It certainly has been a great joy and delight for us, here at Grace Community Church, to have all of you guests with us. And a word of thanks to Dr. Beeke for letting us be a part of this wonderful conference. And to be able to share in the richness of this week has been just an amazing experience. You have heard such great preaching and teaching this week. It is amazing. And my own heart has been so profoundly blessed, not only to renew fellowship with these men but to hear them preach and draw down such richness from years of experience with the Word of God and with the Puritans. It’s encyclopedic what has happened this week, in terms of sharing with you these historic men and their impact because of their commitment to Christ and His Word, so it falls to me to maybe add just a few crumbs at the end of this massive meal.
And thinking of the title of “The Lasting Legacy of the Puritans,” it strikes me that we understand them. That’s why you’re here, and you probably now understand them better than ever. And we know how important it is to sustain their influence into the next generation. Right? This has been handed to us as a legacy for which we have become stewards, and we need to guard the treasure of the legacy of the Puritans and make sure that it makes it to the next generation.
So how do we do that? How is it that we can secure for the next generation this great core of theology and biblical insight and faithful pastoral application in ministry? And that falls to me to talk a little bit about that.
The good news is that we have the same commitment to Scripture that they did; and that’s where it all begins. So what I want to do is if you were to put me in a Puritan category, you might say I’m going to give you some uses. Of all of this that we have drawn down, I want to see if I can’t apply it to the only way, really, that we can secure and sustain their legacy into the next generation.
In 2012 Crossway published a book by Mike Svigel titled RetroChristianity. RetroChristianity made the assertion that pop-culture pragmatism had created a dominating trend in churches. And that dominating trend created by pop culture really had two distinctive marks: One was ignorance of the past, and the second was arrogance of the present. C. S. Lewis called it “chronological snobbery.” Svigel in his book says, “The uncritical attitude and acceptance of the intellectual climate of our own age, and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited, defines chronological snobbery.” And he went on to say, “It only takes one negligent generation to forget the accumulated knowledge and wisdom of the entire history of the church.” That’s a compelling statement: “It only takes one negligent generation to forget the accumulated knowledge and wisdom of the entire history of the church.”
He poses a question in the book, “If the church fathers, the Protestant Reformers, or the Puritans were to show up at your church, would they worship or would they run?” He goes on to talk about orthodoxy, which is truth, Scripture, sound doctrine. He talks about heterodoxy, which is opinions, tradition, and heresy. And then he goes on to talk about “petrodoxy,” which is frozen, defensive, legalistic nostalgia.
But he introduced a new word to me: “metrodoxy.” He defines it this way: “trendy faddish practices of contemporary megachurches and wannabes in metro areas who value personal fulfillment, contemporary music, innovative technology, culturally based messages drawing largely on secular thinking, corporate leadership, sociologically driven motivation, and personal promises.” That’s metrodoxy. And he sums it up with an illustration. He writes, “Sadly the beautiful symphony of classic Christianity has become increasingly difficult to discern in the carnival atmosphere of one-man bands, competing orchestras, and amateur wannabes who all believe they can play God’s original song better than the fathers, the Reformers, and the Puritans. The problem? An increasing number of either arrogant or ignorant evangelical pastors and teachers have never learned how to read the original sheet music. The results? The new renditions of Christianity can be likened to amateur musicians performing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony on ukuleles and missing half the notes. This generation of evangelicals desperately needs to recover the magnificence of Puritan preaching and theology.”
Plenty of places that we are told in Scripture to do this. Paul says to Timothy several different ways, “Follow exactly what you saw in me. The things you heard from me among many witnesses, the same commit to faithful men who’ll be able to teach others also. This is a relay race, and you had the baton from me, you give it to others, and they give it to the next generation.”
Preaching today needs a massive overhaul; and if we are to preserve the legacy of the Puritans into this generation and beyond, it has to start with preaching because that is the most defining aspect of the Puritan influence. It must understand that core doctrines must never change, and new opinions must never become core doctrines. First Corinthians 4:6, do not go beyond what is written.
When you talk about preaching in these days, you could be talking about lots of different approaches. You could talk about traditional preaching, I guess—summed up, over-simplified, in three points and a poem. You could talk about experiential. Traditional preaching tends to be kind of third-person; you could talk about experiential preaching, which overuses the first-person pronoun. You could talk about sentimental preaching, which is designed to bypass any hard truths and lose itself in some unbiblical notion of God’s sentimental love. You could talk about analogical preaching, which drives me completely bonkers. If I hear another sermon on the Christian life with Goliath as the centerpiece, I don’t think I can endure it.
There is cultural preaching, which is a kind of a TED Talk with a few Bible verses from The Living Bible thrown in. None of this is going to preserve the Puritans’ influence because all of it falls short of biblical, theological, experimental, expositional preaching. It is their preaching contained in their books that provides their lasting legacy. And of course, it all started with their view of Scripture, as you have been hearing all week long. Puritanism was, above all else, a Bible movement. J. I. Packer said they were premodern, meaning they ignored the culture in interpretation, and they were absorbed with the context and Scripture interpreting Scripture. They were competent exegetically with biblical languages. They were capable critical thinkers. They were literalists in interpretation, and they excelled in application. And it all rose out of the strong conviction they had with regard to the inspiration, authority, perspicuity, and sufficiency of Scripture.
A high view of Scripture was the most defining thing about them, and that was related to their high view of God. Because of their view of God and that God had exalted His Word equal to His name, as Psalm 138:2 says, they were compelled to biblical exposition declaring the entirety of Scripture to their people, and making their enemies fear. Richard Baxter said, “The reading of the Word of God and the explication and application of it in good books is a means to possess the mind with sound, orderly, and working apprehensions of God and of His holy truths, so that in such reading our understandings are oft illuminated with a heavenly light, and our hearts are touched with a special delightful relish of that truth. And they are secretly attracted and engaged unto God, and all the power of our souls are excited and animated to a holy, obedient life.” That’s hovering around what John was saying last night about affection, isn’t it?
William Bradshaw said, “The Word of God contained in the writings of the prophets and apostles is of absolute perfection given by Christ the head of the church to be the same, the sole canon and rule of all matters of religion.”
Thomas Cartwright, driven from his professorship in 1570 and later imprisoned for preaching, wrote this: “Let him that shall preach choose some part of the canonical Scripture to expound, and not the apocrypha.” Further in his ministry, “Let him not take postils”—which means homilies—“but some whole books of the Holy Scriptures, especially of the New Testament, to expound in order, in choice whereof regard is to be had both of the minister’s ability and of the education of the church.” Cartwright gave more specific instruction when he said, “Let it be, if it may be, every Sabbath day, two sermons, and let them that preach always endeavor to keep themselves within one hour, especially if they preach on the weekdays.”
William Perkins expressed his love for and reliance on Scripture when he said, “We hold that the Scriptures are most perfect, containing in them all doctrines needful to salvation, whether they concern faith and manners, and therefore we acknowledge no such traditions beside the written Word which shall be necessary to salvation, so as he which believeth them not cannot be saved.”
Lawrence Chaderton served for many years as headmaster of Emmanuel College, the most Puritan of all the colleges in Cambridge. He was a native of Lancashire in northern England. One day he was preaching, and he went on for two hours. He neared the conclusion with the comment that he would no longer trespass upon the people’s patience. The audience refused to allow him to stop. “For God’s sake, sir, go on. Go on,” they implored Chaderton. Surprised by their insistence, he continued his message for an even longer time. And that could be said about the Puritans in general. They went on and on and on and on.
Joseph Caryl was mentioned earlier this week. He preached twenty-four years on the book of Job. During those twenty-four years he preached 424 sermons on the book of Job, as well as sermons on other books. When he was finished with the 424 sermons, he wrote a commentary on Job that fills twelve volumes and totals eight thousand pages. Spurgeon recommended it highly. And J. I. Packer said this about it: “In all his microscopic study of verbal detail and his proliferation of edifying inferences, never does he go beyond the scope of the text.” Four hundred and twenty four sermons, eight thousand pages, and it’s all still in the text.
Thomas Manton spent several years preaching through Psalm 119. He had 190 sermons on that psalm. Fills five volumes of 1,800 pages. Volume 3 in the works of Richard Sibbes consists of Sibbes’s commentary on 2 Corinthians 1, 2 Corinthians 1. That’s twenty-four verses. It’s 525 pages set in tiny, small typeface with narrow margins. Yes, they went on and on and down and down and down. They handled Scripture in a way that puts all of us to shame.
All the canards that suggest that Puritan preaching was ponderous and wordy and harsh and grim is the imagination of someone who hasn’t read the Puritans. There’s no doubt that they dug into the text more deeply than preachers are inclined to do today, and they did it the right way.
William Perkins in The Art of Prophesying—or The Art of Preaching—gave four principles for biblical, theological exposition: “Read the Scripture distinctly. Give the sense of an understanding of the Scripture, comparing Scripture with Scripture. Collect profitable points of doctrine out of the text. Apply the doctrines rightly understood to the life of the people in plain, simple language.” That’s a good summary. Lloyd-Jones said, “That is true, authentic preaching.”
And you have to understand that—and you would know this if you have familiarity with the Puritans—that this was contrary to the Anglican churches, where preaching was not the center. The altar was in the center, and a pulpit was off to the side. The Puritans’ conviction to the centrality of preaching put the pulpit back in the very center of their nonconformist chapels, and they put a Bible on it, and it took center place.
Really, the Puritans were heirs of the Protestant Reformation who wanted to continue the reforming. They wanted to take the Reformation farther, beyond the sort of semi-Reformed, semi-Catholic, Anglican version, and so they ended up being such nonconformists that you know what eventually happened in the Great Ejection. They insisted that there had to be a restoration of biblical, expositional preaching that developed an understanding of the text that yielded doctrine on which a person could build doctrinal structure, the framework for life.
So how does this generation, then, preserve the legacy of the Puritans? We have to produce expositors. We have to produce expositors. That should be the passion of every seminary. That should be the discipleship objective of every pastor who finds every young man in his care who has any interest in ministry, and drive them down that path. In fact, the only hope for preserving sound doctrine to the next generation is another generation of expositors. Anything less than that doesn’t bode well.
The Puritans wanted to replace the liturgy, the ritual, the symbolism, and the ceremony with preaching. And what is the heart of preaching? I think the heart of preaching—and I’ve thought this for a long time, way back in my life—is Psalm 119:97, “O how I love Your law!” “O how I love Your law!” I honestly don’t know where my love for the Word of God and my love for the God of the Word find a dividing point. It is sweeter to me than honey from the honeycomb. It is more precious than gold, yes, than fine gold.
So the heart of expository preaching is this profound love and affection for the God of the Word and the Word of God. That has to be cultivated. And it’s a kind of solo, driving motivation. You could have no other shared motivation than love for the God of the Word and the Word of God. This is the only way to sustain the legacy of the Puritans into the future. We as pastors and leaders in the church must be committed that the next upcoming generation of young men called to ministry learn how to exposit the Word of God—biblical exposition that draws out the rich theology of Scripture.
“We have the mind of Christ,” 1 Corinthians 2:16. We have the mind of Christ here. That’s not a mystical statement that you have some secret knowledge that Jesus has delivered to you. “We have the mind of Christ.” In that same context is the Spirit of God who has given us the mind of Christ in the inspiration of Scripture and by His illumination of those who interpret it. We have the mind of Christ.
We have a responsibility according to 2 Corinthians 10:5 to basically tear down anything that is raised up against the knowledge of God—this is what spiritual warfare is—and bring every thought captive to Christ. This is the mind of Christ. This is what Christ thinks on everything which He has revealed to us. So whatever kind of preacher you might think you have the choice to be, we need to eliminate everything but expository, doctrinal preaching. We need to stop simple homilies. We need to stop first-person, experiential preachers. We need to stop sentimentalism, analogical preaching, cultural psychology; and we need to drive this whole generation back to expositing Scripture.
How do we do that? And what is a compelling framework for us to understand the urgency of this? A few years ago I did a seminar here with a group of pastors, and I wanted to talk to them on the reasons you need to be an expositor. And I think you were tag-teaming with me in that class, Steve—Steve Lawson—and I came up with sixty-three reasons. Now that in itself is Puritanical. I came up with sixty-three reasons, and out of mercy I have reduced it to fifteen for tonight.
I may not say anything you don’t know; that’s not my point. I really have one thing to say, and that is this: We all, in the church, must be committed to training the next generation of ministers in Bible exposition. And here’s why.
Point number one: Expository preaching establishes the authority of God over the mind of the hearer. Expository preaching establishes the authority of God over the mind of the hearer. It’s a question of authority. There should never be any doubt at all, in someone sitting under the preaching of the Word of God, who the authority is—and it’s not the pastor. Your education gives you no authority. Your intelligence gives you no authority. Your experience gives you no authority. You have no authority. You possess no authority.
You remember that in Acts 20:28 Paul was talking to the Ephesian elders, and he said the church had been purchased by blood, the blood of God. God is the modifier, “the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” We understand that all Scripture is given by inspiration of God. There’s only one authority in the church, and that is God.
Psalm 19 talks about the Bible and looks at six different aspects of Scripture. It’s the law of the Lord, it’s the testimony of the Lord, it’s the precepts of the Lord, it’s the fear of the Lord, Psalm 19. And all six of them, it’s repeated, “Of the Lord, of the Lord, of the Lord, of the Lord, of the Lord, of the Lord,” just so there’s no question about the source. He has sovereign authority over the people and over His church.
Paul, in writing to Titus, said, “Speak with all authority, and let no man circumvent, mentally, what you’re saying.” You are essentially fulfilling the responsibility to let God be God and not to intrude or replace God with your own self. He has sovereign authority over the preacher; He has sovereign authority over the people. You cannot confess His authority and assert your own. God alone has the right to be heard. He must be the voice in every generation. His authority must dominate.
Exposition not only protects the truth of Scripture, but it protects the way the truth is conveyed in Scripture. The temptation is to say, “Well it’s an obscure notion; it’s an agrarian context, and people don’t understand that.” Or whatever would make you think that you need to bring the Bible into modern times? That’s a huge mistake. You don’t bring the Bible into modern times, you take the modern reader into Bible times, because if you bring the Bible into modern times, you’ve just changed the context, and the revelation has lost the original intent of God to put it in the context that He wanted it in. So if you confess that His Word is authoritative, then you are duty-bound to make sure that everybody understands that what they’re hearing is not your word, not your improvement on the framing of that word, but it is the very Word of God in the very structure and the very characteristic and context in which it was originally written.
The temptation in this, one of the temptations in this modern culture, is to take a Bible truth and push it into the culture and redefine it in that context, when the opposite is what you want to do. It’s a lot harder to go back and create the reality of that context for the hearer, that original context. That’s the genius of great exposition: You feel like you’re there. That’s why we have commentaries, that’s why we have so many study aids, because context is everything. So you’re not the chef, you’re the waiter. You want to get the meal to the table without messing it up.
So first of all, being an expositor means that you affirm the authority of God over the mind of the hearer, and that needs to be very clear and very obvious, and you do that by staying in the framework of the very words of God.
Secondly, in expository preaching you affirm the lordship of Christ over His church. You know, throughout church history we’re all, to some degree, familiar with this. There’s always a battle over who’s the head of the church. We had our own battle here, as I commented on a little bit ago. You know something of the history of people like John Huss and Luther and Knox and many others who fought battles against the Roman system or the Anglican system or whatever it was to decide who was Lord of the church. In England, of course, it was sometimes the king who was the head of the church, and it was sometimes the Pope who was the head of the church, by their perception; and yet clearly from the Scripture standpoint, Christ is the head of the church.
And people don’t tend to deny that verbally, but they deny it in practice by promoting the leader, self-promotion of the leader, pride; by omitting certain parts of the Word of God that the Lord of the church has given for the church; by misinterpreting Scripture by irresponsibility and superficiality in dealing with Scripture even by a bad translation. But most frequently, the lordship of Christ over His church is hindered by bad preaching.
One of the most frightening things that I think about is standing up and saying with all my heart that Christ is the head of the church, and then telling the church something He didn’t say. And I’m so bound in my heart not to do that, that it drives the preparation. I want to be sure that if I’m reading the Scripture and saying this is Christ speaking to the church, that it is in truth what He actually is saying.
So when you handle the Scripture accurately, you are fulfilling your responsibility to let God speak and to let Christ lead. Those are obvious; I don’t need to say a lot about that.
But thirdly, and this is also obvious, exposition facilitates the work of the Holy Spirit. Exposition facilitates the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the one who basically regenerates us; we understand that. But by what means does He do that? “We are begotten again by”—what? Peter says, “The word of truth.” “Faith comes by hearing,” Romans 10, “the word concerning Christ.” The Spirit does His saving work by Scripture, by Scripture.
Even regeneration is called by Paul the washing of the water of the Word. We understand that. It is the gospel itself that is the power of God unto salvation. So the means that the Holy Spirit uses for all His saving work is the truth of Scripture. That’s true in salvation, and it’s true in sanctification. John 17:17, Jesus said, “Sanctify them by Thy truth; Thy word is truth.” If we are—and we certainly are—if we realize that we are for the salvation of the elect, if that is our calling, and for the sanctification of the elect, then we have only one tool that we can use; and it is the tool that the Spirit uses to save and sanctify, and it is the Word of God. Even the believer’s hope of glory is essentially the product of an understanding of the promises of the Scripture. Life is hard; future’s insecure. If you’re going to cause people to have the comfort of the Scripture, then you’re going to have to let the Scripture do the comforting.
And so Peter says, “Feed the flock of God.” And what do you feed them? You feed them the Word of God. The Spirit uses the Word to save. The Spirit uses the Word to sanctify. The Spirit uses the Word to edify. The Spirit uses the Word to comfort. That is His tool.
So at the foundation—and it’s a very simple thought—there’s a Trinitarian call to be an expositor. It puts God in the right place, Christ in the right place, and the Holy Spirit in the right place. And that’s where you bow your knee—right there. You say, OK—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit do Their work of redemption, regeneration, sanctification, edification, comfort through Scripture. That’s where you start: with the commitment to be an expositor.
But fourthly, and just necessarily and obviously, Bible exposition manifests submission to Scripture. You could infer that from the first three things I said, but I want to state it. Lack of submission to Scripture is unthinkable; it basically is a kind of mutiny. A failure to submit to God, who alone should be heard, a failure to commit to Christ and His headship over the church, a failure to commit to the ministry of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God manifests a failure to submit to Scripture in itself.
So here we come to this very compelling foundation of truth. We submit in love to the Word of God. And again, it’s that Psalm 119: “O how I love Your law!” As the New Testament sort of comes to an end, John says, “I have no greater joy than that my people walk in the truth.” And then, in the shadow of Revelation, is that statement in Jude, “Earnestly contend for the once-for-all-delivered-to-the-saints faith, because there are going to be so many attacks on it.” We should be constantly thinking, speaking, talking, reading, meditating day and night on the Word of God, and submitting out of love for the privilege.
Now I want to go beyond those very obvious things and just talk somewhat personally, summing up sixty-three things in a lot less. When I think about preaching—I think I preached my first sermon when I was seventeen, and doing this for almost seventy years—there’s one thing that comes to my mind constantly, for which I am endlessly thankful, and that is this: A life of expositing Scripture connects the preacher personally to the regular, sanctifying grace of Scripture. Honestly, I don’t know how I got this far without self-destructing.
At seventeen, when I preached my first sermon, if I was honest with myself I could have said, “I’ll scandalize my life and bring dishonor on the Lord before I’m nineteen.” I couldn’t even comprehend surviving sixty to seventy years without bringing dishonor on the Lord, without some crushing, disqualifying, destructive sin. I wouldn’t—at the time I was fearful because in the immaturity and carnality of a young kid, fighting all the things that kids fight in the impulses of immaturity in youth, I couldn’t imagine myself being anything other than a failure.
And I understood John 15. I remember the first time I got a grip on that was in seminary, that the Lord uses the Word to prune us. Right? And I can tell you here, all these intervening years, there’s a reason why I’m still able to stand here with joy in my heart and thankfulness in my heart, and that is because I weekly for the last nearly seventy years have exposed myself to the sanctifying work of the Word in my heart. Look, like a lot of preachers, I can think of a lot of things to say, and I might be able to entertain a crowd for a while. But there’s such danger in that.
Paul says to Timothy, “Take heed to yourself.” Right? So how do you do that? You continually immerse yourself in the Word of God. If I never preached a sermon, if I [were] at a little country church somewhere with a few people, I wouldn’t change anything. It’s not the preaching that exhilarates my soul, it’s the communion with God in His Word. There I’m washed. There I’m sanctified. There I’m confronted. There I’m convicted. There I’m disciplined.
You don’t want to take this on unless you understand that you’re going to be a target for the enemy. There are going to be lots of things that are going to come at your flesh. In reacting to those, you could at any point disqualify yourself. You’re going to struggle with your personal private life, and the possibility of going for half a century without a massive, massive exposure to the sanctifying truth of God’s Word would be an impossible notion. The best thing that I can give my people is the teaching of the Word of God. But what has to come along with that is a life underneath that, as Paul said, that is an example to the believers.
There is another way to look at what we’ve talked about, a sixth driving motivation for expository preaching: It provides the spiritual depth and transcendence that defines worship.
So much is called worship these days, it’s just a name that essentially is connected to music. Look, if we were saved to be worshipers, then worship is a priority. Right? John 4, “The Father seeks true worshipers who worship Him in spirit and in truth.” So essentially you were saved to be a worshiper. Right? You were saved to be a worshiper so that you now can join the hallelujah chorus that redounds to the glory of God. And if you question whether that’s the reason for your salvation, then go to Revelation 5 and take a trip to heaven and see what they’re doing.
But worship is not music; music is an expression of worship. I love the fact that in Ephesians 5:18 Paul says, “Do not get drunk with wine, which is asōtia, dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit”—then immediately after that he says, “speaking to yourselves in psalms, hymns, spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.”
If you’re Spirit-filled—how do you know you’re Spirit-filled? It’s not because you fell over. It’s not because you had an out-of-body experience. It’s not because you heard a voice from heaven. You have right there in Ephesians 5:19 the measure of a Spirit-filled person: You will be filled with joyful worship.
I don’t know about you, but any moment of any day, essentially, that my mind is not focused on something, hymns are running through my head. You’re shaking your head; you know that. That’s the default zone in my whole life. And I thank God so often for the legacy of music, because I don’t want to sing tunes that I write. They can’t convey what my heart feels; they’re just too low. I need the best music. I need the most beautiful lyrics, the truest and purest and best expression of theology; and I need a lot of it, I need all of it. I never get enough. If you came into our home anytime from the moment we wake, Patricia and I, until we shut down the place, you would hear songs and hymns in our home all the time. All our kids grew up with it. It’s because the heart looks for a song to sing when it’s filled with the Spirit. And of course, parallel in Colossians 3, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,” and you have exactly the same response. You wind up singing.
Music is, of course, a common grace. Just think of a world without music. That’ll happen, Revelation 18. But for believers, if you go back, for example, to the book of Psalms, you’ll see the word “new” more times with “song” than any other substantive, more times with “song” than any other substantive. “Well,” you say, “of course; it’s a hymnal.” It is the hymnal. But when you’re filled with the Holy Spirit, you speak to yourselves in psalms and hymns, spiritual songs, singing and making melody where? That’s because that’s where your affections are. Joyful, joyful worship. The Word cleanses my heart, and it overthrows all the remaining sin in my heart and takes my heart captive to the music of redemption.
There’s a seventh truth that calls to be an expositor: Expository preaching permits the preacher to speak fully for Christ whom he serves, to speak fully for Christ. That’s all I want to do. Now if you’re not an expositor, you may speak for Christ on some issues; but only if you’re an expositor in the fullest sense will you speak fully for Christ. The Q&A, John said that someone told him there was a way to preach Romans 9 and not let anybody know what you really believe. So if you’re going to approach ministry and start deciding what you’re going to allow God to say, you’re in jeopardy. You don’t want to be God’s editor.
If you’re an expositor, you can’t pick and choose. When you get to the next verse, you can’t escape. And because we tend to be somewhat self-protective, and because there’s some milk of human kindness in our hearts, we may want to soften some things; and you can easily do that if you’re just a topical preacher and you’re just bouncing around. But if you’re going word by word, verse by verse, you’re speaking fully for Christ regardless of how offensive, how difficult, how challenging that truth might be.
And there’s nothing you want to avoid anyway, right, because “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God that the man of God may be”—what?—“perfect, complete.” If you want the people that you’re ministering to to come to maturity, you have to give the whole counsel of God.
Number eight—I’ll speed up a little bit here: Expository preaching instructs, by example, the spiritual duty and benefit of studying Scripture intensely.
I mean, go the opposite way for a moment. I don’t understand how you could go to a church that you sit in the dark and watch a stage show, and you’ve got some sort of actor up there parading around and putting on some kind of display of histrionics and communication skills, and you’re enamored and wowed by his ability. But he doesn’t show you how to study the Bible. That’s why in that church there isn’t going to be a row of older gentlemen off to the side with dog-eared Bibles who have been teaching Bible studies and Sunday school classes for thirty, forty, fifty years; never find those people in that church. Shallow produces shallow.
If the Bible is not the consuming passion in the pulpit, it will be indifferent to the people. They pick up your passion; they pick up your commitment. So many pulpits model a superficial interest in Scripture. You can say the Bible is important, you can quote the Bible, but unless you’re expositing it faithfully, you are not demonstrating for the people the duty and benefit of studying Scripture intensely. And by the way, while you’re doing that, if you do it the right way, you’re not only showing them what the Scripture says, you’re showing them how they can understand what the Scripture says. So you’re teaching them how to exposit, themselves.
We found early, here at Grace Church when we started preaching exposition, that people weren’t saying, “That’s too much information. That’s too much information; just give me the three points, and tell me what I need to do.” They didn’t say that. What they said was, “We want more. We want more. We want more.” So the next thing we knew we had a bookstore, and the bookstore was jammed with people, and it kept growing and expanding and expanding; and through the years it continues to expand. And you probably saw out there another bookstore, and developing classes, Bible studies, discipleship groups.
Everywhere you look in this church, from small, home groups to the public services, people are involved in the study of Scripture because that’s what you display, and you show the richness of it, and the transforming power of it grips their heart. Once they get a taste of it, they want more. You can tell how much a leader believes in the Word of God by how consumed his congregation is with it.
Number nine: Bible exposition builds a congregation strong and devoted to the glory of God, strong and devoted to the glory of God. It’s not man-centered; it can’t be. It’s God-centered. Heaven comes down when the Word dominates, and puts God on display. And so you get a congregation that is seeing God revealed in His Word, and His glory is on display, and they become drawn to that glory.
And of course, that’s the goal of everything, right, to give God glory. And giving Him glory means to recognize a couple of things: to recognize who He is and what He has done. And all of that is unpacked and unfolded throughout Scripture—His attributes and His mighty works. And so when you continually open the Word of God, God puts Himself on display, His glory is on display, and you’ll have a congregation devoted to His glory. And when you preach, you’re not preaching about them, you’re preaching about Him; and they’re drawn to Him.
Number ten—and some of these sort of overlap: Expository preaching provides the saints with their only true source of help. Expository preaching provides the saints with their only true source of help. The preacher is not by his insights or his cleverness able to change people; only the Holy Spirit, using Scripture, can transform people. And what you’re saying to people is that’s where the help is.
Let me flesh that out a little bit. If you talk all the time about people’s problems, you’re going to have all kinds of people with all kinds of problems, and they’re going to be coming to you to solve all their problems. If you talk to people about God and divine resources, you’re connecting them to Him as the true source of help.
I talked to a man the other day, heartbroken guy who’s struggling with whether he’s even a Christian, and I just put him in contact with what God has said—“Do you believe the gospel?”—step by step by step. “Do you believe God hears and answers prayer? Do you believe that if you cry out to God for assurance, He’ll provide it for you?”—so that I’m not the one with the answers; I’m connecting him to the One who has the answers. So you’re always connecting people back to the resources of divine character contained in Scripture.
So this is another perception when it comes to expository preaching that prevents people from getting an inordinate kind of affection for the preacher. There’s a legitimate affection, and it should be true, and it should be real, and it should be rich. But they know where their help is, and it’s not you; it’s the Lord. And instead of having people preoccupied with their own problems coming to you for help, you’re driving them toward Him.
Number eleven: Expository preaching creates an essential connection between doctrine and life. I think there’s this mindset with some people that preaching expositionally isn’t practical. That actually reached a kind of weird moment here at Grace Church, I think probably close to twenty years into my time here, when the church was growing and flourishing. And the elders wanted to meet with me, so I met with them, and they said, “We think your preaching is not practical. It’s not relevant. You’re just talking about the Bible and theology, and it’s not relevant. We need things that are more practical.” It led to hours and hours of an elders’ meeting to decide whether I should stay or go, because they wanted something more practical.
The bottom line is this: You live your theology. You live your theology; you live your convictions. And there’s a process. It starts with cognition: “This is true.” It moves to conviction: “This is what I believe is true.” And then it moves to affection: “This is what I love.” And life is just an expression of what you believe is true and what you love. There’s no possible way to live a Christian life without a robust, rich, full understanding of doctrine that has arisen from the text of Scripture.
A few more. I could say more about that, but— That’s what preachers always say when they’ve just run out of material.
Number twelve: Exposition—this is very important—exposition forces the preacher to include those truths that trouble, offend, and even terrify the lost and the sinful. There has to be a manliness in preaching. Many preachers lack the essential ruggedness of message that assaults the sinner’s comfort. They’re unwilling to make the law clear. This is a feature in the contemporary church of what I guess you could call the feminization of the church.
I found a previously unpublished sermon by Jonathan Edwards on Romans 2:5 a few weeks ago, and I used that as a basis for a message to our seminary men. That is just an incredible verse that basically says sinners are treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath. I don’t know, John, if you’ve read Edwards’s sermon on that. It is a terrifying realization to say to the sinner, “Not only are you alienated from God, but every breath you take mounts your guilt, and the treasure, the deposit, gets larger and larger and larger.”
But there doesn’t seem to be any interest in this modern evangelical church to terrify sinners. And when you are unwilling to include the truths that trouble, offend, and terrify the lost and the sinful, then you forfeit the reality of the tenderness of divine grace. The sinner cannot understand grace unless he understands how terrifyingly guilty he is before God. Cheap grace is a product of being weak on law and judgment.
Just a couple more. And this fits in with our week: Expository preaching connects the preacher and the people to the Holy Spirit’s illumination in the past.
This is why we’re here. We’re talking about the Puritans. The truth that the Holy Spirit illuminated to them hasn’t changed. Right? And if you’re an expositor, and the Word of God doesn’t change, and there’s nothing new, then you can literally draw from the ages. You have all the history of illumination at your disposal. What an incredible, rich gift that is to us.
And if there’s only one right interpretation, you’re going to find that in the consistent, faithful interpreters of Scripture, and they’re going to agree on that, and they’re going to come at these truths from various different angles that will enrich you.
It’s kind of where we started. Distain for the past is distain for illumination, the ministry of the Spirit to the reader of the Bible in every generation that allows him to understand the meaning of Scripture. In fact, I find myself more comfortable reading dead people than living people. So many contemporary commentators are influenced by the culture. It’s nice to go five hundred years back and see the truth illuminated to an author who lived in a completely different world.
So being an expositor, then, literally puts at your disposal all the illumination of church history on any given passage.
Number fourteen, this is also very important: Expositing Scripture provides protection from errors deadly to the church. It’s why we have to contend. Somebody said to me, “How do you choose which battles to fight?” And I said, “We fight them all.” We don’t make a choice. If there’s an assault on Scripture, if there’s an assault on divine truth, if there’s a twisting and a perverting of Scripture, we’ll fight that battle.
We fight all battles. We have to earnestly contend for the faith. We have to protect the church, because we understand that people can be tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine. We understand that Paul says to the Ephesian elders, “I’ve watched and I’ve warned you for these years because I know that of your own selves men will rise up, and others will come from the outside and lead you astray.” When you’re an expositor of Scripture, you defend threatened truths, you expose subtle lies.
I was reading The State of Theology report that Lifeway and Ligonier did. Evangelicals were surveyed. You had to believe that the Bible was authoritative to be an evangelical. You had to believe that Jesus was the Savior, the only Savior. You had to believe in communicating the gospel to someone else. That’s an evangelical.
Forty percent of the evangelicals surveyed disagreed with the statement, “Jesus is God.” The statement in the question was, “Does God change? Does God change?” Almost half the evangelicals said yes. Another question was—which prompted me for this Sunday morning sermon—“True or False: Everyone is born innocent.” Sixty-five percent of evangelicals said yes. You don’t know what you’re dealing with. Why would I even assume these people are Christians? And yet they wear the label “evangelical.” You’re not protecting anybody if people are left with that unnecessary confusion.
And just a final note: Expository preaching assures people they’ve heard from heaven. And we need that, don’t we? I want to hear from heaven. I want people to come here not to say, “I heard John MacArthur,” I want them to hear from heaven. I want it to be the voice of God.
Is there anything less than these things? Overplays the importance of the preacher and his words. Anything less than these commitments to expository preaching reduces preaching to the level of everyone’s words and everyone’s opinions, and it’s just another opinion. Anything less than this commitment to expository preaching strips the dominion from the pulpit; creates the illusion of wisdom; fails to defend threatened truths; produces false Christians, shallow Christians, weak Christian; ignores the seriousness of the battle with the enemies of the truth; and anything less than this leaves sinners with a measure of comfort they don’t deserve.
There’s really nothing but the exposition of Scripture for a faithful preacher; and that is precisely what we need in this generation. I know you’re committed to that. We need to take action on this. It’s a sad thing when you look across the country, and even just look at seminaries. You would think they would all be fastidiously bound to this enterprise, but they are not. And it is an act of disobedience that has massive implications on the next generation.
Together, all of us who are faithful need to set our course to make every contribution we can make to the training of the next generation of biblical expositors, because they will preserve the legacy of the Puritans because it’s the legacy of Scripture. Let’s pray.
Lord, thank You for letting us have this wonderful conference together, and thank You for giving me the opportunity to just share these things from my heart. We all have in common love for You and Your Word and Your church. We just ask, Lord, that You would increase that love. And we plead with You, Lord, to raise up faithful expositors. We don’t need any more weak preachers; we need people who speak with divine authority. We need preachers who, when heard, leave their hearers stunned with the authority and truth that comes from heaven. We don’t need any more shallow, superficial, self-centered, creative talkers; we need expositors. This is the only way that we can pass the truth to this generation.
May it come to all of our prayer lists to be praying that You would raise up men, and that You would give them the opportunity to be trained in places where they will come out with this passion for Your Word. And by that, we will have preserved the legacy of the Puritans. We will have carried the baton in our day. Help us, Lord, to do that. For Your glory we ask. Amen.
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