Our present aim is to compare a poor sermon with an excellent sermon in order for the dissimilarity to strikingly appear. For ease of comparison, both sermons are reduced to a summary, or sketch, of each. A few introductory words are necessary before these two sketches are presented. Sermons preached in Red Deer at this time (it is now 2011) are extremely poor in form, matter, delivery, and spirit. They are nearly formless; one has often to guess at where a point begins or ends; sometimes there are no points at all; sometimes a story is made the point of the whole sermon. Their matter is so light that they cannot be spoken as being doctrinal. Their delivery is less than remarkable, and frequently contemptible. Their spirit is not unctuous, inspiring, and affecting, but dull, childish, and irreverent. (All of this applies generally, and almost to all sermons particularly.) This has been shown, now, by many analyses of sermons preached in this local sphere. Speaking technically, these local sermons are not sermons at all, but talks, discussions, monologues, motivational speeches, essays, or commentaries. But for the sake of consistency, we shall continue calling them sermons.
So far we’ve reviewed sermons from eight churches. The least poor are from Mount Calvary Lutheran (Mr. Hennig), Balmoral Bible Chapel (Mr. Lane, not Mr. Fox), and Streams (Mr. Keys.) The poorest are from Red Deer Bible Baptist (Mr. Bueckert), Deer Park Alliance (Mr. Doeksen), and Family of Faith (Mr. Huizing.) Crossroads (Mr. Cochrane) and Living Stones (Mr. Vallee) fall in the middle. These two churches are also the largest of the eight. Because of their size and median placement, it is fair to choose a sermon from one of these two churches to represent what an average sermon in Red Deer consists of, which will be one side of the contrast. We have chosen The Price of Commitment by Mr. Vallee from Living Stones because its theme is of a similar nature to a sermon by C. H. Spurgeon that we have sketched, which is entitled, What Have I Done? Spurgeon’s sermon will stand in for the other side of the contrast.
Our purpose is to demonstrate the disparity of form, matter, delivery, and spirit between our modern local pulpit and one respectable pulpit of old. We do not expect any local pastor to be of the ‘glory celestial,’ as C. H. Spurgeon seemed to be, and for which he was nicknamed the Prince of Preachers. But we intend to put on display the great chasm that exists between our local sermon and what a sermon should be. And this is done in order to show that the gap needs to be narrowed significantly before this local pulpit of ours can be said to be preaching actual sermons, and before it can be said to be actually preaching.
First, the local sermon, then the sermon of old, both reduced to a snapshot size for ease of comparison. And note, neither the frivolous aspect of the one, nor the grandeur of the other, can be fully shown by the thumbnail sketch of each. We believe, however, that the difference between the two is so obvious, palpable, visceral, and spiritual as to require no further explanation than the sketches alone will evince.
Mr. Vallee, Living Stones Church, The Price of Commitment.
Introduction. We are shocked when conflict happens. When we come to Christ we have an adversary. We will have enemies. The devil seems to be asleep until we make a commitment. Then we have resistance. But we get strong by resistance. It builds character. God’s people had to fight the battles to get the cities in the Promised Land. God was in it, and they did it by faith, but they had to fight. The greatest battle happens within us, or from unexpected places, like co-workers, kids, etc. That results in resentment. Our fight is not against flesh and blood. It’s a spiritual battle. So don’t take it personally. We need to look beyond the person to the evil behind that person and to take that out. It is easier to bless the person we’re in conflict with if we look at it that way. The normal Christian life is filled with conflict. Unless we know this, we’ll get thrown into tail-spins. If we have no battles, we must question our salvation. Remember, Jesus experienced resistance even from Peter. We mean well when we dissuade our kids from Missionary service. But we may be hindering their purpose to serve God. This is a more subtle form of conflict.
(1) Commitment Results in Conflict. Why people turn against us when we become Christians: (a) people are threatened by commitment; (b) they feel rejected; (c) they feel they’re losing a friend; (d) maybe they feel they have to reevaluate; (e) interests change. Before your commitment to Christ, you’re saying, “Don’t bring me there [to church]; I don’t like it; I don’t feel good; it’s convicting.” Why all this conflict in the Bible? That’s the way it is. People have no peace in their hearts. There’s conflict because righteousness and evil are at odds. When you said yes to Jesus, you said no to the devil. The more we get to know people, the more we have to work through issues. Deep relationships will have conflict. You get to love persons for who they are, not for who you thought they were. In conflict, the old way is to use criticism, gossip, manipulation, intimidation, etc. We have to use other tools now, or evil will overcome us. Some of our tools: to bless, forgive, pray, do good. When we bless, those who have done us wrong are confounded. We have to take our thoughts captive. We have to win the battle within before we can win the battle around us. Everyone born of God overcomes the world. We can’t win on our own, but we can through God inside us. Like the Gibeonites, we have new allies. We have the church. We need the church community. Beware of sectarianism, says Eugene Peterson. It’s easy to hang with a few people who agree with you in every area. God even puts people you don’t like into the family. We’ve got to love these people. The body is made up of many parts. The weaker parts are the indispensable parts. When we minister to these parts, we often get more out of it than they do. We must die to ourselves.
(2) Commitment Costs You Something. Joshua had to defend the Gibeonites in difficult geography. He and his men did a twenty mile march uphill, then fought all the next day. And then Joshua prays for a miracle so they can fight longer! Ministry is not convenient. It costs. That’s the point. Commitment costs conflict, energy, resources, life. Is that not what Jesus did? He poured his life out for us. Then we complain if we have to do the same. Joshua was afraid, but continued to march. We must win the battle within us, fight off resentment, unforgiveness. None of us are equal to the task. It can’t be done apart from God. We can’t be committed apart from God. Commitment impacts people’s lives.
Conclusion. The great problem in North America is about lack of commitment: to God, to one another, and to God’s purposes. We like convenience, hate hardships. If you make a commitment to God, you’ll have conflict. Conflict will cost you something, probably everything. But in the end: no regrets.
C. H. Spurgeon, The New Park Street Pulpit, “What have I Done?”
“What have I done?” (Jeremiah 8.6.)
Introduction. God is so attentive to everything that is good, even in the poor sinner’s heart, that to him there is music in a sigh, and beauty in a tear; and in this verse that I have just read, he represents himself as looking upon man’s heart and listening—listening, if possibly he may hear something that is good. And oh! you that are this day seeking a Saviour, remember, that Saviour’s eyes are on your seeking soul today.
(1) Eager Persuasion. “What have I done?” Few men like to take the trouble to review their own biographies. Better, my friend, for you to know the past while there is yet time for repairing it. Search yourself and see if you are a Pharisee or not. Unless Christ be your Christ, you will be weighed in the balances and found wanting, and be cast away for ever. Your disguise will not fool God. I fear that I have baptized many of you that the Lord has never baptized. Some of you have been received into the church fellowship who were never received by God. If Jesus Christ had one hypocrite in his twelve, how many must I have here in nearly twelve hundred? Ah! in this age it is an easy thing to say you’re saved. Do not put off self-examination. Some of you may not see New Year’s Day. Many have thought, “There is time enough yet.” And before the time they have found themselves where time shall be no more.
(2) Answering the Question. Christian, what have you done for Christ’s church? for the salvation of the world? for your own growth in grace? Have you been the means of the salvation of a soul? I ask myself too, “What have I done?” The moralist says, “I have done plenty, attended church, prayed, shared, done my duty, done a great deal.” Quite right, but good works, if done for deserving salvation, are no better than sins. Christ will never go shares with you in the work of salvation. Another character says, “I am not much for talking about eternity. But neither my country, nor my friends, nor my conscience, can say anything against me. I may go too far in some things. But so what? It will be easy to set matters right before the end.” Stop! What is a little too much drink but drunkenness? What is loose talk but filthy conversation? What is joy riding on Sunday but Sabbath breaking? What is a hasty exclamation with the ‘Lord’ in it but swearing? Your sin list is getting long now. And unfair business is stealing. And desiring your neighbor’s prosperity is covetousness, which is idolatry. The list is black now. Whoever you are, remember all your sins of this past year, and be frightened! Ah! you that live in sin, know that one sin is enough to damn you forever! Despise Christ on the cross, and how terrible to be judged by Christ on the throne! And you, whose lifestyle has been copied, you have done your best to damn others! Oh, give me cause to hope that you will be saved!
(3) Loving Caution. It is a solemn thing how the years roll away. I never spent a shorter year in my life than this one, and the older I grow, the shorter the years get. You old men, I dare say, you look back on your sixty and seventy years, and say, “Ah, young men, your years will seem shorter soon!” No doubt they will. “So teach us to number our days, O God, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” Another year nearly gone, and yet many of you are unsaved. You are just where you were last year. No, you are nearer death, nearer hell, unless you repent.
Selection from Conclusion. “Methinks, I see a spirit launched upon the sea of eternity. I hear it say, ‘What have I done?’”