Preaching - by William Gurnall (1617-1679)

Pastoral Theology and Expository Preaching Articles

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How well do you preach?

“He who has My word, let him speak My word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat? says the Lord.” Jeremiah 23:28.

Preach the truth. Take heed of giving your own dreams and fancies in God’s name. All is chaff, except the pure word of God. Oh stamp not God’s image on your own coin! We live in high-flown times: many people are not content with truths which lie plainly in the Scriptures; and some, to please their wanton palates, have sublimated their notions so high, that they have flown out of the sight of the Scripture — and unawares run themselves, with others, into dangerous errors! Make not experiments upon the souls of people, by delivering what is doubtful. Better feed people with sound doctrine, though it be a plain meal — than that you should, with an outlandish dish, light on a wild gourd, that brings death into their pot.

Preach with the fear of God. A little bread, with God’s blessing, may make a meal for a multitude. A great provision may soon shrink to nothing — if God helps not in the breaking of it. It is not your sermon in your head, or notes in your book, which will enable you to preach, except God opens your mouth. Acknowledge, therefore, God in all your ways, and lean not to your own understanding. The swelling of the heart, as well as of the wall, goes before a fall. How much may it provoke God, when you go to the pulpit, and pass by his door in the way, without calling for His assistance?

Not only the preparation of the heart — but the answer of the tongue, both are from the Lord (Proverbs 16:1). God keeps the key of the mouth — as well of the heart; not a word can be uttered, until God opens the door of the lips to give it a free egress. He opened the mouth of the donkey, and stopped the mouth of that wicked prophet, its master (Num. 22:28-31): hear him confess as much to Balak: “Lo, I am come unto you: have I now any power at all to say anything? the word that God puts in my mouth, that shall I speak” (verse 38).

Preach without fear of man. There is nothing more unworthy than to see a people bold to sin — and the preacher afraid to reprove them. It is said of Tacitus, that he took the same liberty to write the emperors’ lives, that they took in leading them.

Man-pleasing is both endless and needless. If you would, you could not please all; and if you could, there is no need, if you please Him who can turn all their hearts and bind their hands. They speed best, that dare be faithful.

Jonah was afraid of his preaching work: O, he dared not go to such a great city with such a sad message: to tell them that they would be destroyed, was to set them at work to destroy him that brought the news; but how near was he to losing his life, by running away to save it?

Jeremiah seemed the only man likely to lose his life by his bold preaching; yet he had fairer quarter at last, than the smooth preachers of his time.

Just so, if you are free and bold, you may, indeed, be mocked by some — but you will be reverenced by more. Yes, even those who wag their heads at you — carry that in their conscience that which will make them fear you. They are the flattering preachers, who become base among the people (Mal. 2:9). It is not wisdom to provoke the judge, by flattering the prisoner.

Where one says, How shall I do this and sin against God? — Many in their hearts say, How shall I do this and anger man? Herod feared John — and did many things; had he feared God — he would have labored to have done everything.

Fall to the work God which sets you about, and you engage His strength for you. “The way of the Lord is strength.” Run from your work — and you engage God’s strength against you; He will send some storm or other after you to bring home His runaway servant. How often has the coward soldier been killed in a ditch, or under some hedge — when the valiant soldier who stood his ground and kept his place, got off with safety and honors?

Preach with a good conscience. Keep a clear conscience: he cannot be a bold reprover — who is not a conscientious liver. Such a one must speak softly, for fear of waking his own guilty conscience. Unholiness in the preacher’s life, either will stop his mouth from reproving, or the people’s ears from receiving. Oh how harsh a sound does such a cracked bell make in the ears of his auditors!

Preach definitely. He is the better workman, who drives one nail home with reiterated blows — than he who tries to drive many nails — but fastens none. Such preachers are not likely to reach the conscience, who hop from one truth to another — but dwell on none. Were I to buy a garment in a shop, I would like him better that lays one good piece or two before me which suits me, which I may fully examine, than him who takes down all his shop, and heaps piece upon piece, merely to show his store, until at last for variety I can look attentively on none, they lie so one upon another.

Preach faithfully. The preacher must read and study people as diligently as any book in his study — and as he finds them, dispense like a faithful steward unto them. People complain that we are so oft reproving the same error or sin — but the fault is their own, because they will not leave it. Who will blame the dog for continuing to bark, when the thief is all the while in the yard? Alas, alas, it is not once or twice rousing against sin, which will do it!

“It is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2). The preacher’s faithfulness stands in relation to him who entrusts him. It is very unlikely that a steward, in giving out provision, should please all the servants in the house. Such stewards have least thanks, when they do their work best. He who thinks to please men, goes about an endless and needless work. A wise physician seeks to cure, not to please his patient! He who chides when he is sick, for the bitterness of the medicines — will give you thanks for it when he is recovered.

Preach simply. The word of God is too sacred a thing, and preaching too solemn a work, to be toyed and played with — as is the usage of some, who make a sermon but matter of wit and fine oratory. Their sermon is like a child’s doll, from which if you take its dress, the rest is worth nothing. It is well indeed when the people can keep pace with the preacher. To preach truths and notions above the hearers’ capacity, is like a nurse that should go to feed a child with a spoon too big to go into its mouth!

Preach wisely. “Because the preacher was wise, he . . . sought to find out acceptable words” (Eccles. 12:9, 10). Not crude, loose, and undigested stuff, in a slovenly manner brought forth, lest the slop of the cook should turn the stomachs of the guests.

Preach gently. “The servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all, able to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those who oppose themselves” (2 Timothy 2:24, 25). Oh how careful is God that nothing should be in the preacher to prejudice the sinner’s judgment, or harden his heart against the offer of His grace! If the servant if proud and hasty — how shall they know that the Master is meek and patient? He who will take the bird — must not scare it. A forward, peevish messenger, is no friend to him who sends him. Sinners are not pelted into Christ with stones of hard provoking language — but wooed into Christ by heart-melting exhortations.

The oil makes the nail drive without splitting the board. The Word never enters the heart more kindly, than when it falls most gently: “Ride prosperously, because of truth and meekness” (Psalm 45:4). Be as rough to your people’s sins as you can — so long as you are gentle to their souls. Do you take the rod of reproof into your hand? Let them see that love, not anger, gives the blow. The word preached comes, indeed, best from a warm heart.

“The words of wise men are heard in quiet” (Ecc. 9:17). Let the reproof be as sharp as you will; but the spirit must be meek. Passion raises the blood of him that is reproved; but compassion turns his affections. We must not denounce wrath, in wrath.

Preach diligently. The bee will not sit on a flower where no honey can he sucked, neither should the Christian. “Why do you sit here idle?” — you should say to your soul, when you have so much to do for God and your soul, and so little time to dispatch it in?

Bible Verse:

"...and let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful." (Col. 3:15).

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