Are You Preparing a Sermon, or Writing an Essay?

Psalm 45:1

My heart is inditing a good matter: I speak of the thing which I have made touching the king: my tongue is the pen of a ready writer.

MATTHEW POOLE (1624-1679): “My heart is inditing”― In Hebrew, it “boileth,” or “bubbleth up” like water in a pot over the fire. This phrase denotes that the workings of his heart were fervent and vehement, free and cheerful, and withal kindled by God’s grace, and the inspiration of the Holy Ghost.

JOHN CALVIN (1509-1564): And it is confirmed by this, that from this verb is derived the noun מרהשת, marchesheth, a word which is found once or twice in Moses, and signifies a frying-pan, in which sweet-meats are baked. It is then of the same import as if the inspired writer had said, ‘My heart is ready to breathe forth something excellent and worthy of being remembered.’ He afterwards expresses the harmony between the tongue and the heart, when he compares his tongue to “the pen of a ready writer.

MATTHEW HENRY (1662-1714): The pious meditations of the heart must not be smothered, but expressed in the words of our mouth, for God’s glory and the edification of others…Thus ministers should in their studies and meditations take in that Word of God which they are to preach to others. Thy words were found, and I did eat them, Jeremiah 15:16. They must be both well acquainted and much affected with the things of God, that they may speak of them both clearly and warmly, with a great deal of divine light and heat.

C. H. MACKINTOSH (1820-1896): As a rule, it is the best way to study Scripture apart from the idea of having to preach. It is not good always to be reading for others; one is in danger of falling into the mere business of sermon-making, which is very withering to the soul.  It is well to go to the word on the principle set forth in John 7:37, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink.” We only speak of the principle, not the strict application of the passage. We should betake ourselves to the fountain of holy Scripture, not to draw for others, but to drink for ourselves…The apostle Paul’s advice to Timothy is salutary to us all, “Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all,” I Timothy 4:15―The “profiting” is sure to “appear” if the habit of meditation be diligently cultivated; but if one goes to a meeting with a sermon diligently prepared, it may be not the thing which the Lord would have spoken at all.

C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892): Do you not think that many sermons are “prepared” until the juice is crushed out of them, and zeal could not remain in such dry husks? Sermons which are studied for days, written down, read, re-read, corrected, and further corrected and emended are in danger of being too much cut and dried.  You will never get a crop if you plant boiled potatoes. You can boil a sermon to a turn, so that no life remaineth in it.

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES (1899-1981): Prepare, but beware of the danger of over-preparation. This is particularly true of written sermons. The danger is to be too perfect―very nice, very quiet, very ornate sentences turned beautifully, prepared carefully. What has this polishing of phrases, this writing and re-writing to do with Truth? There must be form, but we must never give inordinate attention to it. Can you conceive of the Apostle Paul spending three weeks in the preparation of one sermon, polishing phrases, changing a word here and there, putting in another adjective or adding another bon mot? The whole thing is utterly inconceivable.

JOHN FLAVEL (1630-1691): In all my observation I have not found, that ever God hath made much use of laboured periods, rhetorical flowers, and elegancies to improve the power of religion in the world.

C. H. SPURGEON: Do you not all know the superfine preacher? You ought to listen to him, for he is clever; you ought to be attentive to his words, for every sentence of that paper cost him hours of toilsome composition; but somehow it falls flat, and there is an offensive smell of stale oil―So long as the life of the sermon is strengthened by preparation, you may prepare to the utmost; but if the soul evaporates in the process, what is the good of such injurious toil? It is a kind of murder which you have wrought upon the sermon which you dried to death. I do not believe that God the Holy Ghost cares one single atom about your classical composition.

JAMES HARRINGTON EVANS (1785-1849): Our aim is not preach nicely arranged essays.

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES: No, what is needed is authority!  Do you think that John Knox could make Mary Queen of Scots tremble with some polished little essay?

JOHN NEWTON (1725-1807): An affected starchiness and over-accuracy will fetter you, will make your discourses lean and dry, preclude a useful variety, and savour more of the school-lamp, than of that heavenly fire which alone can make our meditations efficacious, and profitable either to ourselves or our hearers.

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES: What is a preacher? The first thing, obviously, is that he is a speaker. He is not primarily a writer of books, he is not an essayist or a literary man; the preacher is primarily a speaker…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 read an essay, he can recite an essay, he can give a Bible lecture, but you can’t preach in cold blood…So a vital element in preaching is a reliance upon the Spirit. And another one is freedom. He must be free. That is why I say there are generally loose ends about preaching. A sermon that is perfect in its form, its diction, and in everything else, mitigates against preaching.

JOSEPH MILNER (1744-1797): What a number of elaborate sermons have been preached to no purpose!  Even the truth that is in them is rendered, in a great measure, useless, by the wisdom of words with which it is clothed.

ISAAC WATTS (1674-1748): If you pray and hope for the assistance of the Spirit of God in every part of your work, do not resolve always to confine yourself precisely to the mere words and sentences which you have written down in your private preparations. Far be it from me to encourage a preacher to venture into public work without due preparation and a regular composure of his discourse…But what I mean is, that we should not impose upon ourselves just such a number of pre-composed words and lines to be delivered in the hour, without daring to speak a warm sentiment that comes fresh upon the mind.

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES: A sermon is not an essay. That is something that needs to be said, and said constantly, because there are so many who clearly draw no distinction between a sermon and 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!


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