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HOW THE PURITANS PREACHED THE GOSPEL

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Evening, July 7, 2013

“For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” (I Corinthians 9:16).


Whatever Paul did in his life he did with zeal. He was a zealous sinner before his conversion. He was a zealous persecutor of Christians as well. And his conversion also shows his zealous temperament. He spent three days without food and water in prayer before his eyes were opened. Then, as an Apostle and preacher, he stood out before all the others in his zeal. He preached to King Agrippa. He preached before Nero in Rome. He stood before great crowds of pagan Gentiles and Jews, and he preached before emperors and kings with such zeal that they trembled!  

But Paul did not take a salary for preaching. According to Christ’s teaching (in Matthew 10:9-10 and Luke 10:7), the Apostles could receive a salary. Earlier in this chapter Paul said that he had a right to a salary, as did the other Apostles. But Paul did not write to the church at Corinth about getting a salary! Paul wanted to be able to say that he had received nothing from them for his work. That brings us to the text,

“For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” (I Corinthians 9:16).

Paul said he had “nothing to glory of,” or boast of, because he preached without a salary. He said that he had no choice but to preach! He was compelled to preach the Gospel. He had to do it, forced to preach by an inward compulsion from the Holy Spirit. He had no other option!

“For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” (I Corinthians 9:16).

I will ask, and then answer, three questions that arise from the text.

I. First, who should preach the Gospel?

In the second half of the nineteenth century, the idea arose that anyone could preach. In fact, today it is commonly believed that even women can preach. There is a tendency to think that even new converts can preach and give their testimony. Often Acts 8:4, 5 is used to back up that idea,

“Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word. Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them” (Acts 8:4, 5).

That is the King James translation. It seems to say that everyone who was scattered during this time of persecution went out preaching – and that Philip was just one of them, preaching Christ in the city of Samaria. But what is overlooked here is the fact that there are two different Greek words in these verses – one for those who were scattered abroad, and a different word for what Philip did in the city of Samaria. The first Greek word means “to announce good news” (Strong #2097). That’s the word used of the people who were scattered abroad. But the second word means “to herald, as a town crier” (Strong #2784). Dr. R. C. H. Lenski gave the reason for the two different words. He said that those who were scattered “did not set themselves up as preachers but told people why they had to leave Jerusalem and thus testified to their faith in Christ Jesus” (R. C. H. Lenski, Ph.D., The Interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles, Augsburg Publishing House, 1961 edition, p. 314; note on Acts 8:4).

But Philip “preached Christ unto them” in Samaria. The word “preached” here is from kērussō, the usual word translated “preach” – meaning, as I said, “to herald as a public crier” (Strong). Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones gave these comments on Acts 8:4-5,

What “the people” who went everywhere did was...to talk about [the Word] in conversation. Philip, on the other hand did something different; he was “heralding” the Gospel. This is, strictly speaking, what is meant by preaching in the sense that I have been using it. It is not accidental that such a distinction should be drawn there in the actual text. That is the position then, that every Christian should be capable of doing what is indicated in the fourth verse, but only some are called upon to do what is indicated in the fifth verse. In the New Testament this distinction is drawn very clearly; certain people only are set apart and called upon to deliver the message, as it were, on behalf of the Church in an official manner (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, M.D., Preaching and Preachers, Zondervan Publishing House, 1981 edition, pp. 102-103).

Ephesians 4:11 gives a list of those called to preach: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers.

I am not going to go into detail here about how a man can tell if he is “called” to preach. I suggest reading pages 104-120 in Dr. Lloyd-Jones’ book for wise suggestions on how to know if you are called to preach. Personally, I am of the opinion that a large number of those who occupy pulpits today have never been called to preach – and some of them have not even been converted! I think that is one of the great problems in our churches today. I can say with certainty that preaching is not as easy as it may seem. I have seen many men wreck churches because they were not called to preach. In fact, the Apostle Paul himself said, “Who is sufficient [adequate] for these things?” (II Corinthians 2:16). No one should enter the Gospel ministry lightly. Your life can be crushed if you are mistaken, and you can ruin a church if you are mistaken.  

“For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” (I Corinthians 9:16).

II. Second, what is Gospel preaching?

Paul said, “For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of...” What is preaching the Gospel? I believe that it means preaching the whole Bible through the lens of Jesus Christ. Here is what I mean. When Jesus had risen from the dead He spoke at length to two of the Disciples on the road to Emmaus.

“And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27).

Gospel preaching is preaching centered in Jesus Christ, as He is revealed in every part of the Old and New Testament. Any preaching that does not have Christ at its center is not Gospel preaching! Period! End of sentence!

I like what Dr. J. I. Packer said about the Gospel as the Puritans preached it. Dr. Packer knows this subject well, having made a life-long study of the Puritans. Here is what he said about the way the Puritans preached the Gospel.

1.  They diagnosed the plight of man as one, not merely of guilt for sins, but also of pollution in sin and bondage to sin – the state of being wholly dominated by an inbred attitude of enmity to God. They sought to expose the sinfulness that underlies sins, and convince men of their own utter corruption and inability to improve themselves in God’s sight. This, they held, was a vital part of the work of a gospel preacher; for the index of the soundness of a man’s faith in Christ is the genuineness of the self-despair from which it springs.

2.  They analyzed the issue of sin in terms of God’s hostility in the present, as well as his condemnation in the future. Their constant aim was to make men feel that to be in a wrong relationship to God was intolerable here and now...

3.  They stressed that the goal of grace is the glory and praise of God, and our salvation is meant to this end. God, they said, has chosen to redeem us, not for our sakes, but for His own name’s sake.

4.  They stressed the sufficiency of Christ. They did not teach men to trust a theory of the Atonement, but [the] living Redeemer, the perfect adequacy of whose saving work they never tired of extolling.

5.  They stressed the condescension of Christ. He was never to them less than the divine Son, and they measured His mercy by His majesty. They magnified the love of the cross by dwelling on the greatness of the glory which He left for it. [There is a hymn about that - "Out of the ivory palaces, into a world of woe; only His great redeeming love could make my Saviour go."]  They dwelt on the patience and forbearance expressed in His invitations to sinners as further revealing His kindness...the grace of His omnipotence in freely offering Himself to needy souls.

      These were the emphases which characterized the Puritan preaching of the Gospel, and indeed all preaching of it by evangelicals from Puritan times onward till about a century ago (J. I. Packer, Ph.D., A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life, Crossway Books, 1990, p. 170).


Notice he said these were points emphasized in all evangelical preaching “till about a century ago” – which at the time he wrote this, would have been “about” 1890. Here he shows the effects of Finney’s “decisionism” in dumbing down the Gospel from the latter part of the nineteenth century to the present.

Last Tuesday afternoon I watched a woman Bible teacher on television for a few minutes. She had several hundred American women listening to her. How sad! Her whole message was how they could overcome negative thinking by using certain psychological principles – and a few Bible verses. I could only feel great sorrow because what these poor women were receiving had nothing whatsoever to do with the Gospel of Christ – and could only earn these sad women an even greater amount of God’s wrath – both now and in eternity. There was no Gospel, and no hope from Christ in what the woman preacher said! Oh, how desperately we need the true Gospel, so greatly preached by our Puritan forefathers!

And yet I agree with Dr. Lloyd-Jones that a young preacher would be better off reading the sermons of eighteenth century men like Whitefield, Edwards, Wesley, Daniel Rowland, Howell Harris and others of the First Great Awakening, than to dwell too much on the Puritans. Dr. Lloyd-Jones said, “I am an eighteenth century man, not a seventeenth century man” (ibid., p. 120). What did he mean? I think he meant that the First Great Awakening men were more simple and direct in their evangelistic preaching – and that is what is needed today.

With that in mind, you who are lost need to think deeply about your sin-nature, not just the sins you commit. Think how miserable you are with your heart so strongly set against God. Think how impossible it is for you to change your selfish, godless heart. When you begin to feel that, and begin to think you are hopelessly lost – then perhaps Christ’s dying love for you will begin to feel important. Christ has been so patient with you. Can you not trust the Saviour who loves you with an everlasting love in spite of your evil heart of unbelief? Can you not trust the Saviour, who went through such pain and agony on the Cross to save you from your enslavement to sin? Is not this the good news of the Gospel – “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”? (I Timothy 1:15). Is that not the Gospel Paul spoke of when He said,

“For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” (I Corinthians 9:16)?

III. Third, why is it that Gospel preachers are not allowed to boast?

“Boast” is a modern word for “glory.” We might give the text as, “Though I preach the gospel I have nothing to boast of.” It is very easy for a preacher to feel proud. And yet that is a sin. The true pastor has nothing to boast about because he feels his own weakness and infirmity. The true preacher knows what he ought to be, though other men do not. They listen to him with great admiration and think he has preached a wonderful sermon. But when the true preacher goes home he feels downcast because he thinks he should have preached better. Every true preacher feels he is defective and inadequate. I often think that I should have prayed more, that I should have spoken more plainly, that I should have made the Gospel more clear. Remember, when you go home unconverted, the pastor feels himself to blame as well. I fight with myself, and pray, and am often cast down, blaming myself when you go home still lost. God allows me to feel that discouragement so I can say with Paul, “Though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of” – I have nothing to boast about.

Another thing that keeps me from boasting is the great surprise I feel when someone does trust Jesus. I was greatly surprised when Robert was hopefully converted. I was even more surprised when Barry hopefully trusted Jesus. I was quite startled when I heard that Jin was hopefully saved. I was shocked when I heard that Jackie was hopefully converted, and that is the feeling I have each time – a feeling of astonishment and wonder and surprise. Because when you trust Jesus and are saved, I know that I did not have much to do with it. Far from it! I only preached a sermon. But when one of you trusts Jesus, I know very well that it was completely by the grace of God! God did this for you. God awakened you from the sleep of death. God made you aware of your deceitful, wicked heart. God drew you to His Son. And the Son of God Himself reached out to you and gave you comfort and joy. I stand aside and realize how little I had to do with your salvation. This is deeply humbling, and it is very good. It makes me realize again how much I need to pray, and how dependent I am on God to see even one soul saved. And when you are saved, it will be by the love of Jesus, and not by my poor, feeble love for you.

“For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” (I Corinthians 9:16).

How I pray that these fumbling words of the Gospel that I have given you tonight would be used by God to draw you to Jesus. If you are saved tonight, I above everyone, will be surprised by joy. I will have nothing to boast about because I will know, once again, that you were saved by grace “through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8, 9). Please stand as Mr. Griffith comes to sing his solo again.

I saw the cross of Jesus, When burdened with my sin;
   I sought the cross of Jesus, To give me peace within;
I brought my soul to Jesus, He cleansed it in His blood;
   And in the cross of Jesus I found my peace with God.

I love the cross of Jesus, It tells me what I am –
   A vile and guilty creature, Saved only through the Lamb;
No righteousness nor merit, No beauty can I plead;
   Yet in the cross of glory, My title there I read.

Safe in the cross of Jesus! There let my weary heart
   Still rest in peace unshaken, Till with Him, ne’er to part;
And then in strains of glory I’ll sing His wondrous power,
   Where sin can never enter, and death is known no more.
(“I Saw the Cross of Jesus” by Frederick Whitfield, 1829-1904).

If you would like to speak with Dr. Cagan or one of the other counsellors about being saved, please step to the back of the room now. Dr. Chan, please pray for those who responded. Amen.

(END OF SERMON)
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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Mr. Abel Prudhomme: Ephesians 4:11-16.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“I Saw the Cross of Jesus” (by Frederick Whitfield, 1829-1904).


THE OUTLINE OF

HOW THE PURITANS PREACHED THE GOSPEL

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

“For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” (I Corinthians 9:16).

I.   First, who should preach the Gospel? Acts 8:4, 5;
II Corinthians 2:16.

II.  Second, what is Gospel preaching? Luke 24:27; I Timothy 1:15.

III. Third, why is it that Gospel preachers are not allowed to boast?
Ephesians 2:8, 9.