I don’t want this to ever be said of my preaching:
The greatest part of his application will be spent on what is least necessary; and his knowledge will chiefly prove of that sort which puffeth up, without communicating any real benefit… –John Newton
Newton cited two verses to illustrate his point. The first was Genesis 41:21 which gives the picture of the cow in Pharaoh’s dream which ate up the plump cows but they didn’t gain any weight and were just as ugly as when they started. The second was Psalm 127:2 which pointed to the one who pointlessly gets up early and gives his life to anxious toil, but the whole thing is meaningless because the Lord is not building his house. What Newton is saying is that there is a way to be a diligent preacher but it mean absolutely nothing.
In order for one to actually do benefit for souls and not just be a “mere trifler” there must be a certain turn of mind which takes place. That turn of mind is a heart impressed with four certain truths:
- the love of God
- the worth of souls
- the shortness of time
- the importance of eternity
Newton believed that if the preachers heart was full of these four things then he would be useful to his congregation. And he believed that the heart would become full with these truths by prayer and devotion to the word of God:
And I believe you will find, by observation, that the man who is most frequent and fervent in prayer, and most devoted to the word of God, will shine and flourish above his followers.
I’ve seen this play out in my own heart these past couple of weeks. I preached on 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 last week and I’ll be preaching on 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 this week. I’ll be doing this as one who, on certain points of eschatology, believes differently than a large majority of our congregation. I could use this time to explain my understanding of the return of Christ and make that the focal point of the sermon. It might even be somewhat helpful to a few folks. It would certainly make for a lively discussion.
But I’m convinced that Paul’s aim with this text is to be encouraging. As I’ve tried following Newton’s advice I realize that the most important thing in this passage isn’t our view on the timing of the events but rather their reality and the hope they give. There will likely be some folks who will be listening on Sunday morning who fall in the category of those who will be caught off guard by the second coming. The importance of eternity and the worth of souls calls me to urge them to repent and turn to Christ.
Preacher, no matter what text you are preaching this Sunday I’d suggest heeding Newton’s words. Get your heart full with a love of God and a love of people and let that dictate the shape of the application in your sermon. I’ve had more than a few sermons which were warmed by something else. May God convict me whenever I’m motivated by other things.
Photo source: here