Saturday, April 24, 2010

Where Have All the Preachers Gone?

The unfolding of Your word gives light; it gives understanding to the simple. Psalm 119:130 (NASB)

“The end of all preaching is to bring men under the influence of God’s Word; and nothing seems so likely to make men understand the Word as lectures in which the Word is explained. It was so in Chrysostom’s days; it ought to be so again. The idea, no doubt, like every good theory, may be easily ridden to death; and I believe that with ignorant, semi-heathen congregations, a short pithy text often does more good than a long passage expounded. But I have no doubt of the immense value of expository preaching, when people will bring their Bibles to the service, and accompany the preacher as he travels on, or go home to their Bibles after the service, and compare what they have heard with the written Word.” Excerpt from J.C. Ryle’s “Estimate of Manton” in volume 1 of the works of Thomas Manton

Expository preaching is superior to all other homiletic methods. We take as our theme this passage from Psalm 119:130 because expository preaching is nothing other that “unfolding” God’s Word, and we are told here that it is this which gives light and understanding.

The Hebrew word rendered “unfolding” in the NASB is the word pethach, which means “opening” in a figurative sense. This is why other versions render the word as “entrance.” This is an acceptable rendering so long as we keep in mind that it is meant in a figurative sense that implies disclosure rather than a door. Other forms of the word’s root, pathach, mean to open wide (literal or figurative); specifically to loosen, begin, plough, carve: - appear, break forth, draw (out), let go free, (en-) grave (-n), loose (self), (be, be set) open (-ing), put off, ungird, unstop, have vent. And so we can clearly see the point being made by the Psalmist. It is only by opening, unfolding and drawing out the meaning of God’s Word that there can be light and understanding.

There are other passages of Scripture that confirm this view. In Luke 24:27, 31, it was Jesus’ expounding of the Scriptures that opened the eyes of the disciples’ understanding. Acts 17:3 has Paul opening the Scriptures and it was this opening which brought many of his listeners to saving faith. Nehemiah 8:8 says, “They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read.”

Expository preaching takes the actual words of Scripture and sets about to explain them from their context and how all of Scripture teaches the same things. The Puritans were truly models for great preaching. If you have ever read a Puritan sermon, you’ll know what I mean. If you haven’t, you should!

The Puritan model is best seen in the sermons of Thomas Manton and John Flavel. First the text is read. Next, some details of the context and background are given. The text then is broken up into its various clauses and phrases, with all the ramifications explained. This leads to the statement of the passage’s “Doctrine,” i.e., the theological truth which the passage teaches. The body of the sermon is spent expounding this doctrine through references to many other parts of Scripture. The Puritans, like the Reformers before them, believed in the principle that Scripture interprets itself (Scriptura Intrapratatum). This is why they always interpreted a given passage in the Bible in the light of the rest of the Bible. They never came upon a verse and thought, “Wow! This is a new doctrine taught nowhere else in the Bible." If you think that a passage is teaching a doctrine taught nowhere else in the Bible, you've misinterpreted it.

Finally, the Puritan sermon ALWAYS ended with practical applications of the doctrinal truths learned. Puritan sermons were almost always split right down the middle: about half being doctrinal and the other half being practical application.

This is truly the biblical model. Paul’s epistles have this same quality. About midway through you will find a “therefore” that begins a section of applying the doctrinal truths expounded on in the first part of the letter. There is no superior method of preaching.

Appended are three principles that are a great guide in biblical interpretation. I found these in my notes. I didn’t formulate them. If anyone recognizes them and knows the source, let me know. I want to give credit where it is due.

3 Principles of Interpretation
  • We must aim to allow the Scriptures, in whole and in each of their parts, to function as God intends.
  • The function or meaning of any individual passage of Scripture should first be sought by attempting to determine what its human author intended in writing it.
  • Ultimately, our interpretation of any particular biblical passage must acknowledge and take into account the fundamental unity and consistency of God’s whole written word.


  1. One reason expository preaching is less and less tolerated in our so called Christian churches today is because most churches are full of unsaved people.

    Another reason is the Bible is being replaced with the false god of entertainment.

    I'm sure the Puritans had their distraction but the temptations in the 21st century are legion compared to that time period.

    2 Timothy 4:3-4 (King James Version)
    For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;
    And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.

  2. No kidding. Ryle called the congragations 'half-heathen.' He may have been too generous.

    Sermons also seem to be getting shorter and shorter. I timed one of Owen's sermons at 2h,48m. Matthew Henry is said to have preached 3 hours also. Granted length is no indicator of greatnest, but our generation has the attention span of a toddler.


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