Our Mission : To know Jesus and make Him known to the Glory of God!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Roman Catholics teach that you can buy salvation with cold, hard cash!

The following is a short video from a debate conducted by Dr. James White. During the question and answer time a gentleman stands up and asks a Roman Catholic priest about if one can purchase salvation. The answer of the priest is shocking!!

Monday, April 25, 2011

"The Holy War - Do we dodge enlistment?" by Peter Masters

‘For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places’ (Ephesians 6.12).

The devil’s self-assumed task is to bring down the human race in order to prove that God has failed in its design and creation. He has brought about the Fall by his lies, and if he can keep all people in rebellion against God’s standards and desires, then the Lord will appear to have failed. Of course this is impossible, but Satan, in blind hatred, seeks to score over God and wreck his handiwork.

However, Christ has come, taking the punishment of sin for his people, so that they cannot be condemned. The human race will survive eternally in Christ’s people, and the devil is therefore thwarted. But doubly enraged, and determined not to accept that he is defeated, Satan aims particularly to bring down Christ’s people so that he can accuse them before God, and claim them for destruction. He denies their sincerity and salvation, and schemes their backsliding and apostasy.

No wonder Paul is inspired to use the terminology of combat, saying – ‘For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities.’ There is no hiding from this battle.

We read that in World War II, among the courageous band of first volunteers, there were some self-interested people who thought that if they offered themselves early as cooks and accountants, they would not find themselves in the front line facing death. Whether true or not, astute people can find ways out of most predicaments, but there is no way out of the spiritual battle against the devil and his hosts.

Sadly, some Christians think that they can shrink away from battle and live calm, peaceful lives. They do not want to think about the hard aspects of the Christian faith, and they willingly become weak, compromising Christians who will contribute nothing to the Lord’s service, and lead many others down their chosen pathway.

Writes Paul: ‘We wrestle not against flesh and blood’ – not against feeble people like ourselves, with all our limitations. We fight against a vast number of demons (fallen angels), under the orchestration of Satan. They are called principalities, powers, and the rulers of the darkness of this world. These bring massively intelligent power against us, augmented by centuries of experience in tempting men and women. No Geneva Convention applies in this battle, and there are no holds barred. There is no mercy or compassion with the hosts of Satan, just hate, venom and malice, threatening to consume us.

What, precisely, are Satan’s aims? We know that as far as believers are concerned, he aims to lure us into personal sin and faithlessness, so that our walk with God is broken and we are no use to him. At the same time he seeks to ruin churches, making them powerless in winning souls.

In attacking churches, Satan aims at perverting the Truth, bringing in what Paul calls ‘doctrines of demons’, and taking churches off the foundation of sound teaching and practice. We observe in our day how he is deflecting churches away from sound, biblical worship, doubtless as a preparation for taking them from sound doctrine in time. How he labours to bring the church into backsliding, and to hinder and handicap the mission for souls!

Many Christians, however, do not realise that another of Satan’s objectives is to bring society away from decency and dignity, plunging it into turmoil, degradation, filth and outright rebellion against the standards of God. In this he thinks he strikes a horrendous blow at Almighty God, defiling further the human race and offending its Creator.

It is sobering for us to learn from Paul about the command structure of the devil’s army, because this information impresses upon us the power that confronts us, and our need of divine help. Paul mentions principalities, powers and rulers, at the heart of whom is Satan as commander-in-chief.

His highest subordinates are ‘principalities’, which means – the first in line, or archdemons. This term suggests that these (under Satan) design the strategies and their implementation. In earthly terms, we may imagine senior generals gathered round charts, deciding which will be the most effective policies to achieve their ends in region upon region, and in age after age, of the world. They plot how they will move their despicable campaign forward.

They orchestrate it worldwide, deciding that in some regions they will employ scientific humanism, while in others they will promote Islam or some other false and soul-destroying religion. Every strategy is conceived with immense cunning, nothing being haphazard.

The second rank in the command structure is called ‘powers’, meaning rulers of particular jurisdictions. It follows that these are not so much the planners but the regional enforcers of the policy. If high command determines that Islam will seize minds in one land, while Catholicism will consume souls in another, and atheism in yet another, then ‘powers’ will apply this policy with devilish ferocity and cunning.

‘Powers’ implement ‘locally’ the details of how people will be tempted to personal sin, and how society will be dragged down into an increasingly debased condition.

After ‘powers’ we learn of ‘the rulers of the darkness of this world’, evidently a level of command whose specific duty is to keep the people in spiritual blindness, and dazzled by alternative things. If people should be inclined to be religious, so that scientific humanism will not succeed with them, then ‘powers’ will implement a works religion, or some sophisticated religious superstition. The rulers of the darkness arrange the darkness that will descend upon minds and confuse people utterly.

The apostle also uses a term which would seem to sum up all the hosts of Satan, speaking of ‘spiritual wickedness in high places’. ‘High places’ in the original Greek means ‘above the sky’ – in other words the realm of spirits, in this case fallen angels, or demons.

There are vast numbers of these ‘footsoldiers’ in Satan’s army, constantly tempting, and implementing the policies of their superiors, and they are intensely cruel. They have been humiliated by the victory of Christ on Calvary, but they will not accept that humiliation. In their fury and jealousy they are desperately determined to bring down the church, and also society in general. They have been doing it for centuries, organising the infiltration of sound churches by weak or corrupt influences, and persuading the unsaved world to reject God’s revealed morality.

How many times in church history has the cycle of corruption and decay been used effectively in groups of churches! We see it happening yet again before our eyes at the present time.

With all this in mind Paul gives his great appeal: ‘Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day.’ In a sense, every age is an evil day, but Paul probably refers to times when Satan’s officers launch a special and particularly vehement assault on either church or state. How will churches stand? Only by preparing for war.

We are reminded of Britain in the 1930s, when most political leaders turned a blind eye to the gathering storm-clouds of war, and failed to prepare. Some Christians are like this with the spiritual warfare. They do not want to think of such things, and fail to grasp the power of the enemy, and how seriously they should take matters.

In the 1980s there was a very prominent and famous figure in the charismatic world, now deceased, who promoted charismatic practices so vigorously that very many churches still follow his ideas. More than anyone else he popularised the idea of casting out demons, demonstrating how easily it could be done. He would stroll into a room, confront the supposedly demonised person, and dismiss the demons. It seemed to be so easy for him as he sent them packing with a casual, drawled dismissal.

But his approach absurdly underestimated the powers of darkness. You cannot play pantomime tricks with the devil and his hosts, approaching them nonchalantly, and telling them what to do. And while the super-exorcist behaved in this way, the demons made a fool of him, filling his head with unbiblical teachings and methods. The devils had their way in the end. They did not mind him underestimating them, for by this they achieved their objectives.

We need to be very cautious with the powers of darkness. We do not have to be terrified of them, because Christ will protect us, and so our work cannot be stopped. But we have to be careful of them, vicious and hateful as they are, praying for help and deliverance, and not attempting face-to-face confrontation. We combat the demons of hell not by speaking to them, or even shouting at them, but through Christ, who alone has the power to reprove them. We withstand them by praying for strength to resist personal temptation; by teaching the Word as clearly as we possibly can; and by exhorting and admonishing one another with love and patience.

We must especially warn God’s people about the sinfulness of the world, so that they are not drawn into it, because the devil will strive to mix the church with the world, so that there is scarcely any distinction between them.

Satan aims to bring to a stop our mission for souls, and therefore we must constantly emphasise the necessity of evangelism and service for the Lord, especially the persuasive preaching of the Gospel.

Great care is required when we take people into church membership to ensure that they have a real testimony of conversion and love the Lord. Too often slackness in this matter has filled fellowships with wood, hay and stubble, and these merely nominal Christians have brought with them their worldly tastes and preferences.

The hosts of darkness watch us closely, and we must be aware of this. We are watched as individuals, and some monitoring demon soon notes if we skip private devotions, and classifies us as vulnerable. Soon we will be manoeuvred into some inappropriate, sinful pursuit, until eventually it takes hold of us and rules our life.

Demons soon note if a church dabbles in worldly entertainment and methods. They then move the style very slowly but inevitably to the point of full-scale sinful compromise. Usually, or so it seems today, satanic policy leaves in place for the time being the sound preaching of a church so that the pollution of worship is less offensive to the people. They continue to think they belong to a sound church while the methodology is taken over by worldliness and the devil.

Sometimes the tastes of the pastor are corrupted first, and I have been amazed to see some weblogs of reformed pastors openly trumpeting their favourite ‘tracks’ of secular groups, and their favourite worldly films.

It is unquestionably a ‘perilous time’ when the devil’s strategies easily capture pastors, who fall so far that they do not mind publicising their worldliness. Do they not know about the warfare? Do they not realise what has happened to them? And these things can happen to us also if we do not keep in mind the enemy’s wiles.

To young people reading this article I would like to give some direct advice. Never forget that your distinctive Christian character is immensely precious. Don’t sell it for a ‘mess of pottage’. In some Christian circles young adults may be heard talking together about their favourite groups, having defected back to worldly culture almost immediately after their conversion. You have left the world. Destroy those things that belong to your past; get rid of them. There is now a mighty chasm between you and the world. How can we walk with one foot in the world, and the other in the kingdom of Christ? Do we think that we are strong enough to compromise with worldly things and be unaffected?

Your old, pre-conversion tastes and ways will soon ruin your spiritual walk, and make you a weak believer who makes no real progress, and who cannot be used by the Lord. Christ wants you completely out of the world, and every minute of compromise gives him great offence.

You remember what happened to the Israelites of old when, after their deliverance, they sought after the pleasures of Egypt, disdaining the miraculous manna that God gave them? They were punished, but chiefly to warn subsequent generations how greatly God hates compromise.

If we do not come completely out of the culture of godlessness we are being astonishingly foolish, and walking straight into a snare. If we do not distinguish between the sin-saturated culture of the world, and the standards that God wants in his people, we will definitely suffer great spiritual loss.

Even some nationwide groups of churches have allowed their annual assemblies or conventions to be dominated by the musical styles of this world’s anti-moral, anti-God culture. By doing this they allow the contaminating strategy of principalities, powers and rulers of darkness to succeed to an horrific extent.

Down the ages, the commanders of Satan’s army have tended to use the same methods repeatedly. Always they have engineered infiltration by those who are the carriers of contamination, both of doctrine and methods, the latter being frequently the first in line for corruption. It is no use being ‘reformed’ in doctrine, and at the same time offensive to God in practice.

In Britain evangelical churches are falling at an unprecedented rate into spiritual compromise and worldliness. Who will stand for the Lord in the defence, maintenance and building up of congregations which are truly loyal to Christ, and proving his power?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sabbath Sermon - ANZAC

With tomorrow being ANZAC Day, I though that it would be appropriate to post this short Lord's Supper / Gospel message that I delivered on ANZAC 2010.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Question: Do atheists reject Christ because of reason?

Many times I have stood and spoken to atheists about why they reject Jesus Christ, and I've found from long experience that the number one reason they reject God is because they believe that belief in God is irrational. They think, that is is moronic to believe in God. As a result of this mindset, it is commonly thought that Atheism is the intellectual position, whereas Christianity is for those who are uneducated. But is that really true? Do atheists really reject God because of rationality and reason? In the following video Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones will answer that question, and he will expose the real reason for the atheists rejection.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Does Jesus save or does the Virgin Mary save?


Roman Catholicism Says:

Mary suffered with Christ “and nearly died with Him when He died,” thus she “may rightly be said to have redeemed the human race with Christ” (Pope Benedict XV, 1918).

“The Virgin of Sorrows shared the work of redemption with Jesus Christ” (Pius XI, 1923).

“No one can approach Christ except through his Mother” (Pope Leo XIII, 1891).

“My salvation depends upon Mary’s mediation in union with Christ, because of her exalted position as Mediatrix of all Grace ” (catechism in My Sunday Missal).

Vatican II used the title and said Mary’s “intercession continues to win for us gifts of eternal salvation,” but added that this shouldn’t detract from Christ as the “one Mediator."

"This motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues uninterruptedly from the consent which she loyally gave at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this saving office but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation. . . . Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix." (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1994 - Paragraph 969).

The Bible Says:

Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6 ESV)

This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:11-12 ESV)

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, (1 Timothy 2:5 ESV)

A Contradiction:

Logic tells us that both Mary and Jesus can't be Saviour. Either Mary is saviour, and Jesus is not, or Jesus is the Saviour and Mary is not, they both cannot be the Saviour. The Bible makes it clear that salvation is accomplished through Jesus Christ alone. He is the only mediator between God and men (1 Timothy 2:5) and the only way to the Father (John 14:6), Jesus is the only name given for people to be saved (Acts 4:12).

So which will you believe? God's Word, the Bible? Or the teachings of men, that is, the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, that believes that Mary is the giver of salvation? Will you be on God's side, and trust in His Word, or would you believe an institution that goes against the Bible?

Your answer will have eternal ramifications.

Monday, April 18, 2011

"Exercising a True Deliverance Ministry" by Peter Masters

The title of this article is obviously not meant in a charismatic sense. We offer no advice on how to cast out demons, rather on how to help true believers who have been heavily influenced by charismatic ideas, and who have come to see them as wrong. They have come away from the world of tongues, visions, prophecies, ecstasies, dancing, falling down slain, and all associated activities, and have sought fellowship among ‘traditional’ Bible-believing Christians.

These friends often have many problems, and pastors and church officers must be ready to help. Some former charismatics have made the transition so well and so speedily that one can scarcely believe they once thought and acted very differently. We readily acknowledge that some need little or no help in adapting to conservative, biblical Christianity.

Many, however, find that their time in the charismatic movement has left them troubled, unsure, and perhaps even scarred spiritually. They have wrested themselves away from a host of emotional props, and severed connections with numerous dear friends, and this has cost them much pain.

Doctrine, worship, fellowship and service now take a vastly different form. Their new environment has a way of thinking and looking at matters utterly unlike that of charismatic circles. Furthermore, in the back of the mind lies the nagging fear that these ‘traditionalists’ are indeed the cold, lifeless formalists they have been long warned about – people who have never tasted the Spirit, and who wilfully oppose his liberating power.

Broadly speaking, there are three causes for people leaving the charismatic move-ment. The first one mentioned here is the best, and most often leads to them adjusting wholly to orthodox evangelical teaching. The last two give rise to the least stable ‘converts’.

A first cause of leaving occurs when people experience some serious disappointment or disillusionment with the charismatic movement, and begin to evaluate its claims more carefully. Perhaps a relative or close friend has died and they have seen at close quarters the false promises and the failure of -healing prophecies. It may be that they have seen through some of the dishonesty and pride which stalks the citadels of charismatic activity, and have recoiled with shock.

Some years ago, for example, charismatics all over the world were shaken by the wild phenomena of the Toronto Blessing, and they turned to God’s Word in a new spirit of enquiry. Objective Bible study then caused the entire edifice of charismatic practice to crumble and fall before them.

A second cause of departure from charismatic activity is personal disaffection. While this may lead to people’s eyes being opened, it often does not. In charismatic house groups and cells an artificially high degree of emotional interdependence is fostered, and in such a climate offences can occur which drive people out. These may come over to the derided traditionalists almost as an act of protest. The real issue is one of personal disaffection, not doctrinal unease, and while these émigrés may criticise everything they have left, it may only be the outworking of hurt feelings.

Sometimes people leave because their ‘gifts’ have not been sufficiently recognised, or their own leadership hopes have been thwarted. Such leavers will probably return, if not to the same group, to another section of the charismatic camp. We may almost say that the more heated the invective, the sooner a person will go back. We certainly have an opportunity to help such disgruntled people see the real issues, and we pray that the Lord will open their eyes, but our efforts may well be in vain.

A third cause of departure which usually leads to people returning is that of agenerally unstable temperament. This is not a comment on the mental stability of peo-ple, but on their inability to think clearly and to recognise foundational principles of biblical conduct. Because charismatic teaching is so subjective, experience-based, emotional and speculative, it produces this instability in certain people.

They take on a great mass of ideas and anecdotes, but possess no reliable way of verifying them. The mind trades so much in disconnected fragments, that it loses its capacity to get things in order of importance, and to judge clearly.

Helping friends in this state is almost impossible. As fast as you try to explain one matter, another dozen ideas leap into their minds. For such people, whether something is right or wrong is determined by the quantity of supporting claims which can be thrown into the discussion, not by the biblical validity of the claims. Unstable thinkers are likely to re-settle in the comfortable confusion of a charismatic group.

It is necessary to mention these last two categories because we must be ready for disap-pointment. However, the Lord is at work. Many of God’s children are being led out for wholesome and biblical reasons, and we trust that many more will be. We would like to rescue as many people as possible from the mass of mistakes that make up the charismatic movement, and from their exploitation by insincere and dishonest ‘top’ leaders.

Another caution is necessary. We should not assume that all who leave the charismatic fold are truly converted. We say this with care, for many are, but we remember that numerous people have been lured in by promises of healing, and even prosperity, rather than by the challenge to repent and yield to Christ. Once there, they have been sustained, not by doctrine, but by a diet of emotional thrills. In many charismatic meetings life is all about the feel-good-factor of entertainment and personal happiness, and the real issues of the Faith are obscured. When the Gospel is presented, it is often no more than a shallow form of ‘easy-believism’. Friendship and phenomena take the place of a real spiritual life. There will, therefore, be many who are not truly saved, and if they should leave and find their way to sound evangelical churches, their greatest need will be to hear the Gospel.

This caution must be balanced by a plea for respect for ex-charismatic people who most certainly are earnest believers. Some of these may even have been driven into the charismatic movement years ago by the lifelessness of a traditional evangelical church. There are numerous Bible-believing churches where so little is done for the Lord that one sympathises with members who defect to charismatic fellowships. They may be mistaken, but what an ordeal they have endured to keep their faith and love alive in an unenthusiastic ‘sound’ church! They have felt forced to leave that sound, but sound asleep, church. It has often been a hunger and thirst to please God which has led people (however mistakenly) into more lively charismatic churches. Their new teachers persuaded them that God wanted them to seek tongues and other phenomena, and their desire to obey God caused them to open their minds to these new experiences.

They were misled, but they were earnest, and this we must respect. They may have been more earnest than the sound fellowship they left behind.

We say this to inspire a due measure of respect for those who come back to us from charismatic groups. We, as traditional evangelicals, may have wronged them in the past through spiritual lethargy and coldness.

What are the problems or scars which continue to affect believers who have left the charismatic movement? The following pages review some of the difficulties encountered and highlight the areas of biblical teaching to be stressed by way of remedy.


1 Lordship of imagination

The first problem which may continue to trouble charismatic leavers arises from the lordship of imagination. For so many, imagination has worked overtime to create an artificial spiritual life in which God has spoken hour by hour through direct guidance and impressions. People have felt led to do this and that, and been ‘given’ knowledge of this and that. In many cases they have attributed every feeling to the direct impulse of the Spirit. They have been taught a religion very different from that of biblical Christianity, but they do not realise this.

They have been taught a system of thinking in which basic Christian beliefs are grafted on to a form of mysticism in which one may ‘know’ the touch of God, and receive in a direct, paranormal way knowledge unknowable by others. If someone is interpreting a tongue, whatever pops into the mind must be the correct meaning. For many, ordinary ideas and impressions must be elevated to ‘words of knowledge’. The list of imagined inspirations is long.

It comes as a shock to many ex-charismatic friends to learn the true biblical teaching about union with God, and the way this works. Without grasping this, they will be confused, dependent upon their feelings, and dependent upon imagined impressions sent from God.

We will need to explain, both by way of preaching and personal ministry, the ‘by faith’ passages of the New Testament, not only to explain the way of salvation, but to explain the ‘mechanics’ of our continuing union with God. We will need to explain that we do not know the Lord by any physical kind of sense or feeling, or by any other direct or ‘clairvoyant’ type of link. Human feelings are a response to what weunderstand. We know God by what is revealed in his Word. We believe all that it teaches of him, and we trust, and enjoy him. All our precious views of Christ and of his ways, come from the Word into our understanding, and there they are met and embraced by faith. God primarily links himself to us via our understanding and trusting response. Of course, we have much evidence, such as answered prayer, and we have assurance also, but the key link is by receiving the Word.

What about feelings? We will need to explain that in genuine spiritual experience they are stirred by way of response to what is seen by the mind. God hardly ever goes directly to our feelings. Whether the feeling is one of love, gratitude, assurance or shame and conviction, it wells up within us as the result of what is grasped by the mind.

Everything in the Christian life comes ‘by faith’, and this, of necessity, means by the understanding. If we do not think about something, we cannot believe it.

What is the role of the Holy Spirit in this? We will need to teach and explain that the Holy Spirit illuminates the mind, enabling the understanding to grasp the truths of God’s Word. He never imparts to the minds of believers spiritual truths which are not disclosed in the Bible. Rather, he sharpens our minds to see the things that are scripturally revealed.

Then, when we grasp these things and receive them by faith, the Spirit frequently touches our minds in such a way that we see them with even greater clarity, and then we are lifted up in great joy and love. An old Puritan phrase calls this ‘the embrace of the Spirit’. How kind the Spirit of God is!

The key point is that all true spiritual experience must be routed through the conscious mind, and received by faith. As soon as we are able to convey this fundamental fact of the Christian faith to former charismatics, the scales fall from their eyes and they see how they have been misled by a distorted form of Christianity. They are then no longer at the mercy of imagination.

Of course we will need to assure these friends that there is much tangible evidenceof God’s work in our lives. We see it in the new nature we receive at conversion, and in the countless answers to prayer which follow. We have so often been strengthened for our duties, enabled to witness, and delivered from trials in answer to prayer. We have repeatedly seen our circumstances changed by the clear intervention of the Lord. In these things we see the Lord’s hand, but only in the Word do we hear, as it were, his authoritative voice, revealing doctrine and commands.

In summary, we know the Lord by what he has said (in the Word), and this is supplemented by what he does in answer to prayer. We do not have direct com-munication from God on authoritative matters.

How different this historic, biblical teaching is from the mystical and occultist ideas which have swept into modern charismatic teaching! ‘Switch off the mind,’ they say, ‘it is an obstruction and a nuisance. Raise your hands, close your eyes, sway to and fro, launch out into the deep, let your emotions go free, let your spirit take over, repeat the name of the Saviour, speak in a tongue, and as you do so, your direct, mystical link with God will be effected, and you will feel and see according to the movement of the Spirit.’

We repeat, God speaks from the Word to the mind, which is the organ of under-standing and the palace of faith. Here are some of the great passages we will refer to as we stress the pre-eminence of faith (which naturally presupposes understanding).

‘So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God’ (Romans 10.17).

‘That their hearts might be comforted . . . unto all riches of the full assurance of UNDERSTANDING’ (Colossians 2.2). ‘BY FAITH ye stand’ (2 Corinthians 1.24).

‘For we walk BY FAITH, not by sight’ (2 Corinthians 5.7).

‘Above all, taking the SHIELD OF FAITH, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked’ (Ephesians 6.16).

‘BY FAITH he [Moses] forsook Egypt . . . for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible’ (Hebrews 11.27). ‘That Christ may dwell in your hearts BY FAITH; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God’(Ephesians 3.17-19).

2 Anecdotes & revelations

A second problem which afflicts many friends who leave charismatic circles is their past trust in non-biblical sources of doctrine and comfort, such as anecdotal experiences and new revelations. Most charismatics theoretically believe that anecdotes, visions and words of knowledge should be submitted to Scripture for verification, but in most circles this hardly ever happens. (When charismatic leaders do attempt to justify their visions by Scripture, these attempts range from the superficial to the absurd.)

The problem is that former charismatics often feel a great void once they leave behind the flow of anecdotal teaching and prophetic words. Some continue to be vulnerable and ready to believe anything and everything that they read in lightweight, anecdotal items of Christian literature.

We often refer to how the charismatic movement lowers the credulity threshold of people, and so it does. The welter of anecdotes of healings, extraordinary expe-riences and revelations must, in general, be believed, or the Christian life would be a nightmare of suspicion. Some solve the problem by believing everything (however unbiblical), and others by believing everything ‘slightly’. (See problem number 10 for further comment on this.)

It is not enough, however, only to direct to Scripture, because charismatic friends have had Scripture quoted to them to justify the most bizarre things. By their indifference to any rules of interpretation, charismatic teachers have robbed Scripture of its clarity, consistency and authority. We will need to encourage a new respect and a deeper reverence and love for Scripture, introducing friends to the Bible’s own interpretative rules. They must come to take the context seriously, and to compare scripture with scripture. They must learn about the ‘analogy of faith’ concept of the Reformers, which calls us to equip ourselves with a clear mental picture of all the major doctrines so prominent in the Bible, and then to test all our ideas about the meaning of any particular passage against these.

This article is not the place to rehearse the basic rules of interpretation, but ex-charismatics need the liberating experience of serious, logical Bible study. They need to see what they have been deprived of. Then they will rejoice in a Bible that really guides – not a chaotic mystery-book which depends upon the whims of personal revelation before one may know what it really says. We must therefore give time in our teaching programme for the subject of ‘Bible interpretation for all’.

We need to point friends to books such as Thomas Watson’s Body of Divinity, where they will rejoice to find the wonderful system of doctrinal Truth which has been kept from them. This will help them to have the anchor of sound doctrine, without which they will remain at the mercy of unbiblical, human ideas.

3 Reverent worship

A third problem troubling many former charismatics is that of adjusting to a reverent form of worship. In most charismatic communities worship is primarily designed to be subjective and arousing only at a human level. To achieve this, instrumental music and rhythm are used as major ingredients. Also, worship is usually informal in character, thus sacrificing awe and reverence. It has more to do with the feelings and the body than with the mind and the soul.

Those who leave charismatic groups will find themselves either in a Bible-believing church which holds to conservative wor-ship, or one that compromises by using charismatic songs. This second kind of church will obviously not be able to teach former charismatics the glories of true worship, for it has violated them.

Hopefully, former charismatics will find themselves in sounder places where the biblical objectives of worship can be explained. We will need to point out the most fundamental of all principles, that worship is to be ‘in spirit and in truth’. This includes the idea that it is to be intelligent, and in accordance with God’s revealed Truth.

It is crucial for believers to realise that worship must be capable of being put into words (whether thought, said or sung). Nothing else is true worship.

Worship is to be objective as well as subjective; and to be rich with praise and adoration of God and his attributes and works. It is to be humble and reverent. It is to include repentance (so often absent from charismatic songs). It is not to be subjected to the competition of elaborate music and instrumentalism, so that this is enjoyed more than the spiritual worship, and people show off their skills.

Worship must never borrow the rhythms and chord-forms associated with the secular entertainment industry, and its anti-God, anti-moral campaigns. The Word of God demands an unbridgeable gulf between sacred and profane.

These are the kind of principles we must present from such Bible passages as John 4 and Revelation 4-5. Former charismatics need to see that they have had foisted upon them a fleshly, worldly, self-centred form of worship, grievous to the Spirit. Human pleasure, derived from debased worldly styles, has eclipsed true spiritual activity, and all this must now be rejected as illegitimate and harmful. Only then will they be free to enter wholeheartedly and feelingfully into genuine, respectful, thoughtful worship, with true spiritual rejoicing.

4 Visible phenomena

A fourth problem troubling many former charismatics is a continuing thirst for phenomena such as healings and prophecies. If denied these things they often feel unstirred and unassured. Such supposed proofs of the Holy Spirit’s presence have long served as a substitute for faith, and now that they have been left behind, leavers may find it difficult to live by faith.

As Christians, however, we are not bereft of evidences of God’s work within us, and it is good to help troubled friends look at these evidences. Conversion, sanctification and preservation are the greatest evidences of all.

It is even more important to train friends to put their faith in what God says in his Word. Faith grows most of all when it is exercised, first by receiving and believing the teaching of the Word, and secondly by coming to the Lord in prayer in response to all the problems and needs of life.

Former charismatics need to be encouraged to exercise sober discernment, trusting only the Word, and assigning no significance to charismatic explanations of strange experiences. It may be helpful for them to learn that the very phenomena and ‘wonders’ they once relied on occur equally outside Christian circles. They are common even among pagan cults, and are not evidences or proofs of the work of the Spirit. Even within the charismatic movement many godless (even immoral and criminal) leaders have been able to produce all these so-called signs of God’s approval and power.

Former charismatics also need to appreciate that unrecognised hypnosis and psychological influences play a great part in producing surprising experiences. In summary, we must help these friends to embrace ‘Scripture alone’ as the rule of their Christian walk, and to get great pleasure out of the wonders of the Word. As for encouragement, are not the unmistakable evidences of God’s power in sustaining and blessing our witness enough?

For the strengthening of faith, it is vital that we show ex-charismatics how to lay hold on the promises rather than to look for earthly wonders which, in the event, are a mixture of theatrical tricks and psychological effects. An excellent book to ‘prescribe’ is Thomas Watson’s little volume A Divine Cordial, also published under the title All Things for Good. Equally superb is A W Pink’s Comfort for Christians. Such works show believers how to view trials of all kinds. The Christian life is a life of faith, not a life of sight, and to walk this road must be the new aim of former charismatic believers.

5 Lack of service

A fifth problem troubling some former charismatics arises from a lack of applica-tion and commitment to genuine service for the Lord. We are saved to serve the Lord and to be at his disposal. We are intended to pull together as congregations in the work of evangelism. The charismatic scene, however, is predominantly self-serving. Certainly there are exceptions, and some charismatics engage in strenuous activity for the Lord, including compassionate ministries. But generally the situation is quite different.

You do not often find charismatic fellowships toiling in evangelistic Sunday Schools and similar activities operated for the spiritual good of the community. You find considerable activity going on, but most of it is for the benefit of believers and for their excitement and fulfilment.

Charismatic church activities are labour-intensive in terms of instrumentalism, singing and all the practice involved. Giftedness, body-ministry, personal empowerment and so on are the all-important matters. ‘My walk…my health…my experience’ is the chief focus of life. House groups frequently constitute ‘love-ins’ where mutual coddling and sympathy are the order of the day. The ethos is thatwe are to be cared for. We are so important. All our energy is for us.

A believer who forsakes the atmosphere of charismatic Christianity is likely to feel painfully abandoned in a traditional fellowship. It is important that the real cause of this vacuum is understood, and we must show how life should be filled with a new kind of activity – unselfish, overflowing spiritual service for Christ.

We are forced to admit that some traditional Bible-believing churches now-adays are as bad as charismatic churches for self-serving, self-interested church programmes. Hopefully, however, ex-charismatics will find churches where the fun and pleasure of believers is not the primary objective, but rather the work of taking the Gospel to lost souls.

In these days so many labourers are needed. A new perspective and a new commitment will be the greatest help to the ex-charismatic, who will find true spiritual blessedness in this context. (The author’s booklet on the working church –Your Reasonable Service in the Lord’s Work – may help in this matter.)

6 Cessation of sign-gifts

A sixth problem troubling former charismatics is whether the gifts of the Spirit have or have not ceased. How could they possibly have ceased as the Scripture does not specifically say so? Lingering and recurring anxiety about the gifts can only be relieved when former charismatics gain a clear view of the reasons why cessationism was the view of the overwhelming majority of Christians until as recently as the 1960s. In this connection, beware of literature which warns against charismatic practices while at the same time refusing to teach the cessation of the sign and revelatory gifts.

Some writers have adopted the view that cessationism is not valid, and that instead we should judge the validity of every charismatic claim on its merits. The idea is a nightmare. From a practical point of view alone, it would take a thousand tribunals of seasoned judges sitting in permanent session to merely scratch the surface of the present scene. Claims to gifts and phenomena are to be numbered in their millions.

The truth is that the Bible is clear on this matter, and most former charismatics are very ready to examine the texts. Of course, we must help friends to see that only two kinds of gift are at issue: the revelatory gifts and the sign-gifts. All others, such as gifts of ministry and government, remain.

The writer has set out the texts teaching the cessation of the revelatory and sign-gifts in The Healing Epidemic, chapter 7 – ‘Proving the Gifts Have Ceased’. Without repeating all these texts and arguments here, it should be obvious that the sign-gifts were not intended to be permanent. They were specifically described as signsor pointers. The apostolic miracles pointed to the apostles, saying to the world, ‘these are the true witnesses and apostles of Christ, and the inspired channels of Holy Scripture.’ But now that their witness has been incorporated into the Bible, we possess the substance. The signs fell away once the substance to which they pointed was given to the Church.

It was the same with tongues-speaking. The miraculous tongues were a sign or pointer. God had said through Isaiah that the age of the Messiah would be validated by the phenomenon of gentiles preaching the Word of God to Jews. However, at the time of Pentecost, and for a short while afterward, there were no converted gentiles, and so God at first employed gentile tongues miraculously spoken by Jews. This was one of the signs that the new age, the Gospel Age, had dawned, when the Gospel would be preached in every language throughout the world. But soon the reality took over and real gentile converts were preaching the Gospel to both Jews and gentiles. Once this occurred the sign had fulfilled its duty. The reality to which the sign pointed had itself arrived, and the ‘shadow’ had given way to the substance.

This writer has found that most charismatics have been given the impression that in New Testament times healings were accomplished constantly by all believers. They are usually very surprised to hear that this is utterly contrary to the record, which shows only one case of a healing by someone not in the apostolic band – and that was the singular case of Paul healed by Ananias (at the Lord’s command).

We constantly need to make clear to ex-charismatic friends that we believe in miracles today, including healing. God can do anything, and he has promised to heal. What we reject is the notion that he channels his power through gifted miracle workers and healers. Apostles, with ‘signs of apostles’, have long since ceased, but the Lord continues to heal directly in answer to prayer (and according to his sovereign will). These are some of the issues which we need to make clear to former charismatics.

7 Prevailing worldliness

A seventh problem which frequently troubles those who leave charismatic circles stems from the degree of worldliness so often encouraged, and sometimes the level of lawlessness. Throughout the world the majority of charismatics have an approach to holiness that is quite different from anything previously seen in the history of the Christian Church. Separation from the world has little or no part in their holiness scenario. Nor (in most circles) does resistance to earthly wealth and comforts.

Affluence and pleasure are legitimate objectives. Fashion, self-expression, and close familiarity with the current pop and movie scenes are acceptable interests. Charismatic song performers look and sound just like worldly performers. The likeness is even deliberately cultivated.

Believers who leave the charismatic world will have to adapt to entirely different standards. They will have to appreciate that the Lord commands different attitudes in his people, and that the ethos of the world is offensive to him. For some, the doctrine of sanctification will sometimes need to be explained almost from scratch. A new commitment of life and stewardship will need to be embraced.

We referred to lawlessness in the introduction to this seventh point, because it is an undeniable truth that among professing Christians, charismatics are known to have by far the most cases of unacceptable behaviour. They experience the most occurrences of immorality, divorce, criminal fraud, and other serious misdemeanours.

This observation is not intended to taint thousands of more serious-minded charismatics who mortify the deeds of the body, and strive to lead lives pleasing to God. But the charismatic environment as a whole is not conducive to conscientious holiness, and that is painfully apparent.

Lawlessness may well be encouraged by the lack of repentance in the style of worship found in many charismatic churches. Services characterised by dancing, swaying, clapping, the singing of repetitive phrases to deafening rhythmic music, and working up the emotions are not occasions for genuine repentance and dedication to holiness.

There is no quietness before God; no sense of – ‘The Lord is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him.’ In some charismatic circles the spiritual warfare is defined entirely in terms of challenging demons, rather than in fighting against personal sin and temptation. It is no great wonder that we have read of so many leading charismatic evan-gelists falling into immorality, and being brought before the courts for a variety of criminal offences.

It is important that we communicate to believers who come to us from charismatic fellowships that we act in all matters out of obedience to the Word, and not just from personal choice. We must show chapter and verse for every facet of our personal and church lifestyles. Christians are those who willingly conform to all the rules of the New Testament, including separation from worldliness. Only as the Spirit shows these friends the true nature of the Christian walk, will they be at peace. Many have been deprived by their former teach-ers of vast areas of Truth. These must now be embraced.

8 A Superior experience

An eighth problem likely to trouble former charismatics is a sensitive and dif-ficult one, but it must be mentioned. This will not necessarily apply to all such friends, but it will afflict some. It is the problem of pride. Charismatic teachers have probably convinced them that they have superior light and experience, while traditional Bible believers are spiritually ignorant, cold and unblessed. Many charismatic teachers adopt a boastful, triumphalistic style, encouraging a sense of spiritual superiority.

The lack of truly objective worship (which is humbling in its effect) may also contribute to pride. So also may the sense of specialness derived from the sup-posed possession of spiritual gifts. Even after leaving charismatic circles, some of this pride may stick.

All this puts one in mind of the many Exclusive Brethren who left their movement in the 1960s. They had seen that much was wrong, but unfortunately many of those who left took with them an unshakable belief that they were infinitely better taught than those in the traditional evangelical churches. Clothed with such confidence, what could they really learn? Some (but certainly not all) became misfits and serious thorns in the flesh to the churches they joined.

We shall need great grace as we try to help ex-charismatics realise that they do not tower above traditional Bible believers in spiritual understanding. We will need the patience of Job, the wisdom of Solomon, and the gentleness of Barnabas as we show them that their former camp represents a radical departure from Scripture and its doctrine in many ways, and that they have much to re-learn.

It will be no use correcting just a few wrong notions. Charismatic pride rests on a dozen foundations. It is only as we knock all these away (but carefully) that the delusion of grandeur will fall, and the mind will open fully to the Word. The kindest way to do this is often by prescribing books, so that friends can think through the issues in privacy, checking the texts as they go, and calling upon the Lord for help.

9 Emphasis on fellowship

A ninth problem sometimes troubling the peace of former charismatics has to do with relationships. We have already referred to the artificially close fellowship fostered in house groups or cells. Charismatics usually excel at organising friendship-promoting activities, and this will inevitably lead to pain and loneliness when people leave.

Most traditional Bible-believing churches do not have this forced, hot-house approach to promoting friendship. They depend more on the natural process of ties forming as members worship and serve the Lord together.

Hopefully, former charismatics will find their way to churches where people are outgoing and welcoming. But it will be over time, and usually while working in some aspect of Christian service, that deeper ties will form. Real friendship is not usually manipulated into being.

We will need to extend a degree of special understanding and fellowship to those who come out of a system excessively dependent on friendship, remembering that they have probably left behind something that cannot be quickly replaced in their lives.

Another relationship difficulty may arise from the dominating, authoritarian leadership practised in many charismatic churches. If people have experienced a high degree of directive interference in their lives, some may feel lost without it. However much they may have resented it, they may still miss it. For some, this may reach ‘dependence’ proportions.

Pastors must be careful never to tell these friends what to do in personal decisions, however much they may ask for definitive direction. Always we must limit ourselves to counselling the biblical principles, and honour the individual’s responsibility to apply those principles carefully and prayerfully to the decision in hand.

10 Uncertain belief

A final problem sometimes encountered by former charismatics is that of weak and doubting belief, leading either to shallowness or cynicism. This is a product of their former intense loyalty to healings and other phenomena. The trouble arises from the simple fact that they never saw these wonderful things really happening in a certain, verifiable way. Even the miraculous signs have had to be taken on faith!

If we ask charismatic friends why the weekly run of healings never includes clear-cut, medically verifiable miracles, involving the cure of serious physical illnesses, they immediately talk about cases they know of from other churches, and which probably took place months or years ago. They seldom make any attempt to defend the regular healings of their own fellowship. This shows that within themselves they realise that these healings are more to do with charismatic culture than with reality.

A charismatic author (a doctor) once set out to validate charismatic healing in a book, and his book revealed the same tendency. To prove his case he wrote about healings that occurred years before, and in other countries. Inadvertently, he was admitting that he placed no credence on the regular healings that surrounded him week after week in his own charismatic assembly. He believed in them in a way, but not enough to use them as examples, preferring to draw his ‘proof’ from afar.

This writer has asked charismatic believers in five continents why their own local healings were either unsuccessful, or short-term, or minor, and why they could not perform healing of verifiable, major illnesses. Always their response has been to draw their confidence from healings reported from somewhere else.

The point is that charismatic friends must adopt either a stoical, unquestioning form of belief in these phenomena, or a vague, general belief. Either attitude is harmful to real Christian faith. In the case of the first, the mind closes to any new biblical and doctrinal challenge. The person says, ‘I know what I think, and am not open to further consideration.’ Such a friend must be helped to see that all our opinions must be verifiable from the Word of God. We must always be open to correction.

In the case of vague belief, the whole of our Christian walk may be damaged if we allow ourselves to believe vaguely and lightly in things we do not really see happen, and cannot be certain of. This kind of belief will infect our whole outlook. We may well develop a shallow view of many other aspects of the faith.

This undoubtedly happens to many Christians. They believe they should go to worship regularly and serve the Lord. But at the same time, like the healing miracles, the standards of God need not be taken too seriously. They are real, but they are not real. They are important, but not important.

Vague belief or light belief produces uncommitted and semi-sincere Christians, and even lawless Christians. The antidote and corrective is to help people to see that in God’s true plan for the Christian life everything is true and reliable; everythingworks just as it should.

The charismatic culture of working up miracles and signs which cannot be validated is harmful to true faith, producing either gullibility on the one hand, or submerged cynicism on the other.

God and his Word are to be taken very seriously, and believed with the whole heart. All his commands are to be obeyed; all his standards are to be diligently honoured.

These are the issues which trouble or handicap those who leave charismatic circles, and which pastors and spiritual shepherds will need to address, with gentleness, patience and understanding. They are all critical, key matters which, if ignored, will surface later, possibly with unhappy results.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Friday, April 15, 2011

"Benefits and Pitfalls of Expository Preaching" by Peter Masters

What exactly is ­expository preaching? It is preaching that draws the message from the biblical text, clearly and methodically, honouring the sense of the text, and the style of communication employed. Before looking at classic examples from sermons of C H Spurgeon, here are some of the benefits and common mistakes of consecutive expository preaching.

Firstly, if the preacher works through a book of the Bible week by week it becomes obvious to everyone that the Word of God is the supreme authority for all that is taught. The preacher is clearly in captivity to the Bible. He begins at the beginning of a chapter, and this governs the whole course of his teaching. Everything he asserts is derived and argued from the Scripture, and that is a tremendous testimony to the exclusive authority of the Word in all matters. Perhaps the openness so often seen among God’s people to human gimmicks and ­ideas (including the current boom in counselling techniques derived from atheists) is partly due to a lack of consecutive expository preaching.

It is an extra help, though not essential, if such preaching can be carried out in the traditional way, from a large, visible pulpit Bible. This is seldom done today, which is rather a shame, because a pulpit ­Bible certainly reinforces the realisation that God’s Word is the sole source of the message. But with or without this, consecutive expository preaching is the greatest witness to biblical ­authority.

A second virtue of consecutive expository preaching is that it helps the preacher to suppress his personal opinions. Because he is dominated by the Scripture, and bound to follow its presentation of information and its arguments, the preacher’s personal style of reasoning should be helpfully subordinated to that of God’s Word.

A third virtue of consecutive expository preaching is that it obliges the preacher to present ­everything that is in the Scripture. By nature, most preachers will tend to emphasise a certain group of subjects and to neglect others. But by proceeding through a book they are bound to address every topic that presents itself, and so preach on a comprehensive range of vital themes.

A fourth virtue of consecutive expository preaching is that it shows the people of God the plan and the purpose of a whole Bible book, which would probably not happen if the preacher darted from book to book selecting individual sermon texts. Think of the immense advantage to the people of God of becoming familiar with the overall scheme of entire books of the Bible. It is a very great help to private study.

Consecutive expository preaching also enables the preacher to bring out the themes that often run through one or more chapters. He pays more attention to the context, and this delivers him from many mistakes. Would the so-called ‘holiness movement’ have developed if its proponents had been consecutive preachers? Would they not have hesitated to preach sanctification-by-faith when they saw that the whole chapter or passage was speaking about justification?

The pitfalls

There are even more virtues in consecutive expository preaching, but there are pitfalls also, and the first that I would mention is that it can be conducted tooslowly. Some preachers are rather proud of the inordinate length of time they take over a book of the Bible. ‘I was in such-and-such a book,’ they say, ‘for seven years.’ This may be a great pity, and more than many people can take. I hesitate to say this, because there have been famous and greatly-used preachers of the past who have been very slow in working their way through books.

If, however, you are a reader of John Owen, or certain other famously long divines, you will have noticed that they varied their approach considerably. Owen’s commentary on Hebrews for example (derived from his preaching) is virtually a complete systematic theology. He constantly pauses to develop a doctrine. A certain verse or group of verses will open up a full treatment of a subject.

You could say that he did not really spend years preaching through Hebrews, but repeatedly interrupted his series to digress into themes, thus mixing exposition with topical preaching. It is rather sad that preachers of lesser stature try to follow the Puritan example without the digressions, grinding through books at minimal pace.

Frequently the Puritan preachers will feature in their sermons long sections of practical help, listing, for example, all the hindrances to cultivating a particular virtue, and then all the helps. These counsels are often brilliantly presented and sit like strings of jewels adorning the exposition.

Slow and over-detailed exposition usually causes hearers to miss the wood for the trees. Many years ago a very well-known preacher had completed an extremely long series of sermons on a passage focusing on the Holy Spirit. I remember asking a group of people who had heard these sermons what they thought about a very basic aspect of the Spirit’s work, and they did not know how to answer. Having heard many detailed expositions, they could not answer a simple question. The whole topic had been dissected so minutely, and so elaborately, that obvious aspects were lost in a mass of quality observation. This can happen very easily when consecutive expository preaching is overstretched.

A form of priestcraft

Slow-paced consecutive preaching can even become a form of priest-craft. So much material is presented that people are left floundering, and they say to themselves, ‘I would never know any of this, but for this preacher. It’s barely worth reading the Bible for myself, because I lack this capacity for microscopic examination of the text.’ This is surely not a good outcome.

The preacher’s task is not only to expound the Scriptures, but to enable hearers to read them more meaningfully for themselves, and not to discourage them with exhibitions of over-detailed exegetical expertise.

Another disadvantage that often accompanies expository preaching (whether consecutive or not) is that the method of the preacher somehow steamrollers down the method of the Holy Spirit. The preacher comes at the text in a certain logical way, examines it, and then lays out his points, his applications, scarcely noticing what the style of the text is. He treats it as a didactic passage even if it is an historical narrative or a parable, or a graphic miracle. The preacher puts everything through his ­expos­itory ‘mincing machine’ regardless, and his presentation is exactly the same in every sermon. He has failed to follow or adjust to the method of communication employed by God. Expository preaching can easily degenerate into a bullying, mechanical process, even a clinical procedure, stripping out the story-form or other diversity of presentation featured in the text.

A rather obvious fault with consecutive expository preaching is that it is not much good for preaching regular, persuasive, evangelistic sermons. If you have three preaching opportunities a week, two on the Lord’s Day, one of the latter should be dedicated to the persuasive pressing of the glorious tender of salvation. In this the consecutive method presents difficulties.

I made the very obvious mistake about forty years ago of preaching evangelistic sermons consecutively through the Gospel of Luke. When I reached the end of the series I discovered to my horror that I had used up almost all the parables and miracles of Christ in one year. For several years, it seemed, I would have to maintain an evangelistic ministry without being able to use a miracle or parable. I had ‘spent’ them all.

It is better in evangelistic preaching to ‘helicopter’, as they say, selecting texts from throughout the Word that are redolent with soul-stirring reasoning.

Another common fault of consecutive expository preaching is a lack of application, or indulging in ‘add-on’ application not actually derived from the passage (and often quite trivial). This is common with preachers who have been taught the modern hermeneutical scheme (derived from 19th-century German rationalism) now taught in so many seminaries. This uses humanistic technical methods that ignore the divine authorship of the Bible and its own interpretative rules. The pastoral potential of a passage is eclipsed, and an entirely inadequate process called ‘principlizing’ tacked on to the end of the process to devise an application. Advocates of this horrific hermeneutical method in recent times include Walter C Kaiser. I have attempted a brief evaluation, with a description of the Bible’s own guidance on its interpretation, for preachers, in Not Like Any Other Book.

Excess recapitulation

Yet another difficulty that we hear complained of is the habit of some consecutive preachers to recapitulate too much. Every sermon must begin with a résumé, lasting at least ten minutes, of the previous week’s exposition, making a rather tiresome start to the message. Some reminder of what has gone before is wise, but more than two or three sentences leads to hearer-fatigue. We have heard of preachers who attempt a recapitulation of their entire series before commencing the new study.

I would like now to turn to an example of applied expository preaching from C H Spurgeon, which could never have been preached if the defective modern techniques just referred to had been employed. Here is a great example of true spiritual intelligence, gleaning from the text God’s intended message to the soul. The text being expounded is Psalm 23.4 – ‘The valley of the shadow of death’ (reproduced recently in the book Classic Counsels, Wakeman Trust). Let Spurgeon provide a masterclass in expository thoughtfulness.

While the verse may be applied to different kinds of trial, and supremely to the final trial of life, Spurgeon expounds it in reference to depression, and he opens the sermon with a very brief introduction about deeply oppressive feelings. Spurgeon has a number of amazing sermons on grief or depression, this being one of them.

Here are the points he drew from just a few verses, which demonstrate the thoughtfulness which should characterise every expounder. We do not have liberty to be fanciful, but we must just think, and think hard, praying over the text, seeking its implicit headings. We must not impose on the text things that are not there, but seek to recognise all the counsel that undoubtedly is.

By careful reflection, Spurgeon observes a series of simple, sometimes obvious, but always profound factors, the first being that this valley is a gloomy place. The light and warmth of the sun – of assurance and joyful feelings – are shut out. This, of course, is elaborated upon, and the sermon begins with reality and sympathy, the problems being described.

The second point immediately introduces a note of practical warning: the valley is a dangerous place. Someone may protest that this is not in the text, but of course it is. It is obvious, when we think, that this is a place where there are robbers and wild animals, even snakes. Times of depression are times when all kinds of temptations will be suggested to the mind which may lead to sin, especially the sins of despondency, or doubting God, or outright unbelief, or self-pity. This valley is a dangerous place to be in, and while we may be in it through no fault or sin, yet we must be aware of the dangers. Danger is in the text as the evil which we could well fear, and this is true exposition, applied from the very beginning. I have read a review of this sermon, which said it was merelydevotional. Merely devotional! This is true exposition.

The third point of the sermon is that the terrible valley is a place shrouded in mystery, because the sufferer cannot always know what the gloom or sorrow is about. It is no help drawing a sword against a shadow. A joy-killing feeling has descended, and you cannot tell why. But David said to himself – ‘there are no mysteries with my God, and he will lead me through.’ Faith must light her lamp with the golden oil of promise to see a path through gloom and mystery.

Spurgeon’s fourth point is that the valley is a lonely, solitary place. Now it is not explicitly mentioned in the psalm that the traveller is alone, but it is obvious. Severe grief or depression is a deeply personal experience, and there is no one on earth who can take the pain away.

But then fifthly Spurgeon asserts that it is an often-travelled place. It is the valley of the shadow, but it is the vital pass through the hills, and many people must tread this route, one by one. It is lonely, yes, but it is often walked. The sufferer is not the only one to know this pass of fear and gloom. But the Scripture knows all about it, and has counsel for it.

Then Spurgeon proceeds to his sixth point – it is not an unhallowed place. We don’t have to sin in it. We can remain pure in the midst of depression. No sin is necessarily occasioned by sorrow; it is a matter of what we do with it, and how we react to it. Though not specifically mentioned, this point is inherent in the psalm, and it is recognised by the thinking expounder.

It is a point that introduces Spurgeon to presenting the attitude of the pilgrim going through the valley of the shadow, and his first sub-point here is – the believer remains calm. This also is implicit in the text: ‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.’ In great sadness and in depression we must avoid any kind of panic. We must walk especially quietly and steadily, not attempting to run. In such a condition we don’t take radical decisions, or dramatic initiatives. Avoiding upheaval, our assignment is to proceed steadily through the pass, and this is also implicit in the psalmist’s language – a point accessible to the thinking ­exegete.

A second sub-point is the steady progress of the pilgrim, who says, ‘Though Iwalk through the valley’. Faith does not panic to get out of the gloomy valley, but proceeds steadily with all its duties and obligations, trusting God for strength. (And this is a most profound and practical item of counsel.)
Spurgeon’s third sub-point is to show that the pilgrim speaks in expectation of successfully passing through the valley. He will emerge the other side, and so he endeavours to look ahead. He does not allow his thoughts to imagine that he may be lost in that place. The spiritual hopefulness and anticipation of faith is so important, and must be clung to.

This leads to the fourth sub-point, that the pilgrim renounces fear: ‘I will fear no evil.’ And he prays and determines not to give way to self-pity and fearful pessimism. His reasoning is that ‘thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.’

Spurgeon amplifies this, and it becomes clear that in sadness the best thing to do in prayer is to remember the practice of affirmation and, regardless of feelings, to affirm great truths before the Lord, and praise him for them.

This summary of Spurgeon’s message is cruelly abridged, losing the meat and leaving just the headings, but hopefully it will serve to show that prayerful thoughtfulness is the essence of exposition. There are certainly technical rules to be carefully observed, but reflection and searching out the intended application to souls are key elements.

Drawing out the point

In the example just reviewed, the preacher did not dream up headings and then pin them on to the passage. He drew his headings from the passage, and ministered to real spiritual needs.
I cannot resist referring to a prayer-meeting sermon of Spurgeon’s which provides what must be the supreme masterclass in exposition. He takes only a little portion of a verse from Acts 17.3-4, and the least promising part. The passage is about Paul and his preaching at Mars Hill, and it concludes with the words: ‘Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed . . . and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.’

Spurgeon’s title is simply – ‘A woman named Damaris.’ Someone had evidently remarked that as no one knew anything about Damaris, it was not possible to preach a sermon about her. That set Spurgeon thinking, and in due course he didpreach a sermon about her, and it is a remarkable piece of exposition.

If you were to apply the modern evangelical hermeneutic to this text, you could discuss the context and the occasion, the preaching on Mars Hill, and the rejection of Paul by the Athenians. You could tell people about the great pride of his hearers, and that some scoffed, and some were courteous and polite; and very few people were saved. Concerning Damaris, you would find very little to say, except that she was a woman, and that it is useful to have a name. You could possibly explain what the name Damaris meant, but your rationalistic, technical method of expounding would show you nothing else.

A charismatic preacher might note that Paul obtained small results, and assert mistakenly that from henceforward he relied on signs and wonders to bolster the power of the preaching of the Gospel.
Spurgeon, however, shows how to expound this seemingly unpromising text. Nothing is known about Damaris, but here is his first point. It is that all converts are very precious in evil times, and so, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Luke mentions Damaris. The myth of the Fox and the Lioness is used to illustrate the value of a single convert. The fox had many cubs, while the lioness had only one. The fox therefore gloated over the lioness, pointing scornfully to her single offspring. ‘Ah,’ said the lioness, ‘but he’s a lion.’ Damaris was a child of the infinite and eternal God, a true believer, not a worldling, nor a shallow, nominal believer.

Spurgeon proceeds to note that she was not ashamed to confess Christ. Where in the text does it say that? Spurgeon would reply that she must have done, otherwise, how would Luke know her name? How would anyone know she was a convert if she had not presented herself, and made herself known, confessing Christ?

From this Spurgeon spoke of how she swam against the tide, as true converts always do. The Holy Spirit works in their hearts, and while other hearers are scoffing, the true convert is ready to stand out, and to pay the price for so doing.

He then speaks of how believers are valued by the Holy Spirit, and how saved men and women are equally precious. In a society where women were looked down on, Damaris is ennobled, being immortalised by biblical mention.

Spurgeon also speaks about her obscurity, showing that this does not diminish her value in God’s sight. Be very happy, he says, to be an obscure believer, for (like her) the obscure have the same marks of grace as the most prominent. She is spiritually beautiful, stamped with a new nature, and used by God, as all true converts are.

Gleaning implied points

Yet again someone may protest that this is not in the text. How can Spurgeon know that she was used by God? Of course she was, Spurgeon would reply, because her name is in the Bible, and who knows how many socially obscure Christians down the years have been encouraged on that account. Being dead, she yet speaks, and is still of service, even as she lives on high, in glory.

The final point of Spurgeon’s address (there were nine or ten points in all) is an exhortation not to desire to be known or conspicuous. Do your holy war, he urges, by stealth, quietly and modestly, whether a preacher or a church member. He gives many comforts and much counsel, with weighty comments, but this sketchy outline will again show the thoughtfulness of real exposition. The preacher asked himself, ‘Why has the Holy Spirit put this phrase in the record – “a woman named Damaris”?’

Let us not go to the commentaries first, but rather think. On the whole, commentaries are not very forthcoming in making application. This is almost entirely the preacher’s business. He is on his own. Of course it will bring the Word into disrepute if we use our imagination in an unbridled way. This is one of the reasons why good but misguided people have adopted the restrictive rules of the modern hermeneutical method. They have heard so much fanciful preaching that they want to tie preachers down. But their remedies obscure the spiritual message of the Bible and its deep wells of truth.

At this point I would summarise the bones of an evangelistic message I gave not long ago from James 4.14 – ‘For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.’

I am sure that many preachers will have taken the same route with this text. Surely the Holy Spirit has employed the word ‘vapour’ for us to think about. The sermon could therefore begin with the great question, What is life? What a question for an evangelistic sermon which is hopefully going to persuade people to think about the purpose and destiny of life! Life is a mist; or a breath.

‘Features’ of vapour

A vapour or a cloud is shapeless. What an approach to the subject! There is nothing firm about life without God; no defined character. There is no realisation of the soul. Men and women are merely water and elements that may be burned up and reduced to a little ash.

The preacher may challenge people about their goals. People have only short-term goals, for the here-and-now, and we must rouse them to be concerned about the true scope of life. In a life without God there are no firm principles of conduct, either, especially in these days of moral abandon. Reflecting the shapelessness of a vapour blown in the wind, people change their views, their ideas and their aspirations constantly over time.

Then there is the unpredictability of a cloud of vapour. You cannot tell when it will dissipate or be blown away. You cannot see the forces that will influence it. The preacher may describe the unpredictability of life, especially human unpreparedness for the end of the journey, and the afterlife.

If life is like a vapour then we may also think of its unprotectability, for it is not walled or contained by anything. Our lives are constantly subject to manipulating influences, from the media, from fiction, and from peer-influence and social fashions. We are so impressionable, and without God the soul has no guardian. We are wide open to atheistic materialism, and a thousand other arrows of spiritual destruction, and the preacher should warn of these influences. A life without God is a life of penetrable vulnerability and susceptibility.

A cloud of vapour is also a very dependent thing, relying on the air in which it is suspended. As human beings we are suspended in God’s air, breathing his air, eatinghis food and yet refusing to accept that we owe him homage and obedience, and are accountable to him. And if a cloud is beautiful, it is just a passing appearance, soon to vanish, and a day of account faced. How striking are Montgomery’s words:

The arrow that shall lay me low
Was shot from Death’s unerring bow
The instance of my breath;
And every moment I proceed,
It tracks me with unceasing speed;
I turn, it meets me, Death! –
Hath given such instinct to that dart
It points for ever at my heart.

Here are just some of the arguments showing the frailty and danger of life (to be combined with the facts of sinfulness and salvation through Christ) which furnish evangelistic reasoning for the preacher. The point of listing them here is to show how truths may be extracted from Spirit-given words. This is expository preaching in connection with the Gospel. We are frequently given a figure, a picture, or a principle that we are to think about deeply, until we see the obvious, but not necessarily immediately apparent, applications to spiritual need and redemption.

Evangelistic preaching is the most difficult form of preaching, taking the most thought. Then, when you have recognised the arguments and derived your points, you must translate them to a level of plainness and digestibility.

Not over-complex

Overall, my burden is to say that exposition is not a synonym for complexity or technical analysis, but the work of showing the sense, and bringing out the message of God from a passage. Speaking to fellow preachers, one wonders if we should at some time allow a year to pass during which we isolate ourselves from all commentaries and allied aids, in order to derive our messages solely from the Word, in dependence upon the Lord. Such a course of action may help us to develop the spiritual thoughtfulness of past pulpit worthies. It could prove to be the most formative year of our ministry. No doubt we would gratefully return to our earthly helpers, but much more able to provide our own contribution, to the blessing of souls.