Saturday, September 17, 2011


(One’s level of piety, whether devotional or practical, depends much on knowledge being either learned or misconceived. In these analyses we have made mention, occasionally, of books that either help or hinder the grand object of piety. It seems natural, consequently, to supplement the analyses, now and again, with correlating book reports.)


C. H. Spurgeon, Letters of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, ed. Iain Murray (1850-1892; Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1992), 219 pp.

My expectations were blasted when I opened this up and saw how short the letters were. But my spirit spruced right back up after I began to read. Three factors will account for the brevity of Spurgeon’s letters: He was a busy man; he had a talent for saying his piece in a nutshell; he did not like verbosity. To his son, on page 108, “Your little notices of books are first-rate. Short and pithy—better than half-a-page of long-winded nothings.”

It becomes obvious by the very first letter why this man was so used of God. At fifteen years of age he was already working out salvation, “I can get good religious conversations with Mr. Swindell, which is what I most need”; had already left the old life behind, “Oh, how unprofitable has my past life been”; and was enjoying the fullness of God, “How sweet is prayer! I would be always engaged in it” (p. 19.)

By the Book he charted his own course, opting for baptism at fifteen (p. 22), and refusing  Hyper-Calvinism at nineteen (p. 41.) Initiative and discernment in a youth, how rare! We do not even see the like among seminary graduates!

His letters to his girlfriend, to his ‘Sweet One,’ these are the most valuable, I think; particularly sweet they are—and challenging. These two qualities characterize the tone of his correspondence. The following advice to a junior preacher will be enough to show what I mean by that. “I shall ever value my first-born above all the rest. Now I am going to give you a proof of my true love…You used to speak roughly, but it was pleasant to listen to your voice; but several friends have mentioned, what I also noticed, a sort of ministerial tone, a genteel way of pulling the tails of some of the words and cutting the ears of others, till they look like little dogs fresh from the fancier's” (p. 83.) Sweet but challenging.

Now some wise bullets from the great preacher so gifted at shooting out the crisp remark. To a hurting friend, “What fine clusters our Vine-dresser will get from so much pruning” (p. 209.) On orthodoxy, “The old gospel is the real wonder-worker; the new stuff would not save a robin” (p. 201.) On separating from a clever company of liberals, “I should never know what they meant, and like the good people at the tower of Babel I should soon be on the move” (p. 190.) On faith, “I have lived on the gospel, and I can die on it” (p. 136.) My first full portion of Spurgeon was The Practice of Praise, which was true but dry. His Letters are as fresh as a dewdrop.
Content: A (Gospel-centered correspondence.)
     Style: A (Clean-cut and pretty.)
    Tone: A (Witty and lovely.)
Grading Table: A: a keeper: reread it; promote it; share it.
                         B: an average book: let it go
                         C: read only if you have to.

Thursday, September 1, 2011


June 2010

Mr. Vallee, Living Stones, Christ in the Workplace.

Summary: (He begins with a reading of Psalm 8, followed by a prayer. The text is in Colossians. But he does not begin his sermon there. Instead, he tells a long story about a woman who aspired to excellence.) Some of the most devastating experiences can actually shape us into better people if we’ll not allow bitterness to reign in our lives. You can learn to make a difference in people’s lives. (The text is Colossians 3.23 and surrounding verses.) This could be a ‘life purpose’ verse. We should serve people as if we’re serving Jesus. It will bring us to a whole new level. What transcends a mundane job to a place of dignity and value? The answer is in Paul’s approach to slavery. Half of the Roman population was enslaved. Jesus never raised slavery as an issue. I think that sometimes we crusade too much. We need to focus more on what we’re for, not against. Change must begin in the spiritual part of us. Jesus gets to the root of the problem. The gospel overturns oppression in a peaceful way. The process is just as important as the end result. The end does not justify the means. Long-lasting, permanent change has to be done in the right way. The apostle Paul called for dignity and justice between slaves and masters as an expression of their submission to Christ as Lord. And slavery has been eradicated. But what social institution can we apply these truths to? What we’re concerned with today is the lordship of Christ in the workplace. (A) Our attitude. The attitude is as important as what we do. My job is not my provider; God is. Write that down. So I don’t have to obey my employer when he tells me to do something wrong or illegal. God will take care of me. Otherwise, just do what you’re told. You don’t have to know why you’re doing what you’re doing. We’re not allowed to use company materials for personal use. And a half-hearted effort is a sort of stealing. Make your job your primary area of ministry. We have to give God our best. Here’s how you preach at work:            Do your job. Do it for Jesus every single moment. The example is Joseph’s work ethic. He rose to high favor by his work. In that day, it was a sign of favor by your God if you prospered. Any work is spiritual work when you’re a Christian. If you were feeding God, wouldn’t you feed him a good meal? We need to do the same for people. Work is not a curse. The curse is in how difficult work is. We work for an ever-present employer. Bosses know when the work is not getting done. We must be employees the boss doesn’t want to let go of. (B) Our Conduct. Your employees need to be pastored. Then they will be loyal. Good employers share their benefits with the workers. The ‘rich man’ is a negative term in the New Testament. God is not against money; he is against trusting in money. Employers will answer to God for their behavior. Threats will get less out of your workers than affirmation. (At this point Mr. Vallee states that this sermon is better than a seminar because it’s free and because here you are given the power to do what you are asked to do.) “God himself says, ‘I’ll help ya.’” (Music begins, while the pastor continues to motivate. Then he begins to pray.)

Remarks. There is a better and more peaceable way to confront issues than to just crusade against them. As a Christian, any kind of work is spiritual work. Christians do not have to evangelize in their workplaces, their jobs well done being themselves the sermons. It is refreshing to hear wisdom like this come from a local pulpit. Also, a work ethic drawn from the life of Joseph is excellent. Figures and lessons drawn from history are helpful and interesting. The interpretation of the word ‘rich’ as it is used in the New Testament is on the mark. There is some good moral instruction here.  One sin, at least, is pointedly warned against. The introduction has more weight than the body of the sermon. And something could have been said about the kinds of slavery that still persist.

But here are the main faults. (1) It is a superficial message. Stories are just as prominent in this sermon as the Scriptures are. The first story he tells is told in part, then he actually begins to exposit the thing! Then after turning to something else he returns to the story again, this time to finish it. We cannot find that the story has much at all to do with the subject allegedly being treated. We can only guess what he means to teach by it. Regardless, stories are given precedence over Scriptures in this sermon; but it is the Bible that deserves to be expounded, not stories. Biblical content is needed, not stories. Stories should serve the Scriptures, not vice versa. Why all the stories? Maybe because it is easier to tell stories than expound Scriptures. Maybe because that’s what everyone else is doing. Maybe he thinks the Bible is not interesting enough. We don’t know. He says, “It’s amazing when we’re interpreting the Bible, how uncommon sense some people have.” What’s more amazing is the ‘uncommon sense’ that a Bible teacher does not interpret the Bible any more than what is accomplished by a bare reading of the text! Just a glance at the final passage of Colossians is enough to bring to mind the possibilities of what might have, and should have, been expounded. Nothing is said in the body of this sermon beyond what any Christian, or non-Christian, for that matter, could have shared. Mr. Vallee inadvertently agrees with this criticism when he compares his sermon to a business seminar. The difference is that the sermon is free. Let’s examine this a little. Is this sermon really free? How much is this pastor getting paid? And what, besides money, is this sermon costing the listeners? If sermons never transcend moral lessons, then it might just cost these listeners their souls! If salvation is always assumed and never tested by fiery preaching that denounces the sins of the people and warns of hell as a consequence of not repenting, then sermons like this one might cost these listeners their very souls! Yes, he did say in here that Jesus died for their sins and that stealing is wrong, but is that enough? Believing Jesus died for you will not save you. You must believe in Jesus for the remission of your sins. The other difference between this sermon and a seminar is that here you get the power to do what you’re asked to do, he says. This last difference we might have to disagree on too, for no power is likely to be unleashed where there are no major doctrines preached and where what is preached is delivered in such a casual manner. Much soul-stirring doctrine could have been lifted from phrases like ‘singleness of heart’ and ‘eyeservice.’ But no verse of Scripture is more than superficially touched upon. This is why anyone without too much fear of standing before a crowd could have delivered this message or even a better one. There is a noticeable lack of strong work ethic here. It seems that in preparation for the sermon, a little was read from a few books or commentaries. But Scripture was not dug into nor meditated on. A pastor gets paid a lot of money, no doubt, in a church this big. And he gets paid for much more than what was delivered on this Sunday. Speaking for his listeners as the kind of attitude they should have toward work, he says, “I don’t want to give God a haphazard kind of job.” If they should give God more than a haphazard effort, shouldn’t the pastor? Should the pastor not lead by example? He obviously does not apply this lesson to himself. This pastor failed to do his job. To use his own quaint expressions, he ‘duffed off’ and ‘flubbed up.’ A Christian doing his regular job at the level of competency, diligence, and dedication exhibited by this pastor would be fired before long at all. If an employee were ordered to move boxes, but continuously moved crates instead, would he not be fired? Pastors are ordered to preach the Scriptures; but instead they continuously tell stories, and yet they keep their jobs! One of his stories is about how certain company executives shared some profits with their workers that they were not obliged to share. And so the lesson is that if we work hard, we might be similarly surprised. But do saints work for God to receive a monetary benefit and reward on earth? What about the reward hereafter? This is what needs to be emphasized. The story that is told and the lesson that is drawn from it tell us something about where the pastor’s mind is at; the unintended lesson for us is his lack of depth. He is not pointing us to an ultimate end. He is not exalting Christ in his workplace.

(2) It is a commonplace delivery. Here is how he begins his sermon, “Alright! Boy, talk about a book that’s invasive, right?” A sermon is not supposed to be just on the level of what one might say at a business lecture. We’re not referring to the content merely, but the delivery. A sermon is not a business lecture, not a pep-talk, and not a motivational speech. It is a word from a man who has a message from God to deliver to a fallen people in need of, or in possession of, redemption by Christ. If a slang dialect must be used for an ignorant people to understand, fine. But are these people so ignorant that they will understand nothing above street talk? And should words not be properly enunciated? Regardless of the dialect used, the pastor must be a prepared man who is determined and able to deliver the message in such a manner that God speaks through him. There must be a sense of something majestic being transferred by the Spirit through the man of God. We get absolutely no sense of this happening here. What we get is commonplace principles delivered in street slang, and an audience being invited by the pastor to offer feedback while the sermon is in process! This is more than inappropriate. This sort of conduct displays a disregard or ignorance of what the man in the pulpit is actually called to do. A sermon is not supposed to be a commonplace speech. It is supposed to be holy, uncommon, separate from the world’s crude, undignified manners of speech and dispatch. Mr. Vallee speaks of a mundane job transcended to a place of dignity. He should be the first one to take this advice. Pulpit-speaking should never rest in, nor be satisfied with, the mundane. It should always be dignified, for that is what God is, and the sermon is supposed to be a message from him. God should never be presented as saying, “I’ll help ya.” This is just one example out of the many unsuitable, vulgar utterances that could be culled from this sermon. But we’ll leave it at that. Another aspect of this commonplace delivery is the apologetic tone he uses, as in phrases like ‘come on now’ and ‘let me just say this.’ This timid talk, especially considering the soft content of his message, proves that he is very afraid of reproving or offending anyone. This fear of men might be the principal reason for this pastor’s many faults. Nowhere in the Bible do we encounter such fear after the prologue, ‘Thus saith the Lord.’ A pastor does not speak inspiration. But in a very real sense his sermon ought to be a word from the Lord. His love for the Lord ought to overwhelm his fear of man. “Perfect love casteth out fear” (1 John 4.18.) This verse teaches that our love to God should be such that we no longer fear the eternal future. How much less ought we to fear the faces of mortal men? 

Conclusion. What we come away with after listening to this sermon is that we should go out and do a good job. Should we not expect something more memorable and elevated than that? Scripture should be made to point to Christ. This he does not do. Issues must be dealt with at the heart level, he says. But he never tells us how that may be done. His wording is so careless when he speaks of this necessity of being changed from the inside out that no one could be blamed for accusing him of teaching that this heart-change may be effected by man. “It starts with how we have to change people from the inside out,” he says. His language is so careless that it gets away from him and involves him in errors and even heresies that he does not intend to be guilty of promoting. It would be safer if he just read word for word from a carefully prepared document. Indeed, what else can a cautious pastor do if the extempore model is too perilous for him to use? He may not think his method is perilous until someone points out the errors he is guilty of letting out. We trust that this has been attempted in some measure by us. After a comment near the close of his sermon, Mr. Vallee mentions the name of Martyn Lloyd-Jones. It is encouraging to know that he is familiar with that great Bible expositor. Mr. Vallee should read many times over that book of Lloyd-Jones, Preaching & Preachers. If he obeyed those lectures, his talking would become preaching, his low delivery would rise to dignified speech, and there would be a noticeable difference in the lives of the souls under his care. Without a substantial change, if hard times come, this pastor will find, either that he has few real followers, or that his people are suddenly unhappy with what and how he is preaching. The way things are, the souls attending this church will probably continue being easy and comfortable in their ignorance. A pastor ought always to be asking himself why his people continue to come to his church Sunday after Sunday. Are they coming because they get challenged and nourished there? Or are they coming for social reasons? 

Our summary of the sermon might make the critique that follows it seem a little unjust. This is because we have almost completely resisted putting his baby-talk into the summary. The podcast must be listened to in order for the critique to come across as fair.

Mr. Vallee, you speak of our needing to learn to use the right means to achieve the right ends. We urge you to meditate on what you are preaching, why you are preaching, how you are doing it, and to what end. Is Jesus Christ being honored and exalted by your work ethic?