The Challenge for the Preacher

“When it comes to preaching the Word of God, a man will never follow the right course if he cannot forget self, and close his eyes to anything that might distract him in this world from acting according to God’s pure ways. Indeed, he will surely stray away from the path, first to one side, then to the other. Hence, God’s doctrines are often corrupted because those who ought to preach them are inclined to malevolent, or to seek the favour of their hearers. They may fear to incur bad feeling or to provoke anger against themselves.

Therefore, it is impossible for us to serve God in our natural state; we must be absolutely determined, with unshakeable constancy, to suffer for the doctrines that we preach, and not to let this cause us grief. We must fight under the ensign of our captain, Jesus Christ, knowing that we cannot share in the glory of his resurrection if we have not first suffered with him, following his example. All believers must certainly strengthen themselves to do these things. . .

. . .Those who are called by God to preach his Word must be resolved that they will not compromise, even if the whole world were to rise up against them. They must bear all conflicts, knowing that God will help them in their need and always grant them victory, provided they follow their vocation in purity and simplicity. The greatest insult and injury that we can give to God is in yielding to the desires of man, and twisting his Word both left and right. It is not only a question of abandoning our own ideas, but also of constantly upholding God’s truth, which is immutable; it must never be altered, however changeable and inconstant man may be.”

Taken from: John Calvin’s Sermons on Galatians. (Copied from Reformed Bibliophile, ).

All Scripture is All about Christ

I will tell you one thing that proves to a demonstration, that Christ is still precious to his people, and it is this:-send one of Christ’s people to hear the most noted preacher of the age, whoever that may be; he preaches a very learned sermon, very fine and magnificent, but there is not a word about Christ in that sermon.Suppose that to be the case, and the Christian man will go out and say, “I did not care a farthing for that man’s discourse.” Why? “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him. I heard nothing about Christ.”

Send that man on the Sabbath morning to hear some hedge and ditch preacher, some one who cuts the king’s English about never so badly, but who preaches Jesus Christ-you will see the tears rolling down that man’s face, and when he comes out he will say, “I do not like that man’s bad grammar; I do not like the many mistakes he has made, but oh! it has done my heart good, for he spoke about Christ.” That, after all, is the main thing for the Christian; he wants to hear about his Lord, and if he hears him magnified he will overlook a hundred faults.

In fact, you will find that Christians are all agreed, that the best sermon is that which is fullest of Christ. They never like to hear a sermon unless there is something of Christ in it. A Welsh minister who was preaching last Sabbath at the chapel of my dear brother, Jonathan George, was saying, that Christ was the sum and substance of the gospel, and he broke out into this story:-

A young man had been preaching in the presence of a venerable divine, and after he had done he went to the old minister, and said, “What do you think of my sermon?”

“A very poor sermon indeed,” said he.

“A poor sermon?” said the young man, “it took me a long time to study it.”

“Ay, no doubt of it.”

“Why, did you not think my explanation of the text a very good one?”

“Oh, yes,” said the old preacher, “very good indeed.”

“Well, then, why do you say it is a poor sermon? Didn’t you think the metaphors were appropriate and the arguments conclusive?”

“Yes, they were very good as far as that goes, but still it was a very poor sermon.”

“Will you tell me why you think it a poor sermon?”

“Because,” said he, “there was no Christ in it.”

“Well,” said the young man, “Christ was not in the text; we are not to be preaching Christ always, we must preach what is in the text.”

So the old man said, “Don’t you know young man that from every town, and every village, and every little hamlet in England, wherever it may be, there is a road to London?”

“Yes,” said the young man.

“Ah!” said the old divine “and so from every text in Scripture, there is a road to the metropolis of the Scriptures, that is Christ. And my dear brother, your business is when you get to a text, to say, ‘Now what is the road to Christ?’ and then preach a sermon, running along the road towards the great metropolis-Christ. And,” said he, “I have never yet found a text that had not got a road to Christ in it, and if I ever do find one that has not a road to Christ in it, I will make one; I will go over hedge and ditch but I would get at my Master, for the sermon cannot do any good unless there is a savour of Christ in it.” Now since you say amen to that, and declare that what you want to hear is Jesus Christ, the text is proved-“Unto you therefore which believe he is precious.”” 

Taken from the sermon on 1 Peter 2:7  by Charles H.  Spurgeon. Delivered on March 13, 1859.

Malawian Presbyterianism: Are We Standing or Falling like PCUSA?

My fellow Presbyterians in Malawi,

Last Thursday, (June 19, 2014), the Presbyterian Church of United States of America (PCUSA) passed a resolution to allow gays or lesbians to marry in church. Now, this has shocked some but I am not really shocked. Why? Because this is just one of the fruits of steps that were taken many years ago beginning from 1920s.

PCUSA through the Auburn Affirmation in 1920s rejected that the Bible is without error (inerrancy of Scripture), the virgin birth of Jesus and his deity, that Christ died on behalf of sinners (substitutionary atonement), bodily resurrection of Christ and authenticity of Christ’s miracles. Jesus’ miracles were said to be myths. The Auburn Confession also declared that Presbyterians in PCUSA must:

• “safeguard liberty of thought and teaching of its ministers”;
• prohibit the restricting of church teaching to rigid interpretations of Scripture and doctrine; and
• refuse to rank ecclesiastical authority or the authority of the Bible above that of the individual Spirit-led conscience. (In other words, man can decide what or what not to believe in the Bible). (

This declaration led to many things like increased focus on social justice to the extent that salvation, in some cases, is viewed as a mere liberation from poverty and social injustice. This focus on social justice and human rights also led to less emphasis in following the Bible when it comes to the ordination of who is to be a deacon, an elder or a pastor in the church as outlined in 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9.

From 1990s to date, PCUSA among other things has accepted that gays or lesbians can be members of the church, pastors and elders or deacons and a few days ago it has accepted that gays or lesbians can officially marry in church. Marriage is now no longer between a man and a woman but between “two people.”

Now, we might look at PCUSA and think, “That’s America, it will never happen to the Presbyterianism in Malawi. But “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall,” (1 Cor. 10:12). The Presbyterian Church in Malawi partners with PCUSA in a number of areas. A good number of PCUSA congregations also have exchange visits with Presbyterian congregations in Malawi.

I wonder and fear if PCUSA will not influence our Presbyterian church or if it has not already influenced it somehow  knowing that bad company corrupts good character (1 Cor. 15:33). These are my concerns and fears. I believe that all of us including our leaders should ponder on these things lest some years from now, we will also find ourselves in the same place where PCUSA is now.

Thanks for reading. May the Good Lord bless you as you reflect on this post and search the Scriptures to ascertain if these things are so (Acts 17:11).


Lessons from John Calvin’s Method of Preaching

One major aspect of John Calvin’s ministry was his form of expository preaching of the books of the Bible verse by verse also called lexio continua. On Sundays, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, Calvin climbed up the steps of the St. Pierre Cathedral’s pulpit and patiently led his congregation verse by verse through book after book of the Bible. He often preached two to four verses in a sermon; however, in some instances he would preach two to three consecutive sermons on one verse as was the case with 1 Timothy 2:5 and 2 Timothy 1:8 respectively. As he tackled each verse, he would explain its meaning and apply it to his congregation.

But what would motivate Calvin to involve himself in this huge but worthy and profitable task. I believe that Calvin’s view of the Bible as the word or voice of God (vox dei) had a great impact and influence on his adoption of lexio continua method of preaching. Calvin’s high regard for Scripture is evidently seen in his magnum opus, Institutes of the Christian Religion, in which he writes:

In order that true religion may shine upon us, we ought to hold that it must take its beginning from heavenly doctrine and that no one can get even the slightest taste of right and sound doctrine unless he be a pupil of Scripture.” (1.6.2)….“We affirm with utter certainty (just as if we were gazing upon the majesty of God himself) that (the Bible) has flowed to us from the very mouth of God by the ministry of men” (1.8.5).

This view had a profound impact on his preaching as he revealed in his sermon on Micah 3:7:

For what ought sermons and doctrines be, except expositions of what Scripture contains? Truly, if we add the slightest nuance, it only results in corruption. Our Lord has left us a perfect doctrine in the Law, the Prophets, and the Gospel. Thus, what ought we be preaching today? We ought not be adding anything new to the text, but ought to be providing a clearer exposition that would confirm our understanding of God’s teachings. That, I repeat, is the purpose of any sermon or lecture we hear, that we might each be better instructed with respect to God’s will. That way, whenever we hear anything, we have a basis for inquiring whether God has spoken or not. By the same token, all who are charged with preaching God’s Word know that it is wrong of them to add anything of their own, or anything they might event. They must be certain that what they preach is not of their own conjecture but derives from God, who guides them on the basis of his certain and infallible word.

John Calvin was strongly convinced that a preacher can faithfully proclaim the message of his Master only by letting him speak as he has already spoken in the Scriptures. Preaching on 1 Timothy 3:2, he said,

“(The preacher) should not show off so that everyone applauds him and says, ‘Oh, well-spoken! Oh! What a breadth of learning! Oh! What a breadth of mind! When a man has climbed up the pulpit…It is that God may speak to us by the mouth of man.”

The other significant element that greatly influenced John Calvin to preach verse by verse throughout the Bible was his view of the preacher as the ambassador of God. In his commentary on 2 Corinthians 5:20 in which Paul and other preachers of the gospel are described as Christ ambassadors, Calvin comments that a preacher is indeed an ambassador of Christ and he has been ordained by God to speak as God speaks to him in the Scriptures hence Christ could boldly say that whoever pays attention to the gospel preacher pays attention to Christ himself. Here it is important to highlight that Calvin was very much aware that preaching should not be equated with the Bible hence while preaching from Deuteronomy 1:43, he cautioned:

So the teaching which is put forward in the name of God ought to be as authoritative as if all the angels of heaven descended on us, as if God himself were manifesting his majesty before our eyes (but) it is true that when men speak we must weigh their words carefully. For if one were willing to receive everything that was put forward, there would be no distinction between liars and false prophets who seduce men’s souls and the true ministers of God.

Calvin was also influenced toward lexio continua preaching by his view of the hearer of the gospel as a fallen man. In fact, this view has implications both on the preacher and hearer of the gospel as Calvin states in his sermon on 1 Timothy 4:6-7:

Now, just as many preachers are themselves far too given to ambition and in order to find grace and favor seek only what will please, so also on the other side the people are the cause of making preachers swerve aside from the good way. And why? Because, men have ‘itching ears’ and want to be fed with pleasing stories and buffoonery or ‘old wives’ fables as St. Paul calls them here. Seeing that men have such desires –like pregnant women whose cravings are inordinate –ah well this is the cause of some preachers degenerating and disguising themselves and transforming God’s teaching, which is as bad as destroying it.

Calvin fully understood that due to the fallen nature of man both the preacher and the hearer might lean toward preaching and hearing messages that do not disturb them in their comfort zone. Since due to the fall, man is in constant rebellion against God, the fallen nature in the preacher and the hearer might pull them away from the faithful proclamation and hearing of God’s word. However, when lexio continua is the method of preaching in a congregation both the preacher and congregant are forced to fully submit to the whole counsel of God as it unfolds verse after verse and book after book of the Bible; thereby, fully proving that the Scripture as God’s Word is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).

Lexio continua preaching has a lot of benefits for the church today. First, it is one of the real ways in which full submission to God’s word both by the preacher and the congregation is demonstrated. The main challenge that the Church faces today is full submission to God’s Word. Due to the fallen nature of man, we tend to choose what we want to hear, and as the Church is bombarded with liberal and humanistic challenges, the temptation to choose what to obey and practice from the Scriptures also increases. However, where the word of God is preached in lexio continua form, both the preacher and the congregation are compelled to be subservient to God’s Word and to have their minds taken captive by it.

Secondly, lexio continua preaching frees the pastor from the temptation of preaching his mind instead of God’s word. Calvin observed that lexio continua preaching delivers the preacher from the temptation of esteeming or deciding at his pleasure what is profitable to be uttered and what is useless to be omitted. Lastly but not least, related to the above points, Calvin’s type of expository preaching affirms God’s sovereignty in preaching. As he rightly portrayed the preacher as the ambassador of Christ, the minister’s main goal then is similar to an earthly ambassador who is commissioned to advance and protect the interests and of his country. The ambassador demonstrates this commitment both in his words and actions. Similarly, the preacher has no any other agenda apart from seeking to affirm God’s sovereignty in the proclamation of the gospel. God’s sovereignty is affirmed when the preacher allows the Scripture to guide the agenda of preaching in the church or ministry.

The significance of letting Christ speak directly to his Church through the words of Scripture cannot be overemphasized. Ministers and preachers as the carriers of the voice of God should be challenged to consider the importance of lexio continua preaching in their churches or ministries. This form of preaching was essential for a health growth of the church in Geneva where Calvin preached and it also essential even to the present Church. John Leith has profound words for preachers today as he writes, “Calvin the preacher cannot be copied or repeated today in this new time and place, but…we can rightly hope and struggle to do as preachers of the Word in our particular time and place what Calvin did in his. For however much the culture and social matrix change, human existence remains essentially the same.”

John Calvin the Preacher
John Calvin the Preacher