Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The sermon taster's solemn warning

The sermon taster comes in various forms. Some will gad about from
church to church looking for what suits them for the moment. Others
will only come to hear those that they consider worth hearing. Others
also rate the preachers against each other as though they were being
entertained. Apparently, it was popular among wealthy Londoners in
Victorian times to race across the city from one church to another,
sampling the preaching of the more popular ministers. Each Monday in
Parliament, meetings were held to discuss which preacher delivered the
best sermon.

Other sermon tasters like to hear their pet subject or theme and will
not be satisfied without this. There was a man in Scotland whose pet
theme was the second coming. He visited several Edinburgh churches at
one time. When he returned to his hometown, he was asked, "How did you
like the Edinburgh preachers?" "They all fly on one wing," he
answered. "They all preach the first coming of Christ, but don't
preach His second coming."

body language Other sermon tasters have a more damaging effect. They
are not getting on with a sermon and they don't mind if everyone
behind them knows that. The body language tells the congregation
behind, "Switch off, don't listen". The head hangs down, the shoulders
droop, sometimes the head is shaken and the face wears a displeased or
pained expression. Perhaps they start leafing through their bible as
though to say - "I'm not pleased with this and so I'm not listening".
It seems as if they would rather be elsewhere. What a discouragement
to those behind. They can't help but notice. If they weren't
struggling with the sermon, they will feel now that they should be.
Some of them need to hear the gospel and not be put off from hearing
it yet Satan uses this distraction before them to snatch away the seed
of the Word. What of their spouse beside them? Or if they have
children that share their pew? How would they take this example? Will
the word profit them?

Some sermon-tasters are keen to let everyone know how they did not get
on with the sermon afterwards. They will pick over the expressions,
gestures and illustrations of the sermon in order to find fault. What
is of value and benefit is left aside so that the 'defects' may be
exposed. Their pride will not allow them to profit and will also deny
the privilege to as many as possible. This is the most dangerous in
its effect upon others, particularly those of the immediate family.
They may be put off the gospel and the church permanently. The
question is whether or not there is error and if error of how serious
a nature can it be corrected in the most gracious way without deleting
all effect from the sermon, disparaging the person, their office or
the way it was presented.

The following is from William James Hoge's "Blind Bartimaeus and His
Great Physician"

"your criticisms may turn it into very foolishness, and a
stumbling-block, and the savor of death to some beloved one for whose
salvation you have been striving. I cannot better illustrate this
caution than by a true narrative from "The Central Presbyterian." " A
pious lady once left a church in this city, [Richmond,] in company
with her husband, who was not a professor of religion. She was a woman
of unusual vivacity, with a keen perception of the ludicrous, and
often playfully sarcastic. As they walked along toward home, she began
to make some amusing and spicy comments on the sermon, which a
stranger, a man of very ordinary talents and awkward manner, had
preached, that morning, in the absence of the pastor. After running on
in this vein of sportive criticism for
some time, surprised at the profound silence of her husband, she
turned and looked up in
his face. He was in tears. That sermon had sent an arrow of conviction
to his heart!
What must have been the anguish of the conscience-stricken wife, thus
arrested in the
act of ridiculing a discourse which had been the means of awakening
the anxiety of her
unconverted husband!".

Watch then, your words and spirit. Take care what you say, and before
whom you say
it. Are you about to speak in love, in humility, in the temper of
Christ? Will any one be the better for what you say? Will your
criticisms deepen your child's or your friend's reverence for Christ's
Ambassadors, and God's chosen instrument for saving souls?

When you have said what you wish, will you become thereby
fellow-helpers to the truth?'
If not, oh, leave it all unsaid, lest in criticising the flaws of the
earthen vessel, you be found
to have despised the heavenly treasure; lest you turn aside the sword
of the Spirit, and
with great sin to yourself, bring destruction on some most precious soul".

Did the sermon-taster pray for a blessing from the sermon? Do they
pray regularly for the minister and before every sermon for every
preacher? Do they pray for the preacher while he is preaching, that he
may be helped, especially when he may be struggling? In the Welsh
revival of 1859 two preachers were talking together. One said, "Have
you noticed how all the ministers are preaching a great deal better
than they used to?" "Yes," his friend replied, "but perhaps people are
listening a good deal better than they used to." "That may be true,"
said the first man, "but I think the sermons ought to be much better
these days." "Why is that?" said his friend. "Because all the
congregations seem to be praying for their ministers now."

Is the sermon-taster depending too much upon the public means for
their spiritual growth and feeding and not being diligent in the
private means and the secret place? If they profit more in the one,
they may find that they are in a different spirit to profit from the

The sermon-taster is responsible for themselves and not whether there
is or is not something deficient in the preacher whether in his life,
experience or style of preaching. Perhaps familiarity has bred
contempt and the sermon-taster has become too familiar with the
pet-themes, the mannerisms and turns of phrase of the preacher. They
may need to pray to be able to overcome this.

Has the sermon-taster examined their life and heart? Is there
something there that means that they are not profiting at all from
what they hear? Pride will certainly hinder it. There can be a carnal
response to what we hear. We are not getting the calibre of sermon
that we deserve, we think. We are not getting what we should. We have
particular spiritual needs that we want addressed and they are not
being addressed. But this does not mean that none of our spiritual
needs are being addressed. We forget that this, as with all other
things, is in the sovereign providence of God. This is to murmur
against that providence, wishing for one set of circumstances over
another. Surely if the man is orthodox, there is something that we may
glean from the sermon and meditate upon. Where this is not addressed,
a resentment can sometimes build up against the man and forms a great
barrier against profiting at all from any sermon. The resentment and
distaste eventually takes the sermon-taster to another preacher and
another congregation, but they have not submitted to God's providence
and learned from it, so it may be that the same thing will occur
again. They may need to consider whether they have what Scriptures
terms "itching ears".