Westminster Assembly

Westminster Assembly

Acts 6:4

"But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the Word."



1 Timothy 4:6-16

" If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained. But refuse profane and old wives' fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness. For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation. For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe. These things command and teach. Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all. Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee." 1 Tim 4:6-16 (KJV)

"Experimental Preaching" by A.W. Pink-Volume 16, No.7 S.I.T.S

Monday, April 18, 2011

The mere quoting of Scripture in the pulpit is not sufficient—people can become familiar with the letter of the Word by reading it at home; it is the expounding of it which is  so much needed today. “And Paul, as his manner was . . . reasoned with them out of the  Scriptures,  opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again  from the dead” (Acts 17:2, 3). But to “open” the Scriptures helpfully to the saints requires  more than a young man who has had a few months’ training in some “Bible Institute” or  a year or two in a theological seminary. None but those who have been personally taught  of God in the hard school of experience are qualified to so “open” up the Word that Divine light has cast upon the perplexing experiences of the believer, for while Scripture  interprets experience, experience is often the best interpreter of Scripture. “The heart of  the wise  teacheth his mouth, and addeth learning  to his lips” (Prov. 16:23), and  that “learning” cannot be acquired in any of man’s schools.

 As an example of what we have just referred to above, what would be the use of quoting, what benefit would be derived from simply hearing the words of such a passage as  this?: “Give ye ear, and hear My voice; hearken, and hear My speech. Doth the plowman  plow all day to sow? doth he open and break the clods of his ground? When he hath made  plain the face thereof, doth he not cast abroad the fitches, and scatter the cummin, and  cast in the principal wheat and the appointed  barley and the rye in their place? For his  God doth instruct him to discretion, and doth teach him. For the fitches are not threshed  with a threshing instrument, neither is a cart wheel turned about upon the cummin; but  the fitches are beaten out with a staff, and the cummin with a rod. Bread corn is bruised;  because he will not ever be threshing it, nor break it with the wheel of his cart, nor bruise it with his horsemen. This also cometh forth from the LORD of hosts, which is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working” (Isa. 28:23-29). Where are the preachers today endowed with wisdom from on High to “open” a Scripture like this one?

 Obviously, the above passage is a parable: that which obtains in the natural world is made a similitude of what pertains to the spiritual realm. God’s Church upon earth is His “husbandry” (1 Cor. 3:9). The subordinate “husbandmen” are His ministers, who, instrumentally, break up the fallow ground of the hearts of His people. As the farmer varies his work as occasion requires, plowing, sowing, reaping, threshing, as the need arises, so the ministerial husbandman does likewise. The “seed” is the Word of God (Luke 8:11), and
as God gives wisdom to the farmer to sow “wheat” or “barley” or “rye”—according as the soil be clayey, loamy, or sandy, so He teaches His ministers to preach according to the condition of the hearts of His people. Painful afflictions, both inward and outward, are God’s “threshing” instruments, to loosen from the world, to separate the wheat from the chaff in our souls, to fit us for His garner.
Now there are two ways of learning of Divine things—true alike for the preacher and hearer: the one is to acquire a letter knowledge of them from the Bible, the other is to be given an actual experience of them in the soul under the Spirit’s teaching. So many today suppose that by spending a few minutes on a good concordance they can discover what humility is, that by studying certain passages of Scriptures they may obtain an increase of faith, or that by reading and re-reading a certain chapter they may secure more love. But
that is not the way those graces are experimentally developed. Humility is learned by a daily smarting under the plague  of the heart, and  having its innumerable abominations exposed to our view. Repentance is learned  by feeling the load of guilt and the heavy burden of conscious defilement bowing down the soul. Faith is learned by increasing discoveries of unbelief and infidelity. Love is learned by a personal sense of the undeserved goodness of God to the vilest of the vile.
 It is thus with all the spiritual graces of the Christian. Patience cannot be learned from books: it is acquired in the furnace of affliction! “We glory in tribulations also, knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope” (Rom. 5:3, 4). Ah, my reader, we beg the Lord to teach us, but the fact is that we do not like His method  of teaching us. Fiery trials, storms of persecution, the dashing of our carnal hopes, are indeed painful to flesh and blood; yet it is by them that the spirit is purged. We say that we wish to live to God’s glory, but fail to remember that we can do so only as self is denied and the Cross be taken up. The crossing of our wills and the thwarting of our plans stirs up the enmity of the carnal mind, yet that makes way for our taking a lower place before God. God’s ways of teaching His children are, like all His ways, entirely different from ours.
 “I asked the Lord that I might grow in faith and love, and every grace; might more of His salvation know, and seek more earnestly His face. ‘Twas He who taught me thus to pray, and He, I trust, has answered prayer; but it has been in such as a way as almost drove me to despair. I hoped that in some favoured hour at once He’d answer my request, and by His love’s constraining power subdue my will and give me rest. Instead of this,  He made me feel the hidden evils of my heart; and let the angry powers of Hell assault  my soul in every part. Yea, more, with His own hand He seemed intent to aggravate my woe; crossed all the fair designs I schemed; blasted my gourd, and laid me low. Lord, why is this? I, trembling, cried, wilt Thou pursue Thy worm to death? ‘Tis in this way, the Lord replied, I answer prayer for grace and faith. These inward trials I employ from self and pride to set thee free, and break thy schemes of earthly joy, that thou mayest see
thy all in Me” (John Newton). These lines (by the author of “How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds in a Believer’s Ear”) may not suit the sentiments of a few of our readers, but we are sure they accurately express the actual experience of many of God’s people.
 The more we really grow in grace the more tender becomes the conscience, the more conscious we are of our corruptions, and the more distressing is the hiding of the Lord’s countenance. The brighter the sun’s shining into a room, the more apparent becomes any dust or cobwebs in it; and the greater the  illumination granted by the Holy Spirit, the more will the filth of our hearts be manifested. So too when the Word of God is accompanied with life and power to the soul, it pierces “even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit” (Heb. 4:12): that is, there is a separating between the wheat and the chaff, a dividing between what  God  has wrought and that which is merely  natural religion. But an honest soul loves a searching ministry, even though it cuts him to the quick. He does not want to be soothed in his sins, and he dreads a false peace. His earnest prayer is “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts” (Psa. 139:23).
 The more God searches us the more will He bring to light the “hidden things of darkness,” and the more will we be made to loathe ourselves. As the conscience becomes more tender it increasingly feels the enormity of sin, and correspondingly grieves over the same. Then it is that “the heart knoweth its own bitterness” (Prov. 14:10), and like Hannah we become “of a sorrowful spirit” (1 Sam 1:15). And then it is, very often, that the
Job’s comforters of our day add to the grief of the groaning saint. They  unseasonably prate to him of “the joy of the Lord,” and tell him he should commend Christianity by a July, 1937 Studies in the Scriptures    17
glowing countenance and a cheerful demeanour. Well may we remind such meddlers into matters they understand not of those words, “As he that taketh away a garment in cold weather, and as vinegar upon nitre, so is he that singeth songs to an heavy heart” (Prov. 25:20). My reader, God does not require us to play the part of hypocrites before others, nor to mock Him by singing when our hearts are full of heaviness.

 It is not only the workings of indwelling sin which occasion the honest-hearted so much distress, but also the feebleness of their graces—yea, as it often seems, the total absence of them. The weakness and fickleness  of his faith occasions the true Christian much exercise of heart. He knows that God is worthy of his fullest confidence, that His Word is inerrent and His promises sure; and it is a painful trial to him that he fails so sadly to trust Him more fully and count upon His covenant faithfulness more constantly.  Herein his experience is quite different from that of the empty professor. That  natural “faith,” which stands only in the wisdom of men, knows no such fluctuations, ebbings and flowings, risings and sinkings, as those which characterize the faith which is of “the operation of God” (Col. 2:12). God is very jealous of His glory, and makes us realize that
what He has given can only be exercised by His enabling. It is not within the Christian’s power to call forth his faith into action when he has a mind to. In this, as in all things, God keeps us entirely dependent upon Himself.
The all-important matter in connection with faith is not the quantity, but the quality of it. An intellectual assent to the Divine Authorship and veracity of the Scriptures produces no spiritual fruits. A faith which is assured of the historicity of Christ, like it is of that of Augustus Caesar or Napoleon, is no evidence of regeneration. A faith which “could remove mountains and have not love” (1 Cor. 13:2) is worthless. It is because of this that
an honest heart is so deeply exercised as to whether or not his faith be the “faith of God’s elect” (Titus 1:1), or whether it be merely a product of the flesh; and the very fact that he is so often conscious that he has no faith at all in exercise, causes him to think the worst of himself. At this point, too, he stands in real need of definite help from the pulpit. Then let him be informed that a mere assent to the letter of Truth never yet melted the soul into godly sorrow for sin. If any of our  readers have a “faith” which is  not  dampened and chilled by the ragings of indwelling sin, they are welcome to it. “Awake, O north wind; and come, thou south; blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out” (Song. 4:16). This prayer of the Church’s plainly intimates the acknowledgement of her own helplessness. It is the believer supplicating the Spirit (under the emblem of the “wind,” cf. John 3:18) for His awakening and reviving influences. He begs Him to operate upon his “garden,” that is, his soul, in order that “the spices thereof,” which are a figure of his spiritual graces, may “flow forth.” He realizes that only as the “north wind” blows, i.e., the Spirit chills his lusts and nips his corruptions, only as He, in power, rebukes his faults and reproves his failings, that he will tread more softly before God. He realizes that only as the “south wind” blows, i.e., as the Spirit breathes upon his soul and warms his graces, that faith, hope, love, patience, meekness, humility, will become active and fruitful. “Lord, all  my desire is before Thee; and my groaning is not hid from Thee” (Psa. 38:9). “Desire” signifies the longing, yearning, panting of a renewed heart. That soul ardently wishes to be right with God, to have a heart that is cleansed from the love and filth of sin, to have a conscience void of offence toward God and man, to be conformed to the image of Christ, to be in complete subjection to Him, to be fruitful unto His praise. Ah,                                                                                                             but such a “desire” is only very imperfectly realized in this life, and that causes disappointment and grief, hence the Psalmist added “and my groaning is not hid from Thee.”

There is the “groaning” which the wounds of sin occasion, the groanings from the ceaseless conflict between the flesh and spirit, the groanings caused by Satan’s buffetings. And there is also the “groanings” over unrealized longings, unaccomplished ideals, unsatisfied attainments.  Ah, my reader, it is one thing to read in Scripture “For to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not” (Rom. 7:18), and quite another to have a personal corroboration of the same. But that is how God teaches His people, giving them an experimental acquaintance with the Truth, that they may “set to their seal that He is true.” It is one thing to receive as an “article of faith” that not only the unregenerate, but the regenerate also, are, in themselves, impotent unto holiness, but it is quite another to discover from painful experience—as poor Peter did—that “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41). It is then that we pray in earnest, “Quicken us, and we will call upon Thy name” (Psa. 80:18); “Draw me, we will run after Thee” (Song. 1:4).

  Do you, my reader, find your experience to be a bundle of contradictions: one day heartily thanking God for His mercies, the  next day wickedly abusing them? one day fondly cherishing the hope that you have a little spiritual life, the next quite sure that you have none at all? If so, you know something of what it is to be “emptied from vessel to vessel” (Jer. 48:11). But if you do not, if on the contrary, your course is a smooth and
easy one, your heart always light and cheerful, there is grave cause to conclude you belong to that class of whom it is said “because they have no changes, therefore they fear not God” (Psa. 55:19). As we have previously pointed out, Christian experience alternates between pain and pleasure, sorrow and joy: pain arising from a sense of our sinfulness, from manifold temptations, and the hidings of God’s face; pleasure from a sense of pardon, promises applied by the Spirit, communion with Christ.   It is only by degrees that believers are “established,” and even then that does not prevent them from being severely tried and grievously assaulted by their spiritual enemies.  Satan causes many to doubt Christ’s willingness to save them, and if they receive a little encouragement from the Word, then he seeks to stir up afresh their corruptions, and renews their fears and doubtings. The most advanced Christian often experiences a sore conflict from his lusts; those who enjoy the most intimate communion with God are frequently attacked by Satan. If the Apostle Paul had to cry out “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Rom. 7:24), we must not be surprised if  we  have cause to do the same. But observe, that his next words were “I thank God
through Jesus Christ our Lord” (v. 25). Ah, we never value Christ more highly than after a season of acute soul distress, as we never prize Divine grace so much as when we have been afflicted by indwelling sin. It is a sense of pollution and filth which moves us to turn again to the Fountain open for sin and for uncleanness.
Professing Christians are to be frequently exhorted to diligently examine the work of the Spirit in them, and compare the same with what is recorded of the saints in Scripture.  Nor is there, as we have said before, any “legality” in this, for the work of the Spirit proceeds as truly from the everlasting Covenant of Grace as did the work of Christ, and the discovery of His operations enables the believer to “set to his seal that God is true” (John 3:33). A lively interest in the things which  concern our eternal welfare, a trembling at God’s Word and being suitably affected thereby, hatred of sin, loathing of self, a childlike love for the Lord, are some of the evidences of God’s work in the soul. Let it also be boldly affirmed that God exercises His high sovereignty even in the very  degrees of grace granted us: if it be true that He endows His servants with talents, some more, some less, it is equally true that He bestows upon the rank and file of His people a different “measure” of His Spirit.  While the minister is to be much on his guard against building up the hope of empty professors, he must ever seek to encourage and comfort the mourners in Zion, urging them to continue by “the pool” (the means of grace), waiting for the moving of the waters; assuring them that if they do, sooner or later there will be a breaking in of the light of God’s countenance, dispelling the darkness of the mind and melting the hard heart.   Remind them of such a promise as, “For I will restore health unto thee, and I will heal thee of thy wounds, saith the LORD” (Jer. 30:17). Remind them of the case of Abraham “who against hope believed in hope” (Rom. 4:18). Tell them that though they may have but feeble apprehensions of God’s love, nevertheless they can thank Him for His longsufferance to them.

  Let us point out that doctrinal preaching also has its place and use in strengthening the experience of saints, and must never be pushed into the background. It is needful not only for instruction, but equally so for those who have knowledge of the Truth: “To write thesame things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe” (Phil. 3:1). Our memories are very fickle; the impressions created by a sermon quickly pass away, so that there must be “line upon line, precept upon precept”: it is the principal means used by the Spirit in feeding the soul, strengthening faith, fortifying against Satan. Make Christ preeminent in all your sermons. Do you, my reader, know something of Joseph Hart’s experience when he wrote “I often poured out, intransports of blissful astonishment, ‘Lord, ‘tis too much, ‘tis too much, surely my soul was not worth so great a price!’ “

 Finally, the Christian must be definitely warned against resting in his present attainments. Even though he now be rejoicing in the knowledge of sins forgiven. Press such a verse as “Then shall we know (have assurance), if we  follow on to know the LORD” (Hosea 6:3): explaining its meaning, enforcing its duty. It is only little by little that the believer learns how to put on his armour and use spiritual weapons against his enemies. A  regenerated soul longs to know more of the power of Christ’s resurrection, for he so often feels sinking in the deadness of sin, and therefore those branches of Truth best calculated to quicken the heart are also to be oft set before him. N.B. As example is better than precept, we have sought to prepare an experimental
sermon on Philippians 1:6, which immediately follows this article.—A.W.P.


Post a Comment