist deacon whose daughter has married a PCA minister. He runs a furniture shop in the middle of town; I went to the store and talked with him there. There is not much going on in a little Mississippi town on a Monday morning and as we could relax and fellowship he told me how the previous week he had met this black Christian brother and they were talking together in the main street. Then up to them strutted some horrible white racist. He stopped and listened to their conversation for a while and then he turned to the black man and muttered something utterly unacceptable, words quite unspeakable such as I have never heard in all the time I have spent in Mississippi . My friend was shocked, and he turned to this blaggard and said heatedly, “You shouldn’t say a thing like that. You should be ashamed of yourself. You apologise to him for saying that.” This racist said, “You won’t find me apologising to a black epithet,” and off he strutted. My friend was so apologetic, he wanted to apologise for the whole white race and for this evil especially, the ugliness of what he’d just seen and heard. “I am so sorry,” he said continually. “It is alright,” the black Christian said. “It really is alright.” Then he added, “You know, I would like to get my revenge on that man, and this would be my revenge. I would be driving back to Louisville late one night after eleven o’clock, and I would see his car at the side of the road. He had a flat tyre, and he did not have a jack, and I would stop my car and I would get out my jack and I would jack up his car and I would change his tyre for him. That would be the revenge I’d like to have on him.” It’s a wonderful illustration of the New Testament ethic. Islamic suicide bomber hear me! Don’t overcome evil with evil but overcome evil with good. If your enemy hungers, feed him, if he is thirsty, you give him a drink; you pour coals of fire on his head. I am not speaking of developing an obsessive mentality which is desperate for illustrations. Sermons do not consist of stringing together seven or so big illustrations, so that every few minutes you are launching forth onto another story. I do not think that is helpful preaching in fact I think it is pathetic preaching. That is Jackanorry rather than Whitefield. I do not believe that that is Biblical preaching, but I do believe a judicious use of vivid words and illustrations is indispensable. Or another way to make preaching interesting is in good bodily actions. Here is an excursus; Dr Lloyd- Jones had a pose in singing hymns, head down, no bodily movement and he sang the words reverently with his eyes on the book. He hated every form of histrionic in hymn-singing. It was a surprise to worship at chapel services at Westminster Seminary with John Murray and see him singing with his hymn book held in outstretched arems which moved up and down and from side to side, so vigorously involved in the praise of God. That was not the Doctor’s style of singing but when he preached how he moved around that pulpit in Westminster Chapel. He walked from side to side, speaking and gesturing, seeking to involve everyone in the congregation in the message of Jesus Christ, offering the Saviour and his salvation to them all. Someone said to me, “He bounced around that pulpit!” That is not a metaphor one usually associates with Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Charles Haddon Spurgeon has a lecture on gestures during preaching in his Lectures to my Students. The gestures are actually drawn there. If you have seen them, how delightful they are. That he should do that indicates he did not believe our bodily animation in the pulpit was insignificant, or degrading to ministry. Spurgeon had a fear of men failing to move a congregation by gestures that were wooden or awkward or ill-timed, for example, unfortunate gestures that came from the elbow rather than the shoulder. I won’t belittle the costly exercise of watching oneself preach on video and consequently seeking to iron out gauche and cumbersome gestures before they become a constant distraction. You know that gestures are contagious. I picked up a gesture from John Murray forty three years ago. It is a sort of dive from the shoulder. I do it and I got it from him. He would lean into a certain pose to get a point across. I picked it up straightaway. People say that the students who have sat under my ministry have picked up my gestures. They know that I have had my influence on them not by the purity of their lives (!) nor by the profundity of their theology (!) but for the ways they wave about their arms which, alas, they have picked up from me Or again there is the preacher who smiles all the time, maybe it’s his nerves, or maybe his mother told him when he began preaching that he should smile at the congregation. Whatever the reason it wearies and turns people off. They refer to him as the Rev. Smiler - the rosy cheeks, the bushy white sideburns, the bald head and the smiling mouth out of which the ditties come, “If I were a bumble bee . . .” God save his sheep from shepherds who encourage such sanctimonious twaddle. There is deep seriousness about our calling. We know the terrors of God and we are persuading men to hear and change. They are on a broad road that leads to destruction; we are sounding an alarm and there are words of grief for those who continually reject. Jesus wept. Of course there are the opposite expressions. I think of the modernists I heard for the first fifteen years of my life. In my memory of them they seem such grey men, stern and moralistic. How can you preach the love of God or the good news of eternal life as God’s gift if you are the Reverend Sourpuss? What tender woman would say yes to a marriage proposal from such a man? Let us avoid the stiff-asa- board delivery; let us find grace to wipe away expressionless faces. Read the Scriptures, there is pathos, there is joy that is unspeakable and full of glory, there is also groaning. Christ throws himself to the ground and his sorrow seems to be killing him. All are legitimate feelings for the preacher. I am saying to you by every legitimate means of true renewed humanity and grace and knowledge of the Bible make your sermons living and gripping. We are not interesting people in ourselves, and we are not members of interesting congregations. The only interesting thing about us is our message about the Lord Jesus Christ. That is the most fascinating news the world has ever heard or ever will.


Fourthly a good Nonconformist sermon should be well-organised. There are points and they are as sturdy as steel and they undergird the whole. They are arranged in a logical order but the points don’t protrude. In other words the Nonconformist preacher does not bore us with unnecessary ‘firstlies’, ‘secondlies’, ‘thirdlies’ and then sub-section minor ‘firstlies’ and ‘secondlies’ and ‘thirdlies.’ Such details are a distraction and confusing when they are meant to clarify. Is this ‘thirdly’ a main point or a sub point to the ‘secondly’? I do believe Dr. Lloyd-Jones could have been more helpful in not giving enough warning of a step forward in his development by mentioning more often ‘secondly’ and ‘thirdly’. Everyone’s minds must wander during preaching. That is part of the sermon, to plant thoughts in people’s brains. Drawing them in again to listen to your preaching is difficult and one way is to say, “Now thirdly . . .” Then everyone freshens up again to journey on with you on a new section. Please read in Stuart Olyott’s Preaching Pure and Simple (op cit), his third chapter entitled “Clear Structure.”

I will draw your minds in by announcing that this is the beginning of a new paragraph. Our entire focus as we deal with our text is set on the intent of the Holy Spirit in these verses, what he has said, why he said it, and how he said it. Asking those questions will immediately produce a structure of answers. I would work on the set passage of Scripture for this coming Lord’s Day and arrange and rearrange truths until I could see my outline. When I have my skeleton - with some development, a good movement and a progression to a climax - then the main battle for the sermon is over. One thing more about the structure (and this I learned from Jay Adams) is to understand the distinction between a lecture outline and a preaching outline. This is simple and crucial. For example, in a lecture you have written at the top of your page (or certainly in your mind’s eye) some such statement as this, “The theme of this sermon is personal witnessing.” However, in a true preaching outline there will be at the top of the outline, not a thematic statement but a statement of purpose that will read something like this, “My purpose is to encourage you to witness personally.” The lecture approach cues that speaker to teach a topic as information, while the purpose statement prepares the preacher to exhort people about their daily living.

But as Jay Adams says, “The contrast does not stop with the cuing statement at the top of the outline. It extends to the entire outline. Here are two examples: A Lecture Format A Preaching Format The Gifts of the Spirit Using Your Spiritual Gifts I. The Source of the Corinthians Gifts. I. God Gave Each of You Gifts II. The Functions of the Corinthians’ Gifts. II. God Gave You Them to be Used III. The Purpose of the Corinthians’ Gifts. III.God Gave Them for the Benefit of Others “Notice the differences, not only in the titles, but throughout. Of course, I have included only the major heads, but the same thing holds true for subordinate points that is true for these major heads. These titles differ, one is abstract, the other personal. One is factual, the other is motivational. The main points are different: those in one are abstract, in the other personal. In one, the focus is on the Corinthians, in the other on the congregation. You can see clearly, can’t you, that the preaching format continually cues the preacher to be personal, to address his congregation, to bring them face to face with God and his requirements; in short, it cues him to preach. The lecture format cues the speaker to lecture about, not to preach to” (Jay E.Adams, Preaching with Purpose, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1982, pp.52&53). I think that this is important, and exhort you to take it to heart and search your own style of preaching. SERMONS THAT ARE EVANGELISTIC. Fifthly, good Nonconformist preaching is evangelistic. I wonder has the evangelical church lost sight of the evangel? Watch the tele-evangelists for a few minutes, call in on those channels to judge for yourself. I rarely hear the gospel when I have let their words enter my front room. I never hear sin being preached. I rarely hear the comprehensive answer to man’s need of Jesus Christ, the Saviour as our prophet, priest and king. I rarely hear him being offered and people being besought to believe and trust in him. It seems to me that those men and women (and there are as many women preaching on TV as men) have all lost the gospel. There are others who are not on TV who (A) preach just one narrow gospel strand of revealed religion – ‘the Book, the Blood and the Blessed Hope’ - and hardly anything else. There are yet others who (B) preach all the rest of the counsel of God in all the books of the Bible as if they were unrelated to the evangelistic imperative of the great commission. The first group of preachers (A) have in some ways chosen the easiest way as far as preparation is concerned. Whatever the text, from whatever part of the Bible, they preach what they call ‘the gospel’ constantly, adding different illustrations to the message and ending with an invitation. Often such preaching shows hurriedness, lack of preparation, lack of thought about the objections to the Christian faith that people have today. Young people, boys on motorcycles and girls who work in McDonalds, quickly speak of why they can’t believe in God, and their reason for not following the Lord Jesus Christ. The people sitting before us often hear those objections. Are we answering them in our evangelism? Are we evangelising by overwhelming those objections with the superior and entirely satisfying truths of God? So there is the first group of preachers who have the narrowest understanding of evangelising unbelievers. The problem we have with them is this, that their focus is on man’s will. Their thinking is they have to bring people to make a decision, but they need to step back and ask why their hearers are saying no to Jesus Christ. Do they see his beauty? Are they being given glimpses of it, in his person as God and man, in his offices as prophet, priest and king? Do they see why they need him because of their own sin and guilt? Before summoning them to a decision preachers need first to display freshly the glories of Christ in his person and work as he is offered to us. Read Dr Lloyd-Jones’ evangelistic books, the sermons so owned of God to the conversion of many in Sandfields, or his preaching on the Acts of the Apostles. They provide for us his conception of what evangelism really is. It is quite awesome the respect he pays to the congregation’s questions about the nature of Christianity, his willingness to be involved at that level in their thinking. His hearers were meeting constant opposition to Christianity; in South Wales the rise of socialism in the steel works of Aberavon and the mines of the Afon valley was creating a generation who were dismissing the Bible. How demoralising it might have been to men who were following the Saviour, but Lloyd- Jones showed the inadequacies of such thinking and the utterly sufficient answers in the truth that is in Jesus Christ. Evangelism is much more than preaching the blood of Jesus Christ each Sunday night to a congregation who can guess what the next sentence is going to be. Then there is the second group of ministers (B) who major in expository preaching in a teaching ministry. It is a helpful to teach sections of Scripture, but one drawback is what Americans call a cookie-cutter approach (and which we Welsh people call a Welsh-cake cutter approach) to a section of Scripture. Within passages of the Bible are ‘gems of truth.’ It is so unfashionable to say that today, but though all Scripture is equally God-breathed it is not all of equal significance. The six chapters that begin the first book of Chronicles are not as important as the six chapters of the letter to the Ephesians. There are also within smaller pericopes of revelation truths that leap out at the reader. I fear that these Himalayas within divine revelation are being flattened into a plain as they are compassed within one section of Scripture being explained to a congregation. In other words in a certain section of Scripture there is a ‘big verse,’ golden words full of ravishing meaning, a beautiful truth that people write out and pin on their notice-boards and stand on their desks. O let me taste this nectar and run for hours in its strength. But the preacher is so committed to going through, say, the book of Ephesians in 20 sermons, that he has no time to stop and consider these truths in their multi-faceted glory. He and his team of preachers, the co-pastor and assistant pastors, have divided up the series on this book of the Bible between them, and he can deal with this majestic diamond only en passant. It has been absorbed into the bigger passage and it is given the same sort of significance as the verses that precede it and the verses that follow it. I say that glorious mountains are being rolled out into a plain. Great right-angled truths that humble the proud are being blunted. This system is not serving the needs of dying sinners. I am pleading for flexibility and the power to receive a gift God gives in such a truth as that. Congregations delight in hearing a man of God opening up one of these ‘big verses’. I am pleading for you to pause; do slow down. Isn’t preaching saying to a congregation, “Look at this . . . consider this glory . . .”? A craftsman will pick up an object he has created and will show you its particular beauty. A farmer will pull across with his crook a pedigree sheep that he is sending to an agricultural show. He will show you the distinctive features that make it a possible gold medal winner. An art teacher will point out the reasons why an old master is magnificent. When my friend Dick de Witt went to Colombia from Grand Rapids (he is a little older than me), he reckoned that this charge would probably be his last church. He told me he hoped to spend the rest of ministry preaching on the big verses of the Bible. I am talking about the verses Spurgeon preached on, or the truths Dr. Lloyd-Jones toured with when during a year he would make his forty visits to mid-week congregations over the length and breadth of our land. He would preach his best sermons from his past year of labours at Westminster Chapel. They were the greatest sermons any man could ever hear in the twentieth century. They were on such themes as Felix trembling as Paul reasoned with him of righteousness, temperance and judgement to come, or they were on a verse like this, How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation? Or he would open up the phrase, But God . . . from Ephesians 2 . I savour the memory of them still though it is almost half a century since I first heard him. Don’t begin your ministry by doing what I did, preaching slowly through Genesis on Sunday mornings and Matthew at night. One of those series might have been fine, though I pause about commending a man fresh out of a seminary like London Theological Seminary or Westminster Seminary to begin to pastor a church by bringing the congregation a students’ mindset on Genesis. I did not have the equipment to preach these two series and it took a thick-skulled self-confident young man some years to realise that. How in the world did I survive? God was merciful. It would have been better in one series to have learned my craft and cut my teeth by preaching on the big truths of the word of God. I am saying, do a Lloyd-Jones in the mornings and a Spurgeon in the evenings, certainly to start off. So what else can you say about evangelism? Certainly the ideal is to include a statement of the gospel in every message. Even though half of our regularly preached messages might not be predominantly evangelistic in their focus certainly those messages too should contain saving knowledge for the stranger who has come in. Belief in Jesus Christ is essential to understanding or doing whatever the passage is requiring of you. You say to a congregation, “How can you pray, or live like this unless you have been given a new heart, unless your trust is in Jesus Christ, and God has regenerated you? So then living as a husband should live, or obeying as a child is supposed to, you need to become a new creation of God to do this. In other words . . .” Thus the ethical becomes a door to the evangelistic. All the time you are conscious of man’s need of grace, and you make the people conscious that they are in sin if they are not in Christ. Again always you must discover the relevance of the death and the resurrection of Christ to whatever it is you are teaching. You see that, for example, where Paul is talking about tensions in the Philippian congregation. He is pleading that a certain mindset be in them; he talks of the incarnation of God the Son. He brings Christ into the problem of two women refusing to be of one mind another mind. “Have you ever considered the mind of the self-humbling God, the one who went even to the death of the cross?” he asks. Men and women should respect one another, be giving to one another and gracious to one another. When he talks about a husband loving his wife Paul must take them to Golgotha . When the apostle talks about giving money to the cause of the kingdom then he brings the cross in. Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift! The light of Jesus Christ falls across the whole Bible and he illuminates every aspect of the Christian life. You cannot preach on any passage from the Old or New Testament without in some way relating it to this heart of the gospel. Men of God preach the gospel from everywhere because it is everywhere. It does not stand alone; like yeast it permeates and lifts the whole. There is life that goes to every part of the Scripture. That will encourage the congregation themselves to become gospel preachers. SERMONS THAT ARE PRACTICAL AND APPLICATORY. Sixthly, good Nonconformist preaching is practical and applicatory. That is, it is carefully adapted to the congregation to whom it is being preached. We persist in telling people not only what they should do as Christians but how to live according to God’s will. An exclusive diet of ‘how to’ sermons is hardly inspirational but there are times, as with our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount when he tells his hearers what is to be done or how not to do something - don’t pray like this, don’t fast in this way, don’t give in this splashy manner. He tells them that the Pharisees behave like that, and they are hypocrites. Our Lord had spent thirty years thinking about what Biblical principles meant and thus he applied them to the twelve, and also the other people who were following him. Sermons must be applied. Think of the Lord Jesus Christ how it was his custom every Sabbath to go the synagogue. A synagogue congregation in the first century was asked to consider a passage or theme and to look at it in the light of different rabbinic interpretations. So the congregation were not all looking at me as you are, and as I am looking at you now. Speaker and congregation were all looking at ‘the thought for the day.’ They were a crowd of onlookers. They were spectators. They were positioning themselves outside a certain theme, sometimes outside a certain passage. They were like a group of vacationers and the preacher was the tour guide. So he stops by a ruin where there is a plaque on the wall and they begin to look at it. He talks about it and they are all staring at it together. He tells them what the inscription says and that’s it. He himself is not at all central to the event; the people don’t see him. He is the cameraman who zooms in on something. When Jesus went to the synagogue he read the Scriptures and he gave the scroll back to the attendant and he sat down to preach. You know the famous words that describe what happened next? The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. Then he began to confront them with the word of God; there were only two participants in the building, the preacher and the assembly. They were not looking at and ‘doing’ a passage. He was confronting them with what God said to them through his word. He was a practical preacher. He was never academic in his preaching. He was not interested in abstractions. He was dealing with the people that were before him. He cared nothing for the unfolding of ideas even from the Bible unless he could apply them to the conduct of his hearers. When he spoke to people he did so within this kind of structure: “but I say to you . . . Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees . . . you should not be surprised that I say to you, you must be born again . . . . I tell you the truth you are going to see the heavens opened and the angels ascending and descending upon the Son of Man . . .” There are hundreds of examples such as that, of Jesus speaking directly to his hearers “I say to you . . .”, by way of warning or encouragement or promise or invitation. Jesus was not firstly a Bible preacher or an expository preacher. He was God’s herald. He was bringing the word of God to these people. He certainly was not sharing things with them; he did not descend to that. A sharer is not on the spot. A sharer does not have to manifest a divine authority indicating that the Spirit of the Lord is upon him; God has anointed him not to share but to preach the message of the gospel to men and women. How can you hold someone accountable when he says, “We only just want to share a few things with you?” We preachers are not called upon to share the gospel but to declare the whole counsel of God and beseech men and women to receive it. The idea of sharing suggests that the speaker is saying something incomplete; there is just one angle on things which he has while the joint corporate experience of everyone else pitching in is going to complement it. Such a man is just one person in the congregation and his experience is part of the body life of the whole; sharing puts him and the congregation alike upon the same footing. Yes, let every one minister to everybody else in corporate sanctification. What a powerful means of grace it is for seven days a week and twenty-four hours a day for every believer to pray for one another, and encourage one another. But there is more. The preacher is a called man, a divinely authorized servant of God. “Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel,” he says. His model is the Lord preaching the Sermon on the Mount and going through many of the Ten Commandments. He opened them out and he explained what doing God’s will involved, and what the standards were. There was much misunderstanding in the land. The cultural consensus was confused but Christ applied God’s will to all who had ears to hear. He preached the inwardness of sin, the subtlety of evil and the divine obligation. He laid the word of God on his hearers. They needed his light and leadership. There is a kind of preaching that has become popular. Its emphasis is on the Bible’s history of redemption and it claims to be the group that is really preaching Scripture. It is characterised by taking large sweeps across the Biblical landscape; it can travel across centuries with ease and then it will give minute details about a word, or a phrase. People sit under such a ministry equipped with a pen and a notebook. The preacher will use an overhead projector and a power point presentation. He will slip on to the screen his outline, neatly written, sub point by sub point. What is my point? The whole emphasis is on knowledge. The whole thrust is to inform the mind. It is too much of a cerebral event. There is no confrontation. Power-point dulls everything. There is little application. There is no focus on the affections of men and women. In other words, it is done so that the hearers will understand a passage of the Bible better. It is not done so that they will love the God of the Bible with all their heart and soul and mind and strength. A man proposing marriage to the girl of his dreams would disdain power point in how he tells her of his love. The thinking behind this widespread movement is not of a congregation broken over their sins fleeing to Jesus Christ for salvation. The focus is on the intellect and a certain passage of the Bible, but even demons have a great grasp of the exegesis of scripture. Milton in one place in Paradise Lost portrays them gathered in the caverns of hell discussing the divine determinism, and doing so with great accuracy I suppose. SERMONS THAT REFLECT A GROWING KNOWLEDGE OF GOD Seventhly, everything the man of God is, he is before God. There is this renowned quotation of Dr. Lloyd-Jones in his Preaching and Preachers in which he says, “I can forgive a man for a bad sermon, I can forgive the preacher almost anything if he gives me a sense of God, if he gives me something for my soul, if he gives me the sense that, though he is inadequate himself, he is handling something which is very great and very glorious, if he gives me some dim glimpse of the majesty and the glory of God, the love of Christ my Saviour, and the magnificence of the Gospel. If he does that I am his debtor, and I am profoundly grateful to him” (p.98). How can a man give to others a glimpse of the majesty and glory of God if he has not seen it himself? Sustained effectiveness in the ministry can only come in direct proportion to his own spiritual vigour. Al Martin has set out this aphorism that the man of God has to strive to maintain a real, expanding, varied and original acquaintance with God and his ways. How does this American preacher set that out? In what is one of the best quotations in a book about his theology of preaching he says the following: He says, “If the man of God is to have sustained effectiveness in his ministry, he must strive to maintain an acquaintance with God and His ways. This acquaintance must be real, as opposed to feigned, formal or professional. He must be apostolic in the sense that he can say, ‘What we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ’ (1 John 1:3 ). He must be a man who knows God other than by hearsay. “Furthermore, his acquaintance with God and His ways must be expanding. He is called to be transformed ‘from one level of glory to another’ (2 Cor. 3:18 ), he is called to ‘grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ’ (2 Pet. 3:18 ). This progressive transformation and growth is locked into the fact that God and His holy Word are both inexhaustible. If the man of God is not expanding in his acquaintance of God and His ways, he is failing as a Christian and his effectiveness as a pastor will be neutralized. “This acquaintance must not only be real and expanding, it must be varied. The ups and downs, the joys and sorrows, must be experienced. The Psalms, which cover the entirety of human emotion and experience, serve as a good guide. If the man of God is to know God, he must know Him in the darkness of night and the brightness of day, in the fullness of His presence (Ps. 16:11) and in the absence of His presence (Ps. 77:7-10). “This varied experience of God and His ways is obviously a first-hand experience. The acquaintance must be a personal and individual acquaintance. In this day of crass individualism, there is the danger of overemphasizing the personal and individual at the expense of solidarity and the corporate. Nevertheless, the Bible in its broad context of solidarity (in Adam, in Christ, in the faith, etc.) also presents a noble individualism where the hairs of a man’s head are numbered (Matt. 10:30 ) and each one is called by name (John 10:3 ). So the man of God not only walks with his God corporately, but also individually” (Brian Borgman, “My Heart For Thy Cause. Al Martin’s Theology of Preaching,” Mentor , 2002, pp.60&61). SERMONS THAT ARE EFFECTUAL. Eighthly, good Nonconformist preaching is gripping. There is a persuasiveness and a compellingness. We are told that the common people heard Jesus gladly. The teaching was often profound and even his own disciples who heard some of those messages many times did not understand the parables. Messages were constantly provocative and controversial but there was something in them that gripped the hearers. They walked right around a lake to hear another sermon from him when he had sailed across to the other side, or men followed him in their thousands to listen to his preaching and they hung on to every word. I remember in September 1958 I had heard in camps, particularly from the Presbyterian students who were the officers, respectful and affectionate references to ‘the Doctor.’ Who was this man they called ‘the Doctor?’ Then a month before I began university while still a teenager I saw in the Western Mail that ‘the Doctor’ was coming to preach at the ordination service of Dr. Eifion Evans at the Memorial Hall in Cardiff. I took a train from Barry and walked along Cowbridge Road from Cardiff General Station and sat in that packed Forward Movement Hall looking around at the congregation. It was a black suited congregation; a hatted congregation; a serious-minded congregation, and such a singing congregation when they sang “A debtor to mercy alone.” There he was in the flesh and I told him twenty years later that this was the first time I had heard him. “I don’t remember what you preached on,” I said. He did not appear to like that, but I didn’t remember. I just knew that this was a very important occasion and I need to understand why. I took just that one message to adjust to that level of piety, and reasoning, and encounter, and seriousness, and truth that I had been deprived of for so long. He told me, “you know what I preached on,” and he told me the passage. But I couldn’t remember. He added, “You know how I said that Eifion Evans was going to be a pharmacist, and suddenly God touched him and changed the whole direction of his life. He became an ambassador for God.” “I can’t remember,” I said. He told me of someone who had had such a blessing in that meeting. I too had had a blessing and I was sorry I couldn’t remember the words of Lloyd-Jones, just the Word, great and golden and full of God and utterly magnificent. How fascinating it all was. The Gospel came not in word only but in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much assurance. Shouldn’t one expect some such phenomenon, as God lives, and we are his appointed servants? Shouldn’t it be like that? Shouldn’t the absence of those confirming signs of the work of God deeply grieve us today? I am referring to their absence from the pulpit in which I have stood and preached for forty years, of the gospel coming in a gripping way so that men know that it is with the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven? Consider the preaching of the Lord Jesus and the great impact he made. In John 7 we have the incident of the Pharisees sending their bully boys to arrest Christ. Off they go, these yokels, and Jesus is in the temple and he is saying things like, “if any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink; out of his belly will flow rivers of living water, and he said that of the Spirit that was to be given to those who believed in him.” Those two men tried to get through to him but the crowds were packed like sardines, and as far as his voice carried they stood, sitting on window sills, standing around the doors and on the walls. No one was prepared to give way lest they should fail to hear one word of life. So those country boys grated to a halt in the crowd and they had to stand and listen with everyone else. They too came under the power of the word; those who had come to arrest remained to pray. Finally when Jesus ended his sermon, and the crowd slowly and quietly moved away, those young men knew that they had to return to give account to their employers the Pharisees. They knocked the door and went in; the Pharisees asked where Jesus was. “We sent you to get him. Why are you here empty handed?” The spokesman said, “Never man spake like this man. We never heard anyone speak like that in our lives before.” The words of Jesus had turned wolves into puppy dogs. No miracles were done that day; just the word of the Lord spoken with divine energy, and thus it has been throughout history. When they heard that reply the Pharisees were so afraid. If men who had been in their pockets and in their pay could be captivated by Jesus then who could be safe? I learn one lesson from this, that the great antidote to doubt is to sit under the best ministry you can. Another lesson is to do what Al Martin exhorts never stop developing a real, expanding, varied and original acquaintance with God and his ways. My heroes have been men who are always thinking about new portions of Scripture and new books to read and study, who share with congregations the freshness and the delight of the message of the gospel, and want in every way to declare that word of God.

“Happy if in my latest breath I might but gasp his name, Preach him to all and cry in death Behold, behold the lamb.” Charles Wesley I want to live like that and I want to die like that too.


Ninthly, good nonconformist preaching is confident about the relevance of what it has to say to every single person. The Lord Jesus ended the Sermon on the Mount by telling his hearers about two builders. I once was listening to Dr. Lloyd-Jones in Aberystwyth when at the close of the sermon he described these two men. He just told the story that we know so well of the one rapidly building his house, planting his garden and sitting on his porch looking scornfully at the other man who was still laying the foundation. Then the storm comes . . .

Let me digress . . . I had taken my nine year old daughter to that service and we walked home together afterwards and I asked her, “What did you think of that?” She replied, “It was like Sunday mornings . . . only simpler.” I made sure Dr. Lloyd-Jones heard that. I thought that would encourage him. If you can capture children, and speak so that young people take heed then there is the future of the church secure. The Doctor’s preaching had captured my little girl.

. . . so the storm came and hit both these houses and one collapsed like a house of cards while the other withstood everything which the elements hurled at it. What is the purpose of that parable? The man whose life is built on Jesus Christ - a little girl whose life is built on Jesus Christ - is absolutely safe. The gates of hell won’t even destroy her because she is building her life on the Lord Jesus Christ, upon his teaching, and while she does that her life is inviolable.

Our Lord was looking ahead to the 21st century and the utterly secularised Europe in which you and I live, the carnality and materialism, the anti-Christian spirit that there is, the wickedness that is all around us today, and the pressures on ordinary people who love and serve the Lord Jesus Christ to renege. The Son of God says, “It is alright. I will keep everyone of them as they build their lives on me; they are safe. I won’t lose any one of those that the Father has given to me. They will be secure from all attacks and alarms.” Our Lord Jesus Christ was confident that his message, his very words, were relevant for every single person who comes to church. To every person we talk to, we have something of the deepest importance for their personal lives. We can say to every single person in this great city of London - and you know that a great city is a great sin – “I have good news for you. I have a Saviour that I can offer to you. A prophet who will teach you what is true, a priest who lays down his life for sinners like you and lives in heaven to intercede for them, a king who will keep you all your life on a narrow path, but that way leads to eternal life. I am offering him to you. That is my good news for you.” We have a message that we can tell to all men and women - the extraordinary relevance of the gospel of Jesus Christ to all men and women compared to whom nothing else matters.

We have seen in what has been an awful 20th century for my own Principality where philosophical speculation and modernism and socialism and capitalism and nationalism and all the isms of the world have sought to put the gospel of Jesus Christ into second place that Bible preachers are still there. But what pain we find everywhere. The first chapter of Romans is not just a description of evil, it is the description of anguish too. That is the civilisation in which we live. But this Saviour has something to say to every person who lives in this age. Our Lord is confident of his relevance to every single person and that is the confidence that underlies all real Nonconformist preaching. I have finished, but I can’t give a nine point lecture. There must be ten mustn’t there? The number insists that it be so! Then let me add this from Dr Lloyd-Jones: he must have the last word.

SERMONS THAT CHANGE PEOPLE. Tenthly, nonconformist preaching does something for the souls of men. “Any true definition of preaching must say that that man is there to deliver the message of God . . . He has been sent, he is a commissioned person, and he is standing there as the mouthpiece of God and of Christ to address these people . . . He is there to influence people . . . Preaching should make a difference to a man who is listening that he is never the same person again. Preaching, in other words, is a transaction between the preacher and the listener. It does something for the souls of man, for the whole person, the entire man; it deals with him in a vital and radical manner” (op cit, Preaching and Preachers, p.53). May such preaching be heard again in every town in our nation!

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