In today’s Martyn Lloyd-Jones Monday, I come to one of the most fascinating questions about preaching. I am not sure exactly what was in the minds of the people who crafted the T4G statement which highlighted the importance of expository preaching. As we shall see in later posts, people differ on whether to define expository preaching as, by necessity, part of a longer series on a book of the Bible.
Spurgeon held somewhat different views to many today on the necessity of a preacher having a set series he is following, as the Doctor explained:
“. . . one of the greatest preachers of the last century, if not the greatest of all, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, took a very strong line on this. He did not believe in preaching a series of sermons; indeed he opposed doing so very strongly. He said that there was a sense in which it was impertinent for a man to decide to preach a series of sermons. He held that the texts should be given to the preacher, that he should seek the Lord in this matter and ask for guidance. He held that the preacher should not decide but pray for the guidance and the leading of the-Holy Spirit, and then submit himself to this. He will thus be led to particular texts and statements which he will then expound in sermonic form. That was the view held by Spurgeon and by many others . . .”
The Doctor explains that he himself had been brought up in churches that held that view, but had dramatically changed his own mind. So you see, on this issue we have a divergence of opinion between two of my historical heroes. This in and of itself should make us want to tread carefully as we consider this question together on my blog over the coming days.
In the Doctor’s corner we have many of modern Reformed preachers, as well as the Puritans. The Doctor is intrigued by the fact that “though Spurgeon was such a great reader of the Puritans, and such a great admirer of them, at this point he disagreed with them entirely.”
So, what does the Doctor himself say about this issue? He has some very interesting things to say – especially considering his reputation as one of the foremost sequential expositors of scripture ever known.
“. . . it seems to me to be quite wrong to be rigid in this matter, and to lay down any hard and fast rule. I cannot see why the Spirit should not guide a man to preach a series of sermons on a passage or a book of the Bible as well as lead him to one text only. Why not? What is important—and here I am with Spurgeon whole-heartedly—is that we must preserve and Safeguard ‘the freedom of the Spirit.’
. . . I have known men who . . . would actually hand out a list of their texts for many months ahead . . . I reprobate that entirely and completely . . . speaking generally, I feel that . . . is surely to put certain limits upon the sovereignty and the leading of the Spirit in this matter.
So, having asserted that we are subject to the Spirit, and that we must be careful to make sure that we really are subject to Him, I argue that He may lead us at one time to preach on odd texts and at another time to preach a series of sermons. I would humbly claim that I have known this many times in my experience.
There is a volume of sermons preached by me published under the title, Spiritual Depression. The story of how I came to preach that series may help to illustrate this matter. I had actually determined—it seemed to me that I was being led in that way, but undoubtedly it was my own determination—to start a series of sermons on the Epistle to the Ephesians. However, one morning while dressing, quite suddenly and in an overwhelming manner, it seemed to me that the spirit of God was urging me to preach a series of sermons on ‘spiritual depression’.
Quite literally while I was dressing the series took order in my mind, and all I had to do was to rush as quickly as possible to jot down on paper the various texts, and the order in which they had come to me, in that way. I had never thought about preaching a series of sermons on spiritual depression; it had never occurred to me to do so; but it came just like that. I always pay great attention to such happenings. It is a very wonderful and glorious experience apart from anything else; and I would not dare to disobey what I regard as a very definite injunction coming in that manner. I am quite confident that the preaching of that series of sermons was dictated to me by Spirit Himself.
I would add a further word to justify my attitude that we should avoid an over-rigidity in this matter. I am suggesting that it right both to preach on odd texts and a series; and, in any case, a series can always be broken into. Indeed a series should always be broken into if you feel a particular pressure on your spirit urging you to do so. That is why I would never print a programme of what I proposed to preach, even for the next three months. You cannot tell what you should do—at least I could never tell. Circumstances may arise which demand attention and provide a wonderful opportunity for preaching.
Indeed I could never give a guarantee that I would finish the sermon I had prepared on any one occasion. Many and many a time I have found myself in the position that the usual amount of time for the sermon had gone and I had only preached half my sermon! How can you tell what may happen? You are not in control, at least you should not be. The Spirit is using you, and dealing with you, as you are preaching, quite as much as He was at the time of preparation.
Do not misunderstand this; I am not advocating or excusing slovenliness. I have gone out of my way to emphasise the opposite. But, still, with all your preparation and forethought you have to maintain ‘the freedom of the Spirit’, and try to keep yourself open and sensitive to His every movement.”
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers, pp. 188-190.
This series on the Together for the Gospel Statement continues with “Are There Three Types of Expository Preaching?”