Sermon Preparation Part 9 - Preparing Successfully - by C. Matthew McMahonSermon Preparation and Guidelines for Expository Preaching
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“For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance,” (1 Thess. 1:5).
Step 1 or Step 9?
In some ways, this particular step should be step #1 since it focuses on exhorting you, the minister, to rely on the Holy Spirit. However, in the overall scheme of sermon preparation, I thought it would be better suited at this point based on an important quote from Charles Bridges. Bridges gives a sample of how preparation should be done by a demonstration of Mr. Mitchel, an American divine quoted by Cotton Mather, which I quote here in full:
When he was going to compose a sermon, he began with prayer; thinking [how might I study this passage well?] He then read over the text in the original, and weighed the language of the Holy Ghost. If any difficulty occurred in the interpretation, he was wary, how he ran against the stream of the most solid interpreters, whom he still consulted. He was then desirous to draw forth his doctrines, and perhaps other heads of his discourse, at the beginning of the week, that so his occasional thoughts might be useful thereunto. And he would ordinarily improve his own meditations to shape his discourse, before he would consult any other authors who treated on the subjects, that so their notions might serve only to adorn and correct his own. Lastly, having finished his composure, he concluded with a thanksgiving to the Lord his Helper.
This example aptly illustrates a completeness of pulpit preparation — including careful study, close meditation, and fervent prayer, that we may set aside all useless matter, and bring forth from our treasure-house solid, and edifying food. Every minister should make this all a habit.
John Angell James in his work, “An Earnest Ministry” says, how could we employ an earnest ministry without the power of the Holy Spirit? It is only by the power of God’s grace that a revival of earnestness in the ministry will take place. Ministers now are working under the privilege of the Messiah who came in the fullness of power, and has delivered his Spirit from the throne of grace to his ministers for their good and work. The minister must take up his position in the fire of this Spirit, deriving from it unspeakable advantage in addressing our hearers; a seriousness, tenderness, and majesty would pervade our discourses, beyond what the greatest unassisted talent could command; something superhuman would rest on us, a Divine glory would irradiate us, and we should speak in power and demonstration of the Spirit.
In earlier years, the power of the holy Spirit working in and through the minister was called his unction. Bishop Hall said, “Possessed of this celestial unction, we should be under no temptation to neglect a plain gospel, in quest of amusing speculations and unprofitable novelties; the most ordinary topics would open themselves with a freshness and interest, as though we had never considered them before; and the things of the Spirit would display their inexhaustible variety and depth. We shall pierce the invisible world, we shall look, so to speak, into eternity, and present the very essence of religion, while too many preachers, for want of spiritual discernment, rest satisfied with the surface and the shell. We shall not allow ourselves to throw one grain of incense on the altar of vanity, and shall forget ourselves so completely as to convince our hearers we do so; and, displacing everything else from the attention, leave nothing to be felt or thought of but the majesty of truth and the realities of eternity.”
God’s divine sovereignty attests to the reality that as a whole, ministerial success is sure. Reliance on the Holy Spirit is essential in your study. You are exegeting God’s word, and for divine illumination to have its affect, this requires the minister to soak his study in prayer throughout his preparation.
Holy Spirit attendance on pulpit preparation is godly meditation, and special prayer. The mind of the minister should be one where he renounces all dependence on his own efforts, meditating on the will of God for the people, and then relying on the Spirit of prayer for his energy and faithfulness in the act of preaching. Bridges quotes Massillon effectively, when he says, “The Minister, who does not habituate himself to devout prayer, will speak only to the ears of his people; because the Spirit of God, who alone knows how to speak to the heart, and who, through the neglect of prayer, not having taken up his abode within him, will not speak by his mouth.”