Preaching Articles

My old homiletics professor now in glory, Dr. Robert Strong, used to tell us that Charles Haddon Spurgeon often referred to his pulpit as "the throne of the Word of God." It is a good name and one that reminds us that Scripture is to be elevated in all true preaching.

Knowing that, however, without recognizing there is a supernatural power in all truly great preaching, can produce an empty homiletical exercise when we mount that throne each week. Hence this reminder that behind all great preaching—and every great preacher—sits One who is often forgotten, misunderstood or downplayed in our preaching—and in our theologies.

Far too often, the Holy Spirit is left out of the preaching equation. This is often compounded by a flawed understanding of who the Holy Spirit is. Indeed, more theological gibberish has been written and spoken about the Spirit than perhaps any other theological issue in our time. Spurgeon neither forgot Him, nor was he confused in his understanding. His understanding of the relationship between the Holy Spirit and preaching was more than sermon enhancing; it was life-transforming for Spurgeon and many people who sat under his ministry.

That should not surprise us. Toward the end of His earthly ministry, Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit as "the Spirit of truth" who dwells with us and will be in us. Then said Jesus of this Spirit of truth, "The world cannot accept Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. But you know Him, for He lives with you and will be in you" (see John 14:16-18).

Moreover, soon after that, Jesus also said, "When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on His own; He will speak only what He hears, and He will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify Me because it is from Me that He will receive what He will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is Mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from Me what He will make known to you" (John 16:13-15). That is a mighty strong endorsement for someone preachers too often forget!

It is not overstating truth to say the job of the Holy Spirit is to keep the spotlight focused on the Lord Jesus. That, of course, is also the job of every true preacher. In its essence, each of our sermons should echo John the Baptizer's message when he first set his eyes on the Savior: "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). When that becomes our goal, we understand the biblical foundation for good preaching, and the same Holy Spirit who empowered Spurgeon empowers our messages, too.

Who is this One that Jesus said would become the long-term earthly extension of His message? The Spirit's Deity is clear throughout Scripture. We meet Him first at creation: "Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters" (Gen. 1:2). From there we follow His influence, supernatural power and work through to Scripture's close in Revelation: "The Spirit and the bride say, 'Come!' And let the one who hears say, 'Come!'" (Rev. 22:17).

In between these references, we see the Holy Spirit powerfully active: Christ is born; the Spirit is His precursor. Christ is baptized; the Spirit bears witness. Christ is tempted; the Spirit leads Him. Christ ascends; the Spirit takes His place. It is particularly in this final role that we, as preachers, need to be aware of His present role and availability.

In his must-read book for preachers, Preaching and Preachers, the late Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said authentic pulpit power is nothing less than "God giving power, and enabling the preacher, through the Spirit to do this work in a manner that lifts it up beyond the efforts and endeavors of man." In short, when the Holy Spirit enters our pulpits, He does so only upon our invitation. After receiving the invitation, the Spirit proceeds to fire us up with supernatural ability. That and that alone is genuine preaching. Anything else is no different from a weekly civic club talk—mere play church!

Real church happens when the preacher gets serious about God coming among His people and doing what He alone can do. We, as preachers, become not much more than cheerleader witnesses to what happens when we gather for worship.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones spoke of Spirit-empowered preachers as possessed individuals who are taken hold of and look upon themselves with amazement. Such preaching is magic! It is power! It is life-transforming for preachers and their hearers. I speak from personal experience when I say that once we have experienced this power, we never will want to go back to what used to be.

It is more than mere rhetoric and clever clichés that too often are served from our pulpits. When it happens, the result will be, in Peter Marshall's words, "riots and regenerations." People will get past playing church and do serious business with God, and America may well see its third Great Awakening! Oh, God give us preachers who are prepared to know no limits when they enter the throne of the Word of God in the power of God's Spirit!

No amount of truth—no matter how well delivered, no matter how well-intended—that is delivered absent the power of the Holy Spirit can transform lives and turn around a nation run amok.

Preacher, make it your pledge that you never again will enter your pulpit alone. Determine that you will, regardless of the cost or consequences, be God's servant on fire with God's Spirit and that empowered by the Spirit you will shine the light of your ministry on God's only begotten Son. God Himself said through Zerubbabel that it is, "Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of hosts" (Zech. 4:6). Invite the Spirit to be the power behind your preaching throne!

The Rev. Dr. Leslie Holmes is professor of ministry and preaching at Erskine Theological Seminary in Columbia and Due West, SC. A Presbyterian minister, he was most recently senior pastor of Reid Memorial Presbyterian Church in Augusta, GA.

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Albert Hale

commented on Dec 7, 2013

Thank u Dr. Holmes for stirring our souls

Charles Wallis

commented on Dec 7, 2013

Thank you for reminding us what matters in preaching - God's Word and God's Spirit focused on Jesus - not ourselves and our abilities to craft a good speech that motivates people and makes them feel good.

Dennis Cocks

commented on Dec 7, 2013

Very good reminder!

Joseph Steeves

commented on Dec 10, 2013

Thanks for the good reminder. Please pray for me that I would rededicate myself to this as I enter my ninth year of ministry. Joseph Steeves

Alexander Shaw

commented on Dec 11, 2013

This challengingly illuminating article reminds me of our Professor of New Testament at Edinburgh University, James S. Stewart. Get hold of his Warrack Lectures "Heralds of God" - he was horrified when it came out later as "Teach Yourself Preaching" - but the superb content is still there - read it prayerfully!

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