Sleeping in the Pew & Sleeping Pills in the Pulpit

Ephesians 5:14
       Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.

JOHN NEWTON (1725-1807): Who is the most miserable man on earth, and whither shall we go to seek him? Not to the tavern; not to the theatre; not even to the brothel; but to the church! That man, who has sat Sabbath after Sabbath, under the awakening affecting calls of the gospel, and has hardened his heart against these calls, he is the man whose condition is the most desperate of all others.

ROWLAND HILL (1744-1833): They are like the blacksmith’s dog that goes to sleep under his master’s anvil, though the sparks fly about him. They have learned to sleep when the very sparks of damnation fly about them.

HEMAN HUMPHREY (1779-1861): They must be exhorted to wake and rise from the dead, that Christ may give them life…Preaching is the chief instrumentality by which the way of the Lord is prepared, when religion has sunk to a low ebb, and He is about to revive His work. The first thing is that the church be awakened from its slumbers. Till this is done, there is very little hope that sinners will be awakened; and it requires an earnestness in the pulpit, a directness of appeal, a sounding of alarm to professors, which shall make their ears tingle. They must be dealt with plainly.

C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892): Lassenius, a Dutch court preacher, in the end of the seventeenth century, had been considerably vexed by seeing a considerable part of his congregation going to sleep. One day he suddenly stopped, and pulling out a battledore and shuttlecock,* he began playing with them. Of course, the sleepers all awoke directly; the wakeful ones jogging their neighbours to share in their astonishment. Then Lassenius turned upon them a severe rebuke. “When I announce to you serious and important truths, you are not ashamed to go to sleep; but when I play the fool you are all eye and ear!” Sharp medicine this for a desperate disease, and I do not think that I can justify the procedure, but I do not know the Dutch people so well as Lassenius did.

WILLIAM JAY (1769-1853): I know that once at Wooton, when Rowland Hill was preaching in the afternoon―the only time when it ever seemed possible to be drowsy under him―he saw some sleeping, and paused, saying, “I have heard that the miller can sleep while the mill is going, but if it stops it awakens him. I’ll try this method;” and so he sat down, and he soon saw an aroused audience.

C. H. SPURGEON: Certainly it must have been very provoking to see people sleeping, and yet it is not so very wonderful that they should do so when we consider the drowsy sounds to which they are [sometimes] doomed to listen―I am afraid that this side of the question is too often forgotten…If you will be as dry as sawdust, as devoid of juice as the sole of an old shoe, and as correct as the multiplication table, you shall earn to yourself a high degree in the university of Drone-ingen, but if you wake up your soul and adopt an energetic delivery, and a natural, manly, lively, forcible mode of utterance, all the great authorities of that gigantic institution will say, “Oh dear, it is a pity he is so eccentric.”―If we would have the Lord with us in the delivery of our message, we must be in dead earnest, and full of living zeal.

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES (1899-1981): To me, when a man is truly preaching, he has been given the message. Or, what he may himself acquired as the result of his study of the Scripture and understanding of a passage and the ordering of it, is that he’s taken up, and it becomes a prophetic utterance. He is speaking in the Spirit, in demonstration of the Spirit and in power. I think this is an absolutely vital element in true preaching. A man cannot preach in cold blood—it’s impossible! He can offer a sermon, he can read an essay, he can recite an essay, he can give a Bible lecture, but you can’t preach in cold blood.

GEORGE WHITEFIELD (1714-1770): I think that ministers preaching almost universally by notes, is a certain mark they have in a great measure lost the old spirit of preaching. For though all are not to be condemned that use notes, yet it is a sad symptom of the decay of vital religion, when reading sermons becomes fashionable where extempore preaching did once almost universally prevail.

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES: Some men read their sermon in the pulpit from beginning to end. I do not want to be too dogmatic, but surely that must be wrong, that must be bad. I know that some notable instances can be cited from past history where men have done this and it has been greatly blessed; but you do not make rules out of exceptions…It is always a bad sign when men read a text and then shut the Bible and put it on one side, and proceed to preach their prepared sermon.

C. H. SPURGEON: I must confess that it seems very odd to me when a brother prays that the Holy Ghost may help him in preaching, and then I see him put his hand behind him and draw a manuscript out of his pocket…if the Holy Ghost should have anything to say to the people that is not in the paper, how can He say it by us? He seems to me to be very effectually blocked as to the freshness of utterance by that method of ministry. Still, it is not for me to censure, although I may quietly plead for liberty in prophesying, and room for the Lord to give us in the same hour what we shall speak.

JOHN NEWTON: Often when I begin preaching, I am at a loss how I shall proceed; but one thing insensibly offers after another, and, in general, I believe the best and most useful parts of my sermon occur de novo―new―while I am preaching.

GEORGE WHITEFIELD: I find greater light and knowledge by preaching extempore. So I fear I shall grieve the Spirit if I do not go on to speak as He gives utterance.

C. H. SPURGEON: Enough of my brethren use manuscripts, and I will not compete with them. If I cannot speak extemporaneously, I will hold my tongue; to read I am ashamed.

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES: John Calvin either preached from notes or in an entirely extempore manner. He did not read his sermons, and his preaching as a result was lively…Preaching involves a direct contact between the people and the preacher, and an interplay of personalities and minds and hearts―it is good therefore that the preacher be looking at the people; and you cannot be looking at the people and reading a manuscript at the same time…A sermon is not an essay—an essay is meant to be read, a sermon is primarily meant to be spoken and listened to.

C. H. SPURGEON: Give us sermons, and save us from essays!

D. L. MOODY (1837-1899): The best way to revive a church is to build a fire in the pulpit.
*Editor’s Note: battledore and shuttlecock; a small racket, and a ‘bird’ used in the game of badminton.


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