On 7th January 1855 Charles Haddon Spurgeon, then the minister of New Park Street Chapel, Southwark, opened his morning sermon as follows:
It has been said by someone that ‘the proper study of mankind is man’. I will not oppose the idea, but I believe it is equally true that the proper study of God’s elect is God; the proper study of a Christian is the Godhead. The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls his Father.
There is something exceedingly improving to the mind in a contemplation of the Divinity. It is a subject so vast, that all our thoughts are lost in its immensity; so deep, that our pride is drowned in its infinity. Other subjects we can compass and grapple with; in them we feel a kind of self-content, and go our way with the thought, ‘Behold I am wise’. But when we come to this master-science, finding that our plumb-line cannot sound its depth, and that our eagle eye cannot see its height, we turn away with the thought that this vain man would be wise, but he is like a wild ass’ colt; and with solemn exclamation, ‘I am but of yesterday, and know nothing’. No subject of contemplation will tend more to humble the mind, than thoughts of God…
But while the subject humbles the mind, it also expands it. He who often thinks of God, will have a larger mind than the man who simply plods around this narrow globe… The most excellent study for expanding the soul, is the science of Christ, and him crucified, and the knowledge of the Godhead in the glorious Trinity. Nothing will so enlarge the intellect, nothing so magnify the soul of man, as a devout, earnest continued investigation of the great subject of the Deity.
And, whilst humbling and expanding, this subject is eminently consolatory. Oh, there is, in contemplating Christ, a balm for every wound; in musing on the Father, there is a quietus for every grief; and in the influence of the Holy Ghost, there is a balsam for every sore. Would you lose your sorrow? Would you drown your cares? Then go, plunge yourself in the Godhead’s deepest soul; so calm the swelling billows of sorrow and grief; so speak peace to the winds of trial, as a devout musing upon the subject of the Godhead. It is to that subject that I invite you this morning…
So spoke the young Spurgeon, then only 20 years old! Spurgeon has often been called the ‘Prince of Preachers’. But before he was a preacher, he was a student of God’s Word. For all his wit, Spurgeon was not in the business of entertaining the saints – but of applying God’s Word to the hearts and minds of his listeners.
Expounding God’s Word today means that we take his Word seriously. In the title of H.H. Farmer’s book, the preacher is The Servant of the Word. We are not in the business of sharing our views on the week’s news, but rather our business is to expound God’s Word. The task of the preacher is not to entertain the congregation, but to enable God’s people to hear God speak. Unfortunately much evangelical preaching is light-weight and undemanding, full of funny stories and jokes. Richard Bewes, a former rector of All Soul’s, Langham Place, London, observed: “Plenty of preaching in the West today is of an entertaining, joke-ridden nature; it is as if the church and the theatre have neatly swapped roles. It is the theatre that tends now to take on the big themes that speak to the dilemmas of humanity, while the biggest-selling tapes at Christian conferences will often be from the speakers with the best jokes and banter”. This is a travesty.
“All true Christian preaching is expository preaching” declared John Stott, and in my judgment rightly so. The Bible is the source of the preacher’s authority. Our only claim to be heard is that our message is rooted in the Word of God. If as preachers we preach our own opinions, our congregations may listen to them politely, but at the end they have every right to reject them. But if the content of our preaching is Bible-centred and Bible-driven, then our preaching has a God-given authority; we become God’s heralds, his ambassadors, his agents.