What is necessary for powerful preaching and what elements produce it?
1. Sermons will not be marked by authority and power unless they are marked by truth that the Holy Spirit can honor.
The Word of God is to be exegeted and explained. That has to be the heart of the sermon. There is a real danger that we become over concerned about such things as delivery, while the New Testament is insistent on the content: “let him speak as the oracles of God.” The authority of the preaching comes from the text of Scripture. It is God-given power which honors his own word.
Dr Lloyd-Jones grew up in a vague sentimental era with churches fascinated with the personalities and quirks of famous men. MLJ as a man was absorbed with the glory and the greatness of the truth. A preacher lives in the truth. He expected the preacher to go through the whole Bible in his personal devotions once each year. He expected him to continue to read theology as long as he lived. The more he read, the better. Preaching is theology coming through a man who is on fire.
In the latter part of his ministry, there was a change in emphasis. In the first 30 years there was a stress on the importance of the historic faith, and then in the last decades a new emphasis emerged, not on the recovery of truth, but with the accompanying need of power to proclaim it.
2. The man himself is a part of the message.
He can read all the best books and give out a well-rounded exegesis of the text, but somehow the man himself has not become a part of the truth. The less we say of ourselves in preaching the better, but the Holy Spirit does not work in preaching except through the man, and so, inevitably, not only does the message compel attention, but the man himself. The man becomes a part of the message. What does that mean?
A] The preacher must know the power of the message he is bringing to others. When MLJ was 25 and at the cross-roads of his life, he became engaged to Bethan Philips, and she became conscious that her future husband was considering becoming a preacher. She was very concerned because she had never heard him preach. At that point a letter came from a missionary society inviting them to become medical missionaries in India. She was challenged by this invitation, but MLJ had no interest at all. Bethan said to him, “But how do you know that you can preach?” “I know I can preach to myself”, he replied. He knew the power of the truth in his own heart.
When he was preaching on Ephesians 2 on fulfilling the lusts of the flesh and the mind, he raised the question about what they were? He interjected that “as I was preparing this sermon, it filled me with a loathing and hatred of myself. I look back and I think of the hours I have wasted in mere talk and argumentation. And it was with one end only–simply to gain my point and to show how clever I was” (“God’s Why of Reconciliation”, p.65). So MLJ was preaching to himself before he spoke to others.
B] The Holy Spirit must produce the feelings in the preacher’s heart that must be in harmony with what the Spirit has breathed out. Paul writes, “Knowing the terror of the Lord we persuade men.” Again he speaks of some “with tears” that they are enemies of the cross. One finds phrases like, “I tell you weeping …I am glad and rejoice with you all.” There was something in the way these preachers spoke who were used by God- “I preached what I smartingly did feel,” said Bunyan. A most important part of preaching is exhortation. In preaching we move people to do what they are listening to, and to this end there has to be a felt consciousness in the preacher of the truth of what he is saying. We have to bring our feelings into harmony with the stupendous nature of what we are saying. The men most used of God in their pulpits are those who know they had fallen far short of the wonder that should characterise the preaching.
C] The more he becomes part of his message then the more he forgets himself. What is the main feeling in the preacher? It should be love – to God and to man. It is the very opposite of self-centredness. Love seeks not her own. The needs of the people spoken to take over. We forget ourselves. A baptism of Holy Spirit love gives us a love for people.
Preaching Under the Influence of the Holy Spirit
There is a total insufficiency in ourselves or in anyone else in the world, so that we cannot preach without the Holy Spirit. I Cor 2:3 – is the key text, “And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.” God makes us weak and so enables us to become true preachers. Real authority always comes out of felt weakens, and then God uses us. The preacher is the last person to be praised. To be clapped when he had finished would have horrified him.
Bethan Lloyd-Jones once listed to some men speaking about her husband and she interjected, “No one will understand my husband who does not realise that he was first an evangelist and a man of prayer.” MLJ loved the hymn of Oswald Allen, “Today thy mercy calls us…” especially these final lines:
When all things seem against us,
To drive us to despair,
We know one gate is open,
One ear will hear our prayer.
That is what he believed. His public pastoral prayer lifted many burdens long before the preaching began. He rested ultimately on the Holy Spirit being given to them that ask him. The real preacher is a mere voice sounding in the wilderness. MLJ was criticised for being too dogmatic and authoritarian. If we are preaching from God then that has to be delivered with faith and confidence that we knows what God is saying. You have to believe definite truths in order to be saved. Men have to know that they are condemned before they can be saved. There is the utter certainty of a preacher in what he is preaching. Paul says, “We have the same spirit of faith … we also believe and we speak.” That is the fundamental thing. We are going against all that the natural man believes.
MLJ’s faith came out in what he preached, that man was under the wrath of God, depraved and lost. He preached this with absolute conviction, and he followed it up with the cross, week by week. That authority was given by the Holy Spirit. It influenced MLJ’s whole way of looking at things. He was a man who stood alone for most of his life; one reason was that he was conscious that the problem with man was far deeper than people in the church were prepared to acknowledge They were thinking of ‘communication to the modern man’ etc. Lloyd-Jones believed that what we faced was not the problem of modern communication, but what was wrong in the church itself. One of the reasons that he did not take part in the big crusades was because there was something wrong in the churches themselves. He quietly stood aside, God having kept him in the way he did, and he preached evangelistically each Sunday.
The test of the presence of the Holy Spirit’s work is the presence of Christ himself in the assembly and known by the congregation. A maid worked in a church manse, where there was great anticipation for the coming visit of a powerful preacher, Mr Cook. One maid was not enthusiastic, and she told the butcher she was fed up: “With all this fuss, you would think Jesus Christ himself was coming.” Mr Cook did preach and as she heard him, something happened in her life. The butcher said to her with a grin on the following Tuesday, “Did Jesus Christ come?” “Yes, he did come,” she said seriously.
William Williams of Pantycelyn said, “Love is the greatest thing in religion, and without it religion is nothing.” MLJ often quoted those words. Love has to lead the way. He thought the people were not ready to hear extended series of systematic expository sermons for the first 20 years he was in the ministry. The needs of the people were paramount because love is in our hearts.
– Iain Murray