What troubles us, I think, is a sense that the old evangelical tradition of powerful preaching--the tradition, in England, of Whitefield and Wesley and Berridge and Simeon and Haslam and Ryle--has petered out, and we do not know how to revive it. We feel that, for all our efforts, we as preachers are failing to speak adequately to men's souls. In other words, what lies behind our modern interest in expository preaching is a deep dissatisfaction with our own ministry.In Ryken and Wilson, Preach the Word: Essays on Expository Preaching in Honor of R. Kent Hughes (Wheaton, IL: Crossway), p. 142.
There is a delightful seventeenth-century tract by John Owen entitled The Character of an Old English Puritane (1646), in which we learn that such a man "esteemed that preaching best wherein was most of God, least of man." Our own constant suspicion, I think, is that our own preaching contains too much of man and not enough of God. We have an uneasy feeling that the hungry sheep who look up are not really being fed. It is not that we are not trying to break the bread of life to them; it is just that, despite ourselves, our sermons turn out dull and flat and trite and tedious and, in the event, not very nourishing. We are tempted (naturally) to soothe ourselves with the thought that the day of preaching is past, or that zealous counseling or organizing or management or fundraising makes sufficient amends for ineffectiveness in the pulpit; but then we reread 1 Corinthians 2: (NKJV)--"my speech and my preaching were... in demonstration of the Spirit and of power"--and we are made uneasy again, and the conclusion is forced upon us once more that something is missing in our ministry. This, surely, is the real reason why we evangelicals today are so fascinated by the subject of expository preaching: because we want to know how we can regain the lost authority and unction that made evangelical preaching mighty in days past to humble sinners and build up the church.
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