The Leading of the Holy Spirit in Selecting Preaching Material

Haggai 1:13; Ephesians 6:19
       Then spake Haggai the LORD’S messenger in the LORD’S message unto the people, saying…
       [Pray] for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make know the mystery of the gospel.

WILLIAM GURNALL (1617-1679): When the apostle desires “utterance” to be given him, he may mean that he may have a word given him to preach—according to that which Christ promiseth, Matthew 10:19: It shall be given you in that hour what he shall speak.

C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892): Many persons have been converted by some striking saying of the preacher. But why was it the preacher uttered that saying? Simply because he was led thereunto by the Holy Spirit. Rest assured, beloved, that when any part of the sermon is blessed to your heart, the minister said it because he was ordered to say it by his Master. I might preach to-day a sermon which I preached on Friday, and which was useful then, and there might be no good whatever come from it now, because it might not be the sermon which the Holy Ghost would have delivered today. But if with sincerity of heart I have sought God’s guidance in selecting the topic, and He rests upon me in the preaching of the Word, there is no fear but that it shall be found adapted to your immediate wants.

E. J. POOLE-CONNOR (1872-1962): C. H. Spurgeon could not preach with ease or power—sometimes he felt he could not preach at all—without the assurance that he was then and there the Divine mouthpiece. When preparing for public service, a dozen subjects would present themselves to his mind; but he must needs wait until some Scripture was impressed upon him as the paramount theme for the occasion, one from which without disobedience he could not escape. It was this feature of his ministry which gave his utterances their peculiarly prophetic character. Like Haggai, he was supremely “the Lord’s messenger in the Lord’s message.”

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES (1899-1981): Spurgeon did not believe in preaching a series of sermons; indeed he opposed doing so very strongly. He said that there was a sense in which it was impertinent for a man to decide to preach a series of sermons. He held that the texts should be given to the preacher, that he should seek the Lord in this matter and ask for guidance. He held that the preacher should not decide but pray for the guidance and the leading of the Holy Spirit, and then submit himself to this. He will thus be led to particular texts and statements which he will then expound in sermonic form. That was the view held by Spurgeon and many others. I myself was brought up in a tradition which adhered to that view. We never heard a series of sermons based on a book, or part of a book of the Bible, or on a theme. But over and against that you have the position of the Puritans who were clearly great believers in preaching series of sermons. Though Spurgeon was such a great reader of the Puritans, and such a great admirer of them, at this point he disagreed with them entirely.

C. H. SPURGEON: Let me say, it is no use your expecting me to preach a course of sermons. I know a great deal better than that. I don’t believe the Holy Spirit ever intended men to publish three months beforehand, lists of sermons that they were going to preach; because there will always arise changes in Providence, and different states of mind both in the preacher and the hearer, and he will be a very wise man who has got an Old Moore’s almanac correct enough to let him know what would be the best sort of sermon to preach three months hence.

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES: And here I am with Spurgeon whole-heartedly—we must preserve and safeguard ‘the freedom of the Spirit.’ We must not be in control in this matter; we must not decide in cold blood, as it were, what we are going to do, and map out a programme, and so on. I am sure that is wrong. I have known men who have done that. I have known men who, at the beginning of a season after a vacation, would actually hand out a list of their text for many months ahead and would indicate what was going to be preached every particular Sunday during that period of time. I reprobate that entirely and completely―I feel that to plan and publish such a programme is surely to put certain limits upon the sovereignty and the leading of the Spirit.

C. H. SPURGEON: He had better leave it to his God to give him in the same hour what he shall speak, and look for his sermons, as the Israelites looked for the manna, day by day.

JOHN NEWTON (1725-1807): 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.

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES: That again is a most thrilling and wonderful experience which fills one with a sense of amazement. It is quite extraordinary, and one seems to have no control over it; it just happens. I have often found when I have gone into the pulpit with a prepared sermon, that while I have been preaching, my first point alone has developed into a whole sermon. Many times I have gone out of the pulpit realizing that I had a series of sermons which I had not seen before. As the first point had become a complete sermon I could see that the same would happen to the others and so I would have a series. I had not seen this in my preparation, but while preaching, it had all opened out before me.

JOHN NEWTON: It seems to me a point of more curiosity than use, to inquire too nicely into the modus of the Holy Spirit’s assistance in the composure and delivery of sermons.

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES: Well, I do not know that it is a part of the business of a preacher to explain the processes of his own mind and his own heart, but clearly no man should preach unless he has felt that God has given him a message. It is the business of any man who tries to preach and expound the Scriptures to wait upon God for leading and guidance―What, then, does one say about this? All I can say is that it seems to me to be quite wrong to be rigid in this matter, and to lay down any hard and fast rule. I cannot see why the Spirit should not guide a man to preach a series of sermons on a passage or a book of the Bible as well as lead him to one text only. Why not?

A. W. PINK (1886-1952): Ah, there is the sovereignty of God!
Editor’s Note: While C. H. Spurgeon never preached sermons in a series, Martyn Lloyd-Jones usually preached one of his two Sunday sermons as part of a series, verse by verse, through an entire book of the Bible.


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