Christ-Centered Reading, Christ-Centered Preaching

af01593c53f88178744bca6874953266This makes us feel that, in order to come to this, we shall need to feel Jesus present with us whenever we read the word. Mark that fifth verse, which I would now bring before you as part of my text which I have hitherto left out. “Have ye not read in the law, how on the Sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless? But I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple.” Ay, they thought much about the letter of the Word, but they did not know that he was there who is the Sabbath’s Master—man’s Lord and the Sabbath’s Lord, and Lord of everything. oh, when you have got hold of a creed, or of an ordinance, or anything that is outward in the letter, pray the Lord to make you feel that there is something greater than the printed book, and something better than the mere shell of the creed. There is one person greater than they all, and to him we should cry that he may be ever with us. o living Christ, make this a living word to me. Thy word is life, but not without the Holy Spirit. I may know this book of thine from beginning to end, and repeat it all from Genesis to Revelation, and yet it may be a dead book, and I may be a dead soul.  But, Lord, be present here; then will I look up from the book to the Lord; from the precept to him who fulfilled it; from the law to him who honoured it; from the threatening to him who has borne it for me, and from the promise to him in whom it is “Yea and amen.” Ah, then we shall read the book so differently. He is here with me in this chamber of mine: I must not trifle. He leans over me, he puts his finger along the lines, I can see his pierced hand: I will read it as in his presence. I will read it, knowing that he is the substance of it,—that he is the proof of this book as well as the writer of it; the sum of this Scripture as well as the author of it. That is the way for true students to become wise! You will get at the soul of Scripture when you can keep Jesus with you while you are reading. Did you never hear a sermon as to which you felt that if Jesus had come into that pulpit while the man was making his oration, he would have said, “Go down, go down; what business have you here? I sent you to preach about me, and you preach about a dozen other things. Go home and learn of me, and then come and talk.” That sermon which does not lead to Christ, or of which Jesus Christ is not the top and the bottom, is a sort of sermon that will make the devils in hell to laugh, but might make the angel of God to weep, if they were capable of such emotion. You remember the story I told you of the Welshman who heard a young man preach a very fine sermon—a grand sermon, a highfaluting, spread-eagle sermon; and when he had done, he asked the Welshman what he thought of it. The man replied that he did not think anything of it. “And why not?” “Because there was no Jesus Christ in it.” “Well,” said he, “but my text did not seem to run that way.” “Never mind,” said the Welshman, “your sermon ought to run that way.” “I do not see that, however,” said the young man. “No,” said the other, “you do not see how to preach yet. This is the way to preach. From every little village in England—it does not matter where it is—there is sure to be a road to London. Though there may not be a road to certain other places, there is certain to be a road to London. Now, from every text in the Bible there is a road to Jesus Christ, and the way to preach is just to say, ‘How can I get from this text to Jesus Christ?’ and then go preaching all the way along it.” “Well, but,” said the young man, “suppose I find a text that has not got a road to Jesus Christ.” “I have preached for forty years,” said the old man, “and I have never found such a Scripture, but if I ever do find one I will go over hedge and ditch but what I will get to him, for I will never finish without bringing in my Master.” Perhaps you will think that I have gone a little over hedge and ditch to-night, but I am persuaded that I have not for the sixth verse comes in here, and brings our Lord in most sweetly, setting him in the very forefront of you Bible readers, so that you must not think of reading without feeling that he is there who is Lord and Master of everything that you are reading, and who shall make these things precious to you if you realize him in them. If you do not find Jesus in the Scriptures they will be of small service to you, for what did our Lord himself say? “Ye search the Scriptures, for in them ye think ye have eternal life, but ye will not come unto me that ye might have life”; and therefore your searching comes to nothing; you find no life, and remain dead in your sins. May it not be so with us?

—C.H. Spurgeon, “How to Read the Bible“, The Sermons of Charles Spurgeon vol. 1 loc. 3587

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Unless you study the Word of God, you cannot detect error

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First, remember, that unless you study the Word of God, you will not be competent to detect error. A man may in your hearing preach downright falsehood, but you will not be qualified to judge concerning that falsehood unless you have studied the Word of God. You and I would not be fit to sit on the judgment bench of some of the superior courts of our land, because we are not acquainted with the intricacies of the law. We could not quote precedents, for we have not been learned therein. And so no man is able to judge concerning the thing that he hears, unless he is able to quote Scripture—unless he understands the Word of God, and is able to perceive and to know what it means.

—C.H. Spurgeon, “Search the Scriptures”, The Sermons of Charles Suprgeon vol. 1 loc. 3275

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The Bible is Strange because You Never Read It

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Our last point is: The treatment which the poor Bible receives in this world; it is accounted a strange thing. What does that mean the Bible accounted a strange thing? In the first place, it means that it is very strange to some people, because they never read it. I remember reading, on one occasion, the sacred story of David and Goliath, and there was a person present, positively grown up to years of maturity, who said to me, “Dear me! what an interesting story; what book is that in?” And I recollect a person once coming to me in private; I spoke to her about her soul, she told me how deeply she felt, how she had a desire t serve God, but she found another law in her members. I turned to a passage in Romans, and read to her, “The good that I would I do not; and the evil which I would not that I do!” She said, “Is that in the Bible? I did not know it.” I did not blame her, because she had no interest in the Bible till then; but I did not wonder that there could be found persons who knew nothing about such a passage. Ah! you know more about your ledgers than your Bible; you know more about your day-books than what God has written; many of you will read a novel from beginning to end, and what have you got? A mouthful of froth when you have done. But you cannot read the Bible; that solid, lasting, substantial, and satisfying food goes uneaten, locked up in the cupboard of neglect; while anything that man writes, a catch of the day, is greedily devoured.

—C. H. Spurgeon, “The Bible,” The Sermons of Charles Spurgeon vol. 1 loc. 3097

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“Did you read my Bible?”

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But let me say one thing, before I pass on to the second point. If this be the Word of God, what will become of some of you who have not read it for the last month? “Month, sir! I have not read it for this year.” Ay, there are some of you who have not read it at all. Most people treat the Bible very politely . They have a small pocket volume, neatly bound; they put a white pocket-handkerchief round it and carry it to their places of worship; when they get home, they lay it up in a drawer till next Sunday morning; then it comes out again for a little bit of a treat, and goes to chapel; that is all the poor Bible gets in the way of an airing. That is your style of entertaining this heavenly messenger. There is dust enough on some of your Bibles to write “damnation” with your fingers. There are some of you who have not turned over your Bibles for a long, long while, and what think you? I tell you blunt words, but true words. What will God say at last? When you shall come before him, he shall say, “Did you read my Bible?” “No.” “I wrote you a letter of mercy; did you read it?” “No.” “Rebel! I have sent thee a letter inviting thee to me; didst thou ever read it?” “Lord, I never broke the seal; I kept it shut up.” “Wretch!” says God, “then, thou deservest hell, if I sent thee a loving epistle, and thou wouldst not even break the seal; what shall I do unto thee?” Oh, let it not be so with you.

—C. H. Spurgeon, “The Bible,” The Sermons of Charles Spurgeon vol. 1 loc. 3025

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Believing on Jesus, and Its Counterfeits

af01593c53f88178744bca6874953266A sermon by Charles Haddon Spurgeon. It immediately became one of my favorites. Here are some highlights. Do read the entire sermon.

Our Lord went on preaching all the same, and he did not conceal objectionable truth because of opposition; say, rather, that he set it forth with greater boldness and decision when surrounded by his enemies. The more they opposed, the more he testified.

The omission of the word “on” or “in” is a happy one, because it is exactly accurate; and it helps to bring out an important distinction, while it also accounts for what seems so strange, that those who had believed him should, almost immediately after, charge him with being a Samaritan and having a devil, and should even take up stones to stone him.

What he says is truth to us, on the sole evidence that he says it. We believe in Jesus, not because we judge that what he says can be endorsed by our understanding (though that is, indeed, the case), but because he says it. Our Lord’s word is reason enough for us. The ipse dixit of the Son of God suffices us, even if all men deny his assertions. He has said it, and he is the truth itself. We believe on him; Son of God and Son of man, living, dying, risen again, ascended into the heavens, we trust him. He is our infallible prophet, and our omniscient teacher. We rest ourselves wholly on him. That is saving faith.

We read that “the devils believe and tremble.” They hold the faith, and feel something of the power of it, for they tremble which is more than modern critics do.

You have not believed unto eternal life unless you have so believed on him that you make him the foundation and corner-stone of your hope?

If we say that we believe in Jesus, we must prove it by abiding in believing, and by still further believing. The Word of Jesus must be the object of our faith; into that Word we must enter, and in that Word we must continue. Beginning to believe is nothing unless we continue to believe.

Mind that you so believe in Jesus as to practice what he commands: you cannot continue in his Word except you learn to obey it. The text of faith is obedience. What he bids you, do it. Let your life be affected by the truth he teaches. Let your whole mind, and thought, and desire, and speech, and bearing, and conversation, be coloured and savoured by your full faith in Jesus. Enter into his Word as a man into a stream, and live therein as a fish in the water.

My hearers, we never preach the saving power of temporary, unpractical, unsanctifying faith. If a man says, “I believe in Christ and therefore I shall be saved, his faith will have to be tested by his life. If, sometime after, he has no faith in Christ, that faith which he claimed to have is proved to be good for nothing. The faith of God’s elect is an abiding faith; it is precious faith, and like precious metal, it survives the fire.

If you truly believe in Jesus, it is for life. Saving faith is a life-long act. It is the relinquishment of all trust in self, once for all, and the trusting in Jesus for ever.

The shout of “I believe it” too often ends when the excitement is over. To sing “I do believe, I will believe,” is well enough; but unless that believing appertains to daily life, and changes the inner nature, and abides even till death, it has not saved the man.

Let it encourage you, that our Lord takes notice even of the lowest kind of faith; but let it also warn you when you see that he receives it with an “if,” and goes on carefully to exhort and warn, lest the hopeful thing should die, and its promise should be unfulfilled.

if they persevered in obeying his Word, they would be disciples, not in name only, but in truth. It is a small thing to be called Christians; but it is a great matter truly to be Christians. Further, they would not be merely superficial learners, but deeply taught, and inwardly instructed disciples of Jesus.

Dear friends, it is a great thing to be no longer a probationer, but a disciple indeed.

A certain person says he is a disciple of Christ; but you would never know it if he did not tell you. You might live with him for years without hearing an expression or remarking an action which is distinctly Christian: this is not to be a disciple indeed. Another man loves his Lord, and treasures his words; he puts his discipleship of Christ before everything, and you cannot live with him a single day without perceiving a savor of Christ in his words and action. You say of him, “That man is indeed a Christian.” In such a case religion is not exhibited by way of pride, as with the Pharisees of old, but it is seen because it is there, and must shine forth. Faith throbs in the man’s pulse, it looks out from his eyes, it tunes his voice, and lights up his countenance, it rules his house, and controls his business. The man lives for Jesus, and if it were necessary he would die for him. How we prize a thorough-bred believer!

But he that continues in Christ’s Word in loving obedience, soon ceases to ask that question: he has the witness in himself, or, better still, as some read it, he has the witness in Christ.

May you cheerfully stake your souls upon your Lord’s veracity!

You may be charged dogmatism, but you will not flinch from the assurance that you know the truth.

You will discriminate so as to know the truth when you see it, and detect it at once from the deceptive falsehood. You will know the truth, and you will not be led away by the flattering voice of error.

You shall so free from the fear of man. If you have sunk so low as almost to ask of the great ones leave to breathe, you shall break that irksome fetter.

The privileges of the gospel are the stumbling-blocks of legalists. It is too large a gospel for narrow souls; for—it is too glorious a gospel for grovelling intellects.

The reason why these Jews became so angry with our Lord was that he touched their pride.

Thus the wild thinker claims that he is free, and needs no liberty from Christ. The sinner who is in bondage to his passions and scorns the idea of being set at liberty, as if he were a bondman. The more a slave a man is to his own conceit or his own lust, the more he talks about his freedom.

Unbelief calls itself “Honest doubt,” and not without cause; for we should not have known it to be honest if it had not labelled itself so.

“He doth protest too much.” Your free love, free thought, free life, and so forth, are the empty mockery of freedom.

Oh, how often do we find men who will hear the gospel just so far, and no farther! They have not believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; they have not entered into his Word so as to be prepared to believe all that he teaches; and, consequently, when some doctrine is heard which grates upon their feelings, or jars on their judgments, or conflicts with their original conceptions, straightway they grow angry with their Savior. After all, it would seem, from the criticisms which you offer, that you know better than the Son of God. Your judgment would seem to be clearer than his; for you sit in judgment upon his Word.

You believe what you choose to believe, and disbelieve what you choose to disbelieve. In such a case, who is the greater, the disciple or his Master?

You may talk about believing; but you have not believed, and you cannot be saved by Jesus until you yield your judgment to his infallibility, your heart to his rule, your every faculty to his grace.

That is the faith which saves, the faith which learns of Jesus from Jesus; hears and believes, and takes Jesus to be its God. The faith which bows at the feet of Jesus, and worships him as divine, is the faith which saves.

There is no question about his resurrection: it is proved beyond all doubt that Jesus rose again from the dead on the third day.

Come along with you, you that have had other notions; come, and take Jesus to be your light and life! You that have had other confidences, leave them all and believe on him, for he is worthy of your utmost confidence. You that have been hesitating, believe in Jesus once for all. You that have been procrastinating, come this very day, and hearken to that voice which shall at once set you free.

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The Gospel Cannot Be Altered

To put the question in another shape, “For what if some did not believe?” Will God alter his revealed truth? If some do not believe, will God change the gospel to suit them? Will he seek to please their depraved taste? Ought we to change our preaching because of “the spirit of the age”? Never; unless it be to fight “the spirit of the age” more desperately that ever. We ask for no terms between Christ and his enemies except these, unconditional surrender to him. He will bate not jot or tittle of his claims . . . If you wait till there is a revised version of the gospel, you will be lost. If you wait till there is a gospel brought out that will not cost you so much of giving up sin, or so much of bowing your proud necks, you will wait until you find yourself in hell. Come, I pray you, come even now, and believe the gospel. It cannot be altered to your taste; therefore alter yourself so as to meet its requirements.

—C.H. Spurgeon, “God Justified, Though Man Believes Not”, The Sermons of Charles Spurgeon: Vol. 1 loc. 2325

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(Almost) No Excuse

Dear, ChristianDear Kitten

I write this to you out of concern for your maturity. You say you love Jesus. But I’m wondering how well you know him? Tell me, what have you learned of him, recently? Are you growing in Christianity? What lengths have you gone to in order to learn more?

There’s not many excuses left to not be continuously learning through reading.

Perhaps you would do well to visit, maybe for the first time, the letter to the Hebrews. He rebuked the congregation, calling them “too lazy to understand”and saying that by this time they should be teachers (Hebrews 5:11-12).

How long have you professed to follow the Lord Jesus? Should you be a teacher, by now? But you already know that you have much to learn.

Indeed, none of us never stop learning. All Christians are forever students. But there is something to be said about the proportion. It seems natural to expect more from someone who has been a Christian for 10 years, than someone of 5 years.

On top of that, you may claim a position of service in the church, or have some teaching responsibility, or have association with fellow believers that could teach you so much.

Indeed, to whom much is given, much is required.

Take this example, if you will:

Some time ago I lost one of my best friends, a woman eighty-six years old, the most exciting lay teacher I’ve ever been exposed to.

The last time I saw her on planet Earth was at one of those aseptic Christian parties. We were sitting there on eggshells, looking pious, when she walked in and said, “Well, Hendricks, I haven’t seen you for a long time. What are the five best books you’ve read in the past year?”

She had a way of changing a group’s dynamics. Her philosophy was, Let’s not bore each other with each other; let’s get into a discussion, and if we can’t find anything to discuss, let’s get into an argument. . . .

She died in her sleep at her daughter’s home in Dallas. Her daughter told me that just before she died, she had written out her goals for the next ten years.

May her tribe increase!

—Howard Hendricks, Teaching to Change Lives pg. 23

Seriously now, how would you respond to that question: “What are the five best books you’ve read in the past year?” Honestly, should I instead ask how many years has it taken for you to read five books? Let alone reading enough so you could choose the best five out of all of them?

What’s that you say? You don’t need to read? Au contraire.

Charles Spurgeon, who himself did not attend seminary, begs to differ on this point.

The apostle says to Timothy and so he says to every preacher, “Give thyself unto reading.” The man who never reads will never be read; he who never quotes will never be quoted. He who will not use the thoughts of other men’s brains, proves that he has no brains of his own. Brethren, what is true of ministers is true of all our people. You need to read. Renounce as much as you will all light literature, but study as much as possible sound theological works, especially the Puritanic writers, and expositions of the Bible. We are quite persuaded that the very best way for you to be spending your leisure, is to be either reading or praying. You may get much instruction from books which afterwards you may use as a true weapon in your Lord and Master’s service. Paul cries, “Bring the books”—join in the cry.

—C. H. Spurgeon, “Paul—His Cloak and His Books

There is no escaping the written word. Even seminary classes assign books to read. When you were in school, there were books (perhaps that was the last time you read one). No amount of Youtube videos will replace the great books. No blog will, either. There’s no getting around it: you must read books.

Oh, but it is inconvenient, you say? It’s a particularly busy time of year. You have too much going on. Later this year would be better. After this period, you’ll do it. You are just waiting for this and that to get over with, and then you will get down to more diligent study. Yes, well,

If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work. The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavourable. Favourable conditions never come.

—C.S. Lewis, “Learning in War-Time” in The Weight of Glory

Stick that in your pipe and smoke it. C.S. Lewis smoked a pipe. You would probably know that if you read. Anyway, once again Spurgeon has said something similar to the Oxford Don. Spurgeon notes how the Apostle Paul did not let his unfavorable conditions stop him:

Paul herein is a picture of industry. He is in prison; he cannot preach: what will he do? As he cannot preach, he will read. As we read of the fishermen of old and their boats. The fishermen were gone out of them. What were they doing? Mending their nets. So if providence has laid you upon a sick bed, and you cannot teach your class—if you cannot be working for God in public, mend your nets by reading. If one occupation is taken from you, take another, and let the books of the apostle read you a lesson of industry.

—C. H. Spurgeon, “Paul—His Cloak and His Books

What do you do, dear Christian, when you are not busy with your occupation?

We should be learning. That is obvious. And God in his grace has not designed us to be alone. He has blessed his church through the ages with faithful teachers as gifts to us. We can and must take advantage of that resource.

But, money. Ah yes. Finances most certainly can be a real obstacle. Most people, however, simply need to spend wiser. They can’t afford a small book because they spend on other things that they can easily do without. It’s a matter of value. Many Christians, if they simply changed priorities, and quit spending on trifles, and seriously examined how they steward the money God has given to them, could easily begin investing in solid reading material.

 

With the amount of good books being published, and the best old ones being made available, there has been no better time to be reading. But as soon as you start building that wishlist on Amazon, you see the price start to climb. Bummer. Unless you have people who will surprise you with a gift (one reader actually did, and made my day with an excellent book), and you are financially insecure, you won’t get very far. I understand. Especially for hardcopies. Amazon doesn’t exist, where I am. If it isn’t electronic, it’s going to be a long while, indeed. For the multitude of Christians living in the less affluent parts of the world, solid books are not being sold and it would be even more expensive to try to order online, from another country.

Perhaps that then, is a legitimate excuse to not be reading? Not so fast.

Behold, a great mercy of God: free digital resources

And this is why there is little excuse for not continuing to study and learn. No matter where you are, so long as you have 1) an internet connection, and 2) some device to read ebooks, you have access to an overwhelming amount of solid wisdom from the Church. For free. You don’t even need to own that internet connection or screen you’ll be reading on. But seriously, free wifi is everywhere now. And I am surprised at how many smartphones are walking around town. It seems to be not unreasonable to expect someone to download an ebook and read it, anymore.

There is so much available electronically, that it’s not for lack of resources that Christians stop learning. The truth is, the proverbial (and nonsensical) trapped-on-a-desert-island-alone-with-my-Bible situation is not a reality. Even if you are outside of the first world, there is still plenty available for free.

From Monergism:

We believe the Church should have open access to Scripturally/Theologically sound edifying Christian literature and that one need not be held back from having a significant Christian library because of cost.

I feel the same way. For those of you who desire to learn more but think that it’s impossible, be encouraged. So much has been made available to you. Many obstacles have been removed. You can amass a rich library for yourself.

For everyone else who may take comfort in the perceived impossibility of getting good books, realize the lack of excuses left. Maybe the only thing holding you back is discipline. Are you not so much a victim of circumstances as “too lazy to understand”?

I just recently read Holiness by J.C. Ryle. And I was able to because it is available for free in Kindle format. And I praise God for it! I’ll be reading that book every year.

Since I enjoyed his writing so much, I just stocked up on a bunch more books by J. C. Ryle. For free.

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Ryle library

That will take awhile. And all free. You can do this. There’s little excuse not to.

As Spurgeon said, you need to read. As C.S. Lewis said, don’t wait until it’s convenient, for it never will be.

 

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