How Does Your Preacher Measure Up? Observations from CFW Walther on Modern Preaching circa 1884
I ran across the nugget below in C. F. W. Walther’s the Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible from Concordia Publishing. How does your preacher measure up?
“The worst fault in modern preaching, my dear friends, is this, that the sermons lack point and purpose; and this fault can be noticed particularly in the sermons of modern preachers who are believers. While unbelieving and fanatical preachers have quite a definite aim, — pity, that it is not the right one! — believing preachers, as a rule, imagine that they have fully discharged their office, provided what they have preached has been the Word of God. That is about as correct a view as when a ranger imagines he has discharged his office by sallying forth with his loaded gun and discharging it into the forest; or as when an artilleryman thinks he has done his duty by taking up his position with his cannon in the line of battle and by discharging his cannon. Just as poor rangers and soldiers as these latter are, just so poor and useless preachers are those who have no plan in mind and take no aim when they are preaching. Granted their sermons contain beautiful thoughts; they do not, for that matter, take effect. They may occasionally make the thunders of the Law roll in their sermons, yet there is no lightning that strikes. Again, they may water the garden assigned to them with the fructifying waters of the Gospel, but they are pouring water on the beds and the paths of the garden indiscriminately, and their labor is lost.
Neither Christ nor the holy apostles preached in that fashion. When they had finished preaching, every hearer knew: He meant me, even when the sermon had contained no personal hints or insinuations. For instance, when our Lord Christ had delivered the powerful, awful parable of the murderous vine-dressers, the high priests and scribes confessed to themselves: He means us. When the holy Apostles Paul, on a certain occasion, had preached before the profligate and unjust Governor Felix concerning righteousness, temperance, and the Judgment to come, Felix perceived immediately that Paul was aiming his remarks ant him. He trembled, but being unwilling to be converted, he said to Paul: “Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee.” But he never did call him. He had heard the sermon suited to his spiritual condition, and Paul’s well-aimed remarks had struck home.
The reason, then, my dear friends, why in the Lutheran congregations of our former home country Germany unbelieving preachers are nearly always in the ascendancy is unquestionably this: the sermons of the Christian preachers are aimless efforts. Unbelievers are increasing in the congregations about as fast as the Christian preachers are increasing, of whom there are considerably more now than when I was young. Why do they accomplish nothing? Oh, would to God that these dear men had the humility to sit down at Luther’s feet and study his postils! They would learn how to preach effectively. For the Word of God, when preached as it should be, never returns void.
May God help you in your future ministry not to become aimless prattles, so that you will have to complain that you accomplished so little, when nobody but yourselves is at fault because you have no definite aim when preparing your sermons and do not reflect: To such and such people I want to drive home a lesson, — not this or that person whom I am going to name, but persons in whose condition I know to be such and such.
However, while it is important that your sermons do not lack a special aim, it is equally important that your aim be the right one. If you do not aim properly, your preaching, after all, will be useless, whether you preach the Law or the Gospel.”
CFW Walther, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible, Concordia Publishing House, (St. Louis, MO: 2010).
Much of what passes for preaching these days are platitudes, beautiful thoughts with a little Scripture added for good measure. But the message lacks point and punch. Thunder without lightning; tree without fruit; belief without conviction; faith without works. It is grace given out cheaply. The depths of Law and Gospel are not plumbed such that the hearers of the Word are made to realize that the sermon was meant for him or her. When Christ and the apostles preached, the message convicted the sinner secure in his sins, and raised the broken-hearted and despairing. As Walther says, “When they (Christ and the apostles) had finished preaching, every hearer knew: He meant me, even when the sermon had contained no personal hints or insinuations.” The job of a preacher is to deliver the truth of the Law in all its crushing weight, and proclaim the Good News of the Gospel in all its purity and sweetness so that the sinner, secure in his sins, feels the condemnation of the law and turns to repent, and the drowntrodden, those without hope are given life through the proclamation of the Gospel. As our Lord told Peter, “Feed my lambs; tend my sheep.” Otherwise the sheep are left hungry and will wander looking for greener pastures. There is a hunger, a famine for the Word of the Lord. Where others must wait until the dark of night to turn on a light just to read the Bible, we, in this country have the opportunity to proclaim it in the full light of day. Let us not squander this opportunity. The cross is an offense, a scandal. Foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved, the very power of God for eternal life.
So Many Books
So many books, so little time
So many hunger, so many blind
Starving for words they must wait in the night
To open a Bible and turn to the Light
There is a hunger, a longing for bread
And so comes the call for the poor to be fed
More hungry by far are a billion and more
Who wait for the bread of the Word of the Lord
There’ll come a time the prophet would say
When the joy of mankind will be withered away
A want not for water, but a hunger for more
A famine for hearing the words of the Lord
The Word won’t go out
Except it return
And so we must learn
Michael Card, 1992 The Word: Recapturing the Imagination
Posted on January 16, 2011, in The Cross and tagged Bible, CFW Walther, Christ, Christianity, Concordia Publishing House, God, Gospel, Religion and Spirituality, Sermon. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.