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why martyn lloyd-jones didn’t want his listeners to take notes when he preached – andrew lim

 

The very first recorded sermon that was preached convicted the heart of the hearers. Luke tells us that “…when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers what should we do?’” (Acts 2:37). Any talk of “preaching to the heart” will give two false impressions: one, that we are resorting to emotionalism; two, that the heart and mind are divided.

The biblical use of the word “heart” does not rigidly confine it to mean a person’s feelings or emotions. Instead the word “heart” denotes the inner life of a person – their character, their inner self, their mind, their will, their intention. It is the mainspring of their thoughts, affections, purposes, passions, desires, appetites, and their endeavours. It is what we have been warned to guard (Prov. 4:23).

We need to be careful that we do not adopt the gnostic dichotomy of head and heart. Schleiermacher made the mistake of degrading the objective thought (mind) of a person and extolling their subjective passions (heart). That is a view that is discordant with scripture. The Bible does not set a person’s intellect against their feelings. This is a Western category and not a biblical one.

Preaching that strikes at the heart strikes the whole person – mind and emotions. The very core of their being is hit so that no listener can remain comatose. They cannot not respond.

This does not mean that they will necessarily respond favourably. Often, they will not. But respond they must for they will feel violated, indeed assaulted. When the Athenians heard Paul in Acts. 17, some mocked and others wanted to come back to hear him out. Both groups were touched to their hearts. When Peter preached, people repented. When Stephen preached, they stoned him. Yet both preached to the heart.

Preaching that touches the heart is preaching that wrests a response from the hearer whether that response is faith or fury.

Why then, do most sermons not sting to the heart?

I believe preachers make two interrelated homiletical mistakes that work against this.

 

One: we are too technical.

In my early years as a student at Bible College, we were told, quite repeatedly: “By all means, work hard at your exegesis, be clear of the context, check your grammar, note the different interpretations, but once you are up there behind the pulpit, whatever you do, don’t let your petticoat show.”

 

Not that we wore them, but the point was made. We could see how an exquisite dress could be spoiled when the slip shows!

This, unfortunately, is a mistake we often see in our preaching. For some reason, we feel bound to present to the congregation all those finer exegetical points that we have laboured over during the week. We enlighten them with the original usage and meaning of a particular word. We tutor them about the theological backdrop of the passage we have studied, and we split hairs over some of the variant readings or interpretations.

We let our petticoats show.

With the result that our hearers cannot see the wood for the trees. They take down copious notes about the “facts” of the passage. They return home with fresh knowledge and new understanding of the text.

But their hearts have not been moved.

 

Two: we lecture rather than preach.

A sermon is not a lecture. One is informational, the other is transformational. A lecture educates while a sermon enlivens! One seeks to instruct, the other seeks to reawaken and regenerate.

The preacher is not to merely educate the people of the facts of the Bible. Rather they are there to declare a timely prophetic Word of God to elicit a response.

Far too many of us have stood behind the pulpit as a grammarian or a theologian

We need to stand behind the pulpit as a preacher.

When you give the impression that understanding biblical or theological facts is all there is to a sermon, your listeners will intuitively take notes.

But it is while they are taking notes that they miss out on the very thing a sermon is supposed to do – something “of the moment”; something that needn’t be jotted down and indeed can’t be jotted down. Lloyd-Jones rightly observes that note-taking during the sermon indeed work against the hearers from responding to the Word preached.

“I have often discouraged the taking of notes while I am preaching. . . . The first and primary object of preaching is not only to give information. It is, as Edwards says, to produce an impression. It is the impression at the time that matters, even more than what you can remember subsequently. . . . While you are writing your notes, you may be missing something of the impact of  the Spirit.”  —    Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The   Puritans: Their Origins and Successors (Edinburgh, 1987), page 360.

Jonathan Edwards insists that the primary goal of preaching is to produce “an impression” and elicit a response from the heart. But that is not likely to happen if our hearers are immersed in writing notes instead of pausing to allow time and space for the Spirit to cut them down, and convert them in their seat right there and then.

Preaching needs to make a foray into the heart of the listener so that their mind is assaulted, and their will vanquished and subdued.

 

How then should we preach?

Keller says it best when he tells us that every sermon should have three purposes. You should “preach the truth, not just your opinion; you should preach the good news, not just good advice; and you should preach to make the truth real to the heart, not just clear to the mind.”

Then he gives us this practical advice. The preacher ought to preach affectionately (“If you want to preach to the heart, you need to preach from the heart.”); imaginatively, (“using illustrations”); wondrously (“we should always strive to let the wonder sink in”; memorably; Christocentrically and practically.

For that, we shall need to humbly depend on the Holy Spirit to empower our preaching so that no one listening will remain tepid, cold and impervious but instead have their sinful resistance buffeted, and their will crumble before the conviction of the Holy Spirit.

2 Comments

  1. Shannon says:

    An excellent post, and a journey I have seen my own preaching take. Having come from a church that did explain the finer points of exegesis in almost every message, my own ‘style’ was to include many of those nuances of scripture in my sermon. I now reside in a church that people would say is much more ‘heart’ focussed, and I find myself ‘preaching’ more than ‘teaching’ (if I can dare to define those two terms so simply). However I do think there is a place for the expounding of exegetical wonders – and I use the word wonders intentionally; there are those among us who are drawn closer to God through the discovery of truth at this level. I am constantly amazed at the ‘depth’ of the Word that God has left us with. It leaves me in awe of our God and for some in our congregations this too will move their hearts rather than just their heads. I guess like all aspects of Christianity we need to find that balance of knowledge for knowledge sake and knowledge that reveals how great God is.

  2. Norman Sutton says:

    Excellent advice …. we need to move people (mobilize them to ACTION) … I remember 40 years ago (after hearing 30 years of boring/irrelevant sermons) going into a church where the preacher preached as though his love depended on it and God spoke to me BIG TIME … a few weeks later I chose to follow Christ

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