Monday 25 April 2016

The Need for Unction in Preaching

"But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge" 1 John 2:20.

The King James Version of the Bible renders the word "anointing" here as "unction", which I suppose we could render the meaning as "the enabling of the Holy Spirit". With respect to preaching then, we must expect and pray for the enabling of the Holy Spirit in the act of preaching. We must pray for our ministers in their preparation, private prayer, and the delivery of the sermon, along with the right reception and hearing of the congregation, that it would be with "unction".

It is not easy to define "unction" and "unction" is not a short-cut for a minister in preparation and sound exegesis of the Bible text. But preaching is far more than preparation; preaching is not simply giving out prepared notes. Preaching is an oral event! It is persuading a congregation from the truth of the Bible. It is bringing God's authoritative message to bear upon the hearers, with the love of God, but with hopefully with "unction" also.

Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones (MLJ) was a strong advocate on the art of preaching and its relevance for the church in every age. Do you also believe in the relevance of preaching? Do you believe in the absolute necessity for preaching? If the Lord does not raise up preachers, then we have nothing to offer really. Nothing can substitute preaching and a church cannot be built upon a weak pulpit. Yes, a church is not to be seen as a preaching station, but it is not less than that.

MLJ believed that there were three ingredients to preaching and all three are requisite for "unction" in preaching. What are they? They are:

1. The preacher
2. The congregation
3. The Holy Spirit

If the preachers are not endured with a proper sense of calling and preparation then "unction" will most likely be lacking. However, we must not underestimate what role the congregation plays in the act of preaching. Spurgeon used to talk of "having a praying people" at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in his day. A praying people are some of the best people ever to preach to; Hungry sheep who have been diligent in praying for the preacher, the act of preaching and for the fruitfulness of the Word of God upon the hearers.

Furthermore MLJ wrote in his book "Preaching and Preachers" that when a preacher is clothed with "power and authority", he will be given "clarity of thought, clarity of speech, ease of utterance, a great sense of authority and confidence". He further writes that "this unction, this anointing is the supreme thing" and he tells preachers "seek it until you have it, be content with nothing less". This is a strong exhortation for those ordained as teaching elders, those who are to lead public worship and preach, but also for all church members to pray for their ministers as well.

Paul the apostle closes his letter to the Colossians with a request for prayer; "At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak" Colossians 4:3-4.

May we all join together to pray for unction in our pulpits and congregations, for the glory of the Triune God and for the salvation of the lost.

Wednesday 20 April 2016

Being Orthodox as a Church, but also Outward-Moving

In Sheffield Presbyterian Church, we are currently in the middle of a missions fortnight. We do not feel that we have the answers, but it is important that a church is not only committed to sound doctrine, and sound worship. Every church should also be outward looking and considering how to reach the lost. In fact I would contend, that to claim to be orthodox in church doctrine and yet not outward-moving to lost people is not to be orthodox at all. Luke 19:10 "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Unfortunately, church's sometimes try to reach out to the lost and capitulate on common sense by attempting to lure the world with worldly methods. The Lord Jesus Christ never did this and neither should we. I question the using of magic tricks, gimmicks and dramas as an entertaining method. No, the world is lost and in darkness, and they need to be invited to church to hear the message of salvation preached. The church in its public worship and message is always to be entirely unworldly, other-worldly should I say as we present the claims of the eternal God.

However, here is a challenge. Yesterday, we as a church (and let me make it clear that I am certainly not putting our church forward as a model for what I writing), we went out yesterday to invite people to our church by knocking on doors. We had a quality church leaflet printed, we trained people before we went out and off we went. We knocked on doors in two areas we had planned to cover, but three things struck me at the end of the day.

1. How weak the church is in the United Kingdom.
2. How little the church is doing (including ourselves in Sheffield Presbyterian Church and our own denomination EPCEW) to invite people to our churches.
3. How low the Christian knowledge is among non-Christians in the UK.

The response was overwhelmingly positive with much positive interest. Our aim was simply to invite people to church. Of course we encountered people as in the parable of the wedding feast in Matthew 22:1-14 where they had excuses, but it is clear that the church in the UK are holding back in being bold to invite people in appropriate ways to come to church.

1. Please pray for us in Sheffield Presbyterian Church as we seek to be persistent and consistent in the years ahead to invite people to Hill Top Chapel where we meet (

2. Please pray for your own church, for wise, sensitive and bold ways to be outward-moving without resorting to worldly methods.

Monday 11 April 2016

The Immense Value of Church History to Give Stability to the Church

For some people church history is boring. But this should not be our attitude to church history. A non-Christian philosopher once said that "those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it". How important this is for government leaders as well as church elders and all Christians! This is why church creeds, such as the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed (381AD), the Athanasian Creed and the Creed of Chalcedon are so important. They lay down boundary markers for truth and prevent stray doctrines from entering into the church and sometimes this happens unawares. This is a constant danger for the church according to Jude 3-4:

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Did you notice the phrase "crept in un-noticed" and the attack is upon "our common salvation"; this is the content of the church's faith? Just like weeds growing up in our gardens, so do spiritual weeds of erroneous teaching seek to choke sound historic church doctrines. Proverbs 22:28 "Do not move the ancient landmark that your fathers have set.

Of course the authority of Scripture is final, but Reformed Confessions such as the Westminster Standards are vital to the safety, security and comfort of the church. If a church fully subscribes to a Reformed Confession, then we know what they believe and that they are standing on historic, time-tested truths. It is the truth that sets us free according to the Lord Jesus and truth must be pursued, held fast to, and cherished. Do you cherish church history? Do you appreciate the value of church history and appreciate that a church that values church history is less likely to go astray, than one that dismisses church history or one that never mentions church history?

Let us pray for a healthy and enthusiastic love of church history because as long as it is not simply an academic pursuit of self-interest, this can serve the church well.

A Suggested Book

S. M. Houghton, "Sketches of Church History" (Banner of Truth).

Tuesday 5 April 2016

Jonathan Edwards Conference 2016: The Glory of God

For the second time in two years, there is a Jonathan Edwards Conference which I warmly commend. I have been reading Edwards for many years and his preaching style could offer valuable "smelling salts" for the church today. Jonathan Edwards was exceptionally clear on the core doctrines of Calvinism, such as total depravity and man's need of salvation.

The website is below if you would like to book. The dates are the 9th-10th June 2016 at the Radisson Blue Hotel in Durham. You can book your place online. Even if you do not come, then do pray for this conference for the Lord's blessing. A potential highlight will be Iain Murray speaking, because he has written a fine biography on the life of Jonathan Edwards. If you have not read this book then I exhort you to do so.