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The Minister and Secret Prayer

Author
Category Articles
Date September 11, 2014

An extract from Al Martin’s What’s Wrong with Preaching Today?, published as a booklet by the Trust.1 Originally an address given to the Ministers’ Conference of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church at Westminster Theological Seminary in September 1967, the transcript was revised for publication by the author, who sought to retain the sermonic style.

Preaching has fallen upon bad times, not only because of the failure of the minister in the personal application of the Word of God to his own heart, but also in the matter of secret prayer. In Lectures to My Students,2 a book that I try to read periodically, Spurgeon says:

It may scarcely be needful to commend to you the sweet uses of private devotion, and yet I cannot forbear. To you as the ambassadors of God, the mercy-seat has a virtue beyond all estimate. The more familiar you are with the court of heaven, the better shall you discharge your heavenly trust. Among all the formative influences which go to make up a man honoured of God in the ministry, I know of none more mighty than his own familiarity with the mercy-seat. All that a college course can do for a student is coarse and external compared with the spiritual and delicate refinement obtained by communion with God. While the unformed minister is revolving upon the wheel of preparation, prayer is the tool of the great Potter by which he moulds the vessel. All our libraries and studies are mere emptiness compared with out closets. We grow, we wax mighty, we prevail in private prayer.

Prayer will singularly assist you in the delivery of your sermon; in fact, nothing can so gloriously fit you to preach as descending fresh from the mount of communion with God to speak with men. None are so able to plead with men as those who have been wrestling with God on their behalf. It is said of Joseph Alleine ‘He poured out his very heart in prayer and preaching. His supplications and his exhortations were so affectionate, so full of holy zeal, life, and vigour that they quite overcame his hearers. He melted over them so that he thawed and mollified and sometimes dissolved the hardest hearts.’ Prayer may not make you eloquent after the human mode, but it will make you truly so, for you will speak out of the heart. And is not that the meaning of the word ‘eloquence’? It will bring fire from heaven upon your sacrifice, and thus prove it to be accepted of the Lord.

As fresh springs of thought will frequently break up during preparation in answer to prayer, so will it be in the delivery of the sermon. Most preachers who depend upon God’s Spirit will tell you that their freshest and best thoughts are not those which were premeditated, but ideas which come to them flying as on the wings of angels, unexpected treasures brought on a sudden by celestial hands, seeds of the flowers of paradise wafted from the mountains of myrrh.

When that divine radiance comes upon the servant of God all his mental faculties seem augmented and his powers of expression and his capacity to feel the truth of God are enlarged beyond the measure of nature. He becomes another man when clothed by the Spirit. The Spirit, in a way that is mysterious to us, is precipitated in answer to prayer. The promise of our Lord has never been negated: ‘How much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them who ask him.’ As Paul declared in Philippians 1, ‘This shall turn to my salvation — or deliverance — through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.’

It is in the context of secret prayer that the eternal verities to which we give constant mental assent become living realities. I find – and this is somewhat of a confession as well as an exhortation – that my own words mock me too often when I preach; when I can say the word ‘hell’ and not feel the horror of it; when I can speak of heaven and not be warmed with a holy glow in the light of the fact that this is the place my Lord is preparing for me. I find no answer to this problem but to meditate long upon the passages that speak of these spiritual realities, and ask God the Holy Ghost to burn them into my heart. I plead with him to make real to me that the very people that I look at may hear those terrible words, ‘Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire.’ I find I must plead with God to make real to me that the people whose voices will say to me at the door, ‘Thank you for the sermon, pastor’, are the very voices that may one day be uttering those cries and groans of the damned. I must ask God to help me to believe these things, to help me to preach them so that others will know that I verily believe them.

The truth that burned on Sunday can be icy cold by Monday. The truth that burned in the closet on Saturday can be lifeless on Sunday. Truths received in the crucible of waiting upon God can only be maintained in their warmth in that same context. If I read aright the biographies of the great men of God, I find that this is their unanimous testimony. All with one accord declare that if there was any secret to their ministries it was this; it was the man, cultivating his inner life in the presence of God. Therefore, I submit to you the proposition that as we consider what is wrong with preaching today, this is the root of the problem.

How could men ever teach some of the things they teach in the name of orthodoxy if they were on their knees poring over the Scriptures? No, they are not on their knees poring over the Scriptures, and hence they are simply parroting what their peers have said. How can we who say we believe the biblical doctrines speak of them in such a perfunctory way if we are receiving those truths from God in the context of living communion with him? We shall speak of them with the glow and fire of heaven upon our souls if we are receiving them in the glow of his presence.

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      An extract from Al Martin’s What’s Wrong with Preaching Today?, published as a booklet by the Trust.1 Originally an address given to the Ministers’ Conference of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church at Westminster Theological Seminary in September 1967, the transcript was revised for publication by the author, who sought to retain the sermonic style. Preaching has […]

    • Lectures to My Students
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      Description

      An extract from Al Martin’s What’s Wrong with Preaching Today?, published as a booklet by the Trust.1 Originally an address given to the Ministers’ Conference of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church at Westminster Theological Seminary in September 1967, the transcript was revised for publication by the author, who sought to retain the sermonic style. Preaching has […]

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