Preaching Verse by Verse
If you come to my office today you will find an entire shelf of books that are all written by on man – C.H. Spurgeon. I love the preaching and ministry of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Some of my favorite books to peruse through when I have the time is a 10-volume set consisting entirely of Spurgeon’s sermons. Spurgeon was a great writer of sermons and was masterful in his prose and insights. He possessed tremendous imaginational capacities and could craft a sermon that would hold an audience’s attention even to this day.
Much of what I do as I prepare to preach I borrow from Spurgeon’s book entitled Lectures to My Students where he instructs young ministers. But there is one thing that Spurgeon did that I will never be able to do. You see Spurgeon was not a pure expositor, he frequently chose to preach topically. I follow Spurgeon’s example in many ways but I don’t tend to preach topically. Instead, I choose to preach verse by verse.
One of the main reasons I preach verse by verse is because I could never produce such inspiring, ingenious, and imaginative, topical sermons week in and week out as Spurgeon did. He goes down in history as “The Prince of Preachers” in large part because of the creative virtuoso that flowed through his sermons. I just don’t have that, nor do many other preachers that I know.
I further choose to preach verse by verse through the Bible because I don’t have a desire to rely on creative genius. It is my belief that where creativity is strong, so too is the danger that it can turn the preacher away from expositing a passage. Is there a place for creativity in a sermon? Of course! A well placed and well timed illustration, poem, or careful construction of words can make a point that much more compelling and convicting. There is an unmistakable value in creativity for the sermon but there is also a danger. Therefore, I strive to guard against suppressing legitimate creativity while stressing a true exposition of a passage.
It is my desire that the people that hear me preach on a regular basis hear “the whole counsel of God.” This is another reason why I choose to preach verse by verse and I believe I have biblical precedent to make this case. Nehemiah 8 tells us of how Ezra preached through the book of the Law, “giving the sense” (v. 8) as he goes through it. Even our Lord gave us this example when in Luke 24 he began with Moses and all the Prophets and then preceded to “interpret to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (v. 27). I believe that as an ordained minister of the Gospel I am obligated to teach the whole new covenant message and all of the mystery unfolded. The best way that I know to teach it all is to take it the way it comes – book by book and verse by verse.
There are plenty of “hot topic” issues that I could choose as my topics from Sunday to Sunday. As a committed follower of verse by verse exposition I choose not to do that. This keeps me from “hobby-horsing” or getting on my “soap-box.” Does this mean I am afraid to talk about “hot topics”? Of course not! I will apply a point just as heavily as the Scripture teaches. But, when I preach verse by verse through the Bible I get to the social issues of the day when the Bible does. This allows me to correlate my concern and energy about them to the Bible’s concern and energy about them.
In my opinion, the greatest work that we have of Spurgeon’s is his Treasury of David. This masterpiece is Spurgeon’s careful exegesis of the Psalms. I have never preached from the Psalms without at least referencing Spurgeon’s writings on the book. In many ways, I wish that Spurgeon would have done with other books of the Bible what he so meticulously did with the Psalms.
The real beauty of the Treasury of David is seeing the Psalms in their context. As a firm follower of verse by verse preaching I am really following that kind of example. Like Spurgeon’s Treasury of David, I wish to help my audience see the significance of a passage in its context. If I were to approach the whole of either the New or Old Testament in random fashion it would create a hopeless maze for people to follow. But, when I preach systematically through a book or through a character’s life I can help my listeners see what is being taught more clearly.
Even as I look at the copy of The Treasury of David that I have in my office I can’t help but think that this work is Spurgeon’s most treasured legacy. I believe that Spurgeon himself would agree with me on that point.
This brings me to my final reason why I choose to preach verse by verse. I want my legacy as a preacher to be one of exposition. I don’t want the people that hear my sermons to go away thinking, “Pastor Caleb made some great points.” I want them the leave reflecting and meditating on the truths they learned from God’s Word. If they leave with anything less I have failed them as an expositor.
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