I am looking forward to reading Sinclair Ferguson’s upcoming book on The Marrow Controversy (available here), which should be available near the end of January. It is largely based upon a series of lectures he delivered around 1980 (see here and here for some of Dr. Ferguson’s messages on the subject). In the meantime, the following article (taken from the book) articulates why this book and the issues it wrestles with are so important a concern for the church in the 21st century.
It is a pathetic feature of contemporary church life that there are still plenty in the pews who clamour for shorter and lighter sermons and bright and easy services and not a few in the pulpits prepared to pander to popular taste. There’s a vicious circle: superficial congregations make superficial pastors, and superficial pastors make superficial congregations.
C.E.B. Cranfield, quoted in John Stott’s The Challenge of Preaching
I found the following article to be particularly helpful in that oft-neglected duty of preparing our souls for the Lord’s Day and the worship of God.
PREPARATION FOR THE SABBATH
The family is gathered in church on Sunday morning. The service is about to start. The minister asks a question, asks it even before the Invocation. He asks, “How many of you have taken time to prepare your souls for this, the Lord’s Day?” How would we answer such a question; what would have been our answer last Sunday morning?
There has been much said regarding the keeping of the Sabbath day, and this is proper. Indeed, our country is guilty of breaking it time and time again and born again Christians are joining in. But possibly some emphasis should be put on the matter of preparation for the day. There seems to be little said about this important aspect. It might well be there would be less breaking of the Sabbath if there was more preparation for it!
How can we prepare for the Sabbath day? What things would be important for us to do in order that we might be better prepared to spend the day as the Lord would have us to spend it? The following list might be helpful as we seek to live unto Him in this area:
1. Dedicate the day to the Lord beforehand and rejoice at the prospect of it. Recognize this is truly the Lord’s Day. We should seek, by His grace, to make it a special day of blessing to our souls.
2. Use a good portion of the time on Saturday evening for a spiritual retreat. Closet yourself with the Word, with prayer, filling your soul with the things that be of God. Recognize that your heart needs to be cleansed from the things of the world, necessary things possibly, but things that have entered in to choke the Word.
3. Use some time for meditation. Instead of only reading the Word and praying, think on the things of God and of God Himself. Think on His works, on His holiness, on the wonderful fact of redemption, on the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.
4. Pray for the minister, pray that he will be prepared for the preaching of the Word, the primary means of grace. Hold him up before the Throne of Grace, pray that he will be a fit vessel for the Master’s use.
It is time that God’s people, His saved, prepare themselves for the Lord’s Day and its activities. As the people of Israel had to wash their bodies before the law was presented to them, so should the believers in Christ prepare their souls for the Lord’s Day. (Ex. 19:10). Think of what the result could be in His work if His people were to make some spiritual retreats in preparation for His day!
Published By: The SHIELD and SWORD, INC.
Vol. 4 No. 55 (July 1965)
Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn, Editor
The Bible’s verdict on the human heart is that it is deceitful (Jer. 17:9). And it deceives preachers of the gospel, too. It persuades us that we have more to do than to pray; that prayer is a luxury that we cannot afford; or that prayer is a practice we do not really need. Our hearts tell us to get straight from breakfast to exegesis and that we are sufficient in ourselves for the duties of our calling. Sometimes our hearts don’t even tell us that; they tell us that it can all wait until after another cup of coffee.
Iain Campbell, “Pray, Plan, Prepare, and Preach”, pg. 40
HT: Benjamin Glaser
“They weave the spider’s web.” — Isaiah 59:5See the spider’s web, and behold in it a most suggestive picture of the hypocrite’s religion. It is meant to catch his prey: the spider fattens himself on flies, and the Pharisee has his reward. Foolish persons are easily entrapped by the loud professions of pretenders, and even the more judicious cannot always escape. Philip baptized Simon Magus, whose guileful declaration of faith was so soon exploded by the stern rebuke of Peter. Custom, reputation, praise, advancement, and other flies, are the small game which hypocrites take in their nets. A spider’s web is a marvel of skill: look at it and admire the cunning hunter’s wiles. Is not a deceiver’s religion equally wonderful? How does he make so barefaced a lie appear to be a truth? How can he make his tinsel answer so well the purpose of gold? A spider’s web comes all from the creature’s own bowels. The bee gathers her wax from flowers, the spider sucks no flowers, and yet she spins out her material to any length. Even so hypocrites find their trust and hope within themselves; their anchor was forged on their own anvil, and their cable twisted by their own hands. They lay their own foundation, and hew out the pillars of their own house, disdaining to be debtors to the sovereign grace of God. But a spider’s web is very frail. It is curiously wrought, but not enduringly manufactured. … Hypocritical cobwebs will soon come down when the besom of destruction begins its purifying work. Which reminds us of one more thought, viz., that such cobwebs are not to be endured in the Lord’s house: he will see to it that they and those who spin them shall be destroyed for ever. O my soul, be thou resting on something better than a spider’s web. Be the Lord Jesus thine eternal hiding-place.
John Calvin, from his commentary on Daniel (Daniel 6:22 specifically):
“Fear God, honor the king.” (1 Peter 2:17.)
The two commands are connected together, and cannot be separated from one another. The fear of God ought to precede, that kings may obtain their authority. For if any one begins his reverence of an earthly prince by rejecting that of God, he will act preposterously, since this is a complete perversion of the order of nature. Then let God be feared in the first place, and earthly princes will obtain their authority, if only God shines forth … . For earthly princes lay aside all their power when they rise up against God, and are unworthy of being reckoned in the number of mankind. We ought rather utterly to defy than to obey them [Latin, conspuere in ipsorum capita; “spit on their heads”] whenever they are so restive and wish to spoil God of his rights, and, as it were, to seize upon his throne and draw him down from heaven.
I am currently preaching through Jesus’ Beatitudes in Matthew 5. While preaching on the 4th Beatitude (“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness”; you may access the sermon here), I made the point that we must have a hunger for spiritual things — for God and the things of God. This would extend to hungering after God’s word, desiring to spend time with Him in prayer, longing to honor the Lord’s day in attending worship and setting aside the day unto Him. In short, hungering and thirsting after righteousness involves making God our priority.
I recently came across the following comments by Dr. Derek Thomas in his commentary on Acts:
There will not be any great reformation in our churches or our personal lives if such a thirst [for the word of God] is absent. If we are content to hear one sermon a week lasting twenty minutes, then we are displaying a condition of spiritual sickness. Unless we cultivate an appetite for the exposition of Scripture, we will never grow as Christians. Instead of being among those who are always wanting less exposition, we should be among those always desiring more.
Dr. Thomas is correct. The reason we do not see reformation because we do not want reformation. We do not desire the things of God as we ought. We do not truly hunger for His word.
My good friend Benjamin Glaser has recently written about the importance of the Sabbath Day, or Lord’s Day. I believe all of these are connected. Why are so many content with a single twenty-minute sermon confined to an hour-long worship service? Very often, it is because we have allowed other priorities to creep in, and these by necessity will then encroach on the things of God. Many of us have not gotten over our love for the world and the things of the world.
May we pray that God would once again stoke the fires of our heart to love Him and His word above all the vain entertainments that the world would set before us. May we see such a great reformation in our churches and personal lives that begins with the wonder of the word. Why not help our hearts in this matter by guarding the Lord’s Day against things that might distract us from hungering after the word of God? Indeed, the grass will wither and the flower will fade; the things of this world will pass away. The word of our God, however, will stand forever. May our desire be for such an imperishable word.