CONFESSION: I have not always preached my own sermons

I have preached other men’s sermons word for word from the pulpit….and I’ll do it again! We’ve all heard of preachers doing this but my take on this is a little different. During the month of October our church tries to emphasize aspects of our Protestant-Reformation heritage. On Sunday evenings in October I preach from the sermons of notable figures that were either part of the Reformation or sought to promote its ongoing work in their public ministries.

Doing this affords me an opportunity to introduce key historical figures as I usually give a brief overview of their life before I preach. It also allows the congregation to hear sermons that have been used of God to shape His church through the centuries. I’m able to point out things for them to listen for and even make observations where the original preacher’s theme might have gotten in the way of his exegesis. In general I try to choose sermons that follow an expository format and stick closely to the text. Last year I preached:

  • Charles Spurgeon’s “Predestination and Calling” from Romans 8:30
  • John Calvin’s “Redemption by the Son of God” from Gal. 2:20-21
  • Jonathan Edwards “Sinners in the Hands of an angry God” from Deut. 32:35

This year I will likely preach George Whitfield’s “The Resurrection of Lazarus” from John 11:43-44. For the others I am open to suggestions and if you have any thoughts or ideas let me know.

19 responses to this post.

  1. I hear has some good material.

    Seriously, I would enjoy hearing sermons from the reformers and puritans. How do you go about making these sermons your own? I mean, how do you go from simply reading them to actually preaching them?

  2. David,

    It is a different process from top to bottom. All I do is study the sermons and the text the best I can and memorize certain sections so I can look up and “engage” the eyes more. I do read them word for word but I try to instill the same passion and intensity I would for one of my own sermons. I think the end result doesn’t come off as a “read” sermon. When I introduce the preachers and the sermon I tell my congregation to listen as they would to any other sermon and not to treat it as a novelty. They seem to appreciate it. Thanks for dropping by.

  3. You know this is an interesting idea…It provides a way to introduce a congregation to Great Preachers and Great moments in the history of a community.

  4. Consider Lemuel Hayne’s Sermon on John 3:3 or his satirical sermon, Universal Salvation (1805).

  5. Paul –
    How would someone make a clear and practical distinction between your “memorial” sermonizing once a year, and Steven Sjorgen’s (Rick Warren’s side-kick) recent posit that the rest of us insignificant communicators ought to simply jettison all original study and preach word-for-word the sermons of the 8 to 10 greatest communicators of our time? I know your annual history lesson is well-purposed and excellent for the congregation, but if someone equated your practice with Sjorgen’s admonition, how would you explain the difference?

    Just wondering…

  6. I think you should dress up the historical garb too.

  7. Fair question Jerry and one I did think about before I started doing this. I do not have soft words for Sjorgen’s ideas because on the surface it robs God of His glory in using weaker vessels and it caters to the worst elements in the hearts of men. So what’s the difference between what he suggests and what I’m doing? Admittedly on the surface the end result may appear the same but that is all.

    1.Purpose: Sjorgen states at least three times in his article that the purpose is to “hit a homerun”. From the context I assume he’s referring to the audience’s reception of the sermon. I would argue that it’s always possible (even easier) to “hit a homerun” with the crowd and miss the context, meaning and purpose of what God is saying in His Word. He even goes further in this saying that we should deliver “killer messages” but use ones that have already proven so.

    2.Target: the target of his sermon-stealing sermons is what he calls “not-yet believers”. While the gospel is to always be proclaimed in our sermons whether explicitly or as an organic “weave” the normal focus of my messages is on the household of faith. He even states that we should focus on “effectiveness” and falsely equates this with reaching the lost. I’m probably in the minority but I believe the end result in the hearers is not the measure of effectiveness of our preaching.

    3.Motive: He equates preaching our own sermons with “pride” and says we should just give up and give in. If God has called a man to preach the Word, study to show himself approved, let his growth be evident to all, not neglect the gift within him, etc., then how can Sjorgen call this pride since it is God-ordained and God-initiated. In fact, he calls it “nonsense” to prepare sermons for 25-30 hours a week.

    4.Content: His advice is rooted on the misnomer of originality. Thusly he argues that only a few select individuals are truly “original”. Nowhere are we called to be original but preachers are repeatedly called to be faithful.

    5.Habit: Sjorgen’s advice is that the above should be the weekly practice of preachers. After the above philosophical differences are considered I do this for less than 2% of my yearly sermons. The whole tone of his article reveals a man-centeredness that unfortunately characterizes the preaching tradition that Sjorgen is a part of and seeks to defend in his writing.

    These are just a few of the differences that come to mind. I would enjoy hearing your thoughts on this.

  8. Jonathan,

    Since I wear a suit and tie when I preach…it is considered “historical garb” by some in the larger preaching “community”.

  9. Thabiti “fellow elder”,

    Where could I find a copy of Hayne’s sermon?

  10. Leave it to Paul to expect someone else to do all the work–and I don’t mean the original preachers of these text. Several of Haynes’s writings and sermons can be found in Black Preacher to White America edited by Richard Newman. But, for you my friend, if you let me know what you want, I can likely send you a .pdf of an earlier publication.

    Of course, if you want to preach one of Haynes’s sermons, then you really ought to read John Saillant’s Black Puritan, Black Republican (OUP, 2003) to get some idea who this fellow was and the context in which he lived. Or maybe a few pages in the final chapter of my dissertation. John’s work will serve you much better though. He is a close friend of one of my advisors, an acquaintance of mine, and a first-rate historian.

  11. Dang italics and code.

  12. Thanks Richard, I’ll be calling you about this. Does the pic in the lead post look familiar? It was taken in none other than your beloved Limestone County.

  13. You said it better than I could’ve…

  14. The cotton looks all too familiar. As always, I look forward to hearing from you, Paul.

  15. Complete with cotton gin in background!

  16. Jerry or Paul

    I confess, I use other man’s sermons, and material for the last 40 years and 5,000 sermons, lessons and talks. So there you have it. Over the last twenty-five years I have used in my sermon preparation John MacArthur, Charles Spurgeon, Walter Elwell, Colin Brown, and W.E. Vine, Charles Stanley, David Jeremiah, and a few more. I even quoted John Calvin, and Mr. Edwards.

    Will our sermons be better if we never use any one else material?

    Does originality,creativity, or novelty mean that your sermon is more Biblical or spiritual or more powerful for God to bless his word?

    Preaching an update Charles Spurgeon sermon would be great. Jonathan Edwards sermon as you mention is still needed today as it was when he preached it.

    Isn’t it the Lord who gives the power to the sermon and not our words?

    Just a though!

  17. You can find Haynes’ sermons in a collection called Black Preacher to White America. It’s out of print, but worth searching for.

    If you can’t find it, let me know. I have some photocopies that I’d be happy to fax to you.

    Grace and peace,

  18. Thanks Thabiti,

    That’s the same book that Richard Bailey recommended earlier in the the thread (see comment #10). Sounds like I need to add a few books to my list. Thanks for your help with this.

    For the Master,

  19. Posted by mcalmond on October 4, 2006 at 11:02 am

    Good Post. Thankyou for this fresh perspective. It is a good idea that I will have to consider or at least take a good look at.

    Blessings in Christ Jesus!

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