Preaching Evangelistic Sermons
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Preaching Evangelistic Sermons

From Series: The Pastor's Study, Volume 6

Romans 10:1-21  (ID: 2811)

Evangelistic preaching is hard work, and pastors sometimes avoid the task because it is inconvenient or unpopular. As Alistair Begg explains, however, it is vitally important that the cross of Christ is consistently presented and people are urged to respond in faith. It is this message that speaks to our greatest need. We must not allow concern for popularity or theological predispositions to displace faithfulness to the Gospel message.


Sermon Transcript:

So, our brief is to think in terms of evangelistic preaching, and let’s set the context by turning to Romans chapter 10. And let me just read a selection of verses beginning at 9:30.

Paul says, “What then shall we say? That…” It’s actually—there’s no definite article in Greek, so it’s not, in the NIV, “that the Gentiles,” but “that Gentiles.” “What … shall we say? That … Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the ‘stumbling stone.’ As it is written: ‘See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.’

“Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they[’re] zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they [do] not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.”

We’ll go down to verse 8:

“But what does it say? ‘The word is near [to] you; it[’s] in your mouth and in your heart,’ that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming.” It’s amazing how that little phrase, incidentally—“the word of faith”—has been captured on charismatic television circles and turned into whatever you want it to be. All they would need to do is read the Bible and realize that he then clarifies what that “word of faith” is. “The word of faith [that] we are proclaiming,” colon, verse 9, here comes the word: “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God [has] raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.”

We’ll go down to verse 14:

“How, then, can they call on the one they[’ve] not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’”

It’s some time since I read the book by Jim Packer on the Puritans. In fact, I hate to think about how long it is, how quickly time goes by. And I made notes from that book, and one in particular had struck me so forcibly that I had it copied out by my assistant, and I kept it for some time on my desk. I went looking for it the other day and couldn’t find it. But I tracked the quote down, and this is the one that I’d saved for myself—the observation made by Packer: “If one preaches the Bible biblically, one cannot help preaching the gospel all the time, and every sermon will be, as [the Puritan] Bolton said, at least by implication evangelistic.”[1] If one preaches the Bible, you can’t help preaching the gospel, and as a result, every sermon will be, at least by its implication, evangelistic. Which makes perfect sense, because the Puritans’ view of preaching was very straightforward: they preached expositionally; they preached pretty long sermons, as it turned out; and they tended not to specify them in any particular way.

But every so often, when you read the Puritan preachers, you discover that there are some of their sermons—you can think, for example, classically, of “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”—but there are some of the sermons that are aimed narrowly and exclusively at converting people, at seeing people converted. And it is this latter category that I have in my mind when I say, “We’re thinking about preaching evangelistic sermons.” I’m taking it for granted that we understand that in the sweep of things, when we preach the Bible, the Bible is a book about Jesus, and when we offer Christ to people, then we have evangelical, evangelistic implications. But that’s not what I have in mind. What I have in mind is thinking about the question in terms of the very specific approach to opening up the Scriptures, addressing the sinner in their sin, addressing the fact of their guilt, addressing the issue of their helplessness, and offering to them Christ as their only Savior. Or, if you like, preaching the gospel to unbelievers with a view to their conversion. So that’s really what we have in mind here: preaching the Bible to unbelievers with a view to their conversion.

And I have an assumption, which I’m happy to be corrected on, but my assumption is this: that there is a glaring lack of this kind of preaching in our churches, even in the churches such as our own that would be regarded as gospel-oriented churches—that for whatever reason, opportunities created and taken for this kind of overtly direct evangelistic preaching are increasingly few and far between.

And in some circumstances, there is a catch-22 that we are faced with, and it goes like this: we don’t preach these evangelistic sermons because no one comes, and no one comes because we don’t preach these evangelistic sermons—that there is not a climate created in our congregations that is along the lines of what we’ve really been hearing about in the last two addresses, whereby they are so engaged with their unbelieving friends, their non-Christian friends, that they are, both in their interpersonal times and in the opportunities for public worship, seeking to see them come to Jesus Christ.

The Cultural Challenges

Now, as I say, this is my assumption; I’m happy to be disproved. But if there is any measure of accuracy in the assumption, let me suggest some of the reasons as to why there is an absence of this kind of evangelistic preaching. And the first selection I would gather under the heading of cultural reasons. Cultural reasons. And the first and the most obvious would be this: that the gospel message—the gospel message, which centers on the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, the notion of penal substitutionary atonement—the gospel message is not a popular message. It is actually “foolishness to those who are perishing.”[2] And so, if to any extent we have bought into the notion that our greatest influence will be when we are popular and when we are able to popularize things, when we are accepted and when we’re able to make things amenable and acceptable, then almost inevitably we’re going to have to step away from this kind of evangelistic preaching.

Under the same heading of “cultural,” we recognize too that our contemporary culture is one in which firmly held beliefs are quickly dismissed as simply narrow-minded dogmatism, so that if you are going to hold to any kind of position at all, it is customary—increasingly customary—for people to say, “Anybody who’s going to be as straightforward and as categorical as that must, ipso facto, be on the wrong side of the fence. Because anyone who holds those kind of convictions is nothing other than a dogmatist, and a dogmatist of the narrow-minded kind.”

Along with that, and thirdly, the exclusive claims of Christ are just regarded as pure intolerance. Just intolerance! “What do you mean, Jesus Christ is the only Savior? What do you mean, starting from the position, in the Prophets, ‘I am God, and there is no other.’”[3] People in our culture say, “Well, we know that’s not the case. It couldn’t possibly be the case.” And here we are, and that’s our starting point.

Fourthly, our listeners are increasingly ignorant of the Bible—not just those who are outside of the church but those who are inside the church. And so, if we’re actually going to proclaim the gospel, if we’re going to do evangelistic talks and sermons, then it’s gonna be pretty hard. Because we cannot operate from the same assumptions, even for some of us, in the earlier times of our pulpit ministry. When I began in the mid-’70s in Edinburgh, in Scotland, it was still possible to have these big debates and discussions about the resurrection of Jesus, and you had big arguments about scientific rationalism as opposed to the claims of faith and so on. Now the arguments are totally different. People are not arguing about scientific rationalism; they’re arguing about whether somebody’s homophobic or not. They’re arguing about whether the Bible has anything to say to this cultural issue and that cultural issue, and it is virtually impossible for us simply to start where we might normally start. And therefore, it just sometimes is a little too daunting.

So, for example, Paul in Acts 17, he has to do all the hard work in the multicultural, multigod perspective of Athens. And that’s presumably why he doesn’t start with the resurrection. I mean, we have the précis of his talk. We can’t have his whole talk there. It would be over in two and half minutes; that’s all it takes to read it. So we have a selection, presumably, of what he was saying. But he eventually gets to it, and Luke says, “And when he told them of the resurrection of the dead, then they said, ‘Oh, forget this. We’re moving on.’”[4] But that’s not where he started. Remember how he starts: “The God who made the world and everything in it … does not live in temples [made] by hands.”[5] And part of the challenge in evangelistic preaching, I think, today is that irrespective of the congregation, there’s a lot of hard work to be done before we can actually advance the cause.

The moral relativism of our time makes it much harder to articulate certain categories which are fundamental to communicating the gospel, not least of all the issue of sin.

And fifthly and finally under “cultural,” the moral relativism of our time makes it much harder to articulate certain categories which are fundamental to communicating the gospel, not least of all the issue of sin. In a culture such as ours, where if it feels good, it justifies it, we’re gonna have to work pretty hard to say, “Now, let’s talk here about what the Bible says.” That’s why I like speaking to men; that’s why I like speaking to golfers. It’s a great opportunity to do evangelism with those who play golf. Because anybody who plays golf understands that you have a card, you have a score, you have a course, you have in bounds, you have out of bounds. Golfers understand the white stakes. They understand that if you go beyond the white stakes, you’re out of bounds. There are penalties for being out of bounds. So they’re good people, actually, to speak to about moral rectitude and ins and outs, and you can get faster in relationship to the issues sometimes with such individuals then you can with others.

Now, I’m sure there’s more than that, but at least those are there.

The Theological Challenges

Under the heading of theological—theological challenges to doing evangelistic preaching—I would say there are largely two, or we could subsume them under two.

One is the temptation to capitulation—just to capitulate in relationship to these things. It’s just too uncomfortable to have to deal with the offensive nature of biblical texts. It’s gonna be much easier for me just to do the same routine that I find on offer to me on the websites of people who are bringing great crowds in—that is, you do three months on sex, then you do three months on money, and then you go back and do another three months on sex. You just change what it is, but basically, it’s the gospel by means of the checkout counter. It’s the gospel by means of the magazines when you’re picking up your bananas. And all the time, it’s about bodies, bucks, and brains. And so, if you want to really touch the people where they are, let’s talk to them about their bodies, let’s talk to them about their money, and let’s talk to them about how smart they all are.

But if you’re not gonna do that, if you’re actually gonna allow the Bible to set the agenda for the evangelistic talk, if you’re gonna allow the Bible to ask the questions rather than starting where the culture is, then inevitably we’re gonna be dealing with material that is immediately offensive to people. And it is difficult to handle. And it is a challenge. I liked what Rico was saying last night: “Are you prepared to push through the pain barrier?” he kept asking. “Are you prepared to push through the pain barrier and say to somebody, ‘And there is inevitable judgment in relationship to this,’ that God is this and God is that.” And some of us just don’t have the stomach for it. We just don’t.

And so, the framework of biblical theology is collapsed into vague notions about God, vague stories about what God wants you to be, and if some of us really examined what we’re doing, our view of God as presented to our people is little more than deism: “There’s a God somewhere up there, he started everything off, you should pay attention to him, and there’s two things you need to know about him: number one, he wants you to be good, and number two, he’d like you to be happy. And most of all, he wants you to be happy, so don’t worry about it if you haven’t been able to be as good as you would like to be.” And our people listen to that twaddle. And some people actually call that an evangelistic talk. Nothing could be further from the truth. And subtly, imperceptibly, theology is replaced by a therapeutic model, where lostness and judgment and guilt give way to a whole approach to things which offers to people acceptance without repentance and wholeness without redemption.

And at the heart of it all is the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. Brothers, check yourself on this, and I must check myself as well: How much of our preaching would be regarded by our congregations who know us best as being, if you like, cruciform in its structure? That would be cross centered? We’re not talking about Good Friday now or a couple weeks around Easter. But we make a fundamental mistake if we think that we’re actually engaged in evangelistic preaching of any significant nature if we manage to do it absent the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. Because it is at the cross of Christ that everything is dealt with, and it is there, if you like, that God keeps all of his appointments.

So the danger, I think, of capitulation is one to which some have succumbed. And some time ago, I was asked to speak to the Salvation Army people here in Cleveland, at a fundraising event. They always like to have a Scotsman at a fundraising event, especially if his name is Begg. They think they’re really gonna bring in the cash, but… And in doing my research for that talk, I was gratified to realize that although the Salvation Army has drifted a long way from its moorings in many of its dimensions, but not all—I shouldn’t… you know, that’s a sweeping generalization. But I was gratified to find quotes like this from General William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army.

Somebody asked him about the dangers of the church going into the next generation. They said, “You know, what are you afraid about as we move into the twentieth century?” And this was the reply he gave: “In answering your inquiry, I consider that the chief dangers which confront the coming century will be…” And here they are. This is William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army: “Religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God, and heaven without hell.”[6] That’s prophetic. He’s actually describing the Salvation Army. That’s essentially what has happened. The entire thing has collapsed. Why? Because of the loss of the evangel. Because of the absence of the theology which underpins the proclamation.

So, there is the danger that is represented in capitulation, and then there is the danger that is represented in what I would refer to as a form of theological confusion. So on the one hand, you’ve got the people who said, “Ach, this is just too hard. I don’t want to have to deal with Mrs. Jenkins. She’s offended with me as it is, and I don’t want to have to see her ugly face when I’m trying to tell her about the wrath of God. So I’ll just tell her to have a good afternoon and be as happy as she can.” And on the other hand, some of us have got ourselves horribly tied up as a result of the embracing of a whole newfangled theology, which we have a sort of quasi grasp of—enough to do ourselves harm. It’s like somebody bought us a chainsaw, you know, for Father’s Day. But they shouldn’t have done that, ’cause we’re just a danger to ourselves and everything else that’s around. And oh, we love the noise! And they go, “Clear the area, clear the yard, he’s coming through again!”

Now, I’m becoming an old man now, and I speak to some of you younger men that have sort of stumbled over in the middle of the night and woke up and found the Puritans. And now you’ve decided that you are a Puritan, and now you’re gonna talk like a Puritan, even if you can’t look like a Puritan; no Puritan would wear his hat in a building, and secondly, not back to front. But that’s by the way. In the proclamation now, we’ve started off on this thing. Fascinatingly, Packer, in his book on the Puritans, made this observation himself. He says, “It would be tragic if the current return to Reformed theology, instead of invigorating evangelism, as it should, had the effect of strangling it; but it seems clear that many today have ceased to preach evangelistically.”[7] And the problem is the problem of theological confusion.

I remember, at an event in Cambridge, Massachusetts, years ago now, listening to one of our heroes of the faith give an immense talk from the Gospel of John on an evening on the words of Jesus, “No one can come to me unless the Father … draws him.”[8] Okay, fair enough. But what I couldn’t understand was why this guy seemed so happy about that! He seemed to be, like, absolutely thrilled that somehow or another, there was a limited opportunity for anybody to get the gospel. And there was a kind of caricature that at least emerged from it—intended or otherwise—and that was of certain people desperately wanting to trust Christ who weren’t allowed, and another group of people that weren’t remotely interested in trusting Christ, and they had to! And they just did, you know.

But there seemed to me… I remember walking out into Harvard Square, and I was in the company of my big brother, Sinclair Ferguson. And we went and we got a coffee, and we walked in silence for a while. And I said to him, “Sinclair, what’s up with this thing?” He said, “Alistair, I just don’t think that some of our American friends understand Reformed theology.” I said, “Really?” He said, “Yes.” He said, “Because if you think about the question asked by the Philippian jailer,[9] the reply didn’t come back, ‘Oh, you can’t do anything.’ ‘What must I do to be saved?’ ‘Nothing! You’ll be saved, you’ll find out! Or you won’t be, and you’ll find out! But there’s no point in me interfering with you or saying anything or doing anything, because I believe in the sovereignty of God, you know. He’ll do whatever he’s going to do. Not for me to interfere in the thing.’” That is a caricature of biblical theology. And that will strangle the life out of meaningful, passionate, effective evangelistic preaching that calls men and women to make a decision and to come to Christ and take him at his Word.

And when I go for all my friends in the Calvary Chapels—and I love the Calvary Chapels, ’cause you get to wear jeans, and that’s all you need: a pair of jeans and a Bible, and you’re a Calvary Chapel pastor. And I love going with those guys. And I know that some of the people there think that I shouldn’t be there and so on. And I always start in the same way: I always tell them, “I love coming to speak to the guys with the Calvary Chapel, because I know that you know that God loves saving people, and that you guys are crazy enough to believe that if you will tell these people about who Christ is and what he’s done, that they may come to trust in him.” And they do! And brothers, the reason that some of us are not seeing people come to Christ is not because of any reluctance on the part of God to save. It’s because some of us are tied up in our theological underwear, and we have now lost the capacity to convey the free offer of the gospel.

John Murray—if you want to follow up on this, a wonderful section, volume 1 of the four volumes of Murray. If you don’t have that, you should have it. You can find this on page 59, page 81. He writes in that section of those who are inhibited in gospel preaching because of this reason. “Many,” he says, “persuaded as they rightly are”—don’t miss that, nobody’s backing off from that—“persuaded as they rightly are of the particularism of the plan of salvation … have found it difficult to proclaim the full, free, and unrestricted overture of gospel grace.”[10] Now, I’m sure that’s not you. I hope it isn’t you. I don’t want it to be me. But I am sensing it as I move around.

The Nature of Evangelistic Preaching

If there’s going to be a return to purposeful evangelistic preaching, we need absolutely to be convinced of its necessity and to be clear as to its nature.

So if there’s going to be a return to purposeful evangelistic preaching, we need absolutely to be convinced of its necessity and to be clear as to its nature. The fact is—an underlying fact, and this is another assumption, and again, I don’t want to categorize this is any way—but some of us actually are not doing evangelistic preaching ’cause we’re not actually doing any preaching at all. We’re not actually preaching. Oh, no, I’m not saying that we don’t show up at the requisite time and stand up behind a box with a Bible. People are saying, “Well, I don’t know what’s going on with that guy. It sounded like he put this together twenty minutes ago. And I can do a running commentary through the Bible as good as he can: ‘You’ll see there in verse 1… And then if you look in verse 2… And then over there in verse 3, you’ll see another piece.’” Says, “This is not preaching.”

Preaching is not less than teaching. Preaching is more than teaching. What we do as we unfold the text of Scripture is that we lay down the foundations so that people’s minds may be schooled enough to respond to the address to their wills which then follows on the instruction that’s been provided. The caricature of it is just somebody shouting and haranguing with an empty head and a closed Bible, and just full of exhortations and nonsense. But that’s not preaching. Preaching is not about passion. Preaching is not about a certain style. Preaching is what we’re called to do. And that is, it’s not sufficient simply to say to people, “Well, there you are. There’s some information for you.” No!

John Murray, whom I’ve quoted—and I’ve told this story in previous conferences; I’m horribly repetitive now as time goes by—but Murray, he asked William Mackenzie of Christian Focus, he said to William, “What’s the difference between a lecture and preaching?” And William Mackenzie was driving in the car in the Highlands of Scotland, and he tried about five different answers. Murray said, “Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.” So he said, “Okay, I give up. What is it?” Murray says—and this is Murray from Westminster Seminary—he says, “Preaching is a personal, passionate plea.” Mackenzie says, “In what sense?” He says, “In the sense of 2 Corinthians 5: ‘I beseech you on Christ’s behalf: be reconciled to God.’”[11] “I implore you, I beseech you, I urge you, I entreat you. I’m not up here simply to provide information for you. I’m up here to call you!” See?

Now, if you just think about this, just across the board—you think about the average Sunday across America—in terms of evangelistic preaching, how much of it do you think we’re able to do? “Well,” you say, “you’ve only got one shot at it, because you’ve only got a morning service anyway. There’s no evening service.” We gave up on that a long time ago.

It used to be that you could preach in the evening. You could preach evangelistically in the morning and far more instructively or didactively, evangelistically in the evening and far more that way in the morning. But then everybody got a little cold in their feet and decided they had to stay home and read the newspaper, or whatever it was, or watch TV, or have “family time.” And so that went away. And then in the morning, you know, you can’t be preaching all the time evangelistically in the morning, ’cause after all, you’ve got the… So on, it goes. Before you know where you are, you don’t even have an opportunity.

I long for opportunities to preach evangelistically. I want to try it. I want to get good at it. I want to find out how to do it. I want to speak to people that are opposed to the message. I want to speak to people that are confused about it. I want the chance. I’m keen for the chance. And part of my own frustration here in this church is, in what context do I do this evangelistic preaching? So it’s not as if I’ve got it buttoned down and figured it out. I’m just speaking to myself.

Some of us, our preaching has just degenerated into saying something interesting about God, or a bunch of moralistic stories. And the shattering weightlessness of the whole thing is such that we ought not to be surprised when thoughtful people are saying, “No, I’m not gonna be able to put up with that.” I have a sympathy with people who dislike preaching, not because of any fearfulness of upholding the notion of preaching, but because so much of our preaching stinks. So much of our preaching is bad preaching. So why would we be surprised that they don’t like the preaching? ’Cause we’re not giving ourselves to it. The amount of blood, sweat, and tears that’s involved in understanding it, in framing it, in praying over it, in stewing over it, in doing what needs to be done in order to be able to take that material and to convey it in a way that actually allows us to say, “And on the basis of what I have just said, I beseech you on Christ’s behalf: be reconciled to God.”

[Albert Mohler], in his wonderful little book on the pastor as a preacher, he says, “I fear that there are many evangelicals today who believe that God spoke but doubt whether He speaks. … But if you call yourself a preacher of God’s Word, and you think that all of God’s speaking was in the past, then resign. I say that,” he says, “with deadly seriousness. If you do not believe that God now speaks from His Word—the Bible—then what are you doing every Sunday? If you are not confident that God speaks as you rightly read and explain the Word of God, then you should quit.”[12] And it is, for some of us, a crisis of confidence at this very point: Do I believe that the Spirit of God takes the Word of God home to the lives of people? Do I actually believe the things that are being said here by Rico and by John? How challenging they are, how helpful they are, forcing all of us to look in upon ourselves and say, “Well, what am I really doing?”

So much of our stuff is so man centered. As I travel around, I go into places, and you go in “the greenroom.” What are greenrooms? Greenrooms are backstage places where performers go, or comedians, or singers, before they come out. Apparently, you get peanuts and M&M’s and things like that, or whatever would be your requirement. And I go in there—and I haven’t been in any of your churches, I’m sure—but I go in there, and do you know what happens more than any other thing? Somebody might just say before, “Oh, we should probably have a word of prayer.” Oh, now there’s a good idea! Yeah. Fine. “We’ve only got a very small time, because the music has started, and we’re working on a very tight schedule, so… Oh dear God, do bless …” And then they put their hand on the back, and they say, “Go get ’em! Go get ’em!” Say, “What do you mean, ‘Go get ’em’? I’m not a wrestler, I’m not a boxer, I’m not playing in a soccer game. You waiting on me to go get? I can’t get anybody! We’re gonna have to do something other than this!” And if all I’ve got is the notion that somehow or another, maybe some of my illustrations are gonna work this week—you know, some of the cute things that I’ve come up—I’m done. Finished. The only hope we have, brothers, is that God speaks through this book—that actually, when God’s Word is rightly read and taught, God speaks. Absent that conviction, I could never come back into a pulpit again. And I should never come back into a pulpit again.

Now, I don’t want to turn this into a seminar on preaching, but I’ll just say this in passing. When I have the privilege to go to the seminaries and go to the homiletical classes, and I get my head chopped off routinely when I go in there—not by the students but by the professor. ’Cause I violate everything he’s been teaching for the last three months. ’Cause he told them, “Now, let me tell you, you must arrest the people when you begin! Now, write this down,” you know. And they always have diagrams, you know. They have yellow triangles and big blue circles and everything, and you diagram everything. And they always ask me, “How’s your diagram?” I’m like, “Did you say, ‘How’s my diaphragm?’” “No, how’s your di—” “No, I don’t know. I don’t have a diagram.”

But it goes like this: “I remember, I was flying out of Boston. The sky was clear, and shooting across the sky…” And the people were like, “Woah. Woah-h-h. Whoa.” So now we’re all shooting across the sky. We don’t know where we’re going, but the guy’s obviously excited about it, and he wanted to let everybody know he’d been on a plane. And eventually he goes, “And so, let’s turn to verse 4.” The people are like, “What? But we were just flying.” And he gets to verse 4, it’s [boring droning]. The people are like, “Whew!” And then he goes, “It’s just like the Labrador dog across the street. Boy is that a dog!” The people going, “Hey, come on, he’s coming back! He’s coming back. We’re good, we’re good. He’s stopped the miserable exposition. We’re on a Labrador now. So now you’re looking down at your notes, hoping there’s a Labrador coming or something, because you’re going, “I don’t think I’m even doing a very good job on this.”

The Spirit of God uses even our stumbling and bumbling.

Shut up! The Spirit of God uses even our stumbling and bumbling. Do you know when Philip Johnson became a Christian? Johnson, the guy from the Chicago law school, the guy who wrote [Darwin on Trial] or whatever he did for that thing. He became a Christian as a result of going to the… What do you call that, when you have the children…? Vacation Bible school! The kids went to the vacation Bible school. His wife said, “I’m not going to that Friday night thing. I hate it.” He said, “I don’t like it either.” His wife won, and he had to go.

He came, and he said he listened to the guy give the little seven-minute talk for all the parents, with everybody doing the screaming ab-jabs. He said—he told me this at Gordon-Conwell Seminary—he said, “I listened to the guy. It was horrible.” He said, “I mean, it was just full of non sequiturs. Seven minutes of just bad stuff.” He said, “But you know what? When I looked in the guy’s eyes from where I was sitting, I said, ‘This guy believes all of this. He apparently believes all this.’” He says, “And so I went to him afterwards, and I said, ‘I would like to make a time to talk with you, because I think that what you were saying there tonight, you actually believe, and I don’t believe, and I’d like to know why you do believe.’” And in the mystery of the purposes of God, a sort of half-baked talk for seven minutes at the vacation Bible school was used in the providence of God to bring one of the brightest intellects at the end of the twentieth century to faith in Jesus Christ. Why? Because the pastor was such a genius? No. Because God’s Word always accomplishes his work. And by the foolishness of the very act of preaching as well as what was preaching, we find that people get converted.

Well, I hope God’ll help us to do this. I would like to get better at this. I do desperately want to do that. And I hope you do too.

Let me just pray:

Father, oh, help us. We don’t want to just have men’s notions rattling around in our heads. We want to be servants of your Word, servants of your people, and we do want to preach the unsearchable riches of your grace.[13] We want to be able to say with Paul that we want to win as many as possible.[14] We want to see as many people as possible come to Christ.

And we remember how Spurgeon, when he was confronted by the young fellow who said, “I don’t find that anybody’s being converted when I preach,” and Spurgeon asked him, “Do you expect anybody to be converted when you preach?” “Oh, no,” said the young man, “no, I don’t.” And Spurgeon said, “Well, there you are. At least you’re getting what you hope for.” And some of us, Lord, have fallen into that abyss as well, and we pray you’d help us to get up and get out. And give us a boldness that’s not about our personality, but it is about the truth of the Bible, the loveliness of Christ, and the expansive call of the gospel to men and women in their need.

Bless us in the hours of the day. Help us, we pray. We commend all our loved ones and our church families to you. And we pray in Christ’s name. Amen. Amen.


[1] J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1990), 169.

[2] 1 Corinthians 1:18 (NIV 1984).

[3] Isaiah 45:5 (paraphrased).

[4] Acts 17:31–32 (paraphrased).

[5] Acts 17:24 (NIV 1984).

[6] Attributed to William Booth in, for instance, Record of Christian Work 22, no. 3 (1903): 145. Paraphrased.

[7] Packer, A Quest for Godliness, 165.

[8] John 6:44 (NIV 1984).

[9] See Acts 16:30.

[10] “The Atonement and the Free Offer of the Gospel,” in Collected Writings of John Murray, vol. 1, The Claims of Truth (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1976), 81.

[11] 2 Corinthians 5:20 (paraphrased).

[12] R. Albert Mohler Jr., He Is Not Silent: Preaching in a Postmodern World (Chicago: Moody, 2008), 57.

[13] See Ephesians 3:8.

[14] See 1 Corinthians 9:22.

Copyright © 2021, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.