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A Historical Survey of Preaching (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
The Truth Network Radio
October 13, 2022 4:00 am

A Historical Survey of Preaching (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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October 13, 2022 4:00 am

Through the wonders of technology, we’re just a few taps away from lessons on just about anything. But nothing compares to a good role model! So where can we find good role models for effective preaching? Find out on Truth For Life with Alistair Begg.



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Alistair Begg

Music playing Allister Begg takes us on a journey through the rich heritage of the church. Now, let's just turn to 2 Corinthians for a moment, and then what I'm going to do again is not attempt any form of exposition, but essentially attempt a historical survey, fairly scanty, but yet nevertheless, 2 Corinthians 4, just to set our minds in the right direction. Therefore, since through God's mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.

Rather, we have renowned secret and shameful ways. We do not use deception, nor do we distort the Word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly, we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The God of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants, for Jesus' sake.

For God has said, Let light shine out of darkness, may his light shine in our hearts, to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. In a book called Preaching the Living Word, Packer gives five reasons, five factors in there as to why there is an absence of expository preaching. Number one, he says, the prevalence of non-preaching has eroded any awareness of what true preaching is. Secondly, that topical, as distinct from textual preaching, has become common. Thirdly, that the low expectations which people bring both to the preaching and to the listening to the preaching, low expectations become self-fulfilling. Fourthly, and I'm sure this is from, he got this one from Martin Lloyd-Jones, powerful speech has become suspect. And fifthly, he said spiritual issues are by and large regarded as irrelevant.

Well, that was a PS to yesterday. Now we come to this matter of a brief historical survey of preaching. When we read the Bible from the very beginning, even before the establishment of a formal priesthood, you discover in the Old Testament Scriptures that the priestly function is fulfilled by the Father in the home as he expounds the mercy of God's covenant to his children. I don't think that's surprising in light of the fact that in 2 Peter, Noah is referred to as a preacher of righteousness, that he was actually a preacher.

Of all the other ways in which he may have been designated, he was defined in that way. When the elders are appointed in the time of Moses, we discover that they prophesied. And what we discover in the Old Testament is that there is a pattern which emerges, and it is one essentially of prophetic teaching. Now prophetic teaching in this sense, that man is dispatched by God to proclaim the living Word of God to his day and generation. So that the man of God is given the living Word of God to bring it to bear upon his day and generation. And if I use the phrase prophetic dimension, that is exactly what I have in mind in utilizing it.

I know that others deal with it differently, but that is what I have in mind. When you consider, for example, those who were appointed in the time of Jehoshaphat, which is in 2 Chronicles—and I won't bother you with a lot of references, but in 2 Chronicles 17 and verse—I think it's about verse 9, we have this big long list of names in verse 8, which I'll leave you to practice with your wife sometime. Verse 9, what were these individuals doing? They taught throughout Judah, taking with them the book of the law of the Lord. They went around to all the towns of Judah and taught the people. Now, this is fairly straightforward stuff.

I make no apology for it. I want simply to establish the fact that when we think about what God was doing in raising up individuals, he was making perfectly clear that they would be moving around with the book of the law of the Lord. And they would have said to him, there come the people with the scrolls. Let's go and listen to the fellow with the scroll. Give us something from the scroll.

They did not anticipate that he would have anything much to say apart from the scroll which he held in his hands. He was not an expert about all matters sociological and political and so on, but he was somebody who had given himself to the book of the law, and he realized that his reason for going around the towns of Judah was in order that he might make it known. When you get to the post-exilic period, you have probably the classic illustration of this task. And let's go just to Nehemiah and remind ourselves of that. And the wonderful picture there of Ezra being called out. And you remember in Nehemiah chapter eight, you have this amazing description of Ezra on a high wooden platform. The reason he stood on a high wooden platform was in order that he might be seen and that he might be heard.

And of course, you're well familiar with this. If any of you have had the privilege of Eric Alexander's exposition of Nehemiah chapter eight, you'll know that none of us should really do very much with it at all except take it and reread it to each other. But Ezra read from the book of the law, verse three aloud, from daybreak until noon, quite a long sermon, as he faced the square before the Watergate in the presence of men and women and others who could understand it.

All the people listened attentively to the book of the law. And you have this picture of him standing up there on this high place and the others joining with him in multiplying the impact of the word in verse eight, reading from the book of the law of God, making it clear, giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read. And that is essentially expository ministry, isn't it?

Without making it any more complicated than that. They read from the book, they made it clear, they gave the meaning so that the people would be able to understand it and apply it to their lives. Indeed, this ought to be the great test of all of our teaching.

Is it from the book of God? Have we made it clear? Did we establish the meaning and do the people understand? As Spurgeon, in his lectures to his students in relationship to the instructive nature of preaching, says, unless we are instructive preachers and really feed the people, we may be great quarters of elegant poetry and mighty retailers of secondhand windbags.

But we shall be like Nero of old, fiddling while Rome was burning and sending vessels to Alexandria to fetch sand for the arena while the populace starved for want of corn. Now, when you track through this, we begin to understand that Calvin's view of preaching really is very helpful, and I would want to say very biblical too. In that, when you read Calvin's view of preaching, you discover that R. S. Wallace, in his book, Calvin's Doctrine of the Christian Life, Grand Rapids, 1961, page 143, accurately reports Calvin when he says that Calvin viewed the preaching of the Word as belonging to the creation institutions of marriage and government, that God had given preaching right within the framework of a creation ordinance. Calvin saw in the prominent place given to the preaching and hearing of the Word of God a restoration of the true order of nature. Said Calvin, we were given the power to communicate with one another, not simply to buy boots and shoes and bonnets, but to use our mouths and ears to lead each other to the faith that rises heaven words to the contemplation of God himself.

And the reason that our mouths have been given is, he says, just in terms of the general populace is in order that we might do this. To the extent that that may be true, then clearly the preacher's responsibility is to ensure that God is glorified. Now, jumping just immediately into the New Testament, it is clear that the ministry of Jesus is steeped in Scripture. From the very outset of his ministry, if you go to Mark's Gospel and the opening chapter, after Jesus has been involved in this wonderful evening of healing and the relieving of the demons from those who had been possessed, the whole town, according to verse 33, is gathered at the door.

Jesus has healed many who had various diseases, driving out the demons. And very early in the morning, he gets up. Well, it's still dark, and he leaves the house, and he goes off to a solitary place to pray.

Just challenged by that, how quickly I can get up in the morning, go off to a solitary place to read the New York Times, instead of going to a solitary place to pray. And then verse 36, Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed, everyone is looking for you. Essentially, they're saying, Jesus, this is absolutely terrific.

What you've started here is really brilliant, and I think if you just keep it going the way you're going, we'll have this kingdom ushered in in no time at all. And then, of course, you have the response of Jesus in verse 38, let us go somewhere else. They say, go somewhere else? Let us go somewhere else to the nearby villages.

Why? So that I can preach there also. That is why I have come. And so they travel throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons. When we find him in the synagogue in Nazareth in Luke chapter 4, what is he doing? He's taking the Word of God in the prophecy of Isaiah, and he is saying that today the Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. On the Emmaus road in Luke chapter 24, he deals with the two disconsolate trackers, and he begins with the Scriptures, and he explains to them all the things in the Bible concerning himself. He is just doing expository ministry, if you like. And he has established a pattern, then, that the apostles will follow. There may be times when he had to say to them, and they're, where have I been so long with you?

And still you do not understand. He must have looked at them and said, you know, it's going in one ear and flying out the other. There is so much that they're missing, and I really, I'll have to give them another course in this, and mercifully, the third member of the Trinity is going to come and fill in all the gaps here. And Harry must have rejoiced as he looked from the vantage point in heaven and saw Peter stand up, Peter of all people, and just launch into a tremendous expository sermon in Acts chapter 2. This goes right back into the Bible and starts to expound the Scriptures.

And what do you find? The same pattern all the way throughout the Acts of the apostles. Now, foundational in all of that is the fact that the preaching—and we're just looking at preaching in the Bible—that the preaching was grounded in Scripture.

It was focused on Christ, and its great end was the glory of God. You see, what we're saying is, it would appear that preaching in our day is in the shadows. The church does not believe in it.

Wait a minute, says somebody. Are you sure that you have a valid basis for reflecting in that way? Have you really considered the state of preaching, if you like, throughout the ages? Well, what I'm suggesting is, yes, we have. And when we look at the Bible, we discover that this kind of preaching is there, both as an expression of the work of Jesus and his followers, and also as a pattern for us. So it is the Scriptures alone which provide the yardstick by which authentic Christian preaching in every age may be assessed.

I mean, the real issue is not whether you or I think that this is good preaching or bad preaching or whatever else it is. The real question is whether all of our preaching, as assessed by the plumb line of Scripture, stands up true to the line. So then we want to ask of ourselves and what we're doing, if the kind of preaching that we find in the Bible is grounded in the Scriptures, is focused on Christ, and is to the end of the glory of God, as I approach this coming Sunday, do I have these things in mind? Am I going to bring my people to the Scriptures? Am I going to create within my people a genuine hunger for the Scriptures?

Am I going to take them to Jesus? For the Bible is a book about Jesus, right? You know it from Sunday school. In the Old Testament, Jesus was predicted. In the Gospels, Jesus was revealed. In the Acts, we have Jesus preached.

In the Epistles, we have Jesus explained. And in the Revelation, we have Jesus expected. Am I bringing people to Christ? Think about some of our sermons.

They can be Christless. We've really done nothing till we've brought people to Jesus. We may have informed them of various esoteric little pieces of information that are not harmful to them in any way, but we have not—you wonder why it is that they go away with a notebook and a sense of—it's because it is just what I know of thee, my Lord and God, that fills my heart with praise, my lips with song. Well, if the Scriptures alone provide the yardstick by which authentic Christian preaching can be assessed, what about the preaching, then, from the time of the New Testament through the early church fathers? Oh, you say this takes us back a bit, doesn't it? Yeah, I think I've got some old notes from LBC here somewhere.

And not very good ones, either, because I didn't take particularly good ones. And those of you who are church historians will find the flaws and be able to fill in the gaps, and that's fine. In the early days, the pattern that was followed by people like Ignatius, when he writes to Polycarp, he is referring to the homilia, the homily, in the second epistle of Clement.

And you've got that around, what, 135 or so. You find the same thing just in martyrs. Apologia is an example, again, of a commitment to wrestling with the Scriptures and proclaiming them. And what you discover when you go back and read all that old stuff is that guys like Clement of Alexandria and Origen essentially, or I think you call him Origen, built a bridge of proclamation that held all the way through until the time of Chrysostom and Augustine.

And you can say, well, it was good, or it was bad, or it was different, but it was essentially there. But all the time that this was going on, other influences were at work to undermine a commitment to a kind of preaching that is grounded in Scripture, focused in Christ, and its great end is glorifying God. What kind of influences were at work? One, the impact of allegory. The impact of allegory. When you go back and you read your old lecture notes, you remind yourself that there was a period of time there in those early centuries where the real trick seemed to be to bamboozle your listeners by making sure that everything must mean something else, so that the listeners know that this can't possibly mean what it says.

It definitely means something else. And that contributed largely to the notion that the Bible is a box of tricks. Therefore, it took a magician to get the cat out of the bag or the rabbit out of the hat, and many people were prepared to step up and perform the magician's role. That, of course, takes us to where we were last evening, and we needn't go back to that again.

Everything must mean something else. And there is, of course, a kind of preaching which loves to intrigue people by just twisting it ever so marginally, so as to make it appear as though the average person in our congregation would never be able to understand the Bible were it not for the magician who comes along regularly in the morning and the evening. What that does is it creates a priest again. It puts us back into the realm of Roman Catholicism, where the poor souls are out there just waiting until they're fed the scraps from the wisdom of the one who knows, and he's the only one who knows, because everything must mean something else, and he's the only one who can tell you what it means. We want to be saying to our congregations, listen, if you've got an eighth-grade education, you can really become a wonderful Bible student.

If you can read the English language and you read your Bible carefully, then I'm fully convinced that you can discover all the main and plain things in the Bible with about an eighth or a ninth-grade education, and probably with even less. So now let's set ourselves up to a position of exaltation. All right? So Aligarou was working against it. The other thing was there was a focus on rhetoric, which was working against it. And this, of course, was not unique to this time.

It remains so even in our day. And that is an approach that sought to appeal primarily to the seats of learning, okay? That sought to take it up a couple of notches and say, you know, we really are quite brilliant about everything, and we want you to know just how brilliant we are. Which, of course, is antithetical to Paul walking into Corinth, he himself, who was actually brilliant, but determined to set aside his brilliance in order that he might proclaim the foolishness of the cross. I determined to know nothing among you save Jesus Christ and him crucified. And every time we're invited to go and speak to one of these august bodies, we need to remind ourselves of this, don't we? I get invited every so often to go down to Case Western University, where there are a tremendous number of people with what Dick Lucas would refer to as size 12 brains, and they're there, and there they sit, lost in their intellect. And, you know, they scare me to death, quite honestly.

And I have to just drive along in my car, usually if someone with me would just try to pump one another up, Jesus Christ and him crucified. Don't let's fall foul of trying to take them on at their own game. So working against it was the development of allegory, the focus on rhetoric, and thirdly, the development of liturgy. Now, these things are not unique to the time. I mean, they still work against expository preaching today. I was just in Oxford three weeks ago, Sunday evening, we went to Christ's Cathedral in Oxford for Evensong. It was really terrific, but the Bible was never proclaimed.

It was never proclaimed. And indeed, it never needs to be proclaimed in the course of Evensong. So I say to my good evangelical Anglican friends, take your Evensong and put the Bible into it.

Evensong's a wonderful service. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I just wish someone would have said, now let's take one of these Bible passages that we just read, and let's understand the meaning, let's ground it in the Bible, let's focus it on Christ, let's do it to the glory of God, and let's send us on our way with some food for Monday morning. But instead, all the people went away saying, my, that was wonderful, wasn't it? The choir sang very nicely.

And they did. The development of liturgy squeezes out expository preaching. Or can. It needs to be fought against. Okay, that takes us to Augustine. From Augustine to the Reformation, it's kind of dark in that period, isn't it? Dark.

In fact, I'm just going to leave that as dark. There was light, but the factors mentioned above, namely rhetoric and allegory and liturgy, were all so interwoven then with all of the speculative tendencies of the logic of Aristotle, and it all got mangled up during that time and essentially strangled in the main biblical and God-glorifying preaching. That was why the Reformation had to come. And so in the Reformation, we get into familiar territory, and there we get Calvin and Zwingli and Bullinger and Wycliffe and Huss and all the rest.

And what do they do? They essentially look back to Chrysostom, they look back to Augustine, they look back to the apostolic pattern, and they say, Now we must ground our preaching in the Scriptures. And once again, they make it clear. The issue is what is proclaimed, not the proclaimer. And also, since God speaks to man in the proclamation of the Word, no one irrespective of their level of maturity or of their theological insight is ever in a position of no longer needing or submitting in obedience to the ministry of the Word of God. None of us are ever beyond our need to sit under the teaching of Scripture. And one of the great dangers that is represented for us in our task in calling is that of professional listening, so that instead of really listening with all the ears of our hearts, when any humble servant endeavors to lead us to Christ and to ground us in the truth of the Bible, we tend to listen with only half an ear, saying, Well, you know, I understand all that, and this would be good stuff for Brother George or whoever else it is. If in preaching God speaks to men, then none of us, no matter how mature, how theologically a drought we may be, we are never in a position of no longer needing or submitting in obedience to the Word.

Says Calvin, None may think that he has advanced beyond the necessity of hearing preaching because he is able to interpret the Bible for himself. The key to effectiveness in preaching is to measure the preaching against the plumb line of the Bible. We're listening to Alistair Begg on Truth for Life. Here at Truth for Life, we care deeply about local churches and the men who are called to lead them. In fact, our mission statement reflects that concern. We are committed to teaching the Bible with clarity and relevance in the hopes that unbelievers will be converted, believers will be established in the faith, and local churches will be transformed. Now, this sounds like a mission with which you resonate.

Make today the day you join the team that makes all of this possible. It's the team of truth partners, fellow listeners who come alongside this ministry through prayer and monthly giving. When you sign up to become a truth partner, you'll be helping to bring Alistair's teaching to listeners all around the world.

It's simple to sign up. Go to truthforlife.org slash truth partner, or call us at 888-588-7884. And when you sign up to become a truth partner, one of the ways we will say thank you is by inviting you to request two books each month. The book we're featuring today is called Partners in the Gospel, 50 Meditations for Pastors and Elders' Wives. The last time we offered a 30-day devotional by Megan Hill, it was extremely popular, so don't wait to request your copy. Request Partners in the Gospel when you sign up to become a truth partner or when you give a one-time donation at truthforlife.org slash donate. I'm Bob Lapine. We're so glad you joined us today. Tomorrow, Alistair will continue an historical survey of preaching, teach us how weakness actually works to a preacher's advantage. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2022-12-07 00:03:28 / 2022-12-07 00:12:57 / 9

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