In many ways, the Reformed resurgence of the past couple of decades has been built upon a particular style of preaching. Many Reformed leaders have faithfully practiced and forcefully advocated what we might call “consecutive exposition.” This is the practice of preaching from the beginning of a book of the Bible to the end, then choosing a new book and doing the same with that one. It’s a practice I appreciate and one that has benefitted me tremendously both as a preacher and a church member.
But it’s not the only way. Historically, some prominent Christians have advocated a different approach. Of course we know that Charles Spurgeon never preached consecutively, but rather preached a distinct text each week. So, too, did Andrew Bonar and Robert Murray M’Chenye and many others. In place of a commitment to preaching through books of the Bible, they determined to “get their texts from God” each week.
Here is how Andrew Bonar described his approach:
I see that I should get my texts directly from the Lord, and never preach without having got something that shows me his counsel in the matter.
I have been much impressed with the sin of choosing my text without special direction from the Lord. This is like running without being sent, no message being given me. I ought to feel, “This I am sent to tell you, my people.”
This I see, but have been long of learning, that I should be like David seeking counsel, every time I sit down to select a text. I have often chosen texts, resolved on what I should do, etc, and then asked a blessing; I should have asked the Lord to direct me to his choice.
In Iain Murray’s book Seven Leaders, he points out that some might see this practice as mystical, but he takes issue with this. Bonar would have replied, “Is not God wonderfully interested in our lives and work? Is he not willing to direct us? As we pray, study the needs of our hearers, and consider God’s providential dealings, can he not cause texts to take hold of us and ‘grip us by the hand?’” He was not expecting God to speak from the sky, but the Spirit to burden his heart. His approach was not to simply pluck a text from the Bible, but to take a text from God through the Bible. He would not labor to exposit his text until he had labored to discover his text. He was determined he would only ever preach a Word that was perfectly suited to his congregation.
While God makes it clear that we must preach the Word, he does not specify one method over the other. I wonder if we have veered too far in one direction. This, after all, is our tendency in nearly everything—to swing from wild extreme to wild extreme. “All I am arguing,” says Murray, “is that the single-text method ought to be taken far more seriously than is often done today.” Based on the historical record, it’s worth considering. But as you consider it, consider not only the idea of preaching a new text each week; consider also the duty of prayerfully seeking that text.