Tag Archives: Sermons

Review: The Solitary Throne

Rating: ★★★★★

Author: Samuel M. Zwemer was a pioneer missionary among Arabs along the Persian Gulf. His later career was spent writing, teaching and mobilizing for missions among Muslims while he was based in Egypt for many years, and later at Princeton Theological Seminary.

Overview:

As the original cover shows, this book is composed of five addresses given at the Keswick Convention in 1937, “on the glory and uniqueness of the Christian message.” Their actual content is a little less focused than that, but more devotional and less apologetic than the subtitle implies.

Meat:

I have finished only a few of Samuel Zwemer’s books, but I have perused the lot of them enough to know that this may be his very best work. “The Glory of the Impossible”—a title also given to a chapter of Zwemer’s 1911 book The Unoccupied Fields and in an article by Lilias Trotter in the Missionary Review of the World—is a timeless and inspirational theme that resonates especially for apostolic missionaries. “His Ministers a Flame” was an equally compelling chapter on a disturbing but oft-neglected New Testament metaphor.

Zwemer was a voracious reader, and has a marvelous knack for compiling fascinating and rare illustrations and quotations from every imaginable source: history, biography, fiction, hymnology, poetry, and elsewhere. Several of the best are quoted below.

Bones:

The fifth chapter, “The Hinterland of the Soul,” fell a little flat for me because of its imperial language. I am rather certain than when it was written, this language was meant to be mainly spiritual; but here in the 21st century, it resonates more like a call to be united with fallen power structures of this world—an unequal yoke that the crucified Christ never called us to. Nonetheless, if I can take Zwemer’s call to “rule the world for Christ” in a spiritual sense, then I can see its merit.

Quotes:

The Solitary Throne:

Napoleon on St. Helena said: “I know men, and Jesus was no man. Charlemagne, Alexander the Great, and I, founded great empires upon force, and here is One who founded an empire upon love. And now I am alone and forsaken, and there are millions who would die for Him.”

Jean Paul Richter, of Germany, in a wonderful passage, said: “O Thou who art mightiest among the mighty, and the holiest among the holy, Thou with Thy pierced hands, hast lifted empires off their hinges, and turned the tide of human history!”

Jesus Christ is the only religious leader Who came to destroy all race barriers and class hatreds.

His Ministers a Flame:

You cannot keep your wood pile, you cannot keep your coal in the cellar, if you would have a fire on the hearth.

The very presence of Jesus always demands decision.

The Roman Catholic Church believes in Purgatory hereafter. We believe in Purgatory now.

I love to go to the University Library in Princeton. Over the fireplace in the library of that Graduate School there are carved these Latin words from the Vulgate Psalter: “In Meditatione mea exardescet ignis.” “While I sit meditating, the fire burns.”[See Psalm 39:3.]

Once I was to preach a sermon at an anniversary in a Methodist Church; there were a great number of ministers present, and I was greatly honoured to be allowed to preach there. We met in the vestry. And the sexton, whose work it was to take care of the comfort of the preacher, said to me: “Would you like a glass of water in the pulpit?” I said: “No, I would like a bonfire.” He smiled. That is what I felt that day.

Let us often read the Acts of the Apostles. It is a neglected Book amongst those who ought to be leaders of the Church of Christ.

May we never glibly pray the prayer that we may be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Photophobia:

Believe me, the principle of unbelief is not primarily intellectual, but moral.

This groping after the Light was the promise of full enlightenment. It always is, as we missionaries on the foreign field know; and our hearts leap with joy when some Nicodemus comes to us by night, saying: “Sir, we would see Jesus,” whether it be a penitent publican or an irreproachable Pharisee. Those who seek find; to those who knock, the door is opened.

There is no tragedy more real and more moving in all history, and in our own lives, than the deliberate rejection of Christ; because it is due, not to any extraordinary wickedness in the Jews, or the Romans, or the people of New York, or the people of London, but to the ordinary motives of men.

If you are neglecting your morning watch, if you are omitting your daily Bible study, if you are forsaking the assembling together of the saints as the manner of some is, you may be sure that all of these things are early symptoms of photophobia, and will end in spiritual blindness.

The Glory of the Impossible:

In 1923 I spoke on the patience of God in the evangelisation of Mohammedan lands from the text: “Master, we have toiled all the night and have taken nothing. Nevertheless, at Thy word I will let down the nets.”

The history of Missions in every land is the story of the achievement of the impossible.

One of the saintliest of British missionaries, Miss Lilias Trotter, of North Africa, wrote just before her death in Algeria; “We who are engaged in Moslem work live in a land of blighted promises. That is a fact that none of us who love its people best can deny; and the deadly heart-sickness of hope deferred, sometimes makes even the most optimistic of us almost despair of seeing abiding fruitage to the work.”

We need once again to face the glory of this impossible task. . . . There is only one thing that is impossible—it is impossible for God to lie.

It is daybreak, not sunset in the Moslem world.

The Hinterland of the Soul:

In the eighteenth century the future belonged to John Wesley; it did not belong to those influential ecclesiastics who crowded him out of their churches and forced him, against his own inclinations, to preach in the open fields. Now to whom does the future of the twentieth century belong save to those Christians who are already looking beyond the horizon, who can read the signs of the times, and who makes bold adventures for God?

Review: Whyte’s Bible Characters

Rating: ★★★★

Who: Alexander Whyte (1836-1921), Scottish preacher and prolific author. He published a variety of sermons and biographies, but his most famous books since his death have been his Bible Characters.

Overview: Each of these sermons is usually a brief and balanced treatments of a biblical character; for some characters—such as Moses or Paul—there are several sermons, dealing with the chapters of Scripture in which that person is found. If the character is controversial, he will weigh the positives and negatives before expressing his conviction and the lesson that he gains from the character’s life.

Meat: Whyte is an excellent writer. Like F. W. Boreham and A. J. Gossip, he drew on the best English and Classical literature, not just to pepper his sermons, but to illustrate biblical truth in the most meaningful way. He held many prestigious positions and was no mean scholar.

Many of these sermons were cited by scholars as authority for many decades after Whyte’s death. If you found a biblical character confounding, it was always a helpful plan to visit Whyte and see, first, what was his opinion of the character, and second, what lesson did he glean from their story. On a controversial character like Jephthah, for instance, he will weigh the interpretations and then pursue a definite course, which you may or may not agree with.

His sermons have value as a pastor’s resource, but they are also great devotional reading. I really enjoy being able to pick it up on a whim and have a solid sermon on almost any prominent Bible character, whether from the Old or the New Testament.

Bones: I enjoyed many of these sermons, but some of them were absolute duds. The sermon on Eve, while it was interesting, seemed to quote line after line of John Milton. While I love Milton, I was much more interested in understanding the basics of Eve’s story. A few were dull and moralistic; the sermon on Esau, for instance, takes on the sin of gluttony—an unexpected turn, to say the least. I will, however, continue to consult this set of sermons when I am studying Bible characters, because it is unmatched in that regard.

Related: Herbert Lockyer has similar works like All the Men of the Bible, All the Women of the Bible, etc. These works are exhaustive in their inclusion of characters. The individual entries are usually brief, but still directed towards a devotional application.

Whyte’s sermons on Bible Characters were originally published in six volumes, but they are now available cheaply in one large volume, or free as an PDF (in separate volumes).

Texts That Made History

The Texts That Made History series is a series of biographical sermons by F. W. Boreham. Each sermon deals with the impact of a single Scripture text in the life of a famous person. We are not surprised to see the impact of the Bible in the lives of reformers, preachers, and pioneer missionaries. However, Boreham broadens his vision to take on explorers, authors, statesmen, and even a few fictional characters.

In the introduction to the fifth volume, the author explains that several years ago he was musing on what to announce for his next teaching series. He had been studying the impact of a single Scripture on the life of Martin Luther—guiding towards the Protestant Reformation—and wondered if he should teach on the Bible’s impact in biographies. Then Boreham tells us he “astonished himself” by announcing that he was commencing a series entitled The Texts That Made History:

At the close of the service, one of my most trusted officers came to me in great delight. ‘That’s a noble idea,’ he explained enthusiastically; ‘it will be the best series that you ever preached!’

It has certainly been the longest, and the most evangelistic, and the most effective. And it has been the series in which I myself have found the most delight.

Boreham wrote over 1500 biographical articles over the course of his life, making him for many decades the most prolific author in Australian history. He read one book every week over the course of most of his long life. It is no wonder, then, that he is well qualified to handle his theme.

Four out of the five books in this series are already available as ebooks, and we hope to put all four of them back into print in the coming months.

Texts That Made History

  1. A Bunch of Everlastings
  2. A Handful of Stars
  3. A Casket of Cameos
  4. A Faggot of Torches (unavailable)
  5. A Temple of Topaz
proving the unseen

Review: Proving the Unseen

Rating: ★★★★

Who: George MacDonald, 19th-century Scottish preacher, poet, and novelist. He had a profound influence on C. S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, and many others.

Overview: This book is a rare glimpse into the spoken sermons of George MacDonald. Proving the Unseen was arranged and edited by William J. Petersen from sermons published in Christian World Pulpit in MacDonald’s lifetime. The sermons are reasonably short and have the same subject matter found in most of MacDonald’s books: The Fatherhood of God, the resurrection of Jesus, and the obedience of faith.

Meat: This book’s strength is that it is significantly easier to read than Unspoken Sermons, which many—unlike me—find too abstract. MacDonald’s spoken ministry as found here is surprisingly straightforward, and yet, the material has the same depth and spiritual sharpness. I especially enjoyed the titular sermon, “Faith, the Proof of the Unseen,” and “Alone with God.”

Bones: The sermons here are pretty short, so you may get the sense that MacDonald could say a lot more on each topic.

Quotes: “Often the very things that lift us up nearer to God are viewed by us as misfortunes. ‘How sad,’ we say, and console one another on the means that the Father of our spirits is using to cleanse our souls and to make us the very children of his heart.” (p. 61)

Review: Five Great Affirmations of the Bible

Rating: ★★★★★

Who: W. A. Criswell, pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas, later president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Overview: In 1958, Criswell preached and published Five Great Questions of the Bible, and in 1959, he followed up with a similar series, Five Great Affirmations of the Bible. The book deals with foundational truths of the Bible: the reality of God, the sonship of Jesus, the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the second advent of Jesus.

Meat: As in its prequel, Criswell’s chosen headings are doctrinally centered, but the outcome is stirring, devotional, and evangelistic. The third sermon has a great way of dealing with the resurrection of Christ in a way that shows to what lengths God went to remove any shadow of a doubt regarding the truth of his bodily resurrection. The sermons are simple and accessible.

Review: The Hope of the Gospel

Rating: ★★★★

Who: George MacDonald, 19th-century Scottish preacher, poet, and novelist. He had a profound influence on C. S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, and many others.

Overview: MacDonald wrote only five books of sermons: Unspoken Sermons, Series One (1867), Miracles of Our Lord (1870), Unspoken Sermons, Series Two (1885), Unspoken Sermons, Series Three (1889)and finally, The Hope of the Gospel (1892). I give the dates because there is a progression between them. MacDonald’s Unspoken Sermons are profound, meditative, and exploratory; Miracles of Our Lord is more expository, systematic, and devotional; in his fifth and final book of sermons, it seems that MacDonald wanted to clearly delineate a theology of salvation while treating foundational Scriptures. Five of the texts are chosen from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

MacDonald was almost 70 when this book was published. While his views stayed the same through the years, they had grown firmer and are expressed most boldly here in The Hope of the Gospel.

Meat: MacDonald’s theology of obedience is preached or mentioned in almost all of his sermons—all his books, to be honest—but this book allows us to really chew on it; we see it here in relation to foundational concepts of the New Testament. The first two sermons develop this theology with special clarity.

(A quick summary: In MacDonald’s theology, all other aspects of salvation are subordinate to obedience. There is no “imputed” righteousness apart from obedience; there is no salvation apart from obedience. MacDonald doesn’t say that obedience causes salvation, but that it accompanies it.)

My favorites were “Sorrow the Pledge of Joy,” “The Yoke of Jesus,” and “The Salt and the Light of the World.” MacDonald is at home in the Gospels, and his comments on Jesus’ words here are illuminating and expository.

Bones: MacDonald is at his best, like any preacher, when he sticks to the text. And MacDonald at his best is quite fantastic. But in developing his theology of salvation, he is sometimes distracted by a chance to suppress interpretations that he sees as unspiritual and uninspired. In “The Hope of the Universe,” he spends nearly thirty pages grinding a theological axe about the immortality of animals, an idea which, even if I found it enlightening—and I don’t—is certainly secondary or tertiary to Paul’s discourse in Romans 8. (Certainly “the manifestation of the sons of God” is more important than the “earnest expectation of the creature,” whatever is meant by “creature”!)

For these reasons, I would rank any volume of Unspoken Sermons above The Hope of the Gospel; and I would put Miracles of Our Lord above them all for its tact and expository insight. As Roland Barthes said, it is when the author “dies” that the reader is most illumined. The same applies to preachers.

Quotes: “Joy is in its nature more divine than sorrow; for, although man must sorrow, and God share in his sorrow, yet in himself God is not sorrowful.” (“Sorrow the Pledge of Joy,” loc. 801)

“None but the pure in heart see God; only the growing-pure hope to see him.” (“God’s Family,” loc. 968)

“The relation of the Father and the Son contains the idea of the universe.” (“The Yoke of Jesus,” loc. 1303)

“Starts thy soul, trembles thy brain at the thought of such a burden as the will of the eternally creating, eternally saving God? ‘How shall mortal man walk in such a yoke,’ sayest thou, ‘even with the Son of God bearing it also?’ Why, brother, sister, it is the only burden bearable—the only burden that can be borne of mortal!” (“The Yoke of Jesus,” loc. 1357)

“Light unshared is darkness.” (“The Salt and the Light of the World,” loc. 1417)

Related: Unspoken Sermons, Miracles of Our Lord, God’s Words to His Children (posthumous), George MacDonald in the Pulpit (posthumous)

Review: Unspoken Sermons (3 vol.)

Rating: ★★★★★

Overview: This three-volume shows the breadth of MacDonald’s theological thought. MacDonald wrote these sermons in such a way that the conclusion of one introduces the next—but the topics are only vaguely connected. He focuses especially on themes like the Fatherhood of God, the meaning of suffering, and obedience to the two greatest commandments. C. S. Lewis wrote about Unspoken Sermons:

“My own debt to this book is almost as great as one man can owe to another: and nearly all serious inquirers to whom I have introduced it acknowledge that it has given them great help—sometimes indispensable help toward the very acceptance of the Christian faith.”

Incidentally, many of the thoughts in C. S. Lewis’ writings that are thought to be innovative or controversial were gleaned from these sermons. In Lewis’ anthology of MacDonald quotes, 257 of the 366 selections are from this little set of 36 sermons. (I am working on an article comparing Lewis’ most famous quotes with MacDonald’s sermon material.)

Meat: MacDonald’s strength in all his books is his stubborn insistence on God’s goodness. His spiritual writing is dense with thought, like that of Oswald Chambers. These sermons are a literary mix of highly abstract and clearly practical. There are many favorites. Lewis often hearkened to “The Hardness of the Way” in his books, such as Mere Christianity. “The Eloi” is a wonderful reflection on divine silence. “Life” is a fantastic exploration of divine suffering, and undoubtedly the most moving thing I have ever read outside the Bible. John Ruskin said that the first volume contained “the best sermons—beyond all compare—I have ever read.”

The other prominent point about MacDonald is his “theology of obedience.” MacDonald places great weight on John 7:17: “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.” He says in almost every sermon that obedience is “the opener of eyes” and “the only way forward.” This theology is probably most clearly expressed in “Love Your Neighbor” and “The Hardness of the Way,” although MacDonald’s next sermon set, The Hope of the Gospel, deals with this theology of obedience almost exclusively.

Bones: The long trains of thought make it difficult to read the sermons piecemeal; you really need a large cup of tea and an hour (or two) to spare. And some of the sermons are very heady and abstract. I recommend trying “The Way” and “The Hardness of the Way” since they are foundational and straightforward.

The bone that most readers choke on, though, is MacDonald’s universalist tendencies, seen most strongly in “Consuming Fire.” Suffice it to say, MacDonald was strongly countercultural in the context of a stolid Scottish Calvinism, and found himself searching far and wide for more satisfying expression of God’s heart. But most reviewers agree that these sermons “bring everyone who reads them into the very presence of the Living God,” and MacDonald was far more concerned with heart-obedience than systematic theology.

Quotes: “Man finds it hard to get what he wants, because he does not want the best; God finds it hard to give, because He would give the best, and man will not take it.” (vol. 2, “Life”)

“The Son of God suffered unto death, not that men might not suffer, but that their suffering might be like his.” (vol. 1, “Consuming Fire”)

“Do at once what you must do one day.” (vol. 2, “The Last Farthing”)

“Had he done as the Master told him, he would soon have come to understand. Obedience is the opener of the eyes.” (vol. 2, “The Way”)

“I believe that no teacher should strive to make men think as he thinks, but to lead them to the living Truth , to the Master Himself, of whom alone they can learn anything, who will make them in themselves know what is true by the very seeing of it.” (vol. 3, “Justice”)

Related: Miracles of Our Lord, God’s Words to His Children, The Hope of the Gospel, George MacDonald in the Pulpit