The Call of Ministry
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The Call of Ministry

2 Corinthians 4:1–7  (ID: 2160)

Those who preach the Gospel are tempted in many ways. Some may become consumed with self-glorification, others may shy away from preaching hard truths, and still others may lose heart, resorting to methodologies different from that of the apostles. Against such temptations, Alistair Begg points us to Paul’s confident explanation of his ministry in 2 Corinthians 4. In the end, Scripture reminds us, the same grace that saves each pastor must also entice him to show grace to his flock faithfully.

Series Containing This Sermon

The Pastor’s Study, Volume 2

Selected Scriptures Series ID: 23002

The Basics of Pastoral Ministry, Volume 1

On Being a Pastor Selected Scriptures Series ID: 28401

Sermon Transcript: Print

Second Corinthians and chapter 4. And what I’d like to do now is simply remind you of some of these central truths that Paul is affirming here in writing this letter that we know of as 2 Corinthians. It is Paul’s most biographical letter. He gives us an insight into his heart, I think, more in the chapters of 2 Corinthians than in any of his other letters, even including 1 Thessalonians. It’s tremendously helpful to us as pastors, in that it reveals the tensions that are created in ministry that are caused by those who are his detractors. And when we recognize that everything is not always plain sailing for us, not only do we remind ourselves that Jesus said we shouldn’t anticipate that it would be, but also, when we look at the lives of the apostles, we discover that they too faced particular challenges.

And the second letter of Paul to the Corinthians is actually outstanding for the way in which it demonstrates both the privileges and the pressures of pastoral work. And we are, each of us, aware to one degree or another of what those pressures and privileges are. Incidentally, I think it is one of Paul’s most neglected letters when it comes to being taught in local congregations. Perhaps you have already taught through 2 Corinthians; I never have—and I’ve been now involved in pastoral ministry for twenty-five years, and I’m not sure that I’m not unlike many others.

So, with that by way of just the sketchiest of reflections on the nature of the thing, I don’t want to take any more time in setting context. I want essentially to look with you at these great declarations that he makes concerning the ministry of the gospel to which he and his colleagues have been called.

“Through God’s Mercy We Have This Ministry”

“Therefore,” he says, “since through God’s mercy we have this ministry…” We are the recipients of God’s grace, which pardons us from our sins. We are the recipients of his mercy, which consoles us. His grace, if you like, is his love to the guilty; his mercy is an expression of his love to the distressed. And it is sometimes when we are made aware of the mercy of God in our distress that we are drawn then to the grace of God that then deals with us in our guilt. And we should remind ourselves this morning—as we come just to that phrase, which is the foundation for being able to say what he then says in the first declaration, I want you to note—that there is more mercy in the Lord Jesus than there is sin in us. There is more mercy in the Lord Jesus than there is sin in us.

And how Paul must have had occasion to reflect on that again and again as he thought about what his life had been before he had been arrested by Jesus on the road to Damascus—all of those mental pictures that he carried with him of the scene at the stoning of Stephen, and many other sad and sorry circumstances that were directly related to his persecuting of the church of God. And you can only but imagine the sense of passion that reverberated through him as he either penned or dictated these words: “Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry…” Who, of all people, should have this ministry? And Paul would have said—Saul of Tarsus would have said—“Certainly not me.”

“We Do Not Lose Heart”

Now, it is because we have the ministry by God’s mercy that a number of things follow. Number one, “We do not lose heart.” We do not lose heart. This is the only thing he says twice in this chapter. You will notice he says it again in verse 16: “Therefore we do not lose heart.” It is an interesting study in the life of Paul to find out how many times he says things like this. For example, he declares that he is “not ashamed.”[1] And certain commentators say that this is just an example of litotes or whatever it is, that there’s no possibility of Paul ever being ashamed—and what he really means is, “I am really, really aggressively bold in relationship…” And he expresses it in that negative fashion.

I don’t think we have to say that at all. I think Paul was a regular man. He was certainly anointed by the Spirit of God. He was part of an unrepeatable group of individuals as an apostle in the founding of the church. But I’m sure he knew what it was to look into the Corinthian context, or walk into Athens, and feel a sense of shame, a sense of despondency, a sense of discouragement. Because after all, what was it he was going to say to all of these high-minded intellectuals? He was going to say to them, “Jesus Christ and him crucified.”[2]

There is more mercy in the Lord Jesus than there is sin in us.

Now, “we do not lose heart,” he says. And it is a real temptation to lose heart. “We do not lose heart.” It is an understandable tendency to lose heart. Certainly, there was much in his life that would have caused him to be disheartened. If you go back to 1:8, he says: “We do[n’t] want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. … In our hearts we felt the sentence of death.” So when he says, “We do not lose heart,” he’s not talking about—it’s not some kind of arm’s-length theology. He’s giving expression to his own convictions. And all of that feeling of being overwhelmed, he says, there in 1:9, “this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.”

Now, let me just jump from there and move to ourselves in pastoral ministry. We have not faced the circumstances in Iconium and Lystra. We have not gone down the same road that Paul has gone down. But we want to be able to say with Paul, “We do not lose heart.” And certainly, we know that there is a real temptation to do so, and there are peculiar challenges for us in pastoral ministry. For example, there are expectations we can’t fulfill. Expectations we can’t fulfill. Expectations that others put upon us, perhaps because of the man that we are following, because of the circumstances that have been unique to this place, and now we’ve been called there, and this congregation has an expectation that is directly related to the gifting package that was known by someone else. And it may then cause us to be really disheartened.

We do not lose heart in face of the accusations that we can’t avoid. There are accusations that are avoidable; we bring them on ourselves. But there are others that we cannot avoid. And Paul certainly knew what it was to be on the receiving end of accusations. And I mentioned yesterday 1 Corinthians 4:4, where he says, “I care … little if I am judged by you or by any human court; … I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time.”[3] And I somewhat facetiously mentioned Nehemiah 6:8 in our first session this morning: “Nothing like what you[’re] saying is happening; you[’re] just making it up out of your head.” And frankly, that is a retort and is a response that we may need to go to from time to time. Otherwise, we will be dreadfully disheartened.

Expectations I can’t fulfill. Accusations I can’t avoid. Indifference that I can’t overcome. An indifference that I can’t overcome. Some of you have spoken to me about how you believe you’re doing your best in preaching the Bible, and yet there just seems to be an indifference on the part of people. There isn’t that receptivity that you have read about in the biographies of others, and you’re wondering, is it your problem, or should you give up the methodology, or what should you do? Well, the one thing you mustn’t do is lose heart. Do not lose heart.

We do not lose heart, despite expectations that can’t be fulfilled, and accusations that can’t be avoided, an indifference that can’t be overcome, and a blindness that we cannot relieve. Because “the god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers,” and “they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”[4]

And then we add to that our own personalities and our own personal challenges and all the sins that so easily beset us, and we have to take this and strap ourselves to it. Lord Jesus, let us say with Paul today, as we think about going back to the challenges of this coming Sunday, “We do not lose heart.”

“We Do Not Use Deception”

Secondly, “We do not use deception.” We do not use deception. We have renounced the kruptos approach, the secret approach. We’re not going to be those who are aischunas, who are shameful. We have given up, as [the NKJV puts] it, “the hidden things of shame.” The word for “deception,” you will recall, is panourgia; it is the characteristic of the unscrupulous politician or the ingratiating secondhand-car salesman. Phillips paraphrases it, “We use no hocus-pocus, no clever tricks, no dishonest manipulation of the Word of God.” Brethren, this must be our statement. And you see, to say we do not use deception immediately will challenge us, because there will be so much that will cause us to lose heart. Because we live in an easygoing, theologically vague, harmlessly accommodating context in which theology is the product of the deceived and the deceiving. And we remember that it was [Gore] who said that one of the great diseases of contemporary preaching in his day was the desire to be popular.[5]

Now, we don’t need to belabor this. But we want to be careful, lest we are being slightly deceitful in the way in which we say things or do things. We do not use deception, because we have determined that we will renounce the way these false teachers operate with their secretive practices and with their shameful ways.

“Nor Do We Distort”

Nor do we use distortion. Nor do we distort the Word of God: dolountes. The diluting of the Word of God. We do not dilute the Word of God so as to make it palatable. We have determined that we will not do the kind of preaching that responds to the itchy ears of 2 Timothy 4.[6] We’re not gonna tickle the people under their chins and rub their hair for them and make them feel that we’re the most wonderful person in the world, because we’ve been given the privilege of being heralds. We must bear testimony to God before men and women, for we will answer to God for what we have said to these men and women. Therefore, we dare not use any form of dilution, distortion, of the Word of God.

Now, we saw John the Baptist at the opening of it all, didn’t we? He certainly was not involved in distortion, was he? There was no sense in which he was diluting. Again I say to you, try this as an introduction to an evangelistic talk: “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and thank you for coming out, you brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?”[7] It’s not exactly what you would call “seeker sensitive,” is it, as an introduction?

And what about Paul before Felix and Drusilla in Acts chapter 24? Have you been there for a while? You imagine the situation. You’re in the White House of the day. You’re in a problem, you’re shut away, and the president and the first lady invite you up. They’ve been playing checkers in the evening, they’ve been doing a number of things, and they’ve run out of stuff to do, and so they’re sitting having dinner, and one says to the other, “Why don’t we get the apostle Paul up and see what he’s on about? After all, he’s apparently a wonderful preacher.” And so they call him up. You remember that he’s being held in waiting the arrival of the other members of the team of lawyers to deal with his case.

We do not dilute the Word of God so as to make it palatable.

And so enters Paul in Acts 24:24. You can imagine him coming in, not a particular prepossessing kind of individual. He certainly by all accounts was not the kind of individual who would have made it as the quarterback in the high school football team. He apparently would not have been like that. He would have looked more like Dustin Hoffman on a poor day, with a limp and with less hair than Hoffman enjoys. And here he comes in. And sitting in the position of power and authority, apparently, is Felix and his wife, Drusilla.

And so Paul says, “Thank you for inviting me up. I’m glad to have the opportunity of talking with you. I just have a three-point sermon that I’d like to give you, and my first point is righteousness. I want to talk to you about righteousness.” And he talked about that for a little while, till he saw the beads of perspiration coming out on the brow of Felix, when he saw that Drusilla was wriggling around on her throne. And then he said, “Now I come to my second point: self-control.” Of course, they were living in an adulterous relationship. Felix had stolen this woman away from her husband as a result of the work of a Cyprian magician. So Paul says, “Thank you for inviting me up. I want to talk to you about the moral law of God and how you stand in an abjectly horrible situation in front of it because God calls us to be righteous in his sight. And now let me talk to you about self-control. And as my third point, I’d like to tell you that there is a judgment that you’re going to face, when you will stand before God.”[8]

Again, I suggest to you that it is not exactly the way that begins by saying, “I wonder what it is that Felix and Drusilla are into. Perhaps I should talk to them about stress; you know, after all, they must be very stressed out. Perhaps I should talk to them about finances; they seem to have a lot of money, and I’m not sure how the stock market’s going at the moment. I talk about a biblical perspective on finance, or whatever else it is.” No, Paul goes up the stairs and says, “Thank you for the opportunity. Number one, righteousness. Number two, self-control. And number three, a coming judgment.” And people say, “I don’t like to hear all these hellfire-and-damnation sermons.” When is the last time you heard a hellfire-and-damnation sermon? When’s the last time you ever preached one? When’s the last time you were bold enough to stand right up to the members of your congregation—fat, sleek, wealthy, self-assured—and tell them, “You’ve got an appointment with the risen Christ, and you’re out of line with his righteous law, and your lack of self-control is an indication of the fact that you need Christ!” And remember, they’re sitting out there going, “Tell me lies, tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies. Tell me lies.”[9]

Paul says, “No, we do not lose heart. We do not use deception. We do not use distortion.” He is in direct contrast to the church today, here—a church that has lost its nerve. Are we gonna challenge the cultural darkness of our day? Or are we gonna try and come up with a gospel that reflects the darkness? Are we gonna talk to people about wholeness rather than holiness? Are we gonna deal with what the Bible has to say about sin, or are we gonna constantly try and couch it around in words like dysfunction? Are we gonna offer to people recovery, so that they might limp through the rest of their lives as a result of psychological theory explaining their predicament and helping them forward, or are we gonna talk about salvation? That’s the question.

We do not lose heart. We do not use deception. We’re not going to use distortion. Therapeutic language has replaced the moral in our culture—and, sadly, in so many of our churches. A diluted message caters to our notions of self-sufficiency rather than a very potent message which conveys Christ’s unique sufficiency. The Bible becomes a step-by-step manual for happy living, and sermons descend to trivialities or ascend to a high-sounding moralism. And it is amazing how much moralistic preaching there is in evangelical churches, where folks are coming in and they’re essentially being told, “Now, try and just be a much better person this week, and let me give you seven ways in which you can be.” And so they’re sent out, and it’s absolute hopelessness. ’Cause they’ve tried all the seven ways, and another five ways, and four other ways—and moralism doesn’t work! Legalism doesn’t work. Phariseeism is useless.

What do they need to know? Was it Calvin who said—probably, I don’t know; this is like him—“You know, I only need to know two things: that I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Savior.”[10] So we need to preach the law of God so that people will be confronted by the fact that they’re broken and distressed and they need to be saved. We need to tell them, “You’re living in a burning building.” Which is hard around here! The people drive in here in all these lovely cars and come in, beautiful suits and clothes and everything, they’re the hardest people to preach to. I’ll trade with many of you. You think this is great? You come try this. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of [heaven].”[11] Why? ’Cause they’re so used to buying their way into every club in the place: “I play here, I play there, I train here, I go there, we vacation here, we vacation there. Tell me the kingdom thing. What do you need? What do you need? I’ll do it, I’ll do it.” Say, “I got news for you: entry here, you come flat on your belly.” Say, “No, I don’t go on my belly for nobody.” “That’s exactly why you’re not going in the kingdom.”

Now, I tell people this. My colleagues will bear me out. I say this. I’ve gotta be crazy—or else it’s the Word of God. See, we cannot stand and sing,

I need no other argument,
I need no other plea,
It is enough that Jesus died,
And that he died for me,[12]

and then give to people some moralistic nonsense about how they can be better and able to meet God.

“We Do Not Preach Ourselves”

Fourthly, “We do not preach ourselves.” We do not preach ourselves. We live in a world with personalities and no heroes, right? If we got nothing to say, we could talk about ourselves, I s’pose. Now, up to a point, as preachers we can’t avoid the Paul/Apollos. You came and asked if I’d sign a book for you; I understand what that’s about. But honestly, it doesn’t give me a fat head. First of all, I don’t think the book’s that good. And my son said to me the other day, “Why don’t you write a book that somebody wants to read for once?” That’s why God gives us teenagers and young people; I’m thankful for that.

So you can’t, up to a point, avoid the fact that we can be an encouragement to one another, that God uses us at a certain point in the race just to give each other a lift on: “Come on, let’s run on, it’s helpful, thanks for doing that, mark this down, this was important to me.” I can give you my Bibles; they’re full of people’s names that I’ve asked to sign my Bible. Why? Because they are the greatest thing since sliced bread? No. Just because I appreciate them, and the fact that they have their name in the flyleaf of my Bible or my book is a reminder to me of just an important point along the journey. And so we recognize that. So we can’t avoid the Paul/Apollos thing. But we can avoid cultivating it. We can avoid cultivating it. If it happens, we gotta deal with it. If we’re trying to make it happen, that’s a different thing, you know?

Look at all the minivans that’re driving around greater Cleveland with the stickers on the back about who their kids are, you know: “I have an honor student here,” “I have an honor student there,” you know. What is that about, for goodness’ sake? Twenty years ago, no parent woulda stuck that on their van and driven around the town. Why? Because it would have been regarded as totally proud and self-assertive. You don’t brag about your kids and stick it on the back of your van and drive around town, you know? Well, you do now. Because those poor, fledging little children are so ruined in their esteem and in their lostness, and what they need to know is how brilliant and wonderful they all are, so that they can have pride of place in the restaurant, so that we can’t hear ourselves think, because little Penelope has to do her thing, and we gotta deal with her—and we basically want to take her and chuck her out the window! And chuck her mother and father right out the window after her! And say, “When did these things become the center of the universe?” Don’t you know what you’re supposed to do? I was in the Cooker restaurant, over here at 480 and Rockside, and there was a little girl had a man reduced to tears in the toilet. She had her father in tears! She wasn’t three years old. And I knew the answer—but he wasn’t for hearing it, and she wouldn’t have enjoyed it.

You say, “Are we still on the point?” I don’t know! Since when was that a question? I know what you’re thinking; you’re thinking, “Well, his kids are dumb as dirt, and he never got one of those stickers.” Well, they may be dumb as dirt, but I did get the stickers, and we stuck ’em on the fridge… for about seven minutes. But my wife has not been seen walking around greater Cleveland with her refrigerator so that her friends and neighbors could understand how brilliant our kids are.

“We do not preach ourselves.” You know the Scotsman who is showing slides of the Highlands, in England; he’s now made his domicile in England. And somebody asks him a question, in the course of all the beautiful photography that he’s shown about Scotland, said to him, “And you’ve been in England now for a long time. And do you not feel yourself to be more English than Scottish?” “Oh no,” said the man, “I was born a Scot, I live as a Scot, and I will die as a Scot!” And somebody was heard to remark, “Some people have got no ambition at all!”

Oscar Wilde, coming in from France into America, was asked if he had anything to declare at the customs, and he replied, “Nothing except my genius.” That is a quote. “What do you have to declare?” “Nothing except my genius.” Let me take you back to where we started. I cannot say, “He is, he is, he is,” if I’m always saying, “I am, I am, I am.”

You know the story of Alexander Whyte in Free St George’s, where the young man, in the context of the exemplary ministry of Alexander Whyte, is itching for an opportunity to preach in the pulpit at Free St George’s. He knows that Alexander Whyte is famous and effective as a preacher, but he has a sneaking suspicion that he, as a young man, once he gets in the pulpit, will be able to take the shine off Alexander Whyte’s ministry, and everybody will understand that really the individual they’ve been waiting for is this young fellow who’s itching and bursting to get his first chance at the pulpit.

All Word and no Spirit, and the people dry up. All Spirit and no Word, and the people blow up. Both Spirit and Word, and the people grow up.

And so the story goes that he managed to get himself and his Bible and his notes, and he bounded up the pulpit steps and into the pulpit, and he laid it down, and he announced his text, and he began to deliver it—and got a sentence or two, and some more, no saliva in his mouth, his tongue cleaving to the roof of his mouth, he is like, “Uhhh…” and eventually he dribbled to a conclusion. Announced the benediction, took his stuff, went down the other side, like this. And an elderly gentleman sitting at the back turned to his friend, and he said, “If that young boy had gone up the way he came down, he would’ve gone down the way he went up.”

“Treasure in Jars of Clay”

“We do not preach ourselves.” We’re a voice crying. We’re a finger pointing. We’re a light shining. “We have [the] treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”[13] When I get to heaven, one of the questions I have for Paul is, “Were you thinking about Gideon when you wrote that verse?” I have a sneaking suspicion he may have been. You think of Gideon’s motley little crew: “No, you’ve still got far too many.” “What!” “No, whittle it down again.” And the lappers, and the people with the face in the water, and all the extraneous details that everybody gets tied up in knots about trying to do the story of Gideon—basically irrelevant material. All that God is doing is he’s getting it down to a number that is going to display, unequivocally, the fact that the victory is God’s.[14] And God will do that in all of our lives, whatever way he chooses to do it. I could identify for you ways in which he’s done it in my life. You may sit there and say, “Well, he needs to do it a few more times.” I would concur with that. But nevertheless, the fact is that he has all kinds of ways of showing us that unless God does this, there is nothing going to happen.

I was struck again—I think I said this to you; I’ll eventually go full circle, which you know it’s time to quit—but I was struck again, in standing in Billy Graham’s study in The Cove, to realize that he had there just that one diploma, which was from Wheaton College. He’s got one diploma. And then I was given a Time Life book of the ministry and life of Billy Graham. And I looked, and I think he has been given twenty-five doctorates from all over the world. On all these occasions, he’s had to gown up and go through the procedure, and all the time knowing that he never earned a single one of them. God has chosen to shower upon him all of his blessing and his anointing.

So let us remember that. And when our personality tends to intrude, then let us get back to making much of Christ. You can’t show yourself brilliant and Jesus wonderful simultaneously.

“We Commend Ourselves to Every Man’s Conscience”

And finally—penultimately, I should say—“We commend ourselves to every man’s conscience.” Are you tracking the way I’m doing this? You say, “You’re not doing a very good job of it.” That’s okay. I want to be an encouragement to you. All right? We do not lose heart. We do not use deception. We do not distort the Word of God. We do not preach ourselves. “We commend ourselves to every man’s conscience.” Paul was on the receiving end of fake accusations. So he says, “Now, be honest; figure it out.” On what basis does he make this appeal? “By setting forth the truth plainly.” “By setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience.” May God help us, as we go back to this weekend, to set forth the truth plainly.

We Preach “Jesus Christ as Lord”

And then, notice, we preach Jesus Christ as Lord: “We do not preach ourselves, but” we preach “Jesus Christ as Lord.” John 14:6 our world is prepared to absorb, provided we do not finish the verse. Our congregations and our friends and neighbors, as we deal evangelistically, are quite prepared to have us stand up and say, “Jesus said, ‘I am the way … the truth and the life.’” What our contemporary culture cannot cope with is the conclusion of the verse: “No one comes to the Father [but by] me.” And an undefined Christianity is absorbable. It is a defined Christianity which is unpopular.

What are we preaching? We’re preaching Jesus Christ as Lord, “and ourselves as your servants for [Christ’s] sake.” And in the context of pluralism in which we are now living, it is that which will give the biting edge to what’s happening. When the apostles preached, there was, says James Stewart in his wonderful book The Heralds of God, a divine invasion. They were not simply saying, you know, “Here’s a historical record,” but there was a sense in which when they preached, God was there. There was, again to quote Stewart, “a waft of the supernatural, a mysterious power like the stirring of a dawn wind.”[15] Don’t you long for that? Don’t you long for that? I know I do. “Oh, God,” you know, “you must open the heavens and come down!”

People have asked me about the anointing of God and all of that stuff. Whatever it is, we need it! Whatever it is, we want it! And we want it in spades! And I want to read all about it, and then I want to read more about it, and I want to ask God for it. And I understand that the Spirit of God has been given to the man of God in order that the Word of God may be proclaimed to the benefit of the people of God. And all Word and no Spirit, and the people dry up. All Spirit and no Word, and the people blow up. Both Spirit and Word, and the people grow up. And we cannot preach Jesus as Lord and make it dull and boring. The preaching of Jesus was lively, it was authoritative, it was well organized, it was practical, it was interesting, and it was true.

Concluding Illustrations

Well, that’s all that I really want to share with you from this. I want to conclude and give you just a couple of illustrations that I’ve been wanting to provide for you. Let your eyes run down to verse 16 again: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” I want to finish up by offering to you stuff from three of my heroes.

This is from page 747—you should remember that, those of you who like aircraft—in the second volume of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, whose lovely picture adorns the cover of this book as well. If you have never read the two volumes on Lloyd-Jones’s life, then your education still remains to be completed, and these can be purchased in our bookstore at the saving of 20 percent. We’re now at the very end of Lloyd-Jones’s life, which is an encouragement to those of you who like to read the end of the story before you ever start, and let this be a help to you.

Among his last audible words were those spoken to his consultant [that is, his doctor], Grant Williams, who visited him on February 24. Mr Williams wanted to give him some antibiotics. [Lloyd-Jones] shook his head in disagreement. “Well,” said his doctor, “when the Lord’s time comes, even though I fill you up to the top of your head with antibiotics, it won’t make any difference.” His patient still shook his head. “I want to make you comfortable, more comfortable,” Williams went on, “it grieves me to see you … here ‘weary … worn and sad.’”

And he’s quoting Bonar’s hymn,[16] which he knew Lloyd-Jones would recognize. So he says, “It grieves me to see you … here [sitting] ‘weary … worn and sad.’”

That was too much for [Martyn Lloyd-Jones]. “Not sad!” he declared. “Not sad!” The truth was that he believed the work of dying was done and he was ready to go. “Last night,” Grant Williams wrote to [Martyn Lloyd-Jones’s] local doctor on February 25, “he refused to take any antibiotic, could hardly talk and I think will die very shortly. I think he is very lucid and knows exactly what he wants to do.”

[And] when his speech [was] gone, [his daughter] Elizabeth [sitting] beside him he pointed her very definitely to the words of 2 Corinthians 4:16–18 which begin: “For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory…”

“When I asked him,” says Elizabeth, “if that was his experience now, he nodded his head with great vigour.”[17]

That’s Lloyd-Jones.

Then to Calvin:

The more determined men become to despise the teaching of Christ, the more zealous should godly ministers be to assert it and the more strenuous their efforts to preserve it entire, and more than that, by their diligence to ward off Satan’s attack.[18]

In other words, loved ones, the harder the times, the deafer the people, then the clearer and the more persuasive our proclamation needs to be. Instead of turning round and capitulating to the spirit of the age and saying, “You know, the people seem to be so deaf, they seem to be so dull, the monologue does not work; therefore, let’s engage in all of this,” “No, no no,” we say, “we will not do that at all.” We will become even more committed to the Neanderthal approach of proclaiming the Bible in the power of the Spirit, believing that by this means God brings life from the dead.

So you have Lloyd-Jones, you have Calvin, and who’s my final hero to be? Dwight L. Moody. Dwight L. Moody. For those of you who are hard-bitten Calvinists, tough! He’s still one of my great heroes. When Moody went to Scotland on the twenty-first of November 1873, he went in fear and trembling, for, to quote from one of the biographies, “Scottish people are eminent for their knowledge of theology.” They certainly were at the end of the nineteenth century.

He who would edify a congregation of [Scotsmen] must come to them with the beaten oil of the sanctuary; and pour it … from vessels of a proper and traditional form. He should be a man of high attainments in learning; the stamp of some college should be upon him; and more than all, he should come with the endorsement of some eminent body of divines.

Now, listen:

All these things were [lacking] in Mr. Moody. If there were any … preacher in all the world who was likely to be rejected in Scotland, aside from the power of God which attended him, [Dwight] L. Moody was that man.[19]

In other words, he had no chance of making an impact in Scotland!

And then you read on into the biography, and it says this: “The farewell meeting of … Moody and Sankey was held … on the slopes of Arthur’s Seat.”[20] Now, Arthur’s Seat is that mound behind Holyrood Palace at the bottom of the Royal Mile, which, if you have not been there, you have seen it on the film Chariots of Fire, where Eric walks out with his sister Jenny, and she chides him for the fact that he is not giving himself wholeheartedly to the work. It is a great, grassy domain just in that region of Edinburgh. “The farewell meeting of Moody and Sankey was held on the slopes of Arthur’s Seat”—why?—“no building being able at all to adequately accommodate the vast congregation. And from the historic seat of Christianity, which they had entered in fear and trembling, they went forth with joy in their hearts.”[21]

Why? Because Moody was such a special little man? No. Because the gospel is such a glorious story. May God make us men of the gospel.

Let us pray together:

Before the throne of God above,
I have a strong and perfect plea,
A great High Priest whose name is Love,
Who ever lives and pleads for me. …

When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see him there
Who made an end [to] all my sin.
Because the sinless Savior died,
My [guilty] soul is counted free;
For God the just is satisfied
To look on him and pardon me.[22]

We are in awe before you, gracious God, that of all the places that we might be on this Wednesday morning, you have so ordered our steps as to grant us the privilege of the company of one another and, far more than that, the abiding presence of God the Spirit, in our coming together to exalt Christ and his Word, and in our desire to exhort and encourage one another, and all the more as we see the day of Christ’s return drawing closer.[23]

We pray for one another, and we want to commit each other into your care and keeping. We pray that we may not, in a volume of words, lose sight of the core issues. And we pray that we might be drawn afresh to Christ and to his Word, and that you will fill us anew with your Spirit and send us to the places of our appointing with renewed zeal, a genuine humility, a desire to have you come and do things that can only be explained because you have shown up in your power and in your might. Save us from making small plans, because they have no ability to fire the ambitions of men. And give us then a gaze of that vast company that no one can number.[24] And help us then so to walk through our days as to play our part, whatever it might be, in seeking to see unbelieving men and women become the committed followers of Jesus Christ.

And now unto him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, now and forevermore. Amen.

[1] Romans 1:16 (NIV 1984).

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

[3] 1 Corinthians 4:3–5 (NIV 1984).

[4] 2 Corinthians 4:4 (NIV 1984).

[5] Attributed to Charles Gore in James S. Stewart, Heralds of God (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1946), 29.

[6] See 2 Timothy 4:3.

[7] Matthew 3:7 (paraphrased). See also Luke 3:7.

[8] See Acts 24:25.

[9] Christine McVie and Eddy Quintela, “Little Lies” (1987). Lyrics lightly altered.

[10] Attributed to John Newton in John Pollock, Amazing Grace: John Newton’s Story (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1981), 182. Paraphrased.

[11] Matthew 19:24 (NIV 1984). See also Mark 10:25; Luke 18:25.

[12] Eliza E. Hewitt, “My Faith Has Found a Resting Place” (1890).

[13] 2 Corinthians 4:7 (NIV 1984).

[14] See Judges 7:1–7.

[15] James S. Stewart, A Faith to Proclaim (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1953), 45.

[16] Horatius Bonar, “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say” (1846).

[17] Iain H. Murray,David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, vol. 2, The Fight of Faith: 19391981(Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1990), 746–47.

[18] John Calvin, The Second Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians and the Epistles to Timothy, Titus and Philemon, trans. T. A. Smail, ed. David W. Torrance and Thomas F. Torrance (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), 334.

[19] W. H. Daniels, D. L. Moody and His Work (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1875), 266–67.

[20] Daniels, 291.

[21] Daniels, 291. Paraphrased.

[22] Charitie L. Bancroft, “Before the Throne of God Above” (1863).

[23] See Hebrews 10:25.

[24] See Revelation 7:9.

Copyright © 2024, 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.