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Iain Murray At The Bala Ministers Conference, June 06

Category Articles
Date June 22, 2006

It is fifty years since Iain Murray first addressed this conference when the Welsh ministers met with Dr. Lloyd-Jones in Cilgwyn. Geoff Thomas took these notes of the first and third of his addresses.


We gather together burdened with this concern to preach the word of God. What a supreme calling it is and the New Testament is full of preaching. John the Baptist preaching in the wilderness; the Lord Jesus preaching; the apostles preaching and exhorting, “Preach the word!” New epochs always begin with God raising up preachers and over these days we need to strengthen one another in that conviction.


What type of preaching is fashionable and what are we to follow? There are many suggestions today with a stress on anecdotes and ‘relevance’. Other ideas are that the chief purpose of preaching is to inform the congregation. No, it is principally to excite people and get inside their hearts and wills and motivate them to read and do the Word.

What form should a sermon have? There is the craft and art of sermon construction which we have been over-suspicious of, but perhaps having gone too far ignoring any form at all. The outline is important; some of Calvin’s sermons would have been improved by a better structure. A good sermon strikes and sticks, said William Jay. But some are suspicious of a form of points and then sub-points and so on.

Today many sermons start with a snappy little story. Why should it? Doesn’t the sermon come into the midst of a service in which God is being worshipped? Something should already have happened. But today frequently it is a story that begins the sermon, the text may not even be announced because a whole chapter is being preached on and what we are given is a commentary on this section of Scripture.

The focus of a sermon is saying what the text means and applying it. The sermon has to be put together in an orderly development. One box of fragrance is opened after another. The heads of the sermon are to be like nails which fasten to us everything that is in the text. The outline should be simple e.g. Lloyd-Jones on Genesis 3:

1. Why the world and life is as it is.

2. The story of mankind is the attempt to regain paradise.

3. Why men cannot regain paradise.

4. The only way to regain paradise.

So do not despise sermon outlines.

Do not allow anyone to push you into their mold.

Pray without ceasing for clear views of your subject

Pray for the people you are to address – they are never dying souls

Speak for Christ and of Christ

Remember continually the Holy Spirit and keep his work in view. Focussing on the truth from different angles, concentrating on it again and again bringing home the main lesson. Eye contact is important and if we are tied to our notes too much we can’t look at the congregation.


How necessary it is. Jesus spoke with authority. Titus is exhorted to speak with all authority. What is authority in preaching? It is not making a noise; it is a God-given dimension and heaven-sent. Let a man speak the very words of God. That is our authority. The preacher is a voice and the message is the word of God. Unless the text is going to be plainly taught there can be no authority. The Scriptures are our inheritance and our delight.


Attention is commanded. It is Christ’s presence in the midst of his disciples with his own word. In true preaching there is a consciousness of God. When Hooker was preaching he could have put a King in his pocket. When there is authority in preaching there can be reconciliation, or anger, but apathy or indifference simply goes.


That fear is always present, but there are times when this can come in an unusual way. God can revive his people and when he does hell’s judgments are no longer a fiction. The fear of God is the spirit of heaven. When it is absent conversions are few. It is the work of God, but can we not address those aspects of our preaching which can contribute to this fear being restored?

Both John the Baptist and Jesus preached for repentance. Unless men see their real condition they will not understand the message. Earthly things come before heavenly things Jesus tells Nicodemus, “Look around you and see your sin.” God has given us the means of the law of God to create a knowledge of sin. Our Lord deals with the rich young ruler by the law. The condition of the sinner will have to be changed. Their whole nature needs to be changed and they become a new person. The standard of the law is discovered to be unattainable and that we are utterly lost, crying out, “Who then can be saved?” Men are thus hemmed in to the grace of God. Beware of preaching simply the single strand of faith in Christ for salvation without repentance. Christians are not to be defined exclusively in terms of their faith in Christ. We should preach in order to alarm and awaken people. The broken heartened also need to be found and helped; we need to be moved with compassion to help them.


Our work is hopeless without the Holy Spirit.

It is the indwelling of Christ that makes preachers.

Our faith in Christ’s presence with us in the pulpit on the Lord’s Day it is essential, and the devil would destroy our confidence in our calling.

A banquet is being provided by God and we are the ones who are multiplying loaves and fishes


John 17 is unique in that it gives us a record of our Lord’s prayer. The words are spoken that the hearers may have joy, comfort and consolation. At first he prays for himself, then the apostles and then finally for every Christian. What does he say about and how does he pray for gospel ministers?


What do we place our hopes upon? What is the basis on which it depends for its existence? It is the work Christ has done. His life, and his labours, certainly, but he is praying for more, for his future glory. This glorification is in order for the work of the gospel ministry. Why is Christ to be glorified? That eternal life should be given to these people. Without the present glory of Christ there can be no success to the gospel ministry.

What does it mean for the Father to glorify the Son? The incarnate Son never lost anything of his essential glory even though it was veiled throughout his ministry, but it would be a mistake to think that the Lord was thinking of the restoration of the glory. Now something has changed; Christ has become a man in order to be a mediator and in that role he is praying that the work he has been given to do should be worked out. When Saul of Tarsus had a glimpse of him on the Damascus Road his face was brighter than the sun. John had another overwhelming glimpse of our Lord in Revelation that brought him to Jesus’ feet as one dead. He is walking among the churches and in his right hand he is holding messengers – the ‘angel’ God has sent to Ephesus etc – such preachers are kept by the power of Christ. In view of that reality we can or should consider doing anything. “He will do greater works than these because I go to the Father,” but it is our Lord doing it. The Lord is applying the work of Christ to the worshippers. “So shall he sprinkle many nations” – he is applying the work to the ends of the world.

Our Lord’s Prayer is based on these promises. Our Lord is the worker. All the commotion in Jerusalem in Pentecost – it was Jesus who had done this. The disciples had been with Jesus. He meets with Saul, and in Antioch the hand of the Lord was with them. In Corinth the Lord stands with them and tells them that he is with him. There are other sheep and them he must bring. The Lord working makes anything accomplished that is accomplished. Morrison the pioneer missionary to China was asked if he would make any impact on the people. No, but the Lord will, he said. Girardeau’s church had days of prayer addressed to the mediatorial throne of God, looking to him, crying in intercession before the preaching began. Gospel ministry depends on the fact that Jesus is glorified. It is a continuous ministry; it is in the day of his power that his people are made willing; the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ comes from him. William Williams of Pantycelyn died in 1791 not living to see the great revival in Bala a decade or so later, and not knowing that the following year Carey would preach and tell the people to expect great things from God and attempt great things for God.


He gives their portrait to the Father. He describes three marks

1. “I have manifested thy name to the men thou has given to me.” Christ has made himself known to these people given to him – the love and truth of God made known to us, and then

2. They have a special character of having kept God’s Word. They have believed that God sent him. Wonderful things are accomplished by regeneration; it changes men so that now they cling to those things they once fled from. We want to receive and obey Scripture. The whole bent of the new nature is to make progress in the word of God. Thomas Chalmers was a minister before he became a Christian in 1809. He read the Baptist Missionary reports from India and during an illness God opened his eyes. His elder visiting him then saw him always reading the Word. They have kept thy word.

3. They have the faith that all things God has given them are of him. All that Christ has been given in grace and power and glorification as head of the church is for his people that they may be the receivers of all that. These are the marks of the Christian.


What should be the character of a bishop? – was a question addressed to the politicians on the radio programme ‘Any Questions.’ ‘Kind,’ and ‘nice’ were the sort of suggestions made. Then someone said, “He should be a Christian.”

What does God give his servants? The Word. Sanctify them through thy truth etc. Why has he given the word to us? One great reason is for the sanctification and holiness of these gospel preachers. Why? We are in a very dangerous place and need to be kept from evil. The world is a dangerous place and we are dangerous because we have remaining sin and need to be made and kept holy.

We are to represent our Lord and need to be kept holy. The people are to see the Saviour. Who is sending and who makes these people beautiful? It is our Lord and he sends them across mountains, skipping and leaping. We are representatives of Christ himself. “Can others see Jesus in me?” Evangelist Gypsy Smith would sing to his congregations.

The result of this is that others will come to faith through the word. There is persecution but growth too, and unity. Christ is in his people. I in them and you in me that we may be made perfect in one. The bond that unites them is his love. Unity and love, given to us to sustain us. Love is the great attraction for sinners. More flies are caught by honey than vinegar.


Our little work is always going to be incomplete here. It is another world that we have to look for to see the perfection we long for; love without any coldness was what M’Cheyne prayed for. We are to look beyond the temporal to the eternal. Let us pray for revival; maybe it is much nearer than we know. When we have done everything that we can do there will always be much more before us. He will be not only the author, he is the finisher of our faith. There is something greater before us all, to see the Saviour and his Kingdom. Our Lord’s prayers are promises, and the believer is secure in Christ. John Elias preached powerfully from Isaiah 49:24 “Shall the prey be taken from the mighty?” Let us preach on this theme too.

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