by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.
April 20, 2003

"For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: but we preach Christ crucified" (I Corinthians 1:22-23).

Although I disagree with John MacArthur on the Blood of Christ and "lordship salvation," I often consult his Study Bible because many of his notes are true. Here is part of what he says about I Corinthians 1:22,

Unbelieving Jews still wanted supernatural signsGentiles wanted  proof  by  means  of  human  reason,  through  ideas  they  could  set  forth,  discuss,  debate merely  wanting  to  argue  intellectual  novelty  (MacArthur  Study  Bible,  note  on  I Corinthians 1:22).

Much of the preaching in our time reflects these two errors: (1) the desire for signs; (2) the desire for wisdom. Both of these are rejected by the Apostle Paul as unworthy of being the  central  theme  of  preaching.   Paul  said,  "But  we  preach  Christ  crucified"  (I Corinthians 1:23). He reemphasizes the main theme of his sermons in I Corinthians 2:2,

"For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (I Corinthians 2:2).

MacArthur comments, "The preaching of the cross (1:18) was so dominant in the early church that believers were accused of worshiping a dead man" (ibid., note on I Corinthians 2:2). You cannot possibly read the sermons recorded in the book of Acts without seeing that his  statement  is  true.   Again  and  again  the  Apostles  preached  the  gospel  of  Christ  (cf. I Corinthians 15:1-4).

That is the reason the sermons of C. H. Spurgeon have remained so popular for over a hundred years. Spurgeon's sermons marvelously reflect those words of Paul,

"For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: but we preach Christ crucified" (I Corinthians 1:22-23).

I have been reading a book about preaching. Much of what was said in that book is true, but I disagree with a great deal in one of the chapters, particularly what the author said about Spurgeon. He does a "double spin" on Spurgeon: first he lauds his preaching, then he criticizes it! He says,

I have used them [Spurgeon's sermons] over and over sometimes with great delight and admiration, and sometimes (it has to be said) with dismay at his handling of the text. Spurgeon's invariable style was textual, often focusing on one or two verses. His intent was always to be expository; in practice, he could sometimes introduce matters into the sermon that did not properly emerge from the text, and he never engaged in consecutive expository preaching (Derek Thomas, "Expository Preaching," in Feed My Sheep, Don Kistler, General Editor, Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 2002, pp. 78-79).

Let's do an "exposition" of what Dr. Thomas wrote. He says that he is sometimes dismayed at Spurgeon's "handling of the text." In a footnote on page 78 of the book, Dr. Thomas gives us an example of what dismayed him. He says, "Only Spurgeon could preach on the text, 'Until he find it' in Luke 15:4, for example!" That sermon by Spurgeon is in volume 49 of the Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit (Pasadena, Texas: Pilgrim Publications). I read that sermon to see if Dr. Thomas was right. I can assure you that he was wrong. The sermon by Spurgeon is a wonderful exposition of the words, "Until he find it" in Luke 15:4. The sermon is such a good message that I preached it in modern English last Sunday night. You can click it on here, "Until He Find It - Adapted From C. H. Spurgeon." Read my modern version yourself, and see if you agree with Dr. Thomas.

Second, Thomas seems to criticize Spurgeon for his sermon construction when he says, "Spurgeon's invariable style was textual, often focusing on one or two verses" (ibid., p. 78). To me, it is misleading to call Spurgeon's sermons "textual." I think his sermons should be called "textual expositions." This is well illustrated in the very sermon Dr. Thomas criticized, "Until He Find It." It is a good exposition of Luke 15:4. I find no fault in it. But I think that Thomas is actually critical because Spurgeon focused "on one or two verses." You see, Dr. Thomas wants us to preach verse-by-verse, consecutively, through the Bible (cf. ibid., pp. 84-93). He tells us that the preacher should be "driven" and "forced" to preach "consecutive expository" sermons on passages of Scripture that are longer than Spurgeon's "one or two verses" (ibid. pp. 86, 78). I think this consecutive way of preaching through the Bible, several verses at a time, is harmful, for the reasons I gave in "How 'Expository' Preaching Has Harmed the Churches!" and "More Controversial Thoughts Against 'Expository' Preaching." You can click them on here and read my reasons for saying this.

Third, Dr. Thomas says that Spurgeon "could sometimes introduce matters into the sermon that did not properly emerge from the text" (ibid., p. 78). Of course he did! That is called "application!" We need it today!

Fourth, Dr. Thomas criticizes Spurgeon for not preaching through books of the Bible, "he never engaged in consecutive expository preaching" (ibid.). To Dr. Thomas this method is "serendipitously picking a text from here and there" (ibid., p. 85). The word "serendipitously" means "making fortunate discoveries accidentally" (Webster's New Twentieth Century Dictionary). Spurgeon can hardly be accused of doing that! But the question then arises, how did Spurgeon select what verse he would preach on? Spurgeon knew what to preach because he constantly, week after week, spent long hours counselling with lost people. He didn't just rush through "the Roman road" with them. He asked them questions and listened to their answers. This kept his mind full of the things that lost people were thinking (cf. C. H. Spurgeon Autobiography, Banner of Truth, 1985, volume I, pp. 373-375, 379-382). By constantly listening to sinners (literally by the hour!) Spurgeon knew what they needed to hear in the pulpit. He preached from the "overplus" of listening to sinners. It was easy for him to know what to preach. After listening to the answers of more than fifty people during the week, he just answered the questions and thoughts of one of them on Sunday morning and another one on Sunday night! Spurgeon tells us,

Someone asked a mother once, "Why do you teach your child the same thing twenty times?" She answered very wisely, "Because I find that nineteen times is not sufficient." And it will often be the same with those who need to be taught the ABC of the gospel (ibid., p. 376).

I recommend that every preacher read C. H. Spurgeon Autobiography in two volumes. Especially, read pages 373 and 374 of volume I. Here Spurgeon relates, word-for-word, one of the many interviews he had with lost people every week. It would also be helpful, I think, to read "How Spurgeon Counselled Inquirers," which is appendix 4 in our book, Preaching to a Dying Nation. You can order it by sending $15.95, and requesting the book by name, to Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr., P.O. Box 15308, Los Angeles, CA 90015. Preachers who are interested in learning more about listening to sinners in the inquiry room, after they preach, should also buy a book titled Revival Sketches and Manual by Dr. Heman Humphrey. First published in 1859, it gives the all-but-forgotten old-fashioned way of pastoral listening. Phone Sprinkle Publications to order it (540)434-8840 or write to them at P.O. Box 1094, Harrisburg, Virginia 22801. Then read pages 327 to 367 of Dr. Humphrey's book. Then, you should also buy A Pastor's Sketches (2 volumes) by Dr. I. S. Spencer, written in 1850 and republished in 2001 by Solid Ground Christian Books, P.O. Box 660132, Vestavia Hills, Alabama 35266, or telephone (205)978-9469 to order them. These two books present case after case of word-for-word old-time pastoral interviews with the lost.

No man will wonder what to preach next Sunday who is listening to sinners every week! He will certainly not allow himself to be "driven" or "forced" to preach "consecutive" expositions in every service!

The man who spends much time with publicans and sinners will undoubtedly preach more like Jesus - and less like the scribes and Pharisees!


Dr. Hymers' Note: Having stated my case for preaching on one or two verses, I will back off a little and say that there is a place for expository preaching. I simply think that we have too much of it, and too little evangelistic preaching, which is quite different. For an example of an expository sermon that I have given recently, click on, "The Gospel of Christ - An Easter Sermon."