“Nothing is more nauseating to contemporary youth than hypocrisy, and nothing more attractive than sincerity.” With those piercing words, Stott launches his attack against hypocrisy and half-heartedness.This is my book review of John Stott’s Between Two Worlds (Chapter 7: Sincerity and Earnestness).
How can a preacher be sincere: “he means what he says when in the pulpit, and he practices what he preaches when out of it.”
Stott presents three arguments for sincerity.
1. The first argument for sincerity warns us of the dangers inherent in being a teacher (Rom. 2:17-21; Matt 23:1-3; Jas 3:1). “The reason why hypocrisy is particularly unpleasant in teachers is that it is inexcusable.”
2. The second argument for sincerity states that hypocrisy causes great offence. “We greatly hinder our own work, says Richard Baxter, if for an hour or two on Sunday we build up with our mouths, and then during the rest of the week pull down with our hands.”
3. The third argument for sincerity concerns the positive influence of being a real person. Paul had nothing to hide as he says in 2 Cor 4:2. He could appeal to every man’s conscience. Hypocrisy repels and integrity attracts. “David Hume, was the eighteenth-century British deistic philosopher who rejected historic Christianity. A friend once met him hurrying along a London street and asked him where he was going . Hume replied that he was going to hear George Whitefield preach. ‘But surely,’ his friend asked in astonishment, ‘you don’t believe what Whitefield preaches, do you?’ ‘No, I don’t,’ answered Hume, ‘but he does.’”
“Earnestness,” Stott says, “goes one step beyond sincerity. To be sincere is to mean what we say and to do what we say; to be earnest is, in addition, to feel what we say.” “We must not talk to our congregations,” Stott quotes Spurgeon, “as if we were half asleep. Our preaching must not be articulate snoring.”
We are earnest when like Paul we are stirred to anger over idolatry because we are jealous over the glory of our God (Acts 17:16). We are earnest when we like Jesus can wept over a city of unrepentant sinners (Matt 23:37). Where are the Jeremiahs whose eyes were like a fountain of tears (Jer 9:1). Stott talks about D. L. Moody as an example of earnestness. “We are told that Dr. R. W. Dale, who for thirty-six years was pastor of Carr’s Lanes Congregational Church in Birmingham, was inclined at first to look on Mr. Moody with disfavor. But then he went to hear him, and his opinion was altered. He regarded him ever after with profound respect, and considered that he had a right to preach the gospel ‘because he could never speak of a lost soul without tears in his eyes.’”
While we cannot substitute heat for light, there must be “the combination of mind and heart, the rational and the emotional.” We need exposition and exhortation or as Spurgeon pled, that our preaching would be “as lava comes of a volcanic overflow.”
The three essentials of a sermon, according to G. C. Morgan are “truth, clarity and passion.” “On passion he told a tale of the great English actor, Macready. A preacher once asked him how he could draw such crowds by fiction, while he was preaching the truth and not getting any crowd at all. ‘This is quite simple,’ replied the actor. ‘I can tell you the difference between us. I present my fiction as though it were truth; you present your truth as though it were fiction.’”
Morgan’s successor at Westminster Chapel, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones asked “What is preaching?” Here is his answer: “Logic on fire! . . . . It is theology on fire. And a theology which does not take fire, I maintain, is a defective theology . . . . Preaching is theology coming through a man who is on fire.”
But where does the fire in preaching come from?
“Fire in preaching depends on fire in the preacher, and this in turn comes from the Holy Spirit. Our sermons will never catch fire unless the fire of the Holy Spirit burns in our own hearts and we are ourselves ‘aglow with the Spirit’”(Rom 12:11).
From where does this Holy Spirit fire come? It comes from spending time in the Word. “The second secret was learned by the two disciples with whom Jesus walked to Emmaus on the first Easter afternoon. When he had vanished, they said to one another, ’Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?’” (Luke 24:32). Stott adds this important thought, “It is still truth – Christ-centered, biblical truth – which sets the heart on fire.”