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Spurgeon and Textual Preaching

December 28, 2011 1 comment

I’ve recently learned (the terms at least) of the three styles of preaching:  expository, topical, and textual.  Expository is generally preferred for the “verse-by-verse” teaching through Bible books, exemplified by many preachers such as John MacArthur, Martyn-Lloyd Jones, and S. Lewis Johnson.  Topical preaching at its best, done by good preachers who generally do expository teaching, selects a topic and preaches from various passages that relate to the topic.  S. Lewis Johnson did several topical series including one about the leading figures at Golgotha, or the topic “Death and Afterwards.” 

Topical preaching is also common fare at a lot of evangelical-lite churches:  pick a topic such as “marriage and relationships” or “parenting” or some other perceived need of the congregation, and pick various passages to preach from that relate to that topic.  As noted, though, it can be done effectively, though certainly it should not be the primary preaching style, since such a method by its very design would skip some parts of the Bible in favor of other “more relevant” parts.

A third preaching style is called “textual preaching,” exemplified by Charles Spurgeon as well as W.A. Criswell:  preaching on a very short text of just one verse, or even part of a verse.  Having read Spurgeon sermons regularly for almost three years now, I was familiar with the style, though I didn’t know the term for it. Phil Johnson had noted that Spurgeon was NOT an expository preacher, commenting on a few cases where Spurgeon took a phrase of a verse and veered off elsewhere with it, to come up with ideas completely unrelated to the text itself.  I’ve observed that as well in my Spurgeon readings:  Spurgeon’s sermon on a given verse does not necessarily relate to the actual event or context of that verse, the manner in which it would be taught by an expository preacher.

S. Lewis Johnson, in his “Messianic Prophecies in Isaiah” series, mentioned textual preaching when he came to Isaiah 55, a passage great for textual preaching:

In fact, if I were a textual preacher — and there is nothing wrong with being a textual preacher if you are preaching the text of the word of God; I don’t think it’s the best way to do it, but it is at least preaching the word of God —  this would be one of my most used chapters.

Johnson went on to note that Spurgeon’s “Treasury of the Old Testament” (a collection of sermons) included six sermons from Isaiah 55.  Looking at the full Internet Spurgeon collection at Spurgeongems.org, I counted 16 sermons from Spurgeon on Isaiah 55.

This article from GotQuestions.org highlights the differences the three preaching styles.  I agree with its observation that “While exposition is not the only valid mode of preaching, it is the best for teaching the plain sense of the Bible.” Also, “in a textual sermon, the preacher uses a particular text to make a point without examining the original intent of that text. For example, someone could use Isaiah 66:7-13 to preach on motherhood, although motherhood is only peripheral in that text, being merely an illustration of the true theme, which is the restoration of Israel during the Millennial Kingdom.”

The differences in these preaching styles also relates to the differences in peoples’ approach to Bible reading.  Consider the following words reportedly from Spurgeon (though not contained in any of his sermons):  “Some people like to read so many chapters every day. I would not dissuade them from the practice, but I would rather lay my soul asoak in half a dozen verses all day than I would, as it were, rinse my hand in several chapters.”

Such an idea is indeed antithetical to the whole idea of expository preaching: to understand the plain sense of the Bible, by reading it all rather than just picking a few verses here and there “without examining the original intent of the text.”  Certainly, though, in our Bible reading we should strive to pay attention to what we read instead of just looking at the end goal of getting through so many pages or so many chapters.  I’ve noticed that very thing in my own Bible reading, that I can be reading the words on the page while thinking about something completely different, thinking about some recent incident or conversation with my online FB friends, for instance.  S. Lewis Johnson, in 1993 (during his Hebrews series) made it a point to read through the Bible during the year (sequentially from beginning to end), and accomplished his goal of three times through by mid-November.  At the end of that he too noted the wandering tendency, that he would often have to stop and go back and re-read, making extra effort to pay close attention to it.

Teachings From 1 Chronicles

June 16, 2011 Comments off

One of the great benefits of my genre-based reading plan (based on the Horner Ten List Reading Plan) is that it forces frequent reading of all the Bible, including parts that we would normally not read.  Of course, that also means reading through the more tedious sections of the Old Testament, of which 1 Chronicles ranks high on the list.  Even so, through repeated readings of 1 Chronicles along with other Old Testament books, I now at least recognize more of the names of people and places from other places, and notice a few little gems here and there.  After all, the popular “Prayer of Jabez” from several years ago came from 1 Chronicles, and other interesting points concerning certain Bible characters come out as well.

Though commentaries exist for 1 Chronicles, it’s not popular sermon material, at least for expository verse-by-verse preaching.  From my Internet perusing I’ve come across individual topical sermons from 1 Chronicles, including a few from W.A. Criswell and Charles Spurgeon.  Recently, though, I’ve noticed a few devotional applications from 1 Chronicles — in some of Spurgeon’s “Morning and Evening” devotionals.

As part of Spurgeon’s topical style, some of his devotionals do not directly relate to the context of 1 Chronicles — such as the one in which he takes the words “and these are ancient things” from 1 Chron. 4:22, and applies it to the ancient plans and purposes of God, whereas the text is describing some ancient genealogical records of particular families.  However, in a devotional from a text in 1 Chron. 5:22 (“There fell down many slain, because the war was of God.”) he at least partly related the text to its actual reference, emphasizing the point that they won because “the war was of God.”

Spurgeon’s devotional for June 3 for 1 Chron. 4:23 is also interesting, with good thoughts concerning a short passage about some potters who worked for the king.  We only know a little about these people, otherwise ordinary people doing common work (pottery), and most would read over the text with little if any thought.  From this reading I learned of differing translations, for the phrase that these “dwelt among plants and hedges” in the KJV is instead rendered as “inhabitants of Netaim and Gederah” in modern versions.  Thus all that Spurgeon said about people dwelling among plants and hedges may not have actually been the case.  Even so, Spurgeon made some good points about common workers who kept to their appointed places, living in a rural area, yet doing royal work, “the king’s work.”

From the closing words of this devotional:

It is when we are in his work that we may reckon upon his smile. Ye unknown workers who are occupied for your Lord amid the dirt and wretchedness of the lowest of the low, be of good cheer, for jewels have been found upon dunghills ere now, earthen pots have been filled with heavenly treasure, and ill weeds have been transformed into precious flowers. Dwell ye with the King for his work, and when he writes his chronicles your name shall be recorded.

90 Day Bible Reading Plan, Genre-Style: Final Observations

April 1, 2011 Comments off

Update:  New Facebook discussion group for the Horner Bible Reading plan and variations on it.

I have now completed reading the Bible in 90 days, Prof. Horner genre style.  Here are just a few insights from recent reading.

To finish the Pentateuch in 90 days (instead of 93 days, two chapters at a time) I scheduled the last several days to read three chapters at a time.  For the most part three chapters of Deuteronomy is okay, but chapter 28 is quite lengthy.  To compensate for the extra reading in Deuteronomy 28 that day, I only read one chapter of Revelation — chapter 21 — and finished Revelation the next day (March 30).

Yet that slight change provided even greater reading parallels for the next day:  reading about the river of life in both Ezekiel 47 and Revelation 22.  Also, John 21:20 and 23 mention Jesus’ return (in Jesus’ words to Peter, if I want him to remain alive until I come…) and then Revelation 22:7 proclaims “Behold, I am coming soon.”  It’s also a way in which we see that John, who did outlive the other apostles, did remain until Jesus’ Revelation concerning His coming again.

Other great reading combinations included Deuteronomy 25:13-25 with Ezekiel 45:10-12, showing God’s continual concern for fairness and justice, even with the practical matters of daily life such as standard weights and measurements.

Next, I’m starting my 8-list modification, from the beginning — a new starting point.  Before, I gradually merged from the original 10-list plan into the current plan.  As always, I’m sure the new readings will be just as good, with more different but good reading parallels and combinations.

Completing the 90-Day Horner Bible Reading Plan

March 24, 2011 Comments off

I’m nearing the end of the modified Horner Bible Reading plan for 90 days, now down to 13 chapters per day — and after tomorrow (finishing Malachi) down to 12 chapters.  It’s been fun and interesting, similar to my standard plan in the amount of reading, but always different readings (no lists repeating again) — plus more concentration in the Old Testament.

Reading Nehemiah and Esther together has been interesting — two contrasting views of the same time period (after the Babylonian exile).  Recently I read Zechariah 12 and Revelation 1 together, a great combination since Rev. 1:7 directly references Zechariah 12:10.  Other great reading pairs have included Numbers 14 — where God swears by the truth that the glory of the Lord will fill the earth — a few days after Habakkuk 2:14, and Psalm 145:10-13 on the same day as Revelation 5, the time when Christ begins to take action — the arrival of the Kingdom is near!

Reading Deuteronomy always fits well with the later history, with the frequent reminders to the people of Israel to honor the Lord God and not follow the ways of the nations around them — and the sad result throughout chapters of OT history and prophets, that they did not follow God and that all the consequences that God warned them of indeed came to pass in their later history.

Psalm 119 has great wisdom, as in verse 36, so appropriate along with reading of Gehazi’s greed in 2 Kings 5:19-27.

Hebrews 13:13 (“Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured”) on the same day as Luke 23 is also very fitting.

Faith is the Hand of the Heart: How to Increase in Faith

February 18, 2011 Comments off

As a follow-up to a previous post on this topic, Increase Our Faith, come these great words from S. Lewis Johnson.  (reference: Matthew 9:27-31)  Here is the response to those who would say the words “give us more faith” in a prayer (even a prayer said by a preacher in a church service).

Faith determines the measure and often the manner of the gifts of our Lord.  According to your faith, be it unto you.  Professor Goday used to like to say that “faith is the hand of the heart.”  Now, if faith is the hand of the heart – that by which we receive the blessings of God – then it would seem from this statement that the larger our hands, the bigger our gifts.  According to your faith, be it unto you.

I want to say, O God, give us more faith!  You want to tend to fall down on your knees and say, O God, give us this faith to believe; pray prayers like, help Thou mine unbelief!  But you know, that would be the wrong reaction.  If you want faith, you don’t have to crawl down on your knees and say, “O God, give me faith.”  You know what you do?  You open your Bible and begin to read.  The Bible says faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God.  That’s how faith comes.  So if you want faith, you don’t get on your knees and pray, “O God, give me faith.”  If an angel were there, he would say, stand up and open your Bibles and begin to read.  That’s how you get faith.

Faith comes from companionship with the Lord Jesus, and acquaintances with his promises, and that comes from Scripture.  Your faith will grow as you grow in the knowledge with our Lord. You have confidence in men because of your acquaintance with them.  I had confidence in my father, and you had confidence in your parents, and confidence in your friends by virtue of your acquaintance with them.  I had confidence in my father because I knew him.  We were that close; I knew I could count upon him, because I knew him.  Now he would fail because he was a human being, of course, but our Lord never fails, and confidence comes from acquaintance with him.  If I could just urge you so that you would turn to the word of God, we all would be so much better.

Reading through The Bible in 90 Days (a Genre Plan): Reading Update

January 17, 2011 Comments off

As with the standard Horner Bible Reading System, reading through the scriptures following this 14-chapter per day plan (described here) yields some interesting parallels.  The Horner Bible Reading plan so lends itself to modifications, because any combination will show some parallels, though different ones in each case.

So far, this 90 day plan, starting with Genesis and going forward, follows the biblical time sequence:  Genesis, then Joshua-Judges, then 1 Chronicles (time of King David), then Isaiah (King Hezekiah), then Daniel (Babylonian exile).  Job and the Psalms provide a break for other Old Testament readings, followed by the New Testament sequence: gospels, then Acts.  The readings won’t always follow the chronological sequence — in some cases the second reading from the prophets will be earlier in the time sequence, and Jeremiah and Ezekiel reflect a later time period — but it’s great so far.

Anyway, here are some good reading parallels I’ve noted from the readings so far:

  • Genesis 12:8 mentions Ai and Bethel.  Joshua 12:9 also mentions these places, on day 12.
  • Genesis 11 and Daniel 1 both reference “the land of Shinar,” Babylon — where pagan religion started and continued through Daniel’s day
  • Psalm 16, and Acts 13:35 (quotes from Psalm 16), on day 8
  • Matthew 10, in which Jesus speaks of Sodom and Gomorrah, along with Genesis 19, on day 10
  • Daniel 6 — Daniel in the lions’ den — and Psalm 22:21 (save me from the mouth of the lion!), on days 11 and 12
  • Daniel 3:18 — contrasted with Job 8:3-6, on day 8.  The Hebrew children recognized that God might not deliver them, whereas Job’s friends understood a God that only brought harm on the wicked
  • Genesis 26:4 (the promise confirmed to Isaac, Abraham’s son) and the reminder of that promise to the unfaithful Israelites in Judges 2:1 on day 13
  • Judges 1:21 (Jerusalem and the Jebusites) on day 13, after 1 Chronicles 11:4-6 (David’s men conquering the same) on day 11
  • Isaiah 26:15 (day 13)  provides a wonderful contrast, that glorious future day, as compared to the days of unfaithful Israel in Judges.
  • Job 13, especially verses 15 and 25,  is answered with the better New Testament day, Matthew 13:17 (day 13) and Matthew 12:20 (from day 12)
  • Genesis 34 — land of Shechem, and Hamor and his son Shechem; then Judges 9, set in Shechem.  Note especially verse 28, which mentions “Hamor the father of Shechem.” — Day 17

Anyone else have some interesting reading parallels to share, from this 90 day plan?  Or from the original Horner or other modified versions?

A Bible Reading Plan for 2011: Modified Horner Bible Reading for 90 Days

December 10, 2010 6 comments

Update:  New Facebook discussion group for the Horner Bible Reading plan and modifications including this 90-day reading plan.

At the beginning of 2010 I described a 2010 Bible Reading Challenge with several variations on the Horner Bible Reading System, a genre-based reading through each of several different sections of the Bible.  With such plans you read one or two chapters from each list, for a total of 10 to 14 chapters per day, and read completely through the Bible several times per year.

For most of this year I’ve been doing an eight list plan that includes 12 to 14 chapters per day; the longest list is 125 days.  However, beginning January 1, just for the first three months, I’ll be following a 9-list 90 days plan.

List 1:  Gospels  (89 days) — one chapter per day
List 2:  Pentateuch (90 days) — two chapters per day
List 3:  New Testament (Acts through Revelation) — two chapters per day
List 4:  Job, Proverbs, Ruth, Ecclesiastes — one chapter per day
List 5:  Psalms, Song of Solomon — two chapters per day
List 6:  History Joshua thru 2 Kings (except Ruth), and Esther — two chapters per day
List 7:  History 1-2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah — one chapter per day
List 8:  Major Prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel — two chapters per day
List 9:  Other Prophets–Lamentations, Daniel thru Malachi — one chapter per day

Since this is not an A-to-Z type plan that breaks the reading in the middle of chapters, the lists do not all end on the last day.  Actually, all the lists except List 1 end before March 31, and so the reading gradually tapers off toward the end.  List 9 ends on March 25, and the others end gradually after that.  I made additional adjustments for some especially long chapters, so that where I would normally read two chapters I only read one for those days.  A few examples of these include Psalm 119 split into two days, as well as 1 Kings 7 and 8, Jeremiah 49 through 52, and Ezekiel 39 and 40

You may notice that I put Ruth in List 4 after Proverbs.  I made this adjustment after learning that, at least at one time, the Jewish scriptures placed Ruth after Proverbs — flowing from the Proverbs 31 woman to the godly woman Ruth.

*** Added on 1/3/2011:   A good variation on the reading sequence — instead of reading the lists in the order above, read as follows:

  • List 2 (Pentateuch)
  • Lists 6-7 (History)
  • Lists 8-9 (Prophets)
  • Lists 4 and 5 (wisdom books)
  • List 1 (Gospels)
  • List 3 (New Testament)

Click here to see the actual day-by-day list, in PDF format for printing.

Parallels Between Israel’s Exodus and Christ’s Second Coming

November 26, 2010 Comments off

Ezekiel 20:35-36 — And I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there I will enter into judgment with you face to face. 36 As I entered into judgment with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so I will enter into judgment with you, declares the Lord God.

As has often been observed by Bible teachers, and I’ve noticed in my own Bible readings, the similarities between the book of Revelation end-times judgments, and the past judgment plagues on Egypt, are striking.  Both accounts involve descriptions of ruined water, famine and pestilence, locusts, and frogs, for instance.  As a biblical response to naturalist-minded believers, this parallel is a strong argument for the very supernatural power behind the future judgments.  These events will not be the result of man’s technological innovation, nuclear war fallout or any other disaster that man can inflict on this planet — any more than the plagues in Egypt were of man’s doing.  The fact that the people in Revelation 6 cry out for the rocks to fall on them and hide them from the wrath of God, from the wrath of the Lamb, ought to be obvious enough proof that the people there realize just Who is responsible for their plight:  not mankind in some global nuclear warfare.

All of the above texts show implicit similarities and parallels — we can see the similarities, but nothing explicit in the texts to link Egypt with the future.  In my recent Bible readings (in a modified Horner Bible Reading), though, I noticed a direct mention of the similarities between the two events.  I especially noticed Ezekiel 20:36 — which makes an explicit comparison between the Exodus from Egypt and the Second Coming judgment.  Where Exodus and Revelation describe actual plagues on the land and people, and the rest of the Pentateuch describes the wilderness wanderings, Ezekiel 20 tells us that Israel will face judgment, at the Second Coming, similar to that previous one.  So here we even see a parallel sequence between the two events:

Past (Exodus) Event Future (Second Coming) Event
1. Great plagues of judgment on the Egyptians Great plagues of judgment on the whole world
2. Israel removed from its land of sojourning Israel removed from its land where it was gathered in unbelief
(Daniel 9:27, 2 Thess. 2:4, Matt. 24:15-21, Rev. 11:2)
3. Israel tested and tried in the wilderness Israel regathered (ref. Matt. 24:31) and tried/judged in the wilderness
(Ezekiel 20:35-36)

It’s an interesting parallel, if I read and understand the scripture correctly.  However, I checked a few commentaries, such as the MacArthur Bible Commentary and Thomas Constable’s online commentary, and these both see verse 35 as referring to the Jewish dispersion of the present age. Yet Constable’s commentary, citing Scofield, does see verses 36 to 38 as referring to the future Great Tribulation:

“The passage is a prophecy of future judgment upon Israel, regathered from all nations . . . The issue of this judgment determines who of Israel in that day will enter kingdom blessing (Ps. 50:1-7; Ezek. 20:33-44; Mal. 3:2-5; 4:1-2).”  (The New Scofield.)

When taken as a whole, I don’t see how verse 35 is referring to the present day scattering, when the previous verse (20:34) clearly begins a section describing a gathering of the people who had been previously scattered:  I will bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you are scattered, with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and with wrath poured out.  In verse 35 they have already been regathered, so the commentary notes for verse 35 in the MBC and Constable don’t make sense of the narrative sequence.  Instead, it seems that verse 34 begins with the current situation (the countries where you are scattered) and takes us into the future, when they are brought out and gathered — a yet future event.  It even could be said that all of this is future, since some biblical texts indicate a scattering of the Jews during the tribulation:  a first gathering in unbelief (begun in 1948) to allow the building of the tribulation-era temple and the seven year covenant with antiChrist, then a scattering at the mid-point of that 7 year covenant, followed by a regathering (in belief) during the Great Tribulation / Day of the Lord and preparation to enter into the Millennial Kingdom.  Such is my original understanding, as shown above, and so I still find this an interesting sequence, especially considering the parallel to the Exodus from Egypt and its sequence.

Bible Reading Discovery: Repetition in the Same Bible Really Works

November 5, 2010 Comments off

Since the beginning of the year I’ve been using the same reading Bible for my modified Horner Bible Reading plan.  Regarding that 10-list plan, Grant Horner noted the importance of having one Bible — to always read from it, as a way to remember where everything is in your Bible.  Until recently, though, I had not observed this extra benefit.

John MacArthur has also emphasized repetition in reading, to achieve the same familiarity with where things are on the page.  As described in several sermons including these (How to Study the Bible and How to Study Scripture), his preferred reading method is to read through the Old Testament once a year, but repeatedly read the same New Testament book, or a set of 7 chapters of one, every day for a month, then on to the next NT book, and so on.

As MacArthur described it:

Now after thirty days, if you’ll just stick with thirty you’ll have a tremendous comprehension of that book. If someone says to you, you know, where in the Bible does it say, if we confess our sins, He’s faithful and just…? You’ll say, oh that’s easy, First John chapter 1 ah, left hand page right hand column halfway down, see. Because you’ll be able to visualize that, you’ll be able to literally see that, in your mind’. People always ask me, why do you still use the King James, why don’t you move to the New American or the New International-? Because I visualize my Bible, I find things by where they are in my vision. In other words, my mind has taken a mental picture of a page and I can tell you … I may not remember the chapter everywhere in the Bible but I can just about tell you where on the page everything is, people give me a new Bible and I am lost. … I can’t find anything in another Bible. So the thing you want to do is to, is to read a book through thirty times, and at the end of that thirty times you will really have that book in your mind.

After having tried MacArthur’s New Testament reading plan for a few months, and now 1 1/2 years of a Grant Horner genre-style reading, I prefer the genre-style which gives emphasis to both Old and New Testament books.  Both reading plans emphasize repetition, but in very different ways:  reading the same thing every day for a month (only in the New Testament) and then not seeing it again for a few years, versus reading straight through (only one reading of each chapter) but repeating the set every 2-3 months.

This weekend I experienced one of those “mental picture of a page” moments.  A friend at church asked me if a certain saying was in Proverbs (the one about a righteous man taking care of his animals).  The regular reading of Proverbs (every 73 days, through Job and Proverbs) gave me confidence to affirm that yes, that verse indeed is there — though at that moment I could not cite the chapter and verse reference.  But soon afterwards, with my reading Bible at hand, I recalled seeing that verse on the bottom, left side of the page, somewhere in Proverbs.  After quickly scanning several pages throughout the Proverbs, I found it where I expected it — left side, second column, near the bottom — on the page for Proverbs 12, and provided her the reference of Proverbs 12:10.   This type of repetition really works, as something far better than a printed  concordance (which I didn’t have with me anyway) — and it’s a good memory aid that cannot be replicated with computer software or portable electronic books.  Yes, anyone with a computer and electronic text search could have found the reference just as easily.  But in a day when most people (all those I know, anyway) are still carrying print Bibles to church, it’s neat to discover a new mental facility within oneself, and to know that good old-fashioned human memory still works.  Besides, it’s always better to be using the brain rather than just relying on the search feature of an electronic device.

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Horner Bible Reading Update

October 6, 2010 Comments off

The modified Horner Bible Reading plan continues to work well, with 8 different selections and up to 14 chapters per day.  Often some good parallel readings come along, and as the months go by the different sections of the Bible become more familiar with each re-reading.  Sometimes the readings also complement a particular Bible study sermon series.  The original Ten-list Horner Bible Reading plan has a nice “surprise” with the alignment of Exodus 24 and Hebrews 9 in the first time through.  Obviously with frequent modifications the same groupings do not re-occur — but other nice ones will surface.

Here are a few interesting parallels from my recent readings:

New Testament and Deuteronomy:

Isaiah 40 (List 7) and Revelation 19 (List 8 ) both feature great praise to God!

John 8, Genesis 12, and Joshua 1

John 8 relates that Abraham saw Jesus’ day and was glad.  Genesis 12 begins the story of Abraham being called by God.  Joshua 1:6 reminds us of the Abrahamic covenant, now being acted upon with the people about to enter the land for the first time in over 400 years.

List 3: Ecclesiastes 8:2 — a good reference point for 1 Timothy 2:1-2, regarding kings and rulers, a recent subject in my 1 Timothy S. Lewis Johnson Study.

List 2: Genesis 15, the Abrahamic covenant and promises regarding the numerous offspring of Abraham  — and — List 3: Hebrews 2:16,   “he helps the offspring of Abraham.”

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