Archive for the ‘Expository 101’ Category

Striking Similarities Between Two Extraordinary Expositors (Pt. 9)

Preaching That Electrifies

What is the effect of preaching that is thoroughly biblical, authoritative, and well-studiedWhat is the result of expository preaching that is intensely doctrinal, Spirit-empowered, and delivered with a sense of urgency? How has God used the expository preaching of Martyn Lloyd-Jones and John MacArthur?

The Thunder of the Truth

J. I. Packer, then a student in London, has reflected upon what it was like to be under Lloyd-Jones’ preaching at Westminster Chapel. Packer writes: “I had never heard such preaching and was electrified” Further, Packer stated: “I have never heard another preacher with so much of God about him.” The effect of such preaching was powerful:  “There was in the Doctor’s preaching thunder and lightning that no tape or transcription ever did or could capture…Through the thunder and lightning, I felt and saw as never before the glory of Christ and of His gospel as modern man’s only lifeline and learned by experience why historic Protestantism looks on preaching as the supreme means of grace and of communion with God.”  Such is the power of God in the preaching of His Word.

Reflecting upon Lloyd-Jones’s biblical preaching, Eric Alexander writes, “Those of us who have had the privilege of hearing him will not easily forget the sense of awe which came upon one’s soul as he was gripped by the glory of the gospel and God spoke with such power through him.” This is the effect of such preaching, which “left an indelible mark on his hearers.”

Compellingly Clear

From untold numbers of people, the same testimonies can be offered concerning the authority of John MacArthur’s preaching. The Scripture proclaimed from his pulpit has come with life-changing impact upon those who have sat under its force. Baptismal services on Sunday evening at Grace Community Church reveal the repeated testimonies of those who have been converted under the power of the Word of God preached. Students at both The Master’s Seminary and College bear witness that the supernaturally empowered force of MacArthur’s pulpit has drawn them from across the country or the world to sit at his feet.

“What one hears from MacArthur’s pulpit,” Old states, “is a very straight Christian message.” He “has an amazing ability to explain Scripture by Scripture” in such a way that is “richly informative and mightily convincing.” Old adds, “The strength of his preaching is the content,” as MacArthur speaks with “complete clarity.” The truth is this, “He recognizes in Scripture the Word of God, and when he preaches, it is Scripture that one hears.”

On the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of John MacArthur’s presidency of The Master’s Seminary, it is only fitting that we give praise to Christ for this faithful servant. For over four decades, this distinguished leader has given himself to the preaching of God’s Word at Grace Church. What is more, he has used his influence in the training of the next generation of biblical expositors, Spirit-empowered preachers who follow in their president’s footsteps.  May MacArthur’s life and pulpit legacy significantly influence a new generation of dynamic heralds of God’s Word. And may there come from their midst, the next wave of leading voices in the church.

The Gravity of the Message (Pt. 8)

Similarity No. 7:

The Gravity of the Message

 Finally, Lloyd-Jones and MacArthur, as they have stood in their pulpits with an open Bible, have been gripped by the weightiness of their message. These are both no non-sense men, marked by sobriety, gravity, and dignity. These men are expositors, not entertainers. Lloyd-Jones was fond to say that the preacher must be as Richard Baxter once stated: “I preached as never sure to preach again and as a dying man to dying men.” As they have proclaimed the Word, the weightiness of their message has rested upon them. Such gravitas has made their preaching impactful upon their listeners.

The Weightiness of the Truth

Lloyd-Jones maintained that the preacher must be dominated by what he preaches: “A preacher must always convey the impression that he himself has been gripped by what he is saying. If he has not been gripped, nobody else will be…He must impress the people by the fact that he is taken up and absorbed by what he is doing. He is full of matter, and he is anxious to impart this.” Lloyd-Jones believed that the truth must sober the man of God: “The preacher must be a serious man; he must never give the impression that preaching is something light or superficial.” Such seriousness was certainly seen in Lloyd-Jones’ pulpit demeanor. Lloyd-Jones warns: “A preacher of necessity must give the impression that he is dealing with the most serious matter that men and women can ever consider together.” The preacher “should always create and convey the impression of the seriousness of what is happening the moment he even appears in the pulpit.” The preacher should reflect a sense of gravity in his countenance, tone, and delivery.

Lloyd-Jones also believed the preacher must never go to the other extreme:  “Seriousness does not mean solemnity, does not mean sadness, does not mean morbidity.” The Doctor stressed that sobriety is never a license to be dour: “The preacher must never be dull, he must never be boring…With the grand theme and message of the Bible, dullness is impossible.” Expository preaching must never be mundane. Rather, he insists: “This is the most interesting, the most thrilling, the most absorbing subject in the universe; and the idea that this can be presented in a dull manner makes me seriously doubt whether the men who are guilty of this dullness have ever really understood the doctrine they claim to believe, and which they advocate.”

Bottomline, “I would say that a dull preacher is a contradiction in terms; if he is dull, he is not a preacher.” Simply put, a lackluster preacher is one who has never been gripped by the truth he proclaims. If he remains stoic, it is because the truth has not affected him.

Lloyd-Jones stresses: “A man who is not moved by these things, I maintain, has never really understood them. A man is not an intellect in a vacuum; he is a whole person. He has a heart as well as a head; and if his head truly understands, his heart will be moved.” Despondent over monotone preaching, Lloyd-Jones agonized: “Where is the passion in preaching that has always characterized great preaching in the past? Why are not modern preachers moved and carried away as the great preachers of the past so often were? The Truth has not changed. Do we believe it, have we been gripped and humbled by it, and then exalted until we are ‘lost in wonder love and praise?’” If the preacher is not on fire, the truth will never ignite the people.

A Mandate From God

In the same way, MacArthur embodies a similar gravity in preaching. Describing the passion that must be present in preaching, he urges: “Feel deeply about the truth you are to preach.  Remember that expositors have a mandate from God to preach the truth and that eternal consequences hang in the balance. This mandate is not easy to obey, nor is it a light load to carry.” No one, after hearing MacArthur, would conclude that he is anything less than blood-earnest in his preaching. He adds: “Taking this charge seriously produces an inner compulsion to reach the pulpit better prepared than when leaving the study.” In other words, every preacher must feel the responsibility of his calling weighing heavily upon him. Without this inner sobriety, MacArthur concludes, there is no true preaching.

Tragically, MacArthur warns that many of today’s preachers “cater to the tastes of their audience—precisely what Paul warned against. They want to minister to people’s ‘felt needs.’ They are obsessed with being ‘relevant.’ They think too much doctrine, or too much Scripture, is a turn-off to the ‘unchurched’ people they want to reach.” Consequently, he notes: “They allow opinion polls to determine the content of their message. Their greatest fear is offending their hearers. This style of ministry is often labeled ‘seeker-sensitive’ or ‘user-friendly,’ but Scripture calls it ear-tickling.” This kind of lifeless rhetoric, MacArthur contends, lacks the necessary gravity of real preaching. Such shallowness that marks many contemporary pulpits defies the biblical mandate to proclaim the transcendent truth, “Thus says the Lord!”

To this end, MacArthur sounds this clear warning: “Evangelicals have lost their tolerance for bold, confrontative, biblical preaching. People have demanded to be entertained. Pastors, fearful of ‘turning people off,’ have acquiesced to public opinion. And now the church, on several fronts, is flirting with serious doctrinal error, unable to distinguish truth from falsehood. Having turned aside from the truth, they are susceptible to myths.” But to the contrary, MacArthur asserts that the man of God must be fearless in the pulpit: “The preacher of the Word must be bold, thorough, unrelenting, persevering in the face of hardship and opposition—and above all, fearless.” Sadly, he states, “This kind of sobriety is the polar opposite of the flaky, whimsical, superficial, celebrity-type televangelists who color the public perception of preachers today.” Thus, MacArthur earnestly pleads, “The faithful preacher should be well-rooted and grounded, steadfast, stable—rock-solid.” In short, if a man is to truly preach, a sobering sense of God must weigh heavily upon him. If there is to be biblical exposition, the preacher must first be gripped by the Word of God. Without question, MacArthur has ardently demonstrated this kind of awe-inspiring preaching to an entire generation.

Article written by Dr. Steve Lawson

Used with permission

The Role of the Holy Spirit and Preaching (Pt. 7)

Similarity No. 6:

the SUFFICIENCY of the Spirit

 Sixth, Lloyd-Jones and MacArthur have stressed their utter dependence upon the Holy Spirit in preaching. Their complete reliance involves the Spirit’s role in the preacher’s study, as well as in the pulpit. The expositor’s preparation in diligent study of the Word is entirely dependent upon the Holy Spirit must enlighten the expositor’s understanding of the biblical text and deepen his convictions in it. The same can be said regarding the Spirit’s role in delivering the sermon. There can be no real preaching apart from the supernatural empowering of the Spirit of God.

Spirit-Empowered Preaching

Lloyd-Jones asserted that the Spirit’s work in the preacher’s delivery is “the greatest essential in connection with preaching.” Authoritative preaching, he claimed, “is God giving power, and enabling [him], through the Spirit… [to] do this work in a manner that lifts it up beyond the efforts and endeavors of man.”  Such preaching is God in the preacher, energizing him to expound the Scripture with supernatural ability. He states, “If there is no power, it is not preaching. True preaching, after all, is God acting. It is not just a man uttering words; it is God using him. He is being used of God. He is under the influence of the Holy Spirit.” Lloyd-Jones believed this divine element in preaching is the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

Recognizing this supernatural dimension, Lloyd-Jones described the Spirit’s activity in the preacher: “You are a man ‘possessed,’ you are taken hold of, and taken up…you have a feeling that you are not actually doing the preaching…You are looking on at yourself in amazement as this is happening. It is not your effort; you are just the instrument, the channel, the vehicle: and the Spirit is using you, and you are looking on in great enjoyment and astonishment.” By this, Lloyd-Jones affirmed the sovereign work of the third member of the Godhead in preaching, quickening his mind, enflaming his affections, and deepening his convictions.

In the pulpit, Lloyd-Jones acknowledged that the Spirit gives an expansion of thought and depth of profound expression: “It is of the very essence of the act of preaching—this freedom in your own mind and spirit, this being free to the influences of the Spirit upon you. If we believe in the Holy Spirit at all, we must believe that He is acting powerfully while we are engaged in this most serious and wonderful work.” Therefore, he urged that the preacher should earnestly pray that God would “let Him manifest His power in you and through you.” Lloyd-Jones believed: “Nothing but a return of this power of the Spirit on our preaching is going to avail us anything. This makes true preaching.” In short, Lloyd-Jones affirmed that if preaching is to know God’s blessing, it must know the power of God’s Spirit.

In Demonstration of Power

MacArthur, likewise, emphasizes the preacher’s complete reliance upon the Holy Spirit. “Powerful preaching occurs,” he writes, “only when a Spirit-illumined man of God expounds clearly and compellingly God’s Spirit-inspired revelation in Scripture to a Spirit-illumined congregation.” The Holy Spirit, who inspired the biblical text, is the same Spirit who must enlighten the preacher and the congregation.  MacArthur clarifies: “Illumination is the work of the Holy Spirit that opens one’s spiritual eyes to comprehend the meaning of the Word of God. It involves the preacher of Scripture and his audience. God’s objective and historically past revelation in Scripture cannot be understood accurately apart from the present, personal, and subjective work of the Holy Spirit.” Without the Spirit teaching both the preacher and the listener, the Bible remains something of a closed book. Without His empowerment, the preacher will resort to manipulative techniques and fleshly coercions with the listener.

In preaching, MacArthur affirms that the preacher must not depend upon mere rhetoric, but upon the Holy Spirit: “Regardless of the erudition, the compelling logic, the soaring rhetoric, or the clever and interesting communication style, if the truth spoken is not accompanied by the power of God, it accomplishes nothing. But when empowered by God as it enters the prepared soul, the gospel truth saves.” To this end, MacArthur stresses that the Spirit must be at work, or preaching is vain:  “Genuine soul-transforming power accompanying gospel preaching is the work of the Spirit energizing both the preacher and the hearer.” The preacher can deliver the truth to the listener’s ear, but the Holy Spirit must take it to the mind and heart.

Aware of his vulnerability, MacArthur states: “I just pray that my own church would be a place of powerful preaching, and that we would never substitute anything for the Spirit-energized preaching of Christ, His cross, and the Word of God.” No amount of truth, if delivered without the Spirit’s ministry, can impact those who hear it. Is it any wonder that God has chosen to bless these two faithful servants, Lloyd-Jones and MacArthur, as they have relied upon the Holy Spirit in their respective pulpits?

D. Martyn-Lloyd-Jones

Sound Doctrine & the Expository Pulpit (Part 6)

Similarity No. 5:

the Purity of Doctrine

Fifth, Lloyd-Jones and MacArthur have been keenly aware they must exposit doctrinal truths. This focus has yielded a depth lacking in other expositors.  Murray observes there is “a growing difference between the older, [G. Campbell] Morgan tradition of exposition and MacArthur’s. In his case, as with Lloyd-Jones, the devotional thought is grounded on the bringing out of clear doctrinal principles. Exposition needs to lead hearers to doctrinal certainties.”  Lloyd-Jones
and MacArthur have been committed to preaching biblical and systematic theology from each text.

 Theology on Fire

Lloyd-Jones was adamant that true preaching must be doctrinal preaching: “What is preaching? It is theology on fire. And a theology which does not take fire, I maintain, is a defective theology; or at least the man’s understanding of it is defective. Preaching is theology coming through a man who is on fire.”  Each sermon, he maintained, must set forth doctrinal truths. To this point, Lloyd-Jones reiterates: “Preaching must always be theological, always based on a theological foundation…There is no type of preaching that should be non-theological.” With deep conviction, he states: “You cannot deal properly with repentance without dealing with the doctrine of man, the doctrine of the Fall, the doctrine of sin and the wrath of God against sin.”  In other words, preaching must be aimed at teaching “doctrinal certainties.”

Consequently, Lloyd-Jones believed that strong preaching demands that the preacher have a strategic grasp of systematic theology: “To me there is nothing more important in a preacher than that he should know it and be well grounded in it. This systematic theology, this body of truth which is derived from the Scripture, should always be present as a background and as a controlling influence in his preaching.”  For Lloyd-Jones, sound doctrine was the very backbone of his preaching. Each passage must be tested by the analogy of Scripture and show its perfect consistency with the rest of Scripture.

Murray explains that for Lloyd-Jones, preaching expositionally is “not simply to give the correct grammatical sense of a verse or passage. It is rather to set out the principles or doctrines which the words are intended to convey. True expository preaching is, therefore, doctrinal preaching, it is preaching which addresses specific truths from God to man.”  Without teaching the doctrine of a passage, a sermon is devoid of power. Thus, Lloyd-Jones asserted, “The purpose of studying the Scripture is to arrive at doctrine.”  Setting forth the doctrine of the passage, he believed, is essential to the sermon.

The Faith Once For All Delivered

This same focus upon sound doctrine is found in MacArthur’s preaching. This noted preacher writes: “The pastor’s purpose is not to make Scripture relevant to his people but to enable them to understand doctrine, which becomes the foundation of their spiritual living.”  No matter what people want, MacArthur states, solid theology must be put forth. He writes: “People’s ears may be itching for anything but sound doctrine, but the faithful pastor will defy the spirit of the age, confront his own fear, and boldly preach the truth anyway.”  Accordingly, he states: “In his preaching and teaching, it should be the pastor’s sole objective to enlighten his congregation in doctrine that protects and preserves their spiritual health.”  In other words, right living results from right doctrine.

In MacArthur’s preaching, Murray notes: “The necessity for doctrinal content—the making clear of biblical principles—became an increasingly important part of MacArthur’s preaching.” To this end, MacArthur states: “Authentic Christianity is concerned first and foremost with truth. The Christian faith is not primarily about feelings although deep feelings will surely result from the impact of truth on our hearts. It is not about human relationships, even though relationships are the main focus in many of today’s evangelical pulpits…Biblical Christianity is all about truth.”  Consequently, MacArthur stresses that the absolute nature of truth necessitates that every pastor teach sound doctrine. He writes: “An excellent minister is to disseminate sound teaching to all people at all times through all means. That is the heart and soul of the ministry.”

Regarding current trends, MacArthur notes: “There is much relational preaching today that attempts to make people feel better about themselves and about how God might feel about them, but there is little forceful defense of the full truth. As in most periods of church history, strong and effective defenders of the faith are at a premium.” Expositors of sound doctrine is the dire need in this present hour, he believes, those who uphold the standard of sound words. Such a commitment to preaching “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” galvanizes the pulpit.


Article by Dr. Steve Lawson (used with permission)


Fourth, Lloyd-Jones and MacArthur were equally committed to serious study in their sermon preparation. Possessing commanding intellects, these two master expositors feverishly devoted themselves to the diligent study of the Scripture. The depth of their sermon preparation has determined the breadth of their ministry. Both men have labored to search the Scripture in order to discover its essential meaning, key doctrines, and timeless principles.

Digging Into the Scripture

As a promising medical student, Lloyd-Jones knew the discipline required in rigorous academic study. Following his demanding schooling, he joined the staff of the foremost teaching hospital in the world, St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in London. There he became the chief clinical assistant to Sir Thomas Horder, a leading heart physician and doctor to the royal family. Under this privileged tutelage, Horder’s Socratic approach to logic and learning sharpened the intellectual prowess of this future preacher. Horder acclaimed Lloyd-Jones to be “the most acute thinker that I ever knew.”  Once converted and called into ministry, Lloyd-Jones applied his ingenious mind to the study of Scripture.

As Lloyd-Jones approached the Bible, it was as though he was examining a patient. Of each text, he asked probing questions, synthesized his findings, and determined the proper diagnosis. He said: “You have to question your text, to put questions to it, and especially this question—What is this saying? What is the particular doctrine here, the special message? In the preparation of a sermon, nothing is more important than that.”  In scrutinizing the Scripture, Lloyd-Jones insisted that his analysis must involve studying in the original languages. He stated that the Greek and Hebrew “are of great value for the sake of accuracy; no more, that is all. They cannot guarantee accuracy, but they promote it.”  Thus, he insisted, linguistic tools need to be employed in interpreting the Scripture. After digging into the text, Lloyd-Jones then urged the consulting “commentaries or any aids that you may choose to employ.”

In this pursuit, Lloyd-Jones’s entire life was “immersed in Scripture.”  Using the Robert Murray McCheyne system of daily Scripture reading, he poured over four passages of Scripture each day, two in the morning and two at night. Those who knew him best said: “He knew that Bible inside and out!”  For Lloyd-Jones, this gave him a thorough knowledge of the whole Bible. As he dug into each text, he looked for the doctrine taught therein. Lloyd-Jones said: “Biblical study is of very little value if it ends in and of itself and is mainly a matter of the meaning of the words.  The purpose of studying the Scripture is to arrive at its doctrine.”  Like a hard-working miner, he explored each passage until he extracted its theological gems, core doctrines, and biblical principles. Out of this daily reading and sermon preparation, he was armed with the truth and, in turn, preached the Word.

Rightly Dividing the Word

Hard study has been equally present in MacArthur’s sermon preparation. Iain Murray notes this relentless pursuit in study of the Scripture: “For forty-four or forty-five Sundays, through forty years, two new sermons have been prepared every week; in the early years it was three, as MacArthur also spoke at the church on Wednesday nights. The pattern of his week has been to give the best of his time, from Tuesday to Friday, to preparation for preaching.”  This regimented study has been consistent over the lengthy span of more than four decades.  Murray adds: “In early years, this meant some fifteen hours of work for each sermon; and he still requires from eight to ten hours.”  Week after week, month after month, year after year, MacArthur has devoted himself to the meticulous study of the biblical text. The deeper he has dug down into the text, the stronger his pulpit has grown.

Regarding his approach, MacArthur states: “I always begin by reading the whole book. It is imperative for the expositor to be familiar with the overall message and flow of the book before he begins preaching any passages from it.” In so doing: “I also read the introductory sections in several good commentaries” in order to “become familiar with the author of the book, the addresses, the book’s theme or purpose, the date of its writing, and other important background material.”  With the individual passage isolated, “I ask myself, “What is the primary message of this passage? What is the central truth? What is the main expositional idea?” Having found the main point, “I begin to look for the subordinate points that support it.”   Subsequently, “The next step is a detailed analysis of its words and grammar” to find “any problems in the passage, such as an important textual variant, an unusual word, or a difficult grammatical construction.” Then he will “diagram the passage” to become “aware of the grammatical structure.” At last, “I put together a
preliminary outline.”

MacArthur contends, “Rightly dividing the Word of truth demands great effort. It was originally written many years ago in very different contexts, today’s exegete has to work hard to bridge the gaps of language, culture, geography, and history. He must also do his best to understand the flow of the argument, as it would have been understood by its original readers” and “intended by its original human author.” In summary, MacArthur states, “The meaning of the Scripture is the Scripture. If you do not have the interpretation of the passage right, then you do not have the Word of God, because only the true meaning is the Word of God.”   Consequently, MacArthur has shown himself firmly committed to finding the proper interpretation of the biblical text. Until he has it, he realizes, he can proceed no further.

Article by Dr. Steven J. Lawson

Used with Permission.

Reformation: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

I recently read Carl Trueman’s Reformation: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.  This powerful little book offers some great  insights into various topics including preaching.  Here are a few excerpts from Professor Trueman’s book (republished by Christian Focus Publications).

The sermon: God’s Method

For those, however, standing in the line of the Reformers, humanity, even in its highest natural spiritual exercises, is in a state of utter rebellion against God, and no elaborate string of words, no compelling argument, no passionate speech will ever bring a single individual to Christ.  It is only as those words bring with them the Holy Spirit of God bearing witness to Christ that the sermon becomes adequate to its task.  Thus, we preach, we speak the words of God not because this is the marketing method most likely to appeal to the unbeliever but simply because this is God’s appointed means of coming to individuals and bringing them to faith.  Indeed, precisely because it is so weak and hopeless by the world’s standards, it brings that much more glory to God when souls are saved and lives turned round through this medium.

Of course we must use language with which the congregation is familiar; of course we must be aware that we are talking to people in the twenty-first century and not the sixteenth; and of course we must be culturally sensitive in what we say; but preach we must because this is God’s chosen means of spreading the news of the kingdom.  Preaching is not just a communication technique, and must never be considered as such; it is bringing the very words of God to bear upon the life and needs of sinners and of the congregations of God’s people.  For this reason, if for no other, the sermon must remain central in our worship…..

When preaching fails

Furthermore, it is surely no coincidence that the marginalizing of the sermon is evangelical life has led not so much to a collapse in zeal for the gospel – for there are many, particularly young people, who come from churches where preaching is not central yet have an enviable zeal – but has led to a dramatic decline among the laity in knowledge of exactly what that gospel is.  Working with evangelical students, it never ceases to astound me how little some of them know.  Yes, they love Christ and trust him for forgiveness; but ask them why they have confidence that he forgives them or what the cross achieved, and one is often confronted with a reply which speaks about some nebulous experience or feeling which they have rather than a reference to the cross or to covenant promises.

The reason for this lack is almost always their church background: fellowships where great emphasis may well be placed upon a vital and vibrant Christian life but where preaching is at a discount.  The result is that their minds are empty of great Christian truths and their faith has less than fully stable foundations, being built on pious experiences rather than a well-thought-out biblical and doctrinal worldview rooted in the identity of God himself as found in his revelation.  We need to know that we can be confident that God is faithful because of what he has done throughout history, not because we ourselves had some experience at some point in time; and how are we to know this unless somebody tells us?

The preacher’s responsibility

The first thing that a preacher needs to realize, therefore, is the seriousness of the task he is undertaking:  on his shoulders rests the responsibility of giving his people solid rock on which to build their lives; and in preaching, he is moving the divine Word of God from the divinely inspired text through the words of his sermon to the hearts and minds of his people.  He is thus handling, so to speak, the Word of God, something which is both an immense privilege and an awesome responsibility.

He must therefore take care that he gets it right and that his attitude towards the task is one appropriate to its gravity.  As Richard Baxter declared, ‘I preached as a dying man to dying men.’ The pulpit was thus no place for clowning or levity or entertaining his congregation; every Sunday it was a place where, perhaps for the last time, he had an opportunity of speaking to men and women about the great things of God.  We, of course, live in age where entertainment is one of the be-all-and-end-alls of life; but Christianity is always to an extent counter-cultural, and this is one point on which we cannot afford to be anything else.

The preaching ministry is thus something which should not be entered into lightly; nor is the sermon something which either minister or congregation should approach in a light or trivial manner.  The preacher has the responsibility of both expounding God’s truth and of doing so in a manner which confronts his congregation with the awesomeness of God’s greatness and holiness and the vastness of his grace and love.

It takes, therefore, a particular kind of man with a particular calling to perform this task.

Striking Similarities Between Two Extraordinary Expositors

One of my favorite preachers and Christian authors is Dr. Steve Lawson.  Pastor Lawson is a humble servant leader and so it is not surprising to observe the various ways God has chosen to use and bless this faithful jar of clay.  Steve serves as the main teaching pastor at a local church in Alabama

Dr. Lawson hosts a unique conference each and every year for bible expositors.  You can find out more about this conference at

Pastor Lawson has given me permission to republish the following article that originally appeared in the TMSJ.


Martyn Lloyd-Jones
and John MacArthur 

Striking Similarities Between Two Extraordinary Expositors

In each generation, there is raised up by God one dominant voice in the church that speaks with greatest biblical authority and theological profundity, yet with far-reaching appeal. Through his prolific pulpit and pen, such a pivotal figure becomes the primary instrument that most influences the direction of God’s work around the world. Whether it be John Calvin in the sixteenth century, John Owen in the seventeenth, Jonathan Edwards in the eighteenth, or Charles Spurgeon in the nineteenth, every hour of human history has one such strategic leader who marries both depth and breadth of ministry, and most impacts the times in which he lives. For the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, a compelling case can be made that these two individuals are, respectively, Martyn Lloyd-Jones and John MacArthur.

Through Lloyd-Jones’ prolific Westminster pulpit in London, and later by the global distribution of his printed sermons, this formidable leader came to be widely regarded in his day as “the greatest preacher in Christendom.” Affectionately known as “the Doctor,” this brilliant physician-turned-preacher became the foremost expositor in the mid-twentieth century and was the leading influence in bringing about a resurgence of biblical preaching. “There is little doubt,” Eric J. Alexander writes, “that Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was the greatest preacher the English-speaking world has seen in the twentieth century.” Through his strategic pulpit, only a short walk from Buckingham Palace, Lloyd-Jones spoke to the nation and impacted the evangelical church around the world.

With unflagging confidence in Scripture, this fiery Welch-born preacher burned like a bright torch in a day that had witnessed “the decline in powerful biblical preaching in the English-speaking world.” Despite contemporary trends to the contrary, Lloyd-Jones staunchly refused to cave in to the many pressures around him that clamored for man-centered programs to attract a crowd. While others looked to church growth techniques, this feisty Puritan-born-out-of-due-time relied chiefly upon the exposition of the Word to build the church. In spite of his many skeptics, Lloyd-Jones eventually preached to capacity crowds of 2,500 on Sunday mornings and evenings and 1,200 each Friday evening. Throughout his ministry, Lloyd-Jones emphasized that the preaching of the Word must always be the priority.

Recognizing Lloyd-Jones’ enduring legacy, Peter Lewis writes, “In the history of the pulpit in Britain, the preaching of Martyn Lloyd-Jones is outstanding. He takes his place in a long line of great preachers since the Protestant Reformation, who have stood for the reformation and renewal of the church, the evangelization and awakening of the world.”

Despite the spiritual decline in post-World War II England, this exemplarily expositor stood virtually alone in his commitment to biblical preaching. Hughes
Oliphant Old states, “The greatest impact of Lloyd-Jones on the English-speaking pulpit of today is the recovery of true expository preaching.” In addition, Lloyd-Jones founded the Banner of Truth Trust, a publishing house for the distribution of Puritan and Reformed literature. Moreover, he chaired the annual Puritan Conference and moderated the Westminster Minister’s Fraternal, leaving an indelible mark upon the Christian church.

Raising Up of A New Voice

As Lloyd-Jones stepped down from his Westminster pulpit on October 9, 1968, none could have known that at that moment, the next strong voice was being raised up across the Atlantic Ocean, one that would continue this same resurgence of biblical preaching. On February 9, 1969, only four months after Lloyd-Jones resigned his pastorate, a twenty-nine year old preacher assumed the pulpit of Grace Community Church in Los Angeles, California and launched what would become more than four decades of prodigious sermon output. His name is John MacArthur, and like Lloyd-Jones before him, the focal point of his prolific ministry would be the clear and compelling exposition of the Scripture. Under his preaching, Grace Church would witness explosive growth from the 300 who first heard him in a small chapel to two morning services and one evening service filled to capacity its newly-built 3,000-seat auditorium. As with Westminster Chapel, so Grace Church would witness the unmistakable power of the Word of God preached.

The influence of MacArthur’s preaching has reached far beyond the walls of Grace Community Church, gaining “a reputation for solid expository preaching.” Flowing out of this pulpit has come nearly 400 books and study guides either written or edited by MacArthur. Included in this prolific ministry came the MacArthur New Testament Commentary Series, a thirty-one volume commentary set that when completed,will address every verse of every book in the New Testament. What is more, the MacArthur Study Bible is the direct fruit of this prolific pulpit and has become the cornerstone resource of his ministry, available in English, Spanish, Russian, German, French, Italian, Chinese, Arabic, with more languages on the way.

Reaching around the globe, the Grace pulpit has truly become a world pulpit, exerting an influence of staggering, if not unprecedented, proportions. Through “Grace to You” radio broadcasts, MacArthur’s sermons are heard daily some 1,000 times throughout the English-speaking world in the United States, Canada, Europe, the Philippines, South Africa, and beyond. In addition, his sermons are heard another 1,000 times daily in 23 Spanish-speaking countries, including Mexico, Spain, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Venezuela, and Columbia. Moreover, under this far-reaching pulpit, The Master’s Seminary was birthed in 1986 for the purpose of training men in expository preaching. Remarkably, a series of fourteen training centers have emerged around the world, known as The Masters Training Academy International (TMAI). These institutions are mostly staffed by TMS graduates and are designed to equip a new generation of biblical expositors throughout the world.

In the summer of 2011, MacArthur will complete his verse-by-verse exposition through the Gospel of Mark, which will mark a far greater milestone—the completion of his preaching at Grace Community Church through the entire New Testament. This monumental achievement of long term, consistent exposition will become a model inspiration and resource for pastors and teachers for generations to come. So remarkable is this accomplishment that one must go back to the voluminous output of Calvin in Geneva to find a comparable standard.

 A Striking Resemblance

Lloyd-Jones and MacArthur have proven to be, arguably, the premier expositors of the last two generations. What Lloyd-Jones was to the middle of the twentieth century, MacArthur has become to the end of the twentieth and beginning of the twenty-first centuries. Though these two luminous preachers would never meet, and each would be his own man, many striking parallels can be identified between their pulpit ministries. The common ground shared by these two gifted preachers should serve as a positive example for all preachers to pattern their ministries.

In this article, the focus will be upon noted similarities
between the expository preaching of these two extraordinary men. What core commitments distinguished them as great preachers in their day? What can we learn from their distinguished ministries that are worthy of imitation by this generation of preachers? What are the common cornerstones upon which their pulpits were built? To answer these questions, the following parallels should be noted between these two extraordinary expositors.”  TO BE CONTINUED

“Jesus lost control of bodily functions” and other unhelpful statements

I recently listened to a preacher make an impassioned exhortation to his congregation saying nothing out of the ordinary. However, in his passion, he said something about Jesus’ death on the cross that stirred things in my mind and not in ways that are helpful. In the midst of it all he said that “Jesus lost control of His bodily functions while on the cross.” Let’s think about this for just a moment.

Why would a preacher state such a thing? The most probable answer is to underscore the suffering that Jesus endured on the cross and His complete loss of dignity. To be sure, everything about the cross was filthy, repulsive, and gross. Another reason might be to correct the sanitized version which is often depicted in works of art and film (however more recent films tend to accentuate the gore). Truth is always stranger than fiction and in this case a whole lot uglier. A third possible reason is to simply be shocking as if nailing a body to wood is not shocking on its own merits.

Whatever the reasons there is something troubling about these sort of statements when interjected into a sermon. They have no support in Scripture! Could this have happened? Well, sure, a lot could have happened but the Spirit of God decided that it was not necessary to know such details. Furthermore, such details add nothing to the meaning of the text nor do they clarify any background information to the scene. How we think about such things says a lot about our hermeneutic and whether we believe the meaning of the text is rooted in authorial intent or in our cleverness. Does stating that Jesus lost control of His bodily functions make Him appear more human? His cross more shocking? His death more real? If not, then how is this helpful?

Did you ever hear the one about . . . .

The idea that the high priest would tie a rope around his ankle before entering the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur so that his body could be pulled out if he went down while performing his duties? (It’s a myth).

What about the Hinnom Valley (Gehenna) being a perpetually burning trash dump? (It’s a myth too).

Someone asked David McCullough about his perspective on writing history. He said, “ . . . there’s no need ever to trick things up, to sugar this or that, or use dramatic devices to make it interesting. You just try as best you can to make it as interesting as it actually was.”[1] In a sense, this is the role of good expository homiletics. The task of the preacher is to get out of the way and let the people hear God speaking in the narrative. Having done all the necessary spadework, “This message should be clear and easy to follow, while remaining faithful to the biblical author’s progression of ideas.”[2]

[1] Diane Osen, ed., The Book that Changed My Life: Interviews with National Book Award Winners and Finalists (New York: The Modern Library, 2002), 106-07. I am indebted to Matthew Waymeyer for calling my attention to this particular quote (personal communication, Oct 18, 2009).

[2] Donald R. Sunukjian, “Sticking to the Plot: The Developmental Flow of the Big Idea Sermon,” in The Big Idea of Biblical Preaching: Connecting to People, eds. Keith Willhite and Scott M. Gibson (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), 111.

Expository Preachers Never Have This Problem

In a normal week, Reverend Schroeder would spend most of Tuesday afternoon locked in his office with the phones on hold as he searched for his next sermon’s topic. He looked at current events, thought about the needs of his flock, prayed a lot, and if nothing happened, would go to the files and look at old sermons. When the idea finally hit, he would write a quick outline and than begin the full text. At that point, the pressure was off, and he could practice and rehearse until Sunday. Few things felt worse, though, than waking up on Wednesday morning with no idea what he would say on Sunday.

John Grisham, The Confession, p. 112

%d bloggers like this: