Therefore, because God has put us in this world as in a theatre, to contemplate his glory, let us acknowledge him to be such as he declares himself to us, and because he gives us the second instruction which is even more familiar in his word, let us be more confident and stirred with a burning zeal to aspire unto him until we reach that goal, and let us be aware that this world was created for that purpose and that our Lord has placed us here and has favored us with living here and enjoying all the things he has created.
Now, the sun was not made for itself and is even a creature without feeling. The trees, the each, which produces food for us — all of that works for man. The animals, although they move and have some feeling, do not do for all that have this high capacity to understand what belongs to God, for they do not discriminate between good and evil. We also see that their life and death are for men’s use and service.
Jean Calvin, “The Triune God at Work (Gen. 1:1-2)” in Sermons On Genesis, Chapters 1:1-11:4: Forty-Nine Sermons Delivered in Geneva between 4 September 1559 and 23 January 1560, trans. Rob Roy McGregor (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, ©2009), 6.
However, we need note here that we are more than cursed and abominable if we, being masters and possessors of all the good things God has bestowed upon us, do not at least show gratitude as we worship him and confess that everything comes from.
Id., at p. 10. This is the great indictment of humanity:
21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
Romans 1:21–25 (ESV)
There are many things which Spurgeon does particularly well in his preaching which make his sermons memorable. Here is an example of Spurgeon asking the hearer to visualize and be present at an event:
But I will take you somewhere else, where you shall still behold the “Man of Sorrows.” I will lead you to Pilate’s hall, and let you see him endure the mockeries of cruel soldiers: the smitings of mailed gloves, the blows of clenched fists; the shame, the spitting, the plucking of the hair: the cruel buffetings. Oh! can you not picture the King of Martyrs, stript of his garments- exposed to the gaze of fiend-like men? See you not the crown about his temples, each thorn acting as a lancet to pierce his head? Stark you not his lacerated shoulders, and the white bones starting out from the bleeding flesh? Oh, Son of Man! I see thee scourged and flagellated with rods and whips how can I henceforward cease to remember thee? My memory would be more treacherous than Pilate, did it not ever cry, Ecce Homo,- “Behold the man.”
Charles H. Spurgeon, Spurgeon’s Sermons, vol. 1, no. 2 “The Remembrance of Christ”
The sermon’s content is in the title: the immutability of God. It breaks down into three sections: some ways in which God is unchangeable; proof of the point and application. His text is,
“I am the Lord, I charge not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.”-Malachi 3:6.
The Introduction. He begins with a contrast, the proper study of mankind is not man, but rather God. He discusses how the contemplation of God is the highest task a human can undertake — and the best for the human being:
Oh, there is, in contemplating Christ, a balm for every wound, in musing on the Father, there is a quietus for every grief- and in the influence of the Holy Ghost, there is a balsam for every sore. Would you lose your sorrows? Would you drown your cares? Then go plunge yourself in the Godhead’s deepest sea; be lost in his immensity; and you shall come forth as from a couch of rest, refreshed and invigorated. I know nothing which can so comfort the soul, so calm the swelling billows of grief and sorrow; so speak peace to the winds of trial, as a devout musing upon the subject of the Godhead.
I. A general statement of the doctrine.
God is unchangeable in his essence.
God is unchangeable in his attributes.
God is unchangeable in his plans.
God is unchangeable in his promises.
God is unchangeable in his threatenings.
God is unchangeable in the objects of his love.
II. Proof of the point.
It is implied in the very idea of God.
His perfection implies he is unchangeable.
His infinity implies he is not changeable.
His actions imply he is unchangeable.
III. Those who benefit from this fact.
He asks who are these “sons of Jacob”. In short, the elect. But in it also refers to particular people, those who are in most need of an unchangeable God.
IV. What is the benefit of this truth?
A strong arm hath saved me. I have started back and cried, O God! could I have gone so near sin, and yet come back again? Could I have walked right up to the furnace and not fallen down, like Nebuchadnezzar’s strong men, devoured by the very heat? Oh! is it possible I should be here this morning, when I think of the sins I have committed, and the crimes which have crossed my wicked imagination? Yes, I am here, unconsumed, because the Lord changes not. Oh! if he had changed, we should have been consumed in a dozen ways; if the Lord had changed, you and I should have been consumed by ourselves; for after all Mr. Self is the worst enemy a Christian has. We should have proved suicides to our own souls; we should have mixed the cup of poison for our own spirits, if the Lord had not been an unchanging God, and dashed the cup out of our hands when we were about to drink it. Then we should have been consumed by God himself if he had not been a changeless God. We call God a Father- but there is not a father in this world who would not have killed all his children long ago, so provoked would he have been with them, if he had been half as much troubled as God has been with his family. He has the most troublesome family in the whole world-unbelieving, ungrateful, disobedient, forgetful, rebellious, wandering, murmuring, and stiffnecked. Well it is that he is longsuffering, or else he would have taken not only the rod, but the sword to some of us long ago. But there was nothing in us to love at first, so there cannot be less now. John Newton used to tell a whimsical story, and laugh at it too, of a good woman who said, in order to prove the doctrine of Election, “Ah! sir, the Lord must have loved me before I was born, or else he would not have seen anything in me to love afterwards.” I am sure it is true in my case, and true in respect most of God’s people; for there is little to love in them after they are born, that if he had not loved them before then, he would have seen no reason to choose them after- but since he loved them without works, he loves them without works still; since their good works did not win his affection, bad works cannot sever that affection- since their righteousness did not bind his love to them, so their wickedness cannot snap the golden links. He loved them out of pure sovereign grace, and he will love them still. But we should have been consumed by the devil and by our enemies-consumed by the world, consumed by our sins, by our trials and in a hundred other ways, if God had ever changed.
A sermon truly begins with the listener: Why should I listen to this man? He asks for my attention, why should I care? (Now, note, I am not saying that the Words of God should not be carefully attended to. That is unquestionably true.)
When one comes to a sermon, the preacher has the duty to presenting the great matter of eternity before him. Baxter rightly wrote, “I preach as never sure to preach again, and as a dying man to dying men.” But too often sermons which begin with cute, often funny stories, cannot command that sort of gravity. If the sermon merely begin a joke, how do we ever get to matters of eternal consequence?
This introduction by J.D. Jones certainly opens up a matter of profound gravity. He also immediately makes it to Scripture. He asks a question and answers with the Text. He also demonstrates by means of a contemporary reference (WWI), that the question is immediately relevant:
IF A MAN DIE—
THERE is no question to which the human soul more eagerly desires a clear and sure answer than this one: “If a man die, shall he live again?” It is an old, old question. Job asked it long ago in an agony. The one fact he could see, the one fact which admitted of no challenge or dispute, was the tragic fact of death. “Man dieth and wasteth away; yea, man giveth up the ghost, and where is he? As the waters fail from the sea, and the river decayeth and drieth up, so man lieth down and riseth not: till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be roused out of their sleep.” And yet, if the grave really was the end, if death was the very last word, it seemed to Job that life was just a tangled web of injustice and wrong, and that there could not be a wise and good God at the heart of things. That sorely-tried patriarch passionately desired an assurance that man should live again. He almost demanded a future life to rectify the wrongs and waste and distresses of this. There is entreaty, there is pathetic appeal, there is passion and desire in this question: “If a man die, shall he live again?”
Thousands and tens of thousands of people are asking that same question with a similar urgency in these days of ours. The awful harvest which death has been reaping in the Great War has made it the question of questions for a vast host of bereaved fathers and mothers and wives and lovers. They want to know—what of their beloved dead? Is a grave in France or Mesopotamia, or beneath the waters of the North Sea the end of them, or shall they live again?
J. D. Jones, If a Man Die (New York: George H. Doran Company, 1918), 9–12.
(The final portion of the sermon)
A FEW PARTICULAR ADDRESSES
First, to him who is about to set apart to the work of Gospel Ministry in this place
From the preceding observations, you will easily see that the work before you is great and solemn: and I hope this is a lesson you have been taught otherwise: the former acquaintance I have had with you gives me reason to hope that this is the case. You about to have these souls committed to your care; you are to be placed as a watchman upon the walls of this part of Zion. I doubt not but that it is with trembling you enter upon this work. The relation that this day’s business has with a judgment to come renders the scene affecting. Your mind I trust has already anticipated the solemn moment when you must meet these people before the bar of God. The good profession you are this state to make is before many witnesses; saints and wicked men are beholding; the angels are looking down upon us; above all the great God with complacency or disapprobation beholds the transactions of this day: he sees what motives govern you, and he will proclaim it before the assembled universe. Oh! solemn and affecting thought! The work before you is great and requires great searching of heart, great self-diffidence, and self abasement. How necessary that you feel your dependence upon God: you cannot perform any part of your work without his help; under a sense of your weakness, repair to him for help. Would you be a successful minister, you must be a praying dependent one; do all in the name and strength of the Lord Jesus. Would you be faithful in watching for the souls of men, you must be much and watching your own heart. If you are careless with respect to your own soul, you will be also with respect to others. Although the work is too great for you, yet let such considerations as these revive your desponding heart. That the cause is good, better than life, you may well give up all for it. ’Tis the cause of God, and that which will prove victorious in spite of all opposition from men or devils –that God has promised to be with his ministers to the end of the world–that the work is delightful; Paul somewhere blesses God for putting him into the work of the ministry –the campaign is short, your warfare will soon be accomplished– That the reward is great, being found faithful, you will receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.
Secondly, We have a word to the church and congregation in this place.
My Brethren and Friends,
The importance of the work of a gospel minister suggests the weighty concerns of your souls. As ministers must give account how they preach and behave; so hearers also are to be examined how they hear and improve. You are to hear with the view to the day of judgment, always remembering that there is no sermon or opportunity that you have in this life to repair for another world that shall go unnoticed at that decisive court. Your present exercises with respect to the solemn affairs of this day will then come up to public view.
God we trust is this day sending one to watch for your souls: should not this excite sentiments of gratitude in your breasts? Shall God makes so much care for your souls and you neglect them? How unreasonable will it be for you to despise the pious instruction of your watchmen? You will herein wrong your own souls and it will be an evidence that you love death. You will bear with him in not accommodating his sermons to your vitiated tastes because he must give account. His work is great and you must pray for him; as in the verse following the text the apostle says, “Brethren pray for us.”
Is it the business of your minister to watch for your souls with such indefatigable assiduity, you easily see how necessary it is that you do what you can to strengthen him in this work. That you minister to his temporal wants, that he may give himself wholly to these things. The great backwardness among people in general with respect to this matter at present is an unfavorable aspect. “Who goeth to warfare anytime at his own charges? Who planteth a vineyard and eateth not of the fruit thereof? or feedeth a flock and earth not of the milk of the flock?” 1 Cor. ix. 7.
Doubtless this man is sent here for the rise and fall of many in this place. We hope we will be used as a means of leading some to Christ; while on the other hand, we even tremble at the thought, he may fit others for more aggravated condemnation. Take heed how you hear.
A few words to the assembly in general to close the subject.
What has been said about the character and work of gospel ministers shows us at once it is a matter in which we are all deeply interested. The greater part of the people present, I expect to see you no more until I meet them at that day, which has been the main subject of the foregoing discourse. With respect to the character of the people present, we can say little about them; only this we may observe, they are all dying creatures, hastening to the grave and to judgment: there must we meet you–there an account of this day’s work will come up to view–there each one must give an account concerning the right discharge of the work assigned him: the preacher must give an account, and you that hear also.
Let me say to such as our yet in their sins and proclaim it from this part of the wall of Zion, that the enemy of your souls is at hand– that destruction awaits you. Oh! flee! flee! to Christ Jesus: bow to his sovereignty; Know this, but except you were born again and become new creatures in the dispositions of your mind, you cannot be saved. Shall ministers watch and pray for your souls night and day and you pay no attention to them; since they are so valuable, having such a relation to God, did men regard divine glory they would regard their souls as being designed to exhibit it.
Be instructed then, to delay no longer, but by repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ make peace with him before you were summoned before his awful bar. Let me bear testimony against your practice too common on such occasions as this: many people think it is time for carnal mirth and dissipation, that which nothing can be more provoking to God nor incommensurate with that day and strict account that such an occasion tends to exciting the mind. May all, both ministers and people, be exhorted to diligence in their work, that finally we me adopt the language of the Blessed apostle, “As also ye have acknowledged us in part that we are your rejoicing, even as ye also are ours in the day of the Lord Jesus.”
II. Let Us Say Something with Respect to the Character of the Spiritual Watchman.
Natural endowments embellished with a good education are qualifications obviously requisite for an evangelical minister; that it is needless that we insist upon them at the same time and that the interest of religion has and still continues greatly to suffer for the want them is equally notorious.
Nearly ages of Christianity, men were miraculously qualified and calls into the work of gospel ministry; but we are far from believing that this is the present mode by which ordinary ministers are introduced.
1. It is necessary that those who hands are blessed Lord, buy those repeated interrogations to Simon whether he loved him, has set before us the importance of this qualification in a spiritual shepherd. The sad consequences of admitting those into the army who are in heart enemies of the Commonwealth have often taught men to be careful in this particular.
The trust reposed in the watchmen’s such as renders him capable of great detriment to the community. He that undertakes in this work from secular motives will meet with disappointment. What a gross absurdity as this for a man to command religion to others while he is a stranger to himself!
“The pious preacher will commend the savior from the personal fund of his own experience.” Being smitten with the love of Christ himself with zeal and fervor will he speak of the divine glory! Love to Christ will tend to make a minister faithful and successful. The importance of this point urges me to be copious on the subject were it not too biomes to require a long discussion.
2. Wisdom and prudence are important qualifications in minsters: hence that injunction the great preacher. Matthew x. 16. Be you therefore wise as serpents and harmless as doves. He is a man of spiritual understanding whose soul is irradiated with the beams of the Son or Righteousness — has received an unction form the holy one — is taught by the Word and Spirit, walks in the light of God’s countenance He has seen the deceit of his own heart — knows the intrigues of the enemy, — sees the many snares to which the souls of men are exposed, — and not being ignorant of the devices of Satan, he will endeavor to carry to spiritual campaign with that care and prudence that he shall not get advantage. He knows that he has a subtle enemy to oppose and human nature, replete with enmity against the gospel; and will endeavor in every effort to conduct with that wisdom and circumspection as shall appear most likely to prove successful.
3. Patience is another qualification very necessary in a spiritual watchman. His breast being inspired with love to the cause, he will stand the storms of temptations; will not be disheartened by all the fatigues, and sufferings to which his work exposes him; but will endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.
4. Courage and constitute a part of the character of a gospel minister. A sentinel who is worthy of that station we’ll not fear the formidable appearance of the enemy nor tremble at their menaces. None of these things remove him, Neither will he count his life dear to him to defend a cause so very important. He has the spirit of the intrepid Nehemiah, “Should such a man as I flee?” He stands fast in the face; quits himself like a man, and is strong.
5. Nor let us we forget to mention vigilance or close attention to the businesses signed him, as an essential qualification in a minister of Christ. A man does not answer the idea of a watchmen unless his mind is engaged in the business. The Word, which we have rendered watch, in the text, signifies, in the original, too awake, and abstain from sleeping. Indeed all the purposes of the watch set upon the wall are frustrated if he sleeps on guard; there by himself and the whole army are liable to falling easy prey to the cruel depredations of the enemy. The spiritual watchmen is not to sleep, But to watch the first motion of the enemy and give the alarm: last souls Parish through his drowsiness and inattention.
I am, I confess, sometimes amused by the homiletical handbooks that pass for pastoral theology in our day. Some of the guidance given for the preparation of sermons seems entirely out of touch with the life of local churches. I am amused when I hear the big cheeses of the evangelical world assure congregations that they prepare their sermons, or perhaps know what they will be preaching on on any given Sunday, a year or so in advance. As the pastor of a small congregation, preaching and teaching several times a week, that seems to me to be ludicrous, even dangerous. I do not think I could do that even if I were in circumstances that seemed to allow it.
We have all heard a good deal lately of the World Missionary Conference at Edinburgh. By far the strongest impression it made on my mind was that there is no real difference between the work of missions and the work of the Church at home, and that what we need is not a greater interest in missions but a greater interest in the Gospel—that is, in the truth that Christ has come into the world, the revelation of the Father, and that no deep or satisfying happiness can enter human hearts but that which enters with Him. Of course there are differences of men, racial, historical, cultural, but in the long run they do not count. It is not to the Briton or the German the Gospel is preached in Europe, or to the Chinaman or the Hindu in Asia; it is to the soul yearning for God, or perhaps hardened against God; it is with the same inspiration, the same hidden allies, the same antagonists, the same soul travail, the same hope, everywhere.
And with this word “hope” I will conclude, returning from the compassionate to the congratulatory side of our Saviour’s word. It is only a joyful religion which has a right to be missionary: only one which is conscious of having found the supreme good will be eager to impart it. But surely if we are conscious of having found the supreme good, or rather of being found by Him, it should make us glad and confident.
Some one said to me not long ago that he was struck with the number of hopeless ministers. There were so many men who had everything against them, who had an uphill fight, who despaired of making any more of it; they were pithless, apathetic, resigned; they entered beaten into the battle, or did not enter into it at all. I will say nothing unsympathetic of men whom it is not for their brethren to judge, but I will say this to every one who has accepted this vocation—that when we preach the Gospel it must be in the spirit of the Gospel. It must be with the sympathy of Jesus for all who are yearning after God, and with the certainty of Jesus that in Him there is the revelation of God which will bring happiness to all yearning souls. So preached, it cannot be in vain.
In Bengal and in Scotland, in our own race, and in the races most remote from our own, there are souls desiring to see the things that we see, and destined to be blessed with the vision. The evangelist’s is no calling for a joyless and dispirited man. “Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound: they shall walk, O Lord, in the light of Thy countenance.
James Denney, The Way Everlasting: Sermons (London; New York; Toronto: Hodder and Stoughton, 1911), 59–61.
J. I. Packer, “The Preacher as Theologian,” in Honouring the Written Word of God , 314–15:
What difference should it make to our thinking, our resolves, our emotional attitudes, our motivation, and our view of our own spiritual state at this moment? More fully: if this principle is truth that God teaches and guarantees, then the following questions arise:
1. What particular judgements, and ways of thinking, does it require of us, and what habits of mind and particular opinions does it forbid us to entertain, and charge us to change if they are part of our life at present? (This is application to the mind.)
2. What particular actions, and what types of virtuous behaviour, does it require of us, and what vicious acts and habits does it forbid, and tell us to renounce herewith? (This is application to the will.)
3. What does it teach us to love, desire, hope for, insist on, and rejoice in, and what does it direct us to hate, abhor, fear, shrink from, and be sad at? (This is application to those emotionally freighted dispositional attitudes that Puritans called “affections.”)
4. What encouragements are there here to embrace righteousness, or a particular aspect of righteousness, and persevere in it, and what discouragements are there here to dissuade us from lapsing into sinful habits and actions? (This is application at the level of motivation.)
5. How do we measure up to the requirements of this truth at this moment? And what are we going to do about our present shortcomings here, as self-scrutiny reveals them? And what conformity to the truth’s requirements do we find in ourselves, for which we ought to thank God? And how do we propose to maintain and increase that conformity? (This is application for self-knowledge and self-assessment, as a step towards [s]alutary adjustments to our life.).