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Home School Of Preaching Preaching with Purpose By Jay Adams

Preaching with Purpose By Jay Adams

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Preaching with Purpose

Jay Adams

Audio Lectures

A report of an address given at the London Reformed Baptist School of Theology 1985, by Dr Jay Adams. First published as “A Fresh look at Biblical Preaching” in the “Sword & the Towel”

We must be concerned about preaching because congregations as well as pastors are concerned, and people are often discouraged with the preaching they hear. Sometimes they are bored, sometimes unmoved and untouched. There are pastors everywhere who will tell you that they were ill-trained in preaching, and that they have had to stumble into whatever methods, whatever ways they have been able to devise on their own. It must have been the same in Spurgeon's time, for he wrote much about the craft of preaching and spent much time trying to help others in this area.

If we review the history of preaching we soon discover that this has always been a neglected field. There is, at this moment no definitive work on the preaching of Paul, nor of Peter, nor of John the Baptist, nor even on the preaching of Christ. This is an appalling shortcoming in the Church of Jesus Christ, and it demonstrates how little material is available in this most exciting and helpful field - the study of preaching from God's Word.

In the past preaching has generally been studied from the standpoint of classical rhetoric. Preaching as a subject is rooted in the work of the great rhetoricians who were converted in the early days of the Greek and Latin churches. They set forth the dictums and models for preaching which have survived with modifications to the present day. And though they established the principles, they had not gone back to the Scriptures to find out how to preach; they had referred to their own backgrounds in Aristotle, Cicero, and other classical rhetoricians from whom they received their early training.

Because we have not returned meaningfully to the Scriptures to see what God says about preaching, and what models He has given us, we continue to have problems. I would like to touch upon several things which I believe are most important and which can make a difference in our preaching.

From the early days two distinct forms of preaching came into being: ad populum and ad clerurn preachin g. Ad populum preaching was a style of preaching aimed at ordinary people, where as ad clerum preaching was the style adopted in places of learning for those who were studying for the ministry.

These two distinctive forms of address became more pronounced as the great universities grew.

Tracing the scholastic form

We do not have too many of the ad populum sermons because they were not the ones that were preserved in that long period of time during which the ad clerun sermon was growing and beginning to become the dominant style. But we have a number of the scholastically orientated sermons from the Middle Ages and the Reformation period.

Tragically, in time, the two styles became largely merged, and merged in such a way that the emphasis was upon the scholasticism of the sermons which had previously been preached in the universities, and were now taken out into the pulpits. The popular kind of preaching which spoke to people about their lives became of less importance, and an artificial standard of lecturing, inappropriate to the proclamation

of the Word of God, was imposed upon it.

This 'lecturing' method consisted of cutting up of the text, dividing it into its constituent elements, subdividing them, and subdividing them again, ad infinitum, until the preacher finally became exhausted as he endeavoured to be exhaustive. All this was the fruit of medieval scholasticism.

Calvin's new way

Strikingly, John Calvin departed from this trend. Latimer also departed from it and a new kind of preaching came in during the Reformation. Preachers do not study Calvin's sermons very frequently today. They study his commentaries, and so they should, and they study his other writings, but they do not study his sermons.

Calvin's sermons are a worthy study, and any man who tries to emulate the preaching of Calvin will find himself emulating some of the finest preaching ever carried out in the history of the church. But it marked a Marcus Tullius CICERO (106-43 BC) turning point in the history of preaching. But we must be concerned about preaching because congregations as well as pastors are concerned, and people are often discouraged with the preaching they hear. Sometimes they ate bored, sometimes unmoved and untouched.

There are pastors everywhere who will tell you that they were ill-trained in preaching, and that they have had to stumble into whatever methods, whatever ways they have been able to devise on their own. It must have been the same in Spurgeon's time, for he wrote much about the craft of preaching and spent much time trying to help others in this area.

If we review the history of preaching we soon discover that this has always been a neglected field. There is, at this moment. no definitive work on the preaching of Paul, nor of Peter, nor of John the Baptist, nor even on the preaching of Christ. This is an appalling shortcoming in the Church of Jesus Christ, and it demonstrates how little material is available in this most exciting and helpful field - the study of preaching from God's Word.

In the past preaching has generally been studied from the standpoint of classical rhetoric. Preaching as a subject is rooted in the work of the great rhetoricians who were converted in the early days of the Greek and Latin churches. They set forth the dictums and models for preaching break with everything that had been developing during the Middle Ages.

Luther also made a decision to preach differently from the way in which he had originally learned to preach. Sadly , after Calvin, the Puritans went back to the scholastic , ad clerum kind of sermon, and to this day we have been having problems as a result. The great, glorious moments of preaching in the Reformation were eclipsed by the scholastic form reimposed upon preaching by the Puritans.

This is the kind of thing we see happening in a typical Puritan sermon (acknowledging that there are obvious exceptions):- In the first part of the sermon there will be some exposition, but in the main, words will be seized upon which have theological content, and a theological dissertation will be given on these words, isolated from their context.

Often this will completely miss the thrust, intent and purpose of the Holy Spirit in the passage. If the purpose of the Spirit is caught, it is so covered over by all of the theological discussion that it is immediately obscured and lost. In the next part of the sermon (perhaps during the second or third 'glassful', they turned the hourglass) the uses were added. The uses were what we now call the application. Several other terms were also used such as improvements on the text, which meant - ways of cashing in on the text.

Sometimes there were innumerable uses or applications, sometimes fourteen, sometimes twenty-four! These were applications of the text which the preacher himself dreamed up. They were ideas that came to him as he sat and thought and prayed about the matter. Suddenly he would say to himself - I can use the passage for this; or I can use it for that, or I can use it for something else. He thought of many different things, and he used them all.

Today's approach

now in our time we have a little less expository work, and we have in most sermons cut down the application to one or two points. But there is still the same basic plan - a section of expository or theological discussion, followed by an application. We come to the point where we say, 'By the way congregation, here is what all this has to do with you.'

At least, this is how it comes across to the congregation. They hear a half-hour long discussion of the Amalekites, complete with all the facts and data about where they lived, when they lived, and all the other information which may be significant for an understanding of the passage. Finally, after everyone has been wondering what the Amalekites have to do with them, the preacher makes some suggestions. Suppose, while the preacher made his application, someone began to think, 'This is of real importance to me ! ' What a tragedy ! All through the first part of the message he had been thinking, ' Of what importance can this be?

Everything he heard slid out of his mind as quickly as it was put in because he had no way to relate it to his life, or to relate it to God's work, or to anything else. Now, when the hearer suddenly begins to see some relevance, he has forgotten all the data to which the point is rneant to relate.

Hindsight applications

Do not preachers often ask themselves as they prepare a message, 'I have gone over all the facts, and must I now go back over them all over again for the sake of application? Is the sermon being prepared by a method which cannot necessarily be found in Scripture?

Why do we announce our points, if we do? 'My first point . " . my second point . . . my third point . . .' Do Bible preachers announce their points ? Yet this is an example of a common practice taught by homileticians for generations. We can all repeat that little ditty, 'Tell 'em what you are going to tell 'em, then tell 'em, then tell 'em what you told 'em ! ' But is this really the way to do it? Is there a reason for announcing points? Yes, indeed, there is a biblical reason sometimes, but not all the time. Our weakness is that we just accept the forms, methods and ways in which we are raised and trained. I am concerned that we should pull loose from our mooring and freely sail on the sea of Scripture, seeking to know what God's way is.

Everything that we do should have a purpose which can be stated. All preaching must have a purpose to it. I may talk to a preacher (hypothetically) and say, 'What is the purpose of your sermon this morning?' He may reply, 'What do you mean, what is the purpose of this sermon? I am going up to preach! '

The classical orator I say to him, 'No, what is the purpose of this particular sermon?' He may then say, 'The purpose is, if I do not get up there and preach, I won't be here as the preacher very long. The time has rolled around again when I am to preach. That is the purpose.' We should think of purpose in terms of what the Holy Spirit intends to accomplish in the lives of our people through the passage from which we are preaching. Until we grasp this goal in all our study and message preparation we have missed the key point. Suppose you were a pastor to whom I wrote a brief letter in which I said, 'I am applying for a position in your church. I would like to be your church caretaker.'

You might say to yourself, 'Ah – a Letter from Adams. So he would like to be my caretaker. I now need to do some work on this letter to understand exactly what he is saying.' Suppose, then, you do a little word study on my use of terms.

You try to find other material that I have written somewhere in which I have used similar words, phrases and expressions. You compare and contrast these with the words and expressions in the letter. Eventually you come to an exact understanding of

what I am saying grammatically and historically.

You even look into my background to see just what I mean by my use of the term 'caretaker'. What kinds of churches did I grow up in? What kind of caretaker did I have in mind? So you study my letter historically and grammatically. Perhaps I used some figurative expressions, so you study it rhetorically, making sure you understand the rhetorical nuances of each of my words. And so you continue to work on my letter until finally you say, 'I understand exactly what this man wants. He wants to be a caretaker in my church! 'Then you put down the letter and go on to something else.

If that is what happens, then of course you will have missed the whole point. I was after a decision on your part - Yes or no! Will you let me come and be your caretaker, or not? I wanted some response from you; an answer. All vou have said is. 'I understand the letter. That is all I have to understand the letter. I am only concerned with the meaning of the letter.'

Understanding is not enough

So often, this is all that we preachers are doing for our people. Now, I do not mean to make fun of historical, grammatical work. It is all absolutely essential in an inspired letter which has been written in the past, in a language and a culture that we do not wholly understand. We must do rhetorical work and theological work in order to get ourselves into an understanding of the passage. But if we simply preach the basic meaning to people we have missed the whole point of the passage.

The passage was not there for us to carry out some intellectual exercise on; it was there in order to elicit a response of faith or action from us and our people. ln giving this material the Holy Spirit always has a purpose. If we miss the purpose we have missed the whole point of the passage and all the rest of our work will be in vain.

We need to say, 'In this passage the Holy Spirit intends to change my congregation this specific way. Here is how they are to think differently; here is how they ate to believe differently; here is how they are to act differently. Here is how the Holy Spirit intended us all to be different. When we have the Holy Spirit's purpose as our purpose in that sermon, rather than fourteen uses that we have thought of, then we shall preach with power, and not before. Read Calvin's sermons to see the thrust of this. He constantly utters sentiments like, 'Now the Holy Spirit's purpose is . . . ' and so on. Other Reformers also preached this way.

The purpose neglected

I used to go into Westminster Seminary library and walk down the stacks where the books of sermons were. I would close my eyes and then pull out a volume here and a volume there. Then I would take the volumes and lay them out on a table. Finally, in the way in which you should never use a Bible, I would just open them at random, and wherever those books fell open I would read the sermon and study it.

I did that with volume after volume of various preachers over the years, and I discovered that very few preachers preached the purpose of the text. Philippians 2 .12 provides an ideal example for locating the purpose of a passage. It is a pass age which constitutes a problem for many people;

“Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Philippians 2:12

We hear from preachers all kinds of pretty little phrases to explain these words; phrases like what God has first worked in; God has planted the seed, now you bring it to fruition in blossom and fruit. But this is not (from the context) what Paul is saying at all.

If we go back to where he begins this section we see similar language – Let your conversation be as it becomes the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see I you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you, stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel (Philippians 1 .27). Paul proceeds in chapter 2 (there is no break in his material) - If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, ,f any bowels and mercies, Fulfill my joy, that you be Likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.

Identifying the purpose

The subject matter here is unity. From verse 27 in the previous chapter to this point the theme is - one spirit, one mind, one soul, mutual love, thinking as one. Then he goes on to tell us how that unity can be effected. We know that there was a point of division in this church over Euodias and Syntyche, these two women who were opposed to each other and who probably had factions following them. Later on in the fourth chapter Paul names the people who were creating disunity, but first he gently and gradually starts on a positive note. Then he tells us how we can get that unity. He says two things : Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.

That is the first principle: put others in the place where they belong. Each of Calvin rejected the scholastic approach us has gifts, but they are not the same gifts that others have. Let us not try to take the place which rightly belongs to someone else. Encourage that other person forward into that place instead of yourself, and this will -ensure unity rather than disunity in the church. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. We must not be concerned about ourselves and what we are getting out of the fellowship, but we must be concerned about how the other person is faring. We must be concerned about his life , his family and all his needs and difficulties, not just thinking, praying and working for ourselves.

Then Paul says that we must think about ourselves in the way that the Lord Jesus Christ thought about Himself. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus. What follows is that tremendous doctrinal passage in which Paul says that Jesus

Christ, though He was existing in the form (the outward form) of God, did not think that to be manifested as God was something to be graspingly held on to at all costs.

While continuing to be God, He became a man and took upon Himself the form of a man. Not just the form of a man, but the form of a slave ! And not just the form of a slave, but the form of a slave who was going to die the most ignominious death of a criminal, death on the cross. Down, down, down in humiliation, Christ was willing to go, and because of this, God gave Him a name that is above every name that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow and call Him Lord.

At this point our example passage occurs - Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my', presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation. 'I cannot be with you,' says Paul. 'to solve the problem which you have in the church. I am here in prison. But when you did have me with you, you obeyed. Now, all the more, obey me when I write to you, and work out the solution to that problem on your own, with fear and trembling, lest as you try to solve the problem you make it worse. But you are not really on your own - For it is God which works in you both to will and to do for his good pleasure.'

All those pretty little ditties such as 'What God has worked in, you work out,' have nothing whatsoever to do with the passage. Paul is talking about solving the problem on our own, and what a powerful message it is when it is preached in this way.

Here we have an example of Paul setting forth doctrine, not so that it may be abstracted to one side and discussed with its 'principal heads' and all its 'subdivisions' and so on. Here the deity, humiliation and exaltation of Christ to be at the right hand of the Father as Lord over His universe, humanity now as well as deity, is taught in an applied form, which is the way God teaches all doctrine. We do not think about how to apply it because God gives it to us in an applied form.

A preacher's dislike!

A lot of preachers do not really like the way the Bible is arranged. They would not say so openly, but they would prefer God to have arranged it like a systematic theological textbook" They would like to be able to turn to the doctrine of God, the doctrine of man, the doctrine of salvation, the doctrine of the church, and so on. But this is not the way the Bible comes to us. It does not come like the Encyclopedia Britannica, arranged in alphabetical order of doctrines. As preachers we have a duty to adapt to the form in which the Bible is given, and when we adapt to God's way, then our preaching will have something to say to lives. We will no longer set it forth in an abstract and irrelevant fashion. We will preach all those doctrines in an applied form, powerfully, the way our Lord did.

Copyright - Jay Adams

Last Updated on Thursday, 02 December 2010 19:00  

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