Today I am sharing from two letters. Both were printed and distributed to EVERY family in his church. The first dates from 1768 and the second dates from 1781. Both letters treat a wide variety of spiritual subjects. For example, church attendance or the lack thereof. Or worldly living or skepticism, etc. In the second letter he spends quite a bit of time discussing SERMON LENGTH.
If I cannot prove my doctrine by the Scripture, and even by the articles and public offices of our own church—you have reason to be displeased with me. But why will you venture to reject, what you must confess may at least possibly be the truth? I am sure you cannot disprove the general subjects of my ministry, not even to the satisfaction of your own minds, if you will sit leisurely down, and examine them by the New Testament.
You may live in a crowd—but you must die alone. What you think of yourself, or what others may think of you—is of small consequence; the main question is, "What you are in the sight of the Great Judge, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden!" (1 Corinthians 4:3.)
And can you think it safe to trifle with the great God! Do you not know that your life, your health, the peace of your family, and the success of your labor—all depend upon Him? Are you not afraid, lest by openly affronting His Majesty—that you should provoke Him to send a curse upon all your concerns, and to blast all your endeavors? (Hag. 1:6-9)
Why then should you remain in this miserable bondage, where there is One who is able to set you free? Perhaps you have concluded that you have gone too far to stop; that you have sinned with too high a hand to be forgiven. A secret despair of this kind, is Satan's great engine, by which he hurries many sinners to the most dreadful sins!
When I consider the progress of infidelity in the present day, I cannot but fear, that there may be some among you who absent themselves from the church, not so much from a dislike of what may be called my doctrines, or my sentiments—as from a disregard to the Christian religion in general. I know how to pity people of this unhappy sentiment, for it was too long my own sentiment.
It was thus with me, and it must, in the nature of things, be thus with every unbeliever.
To doubt or deny the truth of Christianity is too common; but to demonstrate that it is false, is an utter impossibility!
I labored long in the attempt—but, when I least expected it, I met with evidence that overpowered my resistance; and the Bible which I had despised, removed my skepticism. He against whom I had hardened myself, was pleased to spare me! And I now live to tell you, that there is forgiveness with God—that he may be feared! (Psalm 130:4)
But the greater part of you, I am persuaded, will agree with me thus far at least—that the Scripture is a divine Revelation. But do not some of you act inconsistently with your acknowledged principles? Can you reconcile your conduct—to the precepts of God, or to the character of those who fear and love Him, as described either in the Old or New Testament?
As a Christian minister, and preaching to professing hearers, I not only take my text from the Scriptures—but likewise draw from thence the proofs and illustrations of what I advance in my sermons. I frequently, yes constantly, appeal to the Bible—the acknowledged standard and touchstone of all true religious sentiments. As a minister of the church of England, when speaking to the professed members of that church, I might likewise appeal to the current doctrine expressed in our liturgy and articles; but I seldom do it, because having, as I conceive, the highest authority, the Holy Scripture, on my side, I need no other.
But, if the proper ends of preaching are to instruct, to admonish, to exhort, and to persuade; if the great truths of Scripture are to be explained, illustrated, and applied; if the various known or probable states and cases of the several people who compose our congregation are to be attended to; in a word, if, as a preacher, I am conscientiously to endeavor to save myself and those who hear me; (1Ti. 4:16) then I confess I know not how to answer these ends, were I to limit myself to a much shorter space than I do!
It is not so much the length, as the subject-matter which wearies you. It is possible I could, if I dared, preach a sermon, which, though it exceeded three quarters of an hour—you would not think too long. Many people can afford their attention for several hours to some vain entertainment without weariness, whose patience is quickly exhausted under a sermon, where the principles of Scripture are plainly enforced, and a faithful application of them is addressed to the conscience!
But, alas! there are too many hearers, who seem more desirous of entertainment, than of real benefit from a Christian sermon!
The Scripture is the rule by which we must all be judged at last; it is therefore our wisdom to judge ourselves by it now.
© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible