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THE CALL TO PREACH

by Dr. Robert Hymers

A sermon preached on Saturday Evening, November 26, 2005
at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles

"How shall they hear without a preacher?" (Romans 10:14).


I have been thinking about the subject of preaching for a long time. I began preaching forty-seven years ago last April. And so, across nearly five decades, I have studied and thought about this subject a great deal.

The best book I have ever read on the subject is Preaching and Preachers by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (Zondervan Publishing House, 1971). It may seem strange that I should recommend a book about preaching which was written by a man who was not trained to be a preacher. Dr. Lloyd-Jones never went to Bible school or to a theological seminary. He was trained in medicine at St. Bartholomew's Hospital in London, England and became a medical doctor. He was an assistant to the king's physician, Lord Horder. Dr. Lloyd-Jones gave up his medical career in 1927 and became the pastor of a church in Aberavon, South Wales, in the United Kingdom. During that period great revival came while he was preaching, revival sent from God. In my opinion Dr. Lloyd-Jones was one of the greatest preachers of the twentieth century. Now, you may debate that, and that is quite all right with me. But if you are interested in the subject of preaching, you really should read his book, Preaching and Preachers. It will do you a great deal of good if you are a preacher, or if you are thinking and praying about whether God wants you to be one.

In recent months several young men in our church have made an open declaration that they would pray about this matter. So, for their good, and for the good of others who may read this on our website, I feel that I should speak on the subject of preaching. Most of what I say will draw on Dr. Lloyd-Jones' book, Preaching and Preachers, and on an address which he gave titled, "What is Preaching?" (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Knowing the Times, Banner of Truth Trust, 1989, chapter 14).

I will begin with our text,

"How shall they hear without a preacher?" (Romans 10:14).

Dr. Lloyd-Jones said, "The most urgent need in the Christian Church today is true preaching, it is obviously the greatest need of the world also" (Preaching and Preachers, p. 9). Dr. Lloyd-Jones pointed out that preaching "has fallen from the place that it once occupied…a central and predominating position in the life of the Church, particularly in Protestantism" (ibid., p. 11).

If someone were to write a book on the history of preaching three or four hundred years from now, the latter part of the twentieth century would undoubtedly be portrayed as a time of very poor preaching. I think that there are several reasons for this. I am not writing a book on preaching. I'm simply giving you some of my thoughts and ideas, and I am referring you back to Dr. Lloyd-Jones' book and lecture for you to get a fuller picture. But I think there are several reasons for the decline of real preaching in our day. I will give you one of them tonight. The call to preach is not emphasized. Look at Romans 10:15, the first third of that verse:

"And how shall they preach, except they be sent?"
     (Romans 10:15).

Dr. Lloyd-Jones said,

Who sends them? With us, I say, the trouble is that people are sending themselves, appointing themselves as preachers. Surely this is entirely wrong. I interpret this statement in Romans 10 as meaning that God sends us, and also that the church sends us. No man has a right just to get up and start preaching, or what he may regard as preaching. There is an element of sending, and we must return to it…you have got to be sent; you have got to be sure that God sends you; you have got to be sure that the church is sending you (Lloyd-Jones, "What is Preaching?," p. 260).

Now, there must also be a sense of awe and fear and dread connected with a true call to the ministry. Please turn to I Corinthians 2:3. Let us stand and read that verse aloud.

"And I was with you in weakness, and in fear and in much trembling" (I Corinthians 2:3).

You may be seated.

A sense of weakness, a sense of fear, a sense of trembling accompanies a true call to the ministry. Notice that Paul says this in the very midst of his great passage on gospel preaching (I Corinthians 1:18-2:8). Weakness. Fear. Trembling. That's what Moses felt when God called him. "I can't do this! I am called on to do something I simply can't do!" There's always a feeling like that in a man who is truly called to preach. Jeremiah felt it.

"Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay" (Jeremiah 20:9).

I grew weary trying not to preach! I couldn't hold it back. I had to do it! There is that sort of compulsion in the call to preach. Dr. W. A. Criswell called it the "inner necessity to speak" (The Criswell Study Bible, note on Jeremiah 20:9). The call to preach is compulsive. That's the best English word - compulsive. You are compelled, forced, overpowered, driven to it. One who studies psychology might even compare it to "obsessive compulsive" behavior. The man who is called to preach is obsessed with it, forced to do it, driven to it. And I think it is in that sense that great Spurgeon told those who applied to his school for ministers, "Young man, avoid the ministry if at all possible." If you can avoid doing this, then by all means avoid it. If you are not driven by an inner force and necessity, then do something else with your life, and forget about being a preacher. "How will I know if I'm called?" some young man may ask. Well, are you forced to do it? Are you driven to it? Are there no other options? If there are, forget the whole thing. Dr. Lloyd-Jones said,

Those of you who are familiar with the life and the journals of the great George Whitefield, one of the greatest preachers of all times, will remember his hesitation about preaching. He was alarmed by it, he was frightened…he went through considerable agony of mind and spirit. He felt he was unworthy, and, surely, a man who does not know something about this sense of unworthiness has no right to enter a pulpit at all. [Whitefield] was a man who hesitated long and seriously and had to be forced (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, M.D., "What Is Preaching?" in Knowing the Times, Banner of Truth Trust, 1989, p. 262).

This was true also in the case of John Wesley. And these two men of the First Great Awakening were among the greatest preachers who have ever lived.

Weakness, fear, trembling, awe, dread, a "burning fire shut up in my bones… weary with forbearing," alarmed, compelled, driven, forced, "an inner necessity to speak." These feeble English words reflect some of the inner compulsion connected with a true call from God to preach the gospel. If you don't have it - don't do it! "Young man, avoid the ministry if at all possible." Dr. Lloyd-Jones said,

Preaching is never something that a man decides to do. What happens rather is that he becomes conscious of a "call"…A call generally starts in the form of a consciousness within one's own spirit, some disturbance in the realm of the spirit, then that your mind is being directed to the whole question of preaching…it is God dealing with you, and God acting upon you by His Spirit; it is something you become aware of rather than what you do. It is thrust upon you, it is presented to you and almost forced upon you constantly in this way (Preaching and Preachers, p. 104).

It means that you have a feeling that you can do nothing else. It was Mr. Spurgeon, I believe, who used to say to young men - "If you can do anything else do it. If you can stay out of the ministry, stay out of the ministry." I would certainly say that without any hesitation whatsoever. I would say that the only man who is called to preach is the man who cannot do anything else. This call to preach is so put upon him, and such pressure comes to bear upon him, that he says, "I can do nothing else. I must preach" (ibid., p. 105).

(END OF SERMON)
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THE OUTLINE OF

THE CALL TO PREACH

by Dr. Robert Hymers


"How shall they hear without a preacher?" (Romans 10:14).

(Romans 10:15; I Corinthians 2:3; Jeremiah 20:9)