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A FAMINE OF PREACHING

by Dr. Robert Hymers

A sermon preached on Lord's Day Evening, November 27, 2005
at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles

"Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord: And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it" (Amos 8:11-12).


This is a terrible prophecy, worse than a prophecy of a famine of bread and water. Bad though that would be, this was a prophecy of a famine "of hearing the words of the Lord" (Amos 8:11).

The prophet Amos tells them, "the days come" when this will happen. It is something that would happen in the future when he said it. "The days come." For a considerable time after he said it, they had plenty of prophets and many opportunities to hear the Word of God. But after they went into Babylonian captivity, and a small number of them returned to the land, there came a time when there were no more prophets. The Jewish people after Malachi had no more prophets for many long years.

Yet this threat seems to look even farther ahead, to the blindness that happened to Israel in the days of Christ. They rejected the gospel and the preachers of it, and the kingdom was taken from them and they were driven out into the nations of the world in 70 A.D. This passage in Amos 8:11-12 seems even to refer to that awful judgment.

And yet there is even more to it than that. I believe that this great prophecy also refers to the Christian churches. There have been times in Christian history when God says to the churches,

"Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent" (Revelation 2:5).

When militant Islam came through the Middle East, its warriors, with the sword, captured nation after nation from the Christians and either burned their churches or turned them into mosques. It has been said that nearly fifty percent of the churches in the world were destroyed by Muslim extremists in this terrible time. This prophecy of Amos surely had another partial fulfillment then.

During the Dark Ages, the powers of Rome strangled gospel preaching. Many were tortured for preaching; torn apart on the rack, boiling oil poured down the throats of those who preached. Molten lead poured into the mouths of many who preached the gospel. Other brave preachers by untold thousands were imprisoned or burned at the stake for gospel preaching by the Church of Rome. These are the facts of history and, in my mind, they bring forth yet another application of the prophecy of Amos.

"Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord: And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it" (Amos 8:11-12).

Then came the time of the Puritans. Whatever evil your secular college professors may say of them, and they say much evil against them, the Puritans did have the Word of God and they did preach the Word of God. They were a burning and shining light for God.

And then, flowing out of the Puritan stream, came those great, almost mythical giants of gospel preaching, Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley, and especially George Whitefield, the greatest gospel preacher the English world has ever known. These men, and many others like them, turned the world upside down in the eighteenth century, during the First Great Awakening.

After that there was a lesser revival toward the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century. Asahel Nettleton and Timothy Dwight and Francis Asbury, and many men like them, kept preaching alive, and the fires of revival burned on.

Then Charles Finney came on the scene with his "new" theology and "new school" techniques of preaching. And a grey, cold mist began to settle over the land and over the churches.

Oh, yes, there was the Third Great Awakening in 1858-1859. It was a wonderful revival, producing many strong preachers, but it only lasted in its full strength for two or three years, weakened as it was toward the end by the rise of Darwinian evolution, German Bible criticism, and especially by the large numbers of unconverted people who poured into the churches through the techniques and false theology of Finney and his cohorts.

In the end it petered out and poor Spurgeon was left literally alone, the "last of the Puritans," censured and cut off from the Baptist Union shortly before his death. Spurgeon's method of preaching and counselling individually was then gradually discarded, and the fire of revival preaching died out slowly across the English speaking world, so that today those prophetical words of Amos have taken on a new and startling meaning for those of us who are the remnants of the Great Awakenings.

"Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord: And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it" (Amos 8:11-12).

Let us consider two things about that judgment which have brought a famine of preaching to our people and nations.

I. First, the judgment itself.

The judgment itself is a withholding by God of strong prophetic preaching, especially evangelistic preaching. This judgment brings a famine

"of hearing the words of the Lord" (Amos 8:11).

Are we not in exactly that situation today in the English speaking world? It is not so in China, Southeast Asia, or even Korea - but is that not precisely the position we are in here in the Western world, America, Great Britain, the Continent of Europe, and in the former British colonies? Isn't it true that among us there is

"a famine…of hearing the words of the Lord"? (Amos 8:11).

I would say that it is true in the English speaking world without any hesitation whatever.

I am in complete agreement with Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, famous for his lectures and sermons on preaching and the Puritans, who boldly said,

Preaching, I think we will all agree, has been sadly neglected, especially during this century [the 20th century]. There has been a decline in preaching. I know that it is true of your country [America] as well as of our country [Great Britain]. If you had visited London a hundred years ago, and indeed, until say the beginning of the First World War, your problem would have been which of the great preachers to go and listen to. There were many of them, and the problem was which of them to select. But today the position is entirely different. There is no problem at all. Is there any preacher that you want to go and listen to, who is worth your [time] to go and listen to? It is the same in your country [America]. There is a dearth of [scarcity, lack of, famine of] preachers. Why? Because, it seems to me, the whole notion of preaching has some how or another, slipped into the background and people no longer believe in preaching as they once did (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, "What is Preaching?" in Knowing the Times, Banner of Truth Trust, 1989, p. 263).

There you have it - from one of the greatest preachers of the twentieth century. He said we have a dearth of preaching, a scarcity, a famine of preaching. And, of course he was correct. We live in an age of very poor preaching in the English speaking world, though this is not the case in the Orient and other parts of the Third World. But I am referring mainly to the English speaking world - and what Dr. Lloyd-Jones said is certainly true here, and especially in America.

Oh, we have plenty of musicians, plenty of Christian counsellors, plenty of verse-by-verse teachers - but where are the preachers that once shook the nation? Where are the evangelists that once were used in mighty revivals? Where are the local church pastors who preach true evangelistic sermons? They are gone.

"Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord: And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it" (Amos 8:11-12).

II. Second, the effect of this judgment.

They will

"seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it" (Amos 8:12).

Matthew Henry, the classical Bible commentator, said,

Though to many this is no affliction at all, yet some will be very sensible of it as a great grievance, and will gladly travel far to hear a good sermon; but they shall sensibly feel the loss of those mercies which others have foolishly sinned away…Many never know the worth of mercies till they feel the want of them (Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible, Hendrickson Publishers, 1976 reprint, vol. 4, p. 994).

One man said that he had been preaching for many years. He was a very good preacher. But he said that no one seemed to want a good preacher. They wanted singers and quiet men to give a few words verse-by-verse. They wanted to hear soft sermons. But they did not want preaching. He said he was criticized for preaching, given no help or encouragement to preach. He was criticized for clear preaching, even turned out of some churches for preaching. Yes, I understand that man very well. His name was John Wesley, one of the greatest preachers of all time. All of that was true of great Whitefield as well. And it is no different today.

So, what does this text in Amos say to you? It says that you live in a time of poor preaching and great weakness in the pulpits. It also ought to be clear that you are not in such a church tonight. You are in a church where the gospel is clearly preached and applied to you on a weekly basis. You should thank God that, by his mercy, He has placed you here in this time of pulpit weakness. You should pay strict attention to the preaching. You should do all you can to obey it and "strive to enter in at the strait gate" (Luke 13:24). You should not "try" or "seek" to enter into Christ's salvation. Oh, no! You should "strive" with all your heart and soul to enter in and find rest and pardon in Christ Jesus. You are worse than a fool if you don't do so under the clear preaching of the gospel of Christ in this church.

(END OF SERMON)
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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Luke 13:22-28.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
"Have You Counted the Cost?" (by A. J. Hodge, 1923).


THE OUTLINE OF

A FAMINE OF PREACHING

by Dr. Robert Hymers


"Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord: And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it" (Amos 8:11-12).

(Revelation 2:5)

I.   The judgment which brings a famine of preaching, Amos 8:11.

II.  The effect of this judgment, Amos 8:12; Luke 13:24.